Hot Zone - Equestria

by Dan_s Comments

Chapter 1

Hot Zone - Equestria

DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony is the property of Hasbro, Inc.

The sky is the most intense blue I've seen in a long time, a few clouds in the distance, but nothing directly above. Which is fine, because I feel like I was just dragged through a knothole. Lying on my side in a slightly curled position lets me see myself and a good deal of the surroundings without moving anything but my eyes. And having to move for any reason, is not high on my list of things I want to do today. While nothing appears to be damaged, everything hurts. The pocket is torn from my shirt. It and the contents are a few yards to my left. Several of my belt loops are torn off at the bottom, as if the belt tried to tear itself down, without taking the pants with it. My glasses are nowhere to be seen, and from the feelings in my feet, my shoes are missing along with one sock.

Explosion? I wonder, but can see no plumes of smoke rising into the air. This can't be good. I try rolling onto my back and find that is all the effort I have in me, as I pass out from exhaustion.

The smell of industrial disinfectant tells me 'hospital' as clearly as anything else. I open my eyes and look around. An IV, and my arm strapped to the rather narrow bed frame. And rather short, I realize as I look over and calculate that my feet and legs are in one bed and most of the rest of me is in a second. Pygmy hospital? I wonder, then the nurse walks in. I guess she's a nurse from the color of the moving splotch, and the distinctive hat. At first, she's a blur, then she gets closer and comes into focus. She sees me awake and runs off calling for the doctor. Her hooves clattering on the tile. That's right, hooves, I think, Face it kiddo, you aren't even in Oz!

The pony in a lab coat returns in a moment and proves it's a doctor in the most indisputable way possible: it sticks a thermometer in my mouth, and starts asking complicated questions.

"Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are? Your species seems to be related to monkeys, is there any truth to that? Are there any medicines you're allergic to? Are there any foods?" The questions continue in a deeper voice than the panicked nurse's, whether he can make heads or tails of my answers is scarcely my problem.

The nurse pulls the thermometer, checks it and makes a record on the chart.

"Nurse, what does 'Rectal' mean?" I ask.

In shock, the nurse checks over the instrument, then looks over at me. "Why do you want to know?"

"I heard something about taking my temperature that way," I tell her, "I was just wondering if you use the word the same way we do."

"If I spank you for scaring me like that, and it's the same place you usually get spanked, then it's the same word," she says.

"Ma'am, we barely know each other," I tell her. She laughs and walks away to consult with the doctor.

A moment later he returns. "Your temperature is approximately 37% of the way between the freezing point and the boiling point of water. I don't know what measuring system you use."

"We use two systems. One has the freezing point at zero with 100 gradations to boiling, the other starts at 32, and 180 gradations."

He looks askant. "We use the second as well, so your temperature is 98.6."

"Normal," I tell him, and he makes a note. "About 102 is a problem, over 105 is a serious problem." He notes that as well. Then steps back to consult. He points at something on the wall I can't make out. Without my glasses, anything more than eight feet away is blurry, getting worse as it gets further. Fortunately I don't need glasses for close up work, so I can see details. As I have time to think, alarms start going off in my head. About contamination, about why humans sterilize space vehicles, about the fate of the Martians in War of the Worlds, and about the fate of the civilizations in the Americas with the arrival of the Europeans and their diseases.

"Are you up to seeing visitors?" he asks.

"I am up to it, but I think it's an extremely bad idea."

"Excellent, I'll show them in."

'I may be contagious,' dies on my lips as I realize I'm too important a specimen to be taken seriously.

More ponies, and a full grown horse walk in. Not a horse, I realize as she comes close enough for me to make out details without my glasses, A winged-unicorn. Technicolor would love this place. I consider the brightly colored animals, the overly large eyes and craniums, and the substantial lack of hands. Anything that brightly colored in nature is virulently poisonous, I think then focus on the purple unicorn who is trying to get my attention.

"I am Twilight Sparkle, and you are?"

"Lost, confused, rather perturbed, and nearly blind without my glasses," I tell her, then look back at the horse who seems to be in charge. Since it's the only one not trying to crowd around the bed, and is watching the ponies' reaction to me, and my reaction to them.

"Do you like parties? Do you like balloons? Do you like cake? Do you like to play pin the tail on the pony? Do you think marshmallow sounds like marsh melon, which are a whole other kind of food? I think marshmallows should be made from marsh melons, then it wouldn't be as confusing. Some people like things confusing? Are you ever going to talk? I know you answered Twilight, but are you going to answer me? Cause I've got a lot of work depending on your answers and whether we're having the party here in your room or somewhere else. But hospitals don't really like parties. I don't know why, they are supposed to make ponies feel better, and what makes somepony feel better than a party? Are you always this quiet?"

At that point, the orange one with the hat stuffed a forehoof in the bouncing pink one's mouth. "Heh heh, she does go on."

I focus on the white unicorn-pegasus one. "I take it you are in charge?"

She smiles and nods. "Doctor. I need to speak with the patient, privately."

"Doctor, I think I can cut to the chase. She brought me here, she doesn't know how, and therefore can't send me back. Does that about cover it?"

"I am profoundly sorry. If there is anything we can do, to make your stay more comfortable," she says.

It's all I can do not to scream at her. "With all due respect, that's irrelevant. It's why you always draw up a containment circle on summoning magics. So something doesn't escape."

"Show some respect to the Princess," the orange one insists.

"Yeah!" the cyan pegasus adds his/her opinion. It acts like a teenage boy, and sounds like one whose voice hasn't changed. It boxes the air as it hovers. "Or you'll get a hoof sandwich."

"Also irrelevant," I tell it.

The purple one is too excited to notice the slight. "You know magic!? Maybe you can help me with my studies!? An alien source of magic will be of such -"

"Twilight," the white horse says.

"How am I irrelevant?" the pegasus demands.

"- the advancement of science can benefit everypony." She stops and looks at the white one.

"Show respect? Or what? You'll kill me?" I ask, "Doctor, stay, you need to hear this." I settle myself, to try and keep my temper in check. "Her Highness has already given me a death sentence for the high crime of being alien, I think I was quite respectful given that," I tell them.

"She hasn't!" the purple one insists, just ahead of the princess, "Why do you say that?!"

"This is a completely alien world, full of things my people have never encountered. Have you heard of allergies?" I ask, "Right now, I could run into a feather, a plant, a bit of dander, or regular food, and I could go into anaphylactic shock. Which could make me stop breathing, pass out from shock, or both. Not a fun way to die. Also, if the sugars in the foods here are the levorotatory instead of dextrorotatory, I could eat all I want, and I'd still starve to death. Also, not a fun way to die. Then there's the local diseases, to which I have no immunity. Something minor could overwhelm my immune system and kill me. That's a death sentence if I ever heard of one." I look at the doctor, and ignore the shocked, white unicorn-pegasus. "Doctor, you'd also better be prepared for the opposite. You'll need to draw blood samples, marrow samples, get samples of the flora in my mouth, on my skin, and probably in my gastrointestinal tract, and determine if any are pathogens or allergens."

"We don't have the facilities for that kind of work," the doctor stammers.

"Your Highness, better to move the experts and equipment here, instead of moving me there. Better to lose what I'm guessing is a small farming community to a roaring contagion, rather than a capital city."

She's horrified, but nods. The others look on uncomprehendingly.

I turn back to the purple one. "That's why her apologies are irrelevant. Between the antigen and food problems, I probably have sixty days. Most of that will be spent hoping I haven't brought a plague down on your people. Assuming I have an incredible amount of luck, and nothing happens to kill me through allergic reaction, that the food here is safe and nutritious, and that I haven't spread an omnicidal plague to your civilization, I get to live out the rest of my life afraid of encountering something I might be violently allergic to, the only member of my species, shorn of any of the dreams I had of any kind future I wanted. I get to live out a very lonely, empty existence in a crowd of people who have no idea what it's like. So I apologize for being curt with her Highness. But 'So sorry' just doesn't cut it. 'I'm sorry I killed you' might be a better place to start."

Only the doctor isn't stunned speechless, he's too busy scribbling notes on what he'll have to do. "Your Highness. We can coordinate," the doctor says, "And I'm afraid I'll have to hold all of you for a few days' observation." He looks at me. "You were right, as far as you went. How?"

"I have been trained in hazardous waste management. First you contain, then you remediate. You'd better have something really hot for a cremation. I don't want to think about the pathogens my death might release."

"There, I have some ideas on," the white horse-thing says.

He nods and ushers the others outside. I flop back into the bed. The rage at the Princess thinking an apology for marooning me here would be sufficient, and the devil-may-care attitude of all of them in dealing with what might be a walking plague factory, me, exhausted me. I sigh and consider the training I received for my job, and that it was light on dealing with biohazards, beyond protective gear and special precautions for clean up. Determining if anyone was affected was left to the doctors. I have to hope the locals are up to the job, or I might spend the rest of my life burying them, I think morosely, Now wouldn't that be a ironically, fun task.

Skin sample, blood sample, marrow sample, oh those are fun, I think as I lie there. My body is adjusting, which means I feel generally awful, but not enough to really be sick. I hope they are making progress, faster than I'm running out of samples.

The doctor walks in, for the first time, without isolation gear. "Good news, at least for us. None of the samples we took show any pathogen that we don't have an analogue to, and immunity from. You aren't going to be killing all of us any time soon."

"That is good news. Sorry for being such a grouchy bear."

He holds up a hoof. "You did the responsible thing, and just because your fears were groundless, doesn't mean you didn't do the right thing." He checks my arm, where they've been doing allergy tests. There are no significant reactions. "That's the full battery that our experts could come up with. You can probably go outside, and interact with other ponies, safely."

"But I'm still stuck here. Doctor, don't get me wrong, I love that we're probably all going to live. But what you see as home, I see as a particularly dark and lonely dungeon."

"We have mental health workers on staff. They may not have as much to do, once everyone realizes that they aren't going to spontaneously combust tomorrow."

"All the species they have experience in are herd creatures. Even the griffons. Humans are social, but not herd. They'd be starting from scratch, and I'd rather not have my mind tampered with by someone who hasn't the faintest idea what they are doing. Bones and blood generally work the same across species. Brains and psychology don't."

He nods. "Have you given any thought to employment? We have openings for a good worker."

"As much as I appreciate the offer, biology is one subject I stayed away from religiously. I never have figured out how doctors and especially nurses deal with that stuff."

He chuckles. "Well, I was thinking microbiology, but you'll have plenty of offers. The Intelligence services may want to pick your brains for new ideas."

"Most of them, you don't have the infrastructure for," I remind him, "Although magic may let you get around that."

"I was hoping to beg a favor. We've got a little filly, head trauma. She's convinced that there are monsters under the bed. She's too young and has a head injury, which rules out sedation. What she really needs is a few good nights of sleep."

"So you need a bigger monster. Sure, doc. You got a bottle of mustard and a really big hammer?"

Pendant Fizz lay in her bed, shivering at every noise. Moving made her head spin, and her horn was too painful to use. She lay there, expecting what she heard under the bed to come get her at any moment. When instead it walked through the door, she was too terrified to even scream. It was twice as tall as a pony, walked on two legs like a bear, and dragged a wrench as tall as a pony beside it. On a plate in its other hoof, no hand, also like a bear or a dragon, it carried two pieces of bread, and a jar of mustard.

She watched in mute terror as it walked up to the bed and set the plate and wrench down. It carefully slipped one of the pillows from behind her, and replaced the pillow case, then did the same with the other pillow case. It folded the pillow cases, and carefully placed them between the slices of bread. Then it recovered the plate and wrench, leaving the mustard behind, and crouched on the floor out of sight. Despite the pounding headache and her exhaustion, she moved to the side of the bed and looked over.

The creature was hunkered down beside the bed, and seemed to be sliding the plate with the pillow case 'sandwich' around underneath the bed.

The shout of 'Pony sandwich come and get it!' nearly scared her to death. She flopped back on the bed, gasping in panic. Then the wrench rang on the floor, and the bed lifted and shook. She looked again and the creature seemed to be fighting something. The wrench occasionally banged the floor. Then there was quiet. She lay there not moving, every effort going into listening, barely daring to breathe.

The creature sat up, it's head just above the bed rail, it seemed to be searching for something. She waited for its hands to drag her out of the bed, to a grisly fate. It spotted the mustard, and pulled it off the side table and briefly disappeared. Before Pendant could relax, or scream, it sat up again. Fumbling with its skin, which she realized was clothing, not a coat, it hoofed over a card, about the size of a business card, then disappeared below.

In the moonlight coming through the window she read, 'Lucination. When you can't see any alternative.' Confused, she turned the card over, in fine script was series of numbers, and a name: Halmaltin. She looked at the card, then worked it out. "Hallucination?" she said.

The monster rose up as if summoned. It had some mustard on its nose and a bit on one cheek. It was also chewing. She held out the card. He looked at one side, then the other, and pointed to himself.

"I know what a hallucination is!" she insisted.

He swallowed whatever he'd been eating, and she stared as the lump in his throat moved up and down. Then he stood up to his full height, which was terrifying all in itself. He marched over and turned on the lights in the room, then walked over and pushed the 'call' button for the nurses' station.

"No, I'll get in trouble." Too late, the nastiest of the night nurses came in.

"You shouldn't be getting out of bed, young mare, and you shouldn't be calling us about monsters in the room."

"But there are! There are!" She insisted, and stared at him making faces at her. The nurse checked her bandages, and fluffed the pillows, again, which she hated. The monster had walked over to the table and turned the jar of mustard towards Pendant. "I didn't turn on the lights. Someone came in. Dropped off that jar of mustard, and turned on the lights." She felt justified saying that, because it was what happened, in that order.

The nurse stared at the jar of mustard. Then the monster reached across the bed to hand it to her. The nurse let out a terrified squawk and backed away. The monster, huge grin on its face, walked around the bed, the jar circling in front of it. In response, the nurse squealed in terror. He walked back, putting the mustard back on the table. The nurse smoothed her uniform.

"You must be feeling better, to move that jar around. And you must think it's funny to scare someone like that."

"But my horn is still broken. It didn't glow, see?" She pushed through the headache and tried to ignite her horn. She fell back exhausted. The nurse still staring at her horn. The monster turned the lights off. The nurse squealed and bolted for the exit. The monster closed the door after her and turned the lights back on.

"Are you going to eat me now?" Pendant asked. The monster looked nauseated by the very thought. Instead it handed her a clipboard and a pen. On the clip board was a customer service feedback form: Did the technician arrive on schedule? He had according to the entry and the wall clock, so she checked that. Did the technician eat the monsters quietly? And so on. The monster was down beside the bed, peering underneath it, wrench in hand, waiting. "You look like my cat," Pendant said.

The last was a couple of option boxes. Most she didn't understand and left blank. The last one she checked, 'Sunrise follow up', it explained that the tech would remain until sunrise to verify the job's completeness. She eagerly checked that one.

"Hal?" she called softly. He looked up, took the proffered clipboard, looked it over and nodded. He walked over and shut off the lights.

Pendant looked over at him as he settled into his pounce posture beside her bed. She, shrugged, flattened the pillows and went to sleep. When she woke, the business card was gone, but she found a note: 'Can't come back, hole all fished out. Hal'.

She cried a little, but kept the note with her until she was discharged from the hospital.

"Doctor," Nurse Redheart reported, "The white count is higher today than yesterday." She held the page out for him to scan.

"I thought we'd cleared everything." He looked at the chart, and looked at his notes. "If he was a pony, I'd say ameboid dysentery, and viral pneumonia. But there's no evidence of either, except the symptoms."

"Maybe we should call back the experts from Canterlot," Nurse Redheart suggested.

The doctor nodded. She left to go do that.

"I hate to schedule more tests, but this time it's his life in the balance," he said morosely. "What did we miss?"

The doctor's mane was disheveled, and he looked like he hadn't slept in several days.

"Doctor," Twilight said as she entered the stallion's office, "You wanted to know about cure spells."

"Yes." He stirred himself. "It seems our friend had picked up a bug that we can't identify, and thus can't treat. We contacted your friend Zecora, and the treatments she suggested are either completely ineffective, or he would have a bad reaction to them."

"Without knowing the disease, I can't help much either," she admitted.

"Well, it was a stab in the dark," the doctor said, "If magic could cure everything, why would you need doctors."

"Can I see him?" she asked.

"Feeling guilty because you haven't looked in on him?" the doctor asked good-naturedly, "Don't be. He was sleeping most of the time. All the tests we had to run really wore him down. That may be a major part of the problem. It's the fever and the chills that are an added complication. He's been up over 105 repeatedly, but he still says he's freezing. There are toxins that released into the bloodstream that would result in that, but we can't find them in his."

"What are the other symptoms?" Twilight asked. She got them. "Aside from the fever and chills, it sounds like pneumonia and dysentery," she said.

"That was my diagnosis. Viral, and ameboid, respectively, but there's nothing present in the mucous or stools that would indicate that, and neither manifest a fever like what we're seeing. The enlarged liver could be caused by many factors. But that's what we're stuck with. I will warn you, he's got one of the symptoms in huge quantities, so you may want to hold your nose."

Twilight nodded at that, but braved the room anyway. Fortunately, the nurses had just changed the sheets and cleaned up the patient before her arrival. The sick animal smell was still overpowering. It lay on its side, the face resting on a metal tray and the body covered head to hoof with multiple blankets, yet still it shivered. The skin was stretched tight on the skull, as if starvation was happening, despite the best efforts of the doctors. A weak cough, and it spit something brown into the tray. The rheumy eyes didn't even focus on her until she was practically nose to nose with it.

"So?" it asked.

"So, ah how are you feeling?" she said and immediately regretted it.

"If you are here to collect data, you'd better hurry," it said carefully, "They've arranged to cremate the body, once I'm dead."

"I'm sure Princess Celestia didn't mean for this to happen."

"Is getting absolution for your mentor really that important right now?" it asked weakly.

"There's nothing anyone can do," she admitted and hung her head, "I'm sorry."

"Maybe the next one won't have to go through this. That at least is a comfort." It closed his eyes. "Don't come back, except as a researcher. I don't want any 'friends' now."

"I understand," she said, turned and left.

Outside the room she found Nurse Redheart. "How long?" Twilight asked.

"A day, maybe two. There's blood in the stools now, and his fever is getting worse. It's a race between the fever we can't break, or the dehydration."

"What about submerging him in cool water?"

"We tried it in warm water, and it just agitated him," the nurse pony said sadly.

"Is there anything that we can do?"

"The best expert on his species is in there. The rest of us are just guessing," Redheart said, "Excuse me."

Twilight looked back at the door. Bowed her head and tried to think of something, anything that would help.

Twilight was in the library, reading over several books, and making notes.

"Hi Twie," AppleJack said as she entered. The mare nodded towards the snacks on the table, and concentrated on finishing her work before the others arrived.

"Hello, am I too early?" Fluttershy asked as she entered.

"Naw, c'mon in," Applejack told her.

"That's truly ghastly," Rarity said, "Pinkie Pie, whatever gave you the idea that those would go together?"

"They're both so fun! We have to make the first party fun! Fun! FUN!" Pinkie Pie opined as she bounced in. Rarity followed, clearly not appreciating the party-mare's definition.

"It's the suit of clothes that I'm looking forward to. Something with a bold line and a dash of elegance."

"Where's Rainbow Dash?" Twilight asked as she looked up from her now-completed research.

The overpowering odor of mint and lanolin preceded Rainbow's arrival by a few seconds.

"Dear, I cannot recommend that shampoo in the future," Rarity said around her pinched nose. "Whatever possessed you to use it."

"Feather mites," Rainbow said angrily, "Some featherhead from that group from Canterlot mixed with the weather team. Half of them have them."

"Well, that solves that little mystery," Twilight said sardonically, and made a note on her list.

"So, what are we here for?" Fluttershy asked, carefully moving as far from the pungent pegasus as possible.

Applejack and Spike opened some windows.

"The reason I called you all here is, well, it, he died, yesterday," Twilight said, uncharacteristically reserved.

"Who?" Applejack asked, then guessed, " How?"

"Feather mites, they got into his lungs, and what they use to break down feathers got into his blood, and spread." Twilight walked over to the chalkboard where she'd diagramed the course of the disease, and decided not to turn the board and show them her work.

"So now this is my fault?" Rainbow Dash asked angrily.

"It's nopony's 'fault', Rainbow Dash," Rarity said, then looked around, "I take it no other pony went and saw him, before the end."

"Why should we? After what he said about the princess?" Rainbow said and crossed her arms in front of her.

"Things that turned out to be true," Twilight said, and sighed, "He made us mad, and so we left him alone. Not that he would have welcomed us with open arms."

"Sugarcube, sometahmes y'make mistakes. We all thought he was cantankerous, and chasin' ghosties," Applejack said, and hung her head, "Not that it makes a difference now."

"Sometime, when one of my animals," Fluttershy began, "All I can do is go and sit with them. But someone at the hospital did that, right?"

"They were too busy trying to figure out what was wrong," Twilight said.

"Oh." Fluttershy looked away and nervously pawed the floor.

"So did they?" Rainbow Dash asked and pointed at the sun.

Twilight nodded.

"We didn't do anything wrong," Rarity said, "We just failed to do everything right. We all assumed there would be time, later."

"Tweren't no later," Applejack agreed.

"Ooo! Ooo! But now we know what to do with the next one!" Pinkie said.

"Yeah," Twilight said, "I guess we do."

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