The truck smashed through the plastic gate, giving way to the duo to the bleak New Jersey Parkway. The miles-long stretch of asphalt and concrete led straight through the state, from Connecticut to Delaware, the very place the riders in the truck were headed. Isaac sat in the passenger’s seat, holding onto a map printed out before he and his friend Will left their crumbling home for the IHSA. The map said that it would be about a two-hour trip, but at the speed Will was driving, it could easily only take one.
With so few people left, there were really no legal speed limits to adhere to. There were still places where going 120 mph was nigh impossible without causing bodily harm, but the majority of the trip was smooth driving, few turns, and no need to wait to pay tollbooths. The truck they were riding in was an old Ford pickup that was parked in a driveway with the keys hidden above the sunshade, left behind by its previous owners a few years prior. The tank was almost full, perfect for the trip.
“Hey, Isaac. Where were you before? And what’s with the sudden urge to get out?” Will asked, eyes still locked on the road.
“Well, I went down to the beach to clear my head. Had a deep conversation with myself, and told myself ‘You need to man the hell up and do something with your life!’ Needless to say I decided to follow my own advice,” Isaac said. He decided it was for the best to omit the part with the pegasus, Sunny Days. Will wasn’t too fond of the ponies. He said on occasion that he would have joined up with the Human Liberation Front early on if they hadn’t resorted to such deplorable and senseless acts of violence.
“Well good for you. I was starting to feel the same way, to be honest. Well,” Will said, “almost the same. I just wanted to find some way to keep mankind from dying out. By any means necessary.” The tone Will had used with those words gave Isaac a small shiver. He never heard Will sound so serious before, he was always so good at hiding his emotions. “You hear what I’m saying? They’re killing off our people, but not in the traditional wartime sense. They are taunting us with the fruit of knowledge, as it were. They are offering us utopia, but for what? You were entirely right to be skeptical back when those damned Bureaus opened.”
Isaac never knew Will held such animosity to the ponies. While he was depressed watching humanity fade away, it seemed Will was upset, even angry at the ponies for causing it. Isaac held no grudge against the ponies, all they wanted was for humanity not to have to suffer any longer, right?
“Hey, Will? Can we stop somewhere? I kinda need to get something to drink.” Isaac tried to smile it off, but Will just sighed.
“There’s a convenience store right there that looks like it’s still kicking. You wanna see if you can get me a Coke while you’re in there too?” Will pulled into the small parking lot of the 7-11, stopping in one of the front spaces. Will pulled out his wallet and handed Isaac a crumpled up bill.
Isaac hopped down onto the asphalt from the truck and pushed his way inside the store. It was still active, which was good. But to his surprise, the person manning the register was in fact a small grey unicorn. The pony smiled and nodded in acknowledgement of Isaac, who gave the unicorn a sheepish smile in return.
Isaac retreaded behind one of the aisles, checking for the fridges and the drinks. He rounded a corner and was finally upon them, but to his dismay, most of them were empty. He saw something in the front-most fridge. The bottles weren’t soda, but simply bottles of water and various juices.
They seemed to lack the finesse of mass production, each glass bottle looking like it was hand... hoof made as it would seem. Isaac read the various bottles, noting some fairly unusual flavors. Apple, Strawberry, Orange, Kiwi, Starfruit, Raspberry, Blackberry... no way these can be real. Isaac grabbed a bottle of the amber hued apple juice and an old bottle of Coke he saw at the bottom of the racks. Inspecting the bottle’s label, it simply bore three brightly colored apples and the logo “Sweet Apple Acres”. Isaac brought them to the counter, the unicorn pushing the buttons on the register. A loud bell rang and the drawer shot out fro behind the counter.
“Wow, really? Why so cheap?”
“Not cheap, really. Everything else is just so expensive,” the cashier said, chuckling. Isaac heard some steps behind him, and a sudden intake of breath. Isaac turned to see... another human. The man was fairly tall, his hair somewhat well-kept. His eyes were a little sunken in, but they were staring right at Isaac.
“Are you heading to Fort Stillwater as well?” Isaac asked. He and Will were fairly close to the destination, so any humans around would likely be headed in that direction too.
“What’s that?” he asked. It appeared that the shock to the man was almost if not greater than it was to Isaac.
“You haven’t heard? The International Human Survival Association. They’ve made strongholds for humans all over the globe. A last ditch survival measure. I’m Isaac by the way, Isaac Hamilton.” Isaac stuck his hand out, meeting the other man’s hand in a strong shake.
“I’m John Norris, been quite some time since I’ve seen another human on good terms. Can’t say I’ve heard of that organization before.” Isaac wasn’t surprised. Radios were pretty dead nowadays, so nobody would be checking for any signals there.
“Hey dad, who’s this?” a high pitched voice piped up from behind John. A blue pegasus colt walked out from between the aisles, looking up longingly at John.
Isaac was in shock. “Did that pony just call you ‘dad’? Did you... you know... with a pony?”
“Oh. Oh God no. His mother got ponified when she was pregnant. I’d never do... THAT... with a pony.” Isaac let out a sigh of relief. There were some sick people in the world, and at least the one human he met today wasn’t one of them.
A loud honking rang from the parking lot. Will. Isaac was taking too long, but he wished he could get to know John just a little bit more. “Oh, that’s Will. I gotta get going. Nice meeting you, John.” Isaac shot the colt a smile as he ran out the glass doors, sliding back into the passengers seat of the truck.
He handed Will his Coke, and proceeded to crack open his glass bottle of apple juice. Taking a sip of the golden drink, Isaac was assaulted by such sweet and delicious flavors that had he been standing, he would have been knocked to the ground. He had never tasted a drink so... natural. It actually tasted like what apples were supposed to taste like. Will backed out from the parking lot and pulled back into the road, closing in ever more on their target.
The truck weaved through the streets of the small town, signs of life growing stronger the closer they got to the base. Noises could be heard, other cars were seen driving the roads, and groups of humans were walking around.
“Isaac, I think we’re here,” Will said, nudging Isaac.
“Seems that way.”
The two continued on, finding the heavy iron gates leading to Fort Stillwater, the IHSA headquarters. On either side of the gate stood two tall towers, both manned by guards, sporting black automatic military rifles, keeping an eye on the ground below. Riding through the designated path, Isaac peered out the window to see what the fort contained. There were people walking around the green lawns, entering and leaving the various buildings he could assume were dormitories, not dissimilar from a college campus. There were some kids as well, it seemed that anyone and everyone who heard their broadcast dropped everything to come here. Just like how they did.
The signs along the path pointed them towards a large, circular building sporting a bright red banner reading “REGISTRATION”. Will parked the car out in the lot, along with all of the other vehicles. They both grabbed their bags, and walked towards the building.
“This is sure to be interesting,” Isaac said.
“No kidding. It said that they’ll be assigning us work positions over that broadcast, maybe this is where we get them.”
The two entered the glass sliding doors to a desk manned by a gruff middle-aged man dressed head to toe in formal military garb. He looked up from his laptop to see the two walk up. Isaac stepped in front.
“Name, age, education,” the man asked, plainly.
“Uhh… Isaac Hamilton, thirty-three, master’s degree in computer science and bachelor’s degree in genetics. Studied both at MIT.”
“May as well gone to community college with that CS degree, kid. Genetics… right. You’re going to be assigned to Science Team Eight. Orientation for new base personnel is tonight at 1800 hours, in conference room one. Continue to that desk behind me to get your room assignment, maps, and all that bullshit.” He gestured to the woman seated at a desk behind him. She was dressed casually, a tee shirt and jeans. Her hair was tied up in a bun, black rimmed glasses hanging on her nose.
“Hey there, science boy. Name?” she asked.
“Oh, Isaac Hamilton.”
“Lemme guess. You want a room with your friend back there?” She pointed at Will, who was talking with the man at the laptop, getting his assignment as well.
“If that isn’t too much of a problem…”
She let out a small chuckle. “No need to get your panties in a bunch. Science personnel are housed together by fours in the houses along Artillery Circle, and he was just assigned to team eight along with you. It’ll be you, him, let’s see… Roxanne Adams and Quincy Jacobs. They moved in a few days back. Now get going, you got two hours before orientation. May as well grab some grub before then. The science teams aren’t known to have too much time for eating.”
Isaac took his card key, his new ID, and a folder containing various documents concerning the fort. He waited by the door for Will, who took his time talking to the woman at the last desk. He swore he saw her giggle a few times.
“Science Team Eight?” Will asked, walking back to Isaac. The both pushed open the doors, exiting out onto the lawn. Isaac pulled out the map of the area, looking for the street their house was on.
“Uh, yeah. Says we’re housed with… Roxanne Adams and Quincy Jacobs. It’ll be nice seeing other faces around for once,” Isaac joked.
“No shit. Tired of staring at your ugly mug all day long,” Will retorted. They both shared a hearty laugh and strolled towards Artillery Circle.
When they arrived, they saw rows of identical two story houses lining the road on either side. They were a stark white, had a few windows, but other than that were very minimalistic in appearance.
“What number?” Will piped up.
“231. There it is, right there.” Isaac pointed over to the house to their left, walking up the stone pathway up to the door. Isaac slid his key card through the slot, heard a light click in the lock, and nudged the door open. The house’s inside was not dissimilar to the exterior in style: clean and minimalistic. Isaac stepped into the house, followed by Will. They put down their bags and Will jumped over onto one of the sofas. A shuffling was heard from upstairs, followed by steps coming down to meet them.
“Oy! Who let you in here? And take your bloody shoes off if you’re gonna lay on that sofa, you twit!” A lean, bespectacled man walked into the living room. His voice had a light Irish accent to it. His hair was a mess of jet black with light curls.
“Quincy Jacobs?” Isaac asked, hand stretching out. The man met it with a nod.
“Aye. So you two are gonna be on team eight with Roxy and me, eh? Oy! Roxy! We got some new lodgers!” Quincy shouted behind him. Another set of steps were heard from upstairs.
“Will you quit shouting so much? I’m going to have to get a hearing aid if you keep that up… Oh! Hello there!” A middle-aged black woman had entered the room to join the three. Her black hair was pulled back, a silver necklace hanging from her neck. She wore a grey tank top with light khaki slacks. “Nice to meet you...?” The question hung in the air.
“Oh, Isaac Hamilton. And that’s Will Rathmore. We’re moving in.” Isaac stretched out his hand to shake the woman’s.
“Pleasure to meet you two. Roxanne Adams. That that lovely fellow there as you’ve already guessed, is Quincy. Why don’t you guys get your things settled in upstairs? There are rooms for each of us. Come on back down when you’re done and we’ll head off to grab some dinner.”
Isaac nodded, picking up his bag, and walked up the staircase. The two rooms immediately to the left and right were filled with clothing and other belongings, presumably Quincy and Roxanne’s rooms. He turned and followed the banister past the bathroom, and entered one of the rooms further down.
The room was similar to the other decor of the house. White walls, a small window, a desk complete with a full computer terminal, a bookcase, and a dresser. Isaac set his things down on the bed, and decided he would unpack after the ‘orientation’ meeting later on that afternoon.
The bed was very ordinary, a bit stiffer than his old bed back at his old house. He bounced up and down on it as he sat on it, getting a feel for it. He kicked back, flopping his head on the crisp pillow, the linens having not been used until then. Isaac closed his eyes, trying to take a minute to relax.
He thought about all that had happened today. It was such a change in pace than what he was used to that it didn’t register immediately. After so long living with Will and living at his old house, he was glad to get a fresh change in scenery, but... at what cost? He was now in some strange place, put into this team with his new housemates. What would he be researching?
Several things were starting to bother him as Isaac thought to himself. Why did the military, or whatever armed force, have such tight security? Was it to protect everyone inside from raiders and looters? Or was it to protect them from the ponies? Were they really so dangerous that they had to pull guns on them if a pony got too close?
Isaac opened his eyes and turned his head towards the doorway. Standing in it, leaning against the door frame stood Will, his unkempt hair hanging down past his shoulders. “Looks like you could really use a haircut, Will.” Isaac sat up, beckoning his friend into the room.
Will pulled up the desk chair next to the bed and sat. “Yeah. You could afford a trim too, Isaac.” Isaac felt at his head, his hand tracing his fair down to his shoulders as well. Isaac chuckled in agreement. “So? What do you think? The place seems nice enough. Good to have some sort of real community around again.”
Isaac nodded. “Yeah, but I’m just wondering why there are so many army personnel around.”
Will sighed. “Yeah, it’s a little strange. A bit excessive if you ask me. But from what I’ve heard, gangs that used to be all over the place have clumped together to form raiding parties, looting, killing, raping, the works. In fact, I kind of feel safer with all those rifles pointed out towards the rest of the world.”
“Yeah,” Isaac began, “But I’m just... I don’t know. I can’t help but feel that it’s still a bit excessive. I’m thinking that maybe it’s a deterrent to keep ponies from coming close. I mean, I don’t have anything against them, but-”
“Why not?” Will asked, interrupting Isaac’s train of thought.
“Why don’t you have anything against them? I mean, they've essentially destroyed our society, brought us down to such pitiful numbers, and yet you still like them?” Will’s eyes narrowed on Isaac.
“What’s up with you, man? I don’t like them, but I don’t have anything against them either. I say live and let live. We stay out of their business, they stay out of ours. I mean, I’ve heard some stuff on the net about stories of that ponification serum being forced on some humans by rogue pony groups. That’s the kind of shit I can’t stand. Same with the HLF. No group of whatever should dictate what everyone else has to do or think.” Isaac felt Will’s gaze lighten, his friend relaxing.
“Yeah, you got a point. But still. I don’t like them. I like humanity, as silly as that sounds. We walked on the goddamn moon because we wanted to. Humanity has a fire in it that lets it be able to conquer any kind of challenge thrown at it. The only reason the world got to the point it was at when the ponies came was because of complacency and a general lethargy that infected everyone while the people with the big wallets did what they wanted to do.”
“But that doesn’t matter anymore, Will. We are where we are, whether you like it or not. And look at it this way. We are a part of humanity rebuilding itself. We are going to bring back that fire you mentioned. Hell, this is that fire, the IHSA. Some people are content sitting at home, letting the world crumble to dust. Then there are the others who said ‘no’. We are those people, Will.”
Will rose from the chair, slamming his hand against Isaac’s shoulder. Isaac winced. “That’s why I like you, Isaac! You know just the thing to say to me. I’m glad you had that little revelation this morning. By the way, what happened at the beach?”
“Oh, uh, I guess... it was just something about the sea. It has that effect on me.”
“Well if we’re in some shit on a boat, I’m tossing you overboard until you have some sort of revelation to save our asses!” Isaac and Will both laughed as they exited Isaac’s room and headed back downstairs.
The four of them sat at a table in the bustling cafeteria, trays in tow. Isaac and Will placed theirs down on one side of the table, with Quincy and Roxy on the other. All of them but Roxy had drinks that all looked suspiciously like watered down Gatorade, and upon tasting it, Isaac was inclined to agree. Roxy, though, had a steaming cup of sweet-smelling tea.
Taking a spoonful of the red mush, Isaac gently slipped it into his mouth, recoiling from the bitter flavor. He forced himself to swallow the vile concoction, chasing it with a gulp of the neon Gatorade. Quincy and Roxy were both chuckling.
“Ah, don’ worry Izzy. You lose all sense of taste within the first few meals. Roxy here still owes me a twenty from a bet we had ‘bout that, don’cha?” Quincy sneered.
“Bullcrap and you know it. Hmph. You were obviously faking it.” Roxy took a spoonful of her meal and swallowed it without any sense of disgust, much to the disbelief of Isaac and Will.
“We’ve been living off ramen noodles and microwave dinners for the past few years. I kind of want to go back to the noodles… at least it had different flavors of salt…” Isaac said, staring at the plate before him.
“So you two lovers been living together, have ya?” Quincy spouted, taking a spoonful in his mouth. Isaac almost choked as he took a gulp from his drink.
“Nah, we were just rooming together in Isaac’s house once his family abandoned him. Parents left me with almost nothing, so I took a chance and tried to move in. What about you two?” Will asked.
Quincy was the first to talk, with no objections from Roxy. “Well, I was workin’ an internship in DC with a pharmaceuticals company when the whole pony shitfest started. What a bloody frenzy THAT was. Everyone and their mothers were goin’ out to get ponified. Me and my mates, for the most part, held out against their succulent promises of that damned utopia,” Quincy sighed.
“Bout a few years ago, the lads started losing hope. Started with one, then another, then before long, I was the only bloody one left. Pastel colored ponies never really appealed to me, so I decided to head here. Got here a week ago and was put right back to work as a lab tech, helping out with Science Team 1. They be workin’ on a re-humanification serum, one that can counter the effects of ponification and return humans back to their original forms. Nowhere close to any progress just yet. But when you two trollops came along, I was reassigned to Science Team 8. Dunno what we’re gonna be workin’ to be honest.”
“So Team 8 is just us four?” Isaac asked.
“Nah,” Roxanne replied. “We got a project leader we’ll meet tomorrow at the lab.”
Isaac tried to take another taste of his meal, but gave up. He took a gulp from his drink, and leaned back in the chair. “So, Roxanne. What’s your story?”
“You can call me Roxy, honey. Everyone does. A few weeks after the bureaus opened up, my husband and kids were all getting ready to move out. They had been pestering me to come along, but I refused each time. My husband tried to console me, telling me that it was for the best. They would want their mother with them in Equestria.” Roxy looked down at her cup of steaming tea. “I... I begged for them not to go. That night, my husband snuck out with the kids while I was asleep, telling them that I was going to another bureau later on. I woke up the next day with my life ripped from me by the person who I gave my heart to for almost ten years. I was a wreck.” A tear fell from Roxy’s closed eyes.
“After a while, I got my act together, and lived a quiet life in Atlanta for a few years, helping out families struggling to make a life for themselves as humans. About two weeks ago, I heard the radio broadcast and decided to come up here to try my hand at rebuilding humanity.”
“Real god-damned Mother Theresa, aren’t ya?” Quincy snickered.
“It’s no wonder nobody ever sits with us. All you ever do is exacerbate things. No sensitivity at all.”
“What do you mean?” Quincy asked back.
“You really are thick, aren’t you?”
“No, I mean, what does ‘exacerbate’ mean?”
Roxy buried her face in the palms of her hands.
After the group finished their meals, Quincy and Roxy started walking back to the house. They had seen the orientation presentation beforehand when they first arrived, and didn’t care to see it again. Isaac and Will made their way out from the cafeteria and across the campus to the large building they had gone through registration in.
The lobby was packed with people, all shuffling into the auditorium. There were dozens of seats, most of them filled towards the front. Will and Isaac chose two closer to the back to avoid the crowds when the whole thing ended.
After a few minutes, the lights died down, silencing the audience. A bright spotlight lit the central part of the stage, and a tall man dressed in a suit walked out into it.
“Welcome! Welcome all of you to the International Human Survival Association, Eastern North America Branch! My name is Frank Dunland, former leader of the Human Liberation Front. We are part of a fifteen piece instrument spanning the entire globe to help pave a path to the future for mankind. One that We, Homo Sapiens, will choose!
“You here, you all represent the strongest of will and heart of our species. The venomous lies that the false deities spread through our civilization, the same ones that enthralled your loved ones, your closest friends, and the vast majority of our own species, had no effect on you! You were proud to walk on two legs! You were proud of being called man and woman! You came here seeking to help our species reaffirm our ownership over our world!
“Mankind. We have survived for hundreds of thousands of years in our current forms. Our knowledge had been passed down from parent to child, growing exponentially. First, we tamed fire, and we were warm. Then, we hunted the animals of our lands, and used their parts for our own uses to live better and grow stronger. We were protected from the elements. Then, we began shaping the land and melting the very rock below our feet into tools and weapons. We flourished. We learned to manipulate the environment to suit our needs. We kept on developing as a species, until virtually no speck of land on this planet hadn’t felt our touch. We were truly masters of the elements.
“We overcame EVERY challenge nature threw at us, testing our dominance, tenacity, our determination. From earthquakes, to colossal storms, to the most horrific organisms evolution ever came up with. Mankind never gave up, never called it quits, and never lost. We fought tooth and nail with our very planet for dominance. Bloodied, hurting, and wounded, we came out stronger than ever, with complete dominance. We thought we could take down anything. We are Man: The Conqueror.
“And then, along came the Equestrians. Offering a fresh start, a guilt-free life, and a clean slate to anyone who chose to take up the offer, they led our brothers and sisters away from what we had fought and died to achieve after so long. All because they wanted the easy way out. To me, I see them as the scum of our species. No sense of pride no will to do things on our own, that we have done for generations in the past. They didn’t deserve to be human.
“And for the Equestrians themselves? I find the offer as a declaration of war. A war against our species. They claimed that their own form is superior to our own; they claimed that their land was superior to our own, their ways of life superior to our own. I saw them as an abomination, those ‘Conversion Bureaus’. I began the HLF, seeking to reassert our dominance over this planet, and to shake loose those who weren’t already caught in the teeth of the beast.
“Unfortunately, it was too late. The movement never picked up enough steam. Our enemy relied on heavy use of propaganda, and tore the very humanity from their victims. Our species now stands at a paltry million. Our cities now stand quiet, desolate, and crumbling. And some of those who turned their backs to our species even possess the gall to call it ‘home’ again. They come back to our lands, expecting for us to act as if nothing had ever happened. Their tales of love and happiness invading the ears of the defiant, chipping away at the willpower and tenacity that made us so great.
“And that is where the IHSA comes into play. A centralized district for every area of the world, they are the last places where any man, woman, and child can escape the corrupting propaganda put forth by our fallen brethren. Each one holds anywhere from fifty thousand to a hundred and fifty thousand humans, all working and communicating in tandem to bring our species back to its former glory. We achieve nothing if our brilliant minds are so spread out. But together, TOGETHER, we can achieve greatness!”
The entire crown leaped into the air, the deafening cheers pounding at Isaac’s eardrums. He and Will both stood up to clap, but without the bravado as the rest of the crowd.
“And remember. Everyone has a piece to contribute, and each one is as valuable as any other. And know this: Every human that is ponified becomes an enemy to our cause. They no longer seek to see our species flourish, but to see it further assimilated. So stay diligent.”
Isaac needed to take some time for himself. After Frank’s speech to the new ‘recruits’ as he called them, many things bothered Isaac about it. It felt more like indoctrination. He asked Will to head back to the house while he sorted out a few things on his own. Underneath the late afternoon sky, the sun was taking on a yellowish-orange hue, the clouds above glowing with it.
Isaac wondered to himself whether or not coming here was a good idea. Sure, he wanted to help his species, but he wasn’t too keen on the whole anti-pony agenda it seemed that the greater part of the population here possessed. The speech seemed to stroke the egos of those who listened. It appealed to the sense of being human, feeding one’s pride, reinforcing Frank’s message: the ponies must pay for what they did to us.
As he sat on a bench on the border of the woods, he leaned back, listening to the wind as it blew through the trees. The branches bending, the leaves fluttering, the bugs chirping. Something else was there though. Every so often, Isaac would hear various grunts, and cries coming from the woods behind him. He rose from his seat, and began trudging his way through the foliage.
After a few dozen yards, Isaac came across a small clearing. In the fading twilight, he could make out the silhouettes of three large men, and two figures in heaps on the ground. One was off to the side, not moving aside from the rises and falls of breathing. The other was in the middle of the three men, getting kicked and beat. The cries and pleads were clearly feminine, and Isaac couldn’t just let them keep doing this.
“Hey! What’s going on back here?” Isaac shouted. The three looked up from their prey, beady eyes locking onto him.
“We found a coupla pegasi snoopin’ around the woods back here. Damn varmints don’t know they don’t belong here. We’re teaching ‘em a lesson!” one of them said. Isaac recognized him from the orientation; clearly he and his goons were on some sort of high from hearing the pro-human speech.
“Come on! She’s defenseless! Just let her go.”
“Hey boys,” the leader said, “looks like we got ourselves here a pony-loving faggot. Why don't you make him comfortable?” Before Isaac could figure out what he meant by those words, he felt his arms yanked behind his back by great meaty hands, and his hair pulled back. His head was held up to see the hapless victim from before.
She was a bright yellow pegasus... with a blonde mane...
“SUNNY! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?!” Isaac screamed. The pegasus tried her hardest to meet his eyes, but could only lift her head a few inches up. She tried a few times to speak, but most of it came out as coughs and blood.
“I-Isaac... h-help... its m-me... E-Erika...” Her head fell back down into the dirt.
The words hit him like a freight train. How had he not figured it out before? Her surprise on seeing him? How she knew that his sister still loved him? How she shouted his name back to him when he was leaving when he remembered never telling her beforehand? And why of all places was she here?
“Well, looky here, boys! Looks like our fag here knows this here varmint! Watch real close here, boy. This is what happens to you when ya side with them fuckin’ ponies!” The leader lifted his boot heel, with a dreadfully insidious look on his face. Isaac slammed his eyes closed. There was a sickening crack followed by what would haunt him for the rest of his life.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH... AH... AHHHHHHHH!!!!!” The piercing screams tore at Isaac’s ears and his heart. It echoed throughout the forest, certainly heard back at the fort. After her throat gave up in protest to her screaming, she broke down into wracking, heaving sobs. Each one ripped away at Isaac, threatening to break his sanity. Isaac opened his eyes to see his sister’s wing bent at a horrifying angle and its feathers stained red. Her entire body shaking, she couldn’t hope to fly again unless it was seen to immediately, but Isaac feared that she might not even make it that long.
“Oh, well look at that. Neither of you two are smiling. What a shame. Looks like I'll have to put a smile on your faces, won’t I?” The leader pulled a sickeningly long blade from his jacket pocket. The blade looked... familiar... The way it caught the dying rays of the sunset... the jagged nicks and stains... This very blade had been brandished to Isaac before.
It was the same thugs at the Conversion Bureau during the protest. The same thugs who threatened his life if he didn’t show his commitment against the ponies. The same thugs who tore his family away from him. And Isaac had just found the one last member of his family who still cared about him deeply, and they sought to take that from him.
“I think I'll start with the little girly. Time to put a smile on your face!” he sneered, each word dripping with malice, the knife reflecting the last rays of sunlight into Isaac’s eyes.
“GET YOUR HANDS OFF HER!!!!”
A missile of brown fur shot out from the darkness, impacting the leader square in the back, and sending him flying into the dirt with a loud crack. Isaac took the moment of confusion to jump away from his captors when he felt their grips loosen. He fell down to his hands, looking towards where the leader and the Pegasus landed. Both were unconscious, and the knife lay in the grass beside them.
Isaac twirled around at the thugs behind him, already in the middle of a swing of their fists. Isaac knocked one out of the way, but took the other to his gut, knocking the wind out of him. He collapsed to the ground in a heap, gasping for air. He rolled away from the two with what energy he could find, his breath finally returning to him as he rose to his feet. He lunged at the left thug, knocking him to the ground.
Isaac repeatedly slammed his fist into the thug’s throat before getting hit in the side of the head by the fist of the other. Isaac’s head was spinning, his chest burning from the exertion. He rose back to his feet, wobbling in place slightly. When his vision steadied, he saw the body of the one thug still on the grass, his chest slowly rising. He was out for the count.
Isaac turned back to the last conscious thug, his focus coming back. He felt his muscles reinvigorate from his small victory. Now it was a fair fight. The thug ran at Isaac, his fists directed straight at Isaac’s head. Isaac slid to the side, and before the thug could react, he brought his foot up in a swift kick. His shoe connected with the jaw of the thug, who collapsed in a cacophony of cries and moans. Isaac figured he may have shattered the guy’s jaw.
“Well, it looks like I gotta be the one to set ya straight, faggot.” Isaac immediately rolled forward, narrowly dodging the knife as the large man swung it down, digging it into the dirt. He growled, raising the knife for another strike. Isaac rose to his feet and turned around to face the thug. He realized his back was to a tree and the rest of the forest.
“Listen up, asshole. I’m gonna fillet you, then feed you to those ponies back there. Seems that girly one knows ya, so I’m gonna go ahead and give her a double helping. Now STAND STILL!” he screamed, lunging again at Isaac. He jumped to his left, but he was slow. The knife sunk into his leg, cutting down along his thigh and calf before Isaac was clear of the attack. Isaac screamed out in agony, blood beginning to stain his pants. The gash didn’t feel particularly deep, but it compromised most of his ability to move quickly like before.
“Like a wounded animal, with the wolf circling and ready to strike the killing blow. Oh, I’m gonna do it nice and slow like. I’m gonna enjoy this.” Isaac looked up at the thug, fearing that his life was about to come to such a miserable end. He was going to die, out here in the middle of the woods by some brute while trying to save his sister. The sky was starting to darken down to a deep violet, but there was something in the sky... a silhouette. Isaac rolled out of the way just as the brown pegasus landed a vicious high-speed headbutt to the man, knocking the two to the ground yet again. But it didn’t knock the thug out like before. He rolled over and began strangling the pegasus under his meaty fingers.
Isaac acted so quickly he didn’t feel his leg protest. He didn’t feel his hand grasp the knife that was laying in the grass beside him. What he did feel, was the dreadful warmth as he sunk the blade into the thug’s neck from behind, blood following the blade as he withdrew it from the wound. The thug gurgled in protest, clasping his hands around the wound in his throat in vain to stop the bleeding. He fell backwards, his eyes staring up at the sky as the last traces of life left him.
Isaac froze, looking down at his hands. Even in the dim light, he could see and even smell the ferrous odor of the blood staining his hands. He just killed someone. He killed someone with his own hands. He never even thought about killing someone before, and not even just now. It was all reflexive. But even so... Isaac felt... ruined. A little voice in his head rose up from the noise of the pain coursing through his mind. The bastard deserved it. He was the worst kind of person, the kind that needs to be put down. He brought it on himself when he hurt Erika. Isaac quashed the voice, choosing not to listen to the hate-filled words.
Isaac fell onto his back, his body finally scolding him in the form of his muscles aching and burning in pain. After a few minutes, he rose onto his good leg and limped over to the shape in the dark that was his sister. Isaac started to gently ease her up. The moment he tried to move her wing, she let out a gasp of pain. Her wing was hanging limp at her side, still bent at a horrific angle halfway up the first bone.
"Just... Just stay there for a minute. I'll figure this out," Isaac wheezed. Isaac looked over at the two thugs, both unconscious now. The scene was bad enough, and he didn’t want to stick around no matter how much his leg would hurt. Isaac limped over to the brown pegasus, his face buried in the leaves and dirt. Isaac gently shook him awake, who greeted Isaac with a startled yell. Isaac covered the pony's mouth with his hand, silencing him. Isaac looked into his large, brown eyes, which were still filled with panic and concern.
"We need to move her. Can I count on you?" Isaac asked with a hushed tone. The pegasus responded with a quick nod. "Good. Now I'm going to lift her up onto your back and you'll need to carry her further into the woods. We don't want to be around when these two wake up." Another nod. Isaac took his hand from the pegasus's mouth. They both walked slowly over to the now unconscious yellow pegasus, the brown one leaning down onto his knees.
Isaac propped his sister's broken wing onto his shoulder as he picked her up, being careful not to move it more than he had to. He gently placed her hooves around the brown pony's body, his wings splaying out to keep her from falling off. Isaac placed her broken wing on top of the brown pegasus’s wing. Better to keep it still until they get a brace for it.
"Bullseye. My name's Bullseye," the pegasus whispered.
"Nice to meet you, Bullseye. Isaac Hamilton. I'm Erika's older brother."
The two eased their way into the dark forest, their feet and hooves crunching the sticks and leaves that littered the woodland floor. The trees were far enough apart for Bullseye to walk through without having too much trouble with his wings.
"Nice to meet you, Isaac. I've heard so much about you from her. I was her flying tutor when she was first ponified.” Bullseye looked back at the unconscious body on his back, and sighed. “Even during her lessons I could tell that she was distracted. I finally asked her, and she told me all about her parents and about you. Her parents abandoned her once they got ponified, moving straight into Equestria.”
Isaac stumbled on his wounded leg. “What? They just abandoned her?”
“Yeah, real shame. They just took the first ferry out to Equestria once they got ponified, eager to leave everything behind and start over, including Sunny. She was a real wreck after she told me all of this.” Bullseye stretched out a wing in front of Isaac, stopping him. “Hold on.” The pegasus pushed through a thick bundle of branches and twigs littering the forest floor in the darkness. He stomped them down with his hooves, flattening a path for Isaac to walk through unhindered.
“Don’t sweat it. Sunny was under my wing for a full week for flying lessons. Once she was ready to move to Equestria, it also happened on the end of my contract as flight instructor. I figured since she had nopony out there what with your parents abandoning her like they did, she could move in with me. W-Well, as long as she was okay with it,” Bullseye stammered, beginning to get a bit embarrassed. “I got her a job at the Ponyville post office as a mailmare, same place I worked. We housed together and worked together for a few years, she and I occasionally heading back here to America to help out with other Bureaus and to do deliveries.”
“Sounds like she was enjoying her new place, not that she ever saw it coming,” Isaac chuckled.
“Right. She and I eventually began to grow steadily closer to each other, and so I eventually mustered up my courage to ask her to dinner, like a proper gentlecolt. We hit it off pretty well after that. We’ve been dating for six years now, and... I feel like I’m ready to take the next step.”
“I was about to ask her today after she got home after a delivery, but when she did get home, she was frantic. She wanted me to come with her so she could follow you. She really wanted to talk to you. She never stopped thinking about you, Isaac. We followed your car here, and... well, you know how the rest turned out.”
Isaac looked down at the brown pegasus. “Why didn’t she come and see me while I was still at our old house?”
“It’s... complicated. She wanted to. She really did. It was tearing her up inside. But she was terrified about how you would react. She didn’t know how you would act around her as a pony.”
Isaac sighed. He would have loved it if his sister showed up again after his parents left with her. He would have loved to hear about everything about the Bureau, about the ponies, about ponification. Isaac was glad she had found someone to grow close to, though.
“Y-Yeah?” he grunted back.
"If it's worth a damn, I say you should still go for it. You earned my trust when you saved her life back there. She must matter a whole lot to you, Bullseye. I can't think of a finer man... er... stallion... to look after my sister than you." Isaac gave the brown pegasus a smile, only to see his eyes wet with tears.
"Y-You have no idea how much that means to me, Isaac. And for what it’s worth, you saved all of us. W-When we get out of this place, I’m going to ask Sunny for her hoof in marriage, and make her the happiest mare she can be!" Bullseye yelled to the woods, his voice shaking with sheer joy. Tears were streaming out of his eyes, and were now spreading to Isaac as well. He felt that lump growing in his throat. He was sure that there wasn't anyone or anypony better to keep Erika safe than the one before him.
"W-who are you t-talking about, Bullseye?" a faint voice asked from behind the pair. Isaac and Bullseye both gasped, Bullseye, dropping to his knees.
"Sunny! You're awake! I'm so sorry I couldn’t help you sooner than I did..." Bullseye cried.
"It's okay... You saved my life, you dummy! Thank you so much..." she said, burying her muzzle into the messy brown mane before her, wetting it with her own tears.
"Erm, I'll be right back. I'm going to find a stick to brace your wing with, okay Erika?" Isaac asked. She lifted her head from Bullseye's mane to give him a nod. Isaac looked to Bullseye and gave him a wink. Almost immediately, his face lit up brighter than the sun.
Isaac walked out into the trees, scanning the ground with the light from his phone. Most of the sticks around were too small to provide any kind of support, or too big and would weigh her wing down. He walked further into the brush, looking up into the trees as well. There it was. A light grey branch, long enough to brace the section of the wing, and light enough to...
"YEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!!!!! WOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!" The cheer echoed through the forest, birds and other animals running away from the noise. Isaac smiled as he reached up to grab the branch and began his walk back to the two.
When he came upon them, the two were locked in an impassioned kiss, their hooves wrapped around each other. They both were in the throes of joy, and Isaac didn't want to interrupt them just yet. He walked out behind a tree, and pulled his phone back out. He tapped a quick message onto his phone to Will. [Gonna be out a little later than I thought. Don't wait for me.]
Isaac felt at his leg wound. It still hurt like nothing else, but it seemed like his pants were acting as a sort of bandage, helping the clotting. The blood wasn’t flowing anymore, so it wasn’t a serious gash. It didn’t keep it from hurting like it was serious. After what felt like fifteen minutes, Isaac heard the two begin talking again. "We'll have to get in touch with everyone! Oh my... That's gonna be a lot of letters!" his sister said.
"So I take it you two lovebirds are finished?" Isaac called from behind the tree as he struggled to stand up. He walked back out to the two, who were laughing lightly, clearly embarrassed.
"Hehe, sorry Isaac..." Sunny said.
"Okay, sis. Let me see that wing." She struggled to unfold her wing, each inch causing her to wince in pain. Clearly, it needed to be seen to immediately. Isaac took the coat off his back and secured the branch in place with the sleeves. He lifted her back onto Bullseye's back, her wing stretched out straight. It wasn't the best brace in the world, but it would do.
"Bullseye. Fly her straight to a hospital. And Erika... I mean... Sunny... Try and keep it still until you see the doctor. And one more thing... Take this." Isaac handed he his phone, which she took with her hooves. She looked up at him with a confused look on her face. "It's so I can still talk to you and hear what you've learned about Equestria! I’m gonna be hard at work here, and probably not going to be able to get out much. I set it so you can just tap the screen to answer it when I call. When you get a chance, go ahead and check our old house. In my old room there should be a solar charger for the phone. It connects directly with satellites, so reception won’t be a problem. How can I stand to see you just this one time?" Sunny smiled. She leaned out to gently nuzzle Isaac's cheek, and gave him a light kiss.
"Thank you Isaac... I hope we can see each other again," she said.
"Of course we will! How else am I gonna see your kids?" he said with a smirk. She dug her muzzle back into Bullseye's mane, trying to hide her embarrassment. If there was any light, her face would be a shade of crimson, as would Bullseye’s. "And Bullseye. Looks like I'm going to have a brother in law, aren't I? I just have one thing for you to promise to me: Be sure to keep her safe."
"I promise with all my heart!" he shouted. With a few trots, he started into a gallop, flapped his wings, and rose up past the tree line into the black of the night.
Isaac looked up into the black sky. He truly hoped that he could see them again. He corrected himself: He would make sure that he would see them again.
"Wait... How am I gonna get back with no light? Ah, hell." Isaac said to himself. Sighing, he turned back towards the way he came from before to the best of his judgment, and began walking.
Isaac walked down the stairs, the air growing colder and stale with each step he took. He was following Will, Quincy, and Roxy down into the science building to their lab, the home of Science Team 8. It was early in the morning, they had been requested at the lab at 8:00, much earlier than Isaac and Will were used to.
Isaac had made it back to the house the night before without anyone noticing the bloodstains on his pants, and quickly secluded himself to the bathroom when he got home. Peeling the pants off was agonizing, but after cleaning the wound and applying real bandaging, the pain was quick to ebb away. The cut was far from dangerous as he figured, but it was sure to leave a scar all the way down his leg.
They finally reached their floor and stepped out into a somewhat empty hallway. There were doors with windows next to them, leading to dark labs stuffed with old equipment. The group rounded a corner and came upon a lab with all of the lights lit.
They opened the door and walked in. The lab was spacious, lined with a single lab bench cutting through the middle of the room, two computer terminals lining each of the side walls, and a large desk at the front of the room, covered in folders, papers, and several data discs. Beside the desk stood two men: Frank Dunland, who Isaac and Will recognized from the speech the evening before, and another, a shorter and tubbier man standing beside Frank.
“Ah, so kind of you to join us. Welcome to your new lab, everyone. As you already know, I’m Frank Dunland, and this here is your team leader and organizer, Roger Truman. He’s here to make sure that everyone is working their respective jobs. If you need anything, ask him and he’ll forward it to me.
“Now as you all may know, each lab team has a specific project they are working on. You all have some sort of specialty in genetic engineering and organic chemistry, which is necessary to your work. One of our teams had stumbled across a gene found only 3 ponies out of the entire population that makes them immune to magic. Using this as a template, we have determined the appropriate gene required to grant a pony with the ability to absorb magic, compounding it within themselves, and using it themselves.
“The issue is, that when we have tried to synthesize this gene into our, ahem... ‘stock’... results were less than fantastic. They needed to get back to their work, so we’re shifting all relevant documentation and research to you four. Find a way to get that gene into a pony. That’s all I ask.”
Without another word, Frank shook everyone’s hands and strode over to the door, leaving the lab to the group. Roger handed each of them a heavy folder filled with various files, as well as a small, green holo-drive in each. Isaac picked out the drive and looked at it. It was thin, green, and transparent. Inside the walls, lines and flecks of light were spread out from top to bottom. Ones this intricate could potentially have an almost limitless capacity depending on how advanced the compression encoding was.
“Now, since we have so few people, Frank was kind enough to get each one of you an AI partner, stored on your holo-drives there. We won’t be getting much in terms of... well... anything else to be honest.” Roger walked back over to a computer terminal, pulling up a list of things. “We have 4 TC100p portable cloning tanks, several gallons of genetic duplication solution, a couple gallons of ponification serum, four separate stem cell clusters to act with the gene seeds for the cloning process, and a single Gamma Laser for the gene modifications.” he started.
“Wait a bloody minute. TCs? Those things are pieces of crap! They were phased out 20 years ago from countless technical oversights and not to mention ethical shitstorm that followed they’re abysmal failure rate!” Quincy yelled, his face turning red.
“I know, I know. That’s all they could spare from team 3. And they can’t spare any ‘stock’, so we had to come up with some... alternative solutions,” Roger sighed, his shoulders falling. “We want to collect tissue samples from each of you and use those as our test subjects.”
Will looked up from his folder. “So essentially we’ll be ponifying ourselves to some capacity. Am I correct?”
Roger fidgeted with his hands for a moment. “Erm, well, I suppose so. We’ll take a DNA sample from each of you, use the laser to punch in the proper gene sequence, and apply the ponification solution. Hopefully, we’ll end up with the correct sequence after ponification. After that, we move to the cloning tanks.”
Roxy leafed through the sheets in her folder on the table next to her. “So we have to figure out the proper gene sequence that will, during the application of some sort of energy that NO HUMAN has ever understood to ANY capacity, create a ten-thousand gene long sequence? That could take years! Decades even!”
Isaac looked through his papers as well. Roxy was right. No human had ever understood the ‘magic’ that the ponies kept referring to that they used during the ponification process. And to create such a complicated gene, then apply some sort of unknown energy to it, and trying to predict the outcome? The gears in his head began to creak to life, and started crunching the information.
“And that’s why you each are getting AIs. They should help the working process along significantly. Why don’t you all nab yourselves a terminal to use and start going over the raw data? Um, Isaac, can I talk to you for a minute over here?” Roger asked. The three others had already pulled out their holo-drives and were walking over to the terminals in the lab.
“Y-yes?” Isaac said. Did he already do something wrong?
“We know all about you and your... distrust of AIs. We didn’t want it to be a hindrance to your work, so we requisitioned a prototype AI code-named SyRE from one of our researchers, a Dr. Thomas Marcus. Your friends all got typical worker AIs. SyRE, on the other hand, is a thinking AI. He doesn’t do work as much as the others, so you can do everything yourself, but he can still give feedback and even offer ideas. Why don’t you go and introduce yourself.” Roger shooed Isaac towards the open terminal, located right next to Will.
Isaac took his folder and eyed the holo-drive again. It seemed to twinkle in the light more than it had before. He sat down and plugged the drive into the port on the tabletop. The screen came to life, displaying some boot-up commands, followed by ‘Synthetic Recognition Emulator Initializing...’
“Hello, user. My name is SyRE. I’m sure it will be a pleasure working with you,” a synthesized voice buzzed over the speakers.
“*AHEM* H-Hello SyRE. My name is Isaac. Roger told me you are a ‘thinker’ AI. What does that entail?” Isaac asked.
“I am a recognition emulator. I think about the deeper meanings and reasoning to the data presented to me, rather than crunching the numbers. Due to my unique nature, my decommission lifespan is vastly longer than any other AI.”
Isaac rested his chin on his hand, opening up the folder again. He leafed through the documents. “How long is that then?”
“If I operate at my designated specifications, I can function for five hundred Earth-years before logic redundancy buildup, or decommissioning, occurs.”
Isaac was very impressed. Typically, an AI could only go about five to ten years before redundant processes build up within its processing cores, preventing it from being able to operate at any functional capacity. Even if left alone, an AI will reach this point by itself. AI engineers could sometimes ‘salvage’ these decommissioned AIs and use the uncorrupted data to generate new AIs that retain most of their functions from their past incarnation. But since SyRE was a ‘thinker’ and not a ‘worker’, he wasn’t at the risk for redundancy buildup as easily as other AIs.
“Very nice. Alright, I have two rules for you, okay, AI?” Isaac said.
“First: I do the work. Second: Do not do anything unless I give you expressed permission to do so. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. I have already added these commands into my hard coding. Do you accept these changes? I am unable to change lines of hard code without your permission.”
“Say, SyRE. Can you pull up information on the tests that team 3 did with this gene sequence?” Isaac was curious about what this ‘stock’ that team 3 was using. He feared the worst.
“Team 3 used a gene mod serum on the stock ponies that the HLF had captured for intelligence gathering operations. Every subject who was given the serum developed fatal mutations to their bodily form.”
Isaac didn’t want to think about what those innocent beings had to go through, or even what else they were being subjected to by the other teams.
“Okay. Can you forward me the logs and gene files from the, um, ‘stock’ tests?”
“Yes, sir. May I ask what you are planning?”
“Not just yet,” Isaac said. “I have an idea, but that’s well down the road. We need to do some tests, seeing how the ponification process affects human genes. I’ll let you know when I get it figured out.”
“How in the bloody hell does he expect us to actually come up with something like that?!” Quincy hollered, cracker crumbs hurtling from his mouth across the table. Isaac wrapped his arms around his bowl of soup to protect it from the barrage, instead getting his shirt sleeve coated in the crumbs. He pulled his arms away, wiping the filth from his shirt, giving Quincy a minor scowl. Isaac finally took a sip from his soup: chicken barley. Not exactly what he wanted, but at least the chicken tasted real.
“And what exactly was it he wanted these clones to do?” Will asked. “Frank said that this gene allows for the absorption and amplification of magical energies. It just screams trouble if you ask me.” Will took a bite from his salad and a sip from his neon green drink. Isaac cringed at the sight of the fluid. He had vowed to avoid the stuff. He didn’t want his insides to start glowing that color.
Roxy strutted over, taking the seat next to Isaac. She too had gotten the salad, along with a steaming cup of hot water, a small string hanging off the side. Roxy noticed Isaac’s interest. “It’s raspberry tea, honey. Nobody else here drinks the stuff, so they give the teabags away practically for free. Here, I’ll go grab you some. I have to let mine steep for a bit anyways.” She gave Isaac a smile before walking off.
“You got an eye on our chocolate queen there, Isaac?” Quincy murmured, crackers flying out from his mouth yet again. Isaac had noticed that he had been watching her walk away a bit more than was polite.
“I, uh, I was just surprised she was going to get me some of the tea, is all! And about that gene, it’s completely absurd for Frank to expect us to come up with some sort of reliable way to replicate a process so prone to mistakes.” Throwing himself back into the original conversation, Isaac was able to sweep away any more thoughts about before. “I mean, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but genetics isn’t like playing with building blocks. It’s like each block tries to knock another from a random place. And you can’t just build the tower right away, you have to assemble it in a way that a completely mysterious process, no details about it is known to us, can assemble the right tower, down to the exact molecule. We’re looking at years to just understand the ponification serum on it’s own, let alone the genetic manipulation to get that particular gene he wants.” Isaac finally took another spoonful from his soup, feeling the warmth expand through his body.
“Ain’t that the truth. Got a good head on ya, Izzy.” Quincy finally managed to say something without showering the group with cracker crumbs, something Isaac felt he should be commended for. A steaming mug was placed on his tray before him. Isaac looked up to see Roxy had rejoined the group.
“Aw, it’s nothing, sweetie.” Roxy rubbed Isaac’s shoulder before taking a sip of her own tea, slowly taking a gulp of the rosy fluid. The scent wafted over to Isaac, catching him entirely by surprise. The aroma was soothing in such a way that he never felt so clear-headed since he was much younger. His sinuses were clearing, his mind waking up much faster than before, and not to mention that it smelled pretty darned good, too.
Isaac took a slow sip, careful not to burn his tongue on it. But as the tea entered his mouth, he pledged never to even think about drinking any of the disgusting neon water ever again. The tea was a soothing blend of raspberry and citrus, balancing the tart flavors with soothing herbs and spices. He couldn’t help but grin boyishly after swallowing.
“So what were you boys talking about before?” Roxy asked, her fork swirling some lettuce around the plate, picking up the dressing.
“Oh, just about how bullshit this job is, nothing important for you to get your little head worried over.” Quincy took a swig of his beverage, a neon blue drink, that left a blue stain on his upper lip. Isaac felt his stomach turn at the thought of the taste of that drink.
“I’m more concerned about the clones. Say we get the sequence right. Say we have our clones ponified and the gene is there. The what do we do? What does Frank want them for?”
“Ain’t it obvious, missy? He’s gonna brainwash ‘em, send ‘em in as sleeper agents, and send ‘em after Celestia and Luna. They’ll try and strike our little monstrosities down, only to be smitten themselves. Disgraceful, but hey? Whatcha gonna do ‘bout it?” Quincy tossed his empty glass onto his tray, rising to his feet from the table. “Well, I got some bloody reports to look at. Those arseholes in Team two really did a number on those stock ponies. What a damned mess. I’ll see what I can salvage, what happened to each one of them.” Quincy gave a huff and stormed off.
Will downed the rest of his soup, finished off his neon drink, and got to his feet as well. “I’ll see what I can get from the actual reports of the ponies born with the gene. From what I saw, they didn’t live too long. Tons of other shit wrong with them.” Will walked off, depositing his trash and leaving the cafeteria.
Isaac looked next to him, seeing Roxy starting at her tea. She had a frown on her face, her expression one of either sadness or anger; Isaac couldn’t tell which. “Do you think they’ll do that to them? The brainwashing and the murder missions? For the Princesses?” Roxy asked. Her voice was low, her usual chippy intonation missing.
“Unfortunately... I think so. It doesn’t mean I’m okay with it either. I have nothing against the ponies or their Princesses. But... I have nothing else going for me.” Isaac sighed. He noticed that Roxy had started staring at him with her hazel eyes now. “I... just want to be a part of something. I want to help our people. I wasn’t doing anything helpful out there. I was wasting away. So as long as I’m doing something, I’m happy.”
“I know, sweetie.” Roxy gave Isaac a gentle smile. “I helped out in Atlanta with the people still living there. I couldn’t bear to leave my home, to leave the one thing that reminded me of my family. But I too got bitten by the bug. I wanted something, something that wasn’t there. I was ready to move on, so I came here. I just wish that I could be doing something other than creating super assassins from our own genetic code.” Roxy looked back down at her cooling mug of tea and took a long sip. Isaac did the same with his.
Isaac laid on his back, staring up at the dark ceiling in his room. The computer hummed softly in the corner. He turned his head to the side, trying to see how long he had been laying there. 3:29. Well, shit. Isaac never had any sleeping issues before, but he couldn’t get to sleep for the life of him tonight. He and the rest of his housemates retired at ten that evening, needing the rest before they could get started on their work the next day.
But Isaac had been laying there for hours, and his mind just wouldn’t wind down like how it was supposed to. He kept thinking about so many things: finding the gene sequence, the clones, the ethics behind ponifying the clones, the true goals behind their project, and Roxy. She had been on his mind all day, since getting lunch.
Though he had never really caught the eye of any girls before, he still had eyes for them. And Roxy was no exception. While in years past, the idea of him being with Roxy, a white man with a black woman, would have been frowned upon. But those ideas of racial arrogance have since long passed. Isaac didn’t even really see her skin color. She was very down-to-earth, kind-hearted, and sweet.
“Ugh.” Isaac groaned as he pushed himself out of the bed. He staggered over to his desk, the monitor lighting up gently as he sat down.
“Is everything alright, sir?” SyRE asked in his buzzing voice.
“Can’t sleep. Hm... Can you pull up some of those docs on the mutation we’re researching?” Isaac asked, groggily.
“Of course, sir.”
A series of files opened up on his computer, along with genetic maps of the gene itself. Isaac read about how an earth pony foal was born, the doctor at the time trying to levitate it from the mother to ease the birth. The foal had absorbed the magic, and in it’s panic, killed it’s mother. Even simple things like that can be fatal with this thing?
Isaac opened up the next case. A newfoal (pony slang for a recently ponified human) was trying to learn how to use her magic. Her instructor was trying to teach her basic levitation and kinesis, but the more the instructor tried to show as an example, nothing happened. The newfoal was absorbing all of the magic the instructor poured into the teacup he was trying to manipulate, and when the newfoal tried, she poured all of her energy into it. The damage to the Bureau was extensive. Neither of the two survived.
The final case was only to be expected with such a mutation. A newfoal pegasus went on a murdering and thievery binge, using his ability to avoid any attempt at capture. Any kind of effort to apprehend him with magic was fired back at the police, resulting in severe losses. They called in the few human officers still serving who were able to deal with the convict swiftly and decisively. Turns out not even the mutation could stop bullets.
“Great. SyRE, can you pull up the tests done on the stock ponies?” Isaac felt sick at realizing what he had just said. Isaac recoiled upon seeing the horrific pictures opened on his desktop. Ponies of every kind and color were either on the floor or barely able to stand. They were presumably subjected to gene therapy to try and directly implant the gene into their bodies, but they didn’t take too well.
Some were ‘blessed’ to be able to walk away from the treatment with only a new limb sticking out from their bodies before dying a few minutes after their picture was taken. Others... weren’t so lucky. Flesh boils, severe hemorrhaging, and... Isaac almost vomited at the other results of the sick and twisted experiments. And in all of the pictures, various scientists stood around the bodies of the ponies, looking intently at them, taking notes on clipboards. Clearly they cared not for the victims, but for the results.
“Alright, I think that’s enough, SyRE... I don’t think I’ll ever get back to sleep after seeing those.”
“Would you like me to delete them from my local memory?”
“Yes. Yes, please."