Chapter One: The
Roselyn Pastern could just make out the shining curvature of the
Barrier, and she thought to herself that it looked like nothing so
much as one of those gigantic, impossible moons that rise over
illustrations for science fiction media. The howling wind from the
hurricane had cleared the thick, bitter smog from the entire Bay
Area, and this is what made seeing Equestria possible at all.
Misha had been brought under control before it could reach land, it
had involved something about fuel-air devices, or maybe they were
tactical nukes - Dr. Pastern really couldn't remember, and frankly
didn't care that much. It was sufficient that the sky was clear
enough now that she could see the enormous, shimmering bubble, rising
up above the curvature of the Earth. One and a half years since it
had first appeared, the great Barrier, constantly, if slowly
expanding, had touched the edge of space itself. The shield that
bound Equestria was hundreds of miles in diameter, perfectly
spherical, and utterly impenetrable except to Equestrians alone. The
orbits of satellites had needed to be adjusted to accommodate this
new fixture upon the planet.
Pastern finished her morning coffee, and turned away from the
railing. In an hour it would be 8:00, and the doors would be
unlocked. It was another day at the Conversion Bureau of San
Francisco, located in the Westcorp Presidio Complex, just off the
Lombard Maglev, in what remained of the AppleSoft campus, which once,
long ago, had been a building called the Palace Of Fine Arts.
Presidio Complex was mostly empty now, with no industry or business
to support it. In the ruins of San Francisco, a vast favela - more
than a mere slum, but less than a true city - had risen up, sheet
metal and plascrete shacks stacked atop one another, somehow managing
to shelter nearly two and a half million people. They were kept alive
thanks to the power of nanotechnology; their daily corporate
government ration of food and water supplied by the molecular
reconstruction of human waste.
down from the vast roof were long and winding, and several times
Roselyn had to step over and around parts of the structure that had
collapsed, filling the corridors. The gigantic, ancient AppleSoft
building was considered structurally sound, or so she had been told,
but the fallen beams suggested another point of view. Dr. Pastern at
last entered the lobby of her clinic, just in time to see two armed
agents, guarded by four blackmesh armored troopers, make an expected delivery.
red case sat on the admissions counter. Bulky and built to survive
bullets and bombs, the case first needed to be unchained from the
wrist of one of the agents. Dr. Pastern signed the several electronic
forms and handling contracts, finally placing her thumb on the
digital pad offered her, and then allowing the same device to scan
yours! Have a good day!" said the taller Bureau agent. The
troopers grunted and followed the agents back out to the dark,
armored transport they always arrived in. Dr. Pastern set her coffee
cup down and gave the case a short, fast drum roll with her hands.
bad, Doc - I think I almost heard some rhythm there." Bethany,
the receptionist at the counter, had been with the clinic since it
had opened, just under six months ago. "Maybe I should finally
go Pony today, whatcha' think?" Beth said this every time a red
case was delivered; she had yet to actually seem serious. "It'd
certainly take care of these things - they're acting up like crazy
today!" Beth suffered from multiple advanced verrucous
carcinomas of her temporal bones. Like most people in the world, her
various cancers were kept in stasis. It was trivial to halt cancer,
but very expensive to have it cured.
every human being had some form of malignancy, this was normal. Thus
every human being regularly took some variant of Malignostat. The
nanotech derived treatment was ubiquitous and sold from vending
machines pretty much everywhere. Popping a 'stat was a fundamental
part of getting up in the morning. It kept all cancer in check, and
was a gigantic moneymaker. Some considered Malignostat to be a
universal tax on the whole of Mankind. Being cured, however, was a
dubious proposition. It was inevitable that some new cancer would
appear soon after, so the only real reason to bother with such an
impossible expense was in conjunction with cosmetic surgery to repair
disfigurement, itself incredibly costly.
rubbed the ruddy, lumpen bulges on the left side of her neck and
head. "They really itch today, Doc."
Pastern swung the bright red case around, so that the handle faced
her "Then come along, Beth! You can be my first
ponification of the day! Equestrians never get tumors. They never get
sick, as far as we know. Trade in that damaged old flesh for a fresh
set of hooves! Whattaya say?" Pastern leaned over and
leered at the receptionist. She knew full well that as much as Beth
talked about Conversion, she loved complaining more.
one day I'll up and do that..." Beth began busily using her
holotouch, entering application updates "... but maybe I'll keep
these fingers a little while longer."
Pastern dragged the heavy, armored case off the counter and grunted
under the weight. "Sooner or later, you'll be mine!"
Any day now." replied Bethany.
Pastern made a whinnying sound as she marched off down the corridor
leading to the Conversion Room. Beth harrumphed in return.
her sanctum, the 'Pony Room' as she liked to call it, Roselyn set the
heavy red case down on a stainless steel platform. She entered her
unique code upon the active surface near the handle, and the case
politely unlocked itself.
struggled carefully to work the cover away from the body of the case,
finally revealing the most valuable thing in the building - her life included.
packed inside dark gray, shock-resistant foam, was a single, large,
capped Erlenmeyer flask. The flask was graduated and labeled with an
iconic representation of the Equestrian form, and assorted text was
printed on the flask describing its contents.
flask swirled a translucent, viscous, shimmering purple fluid. It
almost seemed carbonated, but it was not; the apparent 'bubbles' were
actually microscopic metallic reflections and tiny bursts of supernal
light. It was a nanofluid, of course, composed of trillions of tiny
molecular machines that could break down and reconstruct matter.
purple fluid was far more; infused throughout it was the very stuff
of 'magic', a strange, unearthly energy from an entirely alien
cosmos, the emerging universe that was Equestria. Inside that eight
hundred mile sphere embedded in the Pacific, a different set of
physical laws operated. Somehow, those laws had been melded with
earthly technology, creating a hybrid of two universes, thus nanotechnomagical
plasm, a blood bond between Equestria, and Earth.
called it Ponification Transmogrification Serum, or more
simply 'Potion'. And it effectively was a magic potion, a
notion that still made Dr. Pastern feel giddy inside. But then, so
many things of legend and magic had been made real through
technology, one way or another, so why couldn't there exist a
substance that for all intents was a true elixir?
of the serum was formidable. Applied to even the most severely
damaged human, the result would be a total and complete regeneration
of every part. Lost eyes would reform, lost limbs bud and regrow out,
destroyed internal organs would be entirely replaced. Even if an
entire head should be lost, as long as the cells of the body had not
yet suffered apoptosis, the subject would live - though in that
event, the patient would be devoid of all memory, equivalent to a
newly born baby.
precisely, a foal. For all the regenerative miracles that the
serum could perform, the end result was always the same; a human
subject became a full-blooded Equestrian. The price of life and
survival was humanity itself.
three full ounces to accomplish Conversion; though there had been
rumors of successful Conversions using only two, Pastern did not
believe them. A failed Conversion was a horrific event; the two
violently dissimilar biologies, Equestrian and Human, could not
coexist within the same body. Death came in a screaming, writhing
agony of battling morphology. It was utterly advisable to use the
held twenty-seven ounces, 798 milliliters (and spare change), which
meant that one Erlenmeyer could transform nine human beings to
Equestrian form. Every three days, the San Francisco Bureau was sent
one red case per clinic, and nine more humans would cease being
human. One thousand and ninety-five humans a year, three per day,
with no days off. There were one hundred clinics total within the
gigantic San Francisco Conversion Bureau building, scattered all over
the AppleSoft campus, each makeshift clinic identical in purpose to
the one that Dr. Pastern worked in.
was on. The rush to save what could be saved of the human race.
gave the flask a gentle swirl. It sparkled in the light. Then she put
the flask carefully back into the padding. It wasn't wise to hold the
actual Erlenmeyer for too long; it generated considerable amounts of
thaumatic radiation, and distance from source was an issue. That
said, Roselyn knew she was being contaminated every day just being
around the material, and if her exposure continued long enough,
"Mage Plague" would eventually kill her. 'Magic', it
appeared, was inimical to human life. There was only one available
treatment; Conversion. Equestrians were more than immune to thaumatic
radiation - they thrived on it.
Pastern set about her morning routine. She filled out the required
hypernet forms, set out the vials of anesthetic, each grouped
according to allergen sub-type, and put on her clean, white lab-coat.
The lab-coat wasn't actually necessary, but Roselyn thought it added
a certain professional esthetic to the proceedings. Also, she frankly
didn't want to get anything on her new pants. Pants were expensive.
eight. By now the rest of the staff at her clinic - number fourty-two
of one hundred - were busy making breakfast for the applicants.
Applicants for Conversion stayed in the clinic for around two weeks,
sleeping on-site in simple barracks. This was so that they could be
given a proper, full orientation. Applicants were shown media, given
lectures, and engaged in specialized physical exercises and training
to prepare them for their new lives.
three applicants, having served their two week orientation, would be
called into the Conversion Room, and transformed. When they awakened
in their new bodies, they returned to the barracks for final
orientation, before choosing to trot out the door, or report for
transfer to Equestria. Most simply went out the door. Almost half of
the population of San Francisco was now ponies. Soon it would be the
was the plan. Thaumatic radiation killed humans, and the great
shining, growing bubble that was Equestria broadcast the stuff all
over the planet. It pooled in random locations, creating deadly
traps. It flowed in invisible channels creating corridors of lethal
exposure. Above all, it increased with time, growing as Equestria
itself grew, and nothing could block it, nothing could stop it, and
there was no way to even detect it, except by the effect it had on
with distortions of perception. The subject saw colors as being
brighter, smells more intense. Mentation gradually became affected,
with some reporting visions or hallucinations. Then patches of skin
began to die, leaving necrotic scars. Finally, the organs of the body
began to fail, as more substantial tissues perished. Death followed,
unless the exposure was ended, or Conversion was offered.
could stop the emergence of Equestria. Not even all the weaponry of
the world corporation; they had made the dead Pacific boil for three
whole days, and seethe for weeks after to no effect.
end, there was simply no other choice. The earth was already dying,
Equestria offered at least a form of survival, for those that wanted
it. And after the shining monarch Celestia offered refuge to any who
wished to Convert, virtually every single human craved her salvation.
earth was a blackened, burned ruin of extinct forests, dead,
radioactive oceans, a universal sky of dark grey smog, and nineteen
billion people scrabbling in the endless slum that covered every
landmass, Equestria shone brightly as a verdant paradise of blue
skies and endless fields of living flowers. Beyond that impenetrable,
shining Barrier lay a perfect land bursting with life and
opportunity, but the only way to cross that barrier was on four legs.
brutal life of desperation, poverty, and filth as a human, or a
healthy, abundant life of running through green fields as a
party-colored equinoid? The choice for most human beings was no
choice at all. Even so, there were some, people of means and power,
that found the Equestrian option a blasphemy against Mankind, and to
them any means was legitimate. Clinics had been bombed, entire
Bureaus vaporized. It was a risk that every Bureau faced.
Pastern set out three simple, white, plastic cups. She checked
today's list of applicants. The first was listed for ponification at
ten o'clock. The morning transformation was everyone's favorite part
of the day, at almost every Bureau. The applicants loved to cheer the
first Conversion of the day, and the ritual of the First Meal As A
Pony seemed a universal lunchtime spectacle. No one ever seemed to
tire of asking the new Convert what hay and alfalfa tasted like to
them now that they were Equestrian. The lure of the strange, Pastern guessed.
Pastern sent a message to Dispatch, and soon, over the clinic
loudspeakers, would come the name of this mornings first Conversion.
wished she had time enough for a second coffee.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
To TCB Story Index