• Published 31st Jan 2016
  • 7,987 Views, 241 Comments

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 4: Common Cause

The next morning passed in a rush. The ponies in school seemed to wake at different times. Lauren and Preston woke among the earliest, along with many of the others with wings. Despite waking just before dawn, Lauren didn’t feel tired. Preston didn’t seem to either.

Fortunately for them, there were enough other winged ponies that someone had been called to organize breakfast. For everything else that had changed since yesterday, cereal with milk still tasted as bland as ever. There was at least one good thing about being smaller: they didn’t eat much.

By the time everyone else started waking, Lauren and Preston were the first into the shower, long before the hot water ran out. They learned that morning just how awful soap tasted. Fortunately, she had a wonderfully helpful little sister and neither of them seemed to fully understand what should have been embarrassing about it. That fact proved a general trend, as even more of her fellow students abandoned ill-fitting clothing for the nudity that felt so natural in these bodies. Hats, scarves, and other accessories were common, but few of the ponies she saw bothered with much more.

By early afternoon, she finally got her chance to spend time with her school friends. They couldn’t leave the building and there were no classes, but that didn’t mean there weren’t interesting things to do. Chief among those was watching the activity outside the building, which clearly hadn’t slowed even when the ponies within had gone to bed.

People swarmed outside the building. Lauren recognized the national guard when she saw them, and wasn’t surprised to see several different cities worth of hazardous materials people. One night was all it took for a second fence to be erected around the building, towering over her and nearly as high as the school itself in places. One of the athletic fields had been transformed into a command post, with a huge “inflated” building and dozens of armed men all around.

From every window in the building it looked like the roads into campus had been closed. No parents snuck onto campus, despite the faith some of the younger students seemed to have that theirs might “come for them.” As though this transformation wasn’t still contagious.

Lauren had no delusions that her parents might be “taking her away” or showing up to “make things better.” Gone were the years when she thought all adults were infallible aliens who had the answers to any questions that troubled her. She had thought for sure those years were gone for her friends too… not so. Being transformed appeared to include baggage.

By mid-afternoon, Lauren found herself again in the gym, this time perched awkwardly on the edge of the bleachers. Thank God the gym had a set of retractable bleachers; there was no way they would’ve been able to set up enough folding chairs for everyone. They had struggled just to get the ten set up for the school’s office staff and other leaders.

“Preston!” She stood up suddenly, waving down at the filly. “I’m right here!” She had never sat with her brother at assemblies, not before. Now, though, the poor little filly seemed far more shy than she had been, too shy even to spend time with her friends. Hopefully she would adjust to that. In any case, her shouting worked, and Lauren watched her younger sister make her way up the steps, having to pause and take each one with care. The stairs were another godsend: humans could easily climb bleachers, but at their size even the stairs were a little too much. “Hey you piles, scoot over. My brother’s coming.” She shoved, and her friends begrudgingly made an opening.

Preston hopped up beside her, wings spreading instinctively as she jumped. It was hard to tell for sure, but it looked like she got slightly more air than she ought to. “Do you know what this assembly’s about?” Her brother didn’t sit down right away, and instead spent a few moments looking around them. She seemed interested by what she saw.

Lauren couldn’t see anything. Just the big projector screen against the far wall, the same old speaker-system, and bleachers full of colorful horses. Nothing to see here. Of course, she wasn’t supposed to say what this was about, but… it was about to start anyway. She lowered her voice, leaning close to her sister’s ear. “The President is going to speak to the country. About the attacks. You know it wasn’t just us, right?”

She nodded, though she never met Lauren’s eyes. Her new sister still seemed fascinated by the crowd itself. “Thousands of different attacks, right? All over the country. That’s what ponies have been saying.”

“Ponies?”

“Well that’s what we are, aren’t we?” She sat down. “We’re not humans anymore. Just look around.”

She did. “It doesn’t seem that different. Same… Same friends, mostly. Same loud conversations. Same people screwing around on their phones.” Much slower, though. There was a rumor that metal foil could be used on the touchscreen. Given that nobody had hands, her fellow students had already discovered a solution: wrap foil around the butt-end of a pen and use it in your mouth like a stylus. Lauren hadn’t tried herself; her phone had died earlier that day, and she didn’t have a charger. The few students who did were charging for their use. She didn’t see much of a point, when the cell-lines were too crowded to get a call through most of the time anyway.

“Really? Look at how everypony’s sitting! We normally spread out in the bleachers, right?”

“Everypony,” Lauren repeated, voice flat. “Every pony? That’s stupid. It’s not like the word was every-human before.”

Her sister ignored her. “We’re all sitting together this time. Most of the bleachers are empty. It’s like… a herd of wild horses, looking out for predators. Nobody wants to be outside the group.”

“You’re overthinking things again, Preston.” She leaned down, nuzzling the top of her sister’s head. “There was just a disaster, alright? We’re scared, we’re missing our families… I think it would be this way even if nobody had been changed into anything. It’s more that a natural disaster is more important than teenage angst.”

“I guess. I still–”

Presten was interrupted by voices from the ground, as the principal rose to his hooves on a little platform in the center of the room. It didn’t take ten seconds for everyone to shut up and let him speak. His speech wasn’t long, just long enough to explain the nature of the disaster again in brief and announce the fact that the President of the United States was about to broadcast his official response. He sat back down, and somebody turned on the projector.

The room was almost silent as the far wall filled with an image of the White House lawn. A formal stage was already set-up, already filled with most of the important political people. Seeing human figures again might’ve been a surreal experience, had Lauren not spent her afternoon watching them through the window. The usual politicos were there, though the population on the platform below seemed heavily populated with generals and other military representatives. The President alone was absent, though there was a colorful little countdown on the top of the screen. There were less than thirty seconds left, and still no president. It was strange, though she couldn’t have said exactly why she thought so. They didn’t stare at the silent transmission for very long; just as the countdown ended the President’s voice began.

“My Fellow Americans. Today we gather as a nation to mourn–” and so it began. The speech proceeded much as many such speeches had in the past. Lauren found herself taken in by the charisma and skill of the delivery, so much she almost didn’t notice the slight differences in the voice. The podium remained empty.

The president recounted the basic details of the attacks, confirming the massive scale of the operation. There had evidently been hundreds of distinct strikes, targeting the largest, densest population centers in the country along with a number of some strategic and national-defense areas. No, he didn’t know how many people had been affected, though thanks to whatever had happened in Times Square the number was in the millions.

That was when the president actually appeared on screen. The stage and the lawn vanished, replaced with what Lauren took to be the oval office. Only thick plastic had been put up lining all the walls, and every human in the room wore a black hazmat suit. It wasn’t just humans in the room. The president stood at a podium, small enough that it was actually sitting on his desk. Even with that height advantage, he was still a foot shorter than the humans around him.

The President of the United States was a pony. Lauren found herself impressed at how fast he had found a tailored suit. He was probably going for dignified, but she couldn’t help thinking “adorable” instead. Part of that was probably that his mane looked exactly the same as his hair had in some of the other pictures she had seen. “Those who haven’t seen the effects of these attacks on social media now see their results first hand.” He raised a hoof for emphasis, staring right into the camera. How did he look at the whole country without looking even a little bit embarrassed?

The broadcast changed to show a medical lab, with a respectable-looking doctor facing the camera. She also wore a hazmat suit, though it had been made clear so that her coat was visible underneath. Behind her on an examination table were four adult ponies, matching each type Lauren had seen and one she hadn’t.

The ponies, naked and looking far more embarrassed to be on display, cooperated with the doctor as she explained each one in turn. Yes, the ones without wings or horns had superhuman strength. Yes, the “unicorns” really could levitate things, though she suggested people not actually try it, since it also seemed to be able to do other things, such as start spontaneous fires. Both the other kinds had wings. One was a pegasus pony like Lauren. There was another, possessed of the same lean body but with batlike wings of skin instead of feathery like a bird. Despite what biology suggested, members of both races had been observed flying. She suggested people avoid trying, since they also seemed to have hollow bird bones and probably wouldn’t survive a serious crash.

The doctor explained a few more useful details: the transformation seemed to take between ten minutes and two hours, depending on how the individual was exposed. Symptoms began with a sensation of heat or pressure in the area first exposed, and progressed very rapidly from that point. Once the process is complete, infected individuals spread the infection via some airborne mechanism, though she said they did not actually know what the mechanism was yet.

The doctor also explained what they already knew: either the transformation process affected apparent age or else these new beings experienced the process differently, because there appeared to be no meaningful biological difference between someone who had been twenty and someone who had been sixty.

This done, the feed of the president returned. “Of course, we still have a great deal to figure out. We’ve got the best people working on this, and I promise we’ll get the information out to folks as soon as we know it.”

Preston frowned at the screen, whispering in her ear. “He hasn’t said anything about changing us back. I bet they don’t know how.”

The broadcast continued. “For the next week, we’ve frozen most public services. Schools, the mail, and every government office not connected to intelligence or defense. I advise all citizens to spend as little time in public as possible, and wear masks at all times. Do not touch an infected person, even a loved one. While apparently not fatal, we still do not understand the nature of this infection.”

“Many have asked how such a large attack was possible. We still understand very little about the people responsible. What we know with certainty is the attackers were very well coordinated, as all the attacks we know of took place within twenty minutes of each other. Several of the attackers we captured believed they were distributing smallpox.”

“I assure you all, my fellow Americans, that every measure is being taken to prevent future attacks, and to repair the lives of those who have been hurt.” He continued, though he didn’t have much more to say. A few more patriotic lines, then the transmission ended.

“They don’t know. Thousands of attacks, and they don’t know who’s responsible.” Preston stared down at her hooves, ears flat. “No timeline on if they can cure whatever’s happened to us, either. What a waste of time.”

“What were they supposed to do?” Lauren frowned, watching Preston. “It’s been one day. You think they’d know if this could be reversed that soon?”

“Well… I guess not. I guess I just hoped…” She didn’t finish, and Lauren didn’t really need her to.

“Me too.” She sat up. “Hey, you know how they’re giving all of us phone calls home later? We should go at the same time, so we can go for twice as long!”

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