• Published 25th Jun 2015
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Cross The Amazon - Chatoyance



No Potion. No rescue. South America is 4353 kilometers wide. Run, Dr. Kotani. Run for your life.

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2. Nursery Songs

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T H E C O N V E R S I O N B U R E A U :
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CROSS THE AMAZON

By Chatoyance

Chapter Two: Nursery Songs

Stratigraphic Palynology is a branch of biostratigraphy - applying geological and evolutionary principles to the understanding of sedimentary sequences and the geological record. It is also a very poor alternative to three solid months of what amounted to paid vacation at the bottom of a mine.

Dr. Calloway Kotani was doing what he did best - playing SlaughterStrike 5. Three was great, four was a terrible disappointment with all the intrusive in-game ads and government propaganda - plus they nerfed sniper rifles - but 'SlaughterStrike 5' was uber. The game featured modern tracking and guided ordnance, sniping was back better than ever, and the ads were gone. The new MicroSony Mk. 6 Mindsets had neural reciprocation, which meant that - to a limited degree - the sensations of touch and smell were included. Never had napalm smelled so much like victory - or smelled at all. It was incredible.

While Dr. Kotani danced in his exceptionally comfy chair, looking about madly, holding his hands out at odd angles, a food replicator was busy manufacturing him a pastrami on rye. The printing head noisily burped out nanostructed pseudomeat paste in controlled patterns. Soon another layer of pastrami would be completed. Once the bread was printed, the completed sandwich would be selectively processed, providing for hot toasted bread, but cold pastrami slices. Calloway preferred yellow mustard to deli, a terrible flaw in his personality that he felt properly embarrassed by.

The sandwich meal pattern included a pickle, already manufactured, and a Coke in a glass bottle. The coke was being printed in Kotani's beverage printer, the bottle was almost done. Glass took longer, but Calloway preferred the verisimilitude - and everything was on the Worldgovernment credstick in any case, so it wasn't like there was any reason to not splurge.

Next to the food printers were several bins overflowing with empty bottles and plates, forks and spoons and not a few hashi. Kotani had the latter printed in neowood, the most expensive variant. Again, government credits, why not? The bins were never going to get recycled - this part of the planet would, eventually, someday, become part of that Equestria thing. Saving resources was pointless anymore.

Inside the virtual battlefield, Commander Rockbiter - Calloway thought his handle was clever and literary - scrambled over the burning ruins of a walking tank and draped himself over one of the machine's six legs. It was an excellent sniping position, the tangle of broken legs and pressure hoses created a visually complex background for him to vanish within. His virtual body was clad in skin-tight adaptive camouflage, automatically it matched the pattern of the walking tank exactly.

The enemy in the latest Slaughterstrike was an A.I. uprising. The artificial intelligences used robot bodies based on extinct animals like panthers and lions - they were fast, dangerous, and very sneaky. But the enemy side also used holographic bodies too, and countless other cutting edge tricks. Camping had gone from being something loathed to a standard and accepted practice. The player that ran about served only one use - to tell his watchful team where the monsters were.

The monsters, for their part, were controlled by other players all around what was left of the globe. Slaughterstrike 5 was an asymmetrical war - the human team camped and crept, slowly and carefully, playing a suspenseful hiding game. The robot army player enjoyed fast movement, quick strikes, strong armor, and the death of a thousand nibbling ducks. Because no player's position was ever revealed, not even when capped, the game was tense, risky, and balanced between stealth and ferocity. Calloway loved the new iteration.

Kotani - Commander Rockbiter - looked down and around at the weed-covered hills. His position was well hidden, but all it would take is one mechanical snake, or spider, or big cat to julienne his fries. Carefully he raised his intelligent sniper rifle to his eyes, and sank into the very private world of fragging-at-enormous-distance. He became the watchful eye that brought wrath from nowhere. He had become death, implacable, unseen everywhere and nowhere, the ultimate doom of all...

Startled, he dropped the rifle, the intelligent scope electronically crying 'WHYYYY?" as it fell into the weeds. He was under attack! A machine cat! A robot snake! All over, it was all over... god that felt real. There it was again! He was being poked and prodded! Oh sweet Buddha, the neural feedback was incredibly realistic and... wait a minute...

There was absolutely nothing around him. He looked up, down, all around... nothing. Just the destroyed walking tank, and the endless sea of dead weeds. A glitch? Was there an error in the Mindset? Ow! That one hurt! Right in the breadbasket. Ulp. What the friggin' hell? Something was physically in the tunnel with him! It was jabbing at his real body! AUUUGGHH!

Calloway tore the Mindset from his head. As his ears cleared the helmet-like device, he heard an overly cute, unhuman voice.

"Doctor Kotani! Calloway! You've just got to... oh! Come on! Hurry!"

Calloway stared in surprise and not a little disoriented shock. The fear that a giant mutie-rat had been trying to get through his clothing in order to dine on his liver resolved into annoyance. The voice belonged to a diminutive unicorn mare. Blue-gray with a mane of some shade of strawberry blond with orange highlights. Her magenta eyes looked impatient and worried. Calloway carefully set the Mindset down. "Excuse me?!?"

Dropspindle stomped her hoof. "Doctor Kotani? Are you doctor Calloway Kotani?" The mare's ears flicked with annoyance. "It doesn't matter who you are, you're still human... listen to me carefully: the Barrier is coming!"

Calloway slumped into his comfy chair, now doubly annoyed. His heart was still pounding. It was some pony trying to convince him to get Converted early. God how rude. He was right in the middle of his game. Never sneak up on a person in VR! It scares the shit out of... sigh. "I am certain your heart is in the right place... whoever you are... but I assure you that I fully intend to Conver..."

"NO! YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" Dropspindle's tail snapped at her hocks like a whip. "We have to run. Flee. The pegabus won't wait any longer, the Barrier is..."

"Pega...bus?" This wasn't the usual 'Go Home, Go Pony' proselytizer Calloway might run into in the market when he went for treats and supplies. How long had it been since he'd even gone up to the surface? Time was different at the bottom of a mine. Long time. Weeks. Maybe months? The pegabuses weren't supposed to come until the very last... uh oh. "What day is it?" Kotani shook his head. "Month. I mean month. What month is..."

"COME ON!"

The little unicorn mare had actually grabbed his hand and forearm in her hornfield. They weren't supposed to do that to humans. Pony telekinetics could leave thaumatic burns. Calloway's arm began to itch. "Hey!"

The field fell instantly. "Sorry! But you have to start running. Now! The pegabuses are leaving. It's the last day!"

Calloway Kotani looked around his installation in the mine tunnel. His desks, his quantum deskset, the food replicators, his Mindset, his games, the twin cases of real, actual vodka that had been a gift from an upper executive. The piles and piles that overflowed from the trash bins. In the dim lights everything appeared just like it had always been for a seeming forever of time. How long had he been drifting away down here? He'd quite forgotten everything but his enjoyment. No troubles, no demands. In a mine, time itself just vanished into the darkness.

"It's really the last day? Already?" Calloway stood up, shocked at how he could lose track of time so completely. The A.I. in the quantum set should have... oh. Yeah... he'd shut the thing up because it nagged... great Buddha of compassion... this was... he had overslept for the end of the world!

"RUN! NOW!" Dropspindle had suffered entirely enough of this filthy, rather smelly human. His clothing was stinky with old booze and artificial food competing for dominance with his own primate odors. Hygiene had not been a priority for this cave-dwelling ape.

Calloway found himself running. He still wasn't entirely sure why, or what was going on. He felt like he was awakening from a very long dream.

"W-what... what... who are you anyway?" One moment Calloway had been playing, the next there was a pony in his space and now he was running somehow.

"Dro... my name is... Dropspindle. I came... came to get you! You're still human!" It was hard to breathe, it was always hard to breath, Huancabamba was very high above sea level and somehow, in the human's world, this meant that the air would be thin. For some reason. The human's realm was insane. Who would make a universe where there ever wouldn't be enough air to breathe? Insanity! "Do... do you h-have one of those... kits?"

Kits? She must mean an emergency transport flask like the Blackmesh carried. He hadn't been given one because he wasn't actually supposed to have been in Huancabamba long enough to make such a thing necessary. He'd been abusing his contract in order to enjoy a stolen vacation. "N-no! No Kits!"

"Wouldn't... have... time anyway." Dropspindle barely avoided the broken minecart and sidestepped it only at the last moment. "N-need like... half an hour... anyway... to change. Don't have it."

Kotani ran a little faster. Not even a half an hour? What the flying hell? The Barrier couldn't possibly be that close! Could it? "Y-you're... you're not kidding... are you?"

Dropspindle couldn't even shake her head. She could only run, her lungs burning in her barrel.

The human and the pony ran up the incline of the floor of the tunnel, past blocked-off side passages, until sunlight burned their eyes. Blinking and struggling to see clearly, Calloway stumbled into daylight for the first time in at least three months. God, had it been that long? "The sky..."

"That's not sky. Now KEEP MOVING!" Dropspindle raised a foreleg and gave the human a prod on the flank. "Go!"

Kotani was running again, clumsily. Everything was much too bright, and the gray of the smog layer had been replaced with a remarkably clear sky divided in half. One portion was blue, a blue he had only seen once, during a visit to Bogota. The city had entirely gone pony, and the pegasai had cleaned the sky entirely.

The other half of the sky was not sky at all. At least not earthly sky. It was pale teal, a bluish-green realm with strange, spiraled clouds and a truly yellow sun larger than a hand held at arm's length. The alien sky shimmered and rippled as if it were under water. The Barrier. He was staring at the Great Barrier of Equestria.

And it was near. It was near in the way that hurricanes should never be, in the manner that one sees a raging volcano for the Very Last Time. It was on land, it was rushing towards him. The air felt thick, the pressure rising as the Barrier crushed against the very atmosphere of the planet itself. The hairs on his arms stood up, as if under the force of static charges. No human being should ever witness the Barrier this close. Kotani began checking his arms for black spots, for thaumatic burns.

"We don't have time for that! RUN, you foolish monkey!"

Calloway ran.

The pair made it down the hillside, and to the edge of town. They ran through the yards of abandoned shack houses. Both had to stop by the road that ran around the outskirts to catch their breath in the thin Peruvian air. Panting, they sucked at the sky like dying fish on the land. Finally, the searing within their lungs calmed. They ran again. Down the street, through an alley shortcut that Dropspindle indicated, and then down another street. They stopped again, heaving with exhaustion. Their limbs ached, their hearts felt as if they would burst. The altitude was murder. It seemed only the natives ever truly got used to it.

Around the corner by the Vergin Del Carmen. Across the broken boulevard. Down the main street, past the empty bar, around the final corner, gasping, into the huge lot where...

The pegabuses were not.