The Conversion Bureau – Mirror Match
A story set in Blaze's Conversion Bureau universe, By Silvertie
Chapter 1 - One Upped
Mordred romped through the undergrowth, his Kommandant at his side as he trod down shrubbery and stray creatures alike. Such a process was easy, but time consuming. And even then, the guardsmen following in his wake still had to pick their way past fallen trees and other debris.
Smoke billowed from his smokestack, boiler working overtime to keep his seventeen-tonne frame moving. He brushed a stray tree aside with his shield, and reinforced his grip on his war lance. The enemy was near, he knew it.
The Kommandant stepped up on a stone, and waved his banner mightily; the red and gold of his nation fluttered in the air, and Mordred felt energized. The lesser soldiers nearby cheered, and ran forward, the undergrowth no longer providing an obstacle.
A wave of magical energy surged through the air, and Mordred felt... enlightened. He could see the target before him – a stone giant; slow to move, slow to react, animated by magic. And his mortal enemy.
Mordred levelled his lance, and cut loose with his grenade launchers – with a blast of wood and foliage, a path was cleared, and Mordred leaped forward at a speed belying his size and weight. He drew back the lance; most effective on a charge, the stone giant had but only the slimmest of chances to avoid the powerful weapon.
Mordred reached optimal range to thrust forward with his lance, and he....
I rolled dice. This was going to be easy. All I had to do was roll a total of three or more with two dice – easy as brea-
My breath caught in my throat. “What?”
“Snake eyes. You rolled a two. You missed.”
I looked down at the dice – translucent both, red and blue apiece. Twins for the moment as they both showed a solitary white dot on their top side. My opponent sucked in a sharp breath as he watched my face drop into a stony, neutral expression.
“That's pretty unlucky, man. This has been happening all day, are you sure you're in the right hobby?”
I sighed. It was true – this game had been two hours of nothing but unlucky rolls where I needed to make the most impact. And only the occasional success when I made rolls to try and keep my miniature soldiers alive.
And this last one would cost me the game. My opponent, Gary; he calmly moved his pieces around the table in response, and I watched as my banner-waving Kommandant was suddenly surrounded by warlocks, all packing serious spell firepower.
It was close; I'd almost been out of range. But “almost” only applies to hand grenades, as they say.
“And that's game,” Gary declared. “Good game, Duke.”
“Game's over already?” A voice piped up from across the gaming hall. A tall, slender woman, one of the few to be a regular at the club (Mostly because she founded the damn thing), made her way over to the table, and looked at the pieces. “Duke, how did this happen?”
“M, I don't know,” I replied, resting my face on the mock-grass of the tabletop, “I don't know.”
“He had some amazingly horrible rolls,” Gary piped up.
“Yeah, I'm blaming the dice for this one,” I collaborated, and M nodded.
“Duke, if we were playing second edition rules, you'd be the guy with the rocket launcher, who not only rolls up a result of having a missile jam in the barrel of the launcher, but your entire backpack of missiles would explode as well.”
“Hey,” I said, raising a hand, “Sometimes I get amazingly lucky. Besides, according to statistics, I should be due for a stream of non-stop sixes and fives, soon.”
Gary looked at his wristwatch, and made an awkward noise.
“Wow, it's late; I gotta run, guys. Wanna get home before it gets properly dark.”
“Are you that much of a baby?” I asked, and M shook her head.
“Come on, Duke. Do you not pay attention to the news? HLF and PER activity's way up, the streets aren't safe at night these days.”
“Come on,” I waved a hand, sitting up, “How much danger can I be in? I'm human, so HLF won't want a piece of me, and PER would just turn me into a pony; immediately after which, I'd make that move to Equestria.”
“So you're okay with being turned into a talking horse?” Gary asked me, putting his models back into his foam-padded case with haste, as I followed suit with my own models and case.
“I guess so, yeah. I have things I want to do before that, though; but you know, I'm easy either way.”
“Lucky you,” he grunted, and held out a hand. I took it, and we shook. “Thanks for the game.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I nodded. Rule one. Play like you've got a pair.
Gary threw a small salute, and slipped outside into the twilight, case of minatures in hand; with an easy motion, he tossed his case into the back of his convertible parked right outside the front doors, and hurdled into the driver's seat. M made a noise of approval.
“I wish I could do that,” she murmured as Gary revved his engine and peeled out.
“I just wish I could be half as cool as Gary.” I looked at M. “You know they call him 'Gary-motherfucking-Soak'?”
M just nodded, and began to pack up her own things; I watched her packing away her MTG cards for a moment.
“What do you think about ponification, M?”
“What do I think? What do you mean? It's ponification. It is what it is.”
“No, I mean,” I paused, trying to get my head around it. “Do you buy into the hype that the HLF or the PER sling about?”
“I believe just one group,” M stated, fishing keys out of her pocket. “The Bureaus themselves. They've never tried to deceive us, they've always been totally transparent with us. Everything else is deception. Ponification ain't brainwashing and enslavement, just the same as it probably ain't all rainbows and sunshine like the PER says.”
“You ever going to make the shift? Sounds like Gary wants to, but he just can't bring himself to admit it,” I remarked, slipping outside myself as M followed me out, locking up the hall.
“I'll make the shift one day,” she said, “Membership's down, you know. The club won't last much longer; when it does die, I'll move then.”
“We could always just restart the club in Equestria, right?” I shrugged, and M laughed.
“You've done nothing but get your ass kicked all around the tables, ever since you joined, Duke,” she chortled. “You still want to play with us, after three years of straight losses?”
“Every dog has his day,” I declared, “and I live in anticipation of the day where I thrash the ever-loving sacks out of everyone in the club. It will be a glorious day.”
“I'm sure it will,” M laughed. “You want a lift? My car's just around the corner.”
“I won't put you to the trouble,” I shook my head. “Thank you for offering.”
“It's no trouble at all, really,” M wheedled.
“No,” I reaffirmed my declination of the offer. “I feel like I want to walk tonight. It's a fine night.”
“Alright, Duke,” M said, “Be careful. Some of that bad luck you had today might still be lingering around, I have a bad feeling about all of this.”
I gave a gentle wave, and she waved back as she disappeared around the corner. I reached into my pocket, and fished out my headphones; with a few practiced motions, I threaded the headphones into my phone and ears respectively, and set out on my walk home.
Ponies. Equestria. Two years had passed since the world was exposed to the two concepts. A land of talking equines, and the talking equines themselves. A land of magic, friendship and plenty, apparently.
They opened the gates to paradise, and so very many went with it. My family were among those first in line to get converted, even – I get letters every now and again from them, always going on about how nice it is, and that I'd love it there.
Fact is, I like the city far too much. Green fields? Sunny skies? Not my cup of tea. I feel out-of-place anywhere that doesn't have at least three walls, and 60% artificial lighting. It's not getting ponified that has me second-guessing myself. It's the moving away from everything I know and love.
That said, M and Gary were right – city's getting more dangerous with every passing day. HLF death-squads roam the streets at night, looking for stray ponies to put holes in with their .303 rifles and shotguns. They haven’t started making house-calls, but it’s only a matter of time.
And then you've got the Ponification for the Earth's Rebirth faction – they fight a more well-intentioned, but even more horrible battle – ponifying folks without asking them first.
I'm told Ponification is brutal if you're awake for it. The methodology of ponificaton varies wildly from place to place, and the less-well-off Bureaus tend to cut corners on general anesthetic in a pinch.
You wouldn’t think so, but there's a real science to it; ponification serum now has so many variants and formulae, it's almost a conversation point as to what serum you took.
'Oh, I got done with r13 potion.'
'Casuals. I ponified with stuff from the r19 batch, the one where they forgot the integrated anesthetic.'
'We don't get 25 around where I live, so I was disappointed. Working on how to grow my coat out so I can be a fluffy pony.'
Then you've got the more infamous potions. r63, for example, the gender-swap potion. And r34, whatever that does; if there's anyone who's ever actually elected to take it, they're not telling. r1, the famous “first batch” - a vintage these days. And rumors abound of pre-release formulas that were all but destroyed. Experimental.
Revision 23's the most common; the stock-standard variant, no side effects, no caveats. Only straight ponification, as advertised on the brochures. Seven days, and you're right as rain.
Headlights cast a shadow in front of me as I walk down the street, cars passing by rapidly; nightlife's dead in town these days, after PER started gas-bombing nightclubs. Dead in more ways than one, after HLF started tailing those PER gassing-runs, to clean up the results.
More headlights. My scalp itches, like I'm being watched. I turned my head to look at the vehicle behind me; I couldn't see much of what looked like a big moving truck, save for headlights and a shadow that looked not unlike the barrel of a gun.
I'm not fit. I'm quite slow, even. But I almost dived fast enough.
Almost, hand grenades.
I felt a jabbing sensation in my neck as I hit the ground and rolled, my case of miniatures still in hand. My free hand instinctively reaches up and slaps the offending article as the truck guns it and speeds away, red tail-lights dancing a merry trail through the dark.
The small dart comes away in my hand, and I look at it; hollow-tipped and tufted with what looks like a purple feather. I smell it, and under the smell of my own blood, I smell... grapes.
I recoil from the dart - it's been loaded with ponification serum. My mind races. It's a dart, and the amount of serum can't have been that much. I hold onto it, and break into a run.
I'm not far from home. I just need to get home, and check the internet. I'm sure I won't change... not immediately, anyway. Regular serum needs about an ounce to induce transformation. That dart had hardly anything.
I pray there's nothing special about this batch.
With a crash, I plow through my front door, keys falling from my hand as I go, case following it as I stumble towards my laptop; idling away on my dinner table, awaiting my return. I wake it up with a finger-snap, and all but fall into the chair.
I feel so tired. A part of me is shouting that I should be calling an ambulance at this point. It's drowned out by others, all citing somewhat valid reasons to not. I need to research this. I might not need an ambulance. They're probably not running these days. I have life insurance.
I open up my first port of call – Wikipedia. They've got quite the page, when it's up. Availability for Wikipedia's pretty spotty these days, what with all their staff doing runners.
It's down. Panic-o-meter jumps up a notch. I turn the lights on properly, lighting up my house, and examine the dart.
Not much to say; it's like a needle, but banded with green and purple stripes. A small serial number reads out what batch went into this, what variant it is. I know how to read it. But I've never heard of it before – probably because it's a PER mix, not an official one.
I know just the guy. I open up my chat program, and wait for it to connect. He's a pony, and he seems to have a network spanning far further than I could ever imagine regarding serum development. The connection established, and I was online. Time to ask my question.
<DoUK> Wake the fuck up man
<@Unibro> You called, DoUK?
<DoUK> I need a favor
<DoUK> plz look up serum r92-b
<@Unibro> Wait one, I'll ask NP
I sit back, feeling my chest – my heart's going nuts. I hoped it was serum, and not just straight poison. Exactly forty seconds laer, I get a response.
<DoUK> what is it
<@Unibro> PER-designed. Super-concentrated, only a little dose needed to facilitate conversion. Delayed action. Only one or two successful conversions out of a good six dozen field-tests. -b variant contains sleeping agent
<@Unibro> Why are you
<@Unibro> Did you get dosed?
<@Unibro> Holy fuck, stop talking to me, get help
<@Unibro> How long?
<DoUK> 5 minutes ago or so, ran home
<@Unibro> That was super stupid
<@Unibro> Do you live in Bay City? Can you get to a Bureau?
<@Unibro> I can't help from here. Get help now. GO
I back off from the computer, stumbling slightly. I turned to the kitchen, where the phone sat in its cradle on the bench, amidst dirty dishes. I reached out a hand, and suddenly found myself on my side; the linoleum was cold, and I could see a sea of dust beneath my fridge. I tried to get up, and met with middling success; I reached up to the edge of the counter, and tried to pull myself up.
It slipped, and I realized I was holding a cutting board; it fell down, dragging a bunch of cups and a carving knife with it; I thanked my lucky stars when the knife landed blunt-edge on my chest.
I found it hard to focus; I just wanted to sleep. But, a small tidbit of information drifted out of my memory, a fragment of a conversation long since passed, someone giving what had seemed like a super-childish reason not to go pony.
I don't wanna get converted because I have to be naked for it to work. Human clothes will throttle a pony if we're wearing clothes when we change. Especially the collar.
I was wearing clothes. I took the knife, and with weak hands, made a cut in the collar of my t-shirt, down the front. The knife fell from my numb hands after the first centimeter, and I prayed it was enough.
As my vision faded to black, my laptop beeped as someone said my username in the chat room.
<@Unibro> Good luck DoUK
A soft beeping filled the air in the musty server room. Very few of the computers were lit with activity lights these days, just one server left.
Automated protocols picked up the message, bounced off a satellite.
Client #1,884,849 life signs critical
Client #1,884,849 life signs failed
Life Insurance verified.
Re-life proceedures invoked.
Long since quiet machines slowly ground to life; SyntheDyne Corporation didn't see much action these days. But the odd invocation of Life Insurance still got through every now and again.
Life Insurance. Once upon a time, it meant your relatives got a healthy stipend of money when you died. SDC had changed that – their Life Insurance had a hefty premium, but when you did bite the dust prematurely...
Data from the nanites in Client #1,884,849 was interpreted, and decompressed. Memories, last unchanged genetic structure, everything possible to know about one human body.
Machines got to work, tissue samples were extruded in long strands like spaghetti, into a transparent-walled plexiglass tank, where flashes of electricity and a soup of nanites stitched strands of flesh together like thousands of millions of microscopic worker ants, regulating computers in the base blinking and clicking away.
A torso began to take shape, ribcage extruding around a half-constructed heart.
SDC changed the whole game with their Life Insurance. If you died, and it was covered by Life Insurance... you got a second chance. An extra life.
Computers whirred and clicked as they roused shipping bots from their slumber, preparing to ship the life-pod holding the organic soup. A hand was adrift in the soup, and being fused to an arm, while crackles of energy filled the soup as a heart was started beating, brainwaves stimulated.
A crane placed the pod into a power cradle in the back of the drop-ship, and it lifted off, the entire operation still as seamless today as it was two years ago.
The fluid flowed to the side of the pod, as the ship banked around to fly inland. Inside the pod, the skin formed over a brand-new skull and eyeballs, and the eyes shot open in an automated function test.
From death to life in just sixty minutes. Duke Cooper was back.