60w, 3dThe Conversion Bureau
“Come on, Lauren,” Craig pleaded. “It’ll be fun, and besides, you really, really need a break from studying.”
“But Craig, the test is tomorrow!” Lauren pointed out. “And you have to take it too, remember? This is the Final Exam for all of college; we can’t just blow it off because it seems hard!”
“I’m not,” Craig protested. “It’s just that I’ve studied about all I can study. My brain literally hurts, and unless I relieve some stress I’m going to be worried about genetic algorithms and virtual reality extrapolation programing codes till dawn. I’ll never get to sleep, and neither will you!”
Lauren paused, considering Craig’s logic. He did have a point, even if she hated to admit it on the night before Final Exams. There was only so much studying a human could do before they went crazy, and Lauren felt she had passed that threshold over an hour ago. Taking a break, though study time lost, would do her good in the long run. Lauren could feel that Craig’s brain wasn’t the only one that needed to let off some steam before it overheated.
“Okay,” Lauren conceded. “Let’s go.”
“Great!” Craig said. “You’ll love this new place too—and you’ll never believe who the disc jockey is.”
“You don’t mean—”
“Yup,” Craig smiled. “DJ P0N3 is playing at the premier of Club Technochocolate, alongside Daft Punk Legacy.”
“Shut up!” Lauren grinned. “I’ve been trying to listen to Vinyl Scratch for as long as I can remember!”
“And why wouldn’t you?” Craig smiled, leading Lauren out of her dorm, leaving the fortress of books and papers behind, at least for now. “Pony studies is your major, after all. Personally I can’t wait to hear Daft Punk Legacy—I want to see if those rumors about them being mutants are more than just rumors.”
“So you’ve said like five-thousand times,” Lauren laughed. “Superhuman mutations is your major, after all.”
. . .
“I only wish I could witness superhuman mutations in real life, just once,” Craig was saying as his hover-car pulled into the public parking garage across the street from the Club and powered down. “I mean, Professor Utonium’s work is unparalleled, but the phenomenon of his genetically engineered self-proclaimed ‘Powerpuff Girls’ hasn’t ever been duplicated despite numerous attempts. Superhuman mutations are fascinating, but they’re so rare that it’s hard to find any near home to research. I could always save up the money to buy a teleport pass to Townsville, but I won’t be able to make that kind of money until I actually publish some research.”
“So you can’t get started on your research until you publish your research?” Lauren asked.
“Pretty much,” Craig admitted. “Unlike some people I know whose research is literally in every major city around the world.”
“What?” Lauren laughed. “I can’t help it if I chose to major in something that isn’t as rare as a needle in a haystack.”
“Of course not,” Craig chuckled as they got out of the hover-car. “You had to choose something as common as the hay in which the needle is lost.”
Lauren started to laugh, but then petered off when she realized the second connotation Craig’s statement held.
“Craig, you KNOW I don’t want to become a pony,” Lauren insisted as they walked across the street to get in the line for the Club. “I’m perfectly happy being human—and the IHSA is not the PER. We have the exact opposite goals, and just because I’m interested in studying Equestrians doesn’t mean that I’ve lost faith in humanity.”
“I know, I wasn’t talking about you,” Craig sighed. “I was talking about everybody else. How can billions of people lose faith in their own species just because of a single disaster? Sure, the environment’s collapsed and it’s all our fault—I’m not for a minute trying to say that it’s not—but the environment’s collapsed before from natural causes and life still found a way, just like we will. The KT Extinction, the Ice Ages, all kinds of climate shift has plagued the planet for millions of years.”
“I agree,” Lauren smiled. “We’ll find a way. Somehow, without the ponies’ help. I know that’s why you’re so interested in superhuman mutations—you think they can save the world. Maybe they can—we’ll never know unless we keep on trying.”
“Right,” Craig smiled back. “We won’t give up, even if most of the human race does.”
Lauren and Craig had finally gotten to the front of the line by now, and the robot on bouncer duty asked them for their IDs. The two patiently allowed the robot to scan their thumbprints and then slid through the Club doors once the miniature force field was lifted for them and entered the hysterical laser light show of dancing bodies that was Club Technochocolate.
“That’s her!” Lauren shouted to Craig over the roar of the techno-rave dubstep music. “I recognize the Equestrian tonality!”
“Where?!” Craig shouted back. “I can’t see anything but smoke and lasers and people who have probably had one too many drinks!”
“She must be near the front!” Lauren yelled, grabbing Craig by the hand and pulling him through the crowd towards the source of the blaring noise. “That’s where we’ll find Daft Punk Legacy too!”
“I sure hope so!” Craig agreed. “I wonder if they’ll let me take a blood sample?”
Lauren laughed as they surged through the mingling mob of a human ocean that was Club Technochocolate. Finally breaking out into the front rows where screaming fans were jumping up and down with the beat of the friendly competition of a band beat battle, Lauren and Craig stared up in awe as the smoke and lasers cleared just barely enough for them to see—
“DJ P0N3!” Lauren called to Craig. “It’s really her!”
And indeed it was. The unicorn with a white coat and electric blue mane and tail was holding her hooves up and swaying to the motion of the music, her horn aglow as it scratched and rhythmically synthesized her audio machine. The premier pony musician in both Equestria and Earth, besides the classical melodies of Octavia, of course, was wearing her trademark crimson-colored goggles and clearly enjoying every minute of the beats and the crowd’s reactions to them.
Daft Punk Legacy seemed to be doing the same. The glowing neon tracksuits of the most famous electronica band on Earth were bobbing every which way in a mad dance of light as the dubstep duo altered the flow of the music with their thoughts via their mind-link helmets. Those same helmets doubled as holovision screens, and were projecting all kinds of psychedelic color explosions into the audience along with the Club’s regular assortment of lasers.
“I can’t tell if they have gills or not!” Craig yelled to Lauren. “DPL is covered from head to toe! It must be a hundred degrees in all that!”
“I’m sure their costumes are air-conditioned!” Lauren yelled back. Then, in a joking voice, called “Maybe you can ask them to strip for you after the show!”
“Just like you’ll ask Vinyl Scratch for a pony ride!” Craig laughed back good naturedly.
The song ended at last, Lauren and Craig having thoroughly enjoyed the euphoric celebration of kinetic life by dancing along all the while. The laser lights stopped, and the two bands retreated backstage to refresh themselves for the encore.
“Maybe I can go ask Vinyl a couple of questions before she goes back on,” Lauren said to Craig as the crowd milled about, waiting for the next song.
“I think we might want to wait till later on that one,” Craig responded. “The line to her dressing room is a mile long. Are you hungry? We could get something to eat before they come on again.”
“Sure,” Lauren conceded, though she was determined to engage DJ P0N3 in conversation before the night was over. Lauren was sure Craig was just as determined to do the same with Daft Punk Legacy, but looking over her shoulder as the two crossed the clearing dance floor to the bar area, Lauren could see that the line to get backstage was indeed tremendously long.
“So who do you think won?” Craig asked as they took their seats at the bar.
“Won what?” Lauren inquired.
“The beat battle,” Craig responded. “Don’t get me wrong, Vinyl was amazing, but you know I’ve always been a sucker for DPL. Even if they’d played only one note, I still probably would’ve thought they had won just because I got to say I’ve seen them play live.”
“They were both excellent,” Lauren agreed. “Though you too know I’ve been listening to Vinyl’s albums for far too long to let anything else beat her out musically.”
“So…a tie, then?” Craig compromised.
“A tie,” Lauren affirmed.
“Ladies and gentleman, can we have your attention please!” called an unfamiliar voice over the Club’s loudspeakers. Lauren and Craig turned in their seats to see a human and a pony who were presumably Club Technochocolate’s duel owners that both Craig and Lauren had heard so much about. The move had seemed risky to most when it was announced that a human and a pony were going to go into business together on the dying Earth, but Lauren and Craig had both welcomed it as sign of interspecies cooperation that did not involve the loss of one species’ identity. But wait, wasn’t the pony who owned half of Club Technochocolate a mare rather than a stallion? And wasn’t the human co-owner shorter than that? “Welcome to the grand opening of Club Technochocolate!”
The crowd cheered their approval, but the pony and the human onstage quickly gestured for their silence.
“We apologize that the owners of the Club couldn’t greet you in person tonight. They are a bit…indisposed…at the moment. In their place, however, I hope you will accept us as your masters of ceremony for the evening.
“I’m sure you all thought that the beat battle of the bands of DJ P0N3 and Daft Punk Legacy were the premier event tonight,” the human went on. “Well, what if I told you that was just the beginning of the gift you were about to be given?”
The crowd roared again, and this time the pony and human onstage didn’t quiet them down.
“What if we told you that you were going to be given the gift of contributing to the rebirth of the planet?” the human asked.
The crowd quieted down on their own this time. Some were just now noticing that the force field doors into Club Technochocolate weren’t letting them go outside no matter how many times the scanners read their thumbs.
“This we do for the good of all life on Earth,” the man continued as nervous whispers hurried their way through the crowd.
“And for the good of all ponydom,” the pony spoke at last. “Courtesy of the Ponification for Earth’s Rebirth!”
The two put on what looked suspiciously like gas masks. The human drew a military-grade sleeping gas grenade, pulled the plug, and threw it into the crowd.
The pandemonium was instantaneous. Clouds of multicolored chemicals exploded into the mob of people, causing the crowd to quickly erupt into loud screams of fear as the sprinklers engaged and drenched all present.
But what they were drenched in wasn’t water.
. . .
“What?!” Lauren jerked awake, then instantly shut her eyes again as her head throbbed with pain from the hastiness of her attempt to lift herself off the ground. The ground? Hadn’t she been sitting at the bar with Craig just seconds ago, before…
“Craig…CRAIG!” Lauren called out, trying to open her eyes again, but all she saw was bleary lights. Lauren’s head throbbed even more with every shout, but she didn’t care, not now, not when Craig could be—
“Lauren Faust, please try to calm down,” came that voice that had awakened her. “Don’t open your eyes yet. Disorientation, impaired vision, nausea, and sensitivity to light are all aftereffects of the sleeping gas you were unfortunately victim to last night—”
“—LAST night?!” Lauren called out again, only to curl into a tight ball at the pain that coursed through her head at the sound of her own voice. Lauren’s stomach felt like it was on fire for a moment, but the feeling quickly subsided before she could go into dry heaves. Then, speaking more softly, Lauren asked “How long was I out? Where’s Craig? What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain everything as best I can,” the voice said comfortingly. “But please, try to remain calm. I’m a police officer, and you’re in protective custody now. Everything’s going to be alright.”
“But where’s Craig?” Lauren demanded, still unable to open her eyes, though she was trying. Spots swam before them, and for a few horrifying moments Lauren couldn’t tell which way was up or down. “I came to the Club with him last night, he was right beside me—”
“I’m sure he’s here somewhere, Ms. Faust,” the officer soothed. “We have a full task force deployed here at the Club, so everyone involved in the incident last night hasn’t left, that we know of. I’m sure someone’s attending to him.”
Lauren breathed a sigh of relief as bleary shapes began to swim into focus.
“I want to see him,” Lauren said, trying to raise herself up, but fell back to the ground again, her limbs weak. “Where is he?”
“He’s with one of our officers going through the same line of questioning and post-stress treatment you’re going through,” the officer assured. “But before I let you go anywhere I’m required to ask you a few questions and prepare you.”
“Prepare me for what?” Lauren asked, trying to push up off the floor into at least a sitting position as the strength returned to her legs.
“We’ll get to that momentarily,” the officer promised. “But first, what do you remember about last night? How do you feel?”
“Craig—we go to the same college—and I were checking out this new Club to blow off some steam before Final Exams tomorrow—” Lauren tried to say. She had succeeded in pushing herself up into a sitting position now, but for some reason her hands didn’t feel right. It was as if they were all asleep; Lauren couldn’t feel her fingers, but put that down as an aftereffect of the sleeping gas. She was sure their sensation would come rushing back just like all her other senses sporadically were. She hoped. “Oh, no! Final Exams! Those are today!”
“Do not worry Ms. Faust, I’m sure the police can arrange something with your college,” the officer lied, trying to quiet her down before she figured out what was really going on. “After all, you were involved in a terrorist attack last night. You can’t be held responsible for that.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Lauren agreed, talking more to herself than the officer, trying to calm down. “Wait, what attack? It’s all fuzzy in my mind; all I can remember is that we got to the Club and then things start going hazy…Vinyl Scratch—I mean, DJ P0N3—played here tonight, right?”
“She did indeed, Ms. Faust,” the officer said. “It’s good that you can remember that. What else do you recall?”
“There was Daft Punk Legacy here too—that’s Craig’s favorite band—and smoke machines, and a laser light show, and holovision, and…”
“That’s good, Ms. Faust,” the officer said encouragingly. “Try to keep going. Try to remember.”
“That’s about all I can remember for now,” Lauren sighed. “Can I see Craig now? I think I’m strong enough to walk—”
Lauren opened her eyes fully this time, and the shapes quickly solidified into recognizable forms. There was the officer, looking down at her worriedly, and there were some of the ponies who were here last night, also being interrogated and comforted by other human police. Wait…there were an awful lot of ponies. And there didn’t seem to be many humans other than the police officers. In fact, there weren’t any humans at all except the police officers.
What was that the officer had told her? The Club had been attacked by a terrorist group?
“Courtesy of the Ponification for Earth’s Rebirth,” was the last thing the pony onstage had said before Lauren had blacked out.
Lauren looked down at the ground she was pushing herself off of and trying to stand, her eyes going wide as they did so—which was saying something, as her eyes had grown quite a bit larger than when they had been human eyes. Stretching away from Lauren towards the ground were two long white equine legs, ending not with hands but with hooves. Lauren’s head dashed around to look behind her only to see a tight, thin white equine body reaching back to end in a flowing scarlet tail. Two more legs supported Lauren from behind, all four hooves feeling the sensation of the cold, hard ground beneath her.
“No, no, no, no…” Lauren tried to tell herself. “This is not happening…this is not happening!”
“Now, Ms. Faust,” the officer tried to say.
“THIS IS NOT HAPPENING!” Lauren shouted, and the Club seemed to shake as if struck by a mild earthquake. Several humans and ponies alike struggled to stay balanced, not all succeeding. “Where’s Craig?! What happened?!”
Lauren looked demandingly and desperately down a short white muzzle at the human officer. The HUMAN officer. Of her FORMER species.
“The eco-terrorist group known as PER, or the Ponification for Earth’s Rebirth, stole several truckloads of ponification potion from various Conversion Bureaus a few weeks ago,” the officer tried to explain, obviously hasty to try and prevent another tremor—whatever that had been. That couldn’t have been her, could it? “We’ve been trying to locate the missing potion, but all leads turned up false. However, it looks like the partygoers at Club Technochocolate discovered what the PER was planning on doing with the potion before we did.”
Lauren looked around wildly, first at the officer, then back at the hundreds of ponies scattered throughout the Club crying or pounding the ground angrily with their new hooves or just staring solemnly at the officers who were struggling to keep the situation under control. They were failing.
“You mean…” Lauren whispered.
“I’m afraid so,” the officer agreed sorrowfully. “I apologize that this happened to you, as I assume you wanted to remain human as you hadn’t gone through a Bureau already. And I’m also sure you know that there is no known way of reversing the potion’s effects…”
“So I’m stuck like this,” Lauren sniffed, tears welling in her eyes. “I was born a human, but I’ll die a pony.”
“Not necessarily,” the human officer pointed out. “You see, there were some…anomalies…with this batch of ponification potion. Most of the affected humans turned into regular ponies of the three standard types. But a few turned into something…different.”
“What do you mean?” Lauren asked, tears beginning to trickle down her longer face now. “On top of being a pony, I’ve been turned into some kind of half-baked freak?”
Lauren looked at herself in disgust, only to see that there didn’t appear to be anything abnormal about her—other than that she was now a pony. Lauren saw no flaws or blemishes on her new white coat, no abnormal growths or half-grown wings. Her wings looked perfectly normal actually, and she experimentally twitched them. In fact, Lauren could even make them unfold from her sides and open up to spread out as if she was preparing to take flight. Which she could now, Lauren realized, if she knew how to fly. Lauren supposed that she would learn that when she was shipped to Equestria with the others.
But if nothing was wrong with her other than being a different species, then what was the officer talking about? Lauren scanned the crowd, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. They were all just perfectly normal newfoals, candy-colored, wide-eyed, short…
True, ponies were short compared to humans, but most ponies were relatively the same height. Why were they still so much shorter than she was?
Lauren looked back down at her long legs again, then at her wings. She was clearly a pegasus now, but why was she so tall compared to the other ponies?
“Uh, Ms. Faust?” the officer broke into her thoughts. “When I mentioned the anomalous cases, I was referring mainly to two individuals. One is you—”
“What’s wrong with me?” Lauren interjected. “I feel weird for being a pony, but I don’t feel bad or anything. Besides being so tall—I guess that’s the main odd thing, huh?—I feel fine! And I look almost exactly like a normal pegasus should!”
“That’s the thing, Ms. Faust,” the officer tried to explain. “You’re not a pegasus. You’re an alicorn.”
“A…what?” Lauren inquired, certain she had heard him wrong.
“You’re the same pony race as the Princesses of Equestria,” the officer told her. “I know you can’t see it from this angle, but you have a horn. A very long, sharp horn. I’d be careful when you try to use magic, especially on Earth—if the Princesses of Equestria can move the Sun and Moon in their world, I’d hate to think of what could happen if a newfoal alicorn accidentally lets loose with her powers.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lauren said hurriedly. “But where’s Craig? You said two people were anomalously affected—”
“That’s the other thing,” the officer said, again sorrowfully. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but it's about the young man I think you know as Craig. Well, he’s not…Craig, anymore.”
. . .