• Published 18th Sep 2023
  • 254 Views, 9 Comments

Prometheus - Calipony



Twilight wants to get to the bottom of a miracle cure for a lethal disease

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Prometheus

Cherilee’s distress as she leaned over her limp body. Rainbow Dash flying her at breakneck speed to the hospital with the help of another pegasus. The clang of the gurney rushing inside, the flashes of the needles. The hours in the waiting room, the glancing looks. The sorry face of the professor, ensconced in his armchair, about to announce that—

Rarity bolted upright in her bed, panting, soaked in her own sweat. She blinked at the emptiness, then sighed and slowly lay back down on her pillow. Recurring nightmares. She had to sleep. The appointment was tomorrow morning. She would have to put up a brave front, and for that she needed rest. She cast a slumber spell and flopped.

The countenance of the professor was stern. Unfortunately, she said, the tests confirm the first diagnosis: corticonephritis. Excuse me?, said Rarity. A degenerative illness affecting adrenal cortex. Rarity shook her head. I apologise, the professor carried on, it’s a gland situated just over the kidneys and responsible for the synthesis of vital hormones. Oh my God! Is she going to recover? There was a heavy hush. Look, I won’t lie to you. The prognosis is bleak. She is in terminal phase, and the illness develops very quickly in children. A week, two at— Rarity burst in tears. Sweet Celestia! Why her? The professor bit her lips. Unless—, she finally said. Unless what? Rarity blubbered. Unless you allow me to try a new treatment on her. It’s supposed to work wonders, but we don’t have a lot of history— Go for it, Rarity yelled. For Celestia’s sake, what are you waiting for? But it might have a lot of side effects we don’t— Can it save her? Apparently. Then do it, Rarity said. Do it and address the side effects when she’s out of danger.

Twilight knocked at the door. Come in! Cheerful voices. She opened the door to the typical sterilised hospital room. Sweetie Belle under the sheets, Rarity at the bedside, smiling. How do you feel, Sweetie? Good, I suppose. So, the treatment worked? Definitely! Twilight kissed the foal’s forehead and sat. You don’t feel sick or— No, not at all. I feel I could get up and bolt away. Well, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you’ll have to stay here for at least a few more days, the doctor said as he stepped in. Hi doctor! Twilight stood up and walked to the practitioner. Good morning doctor, I’m Twilight Sparkle, personal assistant to Celestia. Oh, a pleasure. He bowed. How may I help you? Tell me, what did you administer her? Isn’t corticonephritis supposed to be fatal in all cases? It’s a new compound and we don’t have much data about it. The laboratory that manufactures it keeps all details under wraps. All I know is that it is a steroid-like molecule extracted from a plant that grows in distant mountain ranges. Weird, Twilight reasoned aloud, plants don’t grow steroids. What is the lab name? Hippotech. Never heard of them. They’re brand new, yes. This is the first and only molecule in their portfolio. Bizarre, Twilight said, perplexed.

Twilight waited for the night to come. It hadn’t been easy first to locate and then to reach the remote complex, lost in a secluded valley at the confines of the kingdom. The entrance was cleverly camouflaged in the vegetation and, it seemed, the installation was partly subterranean, so that no pegasus flying above would notice it. It was surrounded by two high fences adorned with barbed wire, but she couldn’t care less: she would teleport beyond. It mattered more to escape the vigilance of the guards. Strangely, she hadn’t seen any. Maybe they, too, were concealed in the lush greenery, waiting to ambush any trespasser.

When the night fell, Twilight drew her night-vision goggles and scanned round for heat sources, but none showed up. The place was quiet but for a few night birds. It felt surreal. Nopony had come in or out since her arrival. There was no way anypony could’ve been tipped off about her presence. Even Celestia didn’t know her true destination. It could be a trap, but the odds were minimal. Maybe the complex had been abandoned, or— more likely— a specific spell had been cast to set off a remote alarm in case of intrusion. That was a risk she was willing to take. So, casting a light protective spell around her, she materialised right in front of the entrance door.

She froze and waited, but nothing happened. Either the place was unguarded, or the alarm was blaring somewhere and she couldn’t hear it. She examined the heavy entrance door, found no active spell, so she turned the handle and, to her surprise, the door cracked obediently open, disclosing a sliver of darkness. She pulled the door further and faced a dark, silent concrete tunnel.

Unwilling to use any built-in lights, she cast a glow spell, sidled in and cautiously closed the door behind her. The silence was both disquieting and confusing. She tiptoed forward a few tens of metres before entering an empty room set with seats and a large coffee table. At the far end, two iron doors labelled ‘Administration’ and ‘Lab’. She rounded the table toward the latter, which she found closed. No visible lock, certainly a spell. She tried a simple counter formula, but the door didn’t move. She was recalling her favourite teleport spell when the lights suddenly turned on, glaring into the room. May I help you, miss Sparkle?, a voice softly said behind her. She started in surprise and spun round to face a dapper, handsome, smiling pegasus, somewhere in his middle age. I apologise for this somewhat scary setup. My name is Blue Pill, and I’m the manager of this facility. I have been expecting you, Miss Sparkle. It’s an honour to have you here. But how did you know I was about to come? Blue Pill giggled. The hospital told us you had asked several questions about TH-21 — that’s the way we name our molecule here — and knowing about your insatiable curiosity and love for science, it was a simple matter to guess you would show up sooner or later. Twilight sighed. That’s one disadvantage of being larger than life, Blue Pill joked. I didn’t know I was, Twilight protested. Your reputation precedes you, miss Sparkle. But let me show you round. Twilight smiled sheepishly.

Blue Pill put one of his forelegs against the door, which opened immediately. Hoofprint recognition, he explained. Beyond the door they entered a dank, narrow tunnel which ran further into the hill. The lights Blue Pill switched on were sparse and feeble. He walked ahead of Twilight. What do you know of corticonephritis?, he asked. Not much. It is a degenerating condition affecting the adrenals, which hampers the production of adrenalin, also known as epinephrin. Since the body cannot function without epinephrin, the disease is fatal. Absolutely, Blue Pill carried on, and do you know how many ponies die of corticonephritis each year? I have no idea. More than six thousand. The population of a little city like Ponyville, every year. Dear Celestia, Twilight exclaimed. I didn’t know that. It’s not known outside medical circles, so no wonder you never heard about it. But it underlines the need we have to find a suitable remedy to this awful disease at all costs. I agree, Twilight said.

They stopped at an opening on the right wall. Blue Pill flicked a switch. This is the laboratory in which we extract TH-21 from the raw material we gather. I guess you’re not interested by the technicalities, right? Not really, Twilight confirmed. I suppose it’s standard chemistry. Yes, nothing really out of the ordinary here. Glassware, reactants, gloves. Let’s proceed.

At Hippotech, he continued, we asked ourselves why some species don’t develop corticonephritis and came to the conclusion they evolved the ability to synthesise a prophylactic factor. After a long search, we finally isolated that factor in one of the candidate species we were studying. He stopped before a heavy door, and turned round. Be warned that what you will see may shock you. We’re aware we’re treading a delicate line between health and legality. But this should soon be over as our synthetic production line ramps up to full capacity. We have isolated the gene responsible for the synthesis of TH-21 and spliced it into microbial genome, with promising results. However, in the meanwhile, we have to carry on extracting it the old way. Now that you’ve been warned… He produced a heavy key from one pocket, inserted and turned it. The deadlocks rattled and the door creaked open.

Twilight found herself at the entrance of a clinic room. Under the spectral light, four beds were placed alongside one another, each of which hosted a long, thin shape under white sheets, restrained with heavy leather belts. Their faces were wrapped in masks, connected to complex machines located above the respective beds by miscellaneous pipes and tubes. What are they? Twilight asked. I believe they call themselves ‘men’, Blue Pill answered. The liver of these creatures is quite marvellous, he added. You cut a part of it, not too much, and it regrows, much like plants can regrow broken limbs. We extract TH-21 from those. Each week, we harvest slices from the liver of a different specimen, in turn, and then let it regrow. Part of the tubing you see, he said as he gestured towards the machinery, blow gases that maintain them in light sleep while delivering anaesthesia, so they don’t suffer. The rest is used to force-feed them with nutrients that foster liver regeneration.

Fascinated, Twilight padded to the nearest bed. The mask was covering all the creature’s face from the nose down, leaving only the eyes visible. They were closed. Out of curiosity, she tried to fold the sheet up to catch a glance of the body, but awkwardly bumped her hoof into a limb instead. The creature’s eyelids parted wearily. Green irises roved round for a few seconds, then locked and focussed on Twilight. In that gaze, the unicorn read unbearable distress, grim resignation and unquenchable hatred.

She averted her face.

Comments ( 9 )

Seeing that the ratings are disabled, I truly fear just what I'm about to get myself into...

11698656
TBH, this is most a case of coming to terms with an unfinished story. There are so many I left in a half-arsed state, I feel I should give them more consideration than I did until now. That being said, I hope it wasn't such a bumpy ride.

11698712
Well, if I could give you an upvote, I would.
For all the rough edges, I really liked the story. The, let's say, bold stylistic choices are certainly off the beaten path, but I enjoyed the mood it set. It was genuinely engaging. I liked the set up. I liked the characters. I liked the mystery.
I suppose the biggest drawback of the story is the lack of a conclusion. Twilight finds out how the medicine is made, a quick disturbing moment, and that's all.
Nevertheless, while I would've liked a full story told in a more conventional way, or at least a solid conclusion, I still liked your story and think it has merits.
Cheers. :twilightsmile:

11700895
Zaid I’m delighted you took the time to comment, and still more delighted with your appreciation.

The ending is what Horizon wished. In his comment about the WriteOff version, which you can dig up from the thread if you have enough grit to do it, he says: ‘I like where it ends.’ So be it. Frankly, I agree with him. While I understand your legitimate curiosity about the fallout, I don’t think it’d add anything meaningful to the story. I hope the clues left are enough to guess what will happen next.

Once again, a big big thanks for taking the time to write your comment. ♡

11701313
True. Trying to expand this would turn it into a fundamentally different type of story. I don't know if the style would work as well if it was a longer piece, either.
Nevertheless, I can't say I'm unhappy with this little fic. If I'm happy, and you're happy, I don't think we can ask for more.
I hope you continue writing in the future!

11701980
Sure, I have other minifics to build on in the pipeline! Thanks again ♡

The twist at the end really got me, that dark tag is well-deserved. I'd love to see a sequel where the victims manage to break out and kill everyone resposible for their suffering.

11709744
Thanks for your appreciation!
Unfortunately, I think you’d be disappointed. I can manage stories up to, say, 2500 words, but I am totally inept at writing extended, constructed plots. All the long stories I’ve written for the Writeoff have been rightly trashed. So, unless someone helps, I really don’t feel like it… :(
Thanks again!

11710494
You're welcome! And it's okay, not everyone is a human-typewriter capable of cranking out dozens of stories a week.

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