Chapter Ten: A
Cup Of Responsibility
young girl crept from building to building. She scrambled from broken
window to broken window, always remembering to keep her head down. It
was difficult; she had to be careful not to trip on broken beams or
rotting furniture, her arms were full, and she was terrified of
falling down upon what she carried.
her newborn baby had remained asleep. This was good. She had followed
the advice of her friend and given the infant a quarter of a spoon of
slum booze. If the baby cried, it could be bad. She had a small
bottle of the drink with her in case the child needed more. Lombard
was not a safe street; it sometimes acted as a staging area for
foolish gangs intent upon assaulting the blackmesh base at the Presidio.
across the street to Fillmore and eventually to Cervantes. If she
could make it to Marina, she knew that street went right by her goal.
Marina would take her straight to the old AppleSoft building, and
that was what had been used to create the San Francisco Conversion Bureau.
she could go with her baby, but she had two other children already,
and she could not leave them. Her man would never allow her to join
the ponies, for he was a leader in the Human Liberation Front. "Human
for Life, Human In Death" that was their motto. There was
no way she could get her other two children out of the militia
compound. But she had found a way to escape with her tiny newborn.
punish her, of course. But he would never really harm her, that was
impossible. Her children needed her, he would just hurt her a little.
He would just smack her around a bit; maybe she would have to go into
the hot box for a while. But it would be alright in the end, even if
it hurt for awhile. Of course it would; he loved her.
baby, her precious little girl - she would have a better life.
She would see the green place, with the pretty ponies. Her little
daughter, her first girl, would have the life she wished she herself
could have. It was too late for her of course; her man was a
Liberation man. It was her place to be at his side, whatever came.
complex was in sight. It was so large, the largest intact building
she had ever seen. It must be dozens of floors high, and many blocks
wide. There had been skyscrapers, once, downtown, but they had broken
and fallen against each other. They had tumbled like dominoes when
the bay had been bombed long ago. It was dangerous to even approach
them. Somehow the AppleSoft complex had been left unscathed.
not want to face breakfast. Caprice would be there, and she would
want to sit with him. It was nearly seven, the hungry animals would
be lining up already. And Alexi, he did not want to face Caprice.
He was in
trouble, voi rähmä, was he in trouble. Worse,
Caprice had sworn to protect him, and that is the last thing Alexi
wanted to happen, because one does not bring hooves to a gun fight.
Or in this case, most likely, an execution.
perse, perse!" Swearing wasn't helping. Alexi tried to
think about how he should deal with the issue of Caprice.
just tell her that he didn't want her to get hurt; that these men who
wanted payment would come with weapons and that her hooves were
useless. He could forbid her to interfere! No, that would not
be the way, it was clear that in their relationship, Alexi would not
be doing any forbidding. Caprice would not stand for any forbidding
by Alexi. Voi, if anyone in their household did any
forbidding, it would be Caprice doing the forbidding. Alexi sighed.
Such is life.
ole hassu! What household? Alexi, you fool, already you are talking
as if you are married to this Caprice! Alexi was shocked at his own
mind. When had he started thinking like this? He had only met Caprice
on Tuesday, he had known her all of two days and two nights. It must
be the dreams he was having, both nights. They were wonderful dreams,
beautiful dreams, but it was all very silly. This sort of thing
happened in ridiculous stories, not to ordinary people in the real world.
had ever affected Alexi like this before. He could not stop thinking
about Caprice. Not for one moment. And she wasn't even a woman! This
was insane. Alexi was insane now, poor, poor Alexi. So, reasoning
with Caprice would likely just make things worse. He could not forbid
her; she would just resolve all the more to protect him.
not want to take his other option; the choice he was so sure he had
decided upon last night. He did not want to tell Caprice to leave him
alone, to go away. To tell her... that he had no interest in her,
that he would never have any interest in her, that there was no
reason for her to wait for him.
Friday, a ship left for Equestria, taking the newfoals to their
proper home. Some went as soon as they could, others stayed at the
clinic for their full allotted week of physical training, others just
turned and walked out the door, still attached to the Earth. Tomorrow
the boat would take another load of the Converted to their new home.
truly believed that Alexi had no use for her, he felt certain that
she would leave on Friday. He knew that the only reason she was
staying at the clinic at all was to give him time to decide whether
to be Converted and to join her. She had almost said as much. If she
left on Friday, then she would be safe.
would come. They would come and it would not be good. Alexi intended
to go with them, without a struggle. What else could he do? They
would kill everyone in the clinic without a second thought if he
refused. That is what these men were. Their job was to make examples,
so that no one would dare to cross their employer, and Alexi had
definitely crossed their employer. This would be Alexi's last
mistake. Stupid Alexi. Foolish Alexi.
part was that he would never have made such a mistake, normally.
Alexi knew what had happened. In his heart, in his mind,
unconsciously, somehow he had been trying to show off to Caprice.
Show that he was a good provider. And he had done this without even
considering that Caprice would likely not even know of his efforts
for Dr. Pastern! Alexi had just gotten caught up in everything.
Alexi. Foolish, lovestruck Alexi.
take care of it. If he knew where to go, he would go to them, these
men. But he did not. So they would come to him.
must be gone by then.
crept through the security door. It scanned her and recorded her
appearance and physical statistics, sending the information directly
to the Bureau central data core. Her entrance was noted on Bethany's
holodisplay, causing her to look up.
ran over to Beth's desk. She couldn't be more than sixteen. She
looked Beth directly in the eye, staring at her without saying a word.
she placed a bundle of cloth on the counter, turned, and ran out the door.
blinked. What the hell?
looked at the ragged bundle of cloth. No. It couldn't be. She stood
up from her chair. She carefully lifted the edge of the cloth. Pale
white skin, blotched by patches of pink. A tiny nose. So tiny. It
couldn't be more than two weeks old.
Security! Young girl, leaving the building, ragged green and brown
clothing, head covered with a cloth. Possibly fifteen, sixteen years
old. Stop for questioning! Repeat, stop her!" Beth hoped
the blackmesh at the main complex entrance were on the ball.
turned back to the baby on the counter. It was very quiet. She
checked the poor thing, it was breathing but... it smelled of
alcohol. A drunk baby? The girl... must have used booze to keep the
baby quiet. Of all the stupid things to... "This is Security.
Subject left building before call. Unable to apprehend."
Bethany swore under her breath. "Uh, sorry there."
Well, at least they said they were sorry. Humph.
hadn't had a drop-off in over two months. This was the youngest drop
Beth had ever seen. The last child was four years old. But this
child, maybe not even two weeks. This was a problem. She needed Dr.
carefully picked up the small bundle, and went in search of Dr.
Pastern. On the way, she noticed that the newfoals, Logan and Elijah
were finally waking up; they had apparently spent the entire night on
the common room couch. "Morning boys! Listen, I've got a...
package... for Dr. Pastern. Do you think you could keep an eye on the
front desk for me while I go deliver it?"
blinked, surprised. "Certainly, Bethany. Logan and I can do that
for you!" Elijah gave Logan a nuzzle on the head. "Rise and
shine beautiful, duty calls!" Logan groggily began to stir.
"Huh? Do what?"
on past the cafeteria, where hungry applicants were already milling
around, waiting for seven o'clock. Roselyn wasn't there, so she must
have already gotten her morning coffee. Beth decided to try the
infirmary and the Conversion Room, it was almost certain that Roselyn
would be in one of those two rooms. She hadn't seen the doctor leave
to go up on the roof.
infirmary door was open, and the light was on, an encouraging sign.
"Dr. Pastern?" Roselyn was sitting at the hypernet
terminal, entering something furiously. "Oh! Hi, Beth. Just
putting down the basics for a paper on... um, something I
accomplished yesterday." Pastern still hadn't looked up from
what she was doing.
unmistakable cry of a baby shattered the air. Apparently little Jane
Doe was finally off the booze.
Dr. Pastern was eyes front and staring at Bethany, no longer
absorbed in her notes. "That's a baby!"
much, doc." Beth tried to calm the infant with some gentle
rocking. The crying lessened.
how... is it... visiting?" Pastern asked hopefully. She
dearly hoped is wasn't a foundling or something.
a foundling, Ros." Crap. This was going to screw up the
entire schedule. Pastern frowned, but Beth went on. "Girl came
in and plopped this one right down on the counter. Then she turned
tail and ran for the hills."
you call security?" Roselyn saw hope shine in the form of those
wonderful, jolly, black-suited thugs. Go, thugs!
use. She was out of the building, and they aren't paid to pursue off
site." Was Bethany enjoying this?
useless, cowardly thugs!" There definitely went the
schedule for the day, poof! Roselyn sighed. Oh well. "How old is
the little bundle of joy?"
little 'Jane Doe', who had up until now been mollified by
Beth's rocking, finally realized that she had a precious little
infant hangover. What had once been crying returned as screaming. Ah,
screaming, the perfect way to wake up in the morning.
Beth began trying various ways to soothe the poor child.
"...probably just a week or two old. About as young as you can
get." The screaming increased in pitch, making Roselyn's head
begin to ache. "So..." Beth placed the infant over one
shoulder, hoping that would help. "... do we convert her, or put
her down?" Beth paused for a moment. "Or, do you want a
baby of your very own?"
the choices that the world corporate government provided for the
Bureaus in the case of foundling children below the age of reason.
There were no social services anymore, only the guaranteed basic
ration. It was a firing offense to try to place foundlings with the
slum dwellers; not only did it take up time and resources, but it
could cause all manner of problems in terms of public relations
should something go wrong. That left only three choices: conversion,
termination, or personal adoption. The latter was heavily
discouraged; adoptions by Bureau staff was a sure ticket to No More
Promotions. It was professional suicide.
was making a strong case on her own for termination. Monstrous lungs that
powerful should not be allowed to live; it was clearly an affront to
Nature herself. It was absolutely an affront to hearing. Bethany was
beginning to wish the young mother had left whatever she had used to
drug the child; the omission was terribly thoughtless of her.
CAN'T THINK WITH THAT... THAT... THING SCREAMING LIKE
THAT!" Dr. Pastern seldom lost her temper, but right now her
head was pounding, she hadn't had much of her coffee, she was hungry,
and that blasted creature was very likely permanently deafening her.
Why, of all the one hundred clinics in the San Francisco Bureau, had
that little bitch chosen clinic 042 in which to drop her spawn?
Pastern had her hands over her ears now. It was horrifying.
the baby off of her shoulder now, and had lowered herself to the
floor of the infirmary, her ears ringing. Sitting on the floor
allowed her to lay the baby down, so that she could check it; maybe
the problem was that it simply needed a change of...whatever the
mother had wrapped its bottom with. Oh, it's a girl. But, no mess, so that
can't be it.
something soft push past her shoulder. A peach-colored shape had
entered the room. It was Caprice. Caprice lowered herself, folding
her legs. Then she started -ever so gently- licking and lipping all
over the skin of the child, making soft cooing noises.
sat, stunned, watching Caprice.
girl stopped crying. She seemed mesmerized by the repetitive motions
of the pony's lips and tongue. Soon, little miss Doe was making
little happy sounds. Caprice was licking her hands and cheeks now.
and Dr. Pastern just stared. It was fairly astonishing, really.
Caprice had calmed the child, that was clear, but it was quite
fascinating that a former human, just two days Converted, could so
completely embrace her new animal nature. It was uncanny. For all the
world, Caprice seemed like an ordinary terrestrial animal right now,
without any inhibition or human revulsion. In her mind, Roselyn
couldn't help but think how very little she would ever want to
lick some strange, abandoned baby. God knows what filth might be on
the thing! Suddenly, being a pony seemed not quite as attractive as
it had, before.
had fallen asleep again. Caprice carefully, softly tugged with her
teeth at the rags around the newborn, covering her to keep her warm.
She continued making little soft noises for a bit, then looked up
with a tender smile.
spoke very, very quietly. "Um, thanks for that, Caprice,
but... ewww." Beth shuddered a little. Then she stood up.
a pony now, Beth." Caprice seemed almost cross. "How
do you imagine ponies comfort their young?" Caprice gave
Beth a short, hard look. Then she softened, looking down at the
sleeping child, now between her hooves. "I overheard you as I
came here. Dr. Pastern!" Caprice looked forcefully at
Roselyn. "You must convert this child. I will not permit her to
be terminated, and it is clear that neither of you are willing to
take her as your own. As a newfoal, she will easily survive. I will
take responsibility for her, since no one else will."
Dr. Roselyn whispered as loudly as she dared. "You are just
starting a new life of your own. I understand that you feel compassion,
but I don't think you grasp the severity of what you..."
will NOT let you terminate this innocent creature." For the
first time, Dr. Pastern saw anger in the face of the sweet, peach
pony. "Convert her immediately. I cannot be expected to take
care of a human baby, but I can care for a foal." Caprice
thought for a moment. "If you fear that whoever was scheduled
for first Conversion will object, I will convince them for you."
Dr. Pastern did not feel that Caprice was boasting. Caprice seemed to
possess an almost disturbing power of will when something was
important to her.
was right about the relative ease of care; newborn Equestrians had
vast advantages over humans in terms of development. Terrestrial
horses are born with the innate ability to stand and walk. Equestrian
pony newborns also seemed to have inborn abilities, just like their
terrestrial counterparts. Equestrian foals could stand and walk on
their first day of life, and the beginnings of functional speech
started within mere weeks. These abilities would begin to arise in
the infant almost the instant Conversion was complete.
truth was that an Equestrian foal would be vastly easier to care for
than a helpless human baby. Dr. Pastern had to admire the
practicality of Caprice. And, it was corporate policy to
automatically convert presapient children. But Caprice did not grasp
the whole story.
got up from her chair, and moved closer to Caprice and the child. She
bent down, and then sat on the floor next to the pair. Caprice looked
at her in curiosity.
there is an issue you are unaware of. Remember how you wanted to
experience your transformation? I would not allow it, because the
process is unimaginably painful. I... have seen grown men go through
it, without anesthesia. The memory of that... I still have
nightmares, Caprice." The pained look on Dr. Pastern's face
spoke more eloquently than her words.
don't have an anesthetic for an infant this young." Dr. Pastern
gently ran a finger across little miss Doe's tiny cheek. "Infants
react differently than adults to anesthetic, and the risk of death
is just too great. If I were to convert her, I would have no means to
protect her from pain. It would be the worst fifteen minutes any
being could endure." Roselyn Pastern looked into Caprice's vast,
green eyes. "Termination... would be painless, merciful. She
wouldn't suffer." Pastern dropped her gaze, down to the
tiny bundle between Caprice's forelegs.
really think it is the right thing to do, Caprice. I'm sorry."
Pastern was firm.
sat frozen for a moment. She gave the tiny baby girl a small, gentle
nuzzle. Then she carefully got up. "Very well, then kill
her, noble doctor." Her words were surprisingly flat. Caprice
turned and left, without looking back.
sat on the floor, stunned. She wasn't sure what response she expected
from the elegant peach pony, but that absolutely was not it. Bethany
looked shocked. After her stern words, how could Caprice just turn
and leave like that? Then again, what exactly was Caprice supposed to say?
felt confused. She felt bad, like a monster. Just a moment ago, she
was fully ready to peaceably terminate this small life out of mercy,
and it would be a mercy. But now, somehow, the way Caprice had
just left like that, had made Roselyn feel like the most evil
creature on the planet. Like an alpha killer ape on a planet of
had expected Caprice to put up a fuss, to have to be consoled; a
whole script had waited in the doctor's mind. None of that had
happened. Roselyn's expectations had been destroyed. Now she was
alone, faced with a small patient she could no longer abstract.
Damn that Caprice.
leaned down "I... should be getting back to the desk now, doctor
Pastern. Um..." Beth was at a loss as to what to say. What could
she say? "...Um, bye." Now Dr. Pastern was alone, sitting
on the floor of the infirmary, little miss Doe sleeping still, a
smile on her tiny face.
Roselyn Pastern's hands made fists, which she leaned on, rocking her
body forward and back. "Then kill her, noble doctor."
It was like Caprice knew exactly where to strike her, exactly how to
throw her off balance. Damn her!
Duke Culpepper, 'Billy' to his friends and 'That Culpepper bastard'
to everyone else, paced up and down the dirt path that ran through
his open air compound. Billy was the Commander In Chief of the Folsom
Street Freedom Fighters, a local San Francisco militia branch of the
Human Liberation Front.
proud of his position, proud of his men, and proud to be a Human Being.
he was not proud of his youngest wife at all. Charlene had betrayed
him, she had betrayed the cause, and above all, she had betrayed her
race - the human race.
Culpepper stopped pacing. There was no way around it. He was the
leader here. It was up to him to keep discipline, to keep order.
Without cohesion, there would be no hope against the alien bastards.
It broke his heart, she was so young. But youth could not be an
excuse. Not for betraying her species itself.
the world of the monsters had risen out of the sea, William had seen
the danger they represented. The green lands and perfect smiles of
the beasts were seductive traps. Humanity had made a mess of the
world, Billy was no Pollyanna; he knew the difficulties that mankind
faced. But Man had overcome every other obstacle that had faced him,
and now he was on the verge of finally making a golden age. Nanotech
had shown what was possible! Nineteen billion people, and every
one of them fed!
saw as a nightmare, Billy understood was a triumph. Never
before in the history of the world was there a time when all human
beings had food, all of the time. Nobody seemed to grasp what an
achievement this truly was.
was just the beginning. Now that no human went hungry, more could be
done. It was only a matter of time. The dead world could be brought
back to living Nature, eventually, and in time, Man might finally
reach the stars.
Equestria had come, an unwanted intrusion, instantly stealing Man's
future away from him. Sickly sweet invitations masked a sinister
agenda; the equinoid aliens wanted to assimilate the human species,
to absorb the world itself, to devour the human spirit and feast upon
it for their own nourishment.
dog-eat-dog even at the level of the cosmos itself, and Earth was
being gobbled up by a hound from hell. How could the government not
see this? How could humanity sell its very soul to these invaders?
How could they fall for the siren call of such gruesomely large-eyed monsters?
there were men who were willing to oppose this violation of Mankind.
Strong men, willing to save humanity despite itself. Men, like him.
the revolver out of its holster. He had loved that gun ever since his
father had given it to him on his 20th birthday. He had kept it in
perfect condition; he knew every part, every component. He had
personally machined a replacement cylinder stop for the ancient
weapon. He had learned bullet swaging in order to make ammo for it,
now that there were no factories anymore. Each round for the weapon
had been hand crafted by him. He had inscribed each one with a short
quote from a human writer. Every bullet was truly a work of art.
the weight of the gun, the mass of it. After this, he would no longer
be able to see his treasure the same way. But it had to be done.
to stride back to the middle of the compound. Nearly a hundred people
had gathered there, forming a big circle in front of the buildings.
They had built that compound together, out of the ruins, raised the
thick walls that surrounded their fortress. They had
repelled gangs and fought blackmesh armored troops. They had executed
race traitor newfoals for their unspeakable crime. They were the last
true human resistance against the brightly colored devils from over
was crying. She had been beaten and bruised, her left arm broken. But
that was not enough, not enough for a woman that would willingly hand
her own baby over to the alien enemy. She had handed over her own
flesh and blood, she had given the child of William Duke Culpepper
to the greatest threat the human species had ever faced! And she had
done so willingly, without shame, without remorse.
was begging now, begging for her despicable life. Now she was
ashamed, now she had decided to show remorse. Too late. It was far,
far too late.
raised the heavy revolver, and thumbed the cylinder release latch. He
anchored the gun in his hand, and reached down to unsnap the pouch on
his belt. He felt around for one of the custom bullets. Taking it
out, he squinted in the morning light. He flipped down the jeweler's
eye-loupe perpetually clipped to the right side of his glasses. He
could just barely make out the inscription on the hand-crafted
bullet: 'We cannot despair of humanity, since we ourselves are
human beings. - Albert Einstein' The letters were very tiny, but
as perfect as he could make them. He was proud of his work. It was
guided the round into the chamber and carefully, gently closed it. He
gave the gun a little waggle to make sure that the cylinder was
assumed his firing grip.
looked up at him, her dark, bruised eyes swollen with tears and pain.
Billy could feel the crowd staring at him, looking for any sign of
weakness. He would give them nothing but strength.
head became a red flower, splashing onto his hands and arms and his
beloved revolver. Her body hit the dirt with a soft rolling motion,
what was left of the back of her head flopped up and over her face,
covering the hole in her forehead. "Goodbye, beloved." He
tall, he addressed the crowd. "You have seen how a MAN deals
with a traitor to the species, even if that traitor is his own KIN.
This is a war for the existence of MANKIND itself! There can be NO
tolerance for those who would sell out the proud history of humankind
for the false promises of alien devils!"
slowly began to clap, at first hesitantly, but with increasing vigor.
William Culpepper was truly a leader, and he was their leader.
one of Culpepper's lieutenants, took a step forward. "Whatcha
gonna do about the baby, Bill?"
Daniel, he knew what the man was really saying. "By now it is
likely too late to get her back. By now that little child will be one
of them. But that doesn't mean that there will be no
reprisal." Culpepper turned to the crowd. "This very day, I
SWEAR I will take my vengeance on the clinic that has my child. I
will SHOW you how a MAN, a HUMAN man represents his species, his
family, his cause. By the end of this day, clinic forty-two of the
CORRUPTION BUREAU will be no more, even if it should cost me my LIFE!"
was cheering now. Billy drank in their adoration. He bathed in their
admiration, and let it wash his troubled feelings away. He was the
hero of Mankind, and they knew it.
never hope to attack the entire Bureau complex, not even if all the
cowards that served him were willing. But a single man, if he were
the right man, could easily perform a raid and come out alive.
Charlene's betrayal would serve him; after this, he would never again
have men like Daniel daring to question him. His dominance would be assured.
Billy was absolutely
the right man.
what he must do. He stared at his waffles and eggs. He did not feel
like eating them. Even if they had bacon, which they never did, he
could not eat. His stomach felt hollow and cold, and his heart felt
so heavy it could crush a mountain. Caprice would come for breakfast.
She would sit down with him, of course. And she would be gentle and
sweet and he must turn her away.
rehearsed the inevitable in his mind. He must do this correctly.
Caprice would come, and sit across from him at the low table, as
before. Only today, Alexi would not get her a tray. He would
not pile that tray with delights just for her. He would tell her,
"Get your own tray, pony! Alexi is not paid to feed the
animals!" And she would begin to cry, confused, of course, but
still loyal, because that was how she was. She would get a tray and
come back to the table, and sit and she would ask Alexi if she had
done something wrong. Yes, that is how it would be.
would tell her that she had done everything wrong, because she
had become an animal. Alexi could not care for an animal
except as a pet. He would say that he had thought about her request,
and that he intended to never Convert, he would die a human being. He
may work at a Conversion Bureau, but he did not agree with Conversion
for himself. Maybe he would even hint that he had been reading Human
Liberation pamphlets. Yes, that would do the trick.
would tell her he never wanted to see her again, that she should get
on the ship tomorrow and go to Equestria so she could go live with
the other animals! Then Alexi would storm out, shoulders square and
fists strong, a big bear of a man, his broad shoulders the last thing
the weeping peach pony would see of him. Yes, that too is how it
would be! Alexi could see it all so clearly. This is how it must
be. Caprice would cry, but she would be safe, thanks to Alexi. And
when the men came, and took him, and they put Alexi on his knees, and
put the gun to his head, he would think of his beautiful Caprice, and
shout her name as -
We're going to have a foal!" A tray full of food had slammed
down on the table beside Alexi. Caprice sat down beside him, and took
a big mouthful of baked hay glazed with honey. "Mmmph mmm... I
haven't decided on a name for her, but I'm sure something will come
to me when I finally see what she looks like. Mmm... mmnn... This is
pretty good, Alexi. I think even a human would enjoy this!"
his mouth open. This wasn't how it... "What? What do you mean
we are having a foal? I never even..."
be silly, Alexi. Goodness, I will have a lot to teach
you, won't I?" Caprice took another bite of honeyed hay.
"Mmnph...mmmm... Listen, Alexi, I know this is kind of a lot to
spring on you like this, but someone brought in an abandoned human
baby this morning. Just dumped it here. Dr. Pastern wanted to
kill it, but I couldn't allow that, now could I?"
um.." Alexi felt like somehow the room was spinning and he
might fall over at any moment. "I... I suppose not, but you see,
I had this thing to.."
Caprice took a bite of reconstructed banana, Thursday's fruit of the
week. Real bananas had gone extinct on earth decades earlier, but it
was still possible to nanoreplicate a decent copy of the favored
treat. "...I think I got old Pastern to try a little harder.
She'll find some way to Convert the little sweetheart - she's a newborn,
Alexi, just a couple of weeks old, cute as can be, and she even
tastes like sugar. Maybe I should name her sugar? What do you think?"
newborn...tastes? What? How do you know what this baby tastes
like?" Alexi had sudden terrors involving cannibal ponies. Only
they wouldn't be cannibals because they weren't human were they? The
spinning of the room had turned into a gyrating ball of confusion,
and Alexi was no longer sure he wasn't just having a strange dream at
somepony had to properly comfort the poor little thing. Roselyn and
Bethany certainly had no idea what to do. I groomed her a bit and she
settled right down; it was like she knew I was going to be her
mommy." Caprice ate some more of the hay 'n honey. "Mnnmm...
mnph, anyway, sorry for putting us in the family way so soon, but we
were going to have foals anyway, so why wait, right?"
were going to have... foals?" The room was now a fast
car, maybe a nice red Lamborghini Electric, and it was racing off of
a cliff... no, it was a tall building, built over a volcano. That was
it, over a big volcano. And the moon was exploding for some reason.
Alexi let his head sag down, and stared at his cooling waffles.
dear Alexi." Caprice was really enjoying the hay and honey.
"It's not like I expect you will be able to ignore me
when I go into heat in the spring and summer. And it's not like I
would want you to." Caprice's soft smile instantly
brought Alexi a warm, safe peace, and banished the racing car and the
bubbling volcano. Strangely, he felt as if he were in a field of
flowers now, butterflies above his head, rather than in his stomach.
was somehow already standing. "I'm sorry for having to trot off
like this, but I feel that Dr. Pastern is going to need me soon.
Smile, honeyflanks! You're going to be a daddy!" With
that, Caprice leaned out and kissed Alexi full on the lips. The moon
somehow exploded for a second time.
was alone, with the faint taste of hay and honey on his lips.
could think again, he saw that she had left her tray. No problem,
Alexi would take care of that for his precious peach princess. Then
he noticed how quiet the noisy cafeteria was. It had been utterly
quiet for some time now, come to think of it. He looked up.
him, at every table, large round eyes stared, the crowd looking like
stunned fish floating in an aquarium. Human and Equestrian mouths
alike hung open in shock and disbelief. Alexi looked back at them. Oh
boy. Well, what else could a man do? Alexi Venäläinen
defiantly stood up and roared, as proudly as he possibly could: "WELL,
CONGRATULATE ME! ALEXI IS GOING TO BE A FATHER!"
clapping started very slowly at first, a few nervous, frightened
smacks, then gradually built to a stomping, yet rather puzzled,
Pastern went over her concept with Lynn. She needed a sounding board,
and Lynn was the best PA she had ever worked with. "The problem
is pain. I can't use the anesthesia we have, because it is unsuitable
for a newborn. It isn't even recommended for use below age six. We
almost lost that four-year-old, remember? It would take weeks to get
Central to respond to a request for something appropriate, even if
they would. I already know the response I would most likely get; terminate
the child immediately and move on. With nineteen billion people
to convert, one baby is beyond expendable."
feeding little Jane Doe; Miriam had put together a bottle and nipple
using a drinking glass and a rubber glove. It worked surprisingly
well. "So what exactly is your plan, then, and how worried
should I feel?" Pastern had that look in her eyes, the
determined look that usually meant she was more intrigued than she
should be about something that bordered on Mad Science.
seen Conversion do miracles of regeneration, Lynn." Pastern was
excited, and she began to speak more quickly. "We've seen
multiple amputees come through here, quadruple amputees, and they
came out the other side with all four legs, perfect ponies every one
of them. The blind regrowing eyeballs, the dying snatched from the
very edge of death itself. I just read a credible report of a
decapitation victim regrowing his head; the body wasn't dead yet, and
they just dumped serum over the remains. Complete blank slate, zero
memories, total death of personality, but the result lived. A perfect
newfoal, beginning a brand new life!"
needed to be held now, so Lynn put the bottle down and cradled the
child in an upright position on her shoulder. "OK, Ros, I'm
properly horrified because I think I see where you are going with this."
cut her spinal cord! Slice that sucker right after the potion goes
in. Pretty much anywhere we want, right up to the C1!" Pastern
was leaning forward, hands on the infirmary examination table, eyes
wild. "Slish, slash and zero pain! The conversion process occurs
without any transmission of pain, and would probably
regenerate the spine right near the end of the job. Especially if we
introduce the serum rectally. It doesn't even matter if she stops
breathing; she has no memories, none, so nothing would be lost
should damage occur to the brain! She's already a blank slate! So,
think that you are a great doctor, and that you truly want to do good
in the world, but that sometimes..." Lynn rocked gently
from one foot to the other "...you are the scariest person I
have ever met. Brilliant, but creepy."
appreciate the sweet words of affection," Pastern squinted at
Lynn "but what I really want to know is: do you agree this
looked down at the little baby in her arms. She tried to imagine
taking a scalpel to the back of it's neck. She shuddered. "It
would work, I can't say it wouldn't work. But Jesus,
Roselyn. I mean, seriously. Jesus Hellfire Christ."
you have a better solution? Would you rather I just let the baby
suffer? Can you offer any alternative?"
thought for a moment. "Actually..." The idea was odd,
but...then again, compared to the alternative... "I do have a thought."
absolutely all ears here. Please." Pastern waved her hand.
Jane here came to us an unconscious drunk. Her mother kept her quiet
by dosing her with whatever booze they make out in the slums. She
probably feared some kind of attack or discovery should her baby
cry." Lynn unconsciously gave the little girl a light kiss on
her head. "It seems to me that unconscious is unconscious,
right? And we already know that Jane here can tolerate the stuff. The
damage from booze seems much less than a cervical dissection, at
least to me."
Pastern seemed both chastened and embarrassed. "Uh... well, um, yes.
I suppose you have a point there. Alcohol is a very ancient
anesthetic tool, and one that has been used on infants for
centuries." Lynn tried not to smile. "And it would be...
less dramatic, I suppose." Pastern always meant well,
Lynn thought, but sometimes... well she gets a little elaborate.
it be enough?" Lynn began to doubt her own plan now. "I
mean, would being passed out from alcohol be sufficient to counter
the kind of pain we are talking about here?" There could
possibly be a reason why Roselyn jumped to such a drastic solution.
Pastern looked grave. "Not... entirely, no. That is a valid
concern. It would blunt it, but we are pretty much dealing with the
maximum amount of pain possible here. Think about it, Lynn, you've
seen what happens to our patients - every part of the body is in
flux, changing growing, writhing and twisting. I can only imagine
what it must be like. The closest thing I can think of is that it
would be like a whole-body muscle cramp combined with having your
internal organs run through a meat-grinder. I mean, you've seen it,
three times a day, nearly every day, for the past six months!"
cervical dissection wasn't such a horrific notion after all. Lynn
looked down at little miss Doe. She was half-asleep. It was
impossible to wish any pain on the little girl. "Whatever you
think is best, Dr. Pastern, I will support. I... don't know which is
the better choice. I'm sorry."
thought for a moment. "How about this; we dose her with alcohol,
based on body weight, to the point of apparent unconsciousness. Then
we initiate conversion. I can have my scalpel ready. Only... damn. If
I don't sever her spine immediately, I wouldn't dare to
later, once the conversion kicks in fully." Pastern sighed.
"Frankly, Lynn, I guess just don't feel good about the spinal
dissection. It seemed sound in theory, though."
it did. It probably would work, just as you described. But..."
Lynn was rocking the child again. "...I personally couldn't face
cutting her up. It's OK, Roselyn. You may be a doctor, but you
are a person too, and cutting up healthy babies is... a little
out there. Even if your intellect tells you that it will be alright
in the end."
felt weak. She knew she was weak. That was why she never went into
surgery. Internal medicine, specialization in nanotherapeutics. But
not surgery. Roselyn sighed. "Let's get her started. What have
we got in the way of useful alcohol?"
Doe soon lay on her back in the Conversion Room. She had a short
length of surgical tubing inserted into her rectum, and a peripheral
venous catheter in her arm. Jane was quite unresponsive, thanks to a
carefully administered level of ethanol in her blood.
Pastern had consulted her terminal, finding that one and one half
ounces of ponification serum was considered the standard dosage for
children from four to ten, the full three ounces for ages above that.
There was no data at all on children younger than four. Pastern found
that strange. Surely someone had converted a baby before now! Then
again, conversion had only existed in the world for seven months, and
only applied to the ordinary population for six. These were the very
first six months of the Conversion program. If any other clinic had
ponified a newborn, nobody had written about the fact.
far, every other clinic had simply chosen termination, following the
preferred corporate choice. That was certainly possible.
settled on using one full ounce. It seemed a reasonable choice,
considering the small size of her patient.
was pounding on the Conversion Room door. Lynn opened it; it was
Caprice. "I need to be here, Lynn."
Caprice into the room. "Dr. Pastern, I absolutely need to be
here for my child. If I am to be her mother, I should be present at
her true birth."
Pastern had finished measuring out exactly one ounce of the precious
serum. This would wreck hell with the accounting, but if necessary,
she could just flush the two useless extra ounces and say nothing to
the corporation about any of this. Maybe that is why there was no
record of other infant conversions!
Caprice." Pastern carefully filled a syringe with the purple
nanofluid, and attached the syringe to the rectal tubing. "I
have to commend you on your tactics; you managed to successfully
shame me into attempting this crazy stunt. I bow to your superior
abilities." Roselyn did feel a little manipulated, she was
perhaps a touch raw about it.
thought about that for a moment. "I... kind of don't plan stuff
like that anymore. I used to. All the time. I was... very
manipulative once. I don't mean to be that way now. Honestly, I just
kind of operate on intuition. I just do what feels right in the
moment, and I kind of go where it feels right to be." Caprice
walked up to Roselyn, and looked up at her. "I just felt
helpless, and maybe a little angry, when I walked out. But I am very
glad that you chose to save her." Caprice pointed her nose at
little miss Doe.
hope I know what I am doing, then." Dr. Pastern began steady
pressure on the syringe, purple fluid shot up the tubing and into the
child on the table. "Initiating Conversion. Time, Lynn?"
AM, a little late, but hey, it's a special situation." Lynn
gave a brave smile. Looking down at the baby, "Good luck, little one."
of the serum had entered Jane Doe's colon. For a moment, nothing
happened. Then, suddenly, her pale skin turned waxy, and the flesh of
her tiny body began to ripple and squirm. Dr. Pastern pulled the
tubes free from the body of the child.
stepped closer to the Conversion Table, and leaned her neck over to
be nearer to the newborn infant. "This... this is what happened
to me!" The peach pony's eyes were filled with wonder as she
watched the tiny human body of Jane Doe gradually alter in shape to
become an equally tiny foal. Silently, Roselyn, Lynn and Caprice
watched as a miniscule sharp point rose up from the crown of the tiny
head. Jane Doe was a unicorn.
delicate pale yellow sprouted and covered the naked creature, her
coat the color of fresh butter. The mane and tail flowed forth, an
even more subtle shade of yellow. "She looks like
buttermilk!" Caprice seemed pleased.
seen real buttermilk?" Lynn asked doubtfully.
real buttermilk." Caprice had hinted that her human background
had been a wealthy one. Apparently very wealthy. "That's
her name! I knew I would know her name when I finally saw her for the
first time. My little Buttermilk. My sweet little Buttermilk."
could see such love in Caprice's eyes. How could she have ever
considered terminating the little unicorn?
was now, surprisingly, fully awake. The nanofluid must have
deconstructed the alcohol as it went through her blood. If the foal
had felt any pain, it was impossible to tell. Buttermilk opened her
eyes. They were a bright, shining golden yellow. "Goodness!"
Lynn seemed amazed. "That's one for the records. Her colors are
uniform. That's what, only our third uniform coloration ever, Ros?"
Caprice." Roselyn gently stroked the tiny foal, who had begun
to plaintively squeal. "You're a mother."
looked up at Roselyn and Lynn, beaming. Then she began licking the
little foal, soothing it, calming it. Soon the little unicorn began
making cooing sounds of joy.
at his microphone, more nervous than usual. This was perhaps the
strangest day he had ever experienced at clinic 042, and he had
experienced many strange days. He still could not begin to process
everything that was going on for him.
hand, he was a marked man, singled out for death. On another hand, he
was apparently still with Caprice, who had made it impossible
for Alexi to even try to make her abandon him. Somehow.
On a third
hand, this meant that she was still in danger because he knew she
would do anything to protect him, only she could not hope to succeed,
leaving Alexi to have to find a way to protect her instead. Somehow.
And now, a
fourth hand, Caprice had adopted a tiny foal, which meant that he,
Alexi, was now a daddy, because he, Alexi, was for all intents
basically married to the tiny foal's new mother. Somehow.
too many somehows and far too many hands; he should count on hooves,
perhaps. But all of that must wait. It was lunch now, and Dr. Pastern
had asked him to introduce little Buttermilk to the animals, and ask
them to be nice and quiet so that the little foal would not be
frightened by the noise of the crowd. That was her name, apparently, Buttermilk.
Not a name Alexi's mother, god rest her soul, would necessarily have
approved for a grandchild, but, what is one to do?
very strangest part of this very strange day? Alexi somehow
felt very proud and happy to be a daddy. To a foal. Whose
mother was a pony.
all of this had allowed Alexi to finally see, to finally fully
understand the obvious truth about himself and Caprice, and their new
daughter little Buttermilk as well. Everything was perfectly clear now.
question, Alexi had gone completely, utterly mad! Alexi was insane
man now, beyond all help. Wave to the men in the white coats, Alexi!
They are nice men. They will come and give Alexi happy
pills and then comes the basket weaving. 'Ilmatyynyalukseni on
täynnä ankeriaita', "My hovercraft is full of
eels", Alexi will say.
has just decided to give up! There is no fighting the heart, that was
now clear. If he was insane, at least it felt wonderful. Alexi
no longer knew what was right or what was wrong. But he did know what
he wanted, that, at least, was something.
Quiet, all my little animals!" Alexi spoke close to the
microphone, his whispers booming through the cafeteria. Everyone
stopped and listened to the strange, whispered announcement. "Shhhhh!
Today we have a very special newfoal joining us. She is a baby
unicorn, tiny and yellow, and her name is Buttermilk. She is only two
weeks old, and so we should all be very very quiet, like little mice
today, so she is not frightened. In a moment, Dr. Pastern will be
taking Buttermilk through the cafeteria to her mother's room, so that
is when to be quiet."
thought for a moment, then whispered "Thank you for this, it
is important to me, Alexi, personally. And if you are very very VERY
quiet, perhaps Caprice and I will let you see our little foal. That
entered the corridor to the Conversion Room he found Dr. Pastern,
Lynn, and Caprice standing there, apparently waiting for him. Dr.
Pastern held Buttermilk in her arms, wrapped in one of the blankets
that Alexi had acquired for Lynn. He approached, and Caprice pushed
up close to him and nuzzled his side and stomach with her head.
Dr. Pastern's arms, bright yellow eyes gazed up at him, innocent and
wide. Alexi asked in a very low whisper "May I?" Pastern
looked at Caprice. Caprice nodded with the largest smile she had ever
shown. Roselyn carefully handed the little foal to Alexi, showing him
how best to hold her.
looked up at Alexi, her big emerald eyes shining at him. Carefully,
so carefully, he crouched down to be level with her head. Suddenly
she was kissing him again. Let Pastern and Lynn think what they will.
So, his lady happened to be a pony. She was a pretty pony.
down again at the bundle he carried.
the small warmth in his arms, and saw the tiny, trusting, beautiful
face. So, his daughter was a pony. Well, she was a pretty pony too.
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