Author's Note: I've been working on a completely separate My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic story for the past couple of months, and I'm about ten thousand words into it, but it's not nearly ready for publishing. In the meantime, I decided to write a quicker spinoff story of The Conversion Bureau, which I saw on the Equestria Daily blog. The story seems to get mixed reactions, mostly for showing telltale signs of self-insert wish fulfillment, but regardless of how people might feel about the story itself, some folks are having fun writing spinoffs. I thought it'd be fun too, so here's what I came up with.
Contains a smattering of bad language and gun-related violence.
The pickup came to a hard stop, and a young man sitting in the back snapped awake. His cheek rubbed the smooth wood of his rifle's stock as he lifted his head.
The rifle was a military-surplus Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk 1, built over one hundred years before in the United Kingdom. Though the young man holding the rifle didn't know it, it had seen combat in Western Europe in the days when his great-grandfather, now long dead, had been a little boy. It had belonged to his uncle as a collector's item in the Before-Time, but as things were now, his uncle no longer had a use for it—or much anything else, for that matter.
It had fought against a world-destroying tyranny once, and it was about to fight another.
"We're here," grunted the driver as he heaved his beer-bellied bulk out of the driver's seat of the pickup. Leaving the door open, and the door-ajar warning tone pinging insistently, he waddled around to the pickup's bed, where the young man and four other fighters sat uncomfortably. A seventh fighter got out of the passenger's side of the pickup and started scouting the immediate area.
"Patrol's gonna be movin' through here," said the driver in an annoying Appalachian drawl. "We're gon' stop 'em 'n git this road clear fer the big boys. Hustle on out 'n find y'self some firin' positions." He dropped the tailgate on the pickup and went back to the cab as everyone piled out.
The driver pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from the pickup's bench seat and put the sling over his neck. The scuffed finish of the rifle nearly blended into the black of his Harley-Davidson t-shirt. He took dented AK magazines from the floor of the truck and stuffed them into the cargo pockets of his trousers. When he was done, he slammed the driver's door shut, much harder than was needed. The door-ajar tone cut off, and there was sudden, complete quiet there on the roadside.
"Use hard cover," said one of the young man's fellow passengers, a thin middle-aged man with sparse graying hair. "Only establish line-of-sight when you're ready to fire."
The thin man shouldered his aging M16 rifle as he looked to the young lady with them, his daughter. She was about the same age as the young man and carried only a surplus Makarov pistol and extra bandoliers of ammunition for her father. In the Before-Time, the young man would likely have fancied her, assuming he could work up the nerve to ask her on a date, but now, the grim smoke of ongoing war and attrition had sapped all but the most necessary survival instincts from humanity.
The driver snorted as he passed by the young man. "Gonna fight with that?" he asked.
The young man's eyes fell. "It was all I could find in time."
"How much ammo you got on ya?"
"Just what's in here," said the young man, patting the receiver of the Enfield.
"Ten rounds," said the driver, and spat. "Jes' stay out of the way and keep yer head down. We'll find you sumpin' better 'fore the next fight."
The scout—the nervous-looking soccer mom that had been in the passenger seat—came back to the group, breathing heavily. Her mom-jeans were dirty and torn from several battles. She, the wannabe-biker who had driven them there, and the gray-haired thin man were the closest thing to combat veterans left both alive and human on Earth. She shifted her Remington shotgun to her other arm as she caught her breath.
"We can use the gas station over there to make a stand," panted Soccer Mom. "All the windows are already broken out, though, so we'll be vulnerable to Potion."
Wannabe Biker whistled through his teeth. "Sheeit. Well, it's better'n stayin' out here with our dicks flappin' in the wind. Might could still be some gas in the tanks too, maybe.
"Better fill up before they arrive," said Thug, another person who had been riding in the bed of the pickup. The young man named him Thug because he didn't give the impression he'd been on the right side of the law even in the Before-Time. "We might have to get out of here in a fuckin' hurry."
Wannabe Biker nodded at that. "Well, git to it," he said. "No tellin' how long we got, jes' be ready to fight and bug out if it's a Potion Patrol."
The last person to speak was the newest addition to the slapdash team of stragglers that had been assembled over the past week. The young man had named him Skates, because the effete fellow had been wearing the same pair of roller skates since they day they'd found him scavenging in a supermarket out in the suburbs. Skates seemed a little less than sane, and there was no better indication of this than his rather inconsistent display of emotion.
"Potion? Oh dear. Still, I suppose it's better than Purity. Look, if it's Potion, I'll just draw them away to help you all get away, all right?"
Over the months of battle, the humans had started to adopt the term "Potion" as both a shorter way of saying "Ponification" and as the name of the mysterious substance used to turn people into ponies. Once, not too long ago, there had been the Conversion Bureaus, opened by the ponies to take human volunteers to be ponified. As the volunteers gradually dried up to nothing, there was no more need for the Conversion Bureaus, and they were closed. In their wake, however, the ponies initiated the second phase of their plan: a policy shift to total war. Humans the world over were now subject to ponification—"potion"—by force, and those who managed to avoid or successfully fight Potion and Potion Patrols were dealt with by the feared Purity Patrols. "Purity" was the ponies' euphemism for death. Humans who would not become ponies were purified.
It was twenty minutes before the opening shots were fired.
It was a Potion Patrol. The young man was thankful that the little band he was a part of had not yet drawn the attention of Purity. Potion Patrols were under orders to ponify any human they encountered, not kill them. Humans, of course, were under no such rules of engagement. Still, if a human was ponified, that was it for them. They became instantly loyal to Empress Celestia and would turn on their former comrades, even if they had been friends or family a moment before.
The young man peeked over his miniature fortress of shelving and Plexiglas to look out the window at their attackers. There were some two dozen ponies, twenty or so on the ground and two pegasi providing top cover and reconnaissance. The unicorns had Potion launchers on their backs, simple mortar-like tubes fired via magic. The normal ponies, being the fastest runners, had debilitating shock-prods strapped to their forelegs and nose. Their job was to close with humans quickly and disable them via electric shock so that the Potion could find its mark without resistance.
He bit his lip and rested his Enfield on the windowsill, lining the iron sights up with the nearest Earth pony. The unicorns were the primary targets, but they stayed well back from the front line, almost beyond visual range. Their Potion mortars were amazingly accurate, but they took concentration to fire, which meant they had to stand still. The ponies had learned early on, losing countless Potion unicorns to human snipers, that they had to outrange their targets and provide support for the unicorns. He only had ten rounds, so wasting shots trying to catch a unicorn was out of the question. The best the young man could do, he figured, was thin out the charging Earth ponies.
Ponies were small, but advancing in a straight line made them easy targets. The young man squeezed the trigger, and the pony in his sights went limp even as it ran.
He cycled the bolt of the rifle, the spent brass clinking musically off the side of the window frame. Without hesistation, the young man took up a new target. Gunfire erupted from the other fighting positions. The young man knew the different reports well enough: the chattering report was from Wannabe Biker's AK, the popping was Gray Hair's M16, and the slower, hollow clapping was Thug's SKS rifle. Soccer Mom's shotgun was no good at long range, nor was the pistols used by Daughter and Skates. They were tasked with last-ditch defense, as well as covering their retreat once things got too hot.
The young man fired again, and was rewarded with a jet of arterial blood as a second Earth pony went down. He cycled the bolt again, finding it to be a rather poetic, satisfying punctuation mark to each shot.
A burst of fire from Wannabe Biker's Kalashnikov at another window caught one of the two pegasus ponies, which spiraled down to plow into the ground with a sickening, wet crunch.
The first glob of Potion landed on the roof of the gas station. It was a spotting round more than anything else, and the unicorns had them dialed in perfectly. The young man felt his heart leap in apprehension.
"Get down!" yelled Gray Hair. All fire ceased, and the young man hunkered down below the window. He heard another splat, this one much louder and closer. It had landed inside the gas station. The damn unicorns had put it right through a window. He quickly scanned the interior of the building. Nobody had been hit, but there was now Potion inside the building with them, a clinging purple goo with the consistency of maple syrup. It smelled strongly of berries, and the rumor was that it was the very same substance that humans used to ingest willingly at the Conversion Bureaus. Either way, contact with the skin, no matter where and how little, was enough for ponification.
The young man gritted his teeth and popped up over his cover again, hastily taking aim and firing at the nearest Earth pony he could see. The nearest Earth pony was very near indeed. His shot went wide. He'd missed.
Thug's semi-automatic SKS fire raked the Earth pony, and its legs gave out from under it, the stunguns sparking as the pony kicked about in its death-throes. The young man cycled the bolt and took a breath.
Between them, one pegasus and four to six Earth ponies had been taken out altogether. Even not counting the two unicorns firing Potion, that still left plenty more attackers to fend off. The young man considered trusting his comrades to kill the rest of the Earth ponies and save his ammo for the unicorns—his rifle was best suited out of all of them for accurate, long-distance shots, after all. Still, the fewer ponies there were chasing them, the better chances they had of—
An Earth pony leapt through an open window, a dark-gray male with a charcoal mane. "Empress Celestia bids you welcome to the Equestrian Empire!" he shouted, even as he advanced on Soccer Mom. "You have but to lay down your arms and submit to ponification, and you will be delivered unto the bliss of Equestrian life—"
Soccer Mom blew the gray pony's head off with her Remington, and in the same instant Thug screamed in pain, dropping his SKS and clutching his arm. Some of the buckshot had winged him.
"Bitch!" he shouted. "Watch the fuck where you point that thing!"
"S-sorry!" said Soccer Mom, racking the pump on her shotgun.
Thug gritted his teeth and picked up his rifle with some effort, resting it on the windowsill, using his left hand to aim and shoot now that his right hand was in too much pain to move. "Ain't no way I'm becoming some goddamn mincing animal," he growled. "No way."
The young man turned his attention back outside. Another Earth pony was upon him, at point blank range. He fired without thinking. The shot grazed the pony, but it was still up and running.
He didn't have time to cycle the bolt before the red pony leapt straight at him, the stunguns arcing out, seeking him. If he got stunned, it was over: hooves and hay for the rest of his days. He staggered back a step, nearly slipping in the Potion that had landed inside earlier. He brought the rifle up as a shield, but the pony landed in front of him, darting around and sliding to a stop inside the sizeable puddle of Potion. To approach the pony now would be to step into the Potion; he was out of range of melee combat.
The young man clumsily cycled the Enfield's bolt as the pony started spouting her propaganda at them, just like the first. "To live in Greater Equestria is to live a life of peace and magic, in friendship and harmony with all of the other billions of humans-turned-pony that have come before you. There is no pain in the turning, only joy. It's not too late, my friends, we still welcome you with open hooves."
The others hadn't noticed the shock-pony inside until she'd started talking, and even then the gunfire was drowning out her voice for most of them. Daughter fired her pistol, but missed, nearly hitting the young man in the process. The crack of the bullet passing by his head made him stumble back towards the window, but he at least had his rifle cocked and ready to fire again. At this range, it was hard to miss.
He let out a breath, but his relief was short-lived. Another wet slap met his ears, and he spun around to find Wannabe Biker and Skates both coated with Potion, the window that they had been manning dripping with the purple goop as well.
Skates screamed, holding his hands up in front of his elongating face. His fingers were receding into his hands, his joints becoming less pronounced and stubbier even as he watched in horror.
"My hands, my hands!" he wailed. "I'll never be a surgeon now!" He started laughing hysterically, his suspected insanity now taking full hold. "It's wonderful, it's wonderful! I'm alive! I'm more alive now than—"
The boom of the rifle shot indoors was deafening. Gray Hair killed Skates with a single shot to the head, and even as his dead body crumpled to the ground, it continued to transform into a lime-green pegasus.
"We were wrong!" said Wannabe Biker, his accent completely gone. He shrank and shrank down to pony size, his beer belly disappearing into the lithe, fit frame of a tan-coated Earth pony. "It's amazing, I feel so free! We've been fools! Please, I want you all to stop this and come to Equestria with me, we can start over, and live a new li—
It was the young man's turn to put down a former comrade. He cycled the bolt again.
The remaining Earth ponies were now at the entrances and the windows, advancing slowly and carefully. The young man couldn't see the Pegasus, but he guessed it was circling around overhead outside, waiting to chase after any humans that managed to escape the cordon. They were pinned, and could no longer stay at the windows.
The five humans retreated to the center of the room, carefully stepping around the large puddle of Potion and the dead shock-pony in the middle of it. Over a dozen shock-ponies started to file in through the windows and the doors. As they did, another of them started talking again.
"We're not here to hurt you," she said. "All we want is to share in the potential this world could be without humans. There's no need to fight; we want you to be happy!" They continued to close in.
"Fucking die!" screamed Thug, hefting his rifle up in an attempt to fire at the pony that had spoken. The shot went wild, ricocheting and connecting with a completely different pony, who grunted in pain and fell to the floor, alive but seriously hurt. For Thug, however, the exertion of lifting the rifle with his weak arm coupled with his blood loss caused him to drop it. The SKS slam-fired as soon as it hit the floor, the shot flying harmlessly out the window.
The ponies pounced on the now-unarmed human with blinding speed, multiple stunguns arcing out and bringing him to the floor. Daughter and Soccer Mom both fired, killing a pony each and nearly expending their ammo, but they couldn't get them all, and the young man's Enfield was too long for such tight quarters. While the ponies were busy with Thug, the rest of them scattered, finding hiding places amongst the barren aisles formerly full of potato chips, candy bars, gum, and other junk food.
From the other side of a magazine rack, the young man heard the shock-ponies conversing.
"Roll him into the ponification agent. We can get him medical treatment after he's been turned."
"What about the others?"
"Spread out and stun them just like we did with this one. They can't kill all of us."
The hard edge in Thug's voice had been reduced to a whimper. From the sound of it, he could barely speak over the electrical convulsions. "N-no, please… I don't want to… t-to…"
A surprisingly soothing female voice spoke to him. "Shh, there now, it's all right. You'll see. I used to be human myself. I would never go back. Once you've turned, you'll agree."
"No! Don't… don't!"
"Just a little bit farther…"
"D-don't… please! I can't—"
There was silence, but after a moment, it was broken by a scuffle. The young man peered out from the side of the magazine rack to see Soccer Mom make a break for a window, throwing down her shotgun to lend speed to her escape. Calmly, the young man raised his rifle and fired at one of the three shock-ponies pursuing her. The pony went down dead.
Soccer Mom made it to a window, and for a moment it looked like she would break free, but the unicorns had moved up with the perimeter of the gas station secured. As she awkwardly mantled over the windowsill, another charge of Potion landed full-on on her side, knocking her back inside to the floor. Now protected from being killed by the shock-ponies, her transformation into a light-brown unicorn was swift and complete. She shrugged free of her human clothes, stepping from her mom-jeans and flexing her four legs.
"I can't believe it!" she exclaimed. "The magic! I feel the magic! In my horn, in my body, in the world… all over! My kids… my kids might still be alive, in Equestria! I can go see them now! We can be a family again…"
The young man's eyes widened and he craned his neck to see what had become of Thug. His protests had stopped, and laying in a small pool of blood, mixing with the Potion, was a blue pegasus with a wound on its right foreleg. He was shakily getting up, his baggy jacket, boxers, and oversized jeans pooling around his hooves.
"When can we leave?" he asked, his foul mouth seemingly gone with his humanity.
"There are still three more," said Soccer Mom to both Thug and the shock-ponies. "We need to befriend them and take them with us. The father and daughter are behind the third aisle. I didn't see where the other one went."
At the mention of him, Gray Hair's M16 dropped from nerveless hands and he half-stumbled, half-ran out of the aisle, with a handful of ponies already giving chase. Amazingly, he made it to the front door, throwing it open and dodging the pony waiting outside. He disappeared from sight into the cloudy fog, several ponies committing to the chase, his fate uncertain. The young man looked back to Daughter, whose mouth was open wide in disbelief at her father abandoning her.
Their eyes met, and the young man pointed frantically at the rifle Gray Hair had left behind. Daughter nodded, put down her pistol, and took up her father's weapon, handling it with uncertainty.
"There!" said a male voice. "He's behind that shelf off to the side. Bring some of the agent with you on your hooves; the unicorns won't be able to hit them with the agent in the aisles."
He'd been spotted when he'd stuck out his arm. The young man's heart began to jackhammer in his chest. He had to move.
He put his finger in the trigger well of the Enfield and sprinted out from the magazine rack, making for the aisle Daughter was in. He fired blindly in the direction of the gathering of ponies, not bothering to even look if he hit anything.
He slid to a stop next to Daughter, who was already covering the other entrance to the aisle. A shock-pony rounded a corner, each of her four hooves coated in Potion. It was a last stand.
The young man cycled the action and fired, putting her down.
He tried to cycle the action again, but the bolt got stuck on the last round, jamming the tip of the bullet under the feed ramp. Now the bolt would move neither forward nor backward, and more ponies were coming around the corner. The Enfield had finished firing.
He threw the rifle at the ponies, who sidestepped it easily. Behind him, Daughter fired a burst from the M16 at ponies approaching her too, and the noise of it caused him to instinctively put his hands to his ears.
At that, the lead shock-pony on his side of the aisle pounced on him, one hoof stepping down on his arm.
A soothing heat, like a towel compress soaked in warm water, ran through his arm and into the core of his being. The world grew sharper in contrast, the dull gray of the tired human world seeming to bloom in color and life, giving way to the glory of Equestria. In that moment, the young man envisioned all the disease of humanity shriveling up and dying under the expanding lush green of Equestria, spreading out from that small island in the Atlantic all over the world, cleansing it and bestowing a new, eternal era of wonder and happiness to all. He felt his own humanity melting away, and it was only in remembering his own face and what it looked like did he snap back to reality.
His vision was hazy, but he could see that his right arm had already completely changed into a stout yellow foreleg, complete with hoof. The pleasant hot-towel feeling was up to his shoulder, and the young man somehow knew that when it got to his mind, it would be done. He would be one of them.
Groggily, as if sleepwalking, he fumbled around with his left hand for the Makarov that Daughter had dropped. His right hand—hoof—would no longer follow his instructions. Finally, his shaky hand closed around the pistol's grip.
He and Daughter looked at each other one last time. Daughter looked scared, but the young man smiled, and in resignation, she turned back around to level her rifle at the approaching horde of ponies, each one with Potion on their hooves.
The transformation had almost reached his mind. There wasn't much time. The young man could feel his ears raising, his facial features lengthening, his eyes enlarging. He pressed the pistol to his temple and squeezed the trigger. He was conscious just long enough to hear the first miniscule fragment of the gunshot. He didn't see the pistol's slide lock back, its magazine empty.