By the time he was seven, Oman knew he wanted to be a pony. It wasn’t the pay. It wasn’t even the glory. He didn’t want to be a common pony either, the kind that tourists rent for a few weeks. No, Oman had a plan. He wanted to be a journalist. He wanted to change the world.
Oman underwent the conversion when he was twelve. His neural networks were recorded, analyzed, made available for foreign riders. He had this done in a small white room behind a weapons shop rather than a commercial ponyfarm so that he wouldn’t be included in the international database. That was important, of course. The cells could access the database. They’d know.
After that, after he’d been hooked up to a complicated, beeping, western device, he started. He spent hours in internet cafes reading emails and tracing ips, then following the residents of the given addresses. He learned the names of the enemy, the names that slaughtered his aunts and uncles, the names that turned homes into pillars of incendiary waste. He practiced, memorized the sacred texts, inundated himself in dogma. He made friends. He gained their confidence. They gave him more names. He traced the spiral to its core.
This was important. No foreign journalist would ride someone who wasn’t well-connected. This wasn’t a tourist gig, no way. This was the real thing. Oman was going to show them what it was like, show them how it was. Once they saw it, they’d have to do something. You can’t see stuff like that and not do something. He didn’t want bombs or troops or anything like that, though. Oman wasn’t sure how they’d fix it, but he knew they couldn’t just let it go.
He chose his cell carefully. Worked his way up. They were careful, shrouded in secret, like everything after the occupation. Still, they had plans. He helped develop them. They weren’t real plans, though. They wouldn’t actually work. Once Oman blew this thing open, America would know everything.
He found his journalist, Jason Skeinlen. The man was impressed by his planning, his foresight. The man believed in his need to change the world.
The first time Oman was ridden, he didn’t like it. He had trouble keeping his thoughts hidden. Not the important thoughts, of course, but the meaningless things, stuff like what he wanted to do to the gorgeous woman he’d seen walking into McDonalds. After a couple trial runs, though, he perfected his ability to keep two internal monologues: one professional, about the workings of his cell, and one secret. He didn’t have to worry about language, of course. They communicated by thought, by meaning.
He brought Jason to meetings, showed Jason with his own eyes. He listened to plans, listened to battle stories whispered across deserts and in the bowels of caves. He could feel Jason moving inside of him, feel him recording, feel him rephrasing Oman’s thoughts into eloquent soundbites. The first article was small. He was not mentioned. He couldn’t be mentioned. They’d know.
Oman took Jason to the meeting where they planned the Embassy bombing. It proceeded anyways, but Oman knew that Jason was just biding his time, waiting to break the story like you’d wait for a fruit to grow ripe. Jason watched it from a distance, watched the white rental truck force itself outwards in a rush of yellow and smoke while the sound reported from the faces of a thousand buildings. He heard the explosion through Oman’s ears. But Oman knew he was planning, waiting. There was strategy to this. Buses were nothing. This thing would only get bigger.
The bombing got 45 seconds of coverage on Fox. Oman watched the clip in an internet shop by proxying into a Lebanese newsfeed. When he recognized a few frames that had been filmed through his eyes, he was so proud that he could barely breathe. The cogs were turning. This was going to work.
No one could have foreseen this tragedy, the Arabic subtitles read beneath the well-coiffed newscaster.
Oman knew something was wrong as soon as he got to the meeting, but he rejected his instinct. Journalists aren’t afraid. That’s right, Jason transmitted somewhere above his spinal cord. You’re a good kid. Together, we can change the world.
When he was addressed by his teacher, Oman nodded in polite deference. When he was called to step forward, he obeyed. When the gun was shown, Oman felt the sudden scrambling dizziness behind his eyes as the neural connection wavered, twisted, and broke from the other end.
Oman squinted at the handful of men before him, trying to see their faces through the nausea of unexpected dismount. Two of them frowned. One smiled. One remained blank, unreadable.
Maybe they were being ridden too, he thought. Maybe one of them is recording this, sending this to the outside. Once they see, they’ll have to do something. You can’t just let something like this happen. Jason knew. He’d disconnected. He was probably calling his government right now, telling them that people were dying, telling them to send help.
As the teacher raised the gun, Oman knew he was changing the world. They wouldn’t let this happen, not over and over again. They’d have to do something. He was changing the world.