• Published 12th Aug 2012
  • 5,720 Views, 277 Comments

Friendship Space - the dobermans

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A New Weapon

The filly glares up at you, her lips pouting around the decapitated lollipop. The little orange chest begins to heave harder and harder as fresh tears pool in the corners of her big, see-through green eyes.

“Now, now,” you chide her as you stride past the gurney to the exit. “Papa Isaac knows best, little Twinkler. Don’t you know too much candy will rot the teeth right out of your skull?”

Rot the teeth out of your skull. Mom had used that one a few times. Oh Ma, if you could see me now! Have a … had a … beautiful, intelligent girlfriend. Got a wonderful career. Took me all the way to the edges of the universe. Met the kindhearted folks residing there, too. And now I’m naming them.

You cough as the door slides closed behind you. Ma wouldn't give a shit. Not about anything that didn't involve Unitology.

There’s a crackle at your wrist. Another message inbound, no doubt from …

“Isaac, it’s Daina. You have to dismember the creatures to stop them.”

Story of the century, Daina. You step over a white paper box of donuts, open with its golden brown goodies strewn across the floor of the cramped laboratory you had entered. Too colorful to be human donuts. No, you're not quite that hungry yet.

“Daina, I know. I've had a lot of practice. I just dismembered one with a jury-rigged plasma cutter. But something weird’s going on. Daina, the necromorphs … I think I’m hallucinating.”

“Of course Isaac. You’re very sick. You have to try to make it through to me so I can treat you.”

“Daina, you don’t understand. I’m seeing …”

“Seeing what, Isaac?” There might have been some real concern in her voice.

God. “Ponies.”

“Pon …” There was a crackle. The signal had gone dead.

“Daina? Daina, can you hear me?” you call. Shit. It was getting harder and harder to ignore the pain in your temples. Was there any danger in sitting down to rest, just for a few minutes, just to think things through? You stop and give the cluttered laboratory floor a long hard look. Just a short time-out …

Your RIG's armband speaker splutters back to life. “Ponies?” Daina shouts. “Yes Isaac. They’re part of your dementia. What you need to do is …”

More static. Beneath the noise, you can hear sharp whispers and low, soft voices. There’s an A and B conversation going on, which means that Daina and whoever she’s talking to are hiding something.

This was not the time for secrets. “Daina, I’m not copying that. Is there someone there with you?”

The signal cuts off again, then returns after a few seconds. “It’s very important that you listen to me now, Isaac,” says Daina. “It may seem to you like you’re fighting and neutralizing the infection. That you’re doing what is necessary to survive. But you have to believe me when I tell you that the opposite is true.”

“What are you saying? And you didn't answer my …”

“What you need to do is try to placate the, er, ponies. Distract them. Get them to laugh or sing or something. Shooting them will not do the job properly.”

“What do you mean? The one I hit with a plasma cutter went down fine.”

It may have been the static, but it seemed that there was a commotion on the other end. “Only temporarily,” Daina continues. The tension in her voice is clear now. “They’ll be back up and after you before you know it.”

That pegasus back in the operating room had never really gone quiet. Maybe Daina was telling the truth. “I guess you’re right. But this discussion isn't over.”

“That’s fine. Just try to stay in one piece.”

“Thanks.”

This was bad. The ‘opposite is true’, she had said. It was all bass ackwards. The illness was so deep, that blowing the limbs off of necromorphs was supposed to look and feel like feeding petting zoo animals.

You press the cold butt of the plasma cutter against your pounding forehead. A lesser man would lose his shit over being this fucked up. A lesser man would become useless, sniveling, down-on-all-fours alien food.

It’s fine, it’s fine. Just have to try and go with the flow. It’s all a matter of interpreting the delusions. You’re fine, Isaac.

The laboratory exits into a hallway, branching left into the smoky darkness. There’s a dead end to the right, blocked by another gurney. This one bears the outline of a person, like at a crime scene, but instead of tape, it's a ring of marigolds. Smart buggers. Wouldn’t want the bunnies and hares nibbling at your victim’s toes before he’s ripe.

So left, or through the broad double doors across the way? You ping Daina’s route. Through the doors it is. The bright sign above them burns spots into your vision, accustomed as you are to the gloom.

Intensive Care Waiting Area, it reads, with an alert message: Unauthorized Personnel Detected.

Personnel. Attention, orderlies, we have unauthorized personnel in Intensive Care. They are fairy ponies and are forcibly delighting the patients. Escort the assailants out of the building immediately.

The doors slide open onto an all-too-familiar scene. Weak emergency LEDs flicker over toppled furniture, wheelchairs, plants, and tables. No humans or ‘personnel’ in sight. The only clue as to what had happened here is a splotch of pink paint on the floor, marked with a jumble of horseshoe hoofprints. You ease into the empty lobby, surveying the shadows.

Quiet elevator music is tinkling through the loudspeakers in a flat treble. Too, too quiet. Could everyone have been infected that quickly? That would be a cruel fate indeed. Sitting here nervously waiting for your loved one, for hours maybe, suffering through that god-awful muzak. Then a big steaming pile of necromorph plops into your lap.

One of the two exit hallways was, by the looks of it, now part of the tropical biome. Thick, dripping foliage bristling with flowers and insect wings cut off any view of what lay beyond. Something was hooting and snorting behind the wall of vegetation.

Jesus, Altmann, Crick and Freud. Shit. Ma wouldn’t approve of such blasphemy.

That simplified things. Heading to the right, you pass into a network of open single- and dual-patient visitation rooms, all dark and empty. Lots of corners and half-open doors. Only one thing for it.

You start examining the rooms, ducking in to each and doing a quick once over. No round lumps huddling under the bedsheets, nothing crouching behind the doors. There were a few hundred credits on the counter next to the headboard in the room to your right. Better grab them before they end up in a saddlebag or …

A steam pipe in the ceiling bursts and swings down, blasting the side of your face.

“Motherf …” Motherfucking half-assed welds. You can just see the Neanderthals who’d done the work – toolbelts halfway down their asses, second-rate scotch a’flowin’. You got that, Billie? Sure do Willie, is this gonna be a braze or a weld? All the same to me, Billie, now what’s up with that canteen! Ha ha, git ‘er done!

Avoiding the plume of steam still flowing out of the pipe, you jog into the room and swipe the credits off of the counter. A first degree burn on the side of your face was a small price to pay.

Your hand’s in the cookie jar, Isaac. You’ve cornered yourself. Keep moving.

Back outside, the hallway splits in several directions, each with a confounding selection of doors. You stop at the intersection and consider your strategy. You could continue searching the rooms for necromorphs that could shadow you and strike when your guard is down, or go for stealth, keeping strictly on course.

Well, if they caught you with your pants down, there wasn’t much you could do about it. You press the button on your armband once again, studying the path of Daina’s holographic guide line. It disappears beneath one of the nearby doors in the left-hand hallway. Easy does it.

“Gotcha!” There’s a crash overhead as a pony breaks out of the ducts and attaches herself to you, wrapping her soft, powerful legs around your shoulders and waist. The warm, wet nostrils bulge against your skin as she furiously snuggles you and nuzzles her snout into your neck.

There were more of them, bumbling and bumping around up there. The whole corridor was infested.

“God … fucking …” you grunt, teetering in your assailant’s clutches. You push toward the wall. Maybe you could beat the little shithead off of you.

Wait. No. A negative and a positive equal a negative. Two positives equal … a positive. For you. Something like that. How to distract this one?

Something flicks against your cheek. It’s her eyelashes. She had opened her eyes.

Slowly you turn your head. Two huge golden irises peer kindly back at you, inches from your own, twinkling with keen intelligence. She smiles and pats your head.

“Shhh, calm down. It’s going to be OK. We’re going to be BFFs! Doesn’t that sound good?”

She’s got your right arm with the plasma cutter pinned, but your left is still free. You manage to work one of your apples out of your straitjacket loops.

Another pony bumps its head on the ceiling coming out of one of the rooms you hadn’t checked. A big cobalt colt with a goofy grin. Holy shit, if the little ones could chuck you across the room without noticing, this guy could wreck a mountain.

He’s coming at you on his hind legs, the front ones stretched out for a nice big hug. That seemed to be their thing.

The apple shakes in your fingers as you bring it up to neck-level “Yeah, sure, I’ll be your pal. Here, uh, girl. Are you hungry?”

“Oh thanks! And I have a name, thank you very much. Friends should call each other by their names. Mine’s Curly Cue. What’s yours?”

“It’s, ah … Arthur. Arthur Asimov. Nice to meet you Curly.” You smile and nod like a true BFF would, trying not to wipe her mucus from your neck too vigorously.

“I can see you’re already an agent of the Royal Pony Sisters,” says Curly Cue as she takes the apple in her mouth and drops to the floor. She begins to munch. “So, um … mmm, that’s good … so what’s your mission, Arthur?”

“I’m just, well, you know, going around looking for stragglers. Non … non-ponies like me to, uh, bring to the light. Yeah, I met up with Scroll Whisper a little while ago.” You start inching backwards, closer to the door.

“Oh, and how is she?” asks Curly Cue, still concentrating on her meal. The big colt had dropped to all fours and was looking around in slack-jawed wonder. Not the brains of the operation, that one.

“Great, great. Adding to the ranks every minute. Speaking of that, listen Curly Cue. I’ve got a quota to reach. I don’t mean to be rude, but could we meet up later sometime? I’ve really got to get going.” You’re less than a foot from the door.

“Sure, I understand, Arthur. We all want to make the Princesses proud.”

“Right. Long live their Highnesses, glory to the kingdom. See you later.”

Curly Cue waves a hoof. “Bye Bye! And thanks for the apple! Working with you humans is making me hungry as a … human!”

Very funny you little cretin. You wave and back through the door. After a few tense moments, it slides shut.

Well that went as well as could be expected. One dead necromorph and one … stunad? Too wounded to be a threat? Didn’t matter. It was a victory either way. Even so, you had to be more careful. Curly Cue had immediately taken the plasma cutter out of play, and while the encounter had panned out, it could have gotten ugly.

Another mistake: you had entered a room backwards like a dipshit. You’d been spared another pony hug, this time.

It seems to be a storage space. A cot and medical monitor had been shoehorned into one side, and a row of lockers lined the adjacent wall. It was clean and well lit, unlike every other room you’d passed through. Here you could almost imagine that everything is fine: business is good, the hospital staff is right outside, snapping charts and histories onto their clipboards, talking about how the dead shift lagged like always. That necromorph ponies aren’t slobbering away on apples ten feet beyond the door. The cot looked really comfortable.

Never mind that. There’s a small green transport crate on the floor that doesn’t quite belong. Vibration dampers, reinforced corners, interior hinges – military most likely. It’s got a combo lock. Could be something valuable inside.

You bring your heel down on the crate, cracking it open like a jack o’lantern. Plasma cutter cartridges tumble out, color coded for ten charges each. Fancy that.

Sure, the distraction tactic had worked exactly as Daina had suggested, but every system functioned or failed according to the quality of its redundancy. The cutter was going to be plan B. You pick up the cartridges and reload.

You must have gotten too close to the exit's motion sensor. It slides open, and you immediately wish it hadn’t. Two goofballs were inside a lightless lab beyond, sitting in front of a catering cart, stripped down to their undies. Lucky you, they’re facing away from the door. You skip to the side as a precaution and lean around the doorframe to scan the room for ponies.

The cart was loaded with pastries, cakes, pies and cookies, and the fat pigs were browsing through them by the handful. Maybe these are the assholes responsible for the broken steam pipe that almost burned your face off a few minutes ago.

“So she seems to like slightly undercooked chocolate chips. What do you think Rick?”

“Hold on a sec, let me just try another one …” There’s a groan of effort as Rick sits up to snatch up one of the gooey treats. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right. They’re a little raw in the middle. Maybe you don’t have to worry about salmonella once your, uh, on the other side.” He grabs another one and stuffs it into his mouth. “Shit, I mean, shoot. You saw her. Spotless, dude. Not a germ on her body. Ponies like her don’t get sick.”

“Well, I’m just relieved they gave us these samples of Her Highness’s preferences. The standards for our new role as Royal Bakers appear to be well within hoof’s reach.”

“Nice dude, you sound just like one of them already!” They laugh and dig back in.

The fuck were these guys high on? More than just the sugar. They might transform any second now. Best to avoid the confrontation if you can.

It’s dark enough for you to sneak by and out of the room unnoticed, engrossed as they are in their nibbling and refined conversation. You slip behind them, keeping the plasma cutter leveled at their heads, and make it out into the next hallway.

There’s a voice recording playing in the distance, and the faint buzzing of a siren. That can’t be good. You check Daina’s route, hoping that it takes you in a less hazardous direction. The blue guide line stretches ahead, straight beneath a set of double doors labeled Upper Lobby. Straight towards the siren.

All right, fine. Maybe your luck would hold for whatever was setting off the alarm. As the doors open, you see someone hopping and waving you forward from across an island of cushioned waiting benches, magazine tables and artificial plants.

“Isaac? Isaac! Come on, come on! They’re after us!” he shouts, running on down the hall.

“Wait! Wait! Who is? Who’s after us?” you call after him. Did he mean the ponies? Maybe he hadn’t fared as well evading them. Maybe one of Tiedemann’s squads was after him. In any case, he knows your name, and that’s incentive enough to chase him down.

The rapid flashes of the emergency strobe lights wash over the room, making the shadows spin. Your thigh bangs into one of the magazine tables as you round the corner of the island.

“Dammit! Why not just give me epilepsy while you’re at it, you …”

A calm female voice blasts from the loudspeakers.

Warning: security lockdown. Hospital bulkheads are closing. Please stand clear.

Shit. You rub your leg as you right yourself, sprinting down the wheelchair-accessible inclines and around the corners of the winding corridor while trying to keep the runner in sight.

You reach the lower lobby of the ER just in time to see him on the other side of a security fence that had shut behind him. He’s shaking it, yelling over the harsh wail of the siren.

“Isaac! Isaac! Through here! Come on! Isaac! Aww no …” Two massive stainless steel bulkhead panels were sliding together from either side. You only had a few seconds.

“Isaac, remember me? Patient five?” he asks. “I’m patient five, remember? Do you remember?”

Patient five? You get a clear view of his gaunt, nervous face as he presses against the fence. It’s Stross.

“Stross!” you shout as the bulkheads clamp shut. You fire a shot at them with the plasma cutter. Just a few sparks and some oxidation. No good.

Enough of this shit. You’d been avoiding contact with Daina, assuming that Tiedemann would be monitoring the local RF comms. Now you’re out of options. You jab the communications button on your armband. “Daina, your fucking route didn’t work. There’s a security lockdown!”

The static crackles, then drops to a low hiss. “I told you to hurry! How did you miss it?”

Wrong question. “Look, I don’t need your help.” Shit. Wrong reply.

Before you can backpedal, Daina’s voice shoots back at you through a riot of white noise. “Fine! Let’s see how long you last without it!” The signal drops out. She had stranded you.

“Shit!” You slam the bulkhead with your fist. Excellent work, Isaac. Your one contact with the outside world, the one person whose advice had worked out, and you’d told her off like a moping three-year-old …

There’s a tapping behind you, and the soft flutter of beating wings. Oh fuck.

You turn and discover the reason for the lockdown. Ponies were meandering into the ER lobby, chatting among themselves. A trio of pegasi floated down from a balcony above the receptionist’s desk, yawning and stretching their legs. Two pairs of the earthbound ones emerged from the direction you’d come from, looking toward you and smiling as they talked. One of the pairs was led by an olive unicorn.

When they had all settled down and taken off their saddlebags, the unicorn came forward a few paces and raised a hoof. “Hey there, buddy, don’t be scared! We’re not going to hurt you. We heard voices and thought we’d come see what’s going on. Are you a friend of the Princess?”

Eight ponies, twenty-three charges, three rounds per leg, thirty-two legs ... too many. Plan B was out of the question. Make them sing, Daina said. Make them laugh.

What would a pony necromorph like to sing? You rack your brain, trying to recall nursery rhymes, choir songs, jingles, anything. All you need is a few more seconds to think. Time to stall.

“Uh yes, as a matter of fact. We go way back. Did lunch with Her Highness just yesterday. Yeah, good times.”

The unicorn scratched her chin with her hoof tip. “Yesterday, huh? I was at her meet-and-greet luncheon yesterday and I didn’t see you there.”

Shit. “Oh, did I say yesterday? I’m sorry, my mistake, I’ve uh, got a lot on my mind with the, uh, goings on and all …” The handle of the plasma cutter bites into your palm. Twinkle, twinkle, little star – that might work …

She frowns, advancing a few more steps and searching your face with her pale powder blue eyes. “Say, is your name Eye Sack? We’re actually here on a mission to take him to see the Princess. She said he’d be coming through this way.”

“Eye Sack? No, my name’s Bernard.” Better not use the same name twice. They’re not as dumb as they look.

“Well nice to meet you, Bernard. Anyway, aren't you sick of being a human yet? Let me get my list. I'll check to see what kind of pony you're scheduled to become. After that I'll fix you right up!"