• Published 12th Aug 2012
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Friendship Space - the dobermans

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Confrontations

“Hey, buddy.”

You reach out, palm upturned in truce. Taking a slow step forward, you direct your flashlight at the fallen man’s chest to make sure he hadn’t really done anything to hurt himself. The light catches his hands and puffy eyes, along with his red-streaked uniform. He doesn’t look up.

“Hey buddy, listen, it’s all right. It’s all right. You’re not alone. Just calm down and talk to me.”

“Already a pony, already a pony,” he was sobbing to the floor. He sniffs hard and continues coloring his hands and wrists. “They were right … it’s the better way. The only way. Please Princess, come for me soon. I’m ready. You’ll be so happy when you see how ready I am. Already … already … please, please …”

On he goes, whispering and mumbling in and out of pleas and promises. You shake your head. Poor guy had spent too long trying to understand nutjobs like you.

There’s a bump, maybe the sound of a metal ceiling fixture falling in the hallway you’d passed through on entering the room. You look down at the flashlight in your hand, then at the doctor. He was still cowering beneath the window.

You run back to the door. Its motor control circuit was pretty much just two wires and a relay, but there was no time to hack it. Shuffling to one of the nearby desks, you upend it and slide it in front of the doorframe.

There. Would that stop a necromorph? Maybe if it really were a pony. You turn and rush past the doctor, leaving him to his fate.

The exit next to him slides upward and you step through. The floor slopes down, leading to an elevator. Before you can reach it, audio begins to sputter through your RIG’s telecomms. A washed-out blue projection blinks into view a few feet in front of your face.

It’s a woman, already talking through the static. Her pinched features and penetrating gaze waver next to the elevator door. “Clarke – Isaac Clarke, is that you?”

“Who are you?” you all but shout. You weren’t in the most trusting frame of mind, having just finished with someone who had held you captive with a dry erase marker.

“My name is Daina. I’m the one trying to rescue you…”

Daina. That’s right, you’d heard her talking to Franco back in the psych ward before those flying necromorphs had killed him. “Why? What’s going on?” you ask. Maybe, just maybe she would stay sane, at least long enough for you to get some straight answers. You get into the elevator and punch the down arrow.

“You’re suffering from a unique form of dementia, Isaac,” she replies, “something you contracted on Aegis VII.”

Aegis VII, the mining colony, where all of this had started. Where the colonists had … had …

Prepared the bodies

Pain flares behind your eyes, the hiss of the whispers cutting through the haze of your uncertain past. Images flash in your mind’s eye, bloody arms raised, waving with inhuman purpose, helpless victims being hacked, dismembered, impaled where they trembled …

This time you do shout. “How do you know that? How do you know all this about me?”

Was that a smirk on her face? “Your dementia will kill you,” she said. “But if you get here I can treat you and get you to safety.”

This was going nowhere. “Why should I trust you?” you ask. Why should you trust anyone at this point? You couldn’t even trust yourself.

“Because I’m not the one shooting at you.”

Good enough, but not really. No one had actually sent heat your way yet, but given Tiedemann’s orders the guards probably would have had they not been distracted by all that cotton candy. “Fuck.”

“Just follow the route I’m sending you.” Her face turns to the side. Was that another voice she was answering? There was someone behind her …

The image bounces and recedes into static. Some help that was. Well, she was trying to keep you alive, at least. What’s more, she hadn’t referred to ponies or anything even slightly pony-related. Maybe she really was able to help you see past the delusions.

The elevator grinds to a halt, and the door opens into a black, silent room. Was this facility on some kind of permanent fucking cost saving program? You click your flashlight on and proceed into a maze of chairs and lunch tables.

Piles of clothes lay tangled on the floor. Apples, carrots and daisy chains mingle with empty white blouses, shirts and pants. You cover your mouth and nose instinctively, shielding against the odor of blood and decay your sick mind refuses to register. As you sweep the flashlight from right to left, your elbow knocks a paper cup to the floor. The echoes of its hollow tapping are the only sounds you can pick out from the vacant room. You sidestep out of the aisle and shimmy by the nearest table, keeping a wall to your right. No necromorphs were coming at you from that direction, at least.

A widescreen monitor hanging next to you bursts to life in a roar of static, flashing images of two equine faces in rapid succession. One was bright, with a creamy coat and hazy pastel mane screened by the static. The second was a dark, depthless blue, violet blue like, like a twilight sky reflected by the sea. You jump back and knock your ass against one of the abandoned chairs, scattering a lump of hay.

The images die, and the room shrinks to the circle of your shaking flashlight.

Christ you’d almost pissed yourself. Something was twisting in the pit of your stomach. Their eyes, their huge eager eyes, lavender, deep green, gleaming with hunger, beauty … love …

All for you. Only for you.

“Shut up, Isaac, shut up,” you whisper under your breath. Gotta focus. Focus on the light. You bring the flashlight under control, holding it steady with both hands. It’s quiet. That’s good. More tables, chairs, scraps of memos and magazines … and there’s a doorway. Excellent. Follow one light to another, that’s how it works. You’d be out of here in no time.

You test Daina’s route with your RIG. The projector on your wrist superimposes a winding blue line along the floor, leading through the door. Trusty RIG. That’s one piece of technology you could depend on. It very dependably got you into trouble.

The path leads to an HVAC maintenance room. With no one to tend the pressure relief valves, steam jets blasted unchecked against the walls and support beams. Glycol fumes were thick in the air. With no obvious exit, you ping your route again. The glowing line reappears, trailing up the wall. Time for a duct crawl.

You wave your palm over the scanner, and the cover plate slides upwards. If this had been the first time you’d taken this particular plunge, you’d be shitting forged steel bricks. The interior of the tunnel glows a dull red. No backup, no weapons, no clue where you’re going. The only advantage you had was that the necromorphs couldn’t take a good swing at you in the narrow space. All they could do was nip and poke, and what were they going to do when you shined your flashlight in their bugged out eyes?

You laugh and hoist yourself up, imagining a mortal struggle with a pretty little pony trying to stuff an apple into your mouth while you blinded her with your flashlight. Your knees and elbows thump against sheet metal panels as you struggle forward, inching through the duct. Where are you Tinkly Winkly? Papa Isaac’s got a surprise for you.

There’s a noise, and you freeze in place. Something was with you in the ducts, probably in the next row over, giggling like a child, whispering secrets. There was an eighth inch of steel between you and the freakshow.

You push hard, bumping and shuffling along as quickly as you can. The flashlight is no help in the pulsing red light. And there was too much noise. Sound travels really well through solids. They had to know you were here. They were toying with you, snickering and chuckling inches away, waiting for you to tire yourself out, then it’s just a matter of reaching right through and …

Goddammit! The panel beneath you slips and then gives way, dropping you into a room below. You land hard on your shoulder, the air rushing out of your lungs in a ragged grunt.

Have to get up. Have to get up. There’s no telling what’s in here. Get up Isaac!

“Isaac, what happened? Are you alright?” Daina’s voice pipes up through your RIG telecomms. She must be tracking you somehow, and saw that you had deviated from her route when you fell.

You roll onto your stomach. No obvious threats at ankle-level. “Why are you helping me?”

“If Tiedemann finds you, more people will die.”

No argument there. “Including me.”

“Not if you follow my route.”

Her route, that at its first turn had led into an unlit, decaying air duct. “I don’t like this.”

“You don’t have to like it. Just hurry, before you get locked in!”

Locked in? You stand warily, ready for an immediate attack. But you’re alone, unless you counted the corpse floating in the center of the room. You take the opportunity to apply the med pack the psychiatrist had given you. The ache from the fall disappears in a warm flush, and the health status indicator bar on your armband lengthens from amber to light blue.

Wait, a real corpse. Not a pile of clothes, not some fool making snow angels in powdered sugar. A real human had actually died a nonviolent death, and by the looks of it, was the subject of an unfinished autopsy.

The flashlight had rolled next to a chest high control console. You move slowly, not yet trusting your legs to hold your weight after the fall. You stoop to retrieve your one asset, considering your options. The console must govern the gravity envelope that was suspending the body. That meant there had to be a Kinesis module somewhere in its output circuit path. A Kinesis module that would fit very nicely into your RIG armband.

You pry open the faceplate of the console and dig in. After a few seconds of probing, your fingers find the module, sliding along the ridges of its onboard heat sink. The 24V power feeds come free with a loud pop, and the cadaver that had been held aloft by the artificial gravity field crashes down onto the field concentrator cage beneath it. You gently pull the Kinesis module out of the console enclosure and align its connector pins to the Stasis/Kinesis socket on your armband. It clicks home, powering up with a comforting blue glow.

Now, how to get out of this room and back on course? The walls are mostly plate glass, probably meant for medical students to observe the proper way to dissect a cadaver. Even with your RIG’s strength enhancements, you weren’t going to be able to break through on your own.

The gravity field console is contiguous with the floor, so no way to pull a Hercules and ram it into the windows. The corpse? No, too soft. You couldn’t punch with its fist any harder than you could your own. The cage had broken into tie rods …

Of course, the rods. You could grab one with Kinesis, pull it in close, then invert the gravity vector field to achieve a positive divergence.

You reach towards the nearest rod and cycle on the Kinesis module. Tendrils of soft white plasma arc forward and surround your target. With practiced movements of your fingers, you manipulate the field, drawing the rod as close to your hand as the unit would allow, then invert the polarity with a quick flick of your fingers.

The rod accelerates into the adjacent window, bringing it down in a rain of glass shards. Del dot g for the win.

Something outside snorts, as if waking from a deep sleep. “Huh? Wuh? I’m awake!”

It’s a pony. You see a bright green mane sprout up from the bottom of one of the observation windows and begin bouncing towards the broken glass. Its face rounds the corner, a yellow muzzle followed by sleepy pink eyes. Another female.

She looks up from inspecting the glass and spots you. “Oh, hey there. I had a dream about falling coconuts. I guess that was you! My name’s Pillow Lace. I’m, uh …” she yawns, revealing a cavernous pink mouth. “Say, have you seen somepony named Eye Sack? Princess Luna asked me to give him this sleeping potion. Said this Eye Sack – weird name, I know – needed help quieting down for a nap, and that I would be the best pony for the job. I put ponies to sleep all the time, and that’s without any special potions.” She stepped into the room and began opening her saddle bag. Three Z’s were stamped in a diagonal line on her rump.

You grab another tie rod with your Kinesis behind your back. It was time for this pony, this pony right here, to learn an important life lesson.

Do not fuck with a PO’d engineer.

“I am Isaac, and I am not a pony,” you growl. Whipping your arm to the fore, you release the tie rod in the general direction of Pillow Lace’s face. How about 1500 kilojoules of kinetic energy to brighten your fairy princess high hopes glitter drizzled day you fucking necromorph?

The rod impacts with loud crack, back in the hallway beyond the broken glass. It had caught in Pillow Lace’s curly mane in its blink-of-an-eye flight, pinning her to the wall where it had embedded itself. There she swung, suspended a few feet above the floor.

She wasn’t dead. How could the little shit ….?

A barrier inside you falls, smashing like the glass wall you’d broken moments ago. You charge at her, blind to everything but the beacon of her tender yellow hide.

“No more of this bullshit!” you roar as you pummel the creature with both fists.

“Ouch! Hey! Cut it out! That smarts!” Pillow Lace kicks her stubby legs as you continue your onslaught. A right hook to her neck upends her saddle bag, sending a thick-walled glass bottle and an apple tumbling to the floor.

You plant your hands on your knees and try to regain your breath. That felt really good. It was dead. Right? That’s when they drop their shit, when they’re dead.

“Eye Sack …” Pillow Lace squeaked.

“Shut up. You’re dead. Shut up. You dropped your shit, that means you’re dead. I know that’s a difficult concept for you necromorphs.”

“Eye Sack, if you wanted the sleeping potion, all you had to do was ask. You sure do need it. You can have the apple too if you want. Princess Luna told me to pack it special for you, in case you couldn’t find anything to eat now that we’re gathering …”

You pick the items up, giving the apple a quick sniff. What was she saying? It smells like a real apple, and the sloshing, dark pink liquid in the bottle doesn’t seem particularly strange.

But of course not. No unpleasant stimuli for your tender psyche. There were two options. These were ammo packs for whatever passed as weapons around here, or they might be pieces of necrotic flesh. A mutated skull, or pincer or something. Pincers could be used as projectiles. You tie the objects to the free loops in your straitjacket.

“Please drink the potion, Eye Sack. It’s raspberry flavored. The Princess asked me to …”

“Listen, Pillow Lace,” you interrupt, “I don’t know what suppressed childhood memory my brain puked up, but you’re not real. Your Princess isn’t real. Reality is too fucked up for Eye Sack’s tired mind to handle, so he compensates.” Compensates. The psychiatrist would be proud.

“Please Eye Sack, she’ll be so disappointed in me,” whines Pillow Lace, still swinging and kicking her legs.

“Not real, not listening,” you reply, hoping no one was watching you talk to yourself. You turn and head down the hallway, trying to work the tightness out of your shoulders. Beating up ponies was hard work, and you weren’t exactly a strapping young lad.

“Now just stay there and rot like a good little corpse,” you call back behind you.

The hallway branches to the left, leading to another elevator. You step in and hit the “up” arrow.

You tap your finger against Pillow Lace’s sleeping potion while you wait. Why does it seem like the elevators always go down? One way elevators, half-empty sleeping potions. Ponies in the attic.

The door opens on the upper floor of the observation room. The ramp in front of you spirals down to a circular deck furnished with sleek black chairs and desks. You can see the mess of the ruined concentrator cage below.

Your ever-present headache pounds harder. Another pony is sitting at the base of the ramp, singing softly. Its saddlebag slouches on the floor behind it.

Had it seen your assault on Pillow Lace? No, it would be flipping out if it had. It was probably daydreaming, lost in the words and melody of its simple song.

You consider the saddlebag. Could be some credits in there, or maybe even some single-crystal semiconductor chips. The bastards had an annoying habit of swallowing useful shit for some reason.

You creep forward in a crouch, hoping for a better look and to get closer to the saddlebag. When it’s within grabbing distance, you slide it towards your feet and reach inside. Another apple, probably ammo. And oh, look at that. Three hundred credits. And a red foam finger? Thieving pony necromorph freak. You add the strange booty to your makeshift utility belt.

The careless pony whose belongings you were liberating was a female, judging by the voice. Why so many … what were they called … mares? Was there some hidden meaning to horses in particular, or the overabundance of females? Something your subconscious was trying to communicate? Did they represent Nicole somehow?

The little mare stops singing and begins to turn. You shift further behind her to keep out of view. Her coat is a very dark purple, and silky smooth. The mane and tail were both corn-yellow, and were styled into flowing waves. The shoulders and rump look soft and round, with no obvious muscle definition. Almost mathematical curves. Where the hell had you seen anything like this?

She sighs, looking away toward the observatory windows and resuming her song. It was starting to make sense. Nicole was gone, and your life had been reduced to a constant death struggle. On top of that, if Daina’s word could be trusted, you’d caught the same mass-psychosis-inducing bug that had turned the Aegis VII miners into a necromorph buffet. Combine the two and you got … ponies?

No, there was room for doubt. The universe had scraped together some oddball lifeforms. Like humans. Just maybe …

What the hey, there’s time for a little experiment. You move forward, turning the saddle bag upside down. As you pin the tresses of the pony’s tail to the floor with your boot, an unfamiliar scent drifts by. Hay and grape juice.

You let a chuckle slip. Shit.

The pony jumps. “Pillow Lace? Is that …”

You bring the saddle bag down over her head, muffling her query. You’d slapped the poo poo out of Pillow Lace. Let’s see if you could put this little runt to sleep.

Wrapping your bicep around the bag to keep it in place, you squeeze the mare’s long supple neck and pull down with your weight, expecting to drag her to the floor. Muted laughter seeps through the thin canvas. “Pillow Lace, are you that bored? All right, here we go …” The mare springs up and starts hopping at an impossible rate. The saddlebag was coming loose.

Fuck. This psycho merry-go-round horsie was much, much stronger than you. With a mighty kick, she dislodges you from her back. You sail through the air, preparing for another painful impact.

Great work Isaac. You’d pretty much hugged a necromorph. You deserve this.

You slam into the side of another ramp with a groan and slip down into a disheveled heap on a set of chairs. Something soft and sticky was tickling your neck. More of their cotton candy.

Ignore that shit, Isaac. Stay quiet. She thinks you’re Pillow Lace. Just get up, crawl up the ramp and …

“Hey Pill, are you OK? Where are you? Switching it up to hide and seek?”

OK, question answered. You roll off of the chairs and military crawl up the ramp. For now you’re shielded from view by a safety railing. Another door stands closed at the top of the ramp. You take a moment to pick the cotton candy from the stubby hairs already cropping up on your chin. Sorry honey, didn’t have time to shave this morning.

Nicole. Can’t go there, not now.

“One two three, here I come!” you hear the purple mare call. A rhythmic tapping signals that she’s on the move, her miniature hooves clicking away. Deceptively powerful hooves. Lucky for you, she was searching the other side of the circular deck.

Up you go. Just a quick sprint to the door. The few seconds it takes to open are agony. Ready for a brawl if need be, you duck inside.

If you were in the foyer of the nuthouse hotel before, you are now in its broom closet. Medical diagrams and charts backlit by light boards on the walls are scribbled over with pictures of ponies, clouds and stars. Cryptic messages are scrawled everywhere.

I have wings

Harmony. Beauty. Truth.

Moon and Sun Sun and Moon

A riot of colors drips from the wall where the passage turns right. In the center was the outline of a person in a wheelchair, surrounded by broken rubber strips. Someone had been ballooned, party-style. Their empty hospital gown lay crumpled in a muck of paint.

More wonders greet you as you turn the corner. Patches of soil had been deposited in open floor grates and on desktops, and planted with daisies, tulips and daffodils. Butterflies flitted back and forth between them.

Probably best not to linger here. It might be some kind of necromorph infection chamber. The messages were the most disturbing, as if someone had been overjoyed by the idea of ponyhood. Like the, the …

An awful pain spikes in your right eye as the images return. Blood everywhere, stupefied lunatics chanting, crying, cutting themselves. And the messages written in red, written by converts, true believers. Unitologists.

Deep in the colon of the universe, there was a large dried chunk of shit that was in sore need of an enema. And that special turd was Unitology. How many minds had it rotted? How many had it cost through its grand achievement, the rise of the necromorphs? Too many. And they had reveled in it. Even as they were being sliced to ribbons, they spared a few seconds to leave behind their mantras and catchphrases, in case some lost soul in need of salvation might happen by and have an epiphany.

Right. Look, there’s nothing left of this dude but a torso. Where do I sign up?

The sign above the door at the end of the corridor reads Intensive Care. Before it opens, you hear a terrified voice shouting from beyond.

“Help! Help!”

Someone’s in trouble, someone who obviously wanted no part of this pony bullshit. Something else was wailing and blubbering in the background.

The bright light of the Intensive Care lab spills beneath the door as it lifts upward.

You take a moment to let your eyes adjust. Although you can’t see it, there’s a pony in the room, and it’s upset. To your left was a white, oval-shaped inner room with more observation windows. The cries for help were coming from inside.

You hunker down and peer through the glass. A young man lay confined to a table in the center of the room, struggling to break free of his bonds.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he cries at the noise outside his chamber. Couldn’t blame him. You’d be wondering the same thing if you’d been abandoned in the middle of an operation and something was bawling like a little girl a few feet away.

“Is there anyone out there? Is anyone out there? Who’s out there?” he calls. The guy was terrified, but you couldn’t risk blowing your cover to help him, not until you had located the necromorph. You ease forward and peek around the corner of the partition separating the workspaces.

There it is. Strapped to a gurney in the shadows on the far side of the outer room, an orange filly was throwing a tantrum. She was trying to squirm free, reaching for a big candy-striped lollipop on the floor. Neutralized for now, but how long would that last?

You dart into the operating room, putting a finger to your lips to try to keep the guy quiet.

“Jesus, man, help me. Would you fucking help me?”

No good. He was all but shitting himself. What to do? Think Isaac. His wrist straps were thick nylon and double locked, so there was no quick way to unbind him. Glass? No, nothing to break it with, and even if there was it would take an eternity to saw through the cords.

This wasn’t the stone age. There had to be cutting implements in the fucking surgical unit.

Three collimated light beams shimmered in the darkness, illuminating the patient’s chest. They traced back to a small stationary console at the head of the operating pallet. You jog ahead and check the monitor.

Surgical tissue incision in progress.

The only remote cutting tool you knew of involved plasma. Plasma … tissue incision …

Plasma cutter. You start to work on the electronics, finally in control of the situation.

“Calm down. I’ll cut you out of there,” you tell him with as much professionalism as you can manage. “Is that a tissue laser? A plasma cutter?” You already knew the answer, but the guy needed to hear the sound of a human voice right now.

“Oh my God!” he screams. You turn just in time to see a sea-green pegasus plop down in the middle of the doorway and fold her wings. “What’s all the ruckus?” she asks cheerfully. “How are you fellas doing today? Are you sick, buddy?”

Time. God, just a little more time. “Fuck,” you hiss, trying to concentrate on extricating the plasma cutter from the magnetic lens assembly.

The patient starts rocking back and forth on the pallet, screaming at you in abject terror. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Out of the corner of your eye, you see the pegasus strutting into the room, rummaging in her saddlebag.

“Just a sec, buddy,” she was saying. “I’ve got just the remedy for a frazzled brain.” She pulls a set of paints and tiny brushes from her bag. “How about a hooficure?”

Almost there, almost there. You hear the little paint bottles pop open. “Oh shit.”

“Help!” the patient cries, pushing the pegasus away with his foot.

“Easy now,” says the pony, gripping the patient’s leg with one of her own. “You’ve probably never had a hooficure before. You’re supposed to lay still and relax. It feels good.”

“I’m trying!” you shout back to the patient, finally pulling the plasma source from its connector.

“Help!” he screams. The pony easily overpowers his leg, and sets to work on his toenails.

No, not another one. “I’m trying, I’m trying!” you yell in frustration. Just a few more seconds. The plasma source clicks into your RIG armband.

The pegasus has already finished his foot and one of his hands. Now she was standing on her hind legs, humming industriously as she massaged his scalp. He had gone quiet, groaning in extreme relaxation. The pony finished by placing two cucumber coins on his eyes.

“There. All better,” she says, caressing his forehead.

“Yeah, really,” he agrees. “All better. This is … sweet.”

She giggles in satisfaction. “I love love love my job!” she says, turning to you with a smile. “How about one for you? Do you want a hooficure too?”

“In a minute,” you reply quietly, rotating the plasma cutter’s sight beams perpendicular to her front legs. “Let me give you one first.”

Three deafening booms fill the room as you unload three bolts of plasma into the pony’s knees. She yelps and tumbles backwards into the wall, dropping her brushes and paints.

For the first time in what had to be years, you smile. And damn did it feel like a million bucks. Screwdriver is to screw as plasma cutter is to pony. It was beautiful, really, the way she’d crumpled, the way she shriveled up and died like a miserable …

She sits up, wavering from side to side. As her drooling tongue lolls out, stars begin to circle her pointy little ears. Stars and tweety birds.

Shaking your head, you turn to the patient. The dude looked ridiculous.

He had fallen into a relaxed slumber. “Hey man, wake up, time to get moving,” you say gently, peeling the cucumbers off of his eyes.

“I’m chill, man, leave me be,” he whispers. The pony had given him just a hint of lip gloss.

Done for. You should have known. He wasn’t really alive. Once a necromorph had its way with you, you were done, delusions notwithstanding.

The pegasus starts to come to, blinking at the stars in front of her eyes. “Far out,” she says groggily.

Far out? You bring your boot down on her neck, roaring in rage and disgust.

Fuck you.”

She squeals and falls over, babbling nonsense. That’s right.

As you head for the exit, you catch a pair of translucent green eyes peeping at you through one of the windows. They quickly look away.

One more item of unfinished business. Hefting the plasma cutter, you leave the operating room and stride purposefully to the filly you’d seen tied to the gurney on the way in.

The sheets are soaked and dripping with her tears. “I dropped my lollipop,” she says.

Tough fucking luck. As you level the plasma cutter at her head, you reconsider. Bending down, you sweep the lollipop of the floor and twirl it in your fingers, just out of her reach.

“Is this what you want?” you ask.

She nods and stretches out her hoof.

You break off the candy and shove the white paper stick into her mouth.

“There. Hope you enjoyed the show you little shit.”