• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,297 Views, 1,588 Comments

The Monster Below - Greenback



An earth pony seeks to transform himself into an Alicorn, but how far is he willing to go to get what he wants?

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Intervention

When I felt myself waking up, everything hurt. My legs, back, and wings felt as if they had been beaten for hours with a baseball bat. For a moment I thought I was dead, but realized I wasn't. The dead don't feel pain.

With a groan, I opened my eyes. I was surprised to find myself in Beakbreaker's bedroom, and was even more surprised to be in her bed. I tried to remember how I got there, but the only memory I had was hitting the water. After that... nothing.

Then I realized I didn't have the horn. A panicked glance revealed that it wasn't in the room. I tried to get out of bed, desperate to find my treasure, but my legs were stiff and sore, and there was a sharp, stabbing pain from my back. Reaching behind me, I felt several tubes connected to the skin between my wings, needless embedded deep within my muscles.

I freaked out, as any pony would, and tried to yank the tubes and needles out. I would have, if the door hadn't opened and Beakbreaker rushed in. From the deep bags under her eyes, it appeared that she hadn't slept in days, but was alert at hearing my panic.

“Beakbreaker! What's going on?! Why am I-”

She hurried over and grabbed my hooves, pulling them away from my back. "You're safe," she said, holding my hooves tightly. I tried to yank away, but she refused to let go,. It had a calming effect, and the desire to rip the tubes away finally faded. When Beakbreaker saw that I was calm once more, she looked me over. “Are you feeling any pain?”

“There are needles in my back," I groaned. "And it feels like I've been beaten with a bat.”

“You fractured a few bones when you hit the water," Beakbreaker said. "You're lucky you didn't break anything. You're also lucky we got to you so quickly; another minute or two and you would have drowned.” She reached behind me and checked the tubes.

“How long have I been out?”

“Three days.” Beakbreaker frowned. “Flex your wings.”

I tried, stopped as a sharp, knife-like pain hit me.

Beakbreaker didn't say anything, but there was no mistaking the worried look on her face.

“Beakbreaker, why are we back here?"

Beakbreaker sat on the bed. “When you were pulled from the lake, we took you back to your parent's house, where I looked you over. But without the proper medical equipment, I couldn't do anything, so we had to take you back to the train.”

It took me a moment to realize why she'd do that instead of taking me to the hospital: The train had a car stocked with medical equipment, so a pony could be treated onboard if there was an emergency while we were miles away from the closest town.

“When we got you onto the train, I did a complete diagnostic scan. X-rays, blood samples, the works.”

“And?”

Beakbreaker grabbed the tubes and yanked them out. I almost cried out from the pain.

“Sorry," she said. "Best to get them all out at once.”

I nodded, tears streaking down my cheeks. “You were saying?”

“Your bones will heal, and although you tore a few muscles, they'll heal up in a few days.”

“But what about my wings? What happened to them?”

Beakbreaker hesitated.

My stomach sank.

Taking a deep breath, Beakbreaker said, "According to the x-rays, the muscles we implanted onto your shoulders are... Well, they're falling apart.”

“What?”

“I took a sample of the muscles and ran a complete diagnostic, checking it out for every condition we know of. I can't figure out why, but they're dying; it's almost as if your body is rejecting them.”

“But that's impossible!" I said. "I've had them for months now!”

“Yes, and if there was a flaw, we should have found it sooner. But maybe the breakdown was very slow, and only just reached a critical level, like how a disease can fester for months, maybe even years, without being detected.”

I should have panicked, but felt oddly calm. Now that I knew what was happening, we could focus on finding a cure. “So, what do we do now?”

“Silverspeak, I don't know how to phrase this gently, so I'm going to be blunt: your wing muscles are already too broken down to heal themselves, and I don't think surgery will do anything either. And we can't leave them alone because when they'll die, necrosis will set in and release toxins into your bloodstream. In essence, your wings will poison you.” Beakbreaker shook her head. “There's only one thing we can do... We have to remove your wings.”

The shock of hearing that was so great that my mind went numb. “No... No, we'll find a way to fix it. You always do.”

“You think I haven't tried, Silverspeak? While you were out, I've put every antibiotic, every steroid, and growth hormone I know into the muscle sample, but nothing works. At best, I can slow down the process, but the outcome is going to be the same no matter what we do.”

“Then I can get a new set of wings. You can remove these and put a new set in.”

Beakbreaker shook her head. “The muscles are genetically identical to the ones you have now. And even with all the chemicals we put in, your body will still reject them. It's like getting a limb transplant: the body sees the new limb as a foreign body and attacks it. You can slow the process with drugs, but it's going to reject the limb no matter what.”

It was a struggle not to panic; everything was happening too quickly. “But why? Why now?”

“I wish I knew, Silverspeak. I really do. But we have to act before it gets worse. I can schedule the operation for later this afternoon.”

I shook my head. “No.”

“Silverspeak, I-”

“I heard what you said, but I'm not going to give up so easily.”

“I didn't say anything about giving up. We need to do this to save your life.”

“You said you could slow the process down with drugs. I'll take them, along with anything else you can give me. We buy some time to come up with a plan.”

“Silverspeak, you don't understand-”

“No, you don't understand!” I snapped. “These wings are everything to me! You're talking about destroying my dream!”

“To save your life! If you keep those wings, you'll die!”

“I'm willing to take that chance.”

“But I'm not! I can't let you throw away your life like this!”

“It's my choice, not yours. And doesn't the medical code state that all patients have the right to make their own choices?”

Beakbreaker hesitated.

“Well?”

Beakbreaker nodded. “Yes, it does. But-”

“Then I'll keep my wings, and that's that.”

It hurt to get out of bed, but I managed to wobble to the bathroom, needing to see the wings for myself, and to get away from Beakbreaker. I understood what she was saying. I know she meant well, but she didn't understand how valuable the wings were to me. To lose them would almost be more than I could bear.

Reaching the bathroom, I turned on the light and looked into the mirror. My wings were the same as they had always been. They weren't discolored or showing signs of breaking down. I tried stretching them, but only got a few inches before pain shot through me, forcing me to stop.

Only then did I notice black splotches around my shoulders.

Leaving the bathroom, I found Beakbreaker looking out the window to the city below. She looked like a pony lost at sea, adrift without a course or knowing where she was even going.

I went to her. “Beakbreaker... I know you mean well, but this is too important to me. But we'll get through this. We'll find a a way to make things better."

“Can you do me at least one favor?” Beakbreaker asked, her eyes still fixed to the buildings and streets below. “Can you at least think things over?”

It was a fair proposition; perhaps clearing my head and thinking things over might reveal an unexpected solution. “I will.”

Beakbreaker sighed. “Thanks.”

Wanting to get a start on clearing my mind, and to find my treasure, I headed to the door. I almost left when I realized something. “Beakbreaker, do my parents know what's wrong with my wings?”

She nodded. “You can probably guess what they want you to do.”

“What about Coin Counter? Does he know?”

Another nod. “So does the company.”

I grimaced. So much for keeping things a secret. But there was one last thing I wanted to know, perhaps more than anything else. “What about the horn? Where is it?”

The mention of my treasure made Beakbreaker uncomfortable. “It's in a safe place,” she said. “You were still clutching it when we dragged from the lake. Your father wanted to destroy it right then and there, but I managed to convince him not to. Pointed out that we might still be able to use it somehow.”

“Where is it?”

“It's safe. That's all you need to know.”

I almost pressed the issue, but decided against it. I didn't want to make an already volatile situation worse by making Beakbreaker angry, or more upset than she already was. So, without another word, I left.

***

Going to Medicomp's gym, I walked around the track, letting my thoughts wander where they would. A few ponies walked in; they recognized me but kept their distance, perhaps sensing that I wasn't in the mood to talk. Or perhaps it was because they noticed the black splotches, and didn't want to risk getting infected by any diseases I might have.

I had walked for an hour when another pony came in. Spotting me, he walked over, matching my pace. “Figured I'd find you here,” Coin Counter said. “You always did seem to like going around the track.”

I nodded.

“You feel any better?”

I shook my head. “Beakbreaker told you what happened?”

Coin Counter nodded.

“You think I should have the wings removed?”

Coin Counter took a moment to think. “The health and safety of our employees comes before everything else," he said, "and we don't want you to die. If there is no way to save them without harming you... then yes, they should be removed."

His honesty was refreshing, if sobering. “Does the public know anything?"

“We got a lot of press attention when the tour was canceled, and it's hard to get an unconscious celebrity off a train and back to Medicomp headquarters without being seen. The tabloids had a field day; some said you were dead, or that you'd been infected with some sort of parasitic disease, or that your wings are poisoning you.

My head drooped. “Great.”

We walked a while longer.

“If you don't mind me pointing it out, sir, you seem awfully calm about all this,” I said.

Coin Counter's smile was grim. “There's been a lot of panic at the top. We've had a lot of meetings while you were out, trying to figure out what to do. If we go public with what's happening with the wings, that'll undermine confidence in the company. If we stay quiet, we'll be accused to trying to cover things up.” He sighed. “No easy answers to be found.”

“What would happen if you did go public?”

“Sales of our limbs would plunge. Consumer confidence would do the same. If our customers see what happened to you, they'd fear that the same would happen to them eventually. The public panics, stock prices plunge, profits drip to nothing, and Medicomp might go out of business.” His smile grew even darker. “Best case scenario: sales eventually bounce back after a long PR campaign and extensive testing to figure out what's wrong and how to keep it from happening."

"And has this happened to anyone else?"

Coin Counter shook his head. "Daily checkups on pegasi show no problems. It seems you're the only one affected."

I didn't think it was possible to feel any worse, but was proven wrong.

"In the meantime, we can still focus on our other products," Coin Counter said, trying to distract me. "We have those automated surgical units that are about to go out. And we can even do research on the horn Beakbreaker brought in.”

My ears went up.

“I'm not sure what we can do with it, since we can't do horns, but we might still get something out of-”

“Where is it?" I asked. "The horn, that is?"

“Locked away in our labs. Don't want to risk anything damaging or contaminating it." Before I could press for specifics, Coin Counter's watch beeped. “Well, looks like the board of directors has called another meeting. I'll talk to you later.”

Wanting to offer more encouragement, but knowing that he was needed, Coin Counter had to settle on giving a supporting - if uncertain- glance my way as he hurried out, leaving me to my thoughts.

***

As the afternoon went on, I grappled with my thoughts, a multitude of which tried to dominate my attention. The wings, the horn, the company... all jumbled together in a mass of uncertainty, fear, and confusion.

I spent hours walking around that track, trying to decide what to do. Keep my wings or get rid of them? Go after the horn, or leave it? For the latter, I decided to leave it be for the time being. The wings were a more pressing concern, and I weighed the pros and cons of keeping them or letting Beakbreaker remove them, as well as the long-term consequences. It wasn't easy, but eventually I made my decision: I would keep my wings.

There were risks. That I could not deny. But my wings were part of a dream, and I would not give it up. I could take any and all drugs to keep the decay in check, which would give me time to find a cure. Medicomp would no spare no expense in putting its finest doctors and chemists to work searching for a cure. But it wasn't just my selfish desires that prompted my choice: if Beakbreaker's wings, or her limbs were found to be defective at a basic, fundamental level, then her reputation would take a huge hit, or be destroyed. All those years of studying, working, and research would be for nothing.

I wouldn't let that happen.

***

As the sun began to set, I returned to Beakbreaker's apartment. She was waiting for me, lost in her own thoughts, and more nervous than I thought she'd be.

“Have you thought about what I said?” she asked.

I nodded.

“And?”

I knew she wouldn't like my answer, but I still gave it. “I'm going to keep the wings.”

Beakbreaker's face sagged, and for a moment I thought she was actually going to cry. But she pulled herself together. “As a doctor, I have to respect your wishes," she said, "even after informing you what will happen.”

I went to Beakbreaker, putting a hoof beneath her chin. “Beakbreaker, I know you're worried, but this is my choice. I'm not going to give up on this, not yet. And look at it this way: if we do find a cure, you can use it on other ponies who might have this problem in the future.”

I wasn't sure how Beakbreaker was going to react. She didn't raise a fuss, throw a temper-tantrum, or do anything out of character. Instead, she remained quiet.

Looking out the window, I watched as the sun disappeared below the horizon. Normally I would be up for dinner, but I wasn't hungry. I was tired and wanted to rest, giving my body every chance to fight off the infection raging beneath my skin.

“Maybe the best thing we can do is get a good night's sleep, and have clearer heads in the morning,” I said.

Beakbreaker gave an emotionless nod.

Going into the kitchen, I gulped down a few pain pills and went to the sofa, but Beakbreaker told me to take her bed again. Grateful for her generosity, I went to her room and slid between the sheets, glad that the matter was settled. Things had been set in motion, and hopefully morning would reveal a solution to the wings.

Turning out the lights, I closed my eyes.

***

Sleep was deep and restful, and I would have dozed well past the rising of the sun if something hadn't woken me in the middle of the night.

I don't know what cause me to stir. Perhaps a sixth sense warning me that something was nearby. Blinking, I looked around, the darkness momentarily disorienting me. I thought I was back beneath the mountains, trapped in the dark with something foul and vile. But then I saw the lights of Manehattan beyond the window and remembered that I was safe. Nothing could harm me in the Medicomp tower.

Still, the numerous shadows gave an intruder plenty of places to hide. I studied the room, looking for movement and listening for breathing or clothing brushing against furniture. I detected neither, and decided that I had heard Beakbreaker going to the bathroom.

Laying my head back upon the pillow, I closed my eyes.

That's when I heard hoofsteps.

They were coming into the room.

There were whispers. I couldn't make out what was being said, except that it was two ponies who sounded cautious, probably trying not to wake me.

They got closer. Another few seconds, and they'd reach me.

I never gave them the chance, leaping from the bed, my every muscle exploding in sudden movement. And for a second it caught my stalkers off guard, but they recovered quickly, for I heard a voice say, “Now!”

A blast of magical energy hit me, and it was like I had been covered with invisible cement, for my body went perfectly still. I couldn't move, nor could I open my mouth or move my vocal cords, rendering me silent. Floating above the bed, my eyes darted about, saw the ponies emerge from the shadows.

Mangus grinned as he held me effortlessly in place. Beside him, Beakbreaker watched, barely able to match my gaze.

“Like a fish to a string,” Mangus said.

“I'm sorry Silverspeak,” Beakbreaker said. Unlike Mangus, she wasn't enjoying the situation. “A doctor must respect the wishes of his or her patients... unless their lives are in immediate, life-threatening danger.”

I stared at her, unable to make a sound.

Anxious to get going, Beakbreaker left the room. Mangus followed, floating me between the two of them. I could only watch her as we went to the elevator, and then to the surgical wing. Once there, we went into the prep room, where Beakbreaker quickly changed into surgical scrubs. Her assistants were already waiting for us, avoiding my gaze.

Mangus lowered me face-down onto the gurney, and the assistants were quick to slip leather straps onto me, tightening them down so I didn't have a chance of slipping away once the magic wore off. And while they could move my limbs with ease, I couldn't even twitch.

“You know, Doc,” Mangus said, “You could get your medical license revoked for this. Operating on someone without their consent, and all.”

“If I do, then so be it.”

Mangus was surprised. “You're willing to give up your entire career for one guy?”

A tug from Beakbreaker, and the last strap was tightened down. “Yes.”

The assistants wheeled me into the operating room. Mangus and Beakbreaker followed, the former keeping his magic active as the gurney was locked into place and equipment brought forward: knives, surgical scissors, and trays large enough to hold muscles.

The anesthesia machine was turned on, and Beakbreaker walked to my face, the black mask in hoof. “I'm sorry Silverspeak,” she whispered, “but please believe me when I say that this is for your own good.”

I wanted to scream, to yell at her to stop, but remained silent as the mask went over my mouth. And as the chemicals entered my lungs, the anesthesia began to drag me into sleep. But unlike my first surgical procedure, I didn't go quietly. I fought with everything I had, knowing that once I fell asleep, I would be helpless to stop Beakbreaker.

But it was a fight I couldn't win.

In seconds, everything went dark and silent.

***

Unlike the first surgery, in which there had been peaceful nothingness, I dreamed. But my dreams were nightmares filled with me running down dark, rocky passages that had no exits, and walls that I kept hitting, cutting my sides and my skin. And all the while I was chased by the unseen monstrosity that had nearly taken my life. Now it attacked again, its long fingers slicing at my back, leaving deep scratches besides the gashes from sharp stones. And no matter how hard I ran, no matter how great my terror, I couldn't outrun the thing.

With a great leap, the abomination leapt onto my back, digging deep as it yanked back, tearing tendrils and snapping nerves as my wings were ripped out, leaving gaping holes in my shoulders.

I slipped and fell on my own blood, sliding seemingly forever, barely managing to turn and see the thing standing before me, hoisting my wings up high, bathing in blood flowing from the stumps and laughing, its demonic, wordless voice cruel beyond imagining, delighting in my misery.

I screamed. I cried, and I tried to claw my way back, to grab my wings as they melted before me.

And then the thing lunged, its mouth opening wide.

That's when I woke with a scream. Or, rather, I tried to scream, for there was something in my mouth. For an instant I thought I had woken from one nightmare into another, but realized that wasn't true. The walls around me were white and smelled of sanitizing fluid. I was lying on my stomach in an elevated hospital bed, unable to move due to straps that held me down tightly.

Fear grabbed hold and I bucked, trying to break free as I yelled for help. At least, I tried to, for I realized that there was a muzzle over my mouth; I had seen such a device when first touring the building. The doctors who showed it to me hoped they never had to use it, for it had been designed to silence patients who wouldn't stop screaming or making a racket.

I thrashed and struggled, fighting like a wild animal who had known freedom his whole life, only to have it taken from him in an instant and without just cause. Had Beakbreaker put me here? Did she believe me to be some lunatic who would break free and kill everyone if given the chance?

I thrashed, determined to break free and demanding to know why she had done this, only to stop.

My back... it felt raw.

Shaking, I was just able to twist my head far enough to get a glimpse at my back.

I nearly fainted from what I saw.

My back was bare, save for stitches on my shoulders.

My wings were gone.

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