Jay felt the sun burning his eyes through his lids and groaned as he turned over covering his face with the blanket. He heard some rustling in the room behind him, but then silence.
Jay made a noise with the same pitch changes as I don't know, and curled back up in his blanket. Jay knew where Andrew was. Or, more appropriately, where he wasn't. He remembered waking up from a bad dream the night before and heard Andrew packing his things and leaving. Jay was very confused at first, but eventually he just didn't care anymore. Andrew had left, abandoning Chloe the night before they were supposed to get converted together.
"Maybe he's at breakfast already."
"Well, come on then! Up with you," Austin said, as he forcefully ripped the blanket from Jay's hands. He let out a long groan as he twisted over and onto his feet. He rubbed his eyes and smacked his lips, looking around the room in the fresh sunlight. His bag that he had tossed under his bed the day they all arrived was gone too.
Jay followed Austin to the men's bathroom to brush their teeth and take care of any other business they had. They grabbed towels from the fresh rack and picked out shower stalls for themselves. There was a stallion using the gang shower on the other wall, since the stalls were too small for their bodies. Jay finished washing himself up quickly enough, and pondered on the consequences of Andrew's departure as he toweled off. He and Austin dropped their used towels in the hamper on their way to the sinks to go brush their teeth before leaving for the cafeteria.
"What's got you in such a good mood? Last night you looked grimmer than Lurch from that old Addam's Family show."
Jay shrugged. Was he that easy to read?
When the pair entered the cafeteria, they immediately made their way to the counter where the yellow unicorn waited with the same goofy smile on her face. "Good morning, boys! What can I get you sweethearts?"
"I'll have some of the apple cinnamon oatmeal, if you'd be so kind," Austin said, the mare's smile spreading to him too.
"I'll have what he's having."
Peach Cobbler levitated two trays with the steaming bowls to their hands complete with some assorted fruit for each of them. "Enjoy!"
Jay looked around the cafeteria, but Firecracker was absent. Shrugging, he and Austin walked over to the table where Leah and Rob were sitting. Chloe watched them as they walked up, her smile fading slowly. "Where's Andrew?" she asked.
"Did he not eat already? He was gone when I woke up this earlier, I thought he was already down here," Austin said as he set his tray down. Leah scowled at him, but Austin only smiled.
"No, I haven't seen him all morning, and I've been here for an hour," Chloe murmured. She began staring down at the tabletop, her sense of what was happening growing stronger. Jay forgot about this. She was still in love with him. When she finds out that he abandoned her... She'd be crushed.
"Good morning everyone!" a familiar voice rung out. Jay turned his head to the doors to the other half of the building, Garnet standing at the doors, ready to call the next convertee. "Will Miss Chloe Stanford come with me?"
Chloe stood up and slowly walked to the unicorn. When she reached Garnet, she began talking with her. Garnet visibly frowned and spoke again. Jay knew exactly what it was. Of course the bureau had cameras all over the building. They would have seen Andrew leaving the night before. Whatever words Garnet said, the reaction was seen by everyone. Chloe backed up slowly, staring at the unicorn.
"No... No he wouldn't... He promised... He loved me... We were supposed to... Together..." Tears began welling up in her eyes. She looked at the rest of the cafeteria and ran out through the glass doors to the bureau garden before she could lose her composure any further. Leah rushed out to find her.
"Poor girl..." Garnet whispered to herself. "Well, let's see... Murphy Fassler? Can you come up here? Let's get you converted so you don't have to worry about that arm, yes?" The red haired teen followed Garnet through the doors. Jay saw his one arm was in a sling.
"Christ. Andrew's tackle did that much to him? Better he converted sooner than later."
"So what happened? I'm completely out of the loop it seems." Rob blew on a spoonful of oatmeal as he spoke.
"Chloe's boyfriend bailed out last night it seems." Austin began stirring his oatmeal before the fact that Jay had been continuously thinking about finally made itself known to Austin. His eyes grew wide as he slowly turned to Jay. They both began smiling in unison, Jay knowing exactly what Austin was thinking. "I knew something was up this morning when you had that smile on your face. Oh you dog, you! So, what? You saw him leave last night?"
"Yeah. He had a car waiting for him outside from what I overheard."
"Jay," Austin began, his expression hardening. "This is the most dangerous point you'll be in, so you need to know two things."
"Okay, now I'm even further out of the loop." Rob dropped his spoon into the oatmeal and stared at the pair across the table. "Okay, explain."
"Why?" Austin asked. "You were an insensitive prick yesterday in the common room. The deaths of our parents not worth investigating? Really?" Austin's smile had faded completely.
Rob sighed. He ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, okay? I forgot is all. You think you've got a lot on your mind? I promise you I've got just as much, understand?"
Austin leaned back. "Really now? More important than the deaths of all of our parents? Go ahead. Try me."
"And why not?"
It seemed like Rob was about to say something, but he instead slammed his spoon onto the table. "I don't have to explain myself to the likes of you." He stormed off from the cafeteria, leaving everyone in a stunned silence.
"I can't believe I had the hots for that guy yesterday," Austin whispered to Jay.
Jay burst into a fit of laughter, unable to control himself. It took a moment, but Austin joined in, laughing as well. After a short time, they calmed down, Austin patting Jay on the shoulder. "Okay, as I was saying. You gotta remember two things about Chloe right now. One: don't try anything. She's a broken girl. She loved that asshole. Why? I'll never know. But still, any advances on her by you would only hurt you in the long run. And two: don't ask her until you are beyond certain that she'll say yes. Okay?"
Jay was only half paying attention, but he nodded. He was too busy riding the high that came from the fact that he still has a chance to get with Chloe.
It was just before Jay and Austin brought up their trays that Murphy came back through the doors. He was able to keep his footing better than Caleb or Andrea, and he looked not just happy, but proud. He trotted towards the three other new converts and stood there. Then he burst into a jolly laughter as he unfurled his new cyan wings. His bright yellow mane whipped back and forth as he roared with laughter.
"I can see!" he shouted. "I always wanted to be a pilot, but my eyes kept me from it. But now I can literally fly!" Andrea reared up and hugged the new pegasus, her wings stretching out too. She recoiled back in a flurry of blushed cheeks, realizing what she just did. The pair of them both giggled and wore goofy smiles, the same smile Peach Cobbler was wearing earlier. Everyone else around them began laughing and clapping for them.
"I'm heading to the library. Going to see if Firecracker needs help with anything." Jay picked up his tray and began walking over to the counter. Peach Cobbler took the dirty dishes and trays and levitated two little treats out to him and Austin.
"Just a little thank you for getting Firecracker to cheer up!"
"I take it you're excited for your 'date'?" Jay asked with a smirk. The unicorn's cheeks began to turn pink and she smiled and nodded. Jay looked down at the little treat she had given him and Austin. They were round chocolates, but when he popped it in his mouth and started chewing, the thick shell broke open. A creamy, smooth mass of caramel spread out from the shattered chocolate, sticking to his teeth and gums.
Austin had left for the common room, saying he'd meet up with Jay at lunch. Jay strode down the hallway towards he library, still cheerful from the fact that Andrew left. He never really pondered why he had left. Maybe he was afraid of commitment? Maybe he never really loved Chloe. Or maybe he was just scared of conversion. Whatever the case, it didn't matter anymore to Jay.
Jay opened the door to the library and saw that the room was dark. He reached for the switch on the wall to his right, illuminating the large room. He walked over to the computer and booted the system up, the fans on the unit buzzing to life. Jay wondered where Firecracker was since he wasn’t at breakfast at all. The screen blinked on before his eyes, startling him for a moment. He opened up Firecracker's mail client and scanned for any new messages.
There were quite a few, many of them being general announcements to all the bureaus. Another one was a news story about the president speaking about the riot yesterday. He said that the urban conversion bureaus would be receiving heavier security measures to drive away HLF protesters should they start being violent. Another message was from Garnet, notifying the staff of Andrew's flight from the bureau.
The last message was about the new staff that was arriving today. There was going to be two new cooks to help Peach Cobbler out in the kitchen, since she could just barely keep up with the needs of the few humans and staff. There was a new pegasus to help Fleet Feather with flying lessons and general weather management on the premises. There were a few other names filling in spots for maintenance and cleaning, but Jay figured Firecracker wouldn’t care too much for that. The last of the new staff was... a human doctor. She was coming in to assist with the conversion process, and with her she's bringing a new supply of the serum used for it.
Jay scribbled down a note with the details of the messages, and set it aside on the desk. Firecracker was probably on some sort of meeting with the rest of the staff to welcome the new bureau workers, so Jay figured he'd sit and find a book to read. All of the tomes were from Equestria, some of them coated with varying layers of dust.
"'The Astronimicon', '1,001 Uses For Telekinesis', 'The Stargazer's Almanac', 'A Brief History Of Equestria, Magic, and Everything'," Jay read out loud. Some of the names he couldn't read, but just looking at the titles made his head hurt. Eventually, Jay just took a stack of books with him to a cushioned chair underneath one of the lights and cracked the first tome open.
Austin lounged in one of the reclining chairs in the common room and smiled.
"I mean, it's like having another pair of arms! Well," Murphy corrected, "limbs at least. And they fold up nicely too!" Murphy and Caleb chuckled as they sat at one of the sofas. Caleb's sister, Annie, was trying to do somersaults across the floor, but with her new anatomy it was proving tricky for her to get the leverage to push herself over. Andrea was giving Annie a little push right as she was about to get it, cheering her on and letting her believe she did it herself.
“And I can finally walk! I never imagined I would ever be able to afford the surgery for it!” She cantered around the room, hopping form hoof to hoof, her wings fluttering at her sides. She swished her tail back and forth, her cream colored mane and tail dancing in the air.
It was an incredible sight. Three of his old classmates and one little girl laughing and talking like they had been best friends for years... To his memory, Austin couldn't remember any occasion where Murphy and Caleb ever really talked this casually. And Andrea in the cafeteria, that was surprising too. Leah had gossiped with Chloe a bit about how Andrea had a crush on Murphy all year, but it was a surprise to everyone involved how happy she was when Murphy came out through those doors on his new hooves.
"Oh, Murphy! I spoke with Fleet Feather yesterday about the flight class today after lunch." Andrea was about to continue on until a deafening crack of thunder shook the room. Nobody present had noticed the sky getting steadily getting darker, or the sunlight disappearing behind the black wall of the thunderhead. The first few raindrops began to patter against the windows to the central garden, Honeybell and Clementine gathering their tools up in a hurry. Austin watched as they disappeared into the doors on the opposite side of the garden right as the downpour started. The roar of the rain on the roof sunk Andrea's demeanor.
"And I was so excited to learn to fly today..." she mumbled as she lay her head down on her forelegs.
“Don’t worry,” Murphy said, sitting down next to the chocolate mare. His cyan coat and bright yellow mane were a stark contrast from the weather outside. “There’ll be plenty of time to fly around when we move out to Equestria.” Andrea covered her face with her hooves, her blush returning.
“Caleb,” Annie moaned. “I’m bored! I wanna go out and play but now it’s all rainy!”
“Well then, if it wasn’t thundering, I’d go out and join you, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Why don’t you go and watch some TV?” The pink filly bounced off the chair and scampered over to the table where the remote sat. She fumbled with it with her hooves before squeaking in frustration. Austin stood up and helped her out by taking the control from the floor and turning the TV on.
“Anything you wanna watch?” The filly shook her head. “Well then tell me when to stop.” Austin began flipping through the hundreds of channels, each one getting a shake of the head from Annie. The channel switching suddenly stopped on a documentary covering an old part of the Earth, still untouched by industry.
Both Annie and Caleb were enraptured by the lush greenery of the vistas. The camera was sweeping over a large forest in the west, curtains of mist and fog rolling over the gently hilly terrain.
“Whoa,” the brother and sister said in unison.
“These scenes are as close to what Equestria is presently like. Places like this haven’t been seen on Earth in decades, but are waiting right across the ocean.” The show then switched to real footage of Equestria as it presently is, the difference very subtle. The ponies’ homeland was beautiful, as if not a single bit of industrialization had ever touched it.
As the camera soared over a valley, Austin could see a small town coming into view. The houses were all beautifully built, and made from nothing more than wood, stone, and clay. No metal, no plastic, no high-technology. Ponies were going about their business, some could be seen working in a field in the distance. Hundreds of towns like this littered the countryside in Equestria.
“And I’ll live in one of them,” Austin said to himself.
Firecracker yawned. The meeting, if he could even call it that, was more just the staff waiting for the bus with the new ponies to arrive. Garnet had told them last night about the new ponies coming to work at the bureau, but neglected to mention any names. What was interesting, though, was that they were getting a human doctor to help in the conversion room. The higher ups had noticed patients were calmer when it was a human who handed them the serum, rather than a pony. Reinforcing a sense of security, it seemed like.
The grey unicorn could feel his eyelids falling lower and lower. The drumming of the rain on the roof didn't help him stay awake either. It drowned out every other noise, but it didn't hide the breaks of the bus as it stopped before the door to the lobby. The doors on both the bus and the building swiveled open, several ponies rushing out and into the rain.
Twelve new ponies: two for the kitchen, two more pegasi (Fleet was the only one in the bureau before they came), a new receptionist to help give Sea Foam a break every now and then, and a bunch more for cleaning and maintenance. A female human walked in through the doors, her red head-mane soaked and sticking to her head. She immediately walked up to Garnet and exchanged pleasantries.
The human had a bright yellow box in wheels she carried behind her. But what was curious was the handcuff she wore that connected her to it. Garnet levitated a key out and stuck it in the cuffs, unlocking them. The human rubbed her reddened wrist and thanked her.
Fleet Feather greeted the pegasi with nothing more than a grunt. The pair nervously trotted inside, their ears flat against their heads. When everypony was inside, the bus honked its horn and drove off into the downpour. Everypony was talking, but Garnet raised her voice over them all.
“Everypony! Can I have your attention!” She stepped before the soaking wet group of stallions and mares and smiled. “Welcome to our humble little bureau! Rooms are in the wing to your left, and offices are to your right. Lunch will be held shortly in the cafeteria, on the other side of the complex. In most circumstances, you could cut through the gardens, but what with this storm, I’m asking that everyone stay indoors. Please see Sea Foam at the desk for your rooming assignments. Thank you!”
The horde of ponies all rushed up on the poor mare, who was just barely able to handle everypony clamoring for their rooms. Firecracker huffed.
“Well, well, well! If it isn’t my dear old coltfriend, Firecracker,” a sultry voice sang out from behind the unicorn. Firecracker’s insides writhed at the sound of the voice, the owner of it somepony he never wanted to have to face again.
“Hello there, Jasmine. Long time no see,” he said flatly.
“Oh, come now. Is that any way to greet and old... friend?” She slid her turquoise tail along Firecracker’s flank and around his rump. He cleared his throat and glared at her, drawing a giggle from the mare. “So, where is that cute little filly you left me for? The one with the shapely flanks that you couldn’t stop staring at?” He continued glaring at Jasmine, boring a hole in her head with his gaze. “Oh don’t worry. I’ve gotten over it.”
“What are you doing here, Jasmine? You weren’t on the list of new staff that Garnet got.”
“Well, darling, that’s because I’m not new staff. I’m just here for the afternoon to make sure the bureau is running smoothly!” Jasmine winked at Firecracker, who remained stone-faced. “Though, if we do have some free time later…” She leaned in close to his ear. “I haven’t had a good bucking in months.”
Firecracker felt the blood rush to his cheeks and felt his loins begin to come to life, but he fought it down. “I’m with somepony now.”
“Oh! I simply have to meet her! We’ll be such good friends!” Firecracker scowled at his ex-marefriend. Why did she have to be here?
Jay looked up towards the ceiling, out through the few overhead windows that littered the upper tier of the library. Rivulets of rainwater ran down them with gusto, the downpour fueling them on. A flash of light lit up the clouds overhead, and a few seconds later, the boom of the thunder rattled Jay’s bones. He closed the book in his hands and set it on the table next to him among the others. He wasn’t reading them cover to cover, but leafing through them, looking for passages he found interesting.
One of the things that piqued his interest was a compendium of the various races that inhabited Equestria. Ponies weren’t the only intelligent creatures that had existed there. Gryphons had close ties with pegasi, often living in the same cloud-cities as them. They weren’t too friendly with the land-bound ponies, and rarely interacted with them. The book also covered Zebras, Dragons, Diamond Dogs, and Buffalo, as well as many others he didn’t have time to get to. Jay wondered if any of these creatures came to Earth with Equestria, or stayed in whatever world Equestria previously inhabited.
Jay was on his way out when he checked the clock. 11:30. He still had some time to kill before lunch was going to be served. As he walked through the hallway, he wondered what Peach Cobbler was going to cook him up for dessert today. He could certainly believe that she was part of a famous cooking family; her dishes sang that in chorus. It was hard to imagine that such a terrible thing happened to her, being almost disowned by her father for not using peaches in one of their family desserts.
When Jay walked through the cafeteria, he saw nobody behind the counter. Peach was missing, but the food was already set up. Taking a quick peak, Jay saw that lunch was going to consist of a small pasta bar, garlic bread, and the usual hay and oats. Next to the pony fare, there was a tray of flowers as well. Jay had no idea what they were for, and just assumed they were for decoration. He strode off towards the other doors as another crack of thunder rocked the bureau.
When he arrived at the common room, he saw Austin and everyone else watching the TV closely. He took a seat next to his friend and saw what had drawn everyone’s attention.
“We are here; live, at a press conference at the FBI headquarters in Washington DC. In just a few moments, we’ll receive word about the Telios Chemical investigation. Wait… Someone’s coming!”
A man in a well pressed black suit stepped in front of the podium, microphones buzzing from the hushed silence.
“Ahem. As you all may know, we have been investigating the leaked memos released to the press. Our investigations, paired with evidence from the site of the accident, have given us substantial proof that the explosion was triggered by intentional negligence of the safety mechanisms by Telios, as was stated in the memos. This proves beyond a doubt that the deaths of those hundred plus lives were lost taken so that the company could cash in on life insurance payouts for each life lost. The board of directors and the president of the company are being apprehended as we speak and being brought into custody. Thank you.”
The room was silent save for the rain pattering against the windows. Everyone looked at each other realizing the true nature of their predicament. They were all there because the company wanted more money. Money. They killed their parents for money. The realization sickened Jay. Was there no act so despicable that a human wouldn’t stoop down that low? Jay felt his hands trembling not so much for his parents but in the loss of faith in his species.
If there was a time he hated being human, it was now.
Jay stood up and walked towards the door to the cafeteria. He didn’t want to sit there and stare at the TV anymore. Austin followed him, as well as everyone else in the common room. Caleb and Annie walked together, inseparable. Annie didn’t seem to know the weight of what just transpired, and Jay hoped she wouldn’t have to for a while longer. Murphy and Andrea walked side by side, their ears folded back.
Jay and Austin sat at their table, Leah and Chloe already there. Rob sauntered in shortly after. Nobody spoke. Chloe stared at the tabletop, still not having said a word since this morning. Jay was still happy that he finally had a shot with her… but seeing her like this only made him sad now. He never wished ill for her.
More and more people began filing into the cafeteria, some going straight for the food line. Peach Cobbler was manning the kitchen, with two other ponies working in the back. They must be part of the new staff Jay read about in Firecracker’s email. He saw a few other new faces: two new pegasi with Fleet Feather, who was presumably telling a downcast Andrea and Murphy that flight class was cancelled today.
The doors on the other side of the cafeteria opened up, with Garnet stepping out. She pushed up the glasses on her muzzle before clearing her throat. “Hello again, everyone! First off, I would like to announce that we have some new staff for the bureau who just arrived today! Be sure to say ‘hello’ when you meet them!” Garnet said. “And now will mister Jay Benton come with me?”
Jay’s heart froze. It was his turn? Already? Slowly, he stood up from the table, glancing around the room, noticing everyone’s stares were all locked on him. He felt like he was doing something wrong, and everyone was silently reprimanding him about it. Step by step, he walked up to the red unicorn. When he finally reached her, she gave him a warm smile.
“Come with me, please.” She pushed the door open with her hoof and held it open for him. He walked through into the hallway and held it open for her as she followed him in. He fell in behind her as she trotted down the hallway, the rain clearly audible from the rooftop.
Jay passed the library where Firecracker was. He was investigating Jay’s stack of books on the table where he had left them. He didn’t notice as he and Garnet passed.
“So I hear you’ve been helping old Firecracker out, have you?”
“You know, only staff is allowed to read some of those emails,” she said. Her tone was flat, and it made Jay feel uneasy. Before he could defend himself, she turned her head back and winked at him and smiled. “Don’t worry. If it’s something private for Firecracker, I’ll talk to him myself. I’d rather not have to keep replacing windows every time he tries to use a keyboard.”
The pair chuckled together. Jay felt lightness in his chest, his heart beating faster than before. His head was swimming in the high of nervousness, but before it could get any worse, he shook it a little bit, clearing the strange feeling from his mind.
The pair marched down the hallway a bit further until they happened on a large metal door. “We’re here!” She placed her hoof on the dark pad beside the door, scanning herself in and identifying herself. The door hissed open and the pair walked in. The room looked not unlike a doctor’s office, one of the examination rooms. There was a flat topped table in the center with lights and instruments suspended from the ceiling above it.
A woman was in there as well and just noticed the two of them coming inside. “Oh! Hello!” she said, a smile blooming on her face. “I’m Samantha Daltry. I’m from Dylan Pharmaceuticals. You’ll be the first one to try out the new batch of serum that just arrived today!” Her bright red hair was tied up in a frizzy bun on the back of her head, her face covered in freckles.
Garnet levitated a paper bundle from one of the cabinets on the side of the room and pointed with a hoof to a door to the side. “Go and get changed. Drop your clothes into the basket and put this on. Leave the sides untied so it’ll be easier to get out of it when you’re done.” Jay plucked the paper gown from the air and walked over to the door. He closed the door behind him and proceeded to undress. He saw some other clothes already in the basket; probably Murphy’s from his conversion this morning.
The cold air stung his exposed skin as he took his shirt off. Goosebumps popped up all over his arms and chest as he dropped the old shirt into the basket. He wrapped his arms around himself to warm himself up a bit, but remembered he needed to get this taken care of as soon as he could. He dropped his pants, causing another wave of goosebumps to show up all down his legs. He dropped the last of his clothes into the basket and unfolded the paper gown and cast it over his head, pulling the hole down onto his shoulders. He opened the door, still shivering a bit and walked up to the table.
“Up on here, and lie down on your side. It makes the process easier on you,” Samantha said. Jay put his hands on the cold metal table and thrust himself up, his cheeks reddening as his gown billowed up and took its sweet time coming back down to cover him once ore. He leaned down onto his side like he was asked, trying his hardest to ignore the icy fingers of the table clawing at his shoulder and hip.
Samantha turned around for a moment, reaching to some apparatus on the countertop. “Let’s see here. No major allergies, so we’ll give him cocktail A,” she murmured to herself. Turning around once more, she handed Jay a small paper cup. Jay turned it at an angle to get a better look at the contents.
The ‘serum’ as they called it, did live up the powerful grape scent. It was similar to artificial grape jelly, a smooth purple liquid that soaked the sides of the cup as he swirled it around. But as the light caught the serum at another angle, he saw a host of glittering sparks hidden in the fluid. Those must be the nanomachines; the human element to the ponification serum. They were magically enhanced by unicorn magic to refabricate the human anatomy to a pony archetype… at least that’s what the news casts said it did.
“Make sure you drink it all at once, okay? You can take your time,” Garnet said quietly from behind Jay.
“Will I be happy?” Jay asked.
“How do you mean?” Garnet replied.
“Is Equestria really all that it seems? Is it really paradise?” Jay felt a tear dripping down the side of his face, landing on the cold table.
“It’s okay,” Jay said. “You can say how bad our world is. We all know it.”
Garnet chuckled. “Well, if you insist. Compared to the world you lived in, I promise you Equestria will be all that you imagine it to be and more. You just need to open yourself up to be able to take in everything it has to offer.”
Smiling, Jay nodded. He opened his mouth, and tipped the cup. He felt the serum fill his mouth, tingling every surface it touched. He swallowed it, finally smelling and tasting the powerful grape flavor in all of its power. He felt his stomach churn, and his vision fade.