• Published 24th Jun 2012
  • 7,018 Views, 540 Comments

The Conversion Bureau: Tales Of Los Pegasus - Chatoyance



Formerly Los Angeles, The Equestrian Barrier approaches. Both Newfoals and the last humans prepare.

  • ...
 540
 7,018

Cuatro: The City In Black

The
CONVERSION
►Bureau

Tales Of Los Pegasus

──────

4. The City In Black
By Chatoyance
Special thanks to Dalton Trumbo

Johnny felt the tingle on the little spot on his cheek. That was magic, he recognized it now. The ceiling above him approached, and he realized he was being floated once more. Was this the second or the third time? They did it three times a day. The color of the soft glow in front of his eyes told him it was the New day nurse, his favorite. The Regular day nurse was compassionate - they were all compassionate, they couldn't help but be, considering - but the New day nurse was special. She talked to him like he was her special friend.

Johnny floated there, closer to the ceiling for a fair time. He had gotten quite familiar with the ceiling, and the designs and beautiful inlaid wood work were old friends now. Almost over him was a large sun pattern, the symbol of Celestia, done in two different types of wood. Around that were inlaid metal swirls that likely represented either clouds or wind, it was hard to say. This close to the surface, Johnny searched for and found the little error, where the metal design didn't quite align with the wood. It was gorgeous work, but even unicorns weren't perfect. Johnny had overheard some member of the staff talking about how the facility had been built. Unicorns did the fancy details, because they could use magic to shape and form things in ways no other pony could.

Johnny presumed the job of cleaning him must be over, because now he was floating down again. "There we go, see? All better now! Ooh! Would you like a change of scene? I bet you would, I know I would. I could put you by the window for a while, would that be fun? I would get so tired of just the ceiling, if it were me. I mean, the ceiling is beautiful, they did such a good job, but seeing trees and flowers and animals is just so much better, don't you think?"

Johnny was floating again, the soft pink energy once again tinting his view. He wished he could see the nurse. Ah - he must be in the chair. He assumed it was a chair, because he was upright. A large, oval window, crossed by a few branch-like dividers presented itself. The ponies loved their naturalistic aesthetic. That was one thing about the ponies, everything they built was beautiful and filled with character. Magic made everything so much easier, probably even the work-prisons looked like palaces. Did ponies have work-prisons? No, no that was stupid. Ponies would never make an industry out of incarceration. They probably didn't even incarcerate at all. Well, except for... no. This wasn't incarceration, even if it felt like it. It was just caring. Like they always did.

Outside the oval window, the view was strikingly Earthlike. The facility was deep in the Everfree, a strange forest where the normal Equestrian physics broke down and even failed altogether. It was the closest thing to Earth within Equestria. It was a place where the weather functioned on its own, where plants grew without earthpony magic, where strange and terrible creatures did strange and terrible things, just like the wild ecologies of ancient Earth. It was the one place where the princesses could erect a bubble that kept the deadly magic out.

Johnny could see several trees, the leaves blowing in a breeze that must have just happened on its own. No pegasus would dare to try to control the weather here. Beyond the trees, Johnny could see the anti-magic barrier, crackling and sparking in the distance. That was the only thing keeping him, and all the rest of the last humans alive, now that the Earth was gone. How long had it been? Years, several years, certainly. A decade? It was hard to know anymore. A long time. Such... a long time. And such a long time to go. Oh, sweet Jesus in heaven... such a long, long time to go.

"Aww! You do like the forest! I do too! I completely understand. Here! Let me wipe your eyes... such a poetic soul you are. There, there..."

Johnny Gocher-Gunn was a strong man, a brave man, a man of sure words and firm action. The Gocher side of the family had been involved in construction, long, long ago, while the Gunn side were distantly related to a hollywood writer of the pre-Collapse era, James Gunn, the author of 'Deadlier Than a Male', which had been made into the movie 'Born to Kill'. Johnny's roots in Hollywood went way back, and he saw Los Angeles in a special way. Los Angeles was his city, the city of his family, and in a strange way, he felt he owned a bit of it, and that the city owned a little bit of him in return.

Johnny knew all the historic places. He had traced them down from ancient records, the places where old movies had been made, where famous theatres had stood, or still remained, repurposed. He knew where the old stars had lived, and he knew the history of his beloved city. Los Angeles was history, every bit of it, every star on the sidewalk, every dead, dry palm tree, every broken ruin had a story to tell. Here was where the myths and stories that had shaped the world had been created. Here was where humanity itself had birthed their celluloid - and later digital - dreams. Los Angeles was every movie, every show, every dream, shipped out to the rest of the planet, informing the media of countless cultures. Los Angeles was the secret soul of Man.

And Johnny could not abide the fact that Los Angeles had come to be called Los Pegasus. It killed him inside, it burned deep like a belly full of razor blades and Cholula sauce. The ponies. The damn, fucking ponies.

At first, he had been a fan. When the bubble in the sea was announced to the world, Johnny had cheered. It was science fiction coming true. Alien universes, a cosmos in collision. When the aliens turned out to be brightly colored quadrupeds that vaguely resembled earthly equines, that was even better. This was Wizard Of Oz stuff, the aliens were friendly, and they had strange powers and sang songs and told stories - nothing could be better.

Even when it became clear that the alien universe seemed to be expanding, Johnny had not feared - this was science fiction, and in the end technology would provide the solution, it was only a matter of time. But when it became clear that there was no simple answer, that science and technology were helpless against this expanding cosmos, Johnny had leaped at the thought of space. Finally, this would push Man out of the cradle and into the stars. He had thanked Equestria, in his mind, for the push.

But it didn't work out that way. There had never been any real profit in space, near orbit, certainly, but not space, not the moon or mars. Those in power saw no benefit to colonizing other worlds, they never had. The cost was far too great, with no five-year plan for profit. And now the resources simply weren't there. Not enough fuel, not enough credits, not enough rare metals, not enough petrochemicals, not enough anything. And even if ships could be built, who could go? A few hundred of the elite, the rich, the powerful? Space had been squandered, and now it was too late.

Because they only had seven years. Seven years from the moment the bubble was first spotted until the bubble would be all that there was, and the earth would be gone. Space... was an impossibility.

The strange universe of the aliens was deadly to humans, so humans could never cross into it. The planet would be destroyed and there was no place to go. But humans had once created nanotechnology that could reshape flesh. The promise had died, though, when it became clear that the microscopic machines released too much heat. They would cook whatever they altered. Nanotech was useful only for making food and goods.

But the aliens wanted to help. They had the problem, of heat covered - thanks to their strange energies, magic. It was called magic, what else could it be called? It violated all the laws of Earthly physics. And it could be used to power the nanomachines in such a way that they produced no heat. They worked faster, too. They became the miracle that they had once promised to be, overnight.

But there was a catch, there is always a catch. The only way to make humans safe was to make them like the native species of the expanding cosmos. Humans had to become... them. And that was the point where Johnny Gocher-Gunn, son of Bill Gocher and Mary Gocher, could no longer follow. If humanity couldn't remain human, then that was no salvation. A pony - they had been called 'ponies' the aliens, their own name for themselves couldn't even be said by human tongues - a pony is not a man, and no amount of nanotech or scientific babble could change that.

But nobody wanted to die, and nobody had any other answer, so the Bureaus finally opened, and that was the beginning of the end of mankind. Johnny wasn't especially educated, he couldn't understand all the reasons given for why it was so damn impossible to stop another universe with the technology at hand, but he damn well figured they should spend every last second of the remaining six years trying to find an answer, instead of just giving in to an easy, obvious fix. Becoming alien was not an answer, it was escape. It was too much change in too short of a time. It was giving up out of desperation.

Better to die, proudly, on two legs, than crawl to dubious comfort on four.

Johnny hadn't expected to join the Human Liberation Front. He didn't agree with Conversion, or with the Bureaus, but he did not bear the actual aliens, the 'Equestrians' any ill will. Equestrians were a kindly lot, and they were not violent, they were always polite, and they were honest to a fault. The 'Newfoals', as converted humans had been named, shared in all of these traits and sometimes more - like the new immigrants they were, they often tried harder than the native Equestrians to show their loyalty to their new nation, their new universe. Conversion wasn't just a change of species, it was the very act of renouncing citizenship of Earth and swearing loyalty to Equestria. Humans belonged to Earth and its government, ponies belonged to Equestria and its diarchy. That was how things worked. That was the only way things could be.

Johnny had once talked to a neighbor who had gotten converted with his wife and little girl. They had met a pegasus in a park and it had precipitated their decision. They had moved away to a new home more suited to their new bodies, but had come to say goodbye before they left.

Johnny had asked the newly-minted unicorn stallion that had been his next door neighbor, about his change of citizenship, and for that matter, religion.

"Well, Earth has nothing for me any more. Earth laws and rules don't make much sense for a pony for the most part. But most of all there is Celestia and Luna!"

Somehow the blue unicorn seemed to think this answered everything. It did not satisfy Johnny.

"I spent my life believing in things just because I was told they were true. But I met the princesses, and I experienced what really having a soul means. In all of my years as a human, 'god' was just a word. But the princesses are there and anypony can talk to them. You have to make an appointment, but that's only reasonable - they've got to be pretty busy, right?

"Plus, all Newfoals get to meet the princesses as part of the conversion process! They say it's a boon for humans having to convert to survive. I can't imagine any pony ever preferring mortal ponies or humans ruling them, and I can't imagine anypony ever settling for a god on paper when they can have two actual, real goddesses that you can sit down with and talk to! Nothing beats real, Johnny, nothing in either world!"

Johnny had shaken his head and waved the new pony family off as they boarded a pegasus-drawn chariot to their new home. All the Newfoals talked like that, or so he'd been told. Meeting those princesses was apparently so profound it changed their lives permanently.

Johnny had looked at the sky and couldn't help but wonder. If there was ever a time that the sky should have split open and Jesus or Jehovah or Allah or Buddha or Zeus or SOME Earthly deity should ever decide to descend and make his presence known, this was surely it. The end of the world, according to all the scientists and the government too. Ponies weren't in the Bible or the Koran or any other holy book Johnny knew of. All the prophets seemed to have missed Equestria in their visions of the future. Johnny had waited there, on the steps, for some sign. For the sky to open up, for something. Maybe the ponies were right. Maybe Earth really didn't have any magic. And without any magic in the world, how could there be any gods?

Over the weeks, that thought bothered Johnny more and more. Equestria wasn't just gobbling up the planet, it wasn't just forcing humans to turn into aliens, it was making it hard to keep believing in human things anymore. What government could compete with twin goddess-princesses? What holy book could compete with commonplace, everyday miracles? It was hard to get excited about Jesus whistling up fishes and loaves when the unicorn in the local diner could poach eggs in a floating ball of boiling water just for the fun of it. The mere existence of Equestria had made a mockery of every bit of human history, every human achievement, every human thought or work.

Oh, they said they were preserving human culture - translating books and finding ways to take human music and human movies into Equestria. But what would the ponies choose? It was a fair bet that anything that wasn't sweet, romantic, pretty or gentle would be left behind. Oh, children's cartoons would survive, but Johnny seriously doubted that The Godfather would make it. Humanity would be remembered by Winnie The Pooh and Kiki's Delivery Service, but Kill Bill would die with the planet. No pony could stand Tarantino. They felt too much compassion for the characters. They couldn't accept that talking things over was not the solution to everything.

Or so Johnny had once believed. Now... now he knew he had been wrong. So very, very wrong.

It was feeding time. Johnny had mixed feelings about feeding time. On one hand, he looked forward to it because of the patch on his tongue. The Feeding Unicorn tried to be careful to stream the liquid mixture across his tongue as it went down his throat and into his belly, but there was no way Johnny could tell the talented stallion where the patch on his tongue was that still worked. Sometimes he would get a burst of taste, of flavor, of touch as the food made contact, and sometimes it just went on by. There were several places Johnny could feel things. The patch on his cheek, his eyes, although he couldn't move them, he could feel them. He was very grateful for whatever they had done to keep his eyes wet, since he couldn't blink. When it first happened, his eyes had stung so bad for so long.

There was something with tomato in tonight's offering. Johnny used to not like tomato, but now, well now anything was a treat. There! There was another burst of flavor and sensation. Oh, that was good. But it also hurt, it hurt every time. Not physical pain, it hurt because it made Johnny feel like a baby. He certainly was as helpless as one. He couldn't move, not a muscle, not a twitch anywhere in his whole body. He couldn't blink or roll his eyes. If it weren't for some kind of spell put on him, he wouldn't be able to breath. But that had been attended to, with all the effectiveness of human machines, only pony style. Magic was their technology, and it served them very, very well.

In a way, he should be grateful. In a human hospital - if he had been able to afford it, of course - he would never have received such kind and constant attention. He would have been hooked up to machines and pretty much left alone, except when something truly demanded effort. He doubted anyone would have regularly propped him up to watch the forest, or tried to make sure the food touched his tongue. He would have been fed with a tube in a human hospital. But then human hospitals hadn't had unicorns that could levitate a stream of nutrition down a throat without causing the choking reflex.

Of course, the point was moot. There weren't any human hospitals anymore, because there wasn't an Earth anymore, and hadn't been for a very long time. Time was the enemy now, Johnny thought. Time was the most terrible enemy he had ever known, and even that had been extended. The ponies had thought they were being kind. They couldn't fix him - well, except for one treatment and it was too late for that - so they had done what they could. They gave him a longer than human lifespan. He could live as long as two hundred years, they had told him, beaming while they said it. Not as long as an Equestrian, but still better than any human had ever known. They had seemed so sad they couldn't do better for him, when they said that. As though he would actually want the extra hundred years, as though they had disappointed him.

The feeding was over. "I truly hoped you enjoyed that, Mr. Gocher-Gunn! The kitchen staff really works hard to make the tastiest things they can for all of you. Please have a pleasant evening. And sweet dreams!" The unicorn was so happy, so friendly, so upbeat. They all were, perfect little angels, every one of them. They tried so hard, every day, every hour.

The unicorn's head exploded in a star of pink, red, gray and the shining white of bone. Johnny quickly reloaded his Kimber Valier 20 gauge, and drew an immediate bead on the fleeing mare. The first shell took a hind leg and brought her to ground, but driven by fear she was immune to pain. She was up, trying to limp away on her three remaining hooves. She had made enough distance now that the shotgun was insufficient. Johnny switched to his Ruger, the 204 being a favorite. The pistol barked as he aimed with a steadied grip. The bright yellow mare was on the gravel now, shaking and quivering as if she had a vibrator stuffed up her ass.

As Johnny waited for any other target to show, the yellow pony kept vibrating. She just wouldn't stop shaking, if anything it seemed to be getting more and more violent. Perhaps she was having seizures over there. Johnny couldn't keep from glancing over to her. She wasn't making any sounds, not beyond the scrape of what was left of her body stirring the gravel, and the rapid but soft gasps of her breathing. He felt himself suddenly glad he couldn't see her expression - she had landed facing away from him.

Bohnam gave Johnny a pat on the back as he crouched down next to him. "How we doin'?" Dalton Bonham was assigned to the same HLF unit as Johnny. He seemed to like Johnny, though the feeling wasn't entirely mutual. Bonham was not exactly the most... cultured... individual. "Daaaamn... what have we here?" Bonham had noticed the twitching earthpony.

"I bet..." Bonham sounded as if he were contemplating the eternal verities "I bet that if you stuck your tool in that, it would feel like magic. Get it? Magic. Because they're magic, right? Right?" Bonham had a thing for humiliating and degrading his targets, which was only just one reason Johnny didn't prefer his company. If you had a job to do, do it clean and sharp. But not Bonham. Already the man was loosening his belt.

Johnny put a hand on Dalton's shoulder. "Hey, why not?" Bonham was upset "It's not like we're in any danger here. I could jump one of these things in the middle of one of their markets, and they'd just cry and complain. Boo hoo! So you miss a few kills, give a boy a break!"

Johnny stared at his comrade. He removed his hand. "All right! Be back in a few minutes. This should be hilarious!"

Johnny took careful aim with his Ruger. The yellow mare stopped quivering.

"Goddammit!" Bonham was pissed. "You broke my toy!"

He had stopped screaming inside his head hours ago. It was pointless. Everything was pointless, now. He couldn't move, he couldn't feel. He could still see, but he couldn't move his eyes. They had finally stopped stinging, oh, sweet Jesus thank you for that. The ponies had done something to keep them perpetually wet. Some spell or magic or something. There was a place along the side of his tongue that itched, only he couldn't do anything about it. It was the only thing he could feel, aside from a part of his right cheek and his eyes, and it itched. It was maddening.

A soft brown muzzle entered his vision. It was a unicorn doctor of some kind, wearing a stethoscope and a laboratory species of white coat. It was almost comical - a pony in a coat! Johnny tried to laugh, but nothing happened.

"...um, Johnny, is it? Yes. I'm here to explain your situation to you, and... I'll be frank, it's pretty serious. You're not in any danger of dying, so that's the good news. We have you stabilized, we've got thaumatic adjuncts to keep you breathing and to take care of those functions you can't do on your own, such as keeping your eyes moist. So you're not going to die."

Johnny knew what was coming, he knew what that stinking race traitor Newfoal doctor was going to say. Potion. It would be potion, the damn alien's answer to everything. They would force potion on him, it was only a matter of time. Johnny wanted to scream, to yell, to kick the filthy monster right in his god-damned snout.

"The fact is that you have sustained severe damage to your brain-stem as a result of blunt trauma. Our best unicorns have traced the nerves inside you, and we've determined that you are what we call 'Locked In'. What this means is that none of the signals from your motor complex, in your brain, can reach any part of your body. That's why you can't move. But more than that, you've also suffered additional damage that has severed the ability to receive sensation from about nighty-eight percent of your body. According to our best scanner, Mindsight, you have some function in your tongue, eyes, and face, right side, lateral. No movement, but some sensation. Does this seem about correct?"

The stupid moron. There was no way for Johnny to respond.

"Oh, actually... let's see... you do have one other... apparently you still have nearly full connection to the sternocleidomastoid. It's a muscle in your neck, on the side. The left side, but you don't seem to have sensation, so... you can potentially move it, but you can't feel that it is there, which presents a bit of a problem. Do you think you could try to move it? Don't worry - our medical unicorns have done a complete healing on you, at least as much as can be done. There are things we just can't fix in a human, because that much magic would literally kill the very tissues we are trying to repair. That's the trade off, really. But you won't injure yourself further if you try, is what I am trying to say. You are as repaired as you possibly can be, right now.

Can you give it a go for me? Just try to concentrate on the idea, the effort of moving your neck to the left. Try to touch your shoulder with your head. Lay your head on your left shoulder, if you can. Just move your head left... anything like that."

Johnny tried. He tried as hard as he could. Left. Left. LEFT! but nothing happened. He could tell because of the look on the unicorn doctor's muzzle. The unicorn shook his head and left Johnny's field of view.

"It appears that you have no means whatsoever to communicate your wishes to us. That is a problem. As you might have guessed, we do know you are in there, awake and fully conscious, so have no fear of being stripped down for your organs. We wouldn't allow that in any case, even considering... your... circumstances." There was a tone of malice in that last part. It was a sound Johnny had never heard from a pony before.

"Ah, we are alone for the moment." The face of the Newfoal doctor re-entered Johnny's field of view once more. It did not look particularly friendly. "You are a very fortunate human, mister Gocher-Gunn. Johnny, is it not? You were found within the four-minute window before brain damage begins. Lucky you, in deciding to attack a mixed-species medical clinic. I presume you and your... associates... thought we were a Conversion Bureau, didn't you? Well, you were wrong. We're just a clinic. We set broken bones and help young mothers with their foals. A medical clinic, mister Gocher-Gunn."

The looming countenance of the pony doctor came close, his muzzle inches from Johnny's insensitive nose. Johnny could smell hay, cinnamon buns and coffee on the doctor's breath. For the first time, he noticed the doctor had red eyes and puffy eyelids, as though he had been crying.

"Let me tell you something, Johnny. Today has been a little difficult for me." The stallion in his face fell speechless, and had to swallow hard. Johnny could see the doctor's eyes watering up, shining in the light. "My..." Again the doctor fell silent and appeared to struggle for a moment. A hardness came over him, and his jaw set, the muscles bulging in his pony face. "My wife," now the doctor was icy calm "was coming to visit me today with my brother. We were going to go to lunch together, just a friendly thing, our Wednesday get-together.

"They didn't make it. Apparently some humans with guns, members of the HLF, were hiding behind the broken wall on the other side of the street. They shot my brother, then picked my..." The ice began to crack "... my wife apart, and then shot her on the ground. She was a beautiful yellow mare... maybe you happened to see her?" The doctor studied Johnny's paralyzed, immobile eyes intently, finally realizing they could tell him nothing.

The doctor swallowed again, clearly fighting back strong emotions. "I don't know which one of you... apes... murdered her, but it might as well have been you as any of the other filth." The pony medic was shaking slightly now, and Johnny felt frightened beyond all thought. Even if he wasn't 'locked in', he would have been frozen at the terrifying voice and face so close to his own.

"I assure you we have given you the best care we could. We even asked the government for ChondroPlast and NeuroGenesin, to restore your severed motor and sensory functions. But the answer was no, of course. But we actually... asked." The doctor in Johnny's face had become utterly professional now, and somehow that was even worse than when he was shaking. "All just to permit you to remain..." The professional calm broke slightly on the word 'permit'.

"You cannot communicate, so we've sent for a thaumatic specialist. One who can do mind magic. It's a forbidden form, you should know, except under extreme situations. We had to get Royal sanction to do it." Johnny did not comprehend. "The primate brain is especially sensitive to thaumatic radiations and fields. Neurons are the first to die, when exposed to magic. That's why we can't heal your brain like we could any ordinary pony in your situation. It should be trivial, something a first year unicorn could do."

Johnny tried to scream at the doctor, to yell at him to tell him where to take his filthy magic and his terrible breath, but all the rage within him could not so much as cause his eyelid to twitch. He had no choice but to stare out at this formerly human beast.

"The specialist will be here in about an hour." The unicorn doctor placed a hoof on Johnny's chest. He couldn't feel it, but he could see the hoof for a moment out of his peripheral vision, and his view shook slightly as it presumably made contact. "When she arrives, she will make direct telepathic contact with your mind. The contact can only last for a few seconds, and it can never be repeated. Thaumatic damage is cumulative, don't you know. She's going to ask you..."

The pony doctor's face turned away for a moment as the stallion fought his emotion once more. "..she's going to ask you if you... submit... to ponification. It's the only thing that can save you at this point, I tell you that as a physician. It is your only hope and I recommend that you take it, and I am certain you will, but..."

The doctor seemed to be fighting some terrible internal battle "... there is just enough... humanity..." Another short battle raged inside the stallion medic. He had spat the word 'humanity' as if it were the direst curse imaginable "...left in me to almost... hope that you... you..." The doctor pulled away. For a long time all Johnny could see was the suspended tiles of the ceiling of the clinic, and a firefly lamp. He thought he heard soft sobs for a bit. Then the sound of hoofsteps leaving.

Johnny lay, unmoving, more terribly alone than he could comprehend. His mind floated in an isolation so terrible that he began praying for help, praying hard, praying as loud in his silent mind as he could, but no god came, and his prayers went unanswered.

"Men." Commander Joseph Trumbo was the base commander for the Torrance Human Liberation Front Enclave. He was an imposing man with a thick mustache and a shaved head. He was ex-Blackmesh and highly trained. "And I use that word with respect, and as a fact. You are men, humanity, the very last hope mankind has."

Johnny had just finished the HLF version of boot-camp and was attending a real operations meeting. He felt ready and willing to fight the pastel aliens who were stealing his world.

"The government won't help, they have betrayed the planet, siding with their own destroyer. That's why I left the Black, that's why I'm here. The citizens won't help, most of them are only to eager to run away into some happy land of frisky ponies. But part of that probably is our own fault, poverty is a powerful motivator. Part of our job is to get ordinary citizens to turn away from temptation, and the other part is to deny them opportunity, should their resolve fail." Trumbo had been rumored to have been involved in the destruction of the Seattle Conversion Bureau. It had been blown to dust and ashes, and had never been rebuilt.

"We have obtained reports of a new bureau opening up, in El Segundo. Now what makes this new bureau special is that it is small. We have intel suggesting that this is the new plan, now that the large conversion bureaus are seen as targets. Our work has made the large centralized bureaus less inviting, so the government has apparently gone with the concept of many small, widely distributed bureaus." Trumbo slid some graphics around on the holopanel behind him, revealing maps and recon images.

"This is the target. As you can see, it is a small operation, but the presence of enemy agents is clear." The image showed ponies and humans in medical garb entering the building. "Conversion staff - they always use attending physicians, either human or enemy, to assist in the conversion process. Human traitors and enemy work together, as you can see. A common situation is for ambulances and individuals to bring injured humans to bureaus instead of hospitals, offering conversion as an easy cure-all for anything from a terminal illness to the common cold. Questions?"

There were none. "Good. Any volunteers to take out this new bureau? It's a small one, and a good first venture for new recruits."

Johnny raised his hand.

The massive stallion had caught Bonham in the side of the head with a heavy lavender hoof, Dalton went spinning like a rag doll piñata only to impact the railing and crumple. Johnny managed to stun the unicorn with a blow to the horn from stock of his Kimber. His Ruger had been swept from his hand by a light green field of energy and tossed onto the roof of the building. The Kimber was empty, the last shot a gaping hole in a second unicorn who had rushed out of the doors. Unicorns were always primary targets, because of the magic.

The earthpony stallion hadn't waited around after dispatching Bonham. Johnny was spinning, bringing his shotgun up for a blow to the skull of the equine, but the pony was faster and he didn't seem tired at all. Johnny heard an ear-shattering CRACK as the stallion's massive rear hooves contacted his chest. The Kimber had shattered as the hooves broke through the stock of the gun, just before they hit Johnny. The world seemed to rotate around him in slow motion, ground, sky, ground, sky. The impact with the abandoned Electret Moto parked in the street knocked the wind out of him. Johnny smashed into the ground his, limbs tumbling like fallen sausages around his confused glare.

Johnny lay on the ground, choking, gagging, his eyes dripping with tears. The stallion was upon him in a moment.

"YOU MONKEYS THINK WE'RE HELPLESS, DON'T YOU?" The lavender stallion's eyes were wide and wild, and his lips were pulled far away from his teeth. "THAT'S WHY YOU COWARDS GUN DOWN MARES AND FOALS IN THE STREET - WELL I'VE GOT NEWS FOR YOU..." The shockingly angry Equestrian was finally out of breath, but it was from screaming, not from the exertion of bucking HLF into the street.

Johnny tried to push himself up, to dig his fingers into those wide, golden eyes, but another blow from a hoof, so fast his eyes failed to see it, flattened him onto the plascrete. In an instant the hoof was at his neck, a lavender muzzle stuck in his face.

"You FUCKERS..." Johnny was genuinely shocked. He had never heard a pony swear, not once, not ever. That this was a Newfoal that was clear, but even they weren't supposed to be able to swear. It hurt their little tender sensibilities after conversion. Conversion pacified them. This stallion was not the least pacified, likely because Bonham had managed to remove the head of his faggot pony pal just moments before. Johnny struggled under the hoof at his neck.

"You aren't going to stop, are you?" The lavender stallion was weirdly calm now, his voice that of a parent lecturing a child. "I let you up, you're going to just keep hurting innocent ponies, if not today, then tomorrow and the day after. You're just going to.."

"I WILL KILL YOU, YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!" Johnny had quite enough of this race traitor bastard. He needed to kill it quickly, then get to Bonham. These freaks shouldn't be a threat. They literally couldn't kill, it was just a matter of getting up and...

The hoof at Johnny's neck shifted slightly and crushed down with a force Johnny could not process. He felt an electric shock run through every nerve in his body, from toe to the tip of his head. Then a terrible tingling followed, like when a leg or arm falls asleep, only he felt it everywhere at once. The tingling faded, and Johnny suddenly felt fine, no pain at all.

"Well, we can't kill you. But we can do whatever it takes to protect our own. You didn't know that, did you monkey? Never confuse kindness with weakness you pathetic little monster." The stallion grinned now. "Enjoy your new life." The stallion turned away.

Johnny had no idea what the enemy traitor meant by that but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. He tried to scramble to his feet, there had to be something he could impale the bastard on - failing that he would just jump on the back of the creature and throttle him. But nothing happened. He tried to get up again, but his legs did not obey. His arms wouldn't move. What was going on? Was this some kind of unicorn spell?

Johnny tried to wriggle, to blink, to open his mouth, to... breath. He couldn't breath. His eyes began to sting, only he couldn't blink or close them. One lid was half down, the other wide open. They wouldn't move. Nothing would move.

It was then Johnny realized he couldn't feel anything. He couldn't feel his toes, or his legs or his body. He couldn't feel his neck or his head. There was an afterimage, an echo of feeling, and of that electric shock, but it was fading. He could feel the breeze on his cheek. Something on his tongue was buzzing, it was driving him nuts. He couldn't move at all. His eyes hurt terribly, like some staring contest gone horribly wrong. They burned like acid had been thrown in them. The tears that were streaming weren't getting swished around because his eyelids wouldn't blink.

Johnny felt like he was floating in a dark hell, peering out of his own eyes, attached by the cheek and tongue, dangling in midnight. He couldn't move, he couldn't scream, or yell, or cry, except inside his mind. The horror of what must have happened began to dawn on him The stallion had done it deliberately. He had done this deliberately, purposefully, with the intent that something like this should be the result. That wasn't what he had been told. Ponies couldn't kill. They wouldn't resist. They were easy targets, except for unicorns, and all they did was pull your gun away and...

There were doctors. Some were human and some were ponies. Oh, god, one of those hairy things was a doctor! Most of the doctors were ponies. Lights were being shone into his eyes, so much noise, all the talking, all the screaming around him. Johnny wanted to close his eyes so badly, they just kept stinging worse and worse, and there was no remedy.

The New Day Nurse, his favorite, was talking to him. She had just finished cleaning him, levitating him in the air. It seemed a little bumpy today, as it had for quite some time, Johnny realized. His view kind of shook as he floated near the ceiling with all the inlaid designs.

"Johnny, this is my replacement, Tender Mercy." Johnny found himself rotating in the air, his view swinging past dizzyingly until he must have been floating on his side. A young mare in hospital garb stood next to Compassion, the New Day Nurse. She hadn't been new for years, but he had never stopped thinking of her that way. She looked so old. How had she aged so fast? Was there some kind of Equestrian aging plague or something?

"I'm retiring, Johnny. I'm sorry, I know you'll miss me. I'll miss you too. Johnny here is one of my best, Tender. He so loves to watch the trees, and I've always felt such appreciation from him" No! She can't leave, it wasn't fair! Johnny wanted to cry, to scream, to yell, but as always, nothing, nothing.

Johnny was hesitantly rotated and lowered. Had time slipped by so fast? It hadn't been fast at all. The hell always had been, it always was, it would always be. Timeless. Johnny felt timeless, and being timeless like this was hell. And screaming didn't help.

Johnny raged into the nothing that held him. In his imagination, he still felt his body. He felt like he was hanging in some dark, still, lake, attached to the surface by his cheek and his eyes and his tongue. He couldn't tell how long he had been this way but it felt like an hour, maybe two. It was hard to know how long, with the only change from the white clinic ceiling tiles being the occasional pony face staring down at him, and once, a scowling human.

In his mind, Johnny thrashed and tried to beat against the surface of the lake where his cheek was stuck. It would be better just to slip down into the dark horror below, into death, than the quasi-existence he now endured. The ponies... that damned, that god-damned stallion! That lavender devil. He had done this. He had done this deliberately.

Johnny screamed within his mind, but no sound came forth. He railed and yelled, but there was only the distant sound of hooves clopping back and forth within the clinic, the sound of sirens and weeping and anger and fear. They were talking about his team, about the HLF this, and the murderers that. The damn, the god-cursed ponies. They had done this to him.

A unicorn mare was staring into his eyes. She must be leaning over where he lay. "Al-right, Jo-nee is it?" Her voice had a different accent from that of the Newfoals. She must be a native, directly from Equestria, from behind the Barrier. "Listen Jo-nee. Ai am go-ing to walk into your mind. This is your only chance to make your wi-shes known. Ai can-not do this more than once, because it is dam-aging to your brain. You must be sure of what you want, and make your wi-shes known to me. I will be-gin now, Jo-nee." The unicorn mare closed her strange, silver eyes.

Johnny felt fear, terror. Those monsters had sent a mind control agent from their universe to twist his thoughts. He just knew it. This was how they did it. This was how the aliens were able to get the Worldgovernment on their side, how they had gotten the scientists to give up, how they got droves of humans to give up their humanity. This was it, and they were going to do it to him now.

NO! He would not let that happen! He would fight this. The HLF would rescue him in time, they would get him proper medical treatment, not this farce of begging the government and being refused. He would not be ponified! These filth would not get him with such an obvious trick. Wear him down, tell him there is no option, and then bring on the juice. That was how they did it, and Johnny was not a fool.

Deep inside his mind, Johnny was not alone. For a moment he cried, inside, in his mind. He had felt so alone, so lost, but now there was a presence, something, anything other than the dark, the lonely empty. He hadn't realized how horrible, how painful, being so alone was until this moment, when he no longer was alone. A mind was there with him, and it was warm, gentle, kindness, like a long lost mother who had finally found her child. Johnny felt enfolded, caressed by the presence. He felt fully alive once more.

"Jo-nee, do you submit to ponification? Do you agree to be ponified to save you?"

It was the unicorn. The Equestrian unicorn witch, inside his mind as she had promised. Johnny recoiled in anger. "FUCK YOU, MONSTER! I'D RATHER DIE THAN SUBMIT TO YOU FILTH! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!"

"Jo-nee! Understand that by Earth law and the edict of the princesses themselves, we cannot save you unless you agree. That is the purpose of this contact. We are bound to respect your decision. What you tell us here will be your fate. We dare not make this bridge again. Be sure, Jo-nee of Earth. Your condition is grave, and there is no..."

Johnny had heard enough. He would not be brainwashed. The anger and the excitement of the fight was still fresh in his memory. "HEAR, ME WITCH!" Johnny screamed with all of his mental might "GO TO HELL. LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE!" Johnny kept chanting over and over, pushing with every ounce of his thoughts against the invading alien mind. When at last the presence shrank and vanished, Johnny began cheering, imagining himself pumping a fist into the air "YEAH! WOO-HOOO!"

After a while, he found himself staring at the ceiling tiles. In the background, he heard the same clopping hooves, but less shouts and anger. Things were settling down out there. He could hear weeping from somewhere; loud, wracking cries interspersed with the sound of someone - or something - trying to comfort the one crying.

After endless hours, waiting, yelling inside his head, thrashing in his mind uselessly, Johnny began to smell something foul. It smelled like old urine and feces. It must be him. There was nothing he could do. It was horrible. He screamed some more, and more, and more and...

He found himself being levitated. He could feel the magic tingling the patch of his cheek that still sent sensation to his brain. He hung in the air for some time. Then he was lowered again. A voice spoke. "Ugh. What are we going to do with all of them? Spitefull Idiots!"

It had worked. Johnny couldn't believe it. It had actually worked. His view had changed. One moment he had been staring, as usual, at the edge of the inlaid solar symbol of Celestia, and the next it was beyond his view. He had felt the shift in his inner ear, too. That still worked - he could tell if he was lying down or upright, or if he was in motion. His head must have moved. He had made that muscle in his neck twitch. The muscle the unicorn doctor had said was still connected, even if he couldn't feel it. He'd been trying for a long, long time. There wasn't much else to do.

His view had bounced, slightly, and he'd heard a dull clonk, like a coconut hitting wood. His head. His head must have impacted something. The side of the bed? Some kind of rail? Johnny tried to do it again. Nothing. He tried and tried. Nothing. It was a fluke that he'd found a way inside his damaged brain to activate that path. But he would find it again. He had plenty of time, and... there really was nothing else to do.

Johnny was getting good at knocking his head on whatever it was. KLOK!.... KLOK! KLOK! KLOK! He had a way to make a sound now! That meant... that meant he could communicate. Finally, after all these years, after the retirement of his favorite nurse, after all the endless years of staring at that damn sun design and those hateful trees, Johnny had a way to communicate!

He couldn't wait until Tender Mercy showed up. He would finally, finally get out of this horrible, terrible hell. Oh, sweet Jesus, sweet loving Jesus, he could be free! Johnny began to weep inside, crying inside his mind. Oh, sweet merciful Jesus. Oh loving god.

The seconds dragged on like hours, the minutes like years. The hours were eternities, eons of time that would gobsmack even the immortal princesses. When would Tender Mercy return? Was he really left all alone for such endless stretches of time? It was double the agony, now that he had something to wait for. Of all things, hope was surely the most painful.

Finally, after aching millennia, the sound of tired hooves approached. Johnny immediately set to work. He had learned to do soft hits and hard, loud impacts. The soft hits sounded like gentle 'thunks' while the hard hits sounded like great 'KLOK!' sounds.

thunk KLOK KLOK thunk

KLOK KLOK KLOK

KLOK thunk

thunk thunk

thunk thunk KLOK thunk

KLOK thunk KLOK KLOK

Johnny waited a bit then,

KLOK KLOK

thunk

Johnny waited for a response. Then he performed the sequence again. And again.

"What is that, mommy?" The voice of a young filly sounded nearby. Johnny kept up his effort. They had to hear. They had to understand.

"I... I don't know, Gentle Sighs. That's something new! Oh, this is exciting!" It was his new, new day nurse Tender Mercy. She must have brought her daughter to visit. She'd been offering to for some time, to try to cheer him, and to let her daughter see what she did.

Johnny continued to pound out his message. Come on, come on, get it, get it. It's right there. You can do it. You can get this, it's easy, it's simple, it's obvious! Please, please for all that is holy, just listen! Just listen!

"Mommy? I think it has a pattern. Listen... it goes pum, pah, pah, pum, and then there's a beat, and then pum pum pum. See?"

Tender Mercy listened for a bit. Johnny continued with eager anticipation, she was getting it, she was realizing it! In endless years, for the first time Johnny felt hope, real hope.

"Yes! You're absolutely right!" Tender Mercy seemed very pleased. "It is absolutely a pattern, a deliberate pattern, and I know exactly what it is!"

Johnny relaxed inside his mind. Finally. Oh, god, finally. He had made such a mistake. He had made so many mistakes. He had thought the ponies were incapable of violence. Oh, boy, was that a stupid mistake. They wouldn't start a fight, but by god they would finish one. Just because they weren't driven to war, just because they were wired to seek peace and gentleness did not mean that they wouldn't, or couldn't, protect themselves. Of course they could. Only an idiot would think otherwise, and Johnny had been a big idiot.

They couldn't kill, these ponies. But that lavender stallion had known exactly what he was doing. He made sure that Johnny and his team couldn't be a threat, that they couldn't hurt any pony ever again. He could do it because he knew they would be saved, because they had attacked a medical clinic instead of a Bureau. The stallion had known exactly what to damage, and he had done so. Ponies couldn't kill, but they could use just the amount of force needed to end a threat.

Of course he hadn't encountered resistance before. Most humans didn't know how to fight either. Fighting was a skill, like anything else. Fleeing was natural. Even humans would run from gunshots. It was natural that ponies would too. Especially ponies that had once been humans.

But it was all over now. It would finally end, this nightmare would end. Tender Mercy had gotten his message, just as he knew she would. Dot Dash Dash Dot. 'P'

"P-O-N-I-F-Y M-E"

He would be able to walk again, touch again, taste again, feel the breeze and wetness and cold and warmth. He would be able to change his view, oh that was a big one right there, just to be able to change his view, oh sweet Jesus the horror of having to just lay there, day after day after...

"What a lovely tune!" Tender Mercy was positively beaming in his vision "Johnny here found a way to make music! Did you do it because I brought my daughter today? That is SO sweet!"

"He did it for me?" The little filly seemed surprised.

"I can't think of any other reason! Oh, that is so kind, Johnny. Say thank you, Gentle Sighs!" Tender was always very polite.

"Thank you Johnny Human!" Johnny could hear her little hooves prancing on the floor. Johnny had always wondered if the floor was plain, or if it had designs in it like the ceiling or just what it looked like at all.

Of course they wouldn't know Morse Code. It was a human invention. There was no reason for them to know it. There was no reason for any one of them to know Morse Code. Not ever. Not ever. Johnny wept inside himself, the only place he could ever, ever be. Forever. For hundreds of years, endless nightmare years, kept alive, kept alive, because ponies couldn't kill. Oh god. Oh Jesus.

"Thank you for the little song! Bye now!" The little filly and her mother clippy-clopped off, down the hall Johnny would never see.

And then, he was alone.