A Conversion Bureau story.
Chapter Sixteen: My Gift to You
“What do you mean she’s dying?!” Exclaimed Katrina, voice strained with desperation as she lent around the nurse that had shown her back into the theatre.
“I never said that it could save her at all," the doctor replied sturnly "that was your suggestion.”
Though he encouraged his staff to show some initiative, he had expected them to demonstrate more sense than this. As it was, the nurse had run to fetch an already grief stricken relative the moment their last ditch efforts began to go awry. Ideally, he would have preferred the ex-human never found out the experiment had even taken place, such was the low odds of success. Shooting a dark glance at the offending nurse, Malcolm turned towards the distraught filly, sensing that the bereaved sibling would not accept this direct answer.
“It’s basic maths.” He began, trying a more passive manner for size, “Despite the fact that ponification can appear to regenerate whole limbs, all the nanites are doing is gathering unneeded material from else ware in the body. Sometimes you can overcome that limitation through an increased dosage; more micro-machines mean more leeway to tackle complex material without running out of power. But in the end, equivalent exchange still accounts for more than half the transition.”
Upon the table, his unusual patient lay quivering, random motor responses causing the bubbling flesh to twitch and squirm. All through her body, billions of micro-machines fought their losing battle against fundamental physical laws, building and disassembling the remains almost at random. There couldn’t be more than ten percent salvageable tissue remaining, the rest replaced over decades of fierce combat and abuse.
“We’re already far beyond my legal bounds, there’s really nothing more I can do. We’ve pumped in enough R24 to convert eight whole people, but it cannot compensate for the lack of tissue. No matter how much serum we use, it won’t bypass the fact that you cannot create something from nothing,” He continued, returning to aid the nurse in removing the four IV tubes from the lost patient. “The simple matter is, there isn’t enough human left in her to build an equestrian.”
Expression darkening as the dyeing embers of hope wrought their mark upon her soul, Katrina stepped closer to the opalescent figure that had once been her only friend. Having scraped most of her skeleton clean of organic matter, the valiant nanites had turned to salvaging anything that might be reconstituted into usable proteins. Most of the liquid flesh had migrated to her abdomen, trying to reconstruct essential organs that no longer had the space to expand.
Up till now Sarah’s face had remained intact, only the jade eyes adopting the pearlescent glow of the failing transformation. Powerless to help, she watched as the doll-like features swelled briefly before falling back against the skull, every fibre of reclaimed material scrapped from beneath it and swallowed by the waxing mass around her neck.
All across the recumbent body, blobs of living tissue pooled and squirmed, leaving behind a lattice of synthetic material still attached to a carbon black skeleton. Muscles were stripped of substance, left as hollow scaffolds of tubes and connective cartilage once the flesh had retreated. Uncovered by the waxing tissue, the processing centre that had replaced every major organ in her body now lay bare to the world, its more intricate workings still hidden beneath the stretched ribcage.
This was too much. She needed space, but dreaded leaving the bed side for even a second.
“Please… can you leave me alone with her for a while?”
Reluctantly the nurses looked to their superior for orders, neither wanting to leave the grieving filly with the monstrosity, but unsure as to what action they should take. Shrugging, Malcolm tugged his white coat from the workbench and quested for his cigarettes as he turned to leave. There was nothing more that he could do here bar watch, there were others still among the living to tend too.
Left to her own devices, Kat just stood there for a while, watching the sickening convulsing flesh writhe across her long dead sister. Such an apparition of reconstructed biology should have revolted her, much as the grotesque display had driven Dizzy to the bathrooms outside. But she needed to be here, regret at her selfish decision preventing her from turning away. This was a penance for her absence when Sarah’s mind had fallen to the vicious cage of coding.
Oddly though, despite the painful remorse besetting her breast, tears did not come easily to her so far dry eyes. What did seep through her guilty mind was a revelation; for all the time they had spent together, she hardly knew a thing about the woman who had been her guardian.
When she was barely a girl, Kat had become curious about the strange life size doll that wandered their penthouse. Without hesitation her father had divulged the mechanoid’s origins and the sacrifice it represented. When he was just a green-level employee, he had worked on the Research team developing the now infamous Revenant. While their procedure worked with most condemned criminals, they were violent men who were already strong before the augmentation. For the Revenant project to be a success it had to be tested on an unaltered specimen as proof of concept, even better if they were naturally weak. Unexpectedly his daughter had stepped forward when the call for volunteers went up. Already weakened by an untreatable genetic disorder, she offered up her unique body for the experiment in exchange for his elevation through the ranks. Her sacrifice had secured their family’s future, even leading to the meeting of his second wife, Katrina’s mother.
Though his voice conveyed reverence to the dead, the old man had spoken of the doll-woman more as a memorial to his lost daughter then as a human being trapped behind walls of programming. He never even spoke the Doll-Woman’s real name, the label ‘Sarah’ coming from the pages of Kat’s favourite childhood novel.
And at the time, that had been enough. Until she had walked on all fours, Katrina had never once wondered beyond what she had been told second hand by parents and news feeds. She had never asked ‘Sarah’ for her real name, or what she had done in life before the surgery that had taken her freewill.
Now stripped of her egocentric reality, the filly found that she desperately wanted to fill those gaps in her knowledge, to treat Sarah as a sister and friend, rather than a mechanised babysitter.
“This isn’t fair. This isn’t right.” She croaked, gazing at the empty sockets where once there had been a soul. “When mom died, you tried to keep me safe all those years. Even if you were ordered too, that didn’t make you care about me. A program couldn’t force you to talk to me, comfort me and keep me sane. You went through hell and back, and at the end I didn’t even care that...”
The words faltered, stuck fast against a fresh wave of grief that gripped the filly’s throat. Celestia was a living goddess, perhaps she could try praying much as she had once done to long dead ancestors. There had to be something, but what could she do in the face of this imperfect miracle?
A shimmer of metal twinkled in the corner of her watering eyes. Beside the operating table, an array of medical tools had been set out for the emergency, many covered with the grey ooze that functioned as Sarah’s lifeblood. Among them lay a scalpel, so sharp that its crystal edge was nearly invisible.
Stillness swept aside thought, the raging ocean of her mind settled as an answer delivered empowering calm. Without conspiracy, her gaze settled upon the categorized hypodermic needles next to the serum dispenser. Each was preloaded with a carefully measured dose of sedative. She knew the procedure, having watched the doctors carefully during her own preparation. Take the right hypo, fill it with the glowing serum and present it to the patient.
Tranquilly, she trotted over to the wall and nudged a syringe out of its dispenser, returning slowly to the table upon which her last remaining relative fought for life.
After all, the nanites were very clever indeed. They could heal any injury with just about any material that they could lay their microscopic claws on.
All they needed, was more.
Malcolm shifted uneasily outside the first operating room, watching from afar as their resident unicorn tidied up her latest patient. It had been a close run thing, Jessop had been technically dead when they’d found him. But this was the age of miracles, and Salve worked faster than the best surgery droid. With a horn on your head and the right tools just about anything was possible, even a mild case of resurrection. Taking a steadying draw from his smouldering stick of fresh air, the doctor considered that, despite still perceiving magic as cheating, he couldn’t argue with the results.
“You shouldn’t smoke those.” Salve informed him, trotting up while levitating a sullied cloth to the waste bin. “Especially in here.”
“Yes, because an additional dose of caseinogens is the biggest threat your patient faces.” stressed the doctor, squinting at the mare in a condescending manner.
Carefully ignoring the snarky response, Salve’s gaze wandered to the man on the operating table. A dozen wires and tubes still connected his body to a life support machine, but at least he was now breathing on his own.
“Touch and go for a while there, but I think he’ll make it.” Announced the unicorn, turning her ever tolerant expression back to the arrogant doctor. “With any luck he might even be up and about within the week.”
Nodding affirmatively, Malcolm silently conceded that the two artists of medicine might be on even ground, at least in terms of professional skill.
“Good,” he affirmed, limping around to a nearby chair and slumping down into its plastic embrace. “Hate to lose such a model of inefficiency. They’re so hard to come by these days.”
With a roll of her eyes Salve joined the doctor, sitting down alongside his slouched form.
“What do you think they were doing down there in the first place?” Asked the mare, glancing up the corridor to where Dizzy was nosing her way out of the bathroom, “That whole area is off limits. Jessop should have remained in the security booth all night and Sarah defiantly shouldn’t have been anywhere near the basement. The guards said something about the ‘Vault’ sealing itself and a security turret exploding. And those two bodies they brought up, they looked so badly mangled.”
Eyes lingering on the unsteady earth pony, Malcolm slid his cigarette to the corner of his mouth.
“Well that depends on which opinion you want.” He said honestly, “The official report I’ll be asked to file will probably allude to; ‘a terrible accident involving a radiation leak’.”
Salve wrinkled her nose in disbelief, “Thaumic energy doesn’t crush people’s ribcages, or set off security drones. Why would they want you to lie?”
Smiling dryly, the doctor watched aloof as Dizzy propped herself against the far wall, still several shades lighter than her natural tangerine. “Because the last thing a big corporation wants to admit is that their security is laughably flawed.”
“You know what really happened?” The unicorn queried, momentarily looking around in a conspiratorial manner.
Drawing a long breath around the dwindling stick of foul weed, Malcolm rested his elbows on his knees to bring his face closer to the pony’s. “Call it an educated theory. A Revenant has default orders to protect company property and the corporate interest. To whit; this ‘Sarah’ has been stood outside guarding the most vulnerable entrance to this building for nearly four days solid.”
Finally steady enough to trot, Dizzy stepped in beside the unicorn and drew her into a comforting hug, one which Salve returned gratefully. Tough cookie she may be, even the medic was not impervious to the horrors earth had to offer.
Immune to such touching displays of affection, Malcolm fished out another cigarette and started to light it from the stub of the first. “The vault’s known to be unstable, what better way to bypassed security then to make a brake in look like a radiation leak? Kill the two guards watching the door and there’s no witnesses left to say otherwise. But the chief of security, who is normally reliably lazy, suddenly decides to become unpredictably proactive.”
The sense of irony wasn’t lost on the unicorn. Gossip along the lines of Jessop’s laxed approach to security had been rife since she joined the Bureau a whole year ago.
“Meanwhile, our little robotic soldier figures out there’s been a breach. God only knows how.” Malcolm continued. “Jessop and the revenant run into one another. Each thinks they’ve found the intruder and attacks without considering why they other might be there. Explains Jessop’s impacted chest and her small calibre gunshot wounds. As for the AI defences, Revenant’s aren’t known for subtlety. She probably charged head long into the vault, triggering every security device along the way. Which gives us the polymer defence and the turret’s lethal response.”
“What about the thief then?” Asked Dizzy, finally steady enough to limp into the conversation. “Where’d he go?”
“No doubt that mean man was caught in the tunnel,” Salve replied, rubbing comfortingly against the younger equine, “Just like it was designed to do. Even if he could reach it, humans can’t enter the vault because of the radiation.”
With a nod of comprehension, Dizzy’s gaze turned back to the slouching doctor, looking for a way to frame her next question.
“No, it didn’t work.” Malcolm said, amazing powers of deduction foreseeing the pony’s enquiry. “Was a long shot to begin with.”
“Oh dear, you tried to convert Sarah?” Guessed the unicorn medic, nickering reassuringly as Dizzy’s ears pinned back in mute grief.
Humming in confirmation, the doctor rubbed a bony hand across his temples and elaborated as the young earth pony briskly trotted towards the second theatre.
“We infused using a double dose in four IV’s of bio-fluid. Its proteins should have been simple enough to compensate for some tissue loss, but even her bone marrow had been replaced. Never seen anything like it, a solid nano-carbon skeleton. Not enough complex organic material and room to expand even if it could.”
Intent on comforting her Pegasus friend, Dizzy nosed the heavy door aside and vanished into the surgery.
Moments later, her screams brought the two medics running.