Microphone check, one, two, three. I hear you, Sky, Joseph. Good. I’ll just assume you can hear everything. Is the dictation working?
Good. I’ve got another microphone with me, hopefully it will be sensitive to pick up anything he says.
I’m walking into the stadium now. Just a few cars in the parking lot, look like they’ve been here awhile. Yeah, they parked one of their VTOLs here. No tanks I can see; guess they want me to feel safe.
I guess that’s possible. Yeah, I know this is stupid. I’m doing it anyway. No Moriah, there wouldn’t have been any point. If they wanted to kill me one gun wouldn’t be enough to stop it. Yeah, I know it’s stupid.
Walking through the gate now. I can smell the Dodger Dogs again. Not really, but I wish I could. Did you guys ever eat those? We used to get tickets in the seats where you could have one every inning, man those things were fantastic.
I don’t care if they keep. You want to try eating meat again, Moriah? You try; I’ll watch. I could grab a few for you on my way back if you want.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Okay, I can see them now. They’ve set something up on the field. Looks like… God, I’ve never seen anything like this.
Uh… looks like they’ve got a shipping crate in the outfield, on one of those wheeled trucks. It’s got nuclear logos all over it, and huge cables running out, thick as my leg. They’ve drawn a circle with paint on the dead grass.
Yeah, I see them now.
More than one.
They’re all wearing suits. Like… a hazmat suit had a baby with some riot armor. There’s this blue logo on the back, bunch of circles on it. HPI. Cables from the box go into each one, but I can see the air tanks on the back.
Buck you, Moriah! You couldn’t… not gonna’ run… not gonna’ run…
Thanks. Keep… talking…
I can do it… I can do it… I can do it… I’m a strong pony… I’m a strong pony…
Keep talking? Sure… they can see me. They’re all looking at me now. I see two more… up in the seats. They’re… looks like snipers. Really long wires… Everything’s going into that box. I can see the symbols now. It’s got the blue and white thing, and… it says “SSTAR.” I don’t know what that means!
There’s… another thing in the middle… like a sphere? Right in the center of the circle they made. Huge cables going into that one.
No, it’s not very loud. A humming sound… but… God, there’s nothing in there! I can’t feel anything… Nothing should feel this way! Outer space… I’d take that. Up with Joe’s satellites…
They’re watching me. They can probably tell I’m talking to all of you. Or they think I’m insane. Haven’t shot me yet.
Alien creature; observe the outer circle. Do not approach past the yellow markings, or we will open fire.
That wasn’t him. It sounded different. Is the parabolic working okay? Deep voice. Joseph and Oliver don’t sound like that.
I guess I can talk to you all from right here! I won’t come any closer! I… might not be able to keep screaming like this for our whole conversation!
Uh, thanks I guess? They have this little drone, like the ones Amazon was going to use. Just dropped a speaker with a microphone. I… hold on while I get out my tools! I don’t have fingers to use the buttons!
Shut up Joseph, I’m not using my mouth. Unicorns shouldn’t be allowed to give the rest of us advice about how to do stuff without hands.
Okay, how’s this?
The one on the side has another communicator. He’s giving the microphone to the one without a gun. Yeah, three down here. Five total… yeah, I guess I do feel better. So long as I don’t think about it. It feels like there’s nothing, like it’s going to… going to… but I can see there isn’t nothing! There are people in there! Tall… way taller than me. Two arms, two legs. Fingers on their gloves. Can’t see the faces, though.
Are you the one who called yourself Lonely Day?
And I am Dr. Clark. I apologize for not getting any closer. We can’t.
Why not? My friend said there isn’t that much more radiation than there used to be. Maybe a little… but it’s safe. He said it wasn’t much worse than eating a few more bananas every day.
Thaumic radiation isn’t detectable with a Geiger counter or any other conventional tools. Specialized machinery is required. I’m putting it on the drone…
This thing got loud! How do I… oh, like that. Why did it do that?
Because talking to you is like talking to an unshielded reactor. Your body is producing levels about a hundred times greater than the environment. Even that would be lethal in minutes. If you got any closer… I’m not sure the shield would be enough.
You sound pretty sure… Wait a second. I’ve never heard of “thaumic” radiation. What’s that? Oh, thanks Oliver… Thaumaturgy? Like miracles? I can’t do anything like that.
If you were a unicorn, this circle would be as wide as the whole stadium. We couldn’t talk to you for more than a few minutes.
I’ll just assume you know what you’re talking about. What does this thaumic stuff do? And… if I’m that dangerous, why are you talking to me?
We brought a chair for you if you would like to sit while we talk.
Nah, ground’s good. Dead grass poking into my butt would be a pain, but that’s what the leather is for. Thanks though.
He’s just sent the soldiers away. They’re… coming back with a chair for him, and a table. He’s got a computer on it. They’re walking away again… looks like there’s a little door on the shipping crate. They just went inside.
I’m afraid I can’t take any chances, Lonely Day. My snipers will be forced to fire if you make any attempt to approach. Otherwise, you have my word we will not harm you.
Okay. I won’t.
I’ll be happy to answer your questions, but formalities first. I represent the Human Preservation Initiative. Have you ever heard of it? No, I’d think not. We hadn’t existed for too terribly long before the Collapse. Not quite three years, actually. That was all the warning we had.
Warning about… about the "Collapse?" You knew it was going to happen? YOU KNEW, AND YOU DIDN’T DO SOMETHING TO STOP IT?!
Please, calm down. The amount of radiation you’re producing has just increased by sixty percent. If you can’t calm down, we may have to cut this conversation short.
Oh… oh-kay. I will. Sorry. My question still stands.
We did all we could. Even with infinite resources, we were up against titanic odds. This machine here? This portable shielding device cost five hundred billion dollars to produce. Do you have any idea the resources that represents? Three percent of the entire product of the world’s largest economy. This is a single shielding unit, to protect a thirty foot sphere or so. Imagine what it might take to protect a larger area… somewhere large enough to live in.
It took the combined wealth of the entire world to retrofit our facility to protect a mere five hundred people. We’ve searched, but so far as we can tell, there aren’t any other humans alive on the entire planet.
I’m human. My friends are human too. Oliver, Joseph, Moriah…
No, you’re not. Humans don’t have fur and stand on four legs.
We were human, then. Is this… Is this what thaumic radiation does? Mutate humans into ponies?
It does not. Thaumic radiation does not affect the body or brain in any way our medical equipment can detect. Yet, when humans are exposed, they suffer rapid mental deterioration. I’ve seen… I’ve seen it turn a good man into a vegetable right in front of me. No way to treat it, no way to reverse the effects once exposed.
Okay. I’ll accept that, for the moment. Where did everybody go, then? If this… thaumic stuff… fries people's minds, and it’s everywhere now, why didn’t it just melt all our brains? Where are all the bodies?
We… We aren’t certain. We have suspicions. That isn’t what we came to discuss, however.
Okay. I’ll table that for now. You didn’t cause this, you were some sort of global conspiracy and you saved as many people as you could. But if just being near me is dangerous… if it takes all those machines, how can we possibly work together? It would probably make sense for you guys to aim that fancy ship as far away from every pony as you can, hunker down in your bunker in whatever God-forsaken corner of the world you built it in, and stay inside forever.
There are those within the Initiative who agree. I don’t. Having someone on the outside, even if they’re a… pony, you called yourself? Even an alliance with “ponies” might be useful, if there are others who haven’t gone feral, others with the intelligence and will to build all that you have.
Why? Sounds like you had plenty of time to prepare. You can’t need much.
Think, Lonely Day. How long could a completely self-contained facility last? My engineers have given me the numbers, and it’s a hell of a lot shorter than forever. Even after salvaging most of the spent fuel from the country’s plants, we can’t keep running forever. Even if we move on to collecting refined fuel and breaking down nukes, we’re on a clock. Once that reactor goes, so does the whole thing.
Long before that, we’re all going to be sick of eating algae and wheat-grass. We’re going to need salvaged supplies from all over the country, maybe all over the world. Traveling like this is exceptionally dangerous. If that little reactor goes, we all melt in our suits.
I still don’t get how you couldn’t know I was intelligent. I see how it’s a leap to believe that little horses used to be human… sometimes I wonder if being human was some kinda dream… but damnit, I never wonder if I might not be intelligent! I’m wearing clothes, using tools, talking in English. Are pony survivors so rare that you don’t know?
Not… precisely. We travel very rarely, and generally only to nuclear power stations and remote military locations. There seems to be an… instinct of sorts, as what few “ponies” we have seen avoided us. They ran like all the other animals did. We suspected it has something to do with the shielding generators we use, since all animal species have had adverse reactions to it even before the Collapse.
We hadn’t thought to monitor the radio, since any organization capable of surviving the Collapse would have used more sophisticated equipment. We discovered you by accident; your spotlight was visible as we came in for our salvage operation in Diablo Canyon.
You are the first “pony” to intentionally get this close. You don’t feel like running or attacking?
Running. Very, very much. I won’t run. I’m human. Only animals run, you said so. Wait… attack? Ponies attacked you?
A few. Not effectively. The problem is the radiation; portable shielding devices can’t handle so much at once. After I lost one team to an accident with animals like you, we’ve made an effort to avoid them. Even a single fatality is unacceptable.
Okay, let me try to understand. You want our help to… help you find things?
At first. There may be more.
Would anything we brought even be useful to you? If we’re radiation factories, contaminating everything just by being nearby…
We have ways of decontaminating objects, or else we wouldn’t be able to travel outside at all. Still, we don’t need you to find anything physical for now.
What is it you want from us? We… Don’t get me wrong, we want to help. It sounds like you Initiative folks are doing what you can to keep humanity alive. But out here, we’re just worried about starving. We’re worried about how we’ll deliver babies, and what we’re going to do to get water. We want to build a colony one day. We can’t be your private search team full time.
No, we wouldn’t expect you to. But we’re thinking long-term, just like you seem to be. If you’re a colony one day, you’re going to need trading partners; so are we. Do you think any of the other ponies in the world, feral or not, are going to be manufacturing new computers and automobiles? Keeping the most important satellites working as long as possible? Stopping waste fuel from catching fire and layering another level of radiation on the continent, maybe one you’re not immune to? No.
But forget all of that. Forget anything long term. Right now, we need your help with something simpler, something we couldn’t ever do.
We’ve got a single satellite in orbit with the sensors to pick up thaumic radiation. It’s tracked an enormous source of radiation traveling gradually south. When we discovered you and started searching the civilian radio frequencies, we detected a transmission using a simple analog cipher. Its source seems to correspond roughly to the radiation hotspot.
I think I know the messages you’re talking about. We… thought it was you.
It is not. We estimate two days before it arrives, perhaps slightly less.
Okay. Tons of radiation. How can we help?
The most recent messages seem to suggest it’s heading for you. The fact it’s sending simply encoded radio transmissions suggests a physical being of some kind, but our satellite imaging never comes up with anything substantial. When it arrives, identify it, and learn everything you can from whomever it is. Share this information with us. We have… reason to believe whoever they are may know more about what really happened in the Collapse. They may be our only chance to ever learn the truth. Learning the cause might be the key to saving humanity. Even though you’re not human anymore, you must still care. You wouldn’t be talking to me otherwise.
I do. We do. I don’t… I want to help.
We’ll make it worth your while. We have technology that was not available to the public before the collapse, machines that might make your lives much easier. Learn everything you can, and share it with us. If you succeed, it might be the start of a working relationship. Even given the danger of working with your species, I think we both stand to benefit.
Give me a minute to talk to my friends. They’ve been listening, but I shouldn’t make any promises without them.
Well? What do you ponies think?
Good. That’s what I thought.
Okay, I’ll tell him.
We’ll help. It sounds like the thing is coming towards us anyways, so we don’t have anything to lose.
Good. You have our communicator. We shouldn’t remain here any longer than we have to. If you would be kind enough to leave as quickly as possible, my people can start breaking this machinery down.
Does the shield have to keep running all the time? That must be a pain to set up.
There are portable units in the suits, but they can’t run without a direct line to the reactor here. Way too much power.
That’s the lightning-looking stuff?
Okay, I’ll leave. Just… don’t shoot me on my way out. I think my friends would hear that. They probably wouldn’t want to help you if you kill me.
We won’t harm you, you have my word. I… would shake on it, but I don’t think I would survive getting that close. Besides, you don’t have hands.
Thanks for being so sensitive about it.
I’m walking away now. Put the communicator down. The snipers are watching me, but he isn’t. Nobody’s shooting. Looks like I’m safe. I’ll probably not grab the hot dogs this time, if that’s okay. Probably raccoons or something found them by now anyway. I’ll drive straight back.
Outside now, by my car. Getting in. I’ll hang up. Talk to you all when I get back.