T H E       C O N V E R S I O N       B U R E A U



By Chatoyance


Chapter Three: The End Is Neigh

The volcano within Gwenhwyfar Boik was beginning to rumble. The magma-tastic slurry of KimChee and Jalapeno under her crust was threatening to erupt, and the threat was credible. Something would need to be done about the issue but Gwen was desperately trying to put it off. She wanted to avoid wasting time on stupid bodily necessities if she could get away with it - for Gwen had a Book to get through... and Master Must Be Obeyed.


Master would have to wait on this one after all. The super-intense, concentrated flavors of Nanoritos were not to be ignored. Once again, bundling her precious new found notebook up like the Christ child itself, Gwen decided to sneak up to the warehouse office. Old Milner had a lockbox in there where he kept the odd toss of favela whiskey, but he was also known to store a can or two of soda. He used the soda to cut the street-brewed flavor of whiskey brewed in the bowels of the city. Or possibly in actual bowels. Milner's crimes against taste not withstanding, he really was a decent sort, and Gwen was certain she could set things right - after she had broken in and been properly cola-fied.

The office was upstairs, a tricky prospect at night and with most of the lights off. She didn't want to attract attention by turning more lights on - after all, she was carrying The Most Dangerous Book In The World close to her bosom, and make no mistake it was a bulging mass under her clothing. Still, the stairs were very dark, and it was hard going in a few places.

Gwen was accomplished with a bobby-pin and a bit of a jiggle and poke, and in no time she had the office door open. Inside Milner's opposite-of-grand office, the rusted lock-box was surprisingly easy to find. This was basically because old Milner didn't know the first wee bit about properly hiding anything. Cracking the box was a bit fiddly, because of the dark, but a bit of pluck soon revealed the contents of Milner's little chest of treasures.

The street-liquor she passed up with little internal debate. Gwen wasn't opposed to a touch of the sauce from time to time - purely as a restorative, of course - but she preferred quality restoration. The repurposed bottle was corked with what looked like a shaved eraser. As whiskey, it was nothing close to quality, unless that quality was 'awful'.  Fortunately, there was a nice, self-refrigerating can of Nanocola, which made her do her usual sigh of annoyance.

Nano... cola. Gwen shook her head. 'Seriously', she thought, 'when 'radio' was first introduced, did they put the word at the front of every bloody product?' A bit of reading came back to her - yes, actually they did. Radio Biscuits and Radio Flyer Wagons and all were as common as unwanted babies back when. History forever repeating itself - well, until the ponies came, of course. The ponies had changed everything.

Gwen popped the little activator bump and gave the can a few seconds to cool itself down. Then she snapped the drinking tab, and let a river of replicated cola substitute wash over the layer of lava in her smoldering mouth. 'Oh sweet Jesus and all the saints' she thought, as the river continued down into her stomach - where even now the horror of Mount Nanorito East Of Java (and South Of Sternum) was counting down for the Big Blow.

Panting, in the old warehouseman's lair, Gwen finally felt vaguely normalized. She'd pay him back for the lost beverage as soon as she could, and add a bit more, along with not a few apologies for the unbidden intrusion. She wasn't going to teach Milner how to hide things properly though, because one never knew when a soda emergency might arise again.

Carefully making her way back down the pitch black stairs, Gwen found the solid floor and wended her way to the Fortress Castle Of The Book Laird and set herself down tidy once more, on top of the tarp and with her backpack and water bottle at her side. Cola firmly in hand, Gwenhwyfar untucked the dangerous notebook from where she had stashed it, half in her underwear, and all of it tightly constrained by the taut fabric of her Green Level Jumpsuit.

The mysteries of the origin of her brave new world of Bureaus and ponies awaited, and she had the night to properly explore everything, and decide what to do with the tome itself. Luna, or being burned, these were the only rational options, and Gwen still wasn't at all sure which was the better. That said, there were at least two things she could be sure of.

One, that she would never, eat a bag of anything labeled 'Mexi-Korean' ever again.

Two, that there never would be a better answer to the misery of a flaming tract than good old cola. Nano or not.

Hush now, the notebook awaits.


Project Bucephalus - Laboratory 012

January 21st

I've learned a lot over the past two weeks.

I know things that no person should know, and I am afraid for the lives of everyone in project Bucephalus. I don't entirely believe the promise that we will all be free to go when this is done, though the others seem to. Then again, the world is truly ending, so perhaps there simply is no need to keep the secrets of the powerful in the usual tell-no-tales manner, since they only need be kept for seven years.

OK, so first off, I know the reason the world will end in such a short time.

We now have a name for the bubble out in the sea. It was offered to us by the ruler of that land, Celestia. The official designation is 'Equestria'. No human could pronounce the name the aliens have for their universe, so a translated version was chosen. The princess herself selected the name, and I have to say it is clever enough, and shows a remarkable comprehension of the nuances of our language, and also how we perceive these beings. They find being called 'ponies' acceptable too, so that is what they are officially labeled now.

The cosmos of Equestria is colliding with our own. I remember a string theorist I knew back at university who went on about how the Big Bang was really a collision of the cosmic brane our universe was embedded within suddenly smashing through another brane in some higher space. By comparison, this is as gentle a cosmic collision as one could ever hope for - the entirety of our universe is not being obliterated, and there is no bang. The current estimate is that the effects of the collision will only reach out to about halfway to the moon.

Equestria is passing through the plane of our reality, and the cross-section of it is a sphere. The sphere will continue to expand until it reaches some maximum diameter, then, as Equestria continues on its way past our universe, the cross-section will shrink until it vanishes altogether. It is entirely like A. Sphere passing through Abbott's 'Flatland'.

The moon will be cut loose from the gravity that holds it as the earth is swept away into another dimension, and will spin off wildly into space. The best guess seems to be that the moon will be thrown into a spiraling path that will eventually end up inside the sun. Surprisingly, to me at least, the loss of the earth will have almost no effect on the rest of the solar system. Earth just doesn't have much influence on the rest of the planets, despite all the old science fiction I've enjoyed over the years.

All of this came from a very long, live-streamed hololecture for all the groups within project Bucephalus. They held nothing back, but then there is no reason to. We are the chosen selected to save the world, so nothing is denied us. I found out that I now possess the highest security clearance that has ever existed - 'Umbra-Cosmik-Magik' clearance. We all do. There is literally no information, about anything in the world - however secret it may be - that I cannot ask to know, and all will be provided to me. They have no way to predict what little detail might help us solve the central problem, so everything and anything is open to us.

The passing of Equestria through our universe will take sixteen years. But the only part that matters to human beings is the first eight. We've already wasted most of the first year, which leaves seven left to us. I've learned a lot about that initial time, though most of what I now know did not come from the hololecture. It's quite a story.

The bubble in the sea was fairly rapidly identified as an expansion from hyperspace. It was pretty much the only thing it could be - it certainly wasn't obeying mundane physics. They sent an armada out to examine the bubble within a week of it being discovered, some ships reached the thing the next day. A lot of the early responders died from the radiation it emitted, so they knew from the beginning that it was dangerous.

Apparently - and I have no reason to doubt the source, (which I am not writing down here - let's just say it is someone who should know, and leave it at that) there was a contact that first week. The story is that Celestia appeared, like a hologram or a ghost or something, to all the big heads of the Worldgovernment. She told them in earth languages who she was, what was going on, and how it would all end unless they worked together with her. She pleaded with them to save humanity from the collision, and that she knew a way to do just that.

She's a fairly imposing alien creature. We're human, and you can guess what happened next. That was what caused the Three Day War. All the elites jumped to the same conclusion, not unreasonable considering the whole of human history, that this was an invasion. Invaders From Beyond! I can only imagine the panic. So, they tried to destroy Equestria.

Most people have seen the images of the ocean boiling, and the entire West Coast of the Northamerizone saw the flashes and heard the booms, from hundreds of miles away. But what I now know is they were ready to use a hypernuke on the damn thing. Seriously. The doomsday weapon, the QCD bomb. They almost made the first test of a quantum chromodynamic weapon right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The only thing that stopped them was just one guy, apparently. Somebody high up grasped that a hypernuke would - at best - rip away a third of the planet, and destroy the entire biosphere. It would basically be planetary suicide. They were still willing to do it, they just didn't understand the true scale of such things. It was the Big Boom and they wanted to use it. One man saved us all. One guy said no. Jesus fucking Christ.

We're still here, so they obviously listened. Then things got stupid again - and then they got weird.

The elite apparently decided to just ignore the expanding universe in the ocean after that. They couldn't blow it up, and there was no immediate profit in doing anything more, and they had no idea what to do in any case. So they shut down further news stories from being released, threw some scientists at the problem, and stuck their heads into the sand.

And that is where we would still be, except Celestia came back. The attack was nothing to her and Equestria. Less than nothing. Maybe it rained candy or somesuch over there. So Celestia comes right back, and she comes back to stay.

Apparently, there are about six hundred people who really run things. The whole planet, the whole damn globe. They're a bunch of incestuous ancient families who pretty much just had the world fall into their lap. Napoleon, Alexander, Genghis Kahn - all of them never had a chance to conquer the world. The secret victory condition, it turned out, was to just be the richest damn people in the world, and still be that way when the good times ran out. All the corporate gods, they ended up conquering the world by default. When the global economy crashed, when all the governments fell, the rich men pulling the strings all along got stuck out in the open. No more nations to hide behind. There was nothing else to do, so - Worldgovernment. Feed the people somehow, and stop the riots, and they did, and that is how they conquered the earth. It's almost funny. Especially since they didn't want to be stuck out in front like that at all.

A bunch of families, the ultra-elite of the world, and Celestia appears personally to every single member of those clans. Every man, every woman, every child. All the time. 24 hours a day, and in their dreams at night to boot. One Celestia for each family member. And only they can see the Celestia assigned to them.

So when they get up, Celestia is at the foot of their bed, greeting them. While they brush their teeth - or have corporate slaves brush their teeth for them, or whatever it is the supreme elite rich do in the morning - Celestia is there, pointing out the little speck of spinach from the night before. Lunch, dinner, during sex, taking a dump - Celestia is there, commenting, observing, making little jokes. Always pleasant, always present, and always repeating the basic message. The world is going to end in eight years. There is a way to save humanity, but we have to work together.

The elite put up with this for three months. I cannot even grasp that. Three months of Celestia staring at them every single second. Talking their ears off. Nightmares every night about how the world would end, narrated by this other princess who we don't have a name for yet. Equestria has two princesses, apparently, not just Celestia. It's a diarchy. I only recently found out that little fact. So, three months of being constantly nagged, and get this - for the first month, they didn't even talk to each other about the fact it was happening.

Jesus nonexistent Christ. I mean, seriously. Stiff upper lip and all of that but... just... damn. Anyway, eventually they just all break, and have a big cry over it all, and then carry on for two more months thinking they can tough it out and it will just go away.

It didn't just go away, and finally Celestia demanded a big meeting, and to shut her up they actually did it. It was probably the only time in history all these super-rich families were ever in the same place at the same time. And Celestia did something to make them take her seriously. Something big. Something scary. I don't know what, but she put on one hell of a show.

The next day they started putting together project Bucephalus as if their very lives depended on it. And here I am, in Laboratory 012.

That's our group designation now. Zero-Twelve. Of twenty. We have our own facility, our own mini-complex, all new and freshly built, just for us. The other nineteen groups have the same deal. No expenses spared, and between all of us, we have to save humanity. Not the planet, that is a lost cause. Only humanity.

That's the plan, see. Celestia is willing to take us in, as refugees. Apparently she's done it before, too. This is the first time her universe has actually crashed into another cosmos, but Equestria has touched other places, and a few of them were in pretty desperate straights. She's taken in giant, intelligent winged lizards and feathery carnivores. Trolls that move through dirt as if it were air. So taking us in is just par for her course. She's some kind of cosmic softy.

But there's a problem, a big one.

It seems that the radiation that kills us is the norm out there in the multiverse. Countless universes, and they all run on that stuff, whatever it is. Our cosmos is apparently super rare, the special snowflake of universes. Lucky, lucky us. We don't have a speck of that energy, and yet, here we are. According to Celestia, that radiation is the very stuff of life, it is the energy that makes life possible at all. So we, humanity, earth, plants and animals - we shouldn't exist. We are impossible, or at least so unlikely that the existence of a universe like ours is considered to be tinfoil hat stuff out in the multiverse. It turns out that WE are the anomaly.

Humanity really did turn out to be as unique and special as it always wanted to be. The problem is, that is not a good thing.

You see, we just can't survive in the rest of everything that is. The energy that makes life possible everywhere else is death to us. The Barrier was created by Celestia and her co-regent to protect us. Without it, we would have all fried instantly. She did the best she could - her Barrier is a bit leaky, but it gives us time.

Which brings me to what the real plan actually is.

Humans can't live in Equestria, or anywhere else - if we had a way to get anywhere else, which we don't. So, in order to survive, we cannot remain as we are. Our job in the laboratory groups is to find a way to transform humanity into something that can survive the rest of creation. Our job is to physically change human beings into another creature that can actually live in what will be our new home - Equestria.

So the bottom line is that it is our job is turn all of humanity into Equestrians. Into what we call the 'ponies'. I know. It just seems impossible. But it isn't.

The answer, it turns out, is nanotechnology. The dream of the little machines being able to remake any matter into something else was a powerful one. Sadly, not enough power and too much heat ruined that dream. But Equestria offers something new. Physics doesn't work the same way there.

They don't have entropy.

Heat isn't the issue it is here, and power - well, put bluntly, scarcity doesn't exist for them.

So the answer is actually pretty simple. All we have to do is come up with some nanotech that can do the job of changing a human body into an Equestrian body, and figure out how to use Equestrian physics to power the little buggers. Simple.

And if we fail, everybody everywhere dies on October 12th, at 2:30 in the afternoon, seven years from today. Something like that, I'm just pulling that date out of my ass. That isn't the real date. They said what the date was, but frankly, by that point, I wasn't able to listen anymore.

Tomorrow we get our first sample of the stuff Celestia thinks will work as the power source. We've already got some simple nanobots ready to see how they will react. In any case, I intend to do a little digging - after all, no information is to be denied us. I want to know who this Celestia is, and what Equestria is all about. Things just don't make sense to me - something is not being said.

14th century technology, yet they know about other universes and physics beyond anything humanity has ever learned. I don't get it. It sounds like magic, and to me, that means we're missing a piece of the puzzle here. Magic just plain doesn't exist.

Project Bucephalus - Laboratory 012

January 22nd

OK, I'll say it. Magic apparently exists.

At least that is the official label we have been given for the omnipresent energy field that pervades the Equestrian universe, and sustains all Equestrian life. Dark energy, black holes - how many different labels we have come up with to refer to an empty variable we cannot solve yet. Dark, black, strange, and now - magic.

Everyone is calling it thaumatic radiation, basically 'magic' radiation, and I suppose it is as good a term as any. We know just a little about it. It fills space, at least within the Equestrian cosmos, and, according to its regent, Celestia, all other inhabited universes. Magic interferes with quantum reality at a fundamental level - it destroys indeterminacy and then turns right around again and explodes decoherence. That is why it kills terrestrial life. All earthly cells make use of quantum effects in various ways. Plants depend on quantum effects for photosynthesis, the neurons of all animals use quantum effects for processing inside cellular microtubules, and mitochondria use quantum interactions to boost efficiency. Life used what was available to it.

The fact is that god plays dice - Mr. Einstein, I am looking at you here - and magic rigs the dice, puts magnets under the dice table, inserts a crooked gambler and then fudges the results after the dice stop rolling. It is no wonder that Earth animals and plants die when exposed to thaumatic energies.

But thaumatic energy is vital to Equestrian life - plants, animals, even stones use the stuff. Yes - stones. It appears that everything within Equestria has some kind of life, or life-like condition about it. Rock is capable of life-like action, and can be made to grow. The same is true of Equestrian sand, dirt, metal, glass, basically all matter from that universe. The 'ponies' use thamatic energy in countless ways, and it sustains their very biology. 'Magic', essentially, is another universe's 'quantum' reality, and it is incompatible with ours.

But Equestrian 'magic' is also malleable. It can be woven, shaped, and given programmatical instructions. It acts like many descriptions of sorcerous or religious magic from earthly folklore and mythology. Programmed Thaumic Energy Constructs (P-TEC) have therefore naturally been given the general title of 'spells'. What else would one call them? The similarity to earth folklore and stories has made me robustly convinced that there must have been contact between Equestria and Earth in the past, and likely more than once.

We were given some toys and two liters of magic in a bottle today.

General Norman P. Ridgway himself brought it to us, while taking a tour of each lab in turn. He's a big fellow, kind of a baby face for an older man, and talks in a sort of nasal, surprisingly high voice. If he were completely bald, he would almost be hilarious - except, one look in his eyes and you know he is completely incapable of remorse or human compassion. Ridgway scares the crap out of me. On the Stennis, I felt fine, great bunch of guys, and the experience totally changed the way I felt about military people. Ridgway makes me feel the other way again. He's a smiling psychopath. Orderly, charming, but devoid of genuine feeling.

There was a big case brought in and plunked down on one of the large tables. The case was built to withstand nuclear conflict, from the look of it. It took four men to manhandle the thing. Inside, were three objects. Each was carefully removed with gloves and tongs, and we were cautioned to avoid direct skin contact for longer than a few seconds with any of the items.

The first object looked like a glass bulb with a bit of dark, bent wire inside. The wire was shaped to look like a sort of double-ended French-styled weathervane - that is what it made me think of. The little weathervane spun constantly inside the bulb, and it glowed - a soft yellow light that cast no shadows. I've never seen anything like it before in my life. It bothered my eyes to look at the light for too long - something about it didn't make sense to my brain. My eyes just wanted to slide away, in any direction rather than stare at it, even though the little device was fascination itself.

The second object was a semicircle of some translucent, bright yellow material. It was horseshoe shaped, and very thin, as though a dermatome had sliced it off. It was about ten centimeters in diameter, and was housed inside of a transparent crystalex box. The box had a sticker on it with the words 'Time Sensitive Material' printed upon it, a date - sometime last evening - and an expiry date, some thirty or so hours in the future. I had no idea what it was.

The last object was a standard Erlenmeyer flask with two liters of a dark, opaque, slightly viscous, deep purple fluid. It looked like thin chocolate syrup, only purple. There were a few bubbles of froth near the top of the flask. The flask was decorated with both a biohazard label and a new label I had never seen before - Thaumatic Radiation Hazard. The thaumatic hazard symbol was done in violet, and looked like a six-pointed snowflake or star, with smaller stars at the tip of each arm. This must be the promised bottle of magic, whatever that meant.

A special demonstration was immediately set up for us, due to the time sensitive material of object number two.

An experiment was performed, using a vapor generator of some kind. I think it was the type of thing they use in stage productions to create fog effects, though it may have been more than that. The vapor was water vapor, but it hung in the air or rose, so it didn't seem like it was being produced by carbon dioxide ice.

The horseshoe shape was carefully removed from its crystalex container with a pair of tongs. It was so thin that it sagged like a sheet of replipaper - it was nearly as thin. One of the technicians that had arrived with the general used a hose attachment to make a fountain of vapor, an indoor cloud, really. The paper-thin curve of yellow was laid on top of the cloud, where it sat, in the middle of the air, as if it were sitting flat on a desk.

The vapor generator was turned off. Instead of dissipating rapidly, the cloud of vapor began to collect to itself, under the yellow crescent. The water vapor formed into a neat little oblate spheroid, a cloud-in-miniature, and just hung there.

"This is sample FS-P-LFH-02, sectioned by dermatome from the left front hoof of a living donor, a pegasus-type Equestrian. The sample has been further enhanced through the use of a programmed thaumatic energy structure to maintain its unique properties post separation." The technician, a middle-aged man with glasses and a bow tie reminded me of a guy on the threevee I used to watch who did a science show. Who the hell wears bow ties anymore? Tell you the truth, though, I thought it was kind of kicky. In a goofy sort of way.

"The P-TEC used was translated as a 'cloud-walking' or cloud-trotting' thaumatic program, sometimes used to allow ground-type Equestrians to visit nebular atmospheric architectural constructions. Please note the magnetic or attractive properties of the material, as well as the stabilizing influence it generates relative to the vapor itself. The vapor is ordinary water vapor, with no unusual properties, produced from distilled water."

The technician then decided to show us all some tricks. It was clear that he was enjoying himself. He used the tongs to lift the shaving off of the little stable cloud, and then proceeded to slap and prod the cloudlet, shaping and even spinning it, as if it were a solid, cohesive object. "The influence of the contact with the sample has a lasting effect which dissipates over time. Sufficient contact may impart a semi-permanent effect upon the water vapor. Laboratory tests have demonstrated that micro cloud masses identical to this one can be made to remain in situ for days at a time without disbursing. We believe that thaumatic energy is being imparted in some manner to the vapor, and binding it within a circumscribed field or region."

The last trick the techie did was to push the baby cloud back and forth, as well as raising it and lowering it with the sample. I knew what the sample was now, of course. It was a microscopically thin slice of Equestrian hoof, removed not by some alien farrier, but very likely by a calibrated earthly tool.

"The material of the sample has been designated as 'alicorn', after ancient mythological references from the Eurozone and the  Mideasternzone. In structure, it is similar to keratin, though it is not made of any earthly protein. It has been demonstrated that stacks of the alicorn material can act as a crude thaumatic battery, storing thaumatic energy for indefinite periods of time. Thank you." He put the sample of 'alicorn' back into the crystalex box, and stowed it in the case, then stood near the back wall.

Another technician stepped forward to have their time in our spotlight. This one was an older woman who reminded me of my aunt back in Michigan. I swear, she even had the same hairstyle, last I remember seeing my aunt, anyway. Her voice was very different, though.

She used neoplastine gloves to carefully remove and hold up the bulb artifact. She didn't seem to feel tongs were as necessary as the first speaker. The bulb glowed, and inside it, the little weathervane spun. It never stopped spinning. "This," She really did look like my aunt. It was uncanny. "Is an Equestrian motor. I suppose that is the best term for it. It is used in the same manner as electric motors are used on earth, and for many of the same purposes - however, it is capable of vastly more."

She held the little machine and allowed us to look at it more closely - the ends of the bulb were made of metal, so it was perhaps more like an odd-looking fuse in appearance, really. Nowhere was there a shaft to communicate motion. The ends were just polished and flat. She put the bulb thing back in the case, and removed her gloves.

"We have not yet been able to translate the Equestrian name for this artifact, but for now we are calling it a thaumatic motor tube. What makes this little beauty truly astonishing is that it is entirely self-contained, self powering - as far as we can tell, it runs off of ambient thaumatic radiation, which in this case is being supplied by the contents of that Erlenmeyer over there."

That statement caused Baasch and Chawla to suddenly back away from the case, where they had been leaning over, trying to get a better look at the flask. It was pretty funny. Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.

"If the motor tube is removed entirely from proximity to a thaumatic source," My aunt continued - I swear she looked Just. Like. My. Aunt. Different voice, but just like - "the motor tube stops spinning and basically dies. It just stops, and we can't get it to start again. We have been told that the P-T-E-C... the spell is the word we are starting to use... is 'killed' by the lack of thaumatic energy. Once 'dead', a spell is gone forever, and cannot be recovered, since it is essentially a self-sustaining pattern, or information structure, that has no physical existence."

This boggled my mind, and it definitely bothered our evolutionary biologist, Malcolm. "A pattern... with no physical existence?" He almost sounded angry. "What, it has a soul or something?" This made the team laugh, myself included.

But my clone aunt - the bulb technician - she just stared at us. She freaking gave us the eye, and we shut up and stopped laughing. She couldn't be serious. But she was, even if she wasn't willing to say a damn word. I think every one of us in Lab 12 felt the same woo-woo chill run up our spines. That was some gree shit there, as the Cajuns say.

After the 'thaumatic motor tube' had been put away, a man stepped forward. He wore a rather fine suit, and sunglasses indoors. He was wired for sound, with permatech implants behind both ears and a frontal lobe implant in his forehead. Buzzcut hair. He moved like a serial killer in a horror holo.

"The Erlenmeyer contains 'Extract C', an organic, highly thaumatically active suspension that is extremely hazardous both biologically and radiatively. It is highly dangerous in close proximity, but relatively safe at distances greater than six centimeters as the field density sharply decreases. It can retain thaumatic potency indefinitely, as far as it is possible to tell. You are advised to consider the contents of this flask as being essentially pure, liquid thaumatism. It will burn you if you remain close, it will kill you if you touch it directly, or allow it to contact your body. It is the sole power source for project Bucephalus, and it is a gift directly from the regent of Equestria. The substance can be imprinted with Programmed Thaumic Energy Constructs, and will retain them indefinitely."

The scary man, which is how I thought of him now, looked us over carefully. I don't think he was the least impressed.

"The contents of this Erlenmeyer flask are to be considered more valuable than your own lives. There is currently no expectation of replacement should the contents be lost or carelessly used. You can easily be replaced, this flask cannot. Treat this flask as if it were a bottle of your own lifespan."

We were all glad when the scary man left. For a long time, nobody wanted to even look at the Erlenmeyer.

We were given an hour to examine, but not touch, all of the items in the case, and ask questions of the presenters. I asked the bulb technician if she had ever lived in Michigan, but she said she hadn't. None of us had a clue what to ask - this was new stuff. We didn't have a basis to even comprehend what we were dealing with.

So-yeon wanted to know if the Equestrian donor had felt any pain having it's hoof shaved. No. Just like earth creatures, the hoof material has no sensation within it. Mayoss kept asking about whether thaumatic radiation affected neurochemistry. He kept walking around wiggling a finger in his ear, like it bothered him somehow. Saulnier basically pummeled the poor hoof-sample technician with physics questions he couldn't answer. By the end, he looked like he had been mugged, which intellectually, I suppose he kind of was. His bow-tie was on crooked and everything. I felt sorry for the poor man. Physicists. Christ. Never let yourself get cornered by an excited physicist, that is all I am saying.

Nobody asked the scary man anything. At all.

The case was taken away and put in a safe place. General Ridgway had left us early, just after the case was opened.

But the damn thing - before the general left, Ridgway gave me a look and tapped the side of his head while staring at me. It was creepy, like he knew me. What the hell was up with that? The first thought I had was that he was flirting with me, the old letch. But it wasn't flirting, and later, I began to wish that flirting was all it had been. It was like a signal or something. Maybe it was just random. I don't know.

Creepy day, creepy General, creepy sunglasses guy, and alien stuff we have to figure out or die trying.

Did I mention I did not volunteer for any of this? They came, they told me what was what, I nodded helplessly, and here I am.

And there is no going home.