Okay, I’ve got it on speaker. Show me a sign so I can mute the mic before you talk. Assuming anyone even answers. Maybe you were right, Moriah. Maybe it’s just a detonator. Let’s find out.
Survivors, plural. There are several of us here.
It is a pleasure to be speaking with you, survivors. I am Dr. Edmond Clark, to whom am I speaking?
Why don’t you call me ‘Lonely Day’ for now. After what you did to my home, I don’t exactly trust you. What is the HPI?
The Human Preservation Initiative. I deeply regret the accidental damage we caused to your home. My people expected to be able to use your shielding when they arrived, but they didn’t find it. Evidently you’ve mastered the energy-efficient portable shielding device. If we had been given access to technology like that, many more lives might’ve been spared.
Alright, he’s muted. What do I say to that?
What is he talking about?
Shut up, he’s still talking.
We couldn’t stay to pick up after ourselves. Whatever you’re doing to stay alive out there, it must be working well. That base was hotter than any other site we’ve visited.
We’re on— That’s just California; it’s always been hot enough in summer to fry eggs on the sidewalk.
Haha. Very funny ‘Lonely Day.’ We’re grateful you contacted us. The HPI does not particularly care how your group managed to survive. We thought we were the only ones, not nearly enough. But if you made it, maybe others did too.
I hope so very much. We want humanity to have a future.
Do you know what caused this?
We may know more about it than you do. We might be willing to share that information in exchange for some sharing from you.
We don’t know very much. We’ve just been trying to survive the collapse of society. Rebuild, adapt.
That’s exactly what we’re interested in learning. What shielding mechanism are you using? We couldn’t find radiation anywhere near your base to suggest portable nuclear… why in God’s name did you chose to live somewhere so hot? Almost all of the city is less active than that.
We’re muted. Does anyone have any idea what he’s talking about? No? Fine. Stay quiet— We don’t have a shielding mechanism. We use fences to keep the animals out. We’ve been thinking about putting up electric fences, but we need the power for other stuff. There isn’t really anywhere with better weather in the whole city. We plan on leaving one day, but not yet. There are still enough supplies to keep our group alive for months to come.
Obviously you must have some shielding mechanism, or you wouldn’t still be here. Lots of government bunkers were stuffed full, but not even lead and dirt was enough to keep them around; they’re all empty now. We looked.
Could we have one without realizing it?
Are they going to say anything?
We can’t assume there’s more than one of them, can we?
That’s not the point, Moriah.
Isn’t it? I think it’s exactly the point. Whether this is a massive organization or just one person working on their own. We would fight them completely different ways.
Nopony said anything about fighting them.
Do you have to use stupid words like that, ‘Cloudy Skies’? That’s not a real word.
Shut up Moriah.
He’s right, you don’t have to be mean about it.
It may be possible. Telemetry just came back from the communicator’s location. You’re in a park about five miles from your central location, yes?
Shit, he knows.
I’m unmuting us— Yes, why?
[pause] Look at the screen!
Oh my god.
I didn’t know satellite cameras could get that close. Pretty neat. Let’s see… yeah, it can see me waving.
Hello satellite camera!
Shut that damn thing off! We’ve got to get away from here.
I didn’t mute it this time, guys.
Please explain the purpose of this ruse. Even the energy for this call is precious; we cannot waste it. If you won’t deal seriously with us, we will continue our search for survivors elsewhere.
No! Damnit, we’re being serious! Shut up, everyone! Good. There’s no ruse, Dr. Clark. I don’t even know what you think we’re lying about. If you can see us, you should know that.
We don’t know how you are redirecting the signal, or what you have done to alter the behavior of those animals. It doesn’t particularly matter. What matters is your low-energy shielding technology. We have resources to offer in exchange. My technicians tell me that little base of yours is running on about 30 peak kilowatts. We could have a portable thorium reactor rated to a megawatt on your doorstep in four hours in exchange for technical drawings and a single functioning unit of whatever portable shield you’re using.
Please, there are too goddamn few of us left to fight. We’ve been searching for months, examined every facility worldwide even remotely capable of installing a shield, and only found empty rooms. We’ve scoured cities and towns and wilderness areas and found only animals. We already don’t have nearly enough for a viable population; we’re going to need every individual in your group. THERE ARE NO OTHERS!
My people are the only chance of turning this thing around, but we might not be able to do it without help. Technology like yours could change everything. Who knows; maybe my boys could figure out a way to scale up what you’re using. Decontaminate a whole city. We won’t know if you don’t help us.
Muted. Okay guys, please, someone have any idea what he’s talking about. Joseph?
I don’t, Alex. I’ve been listening, but he doesn’t make sense.
He seems to believe that the surface is unsafe somehow. Obviously that’s not true; the animals all seem to be doing fine. My geiger log has only shown an increase of about a quarter from what it was before the Event. Honestly, with all the waste ponds going, I would’ve expected more.
I’m more worried that he called us animals…
Dr. Clark, we don’t know what we would be shielding from, and we don’t have any unusual technology to do it. I don’t know if it’s been the same for you, but all of us have been… for lack of a better word… transformed into… whatever we are now. Horses, ponies, it doesn’t matter. We’ve been doing our best to survive in spite of that.
If you’re still watching, we can prove it. Joseph, take the spare gas tank off the back of Moriah’s jeep. Good… that dirt, right there. Write the word “clark” if you can. Yeah, magic’s fine… Just don’t use too much. Now light it.
You see that, Dr. Clark? Would you like these ‘animals’ to do anything else we couldn’t possibly have been trained to do? Like, get in this jeep we converted to drive handless and drive somewhere in the city? We could. Moriah’s actually pretty eager to drive around more.
Why do you think he would say that? Is he leading us on?
I don’t think so. There wouldn’t be a point.
Keep that communicator with you. We may be in touch.
It says the call’s ended. Picture is gone too.
He might still be listening. The mute button might not have done anything either. He could be spying on us.
I don’t think it matters if he does. We don’t have anything to hide. And he can already watch us from the sky, so…
That doesn’t make it right! He’s already done so much to violate our privacy, our peace of mind, our safety!
Hey Joe, could you grab the extinguisher? Looks like the wind is picking up. Thanks. I hope he’s watching this. Pony firemen!
Firestallion. Firemare sounds better, but you’re not a mare. O-Obviously.
Not this again. What hit you on the head and forced you to mutate perfectly good words? Joseph is a fireMAN. He’s not a horse, and we don’t have to call him a stallion.
Actually, he is a stallion. If you want to get technical about it. So am I. You’re a mare, and so’s Cloudy Skies. We walk on four hooves and eat grass. What else would we be?
I cut the recording right there. They just kept arguing, so there didn’t seem much point to letting it keep going, really. Dr. Edmond Clark didn’t say anything else. Maybe he was listening through the phone, maybe he was watching from the sky. We don’t know, and honestly I don’t care if he was. If he was listening and watching, maybe seeing so much clearly human behavior would convince him of what we are.
I don’t understand how it’s possible for him not to know. Right now I consider the most likely option that he’s lying to us (for some reason), maybe reading from a script trying to make us adopt some false assumptions like “there are humans somewhere because they thought ponies were animals.”
The more I thought about it though, the more his first question would fit with apparently still being human. Asking us over and over about our “shielding.” Could becoming a pony be some kind of radiation? A nanoparticle swarm? A field? Maybe this “Dr. Clark” thinks we have the secret to avoiding it and staying human.
If that’s true, he’s sorely wrong. We don’t have jack here; ponies all. I’m sure all of us (besides Sky) would have killed for a machine like that.
We now have many more questions than answers.
During the call, I learned something else I hadn’t known: Moriah is having migraines. Apparently the pain is centered a few inches below her horn, at the root of whatever bone is responsible for the unicorn horn. It’s a little beyond me, but Oliver gave her a “prescription” and it seems to be helping. There’s some medical stuff about water solubility and the size of a pony’s liver and some things he read in a vet’s guide to treating horses. I guess he was always planning on helping a group of survivors, even if he didn’t realize it consciously.
So what are our plans now? We talked about it a great deal. One surfaces before all others: we need a better location. Somewhere seismically stable, somewhere with a reachable water table, somewhere with soil for growing cereal grains. Safe from floods, safe from storms and tropical diseases. In other words, with a whole country (or world) to live in, where would you go?
Relocating, when we’re finally ready, would mean maybe we could get away from the watchful eyes of the HPI, if we wanted to. This city has enough to feed us for years, perhaps decades. Once all the cans go bad and the emergency rations are gone though, we (and our children) would all starve. Not to mention we’d have a miserable time living on all that dried stuff.
We planned on a year before we started. We might accelerate that process, though by how much remains to be seen. That will depend on the HPI. If they prove ambivalent, or even friendly, maybe we won’t need to do that. Snow will probably be a concern in any location we choose, so we’ll want to go before the roads get icy.
That means November, early December at the latest. At that point, we might not be able to drive until April. At least there won’t be salt on the roads eating away at steel and rotting everything. Little blessings, right?
Everybody’s really shaken up about what happened. Sky went out to see the cows and hasn’t come back. Joseph is swearing at his copy of Skyrim as though he thought his horn would let him Shout as well as levitate. Oliver — I didn’t even see him leave, but he’s not around anymore. Just me in here, de-stressing with this journal. I drew him from memory, cuz' I was thinking about him:
I wonder how many other ponies are keeping journals, right now. How many of them were transformed worse than me (a damn few I bet). At least I’ve got Huan. For the first time, he came inside with me. I’m not sure what changed his mind. Maybe he can feel how upset I am or something. I remember hearing dogs were pretty perceptive about human emotions. Guess I’m… not really human though, am I?
I think I’m gonna go fix something. I guess it doesn’t really matter what. It’s good to fix stuff.