Gwenhwyfar Boik sat up on her elbows, uncertain of where she was. She was laying on green, living grass, at the foot of a hawthorn tree. She recognized the tree, because of several books she had read about trees. Gwen looked around, not frightened, but greatly unsettled. How had she gotten here, wherever here actually was?
It wasn't Equestria - the plants and landscape were wrong. It looked exactly like how the earth had once looked, long ago, before the perpetual smog layer, before the blights and the death of all wheat and the end of grasses. The tree was an earth tree. But the world was strangely still, and Gwen heard no birdsong. She had read about birds. Apparently, they sang somehow.
Gwen sat the rest of the way up. She could feel her body. She pinched herself, and it hurt. She knew who she was, and as far as she could tell, she was awake and fully herself. What had she been doing before this moment? She remembered the warehouse. She had been chased by terrorists. The roof. And... Petrichor! A pegasus had saved her. She had been shot!
Gwen checked her side - she was unhurt and unharmed. She was also not wearing her green jumpsuit. In its place was an ancient dress with a green velvet kirtle and a brown girdle and tunic. She'd never felt such materials before, and they were a fascination to her fingers.
Suddenly, she felt a faint breeze, the first in this quiet world. With it came a presence, ancient, powerful, yet utterly loving, and it made Gwen look up from her examination of her skirts.
Milk-white she stood, almost half again as tall as any man, elegant and royal as could be. It was Celestia, princess of Equestria, shod in gold and jewels, her ethereal mane and tail flowing in otherworldly winds.
Gwen stared up at the impossibly beautiful creature, and then the scene and situation came to focus within her mind. Of course! She understood now. She had been shot, and the unicorn had prescribed... this was a Conversion Dream. It had to be - it could be nought else. But it seemed so real. It was like real life, and there was no sense of dreaming whatsoever.
A smile crossed Gwen's lips. The hawthorn tree. That was the Eildon tree, or she'd be stuffed. Gwen decided to play along, it was clear that everything here was deliberate. She looked into Celestia's kind and gentle face and spoke the ancient words of the poem.
"All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven! For your peer on earth I never did see."
Celestia smiled in return, and with shining, mirthful eyes, returned -
"O no, O no, Good Gwenhwyfar, that name does not belong to me; I am but the princess of fair Equestria, And I’m come here for to visit thee."
The two, woman and equinoid princess, softly laughed together. Gwen sighed and finally asked "What now?" She thought for a moment and then added "...my princess?" This was a Conversion Dream to be sure, and that meant that Gwen would awake as a pony, as an Equestrian, and not as a human. Humans were the province of the Worldgovernment, as they should be, but all ponykind was subject to the princesses, as they should be. With the change of her flesh, came also the change of her citizenship within the multiverse. She would be no longer under the dominion of Earth, but instead forever be entirely of Equestria - her natural and true home henceforth.
"Come, my little pony, and walk with me, for I have fairlies to show to thee."
Gwen clambered up from the grass under the Eildon tree, and began to follow after the princess, across the velvet green. As they approached a great and strange body of water, Celestia stopped and bid her to climb upon her back. Gwen was unsure, it seemed so inappropriate a thing to do, but Celestia insisted and so she did as she was commanded.
The water was a deep purple, dark and strange, and as soon as Gwen was safely upon the princesses great back they were both crossing the curious and wide river. It was not at all deep, but it shone with eerie light, glowing from below, and sparkled as it flowed.
"Princess?" Gwen had no idea how to sit upon Celestia's back, so she had resorted to clinging like a baby monkey, on her belly, her limbs wrapped around the great creature's barrel, holding on for dear life, her head pressed into the soft coat of white. "Forgive me if I'm doing this wrong... I've never been carried like this before. I don't know how to ride."
They had nearly crossed the purple flow when Celestia came to a stop, her legs partly submerged.
"Abide and rest a little space, and I will shew you ferlies three."
Gwen looked up, cautiously, from where she had been pressing her head into Celestia's back. "Princess?" Celestia was still quoting The Ballad Of Thomas The Rhymer. Was she doing this just for her? Is that how Conversion Dreams worked? Did the princess really care so much for her subjects?
In front of them both, just past the far bank, lay three paths, diverging from the shore. Celestia spoke again, the words changed, but no less well said.
"O see ye not yon narrow road, so straight and short it be? See how it ends in cliff and doom, both final and abruptly?
This is the path of all Mankind, who in darkness cries in fear, but to no-one, for their road is solitude.
"And see not ye that braid braid road that leads to fire and war, that is of Man in Equestria unchanged? That is the path of wickedness, tho some call it the road to heaven.
"And see not ye that bonny road, that winds about the fernie brae? That is the road to fair Equestria, where thou and I this morn maun gae."
Gwen was overwhelmed, she was reminded of her grandfather telling her stories, and that the princess of Equestria would reach into her mind and present things to her in such manner was a kindness that bespoke great love and attention to her. "That's... that's why you change us, isn't it?" Gwen lay her head down once more upon the princesses wide back. She shut her eyes, reveling in the soft, powerful, utterly safe warmth below her. "Because if you didn't make us into ponies, we'd act exactly the same in your world as we have in our own. Of course we would. And in the end, it would just turn out the same."
Gwen opened her eyes, and reached up to gently stroke the princesses soft coat, only to be astonished to find a pale, ivory hoof at the end of her... foreleg. Gwen stared at her hoof, then suddenly twisted on Celestia's back to try to get a glimpse of the rest of her body. The sudden jerking motion tilted her to the side, and she began to slip off of the back of the great equinoid, to fall into the shallow purple flow.
Instantly, Gwen felt herself surrounded by golden light. It sparkled and covered every part of her, and she found herself floating in the air, weightless, orbiting the princess until she was even with her muzzle, and her long, glowing horn.
"Fear not, my little pony, for the rest of time and beyond, I will always be there to catch you should you fall."
Tears welled up within the new pony's shining eyes, and Gwen wanted to say something, everything, but nothing came out but a squeak. Inside herself, she knew beyond knowing that for the first time in her existence, she was safe, truly safe, and that whatever happened on earth or in Equestria, at the end, Celestia would be there, she would always be there. It was in some strange way a new eon now, and death itself, for her, had died.
The first thing that the Newfoal Gwenhwyfar felt was her tail. It was swishing back and forth, as if it had a mind of it's own, across the soft comforter on the mat. Back and forth - or was it really up and down, considering that she was laying on her side and all? Up and down relative to her spine, to be sure, but side to side from the point of gravity, and the view of anyone else.
Oh, but she felt giddy! That was the next thing Gwen noticed. She felt like the weight of ages had been lifted from her, as though a lifetime of fear and loathing and dissatisfaction had been swept from the kitchen floor of her mind. She opened her eyes, to see Petrichor staring intently at her, laying down on the floor, almost even with the mat. She could see what must be the yellow hooves and legs of the unicorn medic, Ace.
Throughout her life, Gwen had always felt a vague distrust of every soul, because, in the end, nobody could be completely trusted except family, and really, not even them all the way, to tell the truth. To be alive was to be on guard, to stand ready for the little and great betrayals and griefs that came from nobody ever truly being what they claimed to be. At least not all the time.
But Gwen knew that she was different now, and she knew that all other ponies were the same different, and she knew she could finally trust. All ponies were one herd, Celestia and Luna's herd, one family, and one heart. A pony could be cranky, or difficult or upset. But a pony would never betray or truly harm another, not when it counted, not ever. It was unthinkable, because there was no wiring upstairs to think it at all.
She felt so different! Gwen felt light and new and bright. She began to look about and raised her muzzle off the mat. Her ears twitched - oh that felt wondrous odd! - as she ran her much longer tongue around her flat, perfect teeth.
"She's awake!" Petrichor was grinning across Gwen to what must be Paige on her other side. Gwen swept her long neck around and found herself staring at human legs and knees. Paige was sitting on the floor, back to the wall, as she had the night before. Gwen raised her head to see Paige smiling with both gladness and a touch of envy, down at her. "He...helllooo!" It was a little strange trying to talk with her new mouth. Gwen felt her voice was a little higher in pitch, and clearer and less raspy too. "Hello!"
Suddenly Gwen found herself giggling. She didn't exactly know why, but it didn't really matter, because it was fun to giggle, and she hadn't done much of that for many a year. Gwen looked at her forehooves, shiny and ivory and smooth. She gave a tentative poke at the mat with her right hoof and that was funny somehow, and she started to laugh.
"I love this part. I just love watching them during this part!" Petrichor seemed almost as ebulent as Gwen felt. "Post-conversion euphoria. I wish it could last forever, you know?"
Paige gave a short laugh. "She does seem just plain happy. Just like you, love. When you first woke up, after, you were quite the silly filly for some time." Paige crossed her arms over her chest, hugging her own body. "It does look fun." The look on her face was slightly sad.
"Why couldn't you have brought an extra dose, Ace?" Petrichor stared hard at the standing unicorn. "You know we've been trying to get her into the Bureau. We've even tried to contact the PER!"
Ace shook his head. "This was what I could get. Well, I didn't exactly get it, I took it. They didn't want to release any of the emergency store. I'm just quick with my horn. Let's just say I won't be finishing my human-world internship." The unicorn looked off, out the window, and whipped his tail against his hocks.
"You had to steal it? Why wouldn't they just give it to you?" Petrichor was upset now. "She was dying! What's the point of a hospital if it doesn't help anypony?"
"Making money." Ace said the words flatly. "She wasn't a patient, she had no known worth."
"That's completely inhuman!" Paige was upset now. All the upset was making Gwen feel less giddy.
"No, it's completely human." Ace continued to stare out the window. "I'm done with weighing treatment in terms of profitability. I'm a unicorn! It's about time I started acting like one."
"Enough, OK?" Petrichor interrupted. "This is her time, now. Sorry, Gwen. I'm sorry! I shouldn't have fussed at Ace like that." Petrichor put a foreleg over one of Gwen's, grasping the hoof in the curl of her fetlock. "Hey, guess what? Ace here isn't the only unicorn in the room now!"
Gwen crossed her eyes and tried to look upwards, but all she could see was locks of raven black mane. She tried jerking her neck back to flip her locks away, but if she had a horn, it wasn't long enough to see. Her antics made Petrichor and Paige laugh.
"It's there, love." Paige leaned forward and gave Gwen a pat on her withers. "Just a little higher up. Here, I'll give it a wiggle for you." Paige took a hold of Gwen's horn, and gave it, and Gwen's head, a gentle shake. "Feel that? You got yourself a horn, girl! You're a unicorn now!"
Gwen giggled at that. 'you're a unicorn now!' - like it was a rite of passage, like when she had her first period and her mother had told her that she was a woman now. 'O brave new world, That has such ponies in't' Gwen thought to herself, and giggled again at the literary reference. Well, at least as a unicorn, turning pages on books would be easy as could be. Writing would be simplified too. A unicorn was a good thing to be, if one was a librarian.
"What color are my eyes?" Gwen was playing with her ears now, rotating and flicking them, much to Petrichor's amusement.
"They're unusual, for a pony." Ace had stepped in front of Paige to lean his head down and study Gwen briefly. "I've only heard of this, not actually seen it. You have black eyes, Gwen. Black like your mane. It's probably the single rarest color to have. Even gold eyes are more common, and they're fairly rare." Ace returned to the foot of the bed. "Equestrians tend toward bright colors, as you may have noted." This made Gwen and Pet laugh. "Alright, very bright colors. So plain blacks and whites are fairly unusual, with gold and silver being rare. Ordinary is every color in the rainbow. It's kind of the opposite of bland old Earth, really."
Gwen turned her head to look at Ace, and was astonished to find out just how far she could look backwards, over her own prone body. She was able to see her own tail and bottom. "Whoa... I can see my own rear!" That made everyone laugh.
"Pony necks are very flexible. They kind of have to be, really. Your mouth is your hand now, sort of." Petrichor stretched her wings and used her teeth and lips to straighten a covert.
"In the Oz books - have you read any of Oz? L. Frank Baum?" Gwen wondered if her horn looked the same as Ace Bandage's, short but with a spiral to it. Ace shook his head.
"I have!" Petrichor continued grooming her feathers.
"Baum had colors for every magical land. The Winkies were Yellow - everything was yellow, even the trees - and the Gillikins were purple, even the dirt was purple!" Gwen had loved the Oz books. The movies, and later the holos, not so much. Nopony ever got Oz right. "But for Baum, the color of Kansas, of the entire planet Earth, really, was gray! The absence of color was Earth. Maybe he was inspired somehow! Oh, that's a thought, to be sure!"
"Are you feeling hungry at all?" Paige had stood up, leaning on the window frame for support. "I've never heard of any recent convert who wasn't eager to have their First Meal As A Pony!"
Suddenly, Gwen realized that she was famished. How had she not noticed until now? Probably because the experience was so overwhelming, and she felt so light and happy. "Oh, yes please! Oh please! I...I'm really really hungry! Would that be OK? I'll help!" She did want to help, very much. That was new. Maybe it was just the euphoria talking? Gwen started to try to stand, but fell back down on the mat.
"Whoa, there little pony. I'll go put a feedbag together, you just hang in the stable for a while yet. Let that euphoria settle down. It's no big. I have to feed the walking mouth over there all the time anyway." Paige blew her lover a kiss and left the room.
"I need to go deal with a few matters relating to all of this. I have to say it was interesting, though. Conversions are always interesting to watch." Ace walked around and lowered his head to Gwen's level. "Take it easy at first, Gwen, and when you do try to walk, just think about it as crawling, like a human baby, and it will just come naturally. But eat something first. Conversion uses up a lot of local resources, OK?"
Ace lifted his head and turned around. The sound of his hooves on the floor made neat little clacks as he walked. "Oh, and take it easy with your horn at first. I tried to lift too much in the beginning and gave myself a headache. The secret is to just push your will into it, while focusing on a single object. Start small."
Ace said goodbye to Petrichor, and left.
"So! How do you like it? Being a pony, I mean?" Petrichor was grinning, as if she already knew the only possible answer.
Truth be told, Gwen felt so good she had no other way to put it. "It feels great!" And it did, and that was the fact of it. Her new body felt healthy and strong, and there was no denying how happy she was. It was almost disturbing how clear and bright her vision was, and every sound and smell was so sharp and powerful. It was as if she had only been half alive until now, and finally had gotten the chance to truly exist in the world. Plus, it was honestly astonishing how vital and important a tail seemed now that she had one to flick about. How had she ever lived without one?
"There's one extra benefit to all of this, too." Petrichor grinned, finally done with her preening. "Those HLF goons will never recognize you now. Especially if you pick out a good pony name! Oh! we should think up a good name for you!"
This vaguely disturbed Gwen. She was proud of her name, it was unusual, and traditional, and she had loved how her grandfather had said it. He always called her Gwenhwyfar, rolling out the sound like it was a precious thing. She wasn't at all sure she wanted to change it. "But... I really like my name!"
"I'm sure you do, but think about it..." Petrichor nodded at her "...you'll be living in Equestria one day soon - we all will. A human name puts you at a disadvantage, because you will seem strange and it will be harder to fit in. Plus, it's additional camouflage to stay out of the notice of the men chasing you! Not to mention that it's traditional and that you are starting a new life as a pony! Aaannnd..." Petrichor had a devilish gleam in her eye "...I REALLY really like thinking up new pony names, and you wouldn't want to make me feel all blue would you?"
Gwen laughed, still giddy from her conversion. "No, we can't be having that now, can we? Nothing worse than a sad pegasus, it brings the rain don't cha know?"
"Buckets and deluges and miasmas and cataracts and alluvion a'plenty!" Petrichor laughed. "And if you let me at the thesaurus, I'll throw some more floody words at you until you give in!"
"Alright, alright..." In for a pound, in for a pony, reasoned Gwen. 'Oh, that's a nice one', she thought. "I'll not be marking my first day as a citizen of Equestria by causing a catastrophic balneation of half the city, of that you can be sure!"
"Bal...neation?" Petrichor seemed impressed. "You really ARE a librarian!"
Gwen slapped her tail down on the comforter like a judge's gavel. "You bet your books I am!"
Their shared laughter echoed into the kitchen, where Paige was busy making lunch for everypony... 'everyone' she corrected herself. But her time would come. It would come.
Across the city, in a warehouse, Leonard Roosevelt Reich stood in front of a large, hanging holoscreen. He paced back and forth, an angry scowl dominating his face.
"It's up." Aaron was at the active surface, as always.
Behind Leonard, on the holoscreen, the thirty members of the Echelon saw the rotating face of a brunette woman. A running list of stats described her as Gwenhwyfar Boik, age 31, 5' 10", 212 lbs. Scottish-English descent. Member: Worldgovernment Literature And Arts Survival Triage Team. Suspected member of underground society connected to Enemy Two, Luna. Heterosexual, some evidence of bisexual phase in college. Damage to cornea, right eye. Damage to tendon of ring finger, right hand. Mole on left buttock, scar from bicycle accident on left arm...
The list continued scrolling, seemingly without end.
Leonard let the information spew for several minutes, before he spoke. "There is reasonable confidence that Boik here has the notebook. The method of her escape suggests a highly developed plan, including likely infiltration of the core organization. It is unlikely..." Leonard gave a hard stare at the thirty men before him, then continued. "...that it was mere coincidence for a pegasus to just happen to be flying by with the capacity to rescue her. It is even more unlikely..." His stare was menacing now "... for this elaborate escape to be coincidentally connected to the misdelivery of the single most valuable mass of information ever smuggled out of the Worldgovernment secret archives. It is impossible that all of this is a coincidence that the only item missing from the package was the single most important and vital part of that shipment!"
The thirty men shifted nervously, and looked afraid, which they had every reason to be.
"The error made by our driver is being looked into, right now."
Thirty men, and Aaron at the active surface, swallowed uncomfortably at this.
"The errors we have made in failing to reacquire the notebook WILL be corrected." Leonard's eyes were cold, the eyes of a snake, the eyes of a predator both wily and dangerous. Not a single man in the room doubted any word that Leonard Reich spoke.
"It is the analysts belief that miss Boik here is an agent of Celestia and the Worldgovernment, posing as a librarian. She is clearly highly skilled to avoid capture, and should be considered an active primary combatant. The pegasus is likely a former Worldgovernment agent, probably one of the genespliced core group that founded the PER. It's ability to lift our miss Boik, combined with an apparent skill for evasion under fire suggest it is a dangerous primary oppositional threat. There is confidence that the entire event was a planned and well executed action, and must have involved inside knowledge of our activities. The possibility of a member with... divided loyalties... is being investigated."
This caused more nervous shifting and swallowing.
Leonard took the comb from his back pocket, and ran it across his carefully oiled, blond hair. He put his comb back into his pocket with slow precision. "We do not yet know the location of miss Boik, the pegasus, or the notebook. Every speck of information is available as of now, study up gentlemen. I expect all three to be found, with maximum expediency."
Leonard Roosevelt Reich stared with blue eyes at thirty nervous men. "Let me put this in clear perspective: if we find that notebook, the lab boys tell me that the process of conversion itself could be made impossible within one week. If that is not motivation, you are in the wrong organization. Get to work."
And with that, thirty men moved to their own active surface terminals, and began sifting details and facts, on the job, and more importantly, on the hunt.