by CodyPony
part 4
 2 3 4

  There was an argument going on. "-- no Sir, I disagree with you on this. The EXRAC facility is the perfect solution. It's secure, restricted, and anonymous. Not to mention convenient."
  "He'll never agree to that," the doctor said with a sideways glance towards me. "He is suspicious of us already, and even though he has co-operated so far, I think that would weaken his trust," he said turning back. I frowned and blinked in confusion. "I don't want that to happen. The last thing I want to do is resort to compulsion. Sergeant, have you ever been inside the EXRAC?" he asked. The sergeant shook his head. "It's a state of the art hyper-clean environment, not designed for the comfort of anyone, let alone a human subject. It was never intended to be used to study a man, although it has facilities to isolate and hold one. Lunar samples were isolated there. It's supposed to totally prevent bi-directional contamination. Its sterility is stark and unadulterated and its security is automatic and unrelenting," he added with a glance back at me. "And besides, I am more certain all the time that we have nothing to fear from his change, and great knowledge to be gained. The police reported that they have contacted his students. Like the two at his office they show no sign of being affected. We cannot be sure of the length of time between exposure and reorganization, but the reports from across the country seem to show that he and the others like him represent a carefully selected group, with some shared characteristic in common," he said with a glance at this watch. "Reports say that the changes were a world wide event and they started at the same time everywhere. One o'clock pm here. It's been 3 hours now, and there have been no more reported event starts, just a few continuing transformations that should be complete soon. My intuition tells me that all these precautions are superfluous." With that, he started to unbuckle the asymmetrical flap that covered the shoulder to ankle zipper of his suit.
  The sergeant grabbed the doctor by both wrists. "Captain, are you willing to bet your way of life on your intuition? Are you? Look at that miserable thing over there," he said with a sideways jerk of his head. "That used to be a man. That used to be one of us. Just like us. It's not anymore," he said vehemently.
  "He, sergeant, he, not it," the doctor corrected him.
  "Yeah, yeah, so it's obviously male. But is it a he? Do you understand me? What is it in the eyes of society and human law? That's the point I'm trying to make. Don't get me wrong. I've been with you on this from the start, and we both know where he rates on that scale. He's as human as anybody on earth. He's nicer than most of my buddies and has far more patience and faith than I would have. But I don't believe he will be recognized and accepted as such by most people."
  He turned and looked at me sadly. "He's still human on the inside. But he's a horse on the outside, and any history book will teach you that it's the outside of the man that counts when it comes to fitting in with the tribe. I think he's got a damn tough time ahead." He turned back before continuing. "And I don't want to join him in that struggle. Do you? What happens if we turn into something like that? You're a doctor, a flight surgeon. Do you think you're still going to be a doctor if you turn into something like him? Maybe a veterinarian, but you wouldn't have many two legged patients after that. Look at this hands for God's sake. Want to try to work with your instruments with six small hooves? All I'm saying is that regardless of your intuition, you have no proof. I'm not going to take that chance. I would rather die than look like that. Just consider what you're doing before you do it," he said as he let go. The doctor slowly and grudgingly refastened his suit.
  Without further discussion, they turned and walked towards me. "Mr. Haller, you can get out now."
  Gingerly I slid my rump towards the door again and backed out of the cabin. It wasn't hard, but it made me very nervous for some reason, and my tail whipped up and down in agitation. Once out on all fours, I had the uncontainable urge to shake my mane, flash my tail, and stomp my feet. I whinnied at the same time, and felt the cold air streaming off the lake blowing the stink of gasoline and petro-plastics off my body. I felt clean and bright in the chilly weather, the blue sky arching high and cloudless overhead. Cocking an eye heavenward, I wondered again why the sky looks so much higher in Texas than it did in Michigan. I snorted happily and pranced about on my hooves, so full of pride for some reason that my neck arched and my mane tossed with the intensity of it. I felt as though I needed to run. Run flat out across the broad airfield, just to see how fast I could go, and it took no little effort to stay there at their side. My happiness was contagious, I could see. Both of them had started grinning at my performance like little cowboys at their first calf scramble. After the depressing conversation I had eavesdropped on, it was good to see them smile.
  With a laugh the doctor began, "Mr. Haller, we are going inside now, and you need to come with us so we can get started."
  I looked around at the decaying hangers and crumbling Quonsets, the overgrown tarmac and tie downs. "What, here?" I asked in surprise. "What about Parkland?"
  "We will probably go back there in a few hours, but we can get started here. If you will just follow us please?" He headed west through the rampant dead brown Dallas Grass stalks, mere sepia-toned copies of last summers verdant originals. They rustled like Michigan corn stalks as they waded among them. I stayed in four-by-four mode and found I could walk almost silently through and above the tall weeds.
  They headed for a large hanger on the west side of the field. It looked to be in pretty good shape compared to the ones around it. As we got within its shadow, the large door rolled a few feet to the left, and a man in a very different type of bio-suit came out to greet the doctor. He shifted his clipboard to his left and they shook hands all around, excluding me, even when I unhooved my right hand and offered it. The two of them seemed to know each other well. "Carl, welcome back," he said amiably, but his openly fascinated gaze never left my face. "We just got your message about your arrival, but I think we're ready for you right now," he continued while still staring at me.
  Eventually he realized with embarrassment that he was still shaking the doctors hand, and dropped it with a self-conscious laugh. They were all staring at me now, and I decided that it was time I became one of the guys again. I proceeded to squat and then stand up on two legs, their necks craning back to watch my head rise above them.
  Um, Alfred, this is Sergeant Black, and this," he said with a nod towards me, "is Mr. Haller."
  I offered my hand again, smiled and said, "Hey, Al." Without thinking he took my hand automatically in his gloved one this time and shook it seriously. "Please, you guys can call me Cody. This Mr. Haller stuff is getting to be a bit too much," I continued with a grin.
  The doctor went on, "Alfred, there's some kind of hassle over at Parkland and so I thought we might be able to borrow Level Five for a little while. Do you still have the infirmary set up on two?" he asked. I looked dubiously at the rusty roof and the door, shaggy with coarse peeling paint, doubting that I even wanted to see level one of such a place, let alone the sub-basements.
  "Well, everything below three has been decommissioned and removed. But we're still working on three and up. Sick bay's still there, but the ISO is down to only 2 units, one of which is eveready, just like the bunny" he answered. "Come on inside." He waited by the door as we filed into the cold dampness of the cavernous building. The large door rolled back into place and latched resoundingly behind us.
  Alfred's clear boots squeaked softly across the floor ahead of us. The doctor walked along next to him, the difference in their suits clearly apparent. Where the doctor's suit was a large and baggy one-size-fits-nobody plastic bag with legs and sleeves, Al's was obviously tailored to fit his body. And it was clear that he was wearing only underwear beneath the fitted pants and shirt. His bright white T-shirt, briefs and socks were plainly visible, giving me the impression that I had acquired X-ray vision as a byproduct of my transformation. The only suit part with a generous amount of space was the helmeted headpiece. There was a small white cylinder fastened diagonally across his back, and the whole outfit imparted a 1940's classic sci-fi spacey-ness to his appearance. In the echoing stillness I could make out the sound of three sighing exhalations from my companions' breathing apparatus, and I wondered where the doctor's and sergeant's air bottles were. Under their bulky opaque shirts no doubt, I decided.
  Alfred stopped at an old night watchman's station on the wall, lifted the lid and took out the chained key. He inserted it into a keyhole on his clipboard. With a turn of the key, a metal plate on the floor, which I had taken for a piece of discarded corrugated roof, began to slide away from the wall almost silently. It revealed a spotlessly white section of floor beneath, which was so creamy white that it seemed to be lit from inside. After replacing the key, Alfred walked onto the white flooring, followed by the doctor. With a smile they beckoned to the sergeant and I to join them. As I stepped onto the plate, my right hoof skittered sideways just a bit, alarming me and jolting me back into four-on-the-floor mode. The flooring clunked dully as my forehooves hit it, revealing to my ears a hollowness below us. My head automatically dropped down between my hooves and I snuffled at the floor with my large nostrils, leaving phantom trails of condensation whose satin translucence slowly and calmly vanished, a trick that I longingly wished I could emulate. I stepped back until my fore end was on and aft end was off the newly exposed elevator floor, and looked up sharply at the doctor.
  "OK, Ok, so you're not from Area 51. I guess this must be Area 52! What's all this then?" I shouted, my agitation apparent as my forehoofs pranced a staccato flamenco on the softly reverberating floor. "A secret door in a grubby floor in a rundown hut on an abandoned airfield that only Buck Rodgers here can open with an ancient key in a low tech PDA! Somehow it doesn't smell as safe as good old Parkland Hospital! In fact this whole thing stinks!"
  The sergeant, who had been standing to my left, ran his large warm hand along the side of my neck and softly said, "Whoa, buddy. Easy now. Calm down," and I actually felt instantly calmer, although still somewhat cross. With an exaggerated nod that made my mane slap the other side of my neck, I leaned into his hand thinking to reassure and acknowledge him. He closed his fingers and gently scratched the hair roots of my mane. A quiver of contentment shivered through my body at his touch, but my alert mind was still highly focused on the doctor and Alfred.
  The sergeant was the one who answered me though, speaking quietly into the creaking silence. "This is kind of an odd place, that's true. And it all looks suspicious to you too. But right now it's the best place to get a little privacy so they can get you started on your new life. Nobody here wants to hurt you. They just need to run some tests to see what the state of your health is, and try to figure out if we are all about to join your herd," he said with a smile. My peripheral vision wrapped so far back alongside my head that I could see his gently smiling face even though I was focused on the pair in front of me.
  I shook my head slowly and sighed. "Look you guys. You've asked a hell of a lot from me today. You want my trust and cooperation," I ticked off my list by pawing the door with my right forehoof. "You want me to delay my own wishes to contact and reassure my family, you want to run tests on me to satisfy somebody's curiosity, and you wanted me to do it all based on faith alone; faith that you're honorable and trustworthy men, despite the fact that I've never known you and have absolutely nothing to base my faith on, other than my own gut feelings. I've tried to give you what you want, but you're asking too much. I'm having trouble controlling my fear. Do you know what a horse's reaction to most anxiety is? It's called the fight or flight response, and ever since this wonderful thing has happened to me, all I have been doing is dealing with those two choices by ruthlessly suppressing them with logic or faith. I am more than the man I was. I have new imperatives and reactions, now that so much of me is pure horse. The equine part of me is much more than skin deep. I didn't go through a simple brain transfer here. I've been melded and merged with an inarticulate and dutiful, yet perceptive and fiercely independent stallion. Right now, I feel like he and I are still separate creatures fighting for control of the same body, and in addition to dealing with you three, I am constantly trying to reassure and guide him, and hopefully integrate both of us into one being called Cody. I'm getting mentally fatigued and his instincts are getting very hard to control. You can't keep building these hurdles in front of me and expecting that I will automatically jump them, let alone clear them. Give me a break guys, or I'm going to lose my struggle and then you get to deal with him on his terms," I finished with a sigh. I stepped carefully onto the elevator, bringing the sergeant along with me.
  Alfred cleared his throat awkwardly. "Um, make sure you're all the way in the center of the floor. I'm going to take us down to level three now. It's real smooth and quiet," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "Portal access," he said loudly and clearly.
  "Portal waiting," a female voice responded from a speaker somewhere in the hanger.
  "Portal Level three," he commanded.
  "Portal security violation," she said calmly.
  Alfred grinned at me as I twisted my head about looking for the speakers. "Portal override," he continued.
  "Portal waiting," she repeated.
  "Portal October sub-orbital denomination," he said very carefully. And the floor began to sink silently and gently beneath my hooves.
  It was indeed smooth, and rather slow in fact. There was a massiveness implicit in that lack of speed, as though the current combined weight of the contents of the elevator was a miniscule fraction of what it had been engineered to support. It was otherwise a bare bones piece of equipment, about twelve by sixteen feet in dimension. No safety doors, in fact no walls to place them in. The only visible walls were those of the shaft itself. Smooth and creamy white like the floor, they moved past slowly on all sides. But they were so featureless that except for the subtle feeling of motion and their obvious growth upward around me, I was unable to see them slipping past. That might have had something to do with my new eyes, but I didn't think so. One thing I was coming to appreciate is that my equine eyesight was more highly sensitive to movement than my human eyes were. The slightest motion of anything in my field of view set off an urge in my brain to look at it immediately, but at the moment, I couldn't bother with our downward passage because my brain was receiving urgent signals that I had no idea how to interpret.
  Pressure. That was the essence of it. Internal pressure. But with the pressure, there was another sensation with which I was more experienced. I was dropping out of my sheath. Lowering my neck forward quickly, I looked back between my legs, and sure enough, about six inches of my dark penis was dangling below me, and more of its length was extending by the second. I was not erect by any means. In fact, the whole shaft bounced and swayed limply with the slightest movement of my body.
  "Uh, guys, I got a problem," I said superfluously, since their attention was already riveted on the same sight mine was. "I think I gotta pee," I added reflectively.
  "What do you mean, you think? Don't you know?" the doctor asked?
  I looked up partially at him with a surprised expression. "No, I don't as a matter of fact. I've not felt like this before. The last time I dropped I was hard as a poker, and I had a huge orgasm. But this time it's different, and there's pressure inside my abdomen, and all the male horses in the field behind my house look like this right before they piss a few gallons, so I think I gotta pee," I finished in a rush.
  "Can you hold it? We need a sample anyway," he asked urgently.
  I shook my head. "I don't even know how to pee yet, let alone how not to. I think the first has got to happen before the last can be learned," I answered, and looked back at my still dropping shaft. "But I think I've got a lesson coming real quick. There's not much more of me in there."
  "Portal hold," Al said to the air, and the elevator stopped its descent.
  "Portal level zero," he continued, and the floor began rising. But it was too late.
  "Uh oh," I said quietly. In a slow motion parody, I could feel my bladder open deep inside me, and its contents began to make a rustling sprint towards the exit. The pressure eased immediately as a clear golden stream of liquid wider than a pencil came shooting out of my penis. It felt so damned good, that with a sigh of pleasure I closed my eyes and pushed. The stream increased in volume and speed, hitting the hard surface of the elevator floor with enough power to make it splash all over my hooves and fetlocks. The sergeant's vinyl boots and pants were quickly dripping with redolent horse urine since he was still in place at my side. The doctor and Al fared better, having only their boot soles in a deepening yellow puddle. The upturned lip at the edge of the floor captured the liquid and kept it from raining down the dark shaft below.
  There was a lot of piss inside me and I was still pushing in ecstasy, when my tail flashed up high and fast above my back. My eyes flew wide and my head snapped up, a look of shock on my face. "Oh no," I groaned. I tried to stop pushing. No, really, I did. But it didn't work. I couldn't see what happened next, as from far behind my head and below my tail I sensed a relaxation of control. Then I heard a squishy crackle followed by a series of plopping splashes that sent mini-tsunamis racing forward around my hooves and towards the booted shores before me. In my embarrassment I felt the various sphincter muscles contract and reset, and cataloged the feeling away for future reference.
  The elevator stopped, and calmly reported, "Portal level zero. Portal waiting," into the acrid silence.
  I looked sheepishly at them all. They were just staring at their boots with an expression that wordlessly conveyed the sentiment known simply as "Yuck". We stood there a while, the hot amber liquid steaming up around our ankles in the cold air of the hanger.
  "I feel so funky," Alfred said quietly. He sighed and spoke to the air again, repeating the original sequence of commands, and we began descending for a second time. As we started back down, the corrugated steel of the hanger suddenly rattled and reverberated as a strong storm began to buffet the roof. We all looked up automatically and listened. The random creaking of the building merged quickly with a regular staccato drumming as the weather outside took a decidedly wet direction. The doctor commented, "Here comes the sleet they've been predicting all day. I'm glad we're on the ground."
  My attention was diverted back to the floor by an unexpected desire to examine my body products. I dropped my head low and inhaled the powerful scents swirling below me, and did not find them at all distasteful. Surprisingly, I could sense many things about myself in that inhalation in fact. I could tell that I was old enough to breed, and that my general health was excellent. I knew I was not eating properly, nor was I drinking enough. My body was deficient of something I could not name, but knew instinctively that it could be found in grain. The nutty sweet flavor of the type of grain that I needed was on my tongue, but I didn't know what it was called, never having tasted it before. My mouth began salivating as my stomach gave out a mighty rumble of hunger.
  Alfred misinterpreted the sound and moaned "Oh God. He's going to throw up." But the doctor answered, "No, not if he is as much a horse as I think he is." The three of us looked at him curiously. "Horses can't vomit," he answered our unspoken query. I didn't know that, and here I was one, mostly, a horse that is, and had thought my human self to be fairly knowledgeable about... myself. So, that morning it seems I had puked my last. But I hesitated to consider what would happen if I got a sick stomach in future. Great. Just great. Colic. That must be why colic is so common in equines with digestion problems. Eating begins a one-way path. Well, nothing is perfect I suppose. But all in all, I knew that I would much rather be a colicky equine than a pukey person.
  This time, the descent went smoothly. When we were about ten feet down, Alfred commanded, "Portal secure," and the door above us slid softly back into place over our heads sealing out the sounds of the storm. As it turned out, the whiteness of the floor and walls was partly due to the fact that they luminesced in the dark. I had no difficulty seeing my companions however, since my night vision seemed excellent.
  "Hey, guys, I'm really sorry about this mess," I said apologetically. "I've got a ways to go before I'm socially acceptable it seems."
  The doctor waved away my apology. "Don't worry about that. Alfred and his crew have had to deal with much worse, I am certain." I didn't believe it for a minute. Alfred had the look of a man whose life revolved around minutiae, and that a flyspeck would be out of place in the scheme of things here in his world within the world.
  Alfred spoke into his headset. "Hazmat team to shaft one level three," he said twice. There was no expression on his face, giving him a tightly controlled rather than blank or neutral visage. Perhaps I wasn't as fascinating now as I recently had been.
  Then, as a unit, my three companions brought their right hands to their helmeted ears and pushed the headsets further in. To hear better I supposed. No one said anything, and they all had that glazed look of sensory disconnection that has become so common in this cell phone age, while they concentrated on audio input to the exclusion of video. I couldn't hear what was being said, but in unison they all looked up and stared at me, sill listening intently. I grinned self-consciously. "What?" I asked, looking down at my forelegs and back up again. The doctor shook his head to ask me to wait a minute for an answer.
  I watched as the elevator floor passed a point where there were 4 large doors, one on each side of us. All were closed and stencil labeled "EXRAC2 L1" and then there was a compass direction indicating North, South, East or West. We proceeded downward.
  Finally the doctor, though still listening, began to fill me in. "There're many reports coming in from around the world now, about other people being changed into something or someone else," he said and paused to listen. "There is no apparent strategy to the change. It seems to be randomly selected individuals of both sexes, although the majority were male. Several dozen events have been noted. And they're not all horses like yourself." He paused again. "The changes seem to cover a broad range of real and mythological creatures. There's a wolf and a dog, a couple wolves actually, a silver and two black dragons, an enormous centaur, several people who appear to be vampires, some comic book figures, a guy who looks like a living Ken doll and others. Oh, and right here in Dallas there's another horse man, similar to you, but not identical. There's also a large feline here as well. Both have been seen outdoors, but no one knows where they are at the moment." More listening. Then he looked worried "There's a monstrous creature like the one in the alien movies. There is a male Borg from Star Trek." Now he was staring directly into my eyes. "And there is a complete change of a man on the east coast into a fully formed, non-verbal colt." They all looked at me as though I knew something that they didn't. I didn't say anything, but quietly tried to see a pattern in what was happening.
  I suspected that these men, like most people in the world, would be totally unaware of the small subgroup of which I was a part, who desired, wished for, longed to be changed exactly as I had been. And by the descriptions of some of the other people's changes, I began to wonder if we, the changed, just might all know each other. The colt, the silver dragon, the horseman in Dallas, these could all be friends or admired acquaintances of mine, and members of that small group.
  "Have you heard anything about a large white rabbit, or a raccoon doctor, or a verbal horse in Atlanta?" I asked curiously.
  I got a suspicious sounding, "Why do you ask?" from the doctor.
  I shook my head and frowned in thought as we passed two more doors labeled EXRAC2 L2 East and West, and proceeded lower. "I've learned in my data processing career that there is no such thing as a meaningless coincidence, no matter how hard we wish there were. There is always a cause for every effect. It is no coincidence that in my case, I have prayed long and fervently to be the person, this being, that you see standing here now, and suddenly my prayers are answered. I can't believe that I was chosen at random to be made to look just like what I have wanted to look like, especially when you tell me there are others who have changed as well," I explained. "Therefore, there must be a common thread, even a relationship, among the total group of changelings."
  "You wanted this?" Alfred asked aghast.
  I grinned happily at his shocked surprise, and with a chuckle I answered, "You bet your sweet ass I did! I'm surprised at the actual way I turned out, but I can't tell you how pleased I am with it. Pleased, hell, I'm so excited I could die!"
  Turning to Alfred, the doctor said, "Well, we don't have to worry about finding some way to cure him then."
  "Cure me? Even if you think you know how, don't even try it. Besides, I ain't sick, doc. Well, maybe in the head," I said with a snicker. "Anyway, I'm suspicious that these people who changed and I have something important in common. It might be as simple as wanting it badly enough I guess, but I don't think so. If that's all it took, half the world or more would look like a few famous Hollywood stars by now. The changes you mentioned before all seem to be in the direction of becoming things other than human, and I know that that is not a very common fantasy. But I know quite a number of people all around the world that feel the same way that I do. The rabbit, raccoon and horse I mentioned might help prove some points. Those would be three email friends that I know for certain would want this too." I didn't mention that the horse would be my beloved Master. At that thought, another flash of sweaty worry rippled over my furry hide. "Did you get any names of these people yet?" I asked them.
  Shaking his head no, the doctor said, "Only one so far. The colt's name is Bob." The recognition must have shown clearly on me somehow. "You know this guy?" he asked.
  I nodded. "Yes, I'm willing to bet that I do. I'm sure of it. He and I both write stories about people in circumstances just like us right now. But until today, they have all been fantasies. I wonder if that's the common thread? We write stories."
  "Doesn't seem like much in common," the sergeant commented, and I had to agree. If being an author was the common thread, there would soon be some very large, interesting, and diverse literary guild meetings.
  Still, I had my suspicions. "May I get on the Internet from somewhere in here? I just want to check my email," I asked. We all looked to Alfred. He looked back at us, and seeing no objections from the other two men, he shrugged and nodded.
  The top of 3 doors began to appear in the wall, sliding quietly up along side our platform. They bore the labels EXRAC2 L3 North, East and West. We stopped smoothly and with a hiss of equalizing pressure, all three doors slid upward along the inside wall. The East and West doors opened on the end of long hallway like tunnels, lit by the same shadow less creamy white wall panels as the shaft had been, stretching away into the distance and unbroken by any doors that I could see. A group of figures dressed like Alfred was approaching us from the East tunnel, bringing a large enclosed cart on wheels with them. The North door opened into a very sizeable and well-appointed lobby space, which resembled that of a small hotel. There was comfortable furniture tastefully arranged around a central green space where a lush growth of tropical plants rose upwards into the several story atrium above. The floor appeared to be terrazzo, but in warm earth tones flecked with gold. The gentle sound of flowing water was coming from among the palms and blooming bromeliads. The same pure light gently flooded the space, leaving the impression that you were standing very close to a sunny window, despite the fact that we were some depth underground. There was a steady breeze blowing out of all three doors and down the shaft below us. At the far end of the lobby stood a long windowed counter below a wooden wall hung with stainless steel letters reading, "Exobiological Research and Containment Centre #2. Welcome." With a frost of paranoia chilling along my nerves, I mumbled in a low voice, "To my parlor said the spider to the fly," as I turned my head to look at the approaching group of people rhythmically squeaking up the hall.
  My tail flashed nervously and I stepped backwards a bit as I came unexpectedly nose to visor with a dark figure whose aspect broadcast a sinister aloofness, imparted no doubt by the fact that he was dressed from helmet to heel in charcoal opacity. A rumbling basso combination of a whicker and a whinny thrummed in my throat, in a confrontation display to this stranger to back off. It was perfectly clear to me, but just to make myself unambiguous to the equine- challenged, I stretched forward and pushed his chest with my nose and nodded with a snort when he stumbled back a few steps. As I pulled my head away, he swung his right arm forward in an attempt to slap my muzzle as punishment. He didn't connect, but I was instantly furious. I took a few prancing steps bouncing up and down on my fore hooves, took a deep breath and roaringly neighed in his face, ending with an angry shout of "Don't fuck with me buddy, I'm not in the mood!" at the top of my voice. My large hooves agitated the mess on the elevator floor, causing it to splash everywhere and making it spill over the edge of the floor and drip down the shaft.
  The sergeant, running his hand along my neck and under my chin, stepped quickly forward in front of me to confront the figure, but the doctor got there first. "Stand down, sergeant," he ordered. "What do you think you're doing? This is my patient under my personal care, and you would be wise to consult me prior to approaching him in any way," he addressed the dark figure calmly, but with that special force of conviction that the best doctors somehow acquire, which makes it very clear that they are the alpha being in whatever group they find themselves in.
  With a soft click, the voice of the Mr. Dark spoke through an amplifier. "Doctor, the authority in this situation has been superceded by the United States Government. This is a matter of national security, and you are hereby relieved of any further concern for this creature or the circumstances surrounding it. You will return to your currently approved assignment. Sergeant, you are dismissed and will report back to your regular duties." His voice switched off with a quiet snap reminiscent of the sound that one of the small padlocks that Master uses to restrain me makes when it snicks closed.
  "Oh no! That's it! I'm outta here. Al, get me back upstairs. I can't take any more of this," I shouted disgustedly. Nobody was listening to me, but Dr. McKinney ignored Dark's order also.
  "And who are you?" he asked quietly.
  The question went unanswered. Rather, Dark pointed to my mess and told the team, "Clean this up. Clean it all up. Wrap the hooves in plastic. Move the subject into ark number two, and dispose all waste containment level one," he fired off orders. The team unshipped hoses and absorbent mops and towels and began to suction up the mess below our feet. One of the workers moved in my direction with heavy plastic bags and a roll of clear packaging tape, obviously destined to cover my wet hooves. Before this got any further I decided to try to make another attempt to get back in control of my situation. I stood up. This always captured the attention of anyone nearby, and indeed all the newcomers stopped and stared. As my forehooves shifted from digitigrade mode, I crossed my arms over my chest. I was sure that my exasperated impatience with all that had happened to me was clearly reflected by my entire body. I cleared my throat with a basso rumble, and glanced down sharply at the figure carrying the bags, who froze in mid stride.
  I addressed my attention back to the dark one. "I don't know who you are, or who you think you are, and I don't much care either, but I came here co-operatively at the request of the doctor. As far as I'm concerned, he is the only one that I will allow near me. I don't like your imperious attitude, your orders, or your looks. At the moment, I'm debating my decision to co-operate with anyone. Don't push me," I told him levelly. After a startled pause, the cleanup crew returned their attention to their tasks, but I pointed to the guy with the bags. "You can put those back where they came from. Get me a basin of water to wash my feet in," I ordered, feeling some sense of control returning. He must have been used to taking orders, because he turned to do my bidding. But Mr. Dark was not to be thwarted so easily.
  He turned to the bagman and said with quiet menace, "You have your orders." The poor bagman looked bewildered, obviously torn between his duty to Dark's authority, and my attempted usurpation.
  "Well, he is not going to be able to carry them out without my help," I said with a heated glare, "and that's something that he is going to have trouble getting, because you're pissing me off!"
  The doctor raised his hand in front of me as a sign that I should cool my hooves. "Show me your authorization," he said simply. Dark reached in his pocket and drew out a plastic key card on a retracting line, and displayed it before himself. There was a small rectangle containing his photo, an embedded symbol of a caduceus held in an eagle's claw, and floating over that some text far too small for me to read. The border edge and back of the card were deep scarlet red, the color of blood. With a flash of some kind of insight I did not understand, I knew the doctor was suddenly very angry, even though I could not see his face. My ears flattened backwards in an empathic response and a low whicker escaped my throat.
  He turned to face me, and with a light touch on my arm he looked up into my face. "Mr. Haller, I am afraid he has the legal authority to issue these orders," he said simply. "And I am going to urge you to cooperate with him the way you have with me. He has the power to make decisions regarding everyone in this facility, including you as a civilian." I looked angrily at Dark, my sense of melodrama expecting to see him smugly gloating and bloated with power, but absent of his face, his attitude remained a mystery to me. I thought about the doctor's request, and tried to see myself submitting to his superior. I detest swaggering boasters, two of the prerequisite characteristics of bullies everywhere. With a great deal of difficulty, I tried to consider Dark from as unprejudiced a view as I could. He really hadn't done anything wrong I guess, discounting his lack of tact. So it came down to a question of trust. Somewhere in our short relationship, I had come to trust the sergeant and the doctor, and even curious little Alfred. But something about Dark raised my mane on end. Even my fetlocks were tingly with agitation, urging me to run away as fast as I could.
  "Doctor, there is only one condition of my cooperation. You can't leave me alone here. Neither of you," I said with a slow swing of my head to look down on the sergeant where he still stood at my left side. "You both made a promise to me before we came here, and I am going to hold you to it. You are the only ones who know who and where I am, and I will not disappear into this place that isn't even supposed to be here without a fight," I told them both levelly. My tail was flashing and snapping behind me like a gale warning flag in a force 10 squall.
  With a small smile the doctor told me, "I may not be able to trump his hand, but I can at least see the bid." He turned back to Dark, and produced his own card. It looked pretty much the same, except for the bright gold border and back. As if on cue, the sergeant produced its twin. "Agent Gage," the doctor began, "your authority clearance is higher than mine, but I am invoking my EMD level 1 in this case. Mr. Haller is my patient, and I will be staying here with him. Sergeant Black is my attaché, and I will require his presence as well." After a short pause, Agent Gage nodded.
  Turning back to me, the doctor smiled with satisfaction. Then he told me, "Cody, it really would be better for everyone if you would let them cover your feet and hands in plastic. The team is going to have enough trouble with the cleaning protocol on the elevator and shaft. They would appreciate it if we could minimize their further effort." He sounded reasonable and logical, and I never could resist that kind of argument. That's why I am a good programmer. I took my left hand out from under my right elbow, and spreading my fingers, it looked at them closely. They weren't pretty, damp and traced with what I will simply call particulate fecal matter. I was the only one who could smell it, and while to me the scent was full of detailed analytical information, to them it would undoubtedly carry only one fact of note to the human nose: stink would probably sum it up best. With a shrug and a nod, I held out my hands and they were each wrapped in plastic and taped shut around my forearm. With that, I lowered my torso and took a four-legged stance again, placing my forehooves on the floor of the hallway. The doctor tapped my right hock, and I shifted my weight and raised my right rear hoof for the bagging operation. Stepping that hoof to the floor he continued with the left one.
  I bent my head low and examined the bags carefully. I decided that I was going to be walking with all the caution that I could for fear of slipping in the plastic. The thought of falling and damaging my legs made me sweaty and nervous, and a whicker escaped my throat. Now that I had some time, I examined my legs more closely. My fore 'legs' were basically an elongated copy of my human arms and hands. Where a horse has both an elbow and a knee in his foreleg, I still had only an elbow that bent to the rear as before, and an extended set of wrist bones to replace everything from his cannon to his coffin. But my rear legs looked totally equine. Lifting my left leg, I was satisfied and gratified to see how it worked and moved. I could detect no difference in what I saw, than if I had been watching a native in the field behind the house; the hock point above the splint, the sesamoid below, undercapped with a perfectly normal looking pastern and hoof wall. I smiled and swished my tail happily. It was everything I had ever dreamed of. I closed my eyes and remembered one wonderful recurring dream that I often had, where I was sitting on my rump in the middle of the bedroom floor, polishing and buffing my rear hooves. Never again would I awake from that dream to the depth of despairing loss that always accompanied me for the rest of the day!
  Agent Gage interrupted my reverie. "Ark 2, doctor," was all he said.
  The doctor touched me just behind my chin groove. I had no halter on, nor would I have worn one in front of these men, but I instinctively knew that the doctor was leading me where the chinstrap would have been. And I found it normal and even comforting in a strange way to let him do so. I rolled my left eye back and blinked at him. "Have you had any experience with horses?" I asked him curiously.
  "Not since I was small. My grandfather had a farm where I played a lot. He had an old retired workhorse who became my steed in all my games. Good old Tom. He sure was a patient soul. How I cried when he died," he said nostalgically. I nodded my head with satisfaction.
  "Doctor, can I ask you a few questions?" I continued. He nodded."What's up with Gage? Don't you think he is just a bit full of himself? I mean, this place and all. Really. It's pretty Hollywood, you know. And he's right out of central casting."
  He nodded again. "Yes, I realize that. The facility is a hold over from the cold war, and I'm afraid Gage is stuck in a little time warp. I've heard of him before, and by all reports he is a good man, not unstable, just way too serious," he said with a mocking frown. "I think we caught him by surprise. Judging by the way he's dressed, he must have been in the high-energy plasma lab. Alfred is actually the center director, but Gage is a ranking officer and officially that puts him in charge in any declared emergency. Which this is, or did you already know that? In its defense though, this complex was built and rebuilt for specific research purposes, most of them growing out of perceived hazards on and off the earth. At the time they were deemed as real and present dangers, and it has served those purposes well. But like everything, it has come to the end of its usefulness. It's not even classified anymore, otherwise I couldn't have brought you here. It's being taken apart while we speak, and by this time next year it will be completely gone. I understand they are going to fill the upper fifty feet with concrete to seal it off for good. The rest of it will fill up with water from the lake once they turn off the pumps. Really, the only reason we are here is for the facilities and the privacy. And as soon as possible we will be leaving again."
  We had been walking slowly down the hall, I, carefully placing my hooves so that there were three on the floor at all times. As he was talking, I looked at the walls noticing that there were doors in the walls occasionally, but they fit flush and had no protruding handles. They were marked with small tags embedded in the wall and were simply labeled and numbered. We were passing one labeled 'L3E 4', when a door opened on the left side in front of us, and swung outward in waiting. Dr. McKinney pulled it further open, and waited while I walked through. The tag next to the opening read 'Ark 2 BSL-3'.
  Inside, it was split into two rooms. One, a glass windowed enclosure within the larger room itself, contained the standard equipment of a doctor's examination room, plus quite a few other pieces of equipment that I didn't recognize lined up along the inner walls, some of which were draped in opaque plastic. There was a large stainless steel ventilation hood enclosing a black stonework table in one corner, with several small pieces of steel equipment standing on the table. One was shaped sort of like a mushroom with a stem that widened at the base. The doctor pulled open the inner room. There was a noticeable breeze flowing inward, ruffling my mane and tail as I stood in the doorway. As we both started inside followed by the sergeant, I noted the red triple crescent biohazard symbol on the door above a notice painted on the surface. I paused a moment while I read 'Biosafety Level 3. Suitable for work with infectious agents which may cause a serious or potentially lethal disease as a result of exposure by the inhalation route.' While the others all lined up outside the windows and watched, the door closed behind us, popping my ears with the reduced pressure.
  What followed was boringly mundane. They took my body readings and measurements. My temperature was 101 measured rectally. They looked in my mouth and ears and nose. They listened to my chest in four and two-legged mode. They took x-rays of my body as best they could, but neither the machine nor the little cubby room in the back corner where it stood, were designed for large mammal examinations. They couldn't weigh me as I refused to try to get both my large hooves on the tiny square platform of the scale. They collected tail and mane and body hair by pulling them out at the root. Then saliva and blood samples, and they even swabbed one nostril and the back of my throat. With different swabs, of course.
  "Just so you know, I want urine, feces, and sperm samples as well, at the next opportunity," the doctor told me, leaving two small cups and a bedpan on the table for me. I could see that the cups would be filled to overflowing very quickly. They passed all the sealed samples to Alfred and he sent them off for testing I assumed.
  The doctor commented once, "I wish we had a veterinarian on staff." I grinned, nickered a chuckle, and decided that I was having too much fun despite a few nagging worries.
  Gage's voice came through a speaker saying, "There is a nationwide status check scheduled in 10 minutes. We will go to the conference room for the call, and your patient is to remain in the ark. I want both you and the sergeant to attend." I whickered my dislike of this turn of events.
  Reading me correctly, the doctor said "Trust me a little longer. While we're gone, you can use that keyboard over here to check your email. The display is outside the window, but you should be able to read it OK. The center is connected to the government backbone and you should be able to get into any website you need to. I'll sign on using my ID," he said as we walked over to the wall.
  I took a deep breath and let it out long and loud as an expression of my impatient patience. Sitting my rump on the floor, I unshipped my 6 fingers, and preceded to discover just how hard it is to type with your hooves on. I knew where all the keys were, no problem. Hitting just one of them at a time? Problem. My fingertips were too wide to type with speed and retain accuracy as well. It was actually easier to hold a pencil in my right hand and push the keys one at a time, and only use my left thumb for the caps shift.
  Logging onto AOL Anywhere, I checked the mailbox that only Master knows about. It was disturbingly empty. Switching to codypony, I was not surprised by the number of letters in that New Mail Box since I belong to too many email groups. Over 500 entries were stacked up in there, the vast majority coming from TSA. That didn't surprise me either. The change event, including my own, would be the hottest subject ever discussed on the list. The subject lines were everything from "My God look at me I'm a___ and ain't it great!", to "Dear God please Help me- this can't be happening". The subject lines of the TSA letters alone answered several, but not all, questions I had been pondering. I read many of them to get a cross section of what was going on, and joyously discovered that some of my most treasured friends, many of whom I had never actually met but felt very close too, had been wish blessed also. The general opinion was that it was the List itself that strung the common thread and catalyzed the event, but our benefactor and the method remained a mystery. I sighed. If true, that meant that Master had missed His wish fulfillment since He only enjoyed the List vicariously through His pet pony. The unfairness of such a limited scope was sobering, and I suffered a pang of angry remorse over those who, in this case, weren't in the right place at the right time.
  I decided to check in with everyone too, and I hunted and pecked and sent a short note titled "I'm OK, just a little horse, that's all" to TSA stating my condition, my attitude, and where I was currently located. I copied Master as well, and just as I sent it, the doctor returned. He came into the outer room with his upper zipper open and headgear flopping limply against his back. He looked like he was molting. Smiling broadly, he clicked a button on the wall beneath one window, and he reported lightly "We've been told that you are clean. Your own tests won't be done for a little while, but all they will show is your general health, not how or why this happened. It seems that the scope of the changes was limited to a small group of people who..."
  "Who all belong to the same e-mail list, yes, that's one of the possibilities I came up with too," I finished his thought for him. "How do you know I'm safe?" I asked as Agent Gage came back into the room, stripped of his shielding and dressed simply in green scrubs.
  He took up the answer. "Circumstantial evidence," he said disapprovingly. "That's all we've got. The change happened some five hours ago. In that time there have been no further changes, and there were lots of exposures. A few people were already in the hospital for other reasons and so were able to be tested rapidly for contagious agents, but nothing has been found. In fact, in every case, at least those that we can judge, the subject is perfectly healthy. Perfectly. Even those who had previously diagnosed problems. All cured," he continued thoughtfully.
  "Makes sense to me," I nodded. "We all got changed into our vision of who and what we really are. There's no way that anybody is going to imagine himself or herself as less than perfect, and anybody with an existing problem is going to consciously design that problem away."
  "Anyway, the emergency situation director has reduced the response posture to 1, and ordered your release," he said while he pressed a red lighted button. With a buzz the door latch released and the doctor pulled it open and stepped inside. The ventilators began to unwind into silence as he beckoned to me to come outside while he held the door open.
  Mousing on the computer was still something I could do easily, so I quickly clicked out of AOL Anywhere and clumped across the floor. That was the first time I had actually noticed the sound that my hooves made, and I shuddered with delight, and a pulse of pleasure throbbed inside my sheath. It was just another aspect of my equinity that I found pleasing and 'right'.
  You must forgive me, dearest reader, and understand that being a 'ponyboy' as a human, dressing in custom made tack, being hypnotically speechless, serving Master as a pony would to the limits of my physical corporality, had been at the center of my sexuality for a long time. Even my MUCK characters look just like this, and are undisguised images on me. I never had an orgasm, fantasy or real, for any reason anymore that did not involve the mental or visual image of a stallion ejaculating, and this had been going on for years. In a very real Pavlovian sense I found everything about my new body, from the sounds I made to the way I smelled to the way I moved, to be supercharged with intense sexual pleasure and, so, bound to manifest itself in my sympathetic groin.
  We call it ponyplay. But for those of us embedded in that world, the word 'play' is much too frivolous and trivial to use to define the strength of the need that drives us, and depth of the satisfaction we find there. And yet, the word accurately depicts the childlike delight that I know when I am experiencing its joys. It goes far beyond simple sex, and that is only one of its ultimate rewards. That is why there always, invariably, has been a theme of equine sexuality running through my posted stories, in obedience to the wisdom of the commandment "Write what you know."
  Dr. McKinney latched the door open, and I went and stood by the exit to the hallway. He was staring at the floor thoughtfully, his right arm tucked under his left, massaging the tip of his nose with his left thumb and forefinger. Agent Gage was throwing switches and powering down equipment in the other room.
  I cleared my throat with a nicker to get the doctors attention and asked, "Can you take me to my home in Rockwall?"
  He looked up at me while his memory replayed for analysis the sounds I had just made. "Hm, yes," he answered eventually. "But I have a proposition I want to discuss with you first.
  "I'm all ears, doctor," I said with a grin, and waggled them both frantically to prove it.
  He laughed, and putting his arm across my back to herd me forward said, "We'll talk about it on the way."

more to come
part 4
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more to come