Unrecognizable, Part 1

Jun 6th, 2013
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  1. With a sound much like a sick man wheezing, the gates opened.
  3. I regarded the creatures that passed through with a detachment I swore I'd never develop. It was the only way to keep sane in this sort of job. The livestock stared up at me with their big, saucer-like eyes, sometimes begging vocally, sometimes silently.
  5. I just smiled and waved them on.
  7. Some of them were crying. That was always painful to watch. But it was the ones who were singing that hurt the most. With cracking voices they'd try to sing some tune from a long-past day in their homeworld, trying to cheer their comrades up.
  9. “Come on, smile, smile,” a disheveled unicorn mare crooned. Now and then one of her fellow ponies would join in. But it never brought in enough singers to sound anything but pathetic.
  11. At last the concrete corridor was packed with enough ponies to haul the Empire State Building. Time for them to move on to Processing.
  13. Feeling numb, I slammed my palm down on the big red button on the console in front of me. With a metallic whine, the gates to Processing opened.
  15. “Proceed in an orderly and safe fashion,” a smooth, female voice announced. On the first day of the job the recording had sounded sexy. Now it just sounded...smug.
  17. “Hey, Davis.”
  19. I turned around, knowing that harsh, cigarette-ravaged baritone all too well. It was Gregory Finn, the man at this place you either loved or hated. I fell firmly into the latter category, but I never voiced it to him. He was, after all, the supervisor.
  21. “Anything I can do for you?” I asked.
  23. He scratched at his partially shaven jowls. “As a matter of fact...yeah. I want you to head over to Processing. We're short on vaccination assistants.”
  25. “Not this shit again...”
  27. That was what I wanted to say. What I actually said was, “I'll be right on it. Paul's taking over for me, right?”
  29. He nodded. “Yep. Quite a crowd we got today, eh? If we can keep this up, the suits say they have something special lined up for us.”
  31. I pretended to be intrigued as I adjusted my coveralls. “Any hint about what it is?”
  33. He grinned, his greasy cheeks rippling with the motion. “Trip to the Atlantis Hotel. You heard of it?”
  35. “Yeah,” I said distantly. “I have.”
  37. The Atlantis Hotel. Located on the bottom of the ocean in international waters, it's the last place on Earth, so they say, where anything goes—short of a mass murder spree. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the people who bought our “products” had permanent suites in that place. It made me shudder to think what kind of shit they did to the ponies to warrant such a hands-off location.
  39. Still, I could hardly give up my job and join the ranks of the protestors. I was still deeply in debt from what happened last year at the tables. So when Greg's friends offered me a lucrative position at The Source, I didn't exactly have any better options.
  41. It's funny, in retrospect. It was right about that moment, when I had to force a smile at the notion of a trip to the Atlantis Hotel, that my conscience was starting to grow back. As Greg was leading me to my station at Processing, I was finally starting to seriously wonder if this was all worth it.
  43. If what happened since that day is any indication, it seems Fate doesn't like guys with consciences.
  45. “Ah, here we are,” said Greg jovially as we approached a table loaded with medical supplies. It was located in a small concrete corridor, and at either end of the room were rotating steel gates, designed to funnel the ponies in one at a time.
  47. Miguel, a tough-looking guy who used to work for a security firm, waved a curt “hello” at me from across the table.
  49. “I trust that you're up-to-date with the latest handling procedures?” Greg asked me. “The latest rounds of vaccines are pretty dang expensive. Make sure you make each shot count, eh?”
  51. I nodded briskly. “You got it, boss.”
  53. Greg smiled in a particularly piggish manner. “You're a good guy, Davis. This place just wouldn't be the same without you.”
  55. He strolled out the side-door, whistling the theme song of “Happy Days.”
  57. The door slammed shut, and silence filled the air for a few seconds until Miguel spoke up.
  59. “Kinda hard to remember why you hate him sometimes.”
  61. “I'm sorry?” I asked.
  63. “Have you ever seen him angry? He always serves you his bullshit on a big golden platter. And by the time you smell what's really inside...”
  65. A buzzer rang out, and the teeming horde of ponies began to line up near the left gateway.
  67. “It's too late to do anything about it.”
  69. I couldn't think of anything to say as I got the supply of injectors ready. And fortunately for me, he didn't seem to be hoping for a reply.
  71. Just as the silence was starting to get awkward, a second buzzer filled the air, and the gates dutifully opened.
  73. Just like always, we stopped each pony that came by and gave them a quick injection on their flank. Given how many of the creatures were in close proximity to each other, we had to pump them full of virus-eater nanites and bacteriophages. Some of them took their shots silently, too broken or resigned to resist. Some of them were afraid...and as always, some of them were angry.
  75. I don't know what my life would have been like had it not been for that one stallion that marched in. I knew he was going to be trouble from first sight. He walked with eyes narrowed to slits, his nostrils wide and his ears pinned. As scrawny as he was, he made up for it with an aggressiveness I'd hardly ever seen in a pony.
  77. He was just a small, gray-furred earth pony. One that I could have easily picked up had I caught him unawares.
  79. Maybe that's how he managed to knock me over. I'll never forget those fateful few seconds before he kicked me in the knee—I was turning to look at Miguel, about to ask him to get a better grip on the pony. And then...wham. My knee was ablaze with pain, and I fell, cursing and yelling. The pain was so great that I didn't feel the injector plunge into my right calf.
  81. “All right, I have him!” called Miguel, finally scooping up the struggling equine and locking him in his arms.
  83. Since the injector I was holding had apparently broken, I had to fish out a new one to vaccinate the stallion. Quickly after that we sent him on to the next zone of Processing, grateful we were through with him.
  85. At the time, all I cared about was how I was going to explain the broken injector to Greg. I didn't think of the itching sensation I was starting to feel in my leg as anything but just a minor rash.
  87. It wasn't until lunch break that I figured out that something much worse was going on. Midway through my tasteless Chef's Surprise, my leg began a whole new fit of itching. It felt like tarantulas were crawling around under my skin and playing with my nerves.
  89. Rushing like a madman into the bathroom, I hurried inside the nearest stall, slammed the door shut, and pulled up the right leg of my coveralls.
  91. There was a nice big patch of golden-brown fur growing on my calf. I could've sworn it was growing larger as I watched.
  93. Son of a fucking bitch.
  95. As hard as it was to stop staring at the anomaly, I eventually summoned the willpower to cover it up again. Eventually the itching grew less intense, and I started to breathe more easily.
  97. All I can remember thinking at the time was, Christ, I'm turning into a Wookiee.
  99. At this point, you'll probably laugh at me for not immediately realizing what I was becoming. It's obvious looking at me now, right? Well, I didn't have the luxury of hindsight at the time. And while I'd heard stories about what happened to humans who had gotten injected, none of them had described anything remotely this dramatic. For all I knew, the thing I was sporting on my leg was some hideous, hairy tumor.
  101. Once I had gathered my wits enough to leave the bathroom, I decided I would do the most logical thing possible: head to the medical office. It'd be awkward, but at least they could help get me fixed up.
  103. Sucking in a deep gulp of air, I walked as calmly as I could down the hall to the medical room.
  105. One of the things that was always a bit disconcerting about The Source was the amount of medical personnel. The official story was plausible enough: given the huge traffic of warm, disease-carrying bodies, they needed to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible. But oftentimes the plant's doctors and nurses were watching people. Not checking in with them, not interviewing them, not examining them. Just watching and taking notes.
  107. Sometimes it creeped me out...and then I'd realize how shaky my moral ground was.
  109. Nonetheless, I still couldn't help but feel uneasy around the med staff. So when I checked in with the office's receptionist, it was with a sense of anxiety that wasn't entirely from the thing growing on my leg.
  111. “I had a bit of trouble handling one of the products...I think I accidentally got injected with the vaccine,” I explained to the receptionist.
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