• Published 31st Jan 2016
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Casualties - Starscribe



A terrorist attack on a suburban high school has unexpected consequences. Instead of hurting anyone, every person inside is changed into a pony.

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Chapter 3: Shared Suffering

Lauren wasn’t stopped and asked to explain herself by any of the supervising “ponies”. After seeing what had happened to her brother, she tried to see if her condition had been common. Though she couldn’t tell for sure at a glance as easily with these new bodies, it didn’t smell like there were very many stallions in the room. That was the word for a male horse, wasn’t it?

The trend continued as she crossed the hall into the classroom where many of the office staff were congregating. The space had been transformed into a sort of command post. Another pony wore a policeman’s cap, though this one wore a pair of gigantic pants and no gun belt. Even among the office staff Lauren saw no sign of ponies older than she was. At least the adults hadn’t suffered anything like the freshman and actually gotten younger.

“Excuse me,” she said, over the quiet murmur of voices. “Is Mr. Ortega here?” Ortega was one of the school’s administrators, the one who gave her instructions and was technically listed as her “teacher” during periods she was in the office.

She counted nine ponies in the classroom, which counted for each of the office staff, plus two. One was the policeman, the other was a shape she could only barely see, sobbing into the corner and not looking up. The one she took for a policeman never moved more than a few feet away, and never took her eyes from the stallion. The same stallion that had kicked a door down earlier and started the change on her!

“That’s me,” a wingless, hornless pony said, pushing away from a table covered in squawking walkie-talkies. He looked her up and down. “Lauren?”

“How’d you know?” She blushed, forcing her wings to fold back against her sides. Unfortunately, the more she thought about them the more stubborn they resisted, folding awkwardly and unevenly.

“You’re the only one we’re still missing.” He hopped back up onto the chair. He jumped with a fair amount of dexterity, and sat down again as an animal might. “I’d have liked your help getting all the entrances locked up, but that’s done now. You can go back to be with the others.”

Lauren could barely see his face over the table, so she pulled out another chair with her teeth, took a few steps back, and leapt up, looking at her instructor. Just as with her “brother,” she felt as though she could see something of the man’s face beneath the fur and animal shape. Unless it was just her imagination. Ortega hadn’t even asked where she had been all this time. Clearly he had more important things on his mind.

“I missed the part where we learned what happened,” she said, trying not to sound intrusive. “What happened to us? What’s going to happen?”

Ortega had always been kind, and he showed no sign of annoyance now despite all he was doing. He set down the pencil he had been holding in his mouth. “Second one’s simpler. We’re going to have to stay here. It’s…” He glanced once at the stallion in the corner before continuing. “We aren’t the only place where this happened. College campuses, shopping malls… last broadcast said there were around a hundred sites, all over the country, and a dozen or so in Canada.”

“Until we know more about what’s happened, none of us can leave. The Red Cross has disaster relief supplies on the way. We’ll all have to live here. Until they can figure out what makes this…” he gestured around the room, “contagious.”

She nodded. The weight of her situation seemed to hover on the edge of her perception, threatening to crash down on her and render her a gibbering heap. Only the crash never came. She felt sad that she wasn’t going to see her parents, but thought immediately to all the friends locked into the school, and her brother who needed her. The pain faded to a manageable level, nothing more than the faint twinge of heartache. “But what caused it?” She lowered her voice to a whisper, staring at the stallion she had seen this morning. “Was it him?”

Ortega nodded his silvery mane. At the sudden hush, Lauren found herself suddenly able to make out what he was saying. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

“Similar story everywhere it happened. This morning, that kid looked like anyone else. Isn’t a student here, but he was the right age that nobody noticed. Dumped some kind of… slime… all over the school. After infecting himself, that is. We caught him smearing the stuff into a vent.” He smiled. “We thought it was mayonnaise at first.”

How anyone could smile at a time like this Lauren didn’t know. Yet she found herself smiling too, in spite of herself. It didn't last long, though. “So it was some kind of… what, bioterrorism?”

He nodded. “That’s what the media is calling it.” He lowered his voice again. “You didn’t hear this from me Lauren, but I don’t think he expected to live. Some of the things he was saying earlier…” He trailed off, glanced once over his shoulder, then shook his head. “Never mind. Now that I know what you look like, I’ll be sure to get you if we need you.”

“There isn’t anything I can do to help?”

Ortega smiled. “Thanks Lauren, but I can’t think of anything right now. Mostly we’re playing the waiting game. When the supplies get here, you come back. We’ll probably be able to use you then.”

It took until well after nightfall, which would’ve been much worse if they hadn’t been able to get the power on before then. Lauren helped some of the teachers and faculty clear out classrooms for sleeping areas. They sorted only by sex, which post-transformation meant two classrooms for males and the rest for females.

Lauren had really wanted to spend the night with her friends in ASB, like a surprise field trip… but then she had seen how nervous Preston was, and how unwilling she seemed to approach any female friends her own age. Lauren refused to let her own family remain in such need, so took her by the hoof and wandered until they found an empty corner in a classroom few were using. They spread their white red cross sleeping bags on the floor beside one another and crawled in as someone flipped off the light.

It was another one of those little reminders of just how small they were, what with two desks able to cover them both comfortably. Had either one of them stood, their heads would not have touched the underside of the desks. Lauren was grateful nobody had stuck gum to them. The sleeping bags themselves were another reminder: though made for one, Lauren felt like she was wrapped in an oversized quilt. The presence of the desk-legs around her made her feel a little more secure, though not as much as the warmth and smell of Preston’s body just above her head. Evidently ponies were not meant to sleep alone.

There wasn’t much noise in this room. Evidently it was one of the few ponies had chosen to actually sleep in. Lauren heard chattering through walls on either side, and she suspected it might be going on much of the night.

“Thanks for helping me,” Preston whispered, looking up to meet Lauren. “I wasn’t looking forward–”

“I know. What kind of an elder sister would I be if I abandoned you?”

Preston didn’t answer for a minute. “Do you think we’ll be able to fly? These wings look small, but… hummingbirds have small wings, and they fly.”

She giggled, muffling her voice against the pillow. “I don’t think our wings are meant to work like that, but… yeah, I think we can. Else, why have ‘em?”

“Penguins don’t fly.”

“They use theirs to swim!” she protested, grinning. “Do ours look like they’re for swimming?”

“What about ostriches?”

“I think shrinking you just concentrated the nerd.” She reached up, above her head, tapping Preston on the shoulder with a hoof. She was careful not to hit too hard, since she still didn’t know just how hard a hoof could strike.

“I was only bringing up animals ‘cuz you–”

“Yeah, I get it. I stand by it. I feel like I can fly! Or… I ought to be able to fly. Don’t you?”

Preston’s answer took several minutes, so long that Lauren had started to drift. “I do,” she eventually said. “But I feel lots of things I shouldn’t.”

“And we don’t feel things we should,” she agreed. “Was there screaming and panicking earlier? Nobody looked hurt…”

“Heck yeah. I think somebody almost got trampled when things started. Lots of people tried to get away, but nobody got far. My class was a madhouse, people thrashing and choking…” She shivered. “But when we changed, it got better. That’s what disturbs me.” She lowered her voice even more, so that it was nothing more than a faint whisper. “Nobody trips when they walk. Only a few freaked out enough that they had to be taken away. Most of us…” She shrugged. “Everything got taken away from us. We should be furious! Or… depressed. I don’t feel like either one, and I know I should.”

Lauren looked up at her sister in time to see her tap the side of her head with a hoof. “It’s not just our bodies. It’s in here. It’s got to be. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.” Preston shivered all over, whimpering. “If… If we changed that much, am I even still me? Or…” She took a sniffling breath, then started to cry. “Or did Preston die? I’m just the… just the monster that thinks she’s Preston. I’m just the vector to spread the infection, just–”

Lauren would hear no more. She twisted in her sleeping bag, sliding along the ground so that she was beside Preston instead of above her. She had to squeeze in close to make them both fit, but that was the point. She reached out with both forelegs and held her sister close. “Shh, shh! You’re too smart for your own good, kid. I think you’ve been thinking too much.” She stroked her back, just as she would’ve done with a small child. She felt her sister’s quivering form, the way her wings twitched with every sob.

Preston had been as wary about his “personal space” as any male teenager. Only now she didn’t seem to mind, burying her small face in her sister’s chest and weeping openly. Lauren found the tears contagious: she cried right along. Even if she didn’t fully understand what her sister implied, even if she didn’t really share her discomfort: it was enough to know that someone she loved was in distress.

“Forget about th-that,” she whispered. “We don’t know enough. Let’s wait until we know the facts, ‘kay filly? We can save the tears for after we’re sure. I don’t know about any of what you said, but I know you’re Preston. That’s all that matters to me.”

The little pony eventually calmed down, blinking away tears. “Where’d you get that word? Isn’t a filly…”

“Yeah.” She blushed. “Sorry. I… didn’t even think about it.” She patted Preston on the head. “I didn’t mean anything. You can stay my little brother. I know that’s what you probably want.” She gave one last hug, then returned to her own sleeping bag.

When Preston finally responded, it was in a faint whisper. “I only… thanks, Lauren. You’re the best big sister ever.”

“Duh.” She yawned. “Could’ve… told you that…”

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