• 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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Letting the Cat out of the Bag

Though Beakbreaker had decided to take a few days off from work, she changed her mind the following morning and jumped right back in to finish the transfer from the University to the tower, bidding farewell to the place she had worked at for six long years. Glasseye was sad to see her go, but not out of personal affection. He didn't voice it, but it was obvious that he was upset about not being involved in Beakbreaker's ongoing research. As the head of the University's science division, he had to continue working on campus with new students, a fact he grumbled about on our last meeting.

Beakbreaker, on the other hoof, was excited to settle in. I came by one day to see how she was doing, and found her admiring Manehattan's skyline from her new office.

“So,” Beakbreaker asked from behind her fancy desk. “What do you think?”

“Makes my cubicle look pathetic.”

Beakbreaker laughed. “Don't feel bad. I won't be spending too much time here anyway; got way too many things to work on in the lab. Speaking of which, I don't think you've seen it yet. Want a tour?”

Before I knew it, the two of us were inside Beakbreaker's lab. It was an enormous and stocked with all the best equipment bits could buy, most of which I couldn't make heads or tails of.

“Isn't it great?!" Beakbreaker squeed. "All this stuff, just for us!” She went to the closest electrical doohickey and rubbed her hoof over it. “If I had this equipment six years ago, that leg would have been ready in half the time. Just imagine what we can do now!”

“So, how long do you think it'll be before you can get those legs going?” I asked.

Beakbreaker indicated an observation window, and hundreds of identical legs in cold storage. “We could start production right away, but we're working to reduce the growing time. Thanks to having an actual staff, I can try out dozens of different techniques and method until we cut growth time in half.”

“I hope they're paying you well."

“Oh, more than plenty! Enough for me to move out of that dinky apartment and into something better.” Leaving the labs, Beakbreaker took me to a fancy apartment right next to her office. “With this I can both live and work in the same place.”

“So you'll never step outside again?” I joked.

A chuckle. “I'll be spending a lot of time here, that's for sure. So much research to do, tests to run, and oh sweet Celestia, the paperwork! I had no idea there would be so much!” She looked at me. “You know, Silverspeak, I could use someone to handle my mail and official correspondence, as well as type up my findings and make them presentable. I know you talked about not being able to walk away from your day job, but the offer still stands. You interested?”

“I don't know,” I told her. “I mean, I only just got there in the last year. It would seem a bit rude to have worked for the job so long, only to leave that quickly. I'm not sure I can--”

“I can offer you twenty bits an hour.”

“When do I start?” I asked.

***

Was it cheap of me to be swayed by the promise of increased bits? Perhaps, but with my current salary of twelve bits an hour, it was a no-brainer. Besides, being able to work with medical research that would change the world was an opportunity too good to pass up.

Saying goodbye to my previous employers, I started work at the Medicomp tower. While I didn’t get an apartment of my own, I did get an office right next to Beakbreaker’s, with an equally nice view of the Manehattan skyline. I didn't have time to enjoy the view though, for work piled up as Beakbreaker gave me a constant stream of data to summarize and compile as she continued her study and research on the legs. And as she had hoped, increased funding, staff, and equipment paid handsomely in dividends. In two months, she was able to figure out how to cut the growth time of the legs in half. While the board of directives wanted to make a leg ready within thirty days, she convinced them that six months was the shortest they could go, as any shorter and the leg would be too weak to use.

With the growth process finalized, it was time to begin clinical trials. In a way, this was the scariest part of the whole process, for if the legs didn't work, or the patient's body rejected them, then all of Beakbreaker's hard work would be for nothing. Indeed, Beakbreaker told me that the risk of rejection was the thing that kept her awake at night. But knowing the risk allowed her to work on a solution. While her staff was busy on the legs, Beakbreaker had begun working on a goo-like substance that would hopefully prevent rejection. When she first showed it to me, it didn't seem like much, just a thick, amber-colored liquid. But beneath the simple exterior was trillions of naked cells and nerve endings that, when applied to flesh, would instantly act as a bridge, so to speak, remaking themselves as the patient's cells to create seamless integration. Essentially, living glue that would trick the body into accepting the limbs.

But even with the goop and fully grown legs, there was no guarantee that they would work. We had to do testing on a live patient, and as it turned out, one of the board members had a crippled brother who would be the perfect test subject. He was brought to Beakbreaker's office, where I transcribed the resulting conversation. He was a pitiful sight walking through the door; he had been in a carriage crash several months before that crushed his front legs, which had been replaced by crude, metal prosthetics.

“Hello Mr. Greenhorn,” Beakbreaker said. “My name is Beakbreaker. My employers explained our proposal to you?”

“Not really,” Greenhorn said. He was tired and weary, not just in body, but in his voice and spirit. “Only that you might be able to help me.”

"We can. Mr. Greenhorn, for the past several years we've been working on creating natural replacement legs for ponies such as yourself, who have lost them in accidents," Beakbreaker said. "We are about to commence clinical trials, and were looking for someone to test them. Would you be interested in being the first?”

As Beakbreaker's words sank in, Greenhorn got the biggest smile I'd ever seen.

***

As Celestia's sun began to set, Greenhorn was rolled into the lab's operating room. I normally wouldn't be allowed inside, but Beakbreaker insisted I come along. The surgical room was shaped like a pit, with observers looking down on an operating table. I took my seat, as did Coin Counter, the board of directors, and other medical personnel. Beakbreaker went into the operating pit and dressed in surgical scrubs.

“Good evening, everyone. Tonight's operation is the first of its kind, for we will be performing the first transplant of our lab-grown legs onto a patient, who lost his own in an accident. If everything goes well, he'll be the first to come in with metal legs and walk out with the real thing." She washed her hooves. "Okay then, let's get started."

Greenhorn was wheeled in, breathing deeply. Nervous, yet excited. And as he was put on the operating table, I glanced out a nearby window. The sun had almost set; tonight would decide if Beakbreaker's dream would continue, or come crashing to a halt if the legs were rejected. I hoped for her sake that it would be the former.

Once Greenhorn was anesthetized Beakbreaker and her assistants went to work, removing the prosthetic legs and then the the caps covering the healed stumps where Greenhorn's legs had originally been. It was unpleasant watching those stumps be cut open to reveal raw flesh, but it was a necessary step, as an assistant then took a jar of the bonding goo and smeared it onto the wound, where it began to vanish.

“The goop is currently being absorbing into Greenhorn's body,” Beakbreaker explained. “Even as I speak, it's copying his genetic code, and, in essence, turning itself into cells identical to his own.”

Another assistant brought out a container with two legs that matched Greenhorn's coat and color. Every eye in the room was focused on Beakbreaker as she took the legs and carefully pressed them against Greenhorn's stumps so that bones and muscles were aligned. Unicorn assistants worked quickly to sew the legs in place with several spools of medical-grade string.

And then, just like that, it was done.

Beakbreaker took a moment to wipe her brow before continuing with her explanation. “With the legs attached, the goop is now working on binding itself to the tissue from both Greenhorn and the legs. All we can do for now is give it time to work.”

There were no cheers from the audience, but the air was charged with a cautious excitement. Even to my untrained eyes, everything seemed to have gone well, but there were still countless things that could go awry.

Beakbreaker's dream had taken a big step forward, but it still had many more to go.

***

Greenhorn was kept in a medically induced coma for a month, magically immobilized so he didn't move and disrupt the delicate process of merging flesh with flesh. Beakbreaker checked him several times a day to see how he was coming along, each time fearing that the new leg would show signs of necrosis. I saw that stress weighing on her as she tried to attend to her other duties, and kept reassuring her that even if things didn't work out, she could take what had been learned and apply it to the next effort. It didn't do much to cheer her, and I can't blame her. She was chasing her life's dream; anyone would be stressed out at wondering if it would work.

When the month had passed and the legs showed no signs of decaying, Beakbreaker decided that it was time to take the next step. With a team of the company's most skilled nurses, she had Greenhorn brought out of his coma. He was confused at first, but after it was explained why he was immobilized and the importance of not thrashing, he relaxed and agreed to move only when he was instructed to do so.

The magic holding Greenhorn lowered him to the bed and dissipated. Beakbreaker later told me that the ten seconds after she asked him to try moving his legs were the longest of her life. Everyone held their breath as Greenhorn looked at his legs, hesitated, and tried to move them.

His efforts were rewarded with legs twitching ever so slightly.

Beakbreaker said that everyone in the room - herself included - abandoned their professional demeanor and burst into cheers.

The surgery had worked.

For the next few days Greenhorn was the center of attention for everyone in the building. No expense was spared in giving him the best physical therapy available as he worked on building up his strength. Beakbreaker came to check on him every two days, taking a multitude of tests to measure his progress and delighting at the results. As she explained to Coin Counter and the board of directors, Greenhorn's body had accepted the legs, and it wouldn't be long until they were fully integrated. That day came sooner then expected: Two months after the surgery, Greenhorn was running through the rehabilitation center's obstacle course, jumping and landing with ease, his limbs acting better then Beakbreaker had dared hoped. And that excitement doubled when Greenhorn proclaimed that the legs were better then his old ones.

That was all Beakbreaker, Coin Counter, and the board of directors needed to hear.

***

Once more I was given the task of writing a speech, but it was my most important one yet, as it would be given to the world at large to announce what had happened to Greenhorn. It was a challenge, especially as everyone kept telling me to make it as great as possible, because Greenhorn's unveiling would become a moment for the history books, and my speech might be remembered by future generations for signaling the beginning of a new era of medicine.

No pressure.

I finished the speech two days later, and Coin Counter wasted no time in making calls, sending out letters, and setting up the most important press conference in the company's history. When the day arrived, a huge stage was set up on the front steps of the Medicomp building and constructed so that everyone in attendance would get a perfect view of what was to come. The board was present, as was Beakbreaker, who got me a seat on the side of the stage, where I would get a great view of not only the event, but the reactions of the reporters and attendees, none of whom had any idea what was coming. There were over two hundred of them and they kept coming as curious pedestrians wandered in.

Seated as I was on the sidelines, I couldn't give Beakbreaker any assurances as she strode onstage in her finest lab coat, flanked by eager executives, and led by Coin Counter, who headed to the podium, cleared his throat, and gave the biggest speech of his career.

“Mares and Gentlecolts, thank you for joining us here today, a day that will go down in history as the dawn of a new era, not only for ponies, but for science, medicine, and life itself. Over the past year and a half, we have been working on the most important medical breakthrough we have ever undertaken, and we're here to unveil it to you all.”

My heart pounded.

“Imagine a world where there is no more injury... or rather, imagine a world where the injured, the weak, and the elderly are no longer forced to shuffle around in wheelchairs or on crude prosthetics. Imagine a world where the crippled can not only walk away, but run, jump, and swim like the rest of us.” Coin Counter grinned. "Today, that dream becomes a reality. Today, Medicomp proudly presents the world's first lab-grown replacement legs!”

A curtain parted, and Greenhorn walked out to the stage's edge and posed for the reporters, only a few of whom noticed the stitches still in place on his front legs.

“Less than a year ago, Greenhorn here was crippled in an accident that took his front legs,” Coin Counter said. “And yet, here he stands, his legs returned, legs that were grown in our laboratories.

The faces of every pony present went wide in shock, and for a second I feared that we were going to be laughed at, and accused of pulling a fast one. And then the silence was broken with the bang of dozens of cameras flashing at once. The air was filled with shouts and yells as reporters hurled questions at Coin Counter, who was momentarily caught off guard by the bombardment but quickly regained his composure.

“To answer your many questions, I would like to introduce the creator of this incredible technology, Doctor Beakbreaker.” Gesturing for Beakbreaker to come up, Coin Counter stepped aside to let his prized researcher bask in the audience's attention. She had never been before a crowd as large as this, but I was proud to see how well she handled herself. She was in her element, and easily answered the questions shot her way like bullets from a gun. And as she did, I focused on the audience, wanting to gaze on their astonished faces. I wasn't disappointed.

Everyone knew this was a game-changer, if not a miracle.

***

All of us at Medicomp expected the public to be astonished by our announcement. We knew there would be debate, opinions, and perhaps some protests at how the company shouldn't tamper with nature. But we weren't prepared for the reaction we got. To say the public was astonished is an understatement. A more appropriate term is that their minds were blown.

The morning after the press conference, Manehattan was alive with all the gossip, rumors, and talk imaginable. The conference dominated the news, with editors and reporters describing it as the biggest medical story of the century. Photos were printed of Greenhorn, the Medicomp laboratories, and Beakbreaker and her assistants working on the legs. Later reports would confirm that it was one of the best-selling days in newspaper history, joining the Changeling attack on Canterlot, Twilight Sparkle becoming a princess, and Tirek's assault, to name a few. Because I had the day off, I walked through Manehattan to get an idea of how the public was taking the news. I didn't have to go far, for every conversation I overheard revolved around the legs. From the financial district to the entertainment district, every pony, regardless of their opinion, was awestruck.

A month after the press conference, Medicomp announced that they were ready to accept reservations from those who needed the procedure. By the end of the first day, the company had received hundreds of orders from the elderly, infirm, and injured alike. Within a week that number jumped into the thousands.

Beakbreaker had probably expected herself to become well known after the announcement, and sure enough, found herself the most famous individual in all of Manehattan. However, that fame soon swamped her, for every patient getting legs requested her to do the surgery. While she was eager to do so, Beakbreaker was just one zebra, and her days became a clogged morass of meetings, operations, follow-ups, and logistics. My own workload exploded as I took all her messages, notes, and tried to organize them all in a coherent way.

The first week of surgeries went by quickly, and thirty patients getting new limbs from the stock we had on hoof. Medicomp would have gladly taken more, but demand outpaced supply, and the legs in storage quickly ran out. New batches were started immediately, but it would be another six months before they grew to maturity. In the meantime, there were countless physical therapy sessions and follow-ups to ensure everything went smoothly for patients, but even after hiring dozens of new therapists and doctors, Medicomp struggled to keep up with it all.

I don't know how Beakbreaker managed to keep up with it all, but she somehow did. She went to more physical therapy sessions than I could count, and she never failed to see a patient leaving the tower with their new legs, often embracing her in the tightest hug of gratitude imaginable. She said that to see patients leave with their bodies whole and restored, and their spirits so full of hope and joy were the most rewarding moments of her life. Indeed, those were long, exhausting days for us all. But they were rewarding ones, and in the passion of doing something new, every discomfort or long shift at work was easily ignored.

***

If anyone was to follow my life up to this point, they would no doubt be wondering if I had given any thought at using Beakbreaker's talents to try and turn myself into an alicorn. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't. The thought first came to me when Beakbreaker had described the technology to me at her university, but I had shoved it aside, as I did throughout Beakbreaker's move to Medicomp, her research, and the surgeries. I didn't want to go through the pain of disappointment once again, of working so hard only to see your dreams crushed. Hope was a luxury I didn't want to give myself, and I had more important things to do. I was helping to ensure that this new technology could benefit millions, perhaps countless more long after I was gone. It was easy to concentrate all my actions on making that come true.

Yet, as time went on, the thoughts came back. I had seen the labs and equipment. Beakbreaker had the best staff in Equestria to help her produce any medical miracle she wanted, and enough funding to form and manage her own company a dozen times over. The question was obvious: Why couldn't all those resources be used to create alicorns?

If Beakbreaker could create legs, why not horns and wings?

It would have been easy to hurl myself back into the chase once again, but rather than leap in head-first and hope for the best, I decided it would be better to take a single step and test the waters. If something happened, I would pull back, and no harm would be done.

I waited for my chance. I got it a month later at the end of another long workday, when Beakbreaker trudged into her office late one night, plopping down a pile of papers and notes for me to go through. She barely managed even that, being so exhausted she could barely stand on her hooves.

“Long day?” I asked.

She nodded. “You don't know the half of it.” She collapsed into a chair. "Success is great, except when it overwhelms you.”

It was as if a lightbulb had been lit in my head. Sensing my chance, I turned on the charm and handed her a cup of tea. "Then I guess that leaves out doing horns and wings. If you invented those, you'd have no free time at all.”

Beakbreaker gave a nervous chuckle. “I could count on exhaustion taking a decade off my life.”

I chuckled. “So, did you think about actually doing it?”

“Doing what?”

“Actually doing horns and wings.”

“Good Celestia, no.” She took a gulp of her tea. "It took me six years to get to legs. I don't want to think about how long it would take to make wings and horns, or if they're even doable.”

“But are they?”

She eyed me. “You're awfully curious.”

“Can you blame me?" I asked, backing down. "Just look at how successful the legs turned out. Wings and horns seem like a logical next step.”

Beakbreaker considered it. “I suppose so... but even with all the funding and all the staff I have, I still couldn't do them, especially not horns."

My heart sank. “Why?”

“Because horns are different then legs and wings. Those two are organic with bones, muscles, and tissue. But horns... they're a complex mix of chemicals, materials, and specialized organic matter that channels magic. No one has ever managed to duplicate that in a lab." She took another gulp of tea. "Maybe one day we'll be able to make horns, but that's a long way off. Fifty, a hundred years minimum. We just don't have the technology to do it." One last sip, and her mug was emptied. "Do I have anything going on tomorrow?"

Trying to put on a normal face, I checked her schedule. "No, nothing."

“Thank Celestia. I could use the sleep.”

Trying (and failing) to toss the cup into the trash, Beakbreaker staggered out of the office towards her apartment, unaware that, without any fault of her own, my hopes had been crushed once again.

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