Seas of the Moon
|This story contains adult content.|
Seas of the Moon
The Sandes Tower was a gleaming silver spire that stabbed up out of the lush greensward in the outskirts of Michigan, its shape reminiscent of the aerodynamic lines of a Buck Rogers-style rocket ship. Cal stood in quiet awe in its shadow, the robocab waiting patiently with his luggage while the young man drank in all the retro glory of the structure.
It really wasn't anything super special in the grand scheme of things, a corner of his mind tried to remind him. Sandes was a big company but not really all that big; the building was so impressive largely due to its isolation out here in the suburbs. But that didn't matter to Cal. This building, even with its kitchy faux-spacecraft retro facade, represented opportunity and hope for the future. Earth's, yes, but his own most of all.
Cal had struggled to rise from the lowest classes for as long as he could remember. Education hadn't come easy, and so he had studied as hard as he could; he'd left home at an early age and scrounged his own way through a blend of courses and menial jobs to qualify for a scholarship to an actual university. He'd managed to squeak out an electrical engineering degree. It was a good degree, and a good profession for these difficult times. It had nearly broken his spirit when the hardest part of all turned out to be the search for a job after getting it.
The churning economy of Earth was going through one of its regular downturns. The latest, greatest technology was failing again; Vidnet had fragmented under the weight of its own complexity, riven with viruses and incompatibility. Electrical engineers were in tremendous demand right now as major corporations retooled their facilities. It was the eighth such catastrophe since the first collapse of the Internet almost a hundred years ago and it had almost become an expected routine. Most people just used the term 'netdeath'.
But for whatever reason, Cal's resume kept falling on deaf ears. Perhaps there was some particular combination of features in his background that kept tripping pre-screening filters, his relatively low social class or his age at graduation. He was only twenty five but that was still several years older than most of his peers. The table in his tiny apartment had been accumulating a steadily growing pile of rejection forms and bill payment past-due reminders. Soon he would have had to start considering yet another menial job just to make ends meet, and he'd feared that this time without his courses to draw him back it would wind up becoming his long-term career.
He'd had less than a week's leeway in his rent payments when the letter from Sanders had come. They were interested in him. So interested, in fact, that they paid him a consideration fee right then and there to entice him to come for an interview. He'd had to re-read the letter several times before he could even begin to believe the incredible reversal of his bad fortunes; not only did he seem virtually guaranteed a position, but it was in their corporate space program.
Cal let his eyes scan up the length of the building to the sky. It was the middle of the day so nothing much was visible in the cloudless blue but he imagined he could see the Moon, the faint silver flecks of the Lunar colonies dotting its ancient face. The people of Earth had spent much of the past century trying to reach it and reestablish their dominion once again, a holy grail everyone dreamed of even if they no longer really expected to succeed. All efforts seemed permanently stuck at low Earth orbit.
"Your baggage sir," the robocab intoned, snapping him out of his reverie.
"Heh. Of course." It was a bit unusual to bring a suitcase to an interview like this but the letter had suggested that he bring a change of clothes and a lot of personal documentation. He wasn't about to disregard any of that advice.
The cab scooted away as soon as he retrieved his things, leaving him to walk up the empty front steps of the building and into the lobby alone. His heart was hammering but he strove to keep his outward demeanor calm. The front desk had an actual human receptionist, a nice-looking redheaded woman who gave him a warm smile and a badge for the fifteenth floor; he thanked her and moved on with even greater anticipation. There was almost nobody else around and it seemed - perhaps irrationally - that this meant there were no other competitors for the position.
The lift let him off on the fifteenth floor and his badge directed him down the hall to a conference room, where it fell quiescent and left him standing outside the door. Cal took a deep breath to settle his nerves, ran his fingers through his wavy brown hair and checked his fly, then finally knocked.
The conference room opened to reveal a lone man seated at the table inside. "Cal Montrosse?" The man asked - a mere formality, of course, since if they were expecting him they'd surely already known that his badge had arrived. Cal nodded and the man gestured for him to enter. "Hi, I'm Alvyn Singh, human resources. I've read a lot about you, but I bet you're curious about us and what we want you for..."
The interview was amazingly fast and friendly, better than any Cal could remember taking for far less prominent jobs. Alvyn barely even asked him any questions about his qualifications. First there was a ream of confidentiality agreements to sign, the extra-rigorous sorts that were be expected for a job like this... whatever it was. Then Alvyn launched into an description of exactly what it was.
"The collapse of Vidnet has opened up some unexpected opportunities for the Sandes corporation," Alvyn explained. "A lot of communication stations in high orbit have been cut off and will need refurbishment. But we've done an end-run around the usual procedure. We've purchased rights to a number of derelict stations from the SLGrid era. Got them for a song, as you might imagine."
Cal nodded. SLGrid had preceded Vidnet by two generations and had come closest to surviving the seemingly inevitable collapse that global computer systems kept going through, but ultimately even that rigid protocol had splintered. "You want to revive SLGrid?"
"Sort of. The details... are too restricted to go into right now, even with all those contracts you've already signed. But the basic gist is that we're going to need to refurbish and retool those old SLGrid stations. It's going to be hard work, and it's going to be done on location."
It sounded incredible. Perhaps because it was. "Not to give offense, or look this opportunity in the mouth or anything, but... Sandes isn't a major corp. I didn't even know it had a space program until now. How're you going to support repairs like that?"
Alvyn grinned. "Another end-run around the usual procedure. We've got a bit of technical assistance that came at great expense, but should save far, far more money during this operation. Special space-suits." His grin widened and he leaned forward conspiratorially. "From Luna."
Cal blinked. It was hard to believe. The colonies had been planted right before the first collapse, several thousand technicians and scientists stranded on the Moon with no capacity left on Earth to retrieve them. Rather than considering themselves stranded, however, the colonists had declared their domes a refuge instead. Their network was small, isolated, and self-sufficient, so they'd kept it running just fine while Earth frantically tried to rebuild its infrastructure. They'd sailed through the seven subsequent collapses untouched as well. Luna was a technological shangri-la, cut off from the outside world and advanced far beyond it. Trade was extremely rare and they kept their secrets close.
"They're made of programmable biogel," Alvyn continued. "You've heard of it?" Cal nodded; biogel was a near-magical substance the Lunarians had come up with to compensate for their lack of manufacturing and need for life support, sort of semi-living and sort of like a computer but with capabilities beyond either. The rich and famous might have the occasional biogel artifact but he'd certainly never used one himself, or even seen one in person. "Well, the suits are practically self-sufficient. You could live for months in one of those things. So we'll be able to send your team up with just a toolkit and a reentry shield, hardly any need for other support. Assuming, of course, that you want the job. And that the suit fits."
Cal's mind was whirling. It was just plausible enough to believe, but with enough of an air of unreality to it to consider the situation abstractly. "Why me? Surely there are more qualified people..."
"Aye, there's the rub. The suits are... 'picky'. You've got qualifications, but we screened your medical records too. If the suit won't fit you you're no good to us." Alvyn stood up. "That's the next step in the interview process, as you might expect."
Cal rose hurriedly to his feet as well and gave a nervous grin. He'd probably never be able to tell anyone thanks to those confidentiality agreements, but even if he didn't get the job the chance to see and actually try on a biogel suit was the chance of a lifetime. "Lead on, then, by all means." Alvyn nodded and the two of them headed back to the lift.
They got out on a basement level. Security was tight; the doors were suspiciously thick and heavy, and they went through a small room that obviously concealed a full-volume scanning system of some sort. But the gleaming laboratory beyond more than justified all of it.
The room was large and high-ceilinged, with an array of equipment lining the walls that Cal was largely unfamiliar with. In the middle was a padded table sized just right for a reclining person, with sensors hanging overhead, and off to one side was a smaller table with a heavy steel case resting on it. A control booth was visible through a thick glass window in one wall. Waiting in the room to meet them were a middle-aged man and woman in expensive-looking suits, a younger white-smocked technician, and an security guard who took looking simultaneously impressive and unimpressed to the level of a high art. He wore both a stun prod and a lethal-looking carbine prominently on his waist.
Cal really didn't expect any more introductions at this stage, which made it all the more surprising when the well-dressed couple greeted them. "Cal Montrosse?" The man asked, reaching to take his hand. "I'm Paul Sandes, and this is my wife Eileen. Welcome to our inner sanctum."
Cal shook his hand with a slightly stunned smile and nod. He recognized those names, these were the owners of Sandes corporation. Make a good impression, make a good impression, make a good impression. "Thanks, it's great to be here." Gah! Well, at least I didn't drool or anything.
Paul Sandes held Cal's hand for a moment longer, just long enough to be awkward, then released it with a smile. "Let's show you the goods, then." The three of them headed over to the metal case and Eileen opened it to reveal a padded foam interior. The foam was sculpted to hold eight spherical objects, each the size of a cantaloupe, but only four of the cavities were occupied. Cal blinked in surprised disappointment. These must be the biogel spacesuits. They looked for all the world like toys for children, four big rubber balls to kick around a playground. They had a glossy sheen and each came in a different pastel hue; blue, orange, yellow, and green.
"These cost twenty million E apiece," Paul said with an almost reverent tone. Cal whistled in amazement. Sure don't look it.
"Which color do you think suits him?" Eileen asked.
Paul looked Cal up and down appraisingly, with a seriousness that made Cal uncomfortable. "Not sure. How about we let this one pick his own?" Eileen pursed her lips thoughtfully, then nodded with a smile that made Cal even more uncomfortable.
"Um..." Cal felt a drop of sweat form; was this some sort of test? Did the color actually matter? Stop thinking, just pick. "Blue?" He stammered.
Paul nodded. "It'll look good on you. Assuming the suit fits, of course." He flashed a cheerful grin and Cal sighed in relief. "Right, strip down and lie on the bed. Let's do this thing."
Cal froze up again for a moment like a deer in headlights. But Paul was serious, and under the circumstances Cal recognized that prudishness should be a relatively minor concern. "Everything?"
"Everything," Eileen confirmed. "Not one stitch or trace of your former life. Take it all off."
That didn't exactly make Cal feel more comfortable. A quick glance around the room revealed a distinct lack of interest from everyone else, though; Alvyn and the unnamed technician were both busy with some of the equipment, and the guard might as well have been a robot. Though he blushed fiercely throughout the process he soon had all his clothing neatly folded and stacked on the floor. He went over to the padded table and sat on the edge, attempting to evade Eileen's appraising gaze as best he could in the nearly empty room.
"Oh, one more thing!" Alvyn called out. He hurried over to Cal with a sheaf of papers and a pen. "I nearly forgot. Just one more contract to sign, a disclaimer of liability and such." Cal gave a quietly exasperated sigh; this hardly seemed the time for such things. He quickly scrawled his name. Alvyn gave a little bow and retreated to the control room, while Paul stepped forward. He'd put on a pair of gloves and was holding the rubbery blue sphere in his hands.
"Lie down on your back," Paul ordered.
Cal did so. He was still acutely aware of everyone watching him, even moreso with the various lenses suspended from the ceiling overhead, and the knowledge that he was about to touch Lunatech biogel made it pretty much impossible to calm the hammering of his heart. "Oh, isn't he excited," Eileen cooed with a chuckle in her voice, and Cal flushed an even deeper red at the uncontrollable erection he was starting to get. He was just about to ask if a little more privacy was possible when Paul stepped forward and cut off the thought by placing the blue sphere gently down on Cal's chest.
It instantly began to melt the moment it touched his skin. Cal gasped in surprise at the sensation; the material was warm, and tingled as it began to quickly flatten and spread. He struggled to hold still and control his breathing, at least. This looks promising, oh god, it's flowing over me, uh, is this good? Mmm... Once he got over the initial moment of shock and did his best to disregard how horrible it looked it was actually quite pleasant. The slick blue material was spreading over his skin like liquid, but only his skin - as it wrapped around his torso he felt it slide between him and the cushion, clasping and fusing together again at the spine. Cal gingerly touched the blue membrane that had spread over his torso and found it smooth and dry on his fingertips.
He let out a little involuntary whimper as the biogel flowed down to his crotch, sliding over his skin and intimately hugging his every anatomical detail. It certainly didn't help reduce that erection, either. The warm, tingling, gently throbbing squeeze of the biogel sent involuntary shudders up and down his spine. "Uh, this is kind of-"
"Shh," Eileen hushed, cutting Cal off. He glanced over at her and found her expression to be an extremely disturbing mix of fascination and lust. Okay, this is getting a little too weird. Cal opened his mouth to voice an objection. The rapidly-creeping membrane reached it at that exact moment.
"Ackpthmmm!" The biogel curled right around the edges of his lips and continued its spread inside his mouth. Down at the other end of his body it was doing likewise to his other orifices. There was no way he could hold still with that going on; Cal flailed clumsily as he tried to jump up off the bed. But even as he did so a restraint strap snapped out and around to loop over his midsection, holding him down; someone in the control room must have been quite quick on the switch. Cal was left choking and squirming still on the bed, clawing at his face and arching his back in an attempt to escape his clinging tormentor.
Except it still wasn't actually torment. His struggles eased after a moment, once the shock had passed. The material was forming a second skin that was so thin and so tight against his own that even with it inside his mouth it didn't seem to be obstructing him. And everywhere it spread a warm, comfortable tingle permeated his body, which seemed to be helping a lot too. With a quiet groan he slumped back to rest.
The biogel slid over his face, tickling up his nostrils and at the edges of his eyes without actually obstructing anything, and Cal could feel the very strange sensation of it flowing around his hair as it covered his scalp - each one poked out through its own individual pinhole in the suit's coverage. Exposure to vacuum's going to ruin it... the thought flitted dreamily through his mind, and he couldn't help but let out a chuckle. Woah. This tingling's getting to me.
The suit slid down past his knees and elbows, his hands and feet the only remaining clear patches. He raised his arms in front of his face to watch the pastel blue wave complete its journey, flowing down to his fingertips and leaving him with a glossy skintight sheen. They really should have warned me in more detail, Cal mused as he flexed his fingers. But even though he could still feel a vague queasiness in his guts, as if the material was continuing to probe ever deeper into his digestive tract, the moment of fear seemed to be past now. If not for the warm tingle it wouldn't feel like he was covered in anything at all, the stuff was so tight and thin. This could well be the most awesome spacesuit ever.
But the blue biogel wasn't quite done yet. His hands were still up in front of his face so he saw immediately as the material began drawing up between his fingers to form a strange sort of webbing. Cal frowned in puzzlement. Was there perhaps some mistake? That would be useless in space, perhaps this was intended as a wetsuit instead. Before he had even finished formulating that thought, though, the change continued quickly on beyond simple webbing. He felt the rubbery substance tightening, pulling his fingers together with more strength than he could resist and smoothing over the spaces between them. "Hhah?" The biogel coating his throat made it hard to speak.
It didn't stop him from letting out a startled yell, though, as the gel began constricting more firmly around other parts of his body as well. The tingling grew with the pressure too, but not enough to overwhelm his awareness of what was going on. The gel tightened around his waist, clutched his skull in a gentle vise, tugged rings tighter around his arms and legs... and began really squeezing his crotch. "Hhah!" A bit disoriented and plenty frightened again, he began to struggle to sit up.
"Easy, eeeeasy," Paul spoke calmingly and put his hand on Cal's shoulder, pressing his back down against the cushions again and against all odds actually managing to break through the panic. The throbbing tingle probably helped too, it somehow made the pressures the suit was exerting into a pleasurable experience. "The biogel's just adjusting its fit. Relax."
"It's too late to stop it at this point anyway," Eileen added with a smug tone. That would have set Cal right back off again if he'd actually heard it. But right now his attention was being directed solely toward his own body.
His waist was actually being cinched inward a little, as if in the grip of an invisible corset, and his almost painfully erect penis was drawn up flush against his belly - a small bit of welcome modesty, though the bulge was still quite evident. Biogel was continuing to flow down his arms, building up more thickly on his hands; they were embedded inside solid mittens of the stuff by now. But it wasn't just biogel that was flowing.
As Cal's waist slimmed his chest began to bulge. It was impossible, it had to be more biogel shifting around, but there had only been so much in that blue ball... Cal's pectorals swelled, trembling and rippling slightly as involuntary shudders passed through Cal's flowing musculature. He was growing breasts under that glossy pastel skin. His buttocks swelled slightly too, further enhancing the feminine curves his figure was developing. They gave me a girl's suit! The realization struck him just as the tension in his crotch intensified. The straining rod of his penis began sinking into a smooth mound, which then split into a small but rapidly deepening crease before his very eyes.
But as bizarre and terrifying as that was, the biogel suit topped it all with what began happening next. The grip on Cal's head and limbs began intensifying and he swore he could feel his bones begin to warp under the tingling pressure too. His arms and legs were refusing to flex properly, he could barely even feel his fingers and toes any more. His neck was swelling, even lengthening slightly. And his face... it was bulging, his nose swelling larger in his vision and jaw protruding outward. There was soft crackling inside his head as his eyes started shifting apart, his field of view widening unsettlingly.
"He-e-e-e-ah!" The scream that tore from his distorted mouth was inhuman. It was too much; warm tingling or no, there was nothing he could do now except fall into blind panic. Cal pawed and kicked wildly, trying to fight free of the insanity that had come over him.
There was commotion around him, he had no idea what it meant or even who was nearby. Then the tingle was replaced with a sudden sharp jolt radiating out from his ribs where the stun prod had struck, and the world finished its spiral into darkness.
When Cal began groggily struggling his way back toward consciousness the first solid thought that flitted across his mind was that he was lying on his side now instead of his back.
It wasn't much of an observation, but pondering it kept him busy while he continued his recovery in the background. Opening his eyes produced a glaring, confusing hash of vision, so he clenched them shut again and focused on his other senses instead. They weren't doing much better. There were sounds, weird and echoey - nearby breathing and shuffling and more. Sensations... warm air and soft padding on bare skin, he was still naked. Still naked...
The terrifying ordeal with the runaway Lunatech biosuit came flooding back to conscious awareness. Cal's eyes flew open again and a spasm ran through his body as he tried and completely failed to leap upright. "Wh-uh-uh..." he exclaimed dizzily as he sank limply back to the soft surface he was lying on. Vertigo. What's happened to me? Take inventory.
Cal's eyes crossed. It was too blurry to make out the details, but his nose was enormous, a huge blue blob filling the center of his field of vision. Blue means that crap's still on me! Cal kept a lid on his panic, though, the lingering grogginess of being stunned unconscious helping to keep him calmer now. That, and the lingering tingle. Refocusing his eyes past his nose, he saw that he was lying on the floor. His arms stretched limply out in front of him. They were strangely altered under the blue skin; the joints were repositioned, his wrists were lengthened and thickened, and his hands were just solid masses of some sort. He had no attention to spare on that just now, though, as his gaze wandered lower.
The breasts were still there, the feminine contours were still there, and his cock still wasn't there. He let out a whimper that felt very odd in his throat.
The place he was in didn't offer any clues as to what had happened. He was lying on the floor of a very small padded room, or perhaps a cubical of some sort; the walls only went halfway up to the ceiling. The random sounds filtering in from over that wall didn't help add any meaning. I have to get up. No other ideas presented themselves, at any rate. Cal's limbs couldn't bend the way he needed them to any more so he spent a few minutes clumsily flailing to roll his body over and get them braced underneath him. It was such a difficult and awkward chore that when he finally succeeded the ease with which he pushed himself up on all fours caught him by surprise. He stood motionless for a moment while he tried to grasp what he'd done.
He was balanced on his fingers and toes. His butt should have been sticking way up in the air in that posture, but his body was actually perfectly level; the proportions of his limbs had apparently been modified. Proportions and shape, both. Twisting his unusually flexible neck around to get a look at himself revealed that his legs didn't look particularly human. More like...
His tail twitched reflexively behind his hindquarters, flicking the billowing brush of silky green hair that grew from it into view. Cal let out a startled whinny and tottered an unsteady four-footed step forward, almost falling again. I'm a horse! A girl horse! With boobs, and green hair, and blue skin, and- Cal shook his head disbelievingly, more of that silky green hair dropping into his vision from his flowing mane.
"Wh-hee-hee-hee-eew! Hew!" His throat was tight and his mouth refused to properly obey his commands, turning his stream of profanity into an inarticulate animal sound. Another similar-sounding whinny answered him from just over the padded dividing wall to his left. Cal reared up on his legs - his hind legs - and wobbled unsteadily with his hands windmilling in front of him in a vain attempt to keep balanced. There was something wrong with his hips, he couldn't hold himself upright like that for more than a few seconds. It was enough to raise his head high enough for a glimpse around, though.
He was in a stable. The cubicles were stalls - a row along one wall, he couldn't tell exactly how many - and he caught a glimpse of a strange glossy green shape in the stall next to his. There was also someone standing out in the open area beyond the stall doors, wearing a utilitarian jumpsuit and watching over everyone. "Hey, settle down, blue!" He spoke firmly. "Wait until everyone's here and you'll get your explanation. You've been out for a while, there's just one more to come."
Cal didn't really have a choice, his balancing ability failed and he sank back down to a clumsy seated posture on the floor. His mind was whirling dizzily. This is ridiculous. What sort of malfunction is this? Spacesuits for horses? It doesn't make sense...
In his current state Cal had no way to guess how much time passed. He just sat there, gingerly lifting first one hand and then the other and trying in vain to flex his fingers. His arms were forelegs now, they were tipped in solid masses that resembled hooves. Completely useless. His voice, too, seemed completely gone. His long pointed ears twitched and rotated to catch the of the other horse-creatures that apparently shared his predicament, but the only sounds that seemed remotely meaningful were the distorted sobs coming from a stall somewhere far to the right. The rest was just shuffling, bumping, and the occasional horsey whicker.
Finally, a door opened. Cal couldn't see what was going on but those ears were great for localizing it; he could hear the sound of someone walking and a lifter cart accompanying him. "This is the last of 'em," the new person murmured. A stall was opened, the lifter whined and deposited its load, and then left again. Cal waited with bated breath. I was promised an explanation. Please, I need an explanation.
Another interminable time later - not as long as the last wait, anyway - the door to the room opened again and two people walked inside. The one who'd been guarding the room until then greeted them. "Evening, sir. They've been well-behaved, haven't told them a word. Would you like me to stay and back you up?"
"No, that's alright," the familiar voice replied. "The situation's perfectly under control." It was Paul Sandes. Someone started whinnying at the top of their lungs, clearly furious. There was the sound of someone else thudding heavily into a padded stall wall. The commotion made Call cringe, his ears flicking back reflexively to lie flat against his skull. After a moment the whinnying suddenly died away, though, and everything went back to the soft background murmur of distressed and confused horse-people. "Perfectly under control," Paul repeated.
The other man left the room and a moment later the door of the stall turned transparent. Cal stared dully out through the glassy pane at the Sandes couple standing in front of him, who looked back at him - and the stalls next to him - with very satisfied expressions on their faces.
Still naked, and with breasts. The thought popped into Cal's mind and his ears blushed hot with embarrassment, assuming that blue biogel was capable of blushing. He raised one foreleg in an awkward attempt to give himself some modesty and was rewarded with a chuckle from Eileen that just made it worse.
"Now then, you're probably wondering just what happened to you," Paul began with a conversational tone. "Well, I admit, I misled you all. Sandes corporation doesn't have a space program, and that programmable biogel was no spacesuit." He broke into a grin. "Actually, I lied through my teeth. But you signed your affidavits. You're mine now."
"Or ours, anyway," Eileen added. Her grin was much more menacing than Paul's and Cal felt a chill run down his spine. "In case you didn't know, that stuff was a type of biogel called hybridizing biogel. When it bonded to you it bonded more than skin deep. It blended with you completely, all the way to your cores. And by legal UN mandate precedent, that means you're no longer human. No longer have any rights. You're just beasts, less than beasts even. Property. Body and soul."
Eileen's obvious relish was perhaps more frightening than even just the words themselves, even Paul gave a slightly nervous chuckle and touched her arm to interrupt. "Now, dear, let's not berate them until they actually need it. But yes, you're just property now. And you'd be well advised to accept it, internalize it, understand it, and live it. Yes, I tricked you. In theory it wasn't really legal. But here's the kicker; it doesn't really matter. As property, as things, your testimony is inadmissible in court should you happen to find some way to speak there. Your word versus mine and your word doesn't count."
"And in any event, it's permanent." Eileen chimed back in. "Totally, irrevokably... there's no physical way to separate hybridized biogel from a host once it's set, or alter its basic programming once it's locked. And believe me, it's set and locked. You're going to be this way for the whole rest of your very long lives. If not us then someone else will own you instead."
Cal's heart was hammering hard inside his buxom chest, stretched-out equine jaw hanging slightly open in shocked disbelief. Wait... no. This is ridiculous. He had the terrible conviction lurking in the back of his mind that what Eileen was saying was technically true. It sounded familiar, anyway, like something he'd once read about biogel and had then forgotten. But why? There seemed to be no sane purpose for any of this.
"Now, obviously you won't accept it right away, of course," Paul continued with a flash of a winning smile. "I understand it'll take some time for it to properly sink in. But we're going to help you along, oh yes. You're part of a bigger plan here. If you go along with it, ultimately, I think you'll come to like it." Paul paused, then added "for now, though, I'll just suggest that you not try anything stupid like trying to get out of your pens or hurting yourselves or anything like that. It won't work. Now. Any questions?"
Even if Cal had been able to talk he was still too overwhelmed to seriously think of any, and from the general stunned silence it seemed that so was everyone else. He just let out a strained whicker under his breath and shook his head a twitch.
"Good. Now, day one on the agenda is pretty light stuff; just the basics to keep you sane. I'll set your stall doors to mirror mode so you can all get a nice, good look at yourselves. Get to know yourselves all over again. Food will be along shortly, you will be hungry after all this exertion. Then, walking lessons." And with that Paul toggled a control and the clear pane in front of Cal turned reflective.
Cal reflexively clamped his eyes shut and averted his gaze, nearly falling over. From the disbelieving or angry whinnies coming from around him his reaction seemed not terribly unusual. But after a moment he realized how silly he was being and cautiously cracked an eye.
The strange pastel-blue creature looking back at him was a sight to behold. It was a well-blended hybrid of woman and horse. Or, given its small size, a pony. The limbs were not completely equine but were equine enough to do the job. The torso was not completely human, but again, quite enough to do the job. Its head and face were a more even blend, neither horse nor human but somewhere in between... with an abundantly flowing green mane that cascaded down its neck, and large blue eyes with thick black lashes. It was a disturbingly beautiful creature. And it was him.
Cal felt his legs trembling - all four of them. He closed his eyes again and sank to the padded floor to rest both his mind and his body for a bit.
Perhaps it was an aftereffect of being stunned, or perhaps he was simply exhausted. Despite the background noise of distressed equines and the distracting feelings of his own body he somehow managed to doze off.
He was awakened again a short time later, or at least he assumed it was a short time later, by the arrival of people bearing food. The still-mirrorlike door of the stall retracted down far enough to allow the jumpsuited worker to lean over and set two buckets down on the floor inside.
Cal had curled up against the base of the far wall, perhaps subconsciously huddling as far away from his reflection as he could. The thought of perhaps lunging for the lowered doorway flitted briefly through his mind, but he stifled it with barely more than a twitch. It wouldn't do him any good to try, he was sure. Instead, he waited for the man to move on to the next stall and then carefully rose to his hooves.
Panic wasn't driving him this time so it took a few minutes to stop wobbling. It was strange. It felt so much like his proper limbs were still hidden inside the blue outer skin somehow, right down to his fingers and toes, but they refused to move the proper way. He didn't try standing up on his hind legs again, he knew that just wouldn't work out right. Besides, his goal was on the floor.
A wonderful smell was wafting from the bucket, and Cal was hungry. He tottered forward, rubbery hooves silent on the soft padding of the floor and avoiding meeting the gaze of the of the colorful equine creature approaching in the mirror to meet him. He focused on the buckets. One was half-full of water, the other was half-full of tiny pale flakes... rolled oats. Horse fodder.
Cal's stomach growled, evidently not caring, and he couldn't find any good reason to overrule it. Cal dipped his head and ate ravenously. When he got down to licking the bottom of the bucket he had to crouch slightly, his neck and muzzle weren't quite long enough to reach the floor, but it was not at all awkward. He followed up with an equally deep drink of water to wash it all down, then stepped back with a sigh. He was feeling a little better now. Still not right, but a better not-right...
"Alright, girls!" Cal's ears flicked up in surprise and then flattened in alarm as he recognized the voice; it was Eileen. He took a step back, bumping his hindquarters into the wall. "Don't expect me to be personally training you ponies like this often," Eileen continued imperiously as she paced in front of the stalls. "You are, after all, not worth my time. Andrea here will be in charge of you most of the time," she indicated her silent young companion with the severely cropped hairstyle. "But since you're brand new I felt you warranted a personal touch. So that we can all get to know each other, as it were. And get to know your places. Can I get a whinny of appreciation?"
She happened to stop pacing right in front of Cal's stall, looking in at him with a smile that made Cal cringe. Cal nearly panicked, but in the process he let out a strangled whimper that seemed to satisfy Eileen's definition of a whinny under the circumstances. Her smile widened. "Good! I like you." Then to Cal's relief she resumed walking down to the far end of the row of stalls. "I like you all. So, let's all get to know each other. As you know, my name's Eileen. Not that it matters to you since you can't speak it. And you are?"
Whatever poor soul she'd stopped in front of this time let out a strange sort of whuffle, perhaps an attempt to say his name, perhaps just an attempt to call Eileen an unflattering one. Either way, Eileen just laughed. "Don't worry, that doesn't matter either. I know what you're all named. You're Applejoy." She resumed walking back along the row of stalls. "You're Moondancer, you're Honeydew, you're Meadowbrook, you're Seashell, you're Petaldove, and you're Black Cherry."
Seashell. She's calling me Seashell? He opened his mouth, perhaps intending to voice some sort of objection or correction, and then froze as he realized how pointless that was. His heart started hammering hard inside his chest again and he dropped his eyes back to the reflection in the mirror again, unwillingly meeting her gaze.
"That's what I will call you, at any rate," Eileen said as she walked back to the middle of the room outside. "And what anyone else will call you from now on. So that's your name. Remember it, if you don't respond to it you'll be punished. So then. Introductions." The mirror in front of Cal faded to transparency, causing him to flinch back from the sudden exposure to Eileen's view. Still naked, damnit! He gave the woman the best angry glare under he could manage under the circumstances.
She was holding a long, flexible-looking wand of some sort. She pointed it at one of the other stalls. "Applejoy, come here. Come here. Come here." She emphasized the last repetition with a flick of the wand and Cal heard a startled whinny from several stalls down that made him wince. "Come here, Applejoy," Eileen ordered again with a warning tone in her voice.
The pony-woman Eileen had been addressing came out of her cell, wobbling slowly along on four unfamiliar hoofed feet with a terrified expression that was clear despite her equine features. Applejoy - Cal had no other name for her so he couldn't help but think of her as that - looked almost identical to Cal in overall form but her glossy skin was bright red, her dishevelled mane and tail were lavender, and her large, soulful eyes were green. She stopped a short distance away from Eileen, only taking one more reluctant step within arm's length after another twitch of the wand to gesture her closer.
"This is Applejoy, everyone," Eileen announced as she reached out and tousled the pony-woman's hair. "She was the first to sign up, so she's first out the gate. Nice, sporty color, everyone loves red." The pony seemed frozen in place, trembling with either fear or indignation, and Cal wondered if it was possible for her blush to make her any redder. "Alright, Applejoy, you may go back to your stall now. Whoosh, whoosh." Applejoy's stumbling retreat was far from a graceful canter but it got the job done. Once she'd gone out of sight and Eileen seemed satisfied she was secure she pointed to the next stall. "Now Moondancer," she directed. "Come here."
Eileen worked her way methodically down the row bringing each one out to stand in front for all of them to see. Moondancer was a light pastel orange, Honeydew was yellow, Meadowbrook was green. All had the same equine features and incredibly shapely feminine figure; they could have been stamped out of a mold. Cal found himself wondering if any of them were really men underneath, like he was...
"Seashell," Eileen pointed. The transparent door to Cal's door dropped noiselessly into the floor and he felt a spark of terror shoot through him; it was his turn. He'd known it would come, of course, but now that it was actually here he was paralyzed with fright. Public humiliation was the most common phobia, after all - and that was without being a naked blue ponygirl. His nightmares just hadn't been creative enough to come up with this scenario before.
"Come out, Seashell..." Eileen met Cal's gaze and Cal frantically gave his head a little shake. No. I can't. IiiAH! Cal whinnied, cringing, as Eileen flicked the wand and he felt a terrible sensation shoot through him. It was a bit like an electric shock but not quite pain per se. "Come here!"
However he could describe it, it wasn't something Cal wanted to experience again. He tottered reluctantly forward to take the designated spot in front of Eileen. "Seashell," Eileen introduced. "She's looking pretty blue. But chin up, Seashell; we've got a pool here. You'll have fun at the beach."
Cal was wincing in embarrassment at the lame intro, and at the touch of Eileen's hand as she caressed the side of his neck, but his attention was mostly on the array of stalls in front of him. They were all glass-fronted right now, giving a clear view of the occupants just as they were getting a clear view of him. There were two ponygirls remaining to be introduced after him; a lavender one Cal guessed was Petaldove and a black one with a blood-red mane that must be Black Cherry. Seven in total, with one additional empty stall at the end. The extra stall reminded him of something.
"Back you go, Seashell," Eileen gave Cal a light pat on his bare buttock, interrupting his thought and making him jump forward a step with all four hooves before slinking the rest of the way back to his stall in shame. Still, standing out there had made him feel very slightly better in a perverse way; all seven of them appeared to be in the exact same boat. Perhaps they'd even been tricked in the same way Cal had been; it certainly didn't look like any of them wanted to be here like this.
The transparent stall door slid back into place, and Cal slumped to the ground while waiting for the heat to fade from his ears and his heart to stop hammering again. Two more 'introductions' to go, and then what? Hopefully some explanation for what the hell was going on. Maybe along with an explanation of how it was all just a big mistake or joke and would be over soon. He still couldn't really believe it...
"...And that's all for now," Eileen concluded as Black Cherry went back to her stall. "I'm sure we'll all get to know each other well in time. As you can see you're a beautiful bunch, you all turned out perfectly. You should be grateful." Her smirk made it clear that she knew full well that none of them were, but only a weak whickering of discontent answered her; everyone was obviously still as stunned as Cal was. "But that, too, will probably have to come with time. For now you all still just need to learn the most basic of things. You don't even know what you're for yet, do you?"
The pause was rhetorical, of course, and Eileen continued without waiting for a response from any of them. "You're pets. Toys, technically. Extremely expensive, extremely exclusive pets that I'm sure will be all the rage once word gets around about you. You're the prototypes, the floor models as it were, so you needn't worry about being sold off; we're going to be keeping you all to ourselves." She chuckled. "Bet none of you expected that to be the cumulation of your career paths, eh? But enough of that. Your old qualifications, your old lives, only mattered as far as we needed to set up a plausible paper trail to make it look like you all volunteered willingly for this. From now on you're just my stable of ponygirls, and you will become willing. In time."
Cal shook his head, a general unfocused denial of the whole concept. None of it made any sense. Well, some of it didn't. He'd of course heard tales of some of the exotic playthings that the rich and powerful brought back from the Lunar colonies. He'd never imagined anything like this, but he recalled that Paul had said there was legal precedent of some sort so maybe he just hadn't been to the right parties. It was chilling to think that even if he somehow escaped the law would be against him.
Good God, what will my parents think? That was all the more depressing now that it occurred to him. With the economy in collapse and his lack of prospects despite all his hard work in university, would they really believe he'd willingly thrown it all away to become this?
So maybe it was all somewhat plausible after all... but Cal kept shaking his head. He had no other reaction to give.
"But before we start building the next big fad in Lunatech pets perhaps we should focus first on more immediate issues, hm?" Eileen gave her own head a little shake, bringing herself back to the matter at hand. "We need to get you girls walking without staggering like newborn foals. This'll be a bit tedious but you'll thank me for it later. We'll do this one at a time again. Applejoy?" She looked over at the red ponygirl's stall expectantly, giving a little beckoning gesture with her wand. Applejoy gave a distinctly unjoyful whimper and Eileen frowned. "Come now, Applejoy. Don't make me keep punishing you, we want to be friends."
Eileen ultimately did have to use a few flicks of the shock wand to get Applejoy to come out again and once she was out to make her walk in a slow circle around the perimeter of the stable's main room. Applejoy's eyes kept darting around, presumably in search of some opportunity for a quick escape, but they kept darting back to Eileen's wand each time; the threat was a potent one even if an opportunity did present itself. Cal wondered if she'd dare try tackling Eileen directly, even. But instead she just walked. And, after a number of circuits Cal had lost count of, she started looking noticeably more steady at it.
"Good work, Applejoy," Eileen eventually praised her. "The reflexes are all programmed in, I'm told it's just a matter of learning to let them guide you. C'mere." When Applejoy timidly approached Eileen she reached out to ruffle her hair again with one hand, then took a small pellet of some sort out of her pocket with the other and palmed it up against the ponygirl's lips with the other. Not only did the move catch Applejoy sufficiently off-guard to prevent her from pulling away she reflexively took the thing into her mouth and bit down on it before she started spitting and coughing in alarm.
Eileen laughed. "Come now, a pony who doesn't like sugarcubes? Like I said, I don't want to just rely on punishment to keep you girls in line. Be nice and you'll get rewards too." Applejoy finished clearing the remains of the sugarcube from her mouth and just glared up at Eileen reproachfully, causing Eileen to laugh again. "Very well, then. We'll do other gaits another time, let's get your sisters walking as good as you first. Shoo on back to your stall. Moondancer? You're next."
It would be a long wait before Cal's turn and as far as he was concerned the longer the better. Cal settled down on the padded floor, trying to find a good resting position that worked with the way his limbs folded and wouldn't squash his breasts so much that he had to be aware of them. Maybe if he had some time to think, he could think of some way out...
Cal's ears flicked but he stayed curled on the floor of his stall with his eyes closed. He'd learned a lot about his limits over the past two days, and also a few things about how to bend those limits. He could both walk and canter with aplomb now, though the latter set his breasts bouncing in a way he didn't much care for. He had learned how to pee without getting any on his legs, and defecate without getting any in his tail; both vital skills despite how he hated having to use them. And he'd learned that the trainers always called his name at least twice before they would consider using the shock crop.
"Seashell!" The inflection in Andrea's voice meant business that time; Cal reluctantly opened his eyes and raised his head. Andrea was stricter than Eileen but was more impersonal. Cal hadn't yet decided which approach he actually preferred. With Andrea he got the impression that she didn't really think of him as a person, but with Eileen she knew he was a person and seemed to greatly enjoy humiliating him.
"Get up and follow me," Andrea directed. "It's your turn."
They'd been taking random ponies out of the stable one by one all day. With no explanation to the ones left behind, as usual. They'd always been brought back before the next one was taken, looking shaken and in a few cases a little wobbly but otherwise not harmed, so Cal had tried not to let himself fret about it and had actually managed to rest a bit. Still, there was certainly a sense of foreboding as he climbed to his hooves and reluctantly fell in line behind Andrea.
They went out through the stable's side door, the one people kept coming and going from. Cal's foreboding was joined by tension; he'd never been through here before and found himself mentally bracing himself for the possibility of bolting. He'd have to make it good, he had no idea what the limit on the range of those shock crops were...
The room beyond was a disappointment, a small antechamber with cabinets on the walls. "Stand there," Andrea told him, and Cal stood in the middle of the room with his tail nervously swishing. That tail was only vaguely under his control, it gave away his emotions far too readily.
The cabinets each had small signs with writing on them in a bizarre angular script that Cal had glimpsed a few times so far but yet to figure out the meaning of; similar signs were on the outside of the doors of their stalls when they were closed and opaque. He tried quickly counting the cabinets but was too distracted by Andrea opening one of them to finish. A variety of items hung on hooks inside or rested on shelves, none of them clearly recognizable at a glance. Andrea pulled out one that looked like several loops of dark blue straps fastened together with silver fixtures. She started unfastening fixtures as she turned back to Cal.
"Now hold still. This won't hurt a bit." Cal grimaced and turned his head rebelliously when Andrea brought the bridle toward him, ears burning. Though he still hadn't got over the fact that they kept him naked all the time he didn't think wearing that would be an improvement. "Seashell," Andrea chided with a reproachful tone. "Be a good girl." She reached out and took Cal's chin in hand, turning his head back.
Though Andrea's touch was light Cal reluctantly went along with it; he knew from experience that the next step after that would be a swat from the crop. It was hard to comprehend just how unpleasant that was, it didn't hurt all that much but it seemed far worse than his memory of the experience would indicate. "This is for your own good," Andrea explained as she slipped the loops of straps over Cal's muzzle and through his abundant mane. "Can't have you running off, now can we? You'll need to get used to a variety of tack at some point anyway so consider this early training." She snapped the fasteners firmly shut and Cal gave a quiet but clearly indignant whicker.
Andrea just chuckled, taking another length of strap out of the cabinet before closing it and then clipping one end to the bridle. "Come, now," she gave a light tug toward the door at the other end of the room.
Cal was startled to step out into the same room where he'd had the biogel put on him in the first place. He planted his hooves and pinned his ears in alarm, glancing around with wide eyes at the memory of what had happened here. Andrea let him pause for a moment to recover his wits before giving the lead a sharp tug to get him going again.
There were other people here. Two of the anonymous assistants he'd seen occasionally since his incarceration and 'training' had begun, and one more familiar face behind the glass of the control booth; Aayrn Singh. Cal glared in his direction and bared his teeth in the angriest expression he could manage. It didn't seem to phase the other man much.
"Manners, Seashell," Andrea gave the lead a light tug of reprimand. "Now, stand here on the platform. We've been monitoring your health remotely but it's time for a full checkup."
Cal turned his attention back to the middle of the room where the padded table he'd laid on before had been lowered almost to the ground. He considered taking the opportunity to freak out, perhaps bolt for the elevator door... but the door was closed, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Andrea's hand standing ready with the crop. He shuddered and stepped gingerly onto the platform.
They scanned him and then came forward to give him a more humiliatingly thorough personal examination. Cal held as rigidly still as possible while they ran their hands over every square inch of his sensitive synthetic skin. They pricked him with a needle and took a hefty blood sample, giving him at least the small relief that his blood was still colored the same. They checked his teeth in what was apparently standard equine procedure. And they gave him his first ever gynecological exam, perhaps the most unsettling part of the whole process.
Eventually they seemed to be finished, withdrawing to various workstations to process whatever results they'd got. Andrea had remained at Cal's side throughout, holding the bridle in one hand and occasionally stroking his mane with the other while giving meaningless words of encouragement. He'd been growing quite resentful of the treatment and now that the exam was over wanted nothing more than to get back to the relative privacy of his stall; the possibility of making a break for it just didn't seem strong enough yet to hold his hope right now. But Andrea continued to hold him there while the others worked so evidently there was something more he was needed for.
It was Singh himself who came forward next, carrying a small case with him. Cal's ears flicked back and he gave a quietly menacing whuffle deep in his throat, giving the man pause. "You've got her under control?" He asked Andrea.
Andrea smiled, giving the bridle a cautioning tug. "She's behaving herself. Aren't you, Seashell?" She pulled out a sugar pellet from the pouch on her belt and held it in her palm. Cal's grumble died as he stretched to snatch the thing up with his lips. The sweet burst in his mouth was wonderful and terrible - just as he'd found the seemingly mild shocks from the crop to be irresistibly unpleasant, these treats seemed to bypass his rational mind as well. Once he'd had a few it had become almost impossible to resist the offer.
"Alright, let's start with her right fore, then." He opened the case and took out a blue horseshoe.
It was only the lingering sugar rush that kept Cal from trying to yank away from Andrea's grip. His look of fright was still plenty obvious, though, and Andrea started stroking his neck reassuringly. "Hey, it's okay, shh. Hey. Seashell?" She waited until she'd caught Cal's attention. "I don't need to explain anything to you, you understand, you need to learn to trust your masters implicitly. But this once I'll do it, just to be nice, okay? Lift your right foreleg. It won't hurt, I'll show you." Cal nodded hesitantly. For the past two days he'd just been ordered around at whim, he was starved for any sort of concession like this.
Andrea took hold of Cal's wrist and traced her finger down the skin to Cal's forehoof. He still hadn't got used to the way those things felt, he swore he still had fingers buried in there - and from what he'd glimpsed of the bone scans they'd taken of him it looked like there probably were - but the skin overtop was smooth and seamless. "You're not literally a pony, you know. You're a blend of Lunarian synthetic and human tissue, which has reshaped you to look a lot like a pony. But as you can probably tell your hooves aren't real hooves. Not like real ponies have them, anyway. They're made of slightly elastic living material. Great for hardwood floors and such but not so good on rougher ground; you'll definitely want these shoes later on. And because you're made of programmable biogel there's no need for anything as crude as nails to put them on. Watch this."
She took the horseshoe from Singh and gave Cal a good look at it. It didn't appear to be metal, perhaps some sort of ceramic instead, and as Andrea had said there didn't appear to be any holes to put nails through. The upper side of the shoe did have an very rough-looking texture to it, however. It didn't look comfortable. But before Cal could object Andrea carefully pressed it into place on the sole of Cal's hoof.
He jerked slightly, though not enough to pull free from Andrea's grip. It didn't hurt. It tingled... the same sort of warm tingle he remembered from when the suit had first enveloped him. Cal watched and whickered nervously as the horseshoe seemed to settle slightly into his skin, the pastel blue tissue puckering around the edges and gripping it tightly. The feeling started to fade after a moment and Andrea let him put his forehoof back down. The shoe wasn't heavy but it noticeably deadened the texture of the platform under him.
"There, see? You're designed for this sort of accessory." It wasn't exactly a reassuring thought but Cal did admit that the process hadn't been painful... and if by some chance he did get to make a break for it, perhaps he would want these things. Despite his reluctance he lifted his other foreleg without prompting and offered it to Andrea. "Heh. Smart girl." They proceeded to install the other three shoes. No wonder the other ponygirls were a little wobbly when they got back from this, Cal realized. He had become so numb to what was going on around him that he simply hadn't noticed that they were wearing horseshoes now. Andrea wasn't holding on to his bridle directly right then so he took an experimental step to get the feel for walking on the things.
"Woah up there, Seashell," Andrea gave his lead a tug to stop him from going far. "There's one more thing. Hold still." Indeed, the case wasn't empty yet. Singh took out and unrolled a thin sheet of flexible white material, perhaps a foot square, and stepped around behind Cal. Cal whickered and arched his tail nervously as the man placed it flat against Cal's right hip, smoothing the clinging material onto his skin. Some sort of clothing...? Cal winced as another warm tingling started spreading underneath. His body was reacting to something on it.
They waited, Singh keeping an eye on his watch while the tingle grew and then slowly faded. Finally he gave himself a little nod and peeled the white sheet back off of Cal's flank. It stung just a little, as if he were pulling off a band-aid, but Cal was glad it hadn't adhered like those horseshoes had; the big white patch would have looked ridiculous and wouldn't have provided any modesty anyway.
But it had left something behind. Cal twisted his neck around and blinked, startled. There was an cartoonish drawing on his thigh, a depiction of a green clam surrounded by dapples of white foam and water. "See, that was even better than how it's done with real ponies," Andrea said smugly. "That's part of your skin now, you needn't worry about your lovely symbol wearing off. Let's get you back to the stable now and you can show it off to everyone in a bit."
They'd branded him. With a seashell, of course. Cal drooped, feeling humiliated; he logically knew how minor a change this was compared to everything else they'd done but it seemed pretty symbolic of the whole ordeal. Andrea chuckled at his reaction and then gave him a tug, getting him moving again back toward his stall. Cal didn't mind. If he couldn't run away right now, crawling back into his stall and curling up in the corner again seemed like the next best thing to do right now.
As Andrea had hinted at it was later that day that the seven of them finally got the opportunity to mingle. Eileen herself came down to supervise, putting somewhat of a damper on the event, but Cal tried not to care too much. It was good just being out of his stall without being the automatic center of attention in the process.
Eileen called them all out and they stepped timidly out into the stable to stand in a disordered group in front of her. "Well, you've all gone through the basics now," she told them as she began to pace. With all of them crowded together out there the room actually didn't seem that large any more and she didn't have far to walk. "And believe it or not, but really, you've all done quite well and come through the worst of it already. Some of you have been a bit more of a handful than others-" she shot a sharp glance at Meadowbrook, who met it with an only somewhat subdued defiant look "-but I think you're all ready for a little time to wind down now. Come with me."
She turned and headed for the far wall, to the large double doors that Cal hadn't seen beyond yet. When they opened he was momentarily dazzled; the light was much brighter out there. Out there? Cal's ears perked and he found himself sniffing the fresh air flowing in. He could hear birds.
It wasn't Meadowbrook who bolted, oddly enough; it was Petaldove. The lavender-skinned ponygirl caught everyone by surprise since she'd been one of the more quiet and compliant of the group until now. She didn't quite slip past Eileen, though; the woman was quick with the crop and Cal winced at Petaldove's whinny. "Manners!" Eileen barked at the cowering girl, who could only mutely nod from where she lay shaking on the floor.
The false start put a further damper on any excitement among the rest of them and so when Eileen resumed walking they shuffled along past Petaldove in a disheartened column. Cal fell to the back of the line and paused when he reached the fallen pony, torn between not wanting to leave her just lying there and not wanting to get singled out by Eileen for special treatment himself. Petaldove looked up at him with frightened eyes and Cal made his decision quickly, bending down to touch Petaldove's shoulder with the tip of his nose.
It wasn't really a practical act of assistance but the gesture was enough to spark Petaldove into action and she climbed laboriously back to her feet. Once she was up Cal set off again at a bouncing trot, giving only a quick backward glance. He didn't want anyone to make a big deal of it. He heard her hooffalls trying to catch up behind him, though, and was relieved she seemed okay.
They were outdoors. There was a light breeze ruffling his mane, the ground was covered in brilliant green grass, the sky was bright and blue... Cal joined the other ponies in a moment of fearful wonderment as they looked around. Then it began to dawn on him. It was fake. The illusion was quite good, all things considered, but as far as he could tell the lab where this had been done to them was underground. As he began looking closer he could see some telltale signs, a flatness to the background behind the perimeter of trees encircling the field they were in.
"This is our own private pony park," Eileen told them. "This is where you'll get your exercise, and if you're good, your recreation. Don't bother trying to get out of it, of course. How would you like an hour or so to explore it now? Even you, Petaldove, though I'm still cross with you."
There was no reaction at first, but then perhaps sensing one was being asked for Moondancer gave a whicker and a nod. Cal and a couple of the others joined in.
"Well, good. I'm going to go have a seat over there and watch, if any of you need anything. Oh, and don't eat the grass. It's real but you're not; you may be stuck as vegetarians for life now but your digestive systems aren't quite up to that sort of roughage. If you all behave yourself there'll be lettuce for dinner." And with that Eileen headed over to a comfortable-looking armchair that was sitting beside the stable doors.
There was a long moment of awkward silence in which the seven varicolored ponygirls just stood there watching each other and wondering what they were supposed to do next. Cal took the opportunity to being checking out the symbols that had been emblazoned on their flanks. Applejoy had a rosy apple inside a heart, Black Cherry of course had a dark red cherry, Moondancer had a yellow crescent moon surrounded by small silver stars, Meadowbrook had a dragonfly perched on a blade of grass, Honeydew's yellow flank was dappled with large beads of water, and Petaldove's was - again of course - a stylized dove flying through falling petals.
Looking at his fellow sufferers right now it was very hard to keep in mind that those six exotic ponygirls were all real people just like him, perhaps even all real men just like him. Not knowing their true names made it a serious problem and no doubt they were having the same problem with him; he hated to think about how in all of their minds they were probably just thinking of him as "Seashell." Such a stupid name! God, who knows what they're thinking about me?
Honeydew started making odd coughing sounds, and after a worried moment Cal realized she was trying once more to speak. It sparked off a round of bizarre equine mumbling as everyone else tried to get a word in edgewise too, but they'd been trying that sort of thing off and on for the whole time they'd been stuck in their stalls and made no more progress with it now that they were face to face. Their throats and mouths just completely refused to make the sounds they wanted them to.
Damnit, there has to be some other way... An idea suddenly occurred to Cal and it surprised him that he hadn't thought of it until now. Well, of course. Let's do that. Cal glanced over to confirm that Eileen really wasn't paying very close attention and then whickered loudly to draw the attention of everyone else. When several of them looked in his direction he tapped his forehoof on the sod to direct their eyes down there. He started to trace out his name in the grass.
He stopped after the first line and frowned, suddenly confused. That's not right. It's... Was it curved? Straight? A squiggle? Cal suddenly found himself wracking his brains to remember how his name was spelled and what the letters actually looked like. He knew his name was really simple, why was this so hard? Every time he tried picturing how it was written he just got a meaningless scribble. Like the meaningless scribbles on the signs that he'd seen mounted in various places within the facility and not paid any heed to until now.
Several others seemed to get the same idea as him and started making their own attempts to write with their hooves, but from their bewildered and frustrated reactions it was obvious they were having the same problem. Cal felt his heart start hammering harder than it had since he'd first woken up like this, terrified by the implications of what was just now dawning on him. He'd forgotten how to read. Even the basic concept was hard to grasp.
The sounds of frustration and hoof-stamping were evidently noticed by Eileen, who decided the commotion warranted investigation. "What are you girls up to over there?" Everyone froze and turned to see her standing up with a disturbingly amused expression on her face. "Are you trying to dig your way out, perhaps?"
She knew. Cal couldn't help it, he whinnied furiously in her direction. My name is Cal, damnit! Cal Montrosse!
Eileen raised her hands in mock meekness. "Hey, now, you can't blame me for your own inabilities, can you?" But not even Eileen could keep a straight face after that and she let out a chuckle. "Well, okay. I wondered when you'd notice. You know that the effects this Lunarian biogel has had on you is way more than skin deep... Your brains are literally, physically, smaller than that of a proper human. Your heads would have been all bulgy otherwise. Not attractive at all. But advanced as it is, biogel's still not magic pixie dust; it had to do some editing to condense things down. So why not kill two birds with one stone and prune a neurological center or two that you shouldn't be using anyway?"
Eileen wound up having to drop both Applejoy and Meadowbrook with her crop before they could reach her, and gave warning jolts to each of the rest of the ponygirls to keep them at bay. Although she made a big show of how cross she was with them for their outburst and told them lettuce was off the menu after all, Cal was pretty sure that Eileen had secretly enjoyed their reaction. He reflected on the situation once he was back in his stall and had had a little time to calm down again. She is a sick, sick woman. Her husband was obviously a bit loose in the head too to be going along with this scheme, but at least he wasn't insisting on participating in person.
Cal was starting to feel desperate. The stall wasn't really big enough to pace but he managed it anyway, the motion helping in a very small way to allay the sense of claustrophobia that was closing in around him. He was totally trapped. He couldn't speak, couldn't read or write, had no hands, and even if he did get out he had no rights... the cops would just bring him right back here. And he was brightly colored and apparently couldn't even eat grass like a real pony, so even just running off into the woods and staying there was unlikely to work. God, to be simply unemployed and homeless...
By the time Andrea arrived with Cal's bucket of dinnertime oats Cal had worked himself into an exhausted frazzle. Andrea sensed the dejected moon in the room immediately, it was worse than usual. "Bad time in the park?" She asked conversationally. Someone out of Cal's sight whickered and presumably nodded. "Aww. Well..." Andrea paused for a moment. "You guys got a lot of new stuff today. What's one more? Let me do something I think you'll like." She went into the antechamber and came back a moment later with a satchel over one shoulder and dragging a chair along behind her. "Who's first? Honeydew? Seashell? Seashell, you look like you could use some soothing."
Cal blinked, startled by her choice; he was sure some of the others must be in worse shape than him. He considered refusing to leave the stall, for once he thought he might actually not be punished for making a decision of his own like that. But perhaps for that very reason this seemed like an easier thing to actually go along with. Andrea suddenly seemed a lot less dangerous than the alternatives. Cal didn't trust her, of course, but...
Cal walked cautiously out of his stall to stand beside Andrea's chair in the place she indicated. Andrea rummaged through the satchel and pulled out a hairbrush. Cal actually let out a sigh of relief as Andrea began brushing his ample green mane. "You guys are actually pretty low maintenance," Andrea began idly rambling as she worked. "No fur or sweat glands on your skin means no need for rubdowns. But even hair this good can get disheveled. And any hair looks better when styled."
Actually, it did feel soothing, and with so much more hair up there than a regular pony it was good to get some of it back up out of his eyes. The brushing went quickly and then Andrea did some skillful manipulations behind Cal's field of view that felt like braiding. Cal didn't mind that either, it would keep the hair in place much longer. But then Andrea had him turn around and got to work on his tail. It was just as billowing as his mane was, requiring just as much brushing, and then when it was done Andrea reached into the satchel to pull out a long strip of bright blue cloth. With quick, deft moves Andrea wove the ribbon into the hair of Cal's tail.
Cal's surprised expression must have been comical, Andrea gave a little chuckle. She reached over and gave Cal a light pinch on the earlobe. "Looks good. Back you go, Seashell. Honeydew, you up next?" A pat on Cal's rump got him moving again and he walked hurriedly back to his stall.
When the stall door came sliding back up out of the floor it was of course set to mirror mode. As Cal had quickly suspected Andrea had woven a blue ribbon into his mane as well, fastened with some sort of hair clip or comb with a small green seashell mounted on it that was very similar to the one emblazoned on his rump. Crap, we get personalized jewelry too?
Heart hammering, check... but not as hard as Cal would have expected. He was actually able to look at himself in the mirror without instantly recoiling. Perhaps the indignities are finally becoming less overwhelming than the previous ones, he mused. Or perhaps I'm just getting used to it. Or perhaps... He cocked his head and turned slightly, getting a better view along his body and swishing his tail. Pretty.
Look away. Look away. Look away. He tore his gaze off of himself and firmly shut his eyes. Come on, it's only been three days now. Don't crack up. Stockholm syndrome doesn't set in this quickly. He was still hungry and the scent of the bucket of oats still sitting at the side of the stall was calling to him; he decided to focus all his will on that instead. He ate his meal and ignored the sounds of the ponygirl beauty salon in operation just beyond the door.
Still, misguided though the cause might have been, Cal did feel somewhat better. At least Andrea seemed to be somewhat on his side.
Not much happened the next day. They were given one bland meal of oats and water and the only exercise was a little of the standard walking around in circles in the main stable room like they'd done on the previous few days while learning to control their limbs. Eileen didn't show up, to Cal's relief, and the rest of their time was spent cooped up in their stalls with nothing to do.
It would have seemed like it'd be a welcome respite but really the boredom was worse. Several of the ponies took advantage of the lack of disturbances to try to work out some sort of code of whinnies or stomps to communicate with; it was a futile effort considering the complete lack of a common starting point to build on. Cal didn't bother participating and just stewed within his own mind, probing for weaknesses.
The situation he was in just didn't make sense. He had plenty of time to think about it now, and despite all the things he knew he didn't know - even knowing that his own mental functioning might be impaired - he couldn't imagine how he and the other rubbery pony-girls could be used to turn a profit for Sandes. Eileen seemed to be inordinately fond of the process on a personal level, sure, but they were supposed to be prototypes. How many people out there could be both kinked in exactly the right way to want something like him as a 'pet' and also have enough money to afford Lunar imports? Especially during the next few years of netdeath?
The day passed, and to Cal's relief nothing worse than the usual minor humiliations and impositions happened to him - there were no more major revelations or abortive uprisings. All in all he counted that day as a draw.
The next day proved to be a bit more interesting. Eileen arrived shortly after they'd all been roused with another meal, and this time she carried a soccer ball tucked under one arm. "Good morning, girls," Eileen greeted them. "Is everyone feeling better today? Ready to get back out into the park?" She seemed to be in a good mood and the seven of them gave a cautious equine murmuring in response.
"Well, good," Eileen continued. "Last time I let you out you misbehaved, but just to show you that I'm not an ogre I'll forgive you all for it this time. To make things a little easier I've got a special activity planned. Everyone come on out with me." The transparent doors to their stalls slid open and Eileen gestured with her crop. She may be claiming not to be an ogre, but everyone knew how quick she was to employ the uncomfortable touch of that thing if they stepped out of line so all seven followed with varying degrees of trepidation through the doors into the artificial outdoors. Petaldove made a point of hurrying over to walk next to Cal, who swished his tail nervously but let her stay close; she seemed to have decided Cal was her best friend and he didn't have any real reason to shy away.
The small field was much as they'd left it, with one minor addition; at each end a pair of flags had been set up, red and green, marking two goal lines. Cal eyed the soccer ball Eileen was holding and flicked his ears. You're kidding?
"You girls have become quite good at walking around on all fours," Eileen told them. "I'm quite pleased with how your new musculature and bone structure has worked out. But just walking in circles around that little room is only going to go so far, don't you think? Today, if you behave yourselves well, we're going to get a little exercise and learn how to really move. Who's up for a little game?"
Cal had to admit that he was surprised to find himself actually not hating the idea. There was a general murmur among the ponies and he gave a restrained whicker of his own.
Eileen nodded and held up the ball. "Now, there's not enough of you for a traditional game of soccer, obviously. And the rules aren't perfect for ponies either. So we're going to play ponyball, which is much simpler. We'll divide you up into two teams and then you'll each try to kick the ball through the other team's goal for a while. Whichever team scores more goals wins sugar lumps and praise. Then we'll reshuffle the teams and play again. Okay?"
It actually sounded much stupider when said out loud, and everyone seemed to realize it; the group of ponies shuffled uncertainly. But Eileen was undeterred. "Okay. Red team! Honeydew, Moondancer, and Meadowbrook, over here. Green team, Black Cherry, Applejoy, and Petaldove, over here." She gestured with her crop, and even though she wasn't using its shock power everyone flinched and moved into the groups indicated. Petaldove started to move as well but then stopped, looking back at Cal with a puzzled whicker.
Cal was momentarily puzzled himself. She didn't say my name. Which team am I...? It took a moment for it to dawn on him that seven couldn't be divided evenly into two groups, there would always be one left over. His ears flattened and flushed in embarrassment as he realized how such a basic bit of math had been non-obvious. Another unnecessary neurological center, I guess.
"Shoo," Eileen gestured for Petaldove to hurry up and the lavender pony-girl flinched away to hurriedly join her team. "Now now, don't be sad, Seashell," she admonished. "You'll get your turn. We'll play seven rounds so everyone gets equal time. But right now we don't have the right number of ponies so you get to be the referee. It's very simple too. Here, take this." Eileen bent down and proffered a large but otherwise normal-looking ref's whistle. Cal looked at her like she'd gone completely mad, and Eileen chuckled. But she was insistent and after a firmer repeat of the offer Cal gingerly took hold of the thing in his lips. Eileen tweaked his nose and he snorted, giving the whistle an inadvertent trill that elicited another chuckle. "Just give that a blow whenever the ball goes through a goal, or goes too far out of bounds. We'll stop play and move the ball back to the middle of the field, then blow it again to restart the game. Do a good job and you'll get a sugar lump too."
Cal felt acutely self-conscious with everyone's attention focused on him. They're all naked too, he reminded himself, a thought which turned out not to help reduce his blush any. Eileen headed out to the middle of the field and took them all in tow. She put the ball down and retreated back to the sidelines. "Alright, Seashell! Blow the whistle!"
Not wanting to leave everyone hanging, waiting on him, Cal gave the whistle a good hard blow. Six colorful pairs of pony ears flattened against their skulls and everyone stood motionless, watching each other pensively. Cal imagined he could read their expressions pretty well; they were all thinking some variation on how stupid or demeaning this was, none of them wanting to make the first move.
But they'd all also been cooped up in their stalls for days on end and despite what had happened the first time they'd all been anticipating the return to this park. So it was actually a relief when Moondancer suddenly broke the impasse with a fearsome whinny. She lunged forward and gave the ball a clumsy kick with her forehoof, sending it bouncing between the startled legs of the green team.
Though the ice was broken the game was quite awkward and half-hearted at first. None of them had ever really run in their new forms before and the motivation to do so now was almost surreal; they were ponies being forced to play soccer. Meadowbrook and Petaldove barely participated - Meadowbrook apparently out of anger and Petaldove out of acute shyness - and even Cal was too distracted to blow his whistle the first few times he was supposed to. But to everyone's surprise Eileen didn't admonish them for their failings, just watching from the sidelines with the occasional laugh, and somehow that actually made it a little easier to get into things.
By the time Eileen waved a black and white checkered flag to indicate the end of the game enough goals had been scored that Cal had lost track of them. "Good effort, most of you!" Eileen called out. "Red team wins!" Fair enough, Cal decided; it didn't really matter anyway, the only reward was sugar lumps and none of them were keen to claim them. Everyone just stood where they'd stopped in the field after the last goal, waiting for some indication of what was to come next. Eileen gave another little chuckle. "Alright, don't all go nuts, it's just a game. For round two, Seashell, you'll swap with Black Cherry. Go give her the ref's whistle."
Well, okay... Cal turned to meet Black Cherry as she walked up to him. The exchange was awkward; Cal didn't want to just spit the thing out onto the ground but trying to pass the whistle directly from mouth to mouth was just plain weird. Cal could tell that if the other pony-girl's glossy skin hadn't been black she'd be blushing just as fiercely as Cal was afterward. He trotted over to his new teammates. Applejoy was still breathing hard from the running she'd been doing and didn't pay Cal much heed but Petaldove was obviously quite happy to welcome him.
Just a few days ago Cal had been hoping to become an astronaut. There would have no doubt been all sorts of strenuous physical training and odd experiences learning to cope with zero G, and he had been looking forward to the novelty. So when he found that it was actually kind of interesting learning to cope with the changes to his body - the bounce of his synthetic breasts as he ran, the odd joints and altered muscles, the pseudo-hooves - and that after a while the game actually started to be fun... it kind of made sense in a weird and unsettling sort of way.
They played the full set of seven games. The rotation of the ponygirls through the teams thoroughly shuffled them so there was no way to determine who among them had wound up winning the most, but that hardly seemed to be the real point of the exercise. Indeed, the point seemed to be mostly just the exercise itself. Cal got a lot of it, left panting vigorously by the end and feeling a pleasant sort of muscle fatigue. It was only much later after he'd come down from the runner's high that he realized with some chagrin that most of the others hadn't quite got into it as much as he had.
Still, even the most recalcitrant of the ponygirls had wound up apparently getting some enjoyment out of the experience. If nothing else it got them out of the bland confinement of their stalls, and afterward they were treated to a feast of tasty lettuce and apple slices - much better than the usual rolled oat fare. The next day Andrea showed up with the soccer ball and this time she let them organize themselves, making the experience more of a social one than a formal exercise. Cal enjoyed it even more the second time.
It was something Cal could actually do. As he became adept at kicking the ball around with all four of his feet and running around the field in pursuit he even began to feel a little bit comfortable with how his new body was working. He still didn't want it, of course, but since he was stuck with it...
The days began to blend together. Time was marked by tournaments of 'ponyball,' by Andrea's skillful grooming, by Eileen's steadily stricter and more elaborate training in dressage. Cal had no idea whether real ponies had to put up with some of the stuff they went through, but decided in the end that he didn't really care. They weren't real ponies and they had to put up with it.
Slowly but surely they were learning to do just that. The bizarre routine was actually becoming... well, routine.
They no longer spent much effort trying to redevelop their language capabilities, finding their more limited whickers and nonverbal cues sufficient for most purposes. Cal was even starting to get used to prancing around with nothing but ribbons and a bridle for modesty. He blamed the mirroring of his stall door for that; every day had many hours where there was little else to distract him but his own cartoonishly cute reflection. He couldn't spend all his time hating it, after all... it was him. She was him.
The damage to specific aspects of his neurology aside Cal was sure that she was still just as smart as he'd been before. She knew full well the state he was slipping into and underneath it all she clung to her old human personhood with grim determination. She could tell that most of the others knew it too, with the possible exception of Petaldove who had dived right into the role of a fawning submissive with all four feet. Meadowbrook, Applejoy, and Black Cherry had even formed a sort of impromptu resistance movement that included such acts of supreme rebellion as stepping on toes with all the force their rubbery hooves could muster and making inordinate messes for the impassive technicians to clean up. It was the most they could really do - even without Eileen's shock crop standing ready in punishment some sort of deep-programmed safety conditioning kicked in whenever one of them tried to get really violent and blunted the attempt with a surge of fear.
Cal found himself wavering somewhere in the middle. There seemed to be little benefit to causing such petty trouble, but he wasn't ready to just give up. He dreamed that someone somewhere out in the real world had developed suspicions about the group of people who'd spontaneously 'volunteered' to sign their human rights away. Maybe the Sandes couple's claims and his own recollections about the properties of hybridizing biogel were faulty, and there was still some way to undo this. Or even just get out of here, out of this small stable and fake meadow and pointless pony play, to somewhere a little more like his former life...
It was starting to seem like a more distant dream with every passing day, no matter how hard he clung to it. Did it even really matter to them what he thought? They certainly didn't seem too concerned about that. Eileen continued to 'train' them, even though by now they were all quite steady on their hooves and even becoming pretty decent at playing that ridiculous game of ponyball when they put their minds to it. Andrea continued grooming them with expert care, the technicians came and went.
As far as everyone seemed to be concerned, everything was going according to plan. Yet something still gnawed at her, a conviction that there was a remaining shoe yet to drop. This couldn't be what her whole life was going to be about from now on, was it? Something was missing beyond the obvious, something she hadn't quite figured out.
It was almost a welcome relief, then, when one day the routine was broken. There was no clock in the room and Cal suspected she wouldn't have been able to read one anyway, but although she'd lost track of how many days she'd been there - she guessed two weeks or so - she and the other ponies had developed a keen awareness of time on a shorter scale. They'd had breakfast, it was time for Andrea to come in and get them ready for Eileen. But neither showed. Minutes stretched as Cal stood at the gate of her stall, swishing her tail and flicking her ears at the unsettled sounds the others were making.
The stable's side door - the 'human entrance', as Cal had come to think of it - slid open and Cal cocked her head with a nervous whicker. It was Paul Sandes, flanked by a pair of medical technicians. She hadn't seen Paul since her very first day as a pony, hadn't even thought about him in almost as long. As he walked out into the stable it all came rushing back, though, and her ears flattened against her skull with the memory of what the man had done to him.
And also with the worry of what he was going to do to them now...
Before the tension could stretch any farther Paul turned and addressed them with a disarmingly cheerful tone. "You've all done very well," he began. "Your physical integration already finished quite a while ago, of course. The medtechs have really just been watching to make sure your bodies were perfectly locked and stable. But I've been hearing reports from my wife too, of a less technical nature." He gave a chuckle. "You've become quite proper ponies under her tutelage."
Cal blushed under his pastel blue skin and silently fretted over whether it was out of embarrassment or pride - she wasn't really certain. But Paul continued speaking and she knew this was more important to pay attention to than yet another bout of introspection.
"I feel I should apologize once more," Paul admitted. "I didn't realize how much personal interest Eileen had in this project. I mean, sure, obviously she had interest. And you're as much a gift to her as an investment for me. But considering how much attention she's lavished on all this unnecessary training I'm almost jealous of you guys. Heh." He gave a wry grin. "Perhaps I should have started worrying back when she picked only handsome men from the list of candidates."
Well that revelation is a bit of jarring cognitive dissonance, Cal thought to herself with a whicker. She'd figured at least some of her compatriots must have been male to begin with too, but she'd known them the way they were now for so long that she had a hard time imagining any of them as anything else. Hell, by now even herself...
"But regardless, what's done is done," Paul shook his head. "And I'm kind of falling into it myself by even bothering to tell you all this, right? You girls... you Lunarian pony-pets, you're just a valuable product. Now it's my turn to try to make you productive for a while. Seashell," he gestured in Cal's direction.
Cal jumped at the sound of her name. Me? The transparent stall door slid down and the two technicians advanced, confirming that there was no mistake. She cringed. Why me, and what for?
No answer was forthcoming as a lead was clipped to Cal's halter and she was drawn reluctantly out of her stall to the middle of the room. They began working her over in a distressingly businesslike manner - disentangling Andrea's ribbons from her hair, refastening her billowing tail with a rubber band instead, then finally holding her head immobile while squirting a small amount of candy-flavored liquid into her mouth with a syringe. She swallowed reflexively and whickered in displeasure. "Just to help you relax," the technician who'd administered the medication murmured.
The comment didn't exactly help produce that effect. Cal licked her lips and glanced at her stablemates, who were all watching with just as much nervousness apparent in their equine expressions. Cal blushed, a warm flush spreading through her body.
Was Paul going to rape her? It really didn't seem likely, it didn't fit his attitude at all. But once the thought crossed Cal's mind she had a hard time dismissing it. One of her obvious purposes was as a sex toy, after all. She'd counted herself lucky that Eileen's taste for humiliating them hadn't included any of that sort of thing so far. But Paul was a different person. A strong, powerful, handsome man...
Cal's blush deepened and muscles in her hindquarters twitched involuntarily. A very strange feeling was rapidly overcoming her, a sort of horniness she'd never experienced before. She'd thought about sex occasionally since her transformation, of course, it would have been impossible not to with a body like hers. But now she found herself wanting it... almost craving it. What was in that drug?
The technician who'd been holding a monitoring device near Cal's body gave Paul a nod. "She's exactly on spec."
Paul nodded back. "Good. Alright, let's bring in Sparkledust." He turned toward the human entrance and Cal looked up, pulling her attention out of her own rebellious body to see what walked in. A third technician came through the door and plodding along docily behind him was a biogel pony-creature that Cal had never seen before.
Sparkledust's glossy skin was pure white, flecked on flank and cheek with speckles of glitter, and the billowing mane and tail were cotton-candy pink; it was the most eye-catching color combination yet. But that wasn't what elicited Cal's startled gasp and half-step backward. Sparkledust was male. Quite obviously so. There were no large and shapely breasts hanging from his chest like the rest of them sported, just well-defined pectoral muscles. An obvious pair of testicles and a glossy white sheath hung between his legs instead.
"Steady, Seashell," Paul put a hand on Cal's head and gripped her mane lightly to prevent further retreat. Not that she likely could have managed it. Sparkledust had a dazed expression on his equine face as he regarded them and Cal figured her own expression must have been a near match. Part of her mind was screaming at her to run but that part wasn't able to seize control of her legs right now. She let out a quiet whimper.
The male pony blinked and he halted in confusion, his own impulses apparently conflicted as well. But the technician nudged him forward and he stumbled ahead until the two of them were face to face.
"What do you think of my own little project, Seashell?" Paul asked with low-key but obvious pride. "Not as much demand for the male models, but apparently enough that the code did exist in the biogel units we bought. Just like real living animals, undifferentiated biogel's capable of going either way with the right triggers. We've managed to unlock rather a lot. Those Lunarians have become complacent about keeping their edge."
Cal was having a hard time concentrating on Paul's rambling explanation, important though it probably was. She and Sparkledust were too busy focusing their attention on each other.
He's frightened too. The scream-and-run part of Cal's mind eased its grip on her other thought processes at that realization. Sparkledust might have been male but his timid, trembling demeanour put Cal oddly at ease. He must have been trapped just like the rest of us, just kept separate until now. Maybe he didn't even know what little Cal did about what was going on. Cal whickered sympathetically and reached out to gently bump noses with him.
That was possibly a bad move. The velvety-soft touch sent a heated shudder through Cal's nethers and they both flared their nostrils as they caught each others' scent. And he's drugged too, it dawned on Cal too late. Sparkledust took a hesitant step forward, nuzzling at Cal's neck, and she could only arch coyly in response - her more resistive side had already lost what little say it might have in how her synthetic body was reacting to its chemical programming. The two of them had met only moments ago and they were already locked into some sort of full-blown courtship ritual.
"There, now, that's a good pair of ponies," Paul murmured with satisfaction as he and the small squadron of technicians moved back to give them room. He raised his voice to address the other ponygirls; "The rest of you watch this. Seashell's going to show you what you do."
It was almost enough to drive Cal's self-control back up to the rescue. She whickered indignantly, blushing fiercely as she realized what she was doing right there in front of them all - and right after they'd all finally received confirmation that she was really a guy inside, too. But Sparkledust wasn't nearly as phased by the six other pairs of ponygirl eyes watching him and kept up his gentle but insistent nuzzling down her shoulder. I have to step away from him. Hooves, take a step. Lift, damn you... It wasn't working.
Cal's eyes widened. Sliding out of Sparkledust's white sheath was the flaring head of a startlingly black - and startlingly big - equine penis. She felt her own vaginal muscles spasm at the sight, both in fear and in a perverse anticipation. Sparkledust's ceramic horseshoes clopped with increasing confidence as his body slid alongside hers and he nuzzled at the base of her tail.
Cal gasped and her tail twisted to the side in an involuntarily reflex. That was all it took to set Sparkledust the rest of the way off; he turned around and reared up behind her, forelegs coming down around her ribcage and chest resting solidly on her back. She felt the firm rubbery heat of Sparkledust's cock press up against her belly and the liquid-hot slipperiness of her own arousal responding.
"Heh. He missed," One of the technicians chuckled as he and a partner came forward. They tugged back on Sparkledust, pulling him slightly off of Cal, and both of them whinnied their objection as they took that moment of unintended help to draw back from the abyss their bodies were falling into. But then one of the techs reached down and took hold of Sparkledust's shaft, manhandling the swelling tip of his member into position between Cal's legs.
She'd had stuff shoved up there during gynecological exams, of course, but this was different. Both foreign and familiar. Cal found herself relieved that there wasn't any pain, nor was there a mind-blowing wave of pleasure - just an urgent need and the strange frictional pressure of it being filled. Sparkledust had a somewhat stronger reaction, grunting and gasping as he shuddered on her back. But Cal had braced herself and bore him resolutely, eyes closed to keep from accidentally meeting the gazes of any of her friends and having to wonder what they were thinking of her. Setting aside how creepily involuntary the whole thing was it actually felt kind of good. The mildness of Cal's reaction was perhaps the most surprising thing to her.
The mating went on for an inordinately long time. After a while Cal began to wonder if perhaps Paul hadn't accounted for the fact that both Cal and Sparkledust were presumably designed to have sex on demand with high endurance, and had given them overdoses of whatever that sweet-tasting aphrodisiac had been. But eventually one of the technicians who had continued to monitor her impassively throughout the entire ordeal looked up from his palm display. "Looks like they've locked," he announced. One of the others moved forward to squirt a dose of some other fluid into Sparkledust's gasping mouth and, just a few more thrusts after he'd swallowed it, his pace finally slowed. The two of them reluctantly slid apart.
Even being on the receiving end had been tiring after that long, her own inner muscles having reflexively squeezed against every push, and Cal was left panting almost as badly as Sparkledust. She just stood there quiescently while the techs checked her out again. She didn't want to think, didn't want to feel, she just wanted to go back to her stall now.
I'm sorry, Sparkledust nosed her lightly on the neck. Cal flicked her ears and surprised herself by not shying away. It's not your fault, she sighed inwardly. Guess that's the last piece of the puzzle after all. Paul's going to breed us.
"No, no more for now, Sparkledust," Paul chuckled in apparent misunderstanding of the ponyboy's gesture. "Gave my boy quite the workout there, Seashell. Everyone, take five. Show Sparkledust to his stall at the end. Let's monitor this a little before progressing further."
Cal needed no further prompting than that to return to her own stall. She suddenly had a whole lot more to think about now.
True to Paul's word, Cal wound up with a medical band strapped around her midsection for the rest of the day and it wasn't until the next morning that Sparkledust's next partner was chosen.
It was a day spent deep in thought and turmoil. Cal had already known she was slipping into some form of acceptance, limited though it may be - the fact that she had already started mentally referring to herself as a 'herself' even before Sparkledust had shown up was the most obvious sign. But her lack of a mental breakdown after the mating seemed worse somehow.
I should be freaking out completely, she addressed the adorable blue pony in her mirror. I'm a human guy and I just got raped by a stallion... sort of a stallion, anyway. The term seemed too grandiose to apply to a creature with pink hair. But I'm not. Yeah, I'm unsettled. Yeah, I don't have a clue how to deal with the possibility I'm... yeah. She shook her head. One freakout subject at a time, please.
Despite all that it came down to one basic realization. She wasn't worrying about her human future any more, what the friends and family she'd had before might think. Though Paul and Eileen had both delighted in reminding her of the fact it was only just now that she realized it had sunk in. Her future was as a pony.
A semi-synthetic hybridized Lunarian biogel sex-pet pony, to be specific. That's what she was.
So, what sort of future could that have? The options didn't look good and the choice wasn't really hers to make anyway. A fetish plaything for Eileen, a brood mare for Paul.
Not good at all.
She slept soundly, though, exhausted from her ordeal. She woke famished and was pleasantly surprised by the menu for the day; salad with actual salad dressing, cooked broccoli, mashed potatoes, and some sort of actual bread-like cake substance for dessert. Score one for Paul, she grudgingly admitted as she stuffed herself. Eileen had kept them on a diet more closely suited to a real farm animal's, even at the best of times the vegetables had just been served in a raw pile.
And then it was Moondancer's turn to be mated. Cal was actually still finishing off her food when Sparkledust was brought out to mount her. Paul supervised the process again, but it actually went less smoothly than Cal's had; perhaps because she'd been forewarned Moondancer fought more vigorously. She made the technicians physically restrain her until she was dosed up on that syrupy aphrodisiac, and then made poor Sparkledust follow her awkwardly around the room a few times before finally giving in to her own induced desire.
Had she not gone through that herself just yesterday she would perhaps have found it a little arousing, even. But as it was it just triggered an uneasy churning in her gut and made her feel bad for the other girls that would spend each day wondering when their turn would come.
Despair and resignation were tempting her. But sex-pony though she may be, she was a sex-pony with a human mind and education - illiteracy aside, of course. She listened to the technicians talking amongst themselves, trying to learn more.
The Lunarians guarded the secret to synthesizing biogel jealously. Though people had bought their particular type of synthetic creature before, the male model had never been offered Earthside. It had taken the Sandes corporation years to hack the code of just one of the eight units they were working with. It seemed like a bit of a leap to assume that breeding was possible, Cal thought, but the fact that Paul had sunk so much money into the project suggested they were pretty confident of the outcome.
The uneasy churning in her gut grew worse. The next day it had solidified into a definite sense of solidity, a weight that Cal couldn't really convince herself was simply due to the extra food she'd been stuffing into her stomach.
It was Applejoy's turn for mating, they seemed to have settled on a daily schedule with those but Cal couldn't discern a pattern to who was picked just yet. Applejoy was the most troublesome yet, squealing and bucking as she tried to resist, and Sparkledust's heart wasn't in the pursuit even though his body clearly was. The technicians wound up having to catch Applejoy's bridle and hold her still.
Cal actually found herself wondering where Eileen was. She didn't miss the psychotic bitch, of course, but she had become somewhat used to her. She let them out into the fake meadow to play. Presumably the humans were reluctant to let her run about that freely in her current condition... Or perhaps there was a deeper reason.
More important than the useless tidbits of technical information Cal overheard from the medical crew that were servicing her was the tidbits of gossip that were spoken freely within earshot of 'dumb animals' such as herself. It seemed that Paul and Eileen had had a falling out of sorts - some sort of raging argument had happened about the project. Cal guessed that Paul had had enough of Eileen acting out her sick fantasies... which meant, ironically enough, that Eileen had been the one standing in between them and Sparkledust.
Cal really didn't know who to hate more at this point.
One person she didn't hate was Sparkledust himself. She could tell he was as unwilling a participant in all this as the girls were, presumably tricked into signing his life away just like they had and in not much of a better situation despite having had the fortune of retaining his manhood. Indeed, perhaps he had it worse. He was being paraded out there in front of everyone and made to mate publicly with a mare every day. Cal hoped that once they'd all had their turn he'd be allowed to stay with them, to join their little herd... though she was sure some of the other pony-girls would bear more of an irrational grudge than she did.
By day three Cal was amazed to discover that she was already showing a distinct bulge in her midsection. It felt weird to actually be gestating something in there, and it was perhaps more terrifying than anything else to date. She had a monster inside her, a mutant synthetic creature that she would have to give birth to. Would they make her nurse it? Her breasts had seemed entirely decorative dead weights until now, she had no idea if they'd actually produce milk. What would giving birth be like? Maybe she wasn't properly designed for it, maybe it would kill her or they'd have to cut her open to get it out.
But there was nothing she could do about it. And a tiny part of her was astonished to realize that with the terror came a strange sort of excitement as well. I'm going to have a baby. Kind of. God, I would never have imagined.
Petaldove had her turn on day four. She went quietly, as Cal had expected, though with just as much nervousness as everyone else. Cal did her best to show an encouraging expression as her submissive friend struggled to keep eye contact with her throughout. Cal wasn't sure how she'd take to the experience but was relieved that she didn't seem any more broken afterward as she tottered back to her stall on unsteady hooves.
Black Cherry on day five. Now that was an epic show - biologically-enforced restrictions on violence or no, Cal was worried for Sparkledust's safety out there. But no hybrid pony could deny her body's wishes completely and eventually she too succumbed to the reluctant stallion's ministrations. Cal averted her eyes as respectfully as she could and hoped the rest of her stablemates were doing likewise.
Cal felt heavy. It had only taken this long for her to go from a perfectly fit, taut, feminine abdomen to obvious pregnancy. That was feminine too, perhaps, but in a distinctly different way. Cal was constantly aware of the solid round mass developing down there as she moved around the stall and was taken on twice-daily exercise walks around the stable. Like everything else it all seemed to be moving too quickly for her to do anything but be swept along.
What will my foal be like? A strange question to have weighing on her mind, to be sure, but soon it was all Cal could think about.
Honeydew on day six with a half-hearted fight that was obviously more because it was expected than any other reason. Then finally Meadowbrook. Perhaps knowing that it would be her turn next gave her time to compose herself and come to terms; the green-skinned ponygirl went to her mating with a sort of resigned dignity.
And then they were done, all seven of the vari-colored ponies in progressive states of pregnancy and Sparkledust left looking a little frazzled from having made them all that way. Cal was actually pleased to see that there was no sign of his impending removal from the stable; there'd always been that one empty stall at the end so perhaps it had always been the plan for them to be kept together.
Paul's plan, at any rate. They hadn't seen hide nor hair of Eileen for a week now. Cal wondered if she should be worried, or if she should simply enjoy the break.
Either way, it was only two days later when Eileen made her triumphant return. A quiet groan passed among the stable's ponygirls as she swept into the room, dressed in her standard equestrian outfit and accompanied by her partner in perversion Andrea.
Eileen shot a dirty glare in Sparkledust's direction, then forced her expression back into a smile as she greeted the rest of them. "Well, girls, I'm back. As you might have guessed, my husband and I have been a little at odds over how to treat you. But we've come to a compromise, and it's good news for you all. I've made it very clear to him that while he may see you all as breeding stock, you're also all my pets and need to be treated properly as such. Are you looking forward to continuing your training?"
There were a few lacklustre whinnies in response - though there was at least one seemingly genuine one Cal guessed was from Petaldove - and Cal sighed. No way am I running around in this condition. She felt like she had swallowed a bowling ball.
Fortunately whatever deal Eileen had struck must have included some provision about that; it seemed that all Eileen and Andrea were there for that day was to give them all a thorough makeover. Their manes and tails were styled impeccably, woven with ribbons and in some cases braided, and Eileen had a new set of custom tack for each of them. Sparkledust was included in the fun and Cal fought hard to suppress a snicker; from the poor stallion's confusion it was obvious that he'd never undergone treatment like this before.
Cal actually found it kind of a relief. The accessories made her feel a little more... well, not human, obviously. But more civilized.
Later that day Paul's medical team had their turn, examining them each in turn and removing some of the decorations in the process. But Andrea came down right before lights out to prepare them for their 'beauty rest' and took the opportunity to quietly explain that she'd be grooming them daily from now on.
Better than some of the alternatives, Cal reflected with a sigh. Still...
Two more days passed. Their pregnancies were progressing at such a rapid but steady pace that you could tell which order they'd mated in just by the size of their bulges, with Cal's the benchmark by which the others could be judged. It didn't hinder her movement much, having four legs was actually a big advantage now, but the shifting weight made her body feel almost as alien as it had back when she'd first transformed.
She figured she must be due soon now. The thought of actually giving birth was unnerving, and speculation about the nature of her foal became more pressing along with it. She was a synthetic life form, designed for certain specific purposes that might not include motherhood. Would she need surgery? Would the foal come bursting out of her like some sort of alien monstrosity? Would it be less human even than she herself was?
That last possibility weighed most heavily of all. She didn't want to give birth to a baby sex toy, the thought was just too creepy for words. She'd rather birth a monster than that. But despite the obviously late stage of her pregnancy she realized that she hadn't felt the foal move inside her of its own volition yet, and wondered if it would even survive. The medical staff seemed to have no particular concern whenever they hooked the scanners up to her rubbery belly but considering how little they acknowledged her at all she didn't think that meant much.
The moment came on the morning of the third day of Eileen's return. Eileen was putting the still-recalcitrant Black Cherry through a modest obedience routine out in the faux meadow while the rest of them relaxed on the grass as best as they could with their enhanced girths. Then Cal felt a strange twitch deep in her guts, followed by a more sustained and involuntary clenching of muscle. "Unf," she grunted quietly, ears flattened and eyes wide. The other ponies didn't notice her reaction and she was glad to keep it that way for the moment.
There wasn't any pain. She was immensely relieved by that; the Lunarian biology magicians who'd designed her new body had apparently had this contingency in mind after all. It didn't feel at all like she had been fearing, really - just a repeating powerful squeeze deep in her belly, and a weirdly pleasant stretching of her vaginal canal.
The other ponies were noticing that something was up now, turning to look at her, some rising ponderously to their hooves with worried or uncertain expressions on their colorful equine faces. Petaldove rushed over to Cal's side to give her a tentative but presumably supportive nuzzle on the neck and Honeydew glanced over in Eileen's direction. Cal guessed she was considering summoning the woman's attention and gave a vigorous shake of her head.
Presumably there were monitors blinking their alarm lights back in the control room but for now at least Cal had a modicum of privacy. She'd rather this experience was witnessed by as few as possible and since her herd-sisters were going to share in it themselves soon enough she didn't mind them crowding close to screen her.
Squeeze. Cal let out a small gasp as a particularly powerful contraction hit and there was a distinct sensation of sliding down below, of weight being lifted from her guts. It was all happening so incredibly fast, it was only a matter of minutes since the first contractions... But this was it, she was giving birth. Becoming a mother. Squeeze. The pressure lifted, the stretching eased, and she heard the chuff of grass being pressed under a weight behind her. The other ponies all took a nervous step back, even Petaldove, and a whicker of alarm passed among them. Call lifted her head to peer over her pastel-blue flank to get a look at what had come out of her.
Glistening and pink... not the complex beige-pink of human skin, but artificial and glossy like she and her herdmates. But not a pony foal. The mass she'd given birth to was featureless, even now pulling from its prolate form into a more perfectly rounded sphere. A rubbery round ball of biogel exactly like the one she'd touched all those weeks ago. Cal let out a whicker of alarm and scrambled to her hooves, almost stumbling from the unexpected lightness of her body.
The ball of biogel remained nestled in the grass where it had fallen, seemingly unresponsive to the ponies that stood in a nervous circle around it. Now what? Cal wondered. Is it dead? There was an indescribably weird feeling in her guts that she suspected wasn't solely physical. She didn't know what to think.
"What are you girls up to?" Eileen called, leading Black Cherry by her reins as she approached the huddle. "Have you got something you're not supposed to- oh, Seashell!"
Cal's ears flattened. One feeling was clear, at least; she really hated that woman. And suddenly she knew exactly what she could do about it. Bounding over her biogel 'child', Cal gave it a powerful kick with her hind hoof. The ball was much heavier than the one she was used to kicking around the field but it bounced and rolled well enough, careening along the ground toward its goal. But a momentary sense of despair seized her as she realized she'd flubbed the kick, it was going wide...
Applejoy lunged to deflect the ball's course with a forehoof, setting it back on target, and then Black Cherry dove past Eileen to catch the bouncing ball with her own hoof to kick it upward. It slammed into Eileen's chest, knocking her flat on her back with its force even as she reflexively caught it.
Her hands sank into either side of the rubbery pink sphere. Eileen let out a startled scream, trying to pull free, but the biogel clung where it had touched the bare skin of her palms. It stretched gooily through her fingers, fusing them together within its grasp, and began flowing down her wrists.
Paul and his medical goons were entering the indoor meadow now. Cal's attention was largely focused on the screaming, struggling woman in front of her, but somewhere in the back of her brain she noted how Paul gestured for them to hold back as he approached his wife. "Paul!" She screamed in a panic and struggled to her knees. "Biogel! Seashell gave birth to unprimed biogel! Get it off me! Use the neutralizer, quick!" She was wearing a long-sleeved shirt but the bulge progressing up past her elbows showed the rapid progress of the material over her arms.
"What a surprise!" Paul responded. Cal's ears perked in confusion; it was clear that Paul wasn't surprised. He seemed amazingly unconcerned. Perhaps even pleased. "Boys, did we bring any neutralizer?"
"Left it in the medical bay, boss," one of them responded with a scripted-sounding tone.
Paul clucked in dismay. "We'd been planning to bring the girls there for birthing. Guess there was some confusion over that."
Eileen's terrified expression darkened with a combination of confusion and fury. "You... you were expecting..."
"What are you talking about?" Paul asked rhetorically. "I did my best. You're the one who broke protocol, modified protocol, all those times. Taught them all these tricks."
Eileen was speechless for a moment and the only sound was the popping of stressed seams in her clothing. The mass of biogel finished flowing onto her arms, the remaining strand between her hands suddenly separating as if she'd never held anything there before, and Eileen looked down at the hoof-like shape it was molding into over her embedded fingers. "Pink!" She exclaimed desperately. "Not pink, please! Oh, God!"
Paul shrugged. "Again, how could I tell? Every color in the catalogue is in Sparkledust's genes."
Eileen spat out a few more choice words, alternating between curses and pleas for help, but the biogel soon crept out from under her collar and flowed up over her lips to muffle them. She pawed frantically at her face, having trouble reaching it as the gel began molding the bones and joints of her arms into new configurations. The glossy pink mask bulged, her neck began to stretch, and she collapsed in the meadow with a distorted whinny.
Cal and the ponies stood beside Paul and his medical team, all of them watching the transformation progress with their own private thoughts silently whirling. Then with it nearing completion Paul seemed to pull himself out of whatever he was thinking and told the team to take Cal and the rest back out to the stables. They reluctantly left him alone with his wife and the ponies reluctantly followed.
An excruciating long wait ensued as the ponies milled around in the other room, whickering and whuffling in their best equivalent to girlish gossip. Cal felt drained. She'd done to Eileen exactly what Eileen and Paul had done to her... Paul seemed to have been expecting it, though, perhaps even arranged for it to happen? Made it likely, at any rate? Why? It didn't matter. She'd probably find out all the details in the weeks and months and years to come.
Finally the door opened again. Paul entered, leading the glossy pink pony with flowing lemon-yellow hair that had been his wife. She was wearing only a bridle and reins now, just like the rest of them, and had an air of utter depression as she shuffled clumsily on her unfamiliar legs. Cal felt a wave of relief at the fact that she was at least still female; the thought had crossed her mind that if Eileen had crossed the gender border like she had things could have turned out even worse for them.
"Alright, girls," Paul announced. He didn't really need to draw their attention, though, the two of them were the center of everything right now. "As you all saw, there was a terrible accident. My wife didn't read up on the medical reports, it seems. She's no longer legally a person... but it's okay, because this sort of incapacity was taken into account ahead of time, just in case. I'll be continuing to run Sandes and this program. In memory to her, though, I'll be retaining the policies she instituted for it whenever breeding cycles aren't in effect."
He gave the pink pony a grin and she responded with a pained whicker. Cal sighed. More pointless grooming and training. Maybe it won't be so bad. But why...?
"There will be a small change, though. You're getting a new stablemate. Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to Bubblegum."
Now it was everyone else's turn to whicker, this time in wickedly unponylike glee. Eileen - 'Bubblegum', that is - cringed in obvious terror. Heh. Well... Cal shook her head. You're kind of my half-daughter, or something. And we're in this together now. I shouldn't let the others hurt you too badly.
Cal had the upper hoof on Eileen now. Perhaps that would keep her satisfied in some small way with her life to come. The rest... she'd just have to get used to, perhaps. But holding on to this would help. She gave Bubblegum a smile as the pink ponygirl was taken away to be shod and branded.