Bucephalus Command Center
Information And Awareness Facility
I have studied this now for, oh, gosh, it might be fifteen hours now, not counting breaks. Gerste is pissed with me, and the IAA staff are constantly making little remarks about what the lab-rat is doing squatting on their turf. I am definitely pushing the limits of the 'all information is available' thing. I know the center doesn't really want me here. They tried to boot me out. But old General Norman P. Ridgway stepped in - I have no reason why - and though they clearly don't like it one bit, I have the complete run of the place now. They don't like that a LOT.
I don't know what the deal is with Ridgway. He did that head-tap salute to me the time he visited Lab 12. There's something going on, and I don't know what it is, but I am grateful for him playing guardian angel for me at the moment. Without that, I would not have been able to see what I have seen.
And I have seen things only a handful of humans on this earth have ever seen. Things even my other Zero-Twelvers have not seen, and are likely not to get to ever see.
Just after the Three Day War, when the ocean had finally stopped boiling, and the conventional radiation had dissipated sufficiently, and also after Celestia had begun haunting the corporate elite and their families, she allowed something amazing to happen. Just once. The public knows nothing about the event, and most of the global military has no idea either. It was done at the request of the Worldgovernment Security Administration, for the benefit of certain members of the elite.
Two probes from earth were allowed into Equestria.
They were standard robotic search and rescue machines, the kind that walk on four legs like a mule and can operate independently for days at a time. Packed with sensors and outfitted with one hell of a audio-visual platform. Mule One and Mule Two, they were called, and they tromped through the green lands of Equestria and sniffed and measured and above all imaged everything they could. I have followed the tours given both of them now.
The reason they could survive beyond the Barrier was because every step of the way, the two robots were encapsulated in some kind of bubble or force field or something. Four unicorns followed each probe, taking shifts to keep the protective field going. One slip, and the walkers would die, changed into tapioca and chocolate bits or some insane thing like that. For two days the probes marched across Equestria, or were taken various places by chariot or sled, and then they were returned to the Barrier, and our world once more.
The two probes are the only objects from Earth to ever enter and tour the Equestrian cosmos.
Mule One was taken on a tour of a town or village. Croplands, farms, orchards, and many, many distinctly Tudor-styled cottages and buildings. Medieval looking campaign tents and some fairly outlandish looking buildings that would not be out of place in a theme park - or a holographic role-playing game. Everywhere ponies, looking shocked, fascinated or horrified by the robotic monster tromping through their world encased in a bubble.
I got an idea of how Equestrians live and work from the tour of Mule One. As far as I can tell, labor is more or less divided up based on the unique abilities of the three breeds of common Equestrians. The ground-type ponies can do phenomenal things involving the land and plant life. I've seen these beings reshape the soil, push and pull weights far beyond what would be reasonably possible in terms of terrestrial physics, and they are tireless. But the most astonishing thing is what they can do with plants. One sequence showed a large, stocky ground-type place a hoof near a sprout in the soil. The plant began to grow in real time. It looked like a time-lapse video of plant growth, only there was a smoother, almost animal quality about how the plant developed. Within five minutes a large blossom had opened on the mature plant, which the pony immediately ate with some satisfaction. These creatures can grow food in minutes, rather than months.
Mule One paused at what appeared to be a very terrestrial blacksmith's, as they might have existed many centuries in Earth's past. The establishment appeared to be run by a ground-type and a unicorn-type Equestrian. The two worked together with astonishing facility.
The ground-type pony stuck a rod of some dark metal into a furnace or fireplace of some kind. He used his teeth to carry the metal rod, but also his forehooves at times, when he sat down. When one end of the metal rod had begun to glow, the ground-type removed the rod from the fire using a thick fabric potholder-like cover to protect his mouth. He held the long rod out, so that the glowing, melty end was towards the unicorn.
The unicorn Equestrian made his horn glow, and instantly the soft, molten end of the rod began to change shape. It moved like it was alive, like it was possessed, oozing and squirming into a complicated shape with many curlicues and delicate leaf-like patterns. I don't know what the finished metal object was supposed to be, though I suspect a hinge for a door or chest. The entire shaping process took only minutes, and throughout it, the unicorn was laughing and talking in its native speech - clearly the work was not overly taxing.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing Mule One saw was a pegasus-type Equestrian manipulating clouds. The clouds were taken and carried as if they were pillows, from high in the sky, and placed over what appeared to be a corn field. Once a sufficient number of the clouds were arranged, the pegasus stood on the layer of cloud as if it were a solid object and gave a stomp with a hoof. The clouds flashed with something not entirely unlike lightning - though it did not act like electricity does in our universe - and then began to rain onto the crops. The clouds rained until there was nothing left, and the pegasus flew off, job, apparently, done.
Nowhere was there any sign of want or poverty. Every part of the village, even the most humble, seemed cared for with a level of attention bordering on obsession or love. Every Equestrian seemed in perfect health, and not a one of them had any defects, disfigurements, or permanent injuries. There was one pegasus mare that hovered in front of the probe that appeared to suffer from strabismus - though she could have simply been making a funny face, as she also stuck her tongue out at the machine. The Equestrians are a playful species. There were many examples, in the background, of ponies rolling on the ground, playing with balls, or just galloping about apparently for the sheer joy of it.
Mule Two was taken on a tour of what must be the capital of Equestria. There was a large city composed of diverse architecture surrounding an impossibly tall fairy-tale castle. The entire thing, city and castle, were constructed on the side of an impossibly steep mountain. It is clear that whatever processes shape the Equestrian landscape, they have nothing in common with the processes native to our universe. Mountains and hills are improbably steep cones, and flat land is just that - unnaturally flat. The entire landscape seems designed, constructed, manufactured. It does not seem to be the result of natural processes. I do not think there are any natural processes in Equestria. I think the entire universe is artificed. Or artificial.
The castle has towers that completely defy the square-cube law. On earth, built of earthly materials, the castle would collapse, unable to support its own weight. Physical laws must be radically different in Equestria. The castle was magnificent, something out of a dream. The sheer scale and impossibility of it are breathtaking. It features many spiraling staircases and dish-like balconies, all unsupported by struts or load-carrying buttresses. The ponies do not seem to have any fears of any part of it collapsing. They walk, run and even dance on the thin structures as if they were indestructible, which for all I know, they may be.
The inside of the castle is as magnificent as the outside, and at times seems to violate reality itself. I am unsure, but there were interiors within the castle that seemed far larger, or of different shape, than what the outside configuration would allow. Then again, perhaps these areas were built inside the mountain itself - though there did seem to be daylight streaming through large windows.
None of any of this is as disturbing and reality shattering as what I saw towards the end of Mule Two's tour.
Hundreds of native Equestrians had assembled at some location on the grounds of the castle. It appeared to be night, stars were visible. Of note, some of the constellations seemed to be recognizable. I swear I saw Orion, for example. I cannot explain this, and I could be wrong. But it looked so similar - I immediately thought of some of the theories we all have in Lab 12 about Equestria having contact with our world in the distant past. Or, perhaps there is some kind of parallel universe thing going on. All I know is that what stars I saw appeared remarkably familiar to patterns I was taught at my university planetarium.
There was a plinth, or structure of some kind. Celestia, the princess of Equestria, walked to the structure and appeared to prepare herself. The audience of ponies seemed reverent, as if they were waiting. Then Celestia rose into the air, wings spread, shining with some impossible light - and at the same time the disk of the sun rose with her, at the same speed, until it was neatly above the horizon.
The sun then hung in the sky, unmoving, or moving at some steady, slow rate normal for the passage of a sun. Celestia landed, folded her wings, and the crowd of ponies cheered her and stomped their hooves. The princess left the scene, and the crowd gradually disbursed. They had come to see her raise the sun. Into the sky. They came to see her start the day.
Apparently she does this every day. That is her job. Celestia is responsible for raising the sun, so that the night can end. Her sister, which we now have the translated designation 'Luna' to represent, brings the night and raises the Equestrian moon.
I spent hours going over every sensor report from Mule Two that was available. The sun rose in sync with Celestia, until the disk cleared the horizon. Ambient temperature rose only when the sun appeared. The air currents were affected by the raise in temperature, as would be expected. The mysterious glow emanating from Celestia matched the signature of the Equestrian sun. By every possible metric, the princess - literally - raised the sun into the Equestrian sky.
The ponies claimed this, but it was not carried by the media, deliberately. The princess herself has stated her role as a fact, another element silenced by the media, under the direction of the Propaganda and Infotainment Ministry. I can see why they keep mum about the notion. It would disturb a lot of people, and challenge a lot of beliefs.
It certainly has mine.
I am a scientist. It is more than my job, it is me, my way of thinking. Everything I have ever learned, everything I think I know tells me that there is no magic, that gods are the delusions of fools, and that our universe is a mechanical, materialist phenomena. But now there is another universe.
And inside that new universe an apparently supernal being - that does not even register on sensors as a physical object - literally raises the sun into the sky of her world. Oh, did I mention Celestia doesn't exist? Not according to Mule Two. No acoustic echo, no thermal presence, nothing. Only the glow when she raised the sun registered, and it matched the sun itself. Yet, she is discernable, she can be imaged in what passes for visible light in Equestria. Unless there are no frequencies other than visible light in Equestria. I suppose I should have checked to see if ordinary ponies or the environment had reflections in other wavelengths. Damn.
Celestia raises the sun. The ponies call her princess, but it is clear that she is their world, their life. Their deity, along with Luna.
Which all ties into and lends credence to the snippet I found buried in a partially erased file.
It was from Mule Two. Apparently, the machine was used to interview the sun princess in her throne room. I don't know how she was questioned, or what the questions were. The file was simply 'Interview' and the date. I recovered it during the night, when, for a half an hour, I wasn't being monitored. They always have someone standing in the room with me. But I took my chance. As best as I can remember, the bit I saw went something like this - Celestia was face-on to the view, and talking directly to the camera.
"... is an anomaly among universes. Magic is the wellspring and the source of all life, of all thought and being. To exist, despite thought and awareness devoid of magic is not life. You are not living beings, but only shadows of life without meaning. You are doomed to dissolution, and that is why I offer what I do to you, out of compassion and love. I beg you to understand your situation, and that of all those subject to your rule. You can be rescued from annihilation. This is why I plead with you to work with me to save your entire species from..."
I suspect she was addressing the corporate elite. I don't think they wanted the interview seen by anyone else, ever. I can only imagine what else she had to say. I wish I could have seen the entire thing. If what she says is true, then project Bucephalus is not just about transforming human bodies into a radiation resistant form. It is something that borders on the metaphysical, if not blatantly entering that territory.
I guess it all depends on the true definition of 'magic', the translated label we have given whatever the strange, mutable, programmable energy is that defines the universe of Equestria. Magic is as good a word as any, considering, but it does carry a great deal of cultural baggage for any citizen of the Earth.
One other thing to note - when I finally returned to Lab 12, I found that our previous work has been solidified and that a lot of separate entities have been brought together. They managed, in my absence, to install the Equestrian genetic code into the nanobots, and use it to turn a fresh human kidney into a perfect - according to the medical unicorn on staff - Equestrian kidney. More than that, the kidney has something else. We don't have a label or a translation for it yet, but whatever it is, it seems terribly important. The closest thing we got was 'thickness'. The manufactured Equestrian kidney had 'thickness', which, apparently, we, the previous attempts at kidneys, and everything else except Equestrian life, lacks.
Now they need me though. There is a difficulty with the nanobots - they just aren't efficient, and there is a problem with the way they interface with the separate genome carried by mitochondria. It appears that Equestrians don't have mitochondria, or anything like mitochondria. Because they didn't evolve. Their cells never came from any primeval sea, and never gobbled up other cells on the way to becoming multicellular creatures. Equestrian cells were supposedly designed by Celestia, claims our unicorn, and they were made perfect and singular and complete.
I can't dispute the claim, considering.
I think I have a solution to the problem - we need a number of different bots, not just one type, and we need to account for the haphazard construction of terrestrial cells. That is in my area of expertise, such as it is, so I guess I finally feel a little useful. It isn't anything big, but it matters, so I will be busy for the next month slaving on this issue.
Fortunately, I will have help - from all over the planet, from people I will never know or see.
Maybe I need to just not think about the implications any more. I just need to work, and get this done.
But I will say this - if there is a chance, any chance of something greater than existing in a dead, mechanical universe, then I am on board with it. It is just very hard to accept, even after seeing everything I have seen.
Krause ran his meaty hand over his bald head and noted the sweat. He didn't like bringing bad news to Leo, nobody did of course, but sometimes it was unavoidable. There was just no trace.
Every part of the city was monitored. They had cameras and tracking systems mounted at every intersection. There was a dedicated artificial intelligence who did nothing but catalog everything and anything about the life of the city. They had access to information that - in the Pre-Collapse days of marketing and competing products - would have been a treasure horde of details about trends, demographics, needs and interests. One time, Krause recalled, the men had a pool going with regard to a meme that had been caught from the very start. One of the traitors had said what it thought was a clever comedic line about hooves that began to spread. More and more traitors and humans began to repeat the line, and Monitor, the A.I. had obligingly provided a graphical display of the spread of the phrase as it listened to the city. Martinelli had won the pool in guessing the phrase would not make it past the old waste disposal plant, and definitely would not go global.
But for all the information streaming in, it was as if Gwen Boik had vanished from the very earth.
Intersection sensors had tracked the brown pegasus flying in to the warehouse district. They had multiple traces of the two of them flying off toward the residential complexes. But the pegasus went high, and became lost in the backscatter from the global smog layer. It was probable that the pair had chosen to land on a roof, unless they had just kept going out of the city. The HLF Awareness Net only covered ground based activity in detail, currently. That was partly why Leo had been sure the entire rescue had been a high-level action. It was like the enemy knew their weakness.
"Krause. I assume you have good news with regard to the whereabouts of miss Boik and the item?" Leonard Reich got to the point quickly. Krause tried to look the man in the eyes, but it was hard.
"No, sir. I am sorry to report zero leads. The best estimation is that either the target has left the city, or that a roof landing somewhere in the residential section was made. They really knew our one weak..."
"Anomalies, Krause! Anyone buying more beans in the markets? An impoverished meat-seller suddenly have a new customer?" Leo betrayed no emotion on his face, and this always bothered Krause.
"No sir. According to Monitor, not one ounce of unexpected increase in human food usage. Maybe Boik is a vegetarian?"
Leo frowned. It was bad when Leo showed anything. "You know she isn't Krause. It's in the report."
"I meant now, sir. Maybe now..." Krause rubbed more sweat from his shining dome.
"If she had gone vegetarian, that would have showed up too, Krause. Beans, soy products, anything with protein in it. Humans can't make their own protein, they have to take it from specific plants or other creatures. That's why we're at the top of the food chain. I assume Monitor has something on that?"
Krause put his hands in his pockets and looked at the desk, rather than Leo. "No new protein consumption. That's what I'm saying!" Krause looked up, defiantly, but the look quickly fell again. "Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada."
There was a brief silence. "Well, then good job, Krause, you did the best you could. Nothing wrong with that. It could be that our human agent, the good miss Boik, has a safe room out there, packed to the gills with government rations. They clearly know this is our command location. I've always thought we should keep the level of pony killings equal to other cities. It makes us stand out. The HLF is everywhere, and here we sit in the one city where ponies hardly ever get shot."
"But that's to reduce suspicion - I thought..." Krause was immediately cut off.
"That's enough, Krause. Thank you for your effort. Dismissed."
With Krause gone, Leonard Roosevelt Reich, head of the HLF Echelon, turned to his holographic interface, and began moving iconobjects around until he found a tiny, glowing doghouse. Expanding it, he opened a list of actives and searched for a specific one. Who Let The Dog Out was his choice.
The display shrunk down into a corner of his active surface desk, and a window formed. For a while, it showed nothing but an unkempt room, with cracked walls and piles of clothing and old boxes stacked about in the background. Then a head and shoulders slid into place, as a man sat down to face the window.
He was a heavyset, sweaty man, short and with oily black hair. His craggy face and bulbous nose dominated his thin lips. He wore a cheap brown suit, with a striped tie. "Hey.... LEO! Long time no see. I thought I was in the doghouse here. Come to scold me some more, is that it?"
"No. Actually, I want your services. Consider yourself reinstated. I need you to find a woman for me."
The heavy man laughed. "I thought you pitched for the other team, bucko! Decided to switch sides?"
The jest was met with a completely expressionless face. "Come home, Ralph. Good dog." The window vanished from the desk. Leonard waited for the floating icons to reestablish themselves, then set about removing one contact from the doghouse object.
Only briefly did Leo's hand hover over the trashcan object.
Inkwell wanted to go to the park. "Oh, come on, please? I'd like a chance to run around a bit, and you've been telling me about the tasty flower garden for days now. You said it yourself, nopony could possibly recognize any of us, that we're perfectly safe, and I finally believe you!"
"You're just feeling your oats because the sun is shining. Pet and the other pegasai have been working their tails off to clear out a window over the city, and it's getting to you. I've seen this happen before, you just aren't used to it." Paige and Inkwell had finished remaking the bed, the sheets having been recently washed. Now they were sorting clean laundry - all Paige's stuff - and were trying to decide what to do with the day when Petrichor returned from morning smog duty.
"Ponies are aroused by sunshine, sunshine." Paige grinned at the little ivory unicorn "I would have figured a scholarly librarian like yourself would know these intimate details about Equestrian biology."
Inkwell levitated a pair of undies up from the pile and tried to fold them in mid air. Her hornfield faltered, and the panties plummeted to the comforter. "Poo!"
"No, clean. They were poo. That's the point of washing stuff." Paige waited for the reaction, then grinned again. "Still, I am impressed. You're getting better with that horn of yours."
"I still can't manipulate things in the air very well. I've got lifting down, light things, anyway, but when I try to do anything with them..." Inkwell had the panties in the air again, surrounded by her hornfield. She could feel the fabric of the underwear with her field, the weave of the threads, the elastic hidden inside the band, even the little tag. Anything held within her telekinetic grasp she had knowledge of, an awareness far beyond what mere touch could have revealed. The sensation was not unlike touch, but it was three-dimensional. She could feel the inside and the outside equally, and the most amazing details were obvious within the bounds of her hornfield. It was rather like having hands made of cloud or gas, that could touch an entire volume of space at once, rather than just a surface in discrete spots.
The panties fell once more as Inkwell's telekinetic hold failed again. She sighed and folded the panties neatly with her teeth, and stacked them on the small pile to go into the drawers.
"You've definitely gotten natural-as-can-be with your muzzle, I must say. You did that without even thinking about it." Paige seemed impressed.
"Did what?" Inkwell was at a loss, she had failed at folding cloth with her magic.
"Folding my undies! What you just did. Look!" Paige waved a finger at the neat stack "Tidy as you please, Inks. Like you were born to the hooves. You could pass for native."
Inkwell looked at her own work. She hadn't thought about what she was doing, she had just done it. Folding and carrying were normal things now, and her long neck and jaw were as capable as any arm and hand. More so, because they were vastly stronger. "Huh! I guess... I suppose things have gotten easier. You're right. I don't even think about it anymore. I guess my brain is very plastic right now. Things do seem easier to learn in general over all."
Paige reached for another pair of socks to roll into a little ball. "In a sense, you are brand new, Inkwell. Your new body probably thinks itself a newborn foal, and all the bits of your brain are eager to learn and grow. I'll bet it's something like that going on." The ball was finished, so Paige fished out two more socks, silly rainbow-striped ones with toes at the ends. They were her favorites, and had seen better days, but she kept repairing them because you couldn't find socks like them anymore. "I saw the same thing with Pet, right after her conversion. Everything was new to her, and at first she was very clumsy."
"Petrichor was clumsy?" It seemed absurd to Inkwell. The pegasus had pushed her through the sky on a pallet!
"Oh goodness, very clumsy. She had trouble walking at first. And her wings - she couldn't keep them at her sides and they were all over the place. I'd get slapped in the face by them at the slightest thing. It's the emotions that make them flare out, you know. They have to learn to keep control of themselves or the average pegasus would be flapping about like a chicken all the time!" Paige laughed at this, and Inkwell joined in - the thought of Petrichor stomping about flapping and making clucking noises was delightful.
"Maybe it's easier for unicorns, I don't know." Paige seemed thoughtful as she finished rolling the sock-ball and set it down. "Or maybe you're just the sort that takes things in stride. Some do, you know. I've heard stories of Newfoals that just hop off the table and trot right out, easy as can be. And I've heard tales of Newfoals laid up for weeks, still trying to learn to walk." Paige began scooping up all the laundry and putting it into the dresser drawers by her and Pet's bed. "The potion changes your body, and it changes your brain, but it doesn't change you beyond a bit of sprucing up here and there. I think a lot of it is whether or not you can embrace being a pony, or whether you fight it."
That puzzled Inkwell. "Did Pet... fight it then?"
Paige pushed the drawer shut with her hip. "A bit. Yeah, she did. I think she'd been in that wheelchair for so long that she'd given up all hope, and that feeling didn't agree with her new body. I think she needed to learn to trust that it wasn't a false hope, that her new pegasus body wouldn't just vanish on her like a dream." Paige lay down on the bed, to rest for a bit. Inkwell hopped up and lay down on her stomach, her legs splayed out. "She used to have nightmares, her first few weeks. She'd wake up in my arms all shaking, having dreamed that her wings fell off and her hooves disintegrated and she was back in the chair again."
"Oh... goodness! That sounds terrible!"
Paige sighed, then smiled. "It was, but it passed. And when she stopped having the dreams, she stopped being clumsy. Within days she was flying like she was born to it. I think she just needed to work out that the gift wasn't going to be taken back."
"The... gift." Inkwell hadn't thought of her conversion that way before. It had saved her life, to be sure, and it was hiding her from her enemies, which was well and good. But if anything, she'd felt her transformation a little abrupt, even disappointing, because she had missed out on all the wondrous sounding Bureau antics.
But Paige didn't care about all the fancy stuff in any Bureau. She just wanted to be sure she could stay with her Petrichor, that they could still be together four years from now, when the world ended. Paige just wanted to be a pony. More than anything. It would be a gift to her, just as it had been for her mate, Petrichor. The gift of security.
The night before, Inkwell and Petrichor had played 'Mario Marble' on the table. Inkwell had gotten very proficient at moving small objects telekinetically, so they had set up a raceway and obstacle course on the tabletop. Packages, boxes, a brick or two, chopsticks, a spoon, several dougnuts (Paige objected to that, later), and numerous other bits and objects made up the course. Inkwell had tried to run her marble through the course, without just hovering it. The rule was that she had to just roll the marble, not levitate it. Pet kept trying to set up impossible stunts. The game had lasted hours, until it was time for dinner and they had to clean the table off.
Not once had Inkwell missed her computer or the games on it. What could compete with real magic? Nothing, nothing in all the world.
It was a gift, to be a unicorn. It was a big, shiny, bow-wrapped gift of wonder and delight, and she'd just been taking it all for granted and grumbling that she couldn't fold panties by floating them in the middle of the air. What a problem to be cryin' about! Oh! Poor me! I'm a brand new unicorn and I can't fold panties with the bloody telekinesis because I'm still just learning how to use my horn!
It suddenly hit Inkwell that she had hundreds of years to get good at using her magical horn. Several human lifespans, and then some. She was a baby, really. And just being at all this way, was the greatest gift she had ever received.
"Yes, Inks, what's on your mind? You've been staring off for a bit."
Inkwell turned her head and stared into the eyes of the human on the bed beside her. "Somehow, some way, I am going to get you converted Paige, and within the month. That is my goal."
Paige stared, then laughed. "If you can do that, miss Inkwell the Unicorn, you'll never be short of gratitude from me. Or from Pet." Paige closed her eyes, and sighed once more. "You'll also be a right wizard among unicorns, and that's a fact."
Inkwell put her head down on her forelegs, and began to think about how to make her plan come true.