• Published 22nd May 2012
  • 6,271 Views, 697 Comments

Hegira: Option Gamma - Guardian_Gryphon



What would you do for the chance to fly free?

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Chapter 2

“What's his condition?”

“Well the shot pierced a major artery. If he hadn’t been this close to us he would have likely bled out, even with a patch-up of scabbie foam. As it is, he is going to be sore for days from the concussion, but the healing spell closed the shoulder wound nicely, and stem cells from his marrow are doing the rest.”

“Good.”

Wrenn winced and opened one eye, “So. Do I need to finalize my will?”

The two figures in his field of vision turned toward him. Both were quadrupedal, one much larger than the other. As his vision cleared, and the implants re-engaged, he squinted and managed to make out Kephic, and a pastel purple female Unicorn Pony with a vibrant pink mane and a nurse’s cap.

Wrenn chuckled, “I must have died and gone to wonderland.”

The nurse pony seemed to understand the reference and chuckled as well. Kephic looked on in vague amusement, speaking slowly, and deliberately all the while.

“What you did back there... How did you know he wouldn’t release the switch when you stood up?”

Wrenn closed his eyes, groaned, and then sat up.

“Water?”

He heard a low tinkling hum, and when he opened his eyes a glass of water was floating in front of his face, suspended in a pink cocoon of light. The thaumatic field created a fascinating particle effect through the sonar of his implants; A sparkling miniature fireworks display.

Wrenn plucked the glass gingerly from the nurse’s telekinetic grip and smiled his thanks before sipping it slowly.

He paused before answering, “I didn’t know for sure. I had a moment of intuition. A guy who pulls a pistol when he already has a deadman switch armed isn’t ready to die for his cause. Not like that anyways.”

Kephic cocked his head to the side, reminding Wrenn of a special documentary he had seen on Eagles once, and the expression they had when something puzzled them.

“But surely if he had the explosives he had already committed to his willingness to die?”

Wrenn shook his head, “Maybe that’s how you guys tick, but not Humans. Fear can override almost anything in us if we don’t fight to keep it down.”

Kephic snorted, “We fear things too, but it would be dishonorable to ever let it cloud our judgement or subvert our courage.”

Wrenn smiled and winced as he experimentally flexed his shoulder, “Well I wish we were more like you, but I'm glad our suicidal friend wasn't. Thank you. By the way, for shielding me.”

Kephic inclined his head, “Now if you’ll both excuse me, I have to go see to the potion.”

Wrenn stood up, then sat back down abruptly as a dizzy spell hit him, “So it is potion? the crate I mean.”

Kephic glanced back over his shoulder. The Gryphon's expression, and the way he formed his response, made the lieutenant wonder if his 'slip' had perhaps been intentional.

“That’s not for me to say. Yet.”

Wrenn forced himself up, his stance was wobbly but he managed to stay vertical, “I almost got blown up to protect what was in that crate, now after what you just said I have a sneaking suspicion and I wanna know if I’m right.”

Kephic paused, as if still undecided, then sighed deeply.

“Well, you haven’t signed off on the transfer papers technically. So I suppose it's within your right to see the crate off.”

Wrenn smiled and staggered to the door, collecting his balance more with every step.

Kephic smirked, “You may want to put on some clothes first.”

Wrenn looked down and sheepishly realized he had nothing on but a hospital issue white medical gown.

“Ah. Right. Pants.”

“No! no absolutely not, he doesn’t have the clearance to see the inside of that crate.”

“That's for us to decide, not you smooth-skin.”

Wrenn winced as Kephic laid into the ConSec commander with one of the nastier, and more racially charged, anti-human epithets.

“My squad, my Bureau, my rules.”

Kephic slammed a fisted claw down onto the crate’s lid.

“Our box. And need I remind you who saved most of your officers in that debacle you called a transport mission.”

The human squinted up at Kephic, “Get out.”

“In Human phraseology; Like hell.”

“Enough.”

The roan Gryphon, who Wrenn had learned was named Sildinar, cut in with a voice so deep and so authoritative that it left no possibility for argument open from either party.

Sildinar glanced back and forth between Wrenn, Kephic, the ConSec officer, and the head of the bureau, a yellow female earth Pony with golden mane and square rimmed glasses who reminded Wrenn of his old primary school principal.

Finally Sildinar spoke, “He has earned the right to know. Is he not sworn to uphold your protocols of secrecy? Why should we not allow him to see something that will soon be public knowledge?”

Kephic nodded, the head of the Bureau maintained a fixed expression, the ConSec officer sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t seem to have the energy to press things further.

“Alright. You make a good point. But it's your ass if someone finds out.”

Sildinar and Kephic stepped over to the crate and each laid a single talon on the touchpad. There was a hum, and then a beep. Both Gryphons entered a long combination, Wrenn lost count after the 45th digit, mainly because the two typed so blazingly fast.

With a final triple beep, and the hiss of disengaging magnetic seals, the lid of the crate came loose. Kephic lifted it off and set it down on the floor, then beckoned for Wrenn to come look.

Wrenn had fully expected to be denied the opportunity to see what was inside. While he had gone and found a fresh pair of fatigues, a gray ConSec T-Shirt, and some Equestrian Coffee, which was divine, Kephic had gone to consult with Sildinar. About the time the nurse had found him the coffee, Wrenn had discovered that he had been brought to the downtown Manhattan Conversion Bureau.

It was the weekend, so the building was closed to all but staff and residents, in order to facilitate cleaning, and secure shipment of potions or equipment. The large postmodern complex felt empty and eerily silent.

Most of the Pony staff, even the ones who would normally be on duty, had been told to stay in the living quarters while the shipment came in. Only ConSec had free roam of the building, and most of them were holed up in the high security wing.

Apparently the Nurse and several human doctors had gotten leave to come down to the medical wards when Kephic had come dashing in, toting a bleeding Wrenn over his shoulder, followed by four ConSec officers with severe shrapnel wounds.

Wrenn stepped slowly, deliberately over to the crate.

The inside was suffused with a faint glow, and he could see that it emanated from row upon row and stack upon stack of sealed transparisteel cylinders. Each cylinder bore a simple delta inscribed with a gamma, and was filled with a sparkling viscous golden liquid from which the glow came. It looked like potion, but the only colors Wrenn had ever seen it in were standard purple, and special-batch hypoallergenic cherry red.

He glanced up at Sildinar, “Is this what I think it is?”

The Gryphon nodded, “You are an acute observer.”

The lieutenant couldn’t tell if it was sarcasm or a genuine compliment.

“This, Isaac Wrenn, is the first ever batch of Gryphonization Potion.”

Manhattan’s underground storage pits were one of the most amazing and least viewed engineering marvels of the American sub-continent.

Massive three mile by two mile multi-story vaulted warehouses running beneath even the deepest subway lines. They had their own set of internal, mostly automated monorail cranes and clamps which moved around all the goods coming into or going out of the city. The place was a warren of crates, cranes, equipment, control booths, catwalks, and even living spaces for some of the night shift workers.

One could get lost in the warehouses alone, much less the maze of tunnels and elevator shafts connecting them to each other and the port.

On the whole, it made the space a perfect meeting spot for someone with the money to pay off security, the technology to shutdown surveillance in the area, and the desire to hold a conclave somewhere so deep down that even satellite based scanning couldn’t penetrate to it.

A man in a dark gray suit sat at a steel picnic table, placed there for workers to take their lunch break. It was comical to see the traditional fixture of outdoor parks sandwiched between two massive shipping containers buried deep below the earth.
The man smoked a cigarette, a real one not one of the electric ones that had become so commonplace when tobacco all but died out.

The pack in his pocket had cost the man more than most still-employed post-singularity workers made in a month, and he had five more like it in his car.

The smoke drifted up past his worn, aged features to rest in his receding gray hair, leaving him drenched in the distinctive foul aroma of nicotine. He straightened up as the sound of hooves on concrete alerted him that his contact had arrived.

He rose and drew a puff of smoke from the cigarette, letting it out in the direction of one of his two security guards just to see if the man would flinch.

He didn’t.

It was a pity, in his mind. The cigarette smoking man liked giving his underlings a good tongue lashing every so often, or they seemed to forget who he was and what he was capable of.

Further thoughts of intimidation left the man’s mind as a slate gray pony with a black mane rounded the corner of the shipping crate. The suited man checked his watch, “You’re late. You don’t have much time.”

The Pony nodded and glanced up, his unearthly green eyes glittering in the light from the overhead fixtures. “I was unsuccessful. They never left the crate alone, I didn’t have any way to acquire a cylinder of the potion, and then the PER attacked.”

The cigarette smoking man let out another burst of gray haze, and spoke in a resounding gravelly voice.

“We will deal with PER’s interference later. For now, the potion remains our priority. What details can you give me?”

The gray Pony winced and doubled over in pain, then words began tumbling from his mouth in quick succession, “Its a titanium steel carbide case, gray with yellow markings. Dual biometric access denial. 500 cylinders inside, each good for three people.”

A rivulet of blood began to make its way down from the Equine’s nose, red but with a peculiar silver strain in it. His words began to gargle, as if his lungs were filling up with liquid.

“Codes are 51 digit encryptions, only the Gryphons have them. They have already---AAUUUUURRGHGHGHG”

His words died away into a screaming burble as his entire face began to melt away. The effect rippled out across his body, and as the echoes of his screams faded all that was left on the floor was a puddle of red interlaced with silver, as if someone had spilled mercury in blood.

The suited man sniffed, removed his cigarette, and dropped it into the blob where it fizzled.
He inclined his head to the puddle and mumbled, “Humanus Pro Vita.”

(Author’s Note: Calliope Ravenhoof cameo’d with the permission of her author, an artistically inclined friend who helped write her dialogue. Give her tumblr some love and tolerance here; askcallie.tumblr.com )

Wrenn sat in the Bureau lobby, watching the acid rain streak down the massive arching front windows. He idly tapped his gauntlet against the plexiglass as he traced the paths of the droplets with his eyes.

Backlit by the halon street lights, the storm produced a mesmerizing effect to his implants.
The drops of water themselves were close enough to fall within Wrenn’s color vision, so they diffused some of the amber light coming from behind, but most of the world beyond was a symmetrical tessellation of blue lines and deeper blue polygons unaffected by the darkness of night or the glow of the lamps.

On the whole, the effect was something like a disco laser show.

Wrenn’s new suit of armor was a loan from ConSec; Officially he was working as extra security staff while under medical observation. Unofficially he had pleaded for the opportunity to stay and request a slot for Gryphonization. It amazed him how quickly the desire to slog back a cup of that golden liquid and grow a pair of wings had become an obsession.

It was all he thought about. It had been two days since the attack, and the Indianapolis wasn’t going anywhere quickly, so his CO had approved a ‘medical leave’ request.

Wrenn reflected that he might have exaggerated his condition slightly.

He stopped tapping the window and slowly worked his sore shoulder.
The ConSec emblem, a stylized gold eye of Isis on a blue background, sat almost directly over the worst cramp.

At such a late hour, the lobby was almost empty. A few Ponies and humans sat in groups of two or three, talking and drinking tea or coffee, usually discussing the conversion and their respective futures. Wrenn hadn’t tried to talk to any of them, and none of them had approached him.
And he was content with that.

All he wanted to do was imagine what it might be like to shed his sore limbs, failing eyes, and uncertain future to just cut loose and soar.

His reverie was momentarily interrupted by a muttering sound. Wrenn half turned to see a white Earth Pony staring at him across the lobby. She had a black mane with a vibrant purple streak that matched her eyes, three hearts for a cutie mark, and a red bow on her head.

At least Wrenn thought it was red, it was mostly out of his real vision range and partway into his sonar, so he couldn’t be sure. He had developed an instinct for the likely colors of objects based on subtle subconscious cues, but it was only right about two thirds of the time.

Wrenn turned lazily back to tapping the window, but his combat trained ears couldn’t help but pick up and interpret snippets of the Pony’s muttered train of thought, “"What was that key for armor? Red is dead, blue is true? Green is keen, Yellow is mellow? Oh I have no idea... Black armor is bad right? might as well.”

It was only just beginning to occur to Wrenn that she might be talking about him when a blood curdling war cry split the calm atmosphere of the lobby. Wrenn just barely had time to turn before he came face to face with the charging Earth Pony.

The collision produced a loud ‘CLACK’ as the Equine impacted the armor plate on his chest and bounced right off, nearly knocking him from his seat in the process. That seemed to daze her, but only for a moment. She scrambled up and went for Wrenn’s arm with a vengeance. He was thankful for the plating layers between him and her teeth, they looked like they could crush both plating, and bone, given a little time.

For a moment all he could do was stand in shock. This was the most awkward thing to have ever happened to him in all his years of soldiering. He was grateful the Pony had thrown little to none of her full muscular power into her attack. Earth Ponies had a reputation for strength. The kind of strength that could shatter light armor plating as though it were glass dishware.

“Um... ‘scuse me little Pony? That won’t do you any good. Its electroceramic plating with titanium carbide nano-layers and a built in diffusion grid. You'd have much better luck with a solid buck to the chest area.”

She continued gnawing on his arm, mumbling around the metal; "You won't fool me with that mumbo-jumbo, you... you... Evil person!"

Wrenn rolled his eyes, “Would you stop that? First you’ll blunt your teeth by the time you pierce the plating. Second if I was the bad guy I wouldn’t be sitting here in official ConSec armor guarding the lobby. And lastly if I had wanted to I could have cross drawn my pistol and dropped you like a stone. So in short, I think we got off on the wrong foot. err... hoof.”

She immediately let go. "ConSec? Oh dear... That's right, it was 'Black has our back...' Wasn't it...?"

Wrenn chuckled wryly, “Something vaguely like that. Its right on the emblem; ‘Humanus Quod Equus In Metus.’ ”

"Oh horsefeathers..."

He wiped the gauntlet she had been chewing on across the leg of his armor, while proffering the other hand, “I’m Lieutenant Isaac Wrenn.”

She blinked at the hand for a second, before realizing that he apparently didn't know how to greet a pony, humored him, and placed her hoof in his outstretched palm. "Calliope Ravenhoof. You can call me Callie."

"And you can call me Wrenn. Just like the songbird."

She giggled, Wrenn glared.

“They were fine, proud, deeply intelligent birds, and I'm happy to share the name with them, thank-you-very-much.”

"You're funny. Why were you sitting over here looking all glum?" Her head cocked to the side in what he had to admit was an adorable manner.

Wrenn collapsed back onto the bench with a sigh, and flexed his sore shoulder again.

“I got shot, and I don’t think I'm even going to get to have a part in what I helped to protect.”

"Awww... Being shot doesn't sound fun. Did it hurt? Who shot you? Did you shoot them back? How long till you get better?" She paused to scramble up on the bench next to him, then continued the tirade before he could answer "Why won't they let you fight? How bad was the wound? Did it bleed a lot? Did you faint when you saw blood? How was---"

Wrenn interjected forcefully, raising one gloved hand in a conciliatory gesture.

“It's... Not that they won’t let me fight. And trust me I’ve had worse than a projectile wound.”
He pointed to his disfigured eyes as he continued.

“No, we were protecting a secure case. Apparently someone wanted it badly enough to blow up a maglev, with us in it. I only survived because a very thoughtful Gryphon shielded me with his armor.”

Wrenn figured the concept of someone blowing up a train, combined with the idea that Humans made weapons which could irreparably melt one's eyes, would sober the little pony up.

Most Equestrians hated discussing violence.

Not that Wrenn meant to upset Callie, he just wanted to be alone with his thoughts again. Making friends wasn't part of his still forming plan.

Callie cringed. "Sounds... 'fun.' What was in the crate?"

It took Wrenn a moment to bypass her unusual reaction and stammer, “Uhm.. well... I can’t say. They broke a dozen protocols just letting me see, and only after Kephic, the Gryphon, put in a good word for me with his superior. If I told you, we’d be in more trouble than you can imagine.”

"Oh..." the expression on her face told him that 'trouble' was something she was very much used to. "So you can't see?"

Wrenn sighed and resigned himself to explaining his implants.

“I can see a little within two meters. Everything else my eyes can’t focus at all anymore. So I have these...” he gestured to the glowing slits above his eyebrows, “They use Sonar to show me a sort of bluish computer driven image of the world around me, even behind me if I want.”

"Ooh... Can I try them on?"

Wrenn laughed, a short sad barking sound, and a pained expression flitted across his face.

“No no, you misunderstand. They’re built into my skull. Welded into my frontal bone. The slits are for the sonic emitters. And besides, you wouldn’t want to have them. The world isn’t much fun without color and light and shadow.”

“But you'd get to see things like a *computer!* You could pretend you were a robot! And see everypony that tried sneaking up on you! I mean, I wouldn't have to look over my shoulder when it came Apple Bucking time! Can you see at night too? And stuff that's warm and cold?"

Her relentless enthusiasm surprised Wrenn, and he had spoken to enough ponies before to know the difference between Callie's tone, and run of the mill Equestrian optimism.

“I can see at night, but not in infrared. Its sonar based. And really, seeing behind you? not worth the migraines it causes. I’d trade that advantage in a heartbeat for the ability to see a storm in all its shades of gray, or the teal of the ocean stretching all the way to the horizon.”

Wrenn glanced out at the acid rain again, a telltale reminder of the ecologically ruined world he had been born into. He wondered, for the first time, how someone like Callie saw Earth.

He shifted and turned to look at her, “Why are you here? are you a convert?”

"A what? No, we don't really have religion in Equestria...other than ‘worshiping’ Princess Celestia." She giggled, and Wrenn assumed that it was a Pony joke.

He raised an eyebrow, “I mean, are you native Equestrian, or ponified human?”

“Native Equestrian, silly. Can’t you tell?"

Wrenn shook his head, “The conversion affects people pretty deeply. I’ve seen guys with gang tattoos go in there and come out without a care, or a violent thought, in their heads.”

"Well of course. Becoming a pony takes a lot of the conflict right out of you. Now there are a few... and I'm not saying any names..."
Here she paused to cough, covering a word that sounded rather like 'FlimFlamBrothers',
"...That still need some... work. But for the most part, everypony is nice and cares about one another. That's why we've done so well for so long."

She turned to him with an odd glint in her eye, "Are you becoming a pony?"

Wrenn shook his head, “No. Not anytime soon at least. It’s not that I’m too attached to being Human mind you, but...”
he patted his holstered pistol,
“...I like being able to fight and kill for what I believe in. Pretty essential part of my job.”
He glanced down at his hand.

“Also thumbs are nice.”

She shrugged. "Whatever suits your fancy I guess. Though I can't help but wonder what your cutie mark would be...."

“Do they come in crossed swords? or perhaps a big ol’ MAC cannon.”

"Not that I've seen... though I think I might have seen a surgeon's knife once. And I've seen scissors... Oooh, I know one pony who got a *full* bouquet of flowers on one side, and this odd brown blob on the other. After having every doctor in Equestria look at her, she finally got out in the rain, and it was just mud!"

Another fit of giggles. More Pony humor.

Wrenn decided he liked Callie. She hadn’t lost her sense of optimism and spirit even on an ever-so-slowly dying world talking to a veteran of several bloody conflicts.

It occurred to Wrenn to ask another question.

“What do you know about Gryphons? We haven’t seem them here much, and they fascinate me.”

"Oh... them. Well..." she glanced down at her hooves, shuffling them a bit, then out the window, her eyes going out of focus slightly. At length she answered "As foals we're told to stay away from them.... That they're dangerous creatures who love conflict... and that they..."
She swallowed slightly, "That they eat ponies."

Wrenn laughed, “Well they are strong fighters. But I saw three put their necks on the line today to save humans and Ponies without hesitation, so they must be ok with your kind. A species who's members have a code of morals that strong can’t be so bad as your bedtime stories lead you to believe.”

"If you say so..."

She shuddered, then shook her head, sending slightly curled strands of black and violet mane everywhere. "Anywho... Do you have a very special somepony? ...Er... some... human?"

Wrenn’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head, “No. I'm a soldier, not a socializer. I don’t even have a best friend. The only people I even speak to are my squad-mates.”

She looked, for lack of a better word, shocked. Slightly horrified as well, but mostly shocked. The emotion was mirrored in her voice.

"You... don't have any friends? At *all*? That must be horrible. I don't see why *anyone* would want to be a soldier."

Wrenn shook his head, “We aren’t all so bad. We just have the ability to engage in conflict alongside our drive to explore and invent. I’m a byproduct of a world where only the strong, or those who have their protection, survive. Bad guys aren’t in the business of mercy, and killing is just an everyday fact of life.”

Wrenn reached up and rubbed his eyes, as if trying to erase a memory that had been permanently burned there.

Callie looked up at him with the saddest eyes he had ever seen on any species. "That sounds horrible."

Wrenn shrugged, “Well, your kind doesn’t have to deal with that, for better or worse. Unfortunately some of us...” he thumped his chest-plate, “Some of us are diehard warriors. Some of us have seen and done things we can’t completely come back from. That's why I don’t have any friends. It's a protective instinct.”

Wrenn shook himself, “Why am I telling you this? Shouldn’t you be in bed by now?” he glanced at the chronometer display on his left gauntlet, “Its 2 AM. Don’t you sleep?”

"Don't be silly, I don't have a bedtime, I'm practically an adult! However, I promised Cunning and Lark that I'd check in to let them know I was okay... I have to go, but I'll see you around okay soldier-man?" She hopped to the ground and looked back up at him expectantly.

Wrenn shook his head, “I don't know. They might be shipping me out soon. But regardless, it was nice to meet you.” And for the first time in years, Wrenn meant those words when he said them.

"Oh...well, it was nice meeting you too. Remember to smile every so often. It's good for you.” She winked one of those sparkling purple eyes and trotted off, her hair bow bouncing in time to her steps.

Wrenn smiled, shook his head, and muttered quietly to himself for a moment before going back to staring out the window, watching the raindrops trace their endless patterns.