• Member Since 15th Feb, 2012
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Defoloce


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Jun
15th
2015

[Story Excerpt] Deal of a Lifetime · 3:21am Jun 15th, 2015

This is a scene from my cancelled TCB story Galvanized in which the protagonist, Kevin, meets with Oklahoma's HLF head honcho in a kind of interview/acclimatization process. I never edited, beta'd, or even second-passed the chapter this scene was in, so it stands as-is, but as a concept for a set-piece I'm proud of it (it's also where the title-drop occurs) and wanted to share it.

"Those ponies do go on about their 'Elements of Harmony,' don't they?" asked Mitchell with a chuckle. "We've got our own, I guess. Seven virtues, five pillars... others, I'm sure." He waved one of his hands, dismissing the thread of conversation as he opened a desk drawer with the other.

He produced a revolver from his desk, placing it onto the worn vinyl blotter with a thud that punctuated just how heavy it looked. Kevin looked down at it. He wasn't a gun guy, but he could tell that, if you put wheels on the side of it, you might be able to get away with calling it a cannon. It was huge, made of stainless steel with an ergonomic rubber grip.

"The only one I really have a use for," said Mitchell, "is Honesty. I've always been a fan of honesty. If people can't believe what you say, then what good are you, right? I'm a man of my word, always." He jerked his chin to the door. "Even to ponies."

Kevin arched an eyebrow. "Don't you hate ponies?" he asked.

"Just because they're the enemy doesn't mean I hate 'em," replied Mitchell with a sniff. "Hell, they've always been very nice to me, even as I go about my business. Besides, even if I did hate 'em, I'd still be straight with 'em. In fact, there's no more important group you gotta be honest with than your enemies."

Mitchell picked up the revolver and flipped out the cylinder, inspecting the chambers. He nodded with satisfaction and looked back to Kevin. "Unloaded," he explained, "which is what I want. Walk with me."

They stepped out of the makeshift office and back into the corridor, their footsteps echoing perfectly off of the concrete as they headed back towards the holding cells.

"So Kevin," asked Mitchell as they walked along together, "how much do you know about torment?"

The back of Kevin's neck started to itch. "Er, like... bamboo under the fingernails, wet rags over the mouth, that sorta—"

"No, that's torture," interrupted Mitchell, shaking his head a little in disappointment. "I mean torment. There's a difference, fella."

"There is?"

"Torture's unproductive," said Mitchell, hefting the revolver in one hand, the cylinder still swung out. "At best, it's for blowing off steam, maybe punishing someone, but that's it. You torture a person—or a pony—they say whatever they can to make it stop. You don't see what's in their heart 'cause they've lost their wits. They're slaves to physiology. You can't trust anything they say. Honesty's almost impossible. They learn to hate you, or fear you, which is bad, because those things galvanize them against you. They start thinking things like 'they can break my body, but never my spirit!'—you know, claptrap like that. If you want them to know who's in control, you gotta go beyond that. You can't convince 'em; you gotta set it up so they can convince themselves."

They stepped into the hallway with the holding cells, and the smell of old hay and filth assaulted Kevin's nose. At the far end was another HLF fighter, who got to his feet as Mitchell approached. They walked past a half dozen barred cells, some with ponies, some with humans, but all were either curled in the fetal position, trying to sleep, or taking pains not to make eye contact with him. Mitchell stopped in front of one cell and beckoned the fighter over.

"Good afternoon, Margaret!" said Mitchell to the disheveled pony in the cell before him. "I've come to make a deal with you."

Kevin watched as the white unicorn with golden hair got shakily to her hooves and stumbled over to the bars. "My name's Spun Gold now, Mr. Mitchell," she said, "and I'll thank you to use it."

"So anyway, Margaret, I know you can't be liking it in there, and while I wish I could do some renovations to make things more conducive to the exchange of ideas and information, I'm afraid I just don't have the manpower or budget for that kind of a project." He held up a finger. "But I've got another idea, if you'll hear me out."

The unicorn's ears folded back slightly, and Mitchell laughed, gesturing at her with his free hand. "You see? You see that? She doesn't trust me! She thinks I'm a damn liar." He shook his head. "A man's only as good as his word, Margaret, and I wish you'd trust me.

"In fact," he continued, thumping his hand into Kevin's chest, "I was just explaining to my new friend here just how important honesty is to me. Ain't that something your pony friends are always going on about? Honesty?"

The HLF fighter stopped at Mitchell's side and peered into the cell, locking eyes with Spun Gold.

"Okay then!" Mitchell looked back to Kevin. "You're new here, so maybe you can help me out. Margaret here used to be human, as you've probably put together on your own." He looked at the unicorn as he went on, his tone growing more grave. "She lied to us, made like she was lookin' to join the HLF, but come to find out she was a spy for the PER, and was scopin' out this bunker for a raid. She was gonna bring all her PER buddies one bright shiny day and hose us all down with that Dimetapp-lookin' stuff.

"But she didn't realize we got that stuff, too," he said with a grin. "They like to think we're all just knuckle-dragging, tobacco-chewing Neanderthals who're easy to fool and even easier to defeat, but we've been doing our homework. Studyin' how it changes people, how it messes with their heads, how it makes them not themselves anymore. Don't believe the party line, Kevin! Those billboards? That propaganda that those princesses are spouting, day in and day out, twice every commercial break? It's all lies."

His voice went extremely low. "And I don't like folks who lie. Yeah. I'm big on honesty."

He perked back up. "So! We gave Margaret here what she always wanted: a mouthful of her precious pony potion. So she wakes up—in her cell, of course—goin' on about some dream and how she's got a new name and all of that. But here's the important thing. One of the biggest lies, and one of the ones I've been itching to unravel for a while now: if you slurp that potion, are you still really you?"

He looked to the fighter. "What do you think, Roy?"

The man shook his head. "Ain't no way."

Mitchell turned to the young man. "Kevin?"

He made a noncommittal shrug.

"Well, let's see if we can't find out right now." Mitchell pulled a round of ammunition from his pocket, a massive cartridge with a broad bullet. He held it out to Kevin.

"Here, feel that," he said. Kevin held out his hand, and Mitchell dropped the cartridge into it.

Kevin blinked, and Mitchell grinned.

"Heavy, ain't it?" he asked.

"Yeah," admitted Kevin.

"This is a Smith and Wesson 500," said Mitchell, holding up the revolver. "That there's a 400-grain hollow-point round. You can hunt elk with it." He held out his hand, and Kevin took the cue to give it back. Mitchell put the round into an empty cylinder, rotated it so that the occupied chamber would be next, and snapped the cylinder into place. "Now it's on deck and ready for shooting."

The revolver came down. Two pairs of eyes—Kevin's and Spun Gold's—followed it very closely. Roy was looking to Mitchell, and Mitchell was staring off into the middle distance.

"Roy," said Mitchell, his voice serious. "You know me, right?"

"Yes sir, I do."

"I ever lied to you?"

"No sir, you haven't."

"I've always given it to you straight, have I not?"

"Always, sir."

"You've been watching prisoners for how long, now?"

"'bout eight months."

"I ever failed to make good on a promise? Even to a pony?"

Roy shook his head. "Nope, not ever."

"If I promise this pony something, will I deliver?"

"You will," said Roy.

Mitchell looked to Spun Gold. "They're witnesses, Margaret, as is everyone else on this cell block." He raised his voice. "Hear that? Y'all listen up, because I don't like being called a liar!"

He waved the massive revolver at Spun Gold, who shrank back from the bars. "Here's what I propose: you take this gun here, you point it at me, and you shoot me. Anywhere you like, just blast me with it. You do that, and you can walk out of here a free pony, with not a hair hurt on that new little mane of yours. With a gun like this, you could take off a leg, an arm... hell, if you get me in the head or the chest then I'd be all the way dead, now wouldn't I? Reckon I'd be more liquid than solid at that point."

Spun Gold was already starting to sob. The horrible itch on Kevin's neck was returning.

"Do you know who I am?" Mitchell went on. "I oversee all of the HLF chapters in Oklahoma. I lead the efforts to get ponies to leave us alone. All your PER comrades you've lost, all the humans who've paid the price for their collaboration and sympathy for the enemy? I'm the one who looked at their photos and said 'yes, do it.' I'm here right now, no tricks, no body armor, and so are you, with a chance to do something about it. Not only that, but doing something about it would guarantee your own personal safety, living to fight another day! Look. Here. Go ahead."

Mitchell tossed the revolver into the cell. Spun Gold was weeping openly at that point.

"You've got that magic now, right? You can pick it up. I know you can."

The gun started to glow a faint blue. It lifted from the dirty floor of the cell, falteringly, the glow fading and surging in intensity. Spun Gold was new to her magic.

"You're PER, so you've wanted this for a long time," said Mitchell, squaring off with the cell bars and putting his hands in his pocket. "This is the sort of deal most folks would dream of. Deal of a lifetime."

The barrel was pointing straight at Mitchell now. The man didn't move. Kevin took a step away.

Mitchell laughed. "Hah! Does that mean her aim could use a little work, Kevin? Or do you just not wanna get any of me on you?"

Moments passed in quiet. Mitchell licked his lips, not looking away from the unicorn. "Fellas, if the shot kills me, I expect you two to uphold my word and let this filly go. I'm dead serious. You hear me? She shoots, she leaves. Got it?"

They both nodded. Spun Gold still didn't fire. Her coat was streaked with tears, the unsteady magic making the heavy revolver dance and jiggle in midair. Mitchell pressed his head up against the cell, squishing his face in between the bars slightly.

"I'll sweeten the deal," he said, barely above a whisper. "You shoot me, they all go free. You and everyone else we got. All you have to do is pull the trigger. It'd be so easy, wouldn't it?"

Many more seconds passed, when finally, the glow dissipated from the revolver and it clattered to the floor. Spun Gold fell into her hooves, sobbing in the damp hay that was her bed.

Mitchell reached through the bars and easily retrieved the gun, popping out the cylinder and knocking the bullet free of the chamber. "Guess we couldn't reach a deal," he said. "Shame. Roy, that'll be all."

The sobbing could be heard bouncing off of the hard walls of the hallway even as the door closed behind them. Kevin fell into step next to Mitchell as they went back to his office.

"You knew she wouldn't shoot you?" asked Kevin.

"Oh, she wanted to," he said, "but the human side of her was at war with the pony side. I've seen it before. I knew things about her she didn't know about herself, and I just demonstrated that to her. Now she must wonder what else we know, and how else she has really changed. Torture versus torment."

"So you really would have let them all go?"

"Yes," said Mitchell, his face grim. "Absolutely. A man of my word. And my word would have gone with them, and those on the outside would know that if I say I'll do something, then I mean it.

"It's a very valuable thing, to be believed."

Report Defoloce · 416 views · #tcb #conversion bureau
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Comments ( 7 )

This was just plain exceptional. You really should create a short story collection, like I did with my Poly Little Pony collection. This stands exceptionally well, just on it's own. I'd be proud of a vignette as good as this. I'd put such a thing up, in a heartbeat. Because this is truly powerful and well written.

More than that, it is effective as a short Bureau story. It examines identity intersecting with transformation. It is a very undecided piece, too. I would not be able to pull that trigger, and I feel sure that there are many other who would not be able to, without being transformed one bit. So the question of identity here is utterly undecided, and very intriguing. We don't know who she was before.

And that fact makes this short especially powerful.

This is worth being posted properly, with titles and a proper lead in to clean it up. It ends on a fine punchline. You don't need more story than this - this is perfect as a short story. I truly think so.

Well, I think I found your problem, Defoloce.

my cancelled TCB story Galvanized

Shouldn't be too hard to fix, I'll leave ya to it :rainbowlaugh:

That's some fine writing, Def.

I always wonder about the PER. With most HLF, native Equestrians, or human holdouts, you have a pretty reasonable picture of their motivation, thought processes, and principles from the get go. A lot of times when native Equestrians in particular do stupid things, I can't really hold it against them - they just don't know any better.

With the PER, though? Who knows why they do what they do? Maybe native, maybe newfoal. Maybe zealots of the highest order, trying to enforce their beliefs on everyone else, or maybe tragic heroes willing to get their hooves dirty to save people who are too blinded by emotion to save themselves. Maybe vengeful and reckless, maybe just desperate. Maybe they regret the means they must use, and really do want everyone to live happily ever after.... or, maybe they despise humanity and want it gone in the only way - the 'clean' way - their collective conscience will permit. And, maybe they just aren't stopping to think very hard about all this at all.

As with any sufficient large group, the answer probably varies on a case-by-case basis.

3151100

I keep forgetting that short-story collections are allowed. It would kind of be circumventing the approval process but I could totally reconfigure Checkpoint to be that collection, since it itself was a short story. There are a couple of other stark, key scenes from Galvanized which could work well as shorts, even with their shared continuity. I'll think about doing this. Thanks!

3151105

I realized after I started that Kevin's arc just wasn't there, or at least not as fleshed-out as I'd anticipated. I could feel the story falling flat even as I was writing it. That one Kenny Rogers song was about poker, but it applies to almost everything in life.

3151989

A faction like the PER would have members whose personal reasons for joining their cause of choice are as varied and potentially contradictory as the members of HLF. Galvanized was meant to explore the radicalization process, how otherwise normal, level-headed people can get caught up in the fervor of those who make up for the rationality of their arguments with the volume of their arguments. As with most groups, the ratio of true believers to those simply looking for a voice would likely be incredibly skewed.

What's ironic about this is that I'm in Oklahoma.

Damn dude, that is some elegant torment. I think I'd have to try to wing him, like just try to make the ragged hole I blew in his thigh as small as possible, just because to not do so is a propaganda victory for a destructive force, and shooting him only makes you mildly a hypocrite. Ponies seem prone to what the philosophers call "moral self-indulgence," though given that their world directly responds to emotional impulses that's rather adaptive, but the fact that they can only basically use what modern psychologists call "System 1" thinking instead of a mix of both 1 & 2 limits them to a certain kind of unfortunate parochiality.

3159505

Well, that's the decision that human-you has made. Pony-you would find himself unable to pull the trigger (at least according to my particular flavor of TCB-verse), even armed with the human-you decision made pre-conversion, and that's where the torment comes from.

As part of fixed-wing aircrew training many years ago, I went through hypoxia familiarization. You take a little pre-deprivation quiz where you sign your name and perform some basic math, language, and shapes drills (like, kindergarten stuff) under a set amount of time. Then you're sealed into this little room which looks kind of like the drum of a dryer turned on its side. The oxygen is sucked out until you're breathing as much as you would breathe at cruising altitude levels. After three minutes of sitting there, you're given the exact same test. Suddenly your brain is unable to do what it did only minutes before. Your signature is unrecognizable, and it took you 30 seconds to write. Numbers lose meaning, especially in relation to each other. My most vivid memory of the chamber is looking at a plastic hexagonal peg in my hand, then at the brightly-colored toddler toy ball—the kind with all the holes of different shapes—and not being able to get the peg through the hexagonal hole. I don't mean not recognizing which hole was the right one. I mean I physically couldn't get my hand to adjust the peg such that it would slide through. It was absolutely eerie, having small parts of the consciousness-assembly-line of my brain shut off like that. It was the inspiration I drew from in writing this and a couple of other TCB segments.

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