There was a knock at the door to my quarters just as I was finishing getting dressed. "Mr. Arturus, the Princesses request your presence in the lesser audience chamber," a voice said. I recognized it as Cloud Wing, one of my guards. "There are some dignitaries here to see you."
"Thank you Cloud Wing, I'll be right out," I said. There was no further word from the other side of the door; Cloud Wing was now presumably waiting at attention next to my door, along with the two guardponies already there. He would not leave; it was under royal orders that, although I was now at liberty, I was to go nowhere without my own fourlegged Secret Service division.
My citizenship in Equestria was, I'm sure, accompanied by a bit more fanfare than was typical; Celestia and Luna both decided to make public announcements before the entire city of Canterlot that I was now a full fledged citizen of the Diarchy, and had given me some long-winded arbitrary noble title--- with my awkward and self-conscious self standing on the balcony right next to them, trying very consciously to not look like a strange carnivorous alien from beyond the stars. I'd never seen a pony stampede and I really hadn't wanted to change that. It was a heart-touching gesture on their parts, I admit. But doing it twice-- once at midday, once at midnight-- seemed a bit much. Especially as each announcement was followed by a soiree where they did their level best to get me to mingle with various nobility and celebrities. It was a bit trying. I think they were trying to compete with each other....
How did it go, you ask? Remember the first half of the Grand Galloping Gala? Pretty much like that. The nobility were scandalized at the 'jumped up ape,' the press were obnoxious and the celebrities were, at best, a mixed bag. No FlutterSplosions or rampaging wilderness creatures, thank heavens, but it was bad enough. And it happened twice.
I was still something of a ward of the state. I was placed on a modest stipend, on the grounds that I still had value both as a research subject and as a tactical and strategic adviser. Despite my misgivings it seemed that my tactical meanderings had given some of their military minds some new perspective on dealing with a human war machine. Plus the historians and anthropologists (pony-pologists?) were still eagerly pumping me for information about human society, religion, politics, language, culture.... I was always at pains to point out to whichever researcher was quizzing me at the moment that I was, in fact, of no particular rank or importance back on Earth, and in fact had a very limited experience with the world at large.... and, quite frankly, of a VERY biased perspective.... and they would probably be putting their time to better use by scooping up a few books from my world and learning about us from that. They generally reassured me that they wanted the perspective of a typical human on the street, opinions and all, which was something they couldn't get from a book, and that wouldn't any books or publications from my world have their own biases as well? ( I certainly agreed to that, albeit for my own reasons.) Plus there were more than a few who were fascinated by the whole My Little Pony thing, and the Brony phenomenon.... those particular conversations got quite recursive sometimes.
Either way it meant that I was rarely idle; I seemed always to be on call. I finished throwing on my casual wear and made for the door. I assumed it was another researcher wanting to quiz me over some esoteric bit of human bricabrac, but there was no telling. I recalled one general who wished to test my idea for weaponizing Poison Joak on an actual human. Surprise, dear readers; apparently the effect of Poison Joak can be different every single time you catch it. I spent a good portion of that week in a variety of embarrassing shapes, colors, forms and sizes before Celestia put her hoof down.
Consequently, I dressed casual. No telling what the pony practitioners would want to do today. No sense in risking my good clothes.
I picked up my cane, checked to make sure my suspenders were fastened, threw the strap of my saddlebag over my shoulder and made for the door. (Yes, saddlebag. Their currency is all in metal coin; "folding money" is a misnomer in Equestria.) Cloud Wing was waiting at the door. He took to the air as soon as I stepped through, hovering just above and ahead of me. Bright Dawn, a powerfully built yellow-on-yellow Earth pony, took up his position at my right hand side while Hat Trick, a powder blue unicorn with a white and blue mane, took her place on my left, patiently slowing their pace to match mine. All three were armored and tightly professional; my own personal guard.
This was the usual breakdown for protecting Equestrian royalty and guests of honor; an even division of unicorns, earth pony and pegasi, capable of handling a diversity of threats. Originally there had been double this number, but I had complained that six ponies-at-arms was a bit excessive, not to mention more cumbersome and even more attention-gathering. Not that I was assigned anything unusually excessive; all the members of the royal family, for instance, had an entourage of at least four of each. Celestia and Luna rarely went anywhere with less than eight. Note, you never saw most of them. The human concepts of Secret Service and Plain Clothes Officers had trickled over from Earth to Equestria. I often suspected my own rather informal looking entourage was far larger than it seemed; one of the serving fillies handing out hors d'oeuvres at my "unveiling" party had taken out an overly aggressive heckler with far more ruthless efficiency than one reasonably expects out of the waitstaff.
"Can I ask what's going on?" I asked Cloud Wing. The grey pegasus drifted back alongside me."Sorry, Mr. Arturus," he said. "I was asked not to say anything in advance." I felt my suspicions rise. I didn't expect any skullduggery, mind-- but I'd been in Equestria long enough to confirm that Celestia, at least, did like her little pranks. She'd never done anything particularly outrageous; she was more into the sort of drink-with-your-pinky-out fastidious sort of joke, tea party wittiness. It could be a trifle annoying when you were the target. Personally I actually found it kind of sad; the most she seemed to get out of it was a polite little titter, something that deeply offended the dormant humorist in my soul. I'd used to essentially make a living writing comedy, and some tiny rebellious part of me had become ever more determined to someday see her falling down laughing her plot off.
CloudWing led us to a door off a side hall; one of the small "round table" meeting rooms scattered throughout the castle. He opened it, looked in, and nodded the rest of us through. When I stepped inside--
Without foresight or warning I was suddenly pummeled by three hurtling balls of mane, tail and hooves. They struck me amidships and sent me to the floor with a crash. I panicked for a moment before my stunned senses focused and I realized I had been tackled to the marble floor by three fillies: an orange pegasus, a white unicorn with a pastel mane and a yellow earth pony with a bow in her mane large enough to go sailplaning... Yes; the Cutie Mark Crusaders had come for a visit. They squealed with laughter and proceeded to try and tickle me with their hooves. "Great bodyguarding there, Lightning Wits," I snarked at Cloudwing.
He just smirked. "You've got us mixed up again, sir. I'm Cloudwing. Lightning Wits takes the night shift."
Pony weisenheimer. I ignored him and proceeded to get in a tickle-fight with the gruesome threesome.
In my short stay in Ponyville I had somehow managed to make a lasting impression on the CMC. I couldn't begin to say why. Somehow within a week I'd ended up in the role of a favorite goofy uncle. Or maybe a really cool pet, I don't know. I soon found them tagging along behind me, inquiring after me, or failing that staring at me wide-eyed from just around a corner. Considering some of the things that went down while I suffered through the worst case of culture shock in human history, it was probably morbid curiosity. But they'd decided that they liked me-- and I have to say the sentiment was returned. They're rambunctious, but they're still sweet kids. Just thirty seconds with them now had redoubled my good cheer.
I made my way down the Ponyville boulevard apprehensively. Despite Twilight's reassurances that the ponies in town were more cosmopolitan about strange visitors, I was less than eager to put the assertion to the test. Various fan-fic related scenarios ranging from a panicked stampede to a torch wielding mob were playing out in my head. Despite none of these taking place I wasn't particularly reassured; The streets seemed almost abandoned at midday, save for one or two ponies who made a point of keeping their distance. I stumped on down the road to Rarity's for my scheduled fitting, trying to ignore the stares, or the way that the few ponies on the street fell silent as I approached.
In retrospect most of that had probably been attributable to what was following me.
I stopped at a store window, trying to play casual (and to catch my wind-- I am rather overweight and not built for long walks) when I noticed a scuffling noise behind me. I turned about and looked back; noone was there. Just an empty street, a few odds and ends out on the sidewalk in front of the dry goods shop, a couple of barrels, an overturned box...
I resumed walking down the street. The scuffling noise resumed. after a half a block I spun about-- still nothing.
The overturned box, however, had apparently traveled down the block with me.
I turned my back, and listened carefully. There was further scuffling, followed by the "thunk" of an upturned box settling to the road, and three voices muffled by said box whispering amongst themselves in argument. I recognized Applebloom's country twang almost immediately.
The previous day I had been introduced to the rest of the mane six by my "captors" (Twilight and a very pugnacious Spike wielding a fireplace poker) and coincidentally to Scootaloo, SweetieBelle, and AppleBloom. At the time they'd gone wide-eyed and silent and kept their distance, much as you'd expect any child to when confronted with something alien and frightening. Apparently they'd gotten over their fright and had decided in true Cutie Mark Crusader fashion to take it upon themselves to keep an eye on the strange visitor from another planet.... and were now making like Solid Snake in an attempt to spy on me.
I turned my back so they couldn't see me, my gut heaving as I tried not to laugh. I got the most wicked idea. I was at the corner of Sugarcube Corner. I took my cane under my arm, put on a malevolent leer, and, going "muhahahahah," skulked my way around the corner and down the back alley with all the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash. Once out of sight I ducked down behind some shipping crates and waited.
The CMC took the bait. There was a drumming sound of three sets of frantic little hooves, and lo and behold, the Perfectly Innocent Overturned Box came thundering around the corner on twelve little legs. Oh, Lord, but for a camera. They stopped, baffled, on seeing that the alley came to a dead end.
And then I pounced.
I leapt out behind them, and in my best vaudeville villain voice announced "Aha, NOW I HAVE YOU!" I grabbed the box and with one epic push, pull and heave, flipped it--- and its three inhabitants-- upside down. They were now lying side by side on their backs in an upright box, expressions of utter shock on their faces, their legs sticking comically up in the air. "Thought you could spy on me and thwart my plans did you?" I bellowed. "Now you pay the PENALTY!" I lunged forward, they screamed...
And I began tickling the LIFE out of them.
They'd obviously never been tickled by someone with fingers before. Their screams of panic almost instantly became shrieks of laughter; their legs flailing in the air as they desperately tried to get away--- but it was no good, they were jammed in too tight to get any leverage. I didn't let up.
There was a bang as the back door of Sugarcube Corner popped open. Pinkie Pie stuck her frizzy head out in the alley. "What's going on out here??"
Scootaloo managed to peek up over the rim of the box. "PINKIE! HE'S GOT US ! HELLP!!" She managed to get out between gasping shrieks.
"Okay!" Pinkie promptly hopped over to the box... and stuck her hooves in and began tickling for all she was worth.
"ARRGH! HELP US, NOT HIM!...."
I finally let up and decanted them. They sat there in a row, disheveled, exhausted, tears of laughter streaking their faces, gasping for air and hiccuping in syncopation. Pinkie and I nearly busted a gut laughing at them. It was nearly an hour before the hiccups finally stopped...
The trio got over their fears of me, obviously. But they never stopped trying to get even with me....
I finally stood up with a Cutie Mark Crusader hanging on one ankle, another one tucked under my arm like a football, and a third one sitting on my shoulders and clinging to the back of my head, and looked around the room. For the first few moments I was under the impression that I had been mobbed by a knee-high onslaught of cute. A clamor of tiny voices, huge eyes and bright pastel faces surged up around me.I realized that I was being enthusiastically greeted by-- well, it looked like the entirety of Cheerilee's class.Of course right behind them trying to keep order was Cheerilee, along with...
"Guys!" I blurted out. "Hey, you're all here!"
Not my most clever opening line. But indeed they were. The Mane Six, plus Spike, were all there. A melee of greetings, hoofshakes and hugs went around the room. Yes, I know it's cliche; the Brony goes to Equestria, lands in Ponyville and befriends the Mane 6. Really, though, it was more or less inevitable. When Princess Celestia accidentally pelted half the Ponyville countryside with a hail of human artifacts, including one human, it only stood to reason that the six most important young mares in town would be in the middle of things.... and all said and done, they are the Elements of Harmony; the power of Friendship is what they're all about. Friends or not, my time in Ponyville had been cut short by the necessity of bringing me into royal custody, and circumstances had prevented them from coming to Canterlot to visit. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed them all until that very moment.
I looked the colorful mob over. "What in the world are you all doing here?" I asked.
Cheerilee spoke up. "Well, it just so happens that it was time for our yearly field trip," she explained. "And I decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to bring the children to see the new Humanity wing of the Canterlot Museum of Natural History."
"Yeah," Spike chuckled. "And to see a genuine Human while they were at it...."
I blinked. "Wait, what. A 'Humanity' wing in the Museum?"
"Ayup," Applejack said, grinning.
"A whole wing?" So that's what they'd been doing with all the junk coming through the portal. The laboratory chamber was starting to look like a trailer park after a tornado. But a whole new wing? I really needed to get out of the castle more.
"The girls were kind enough to volunteer as chaperones for our little trip," Cheerilee said.
"Aaaand we sort of asked the Princesses if you could play tour guide for us," Twilight added. "After all, who better to show the class around a gallery of human artifacts than an actual human?"
"Plus it gave us an excuse to all come up and see ya," Rainbow Dash, said, hovering overhead to give me a noogie with one hoof.
"Easy on the bald spot," I groused. Oh clever clever Celestia. Found a way to get me out and about and hobnobbing. As if I was going to say "no" to a literal mob of dewy-eyed foals. Heck, they could have just sent Fluttershy and I would have been doomed. "Well, seeing as my calendar is free for the day..."
The chorus of "yays" that went up was really far in excess. These foals had to be hard up for entertainment for me to be the highlight of their day.
"By the by, I think I see some new faces from last time, Cheerilee; would you care to introduce me?"
"Of course," the schoolteacher smiled. "I think you already know the Cutie Mark Crusaders," she said with some amusement, pointing with her hoof at the small ponies still clustering around my ankles. The schoolfillies giggled.
"Never woulda guessed," I quipped.
"You've met Snips and Snails..."
"Hiya!" "Heyyyy." I grinned and brohoofed them. Those two were definitely under-represented on the show. Sakes, if Faust and her staff had gotten an inkling of all these two got up to, they'd have had to create a spinoff series. In the short time I was in Ponyville those two got up to enough antics to give the CMC a run for the title.
"These are Archer, Featherweight, and Truffle", A blue unicorn filly with a bow and arrow cutie mark... had to be an interesting story behind that. How would a pony hold a bow?... An impossibly skinny pegasus colt with enormous ears, and a pudgy little fellow with a knife and fork cutie mark. Twist was standing shoulder to shoulder with him. Heh. They were simply too adorable for words. I wondered how embarrassed they'd be if they knew just how many people had seen them passing hearts and hooves cards?
"Sunny Day, Tootsie Flute"--- two earth pony fillies, one a buttercup yellow, the other a pale eggshell blue. "Oh, and our two newest students... come on, introduce yourselves..."
Out from behind their teacher stepped a piebald little colt and a grey unicorn filly with a golden yellow mane... yes. It was exactly who you're thinking. I didn't dare to guess. So many things had turned out differently than I had expected; I just had to know. I knelt down, to try and look less intimidating to the tiny thing. "And may I ask your name?"
The little filly rubbed her forehooves together and looked up at me with big bashful eyes. "I'm Dinky...."
I looked at her for a moment. "Yes, yes you most certainly are," I couldn't help saying. A round of titters went up. I had to ask, I just had to. "I think I've seen your mother someplace....?" I trailed off, leaving the question hanging.
The little fluffy head nodded. "Oh yes. She's the mailmare in Ponyville."
"With the bubble cutie mark ?"
"And the funny eyes," she finished. "It's okay, you can say it." Oh bless her heart, I thought. "Her name is Derpy Hooves. I'm Dinky Hooves."
"Very pleased to meet you, Miss Dinky Hooves," I said. Meanwhile my inner Brony was chortling with glee. Yes! She's a mailmare, she has a daughter named Dinky, and her name is DERPY! Fanon, three for three! HAH! Take THAT, forces of banal insipid political correctness!
The colt looked nervous for a moment, then made a show of stepping up stoutly next to Dinky and throwing his chest out. "Pipsqueak, sir," he announced, his accent thick as anyone could hope. "Formerly of Trottingham. I'm very pleased to meet you." Every inch the proper gentlepony.
I couldn't help but notice how Dinky seemed to huddle to his side for security. Oh ye shippers of the world, rejoice. "Pleased to meet you too." My inner brony worked his mischief on my willpower once again. I leaned forward and said, sotto voce, "Keeping an eye on the young lady, are we?"
He blushed a bit, then straightened up like a soldier at review and gave a single no-nonsense nod. "Her Mum asked me to take good care of her little muffin, sir," he said.
That was it. Ignore all further reports; I died of adorable, right then and there. "Good show, lad," I said, patting him on the shoulder. I stood up and stepped back. The strain of holding in the "d'awww's" nearly popped every tendon in my body, but I managed it. The other adults in the room weren't so inclined; I heard muffled coos and squees from several corners. Including, I testify, from at least one of my bodyguards. (He denies it to this day.)
"This is it?" a voice in the back piped up. "This is the big surprise? We're going to be shown around by a talking monkey?" Oh, it could ONLY be...
I looked around, yes, there she stood in the back of the group, trying to look aloof and distainful; a pink pony with a white and purple mane and an ostentatious little diadem sparkling on her brow. "Ah, you must be Diamond Tiara," I said. I couldn't resist taking a little jab. "From the, ah, Filthy family, was it?" A chorus of giggles went up at this.
The little prima donna stuck her nose in the air. "That's the RICH family," she enunciated. "You've obviously heard of us..."
"Oh, your fame goes abroad before you, I assure you," I said. My voice was so thick with sarcasm it could have doubled as spackle. Even the adults present snickered at this. Tiara wasn't completely slow; she flushed a bit-- then tried a different tack. Oh, little bratling, if you only knew how many 'little princess' tactics I'd seen over the course of my four decades, you wouldn't even try.....
"See, I told you, Silver Spoon," she said to her ever-present sidekick. "This is just going to be lame. What could we possibly learn from a big fat monkey anyway?"
"Diamond Tiara!" Cheerilee scolded. "Mind your manners, young filly!"
I let it roll off me. I wasn't so much annoyed as amused at being called a "monkey." I've been called far worse.
Some of the foals actually rallied to my defense. "Hey, back off, Diamond Tiara. Mr. Arthur's a great guy!" Snips said.
"Yeah, Tiara, Mr. Arthur's really smart," SweetieBelle said. "He knows all sorts of neat stuff even Twilight doesn't know about."
Scootaloo put in her two cents worth. "Yeah-- he taught me how to fly-- and he doesn't even have any wings!"
Several ponies blinked in surprise at that. "Ah, that's a bit of a story," I said, deferring any questions. And a bit of a sore point with Rainbow Dash as well, I reflected....
Snips couldn't resist chipping in further. "And besides....monkeys are cool!"
"....I brought a banana," Snails chimed in.
There was a pause as several adults facehoofed.
Hrk. I furiously pretended to be stifling a sneeze.
Cheerilee cleared her throat. "Mr. Arturus is a very important and very well educated man, Diamond Tiara," Cheerilee said sternly. "He advises both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. We are very lucky to have him take time for us today. Now apologize young lady."
Diamond Tiara muttered the usual insincere apologies of a chastised child. I decided a change of topic was in order. "Um, how are we going to proceed? Bit of a crowd, here..." I wasn't exaggerating either. Back on earth it would have taken a full-sized schoolbus. Did Equestria have school buses?
"The Princesses reserved a passenger wagon for your use," Bright Dawn chipped in. "more than large enough for this group. Won't take to the air though, more's the pity...."
"Good enough for a short trip," I said. "we might as well be going. Bright Dawn, if you'd lead us to our carriage...?"
Everyone shuffled into a rough approximation of organization and filed their way out the door, Bright Dawn in the lead. I was among the last out of the room. On the way out, CloudWing stepped to my side. "Taught her to fly?" he asked.
"Ah, therein lies a tale," I said. "If you don't mind waiting till we get to the wagon..."