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The local branch of the Royal Intelligence Service was housed in a back room of the Town Hall. It was a little cramped, but the employees made the best of it.
There were filing cabinets, and desks, and everything found in a regular office, except only about one quarter of the expected floor space.
Applejack’s desk was squeezed into a corner. Her two coworkers, Lemon Slice and Paper Pusher, were equally as crowded. At least everything was neat. Paper was nearly obsessive about keeping things orderly. It was a good thing there wasn’t much in Applejack’s desk, or he probably would pick through it and organize things for her.
The three of them were the RIS’s entire representation in the area. That was understandable. Ponyville didn’t have much worth investigating. The Service had also begun to shift to a more international role, further cutting resources.
Applejack did not like working in an office. In fact, she’d rather be back on the farm working hard and bucking apples. She still lived at home with Granny Smith, Big Macintosh, and Apple Bloom, and helped out when she got the chance.
Still, she was doing a service to her country, and for that she could endure a little desk time. She just wished it wasn’t so boring.
After meeting with Kevin Daniels that morning, she’d checked on the pictures that had been taken during the initial investigation. The film was still processing.
Ponyville had changed a lot in the past few years. Pinkie Pie had moved away, and Rainbow Dash was also spending a lot of time on Earth lately. Rarity had managed to open a second boutique in Manehattan, and was there more often than not. Twilight Sparkle was heavily involved in the government and was constantly traveling to Canterlot. Fluttershy was still around, but her path didn’t cross Applejack’s very often.
They were still her friends, and she would do anything for them at a moment’s notice. Everypony just living their own lives. They couldn’t all pursue their dreams while still staying in Ponyville.
She decided that she would just have to make the best of things. There was a job to be done. She picked up the case file regarding the appearance of the mysterious doorway and flipped it open. There had to be something she was missing.
Heavy footsteps walked up to the apartment. There was a knock. The door opened. “What are you doing here?” asked one of the Flim Flam Brothers.
Constant Clock listened carefully from his position. The doors of the elevator muffled some of the sound.
“We need to talk,” said a human voice.
“Come in.” The front door of the apartment closed.
Now the sound was really hard to pick up. If the walls weren’t so thin, Constant wouldn’t have been able to hear anything. As it was, he only picked up faint snatches of the conversation.
Not sure. Something…
…seen? It’s important…
…don’t believe you…
Calm down. …work something out.
There were suddenly two loud bangs that made Constant jump. The apartment door slammed open and he heard the sound of feet taking off down the stairs. He waited for several seconds. When nothing else seemed to happen, he pressed the button to open the elevator doors.
A few ponies looked out into the hallway, trying to figure out what the noise had been. Constant entered the apartment. There was a smoky smell in the air. The two brothers lay on the floor in awkward positions. There was blood everywhere.
Constant had never seen a gunshot wound up close before, but there was little else that could cause damage like that. Oh Celestia, was that brain matter leaking out? He turned around, breathing hard. He felt sorry for the pony that would have to clean up that mess.
He thought about giving chase to the fleeing killer, but decided against it. The man had shown that he didn’t mind violence. Constant didn’t know how to identify him, anyway.
Making up his mind, he strode out into the hallway. “Somebody get the police. There’s been a double murder.” There was a collective gasp from the ponies present. Constant went back into the apartment. Perhaps there was something he could learn.
“How is it that you stay so skinny?” asked Jackson DePaul.
Daniels grinned at his coworker and bit into another muffin. “Exercise.”
“You must exercise enough for three people.”
Daniels shrugged. He probably did. Leaning forward, he indicated something on the page in front of DePaul.
“Timothy Oswald. I remember him.” They were reviewing a list of people who had critical knowledge of the doorway project.
“How did you know him?”
“He was the research head for a while. Had a doctorate in something I don’t remember. Seemed like a really bright guy. Didn’t he disappear shortly after the doorway was finished?”
DePaul consulted his notes. “Looks like it.”
“I’d put him at the top of the list, Jack.”
Picking up a red pen, DePaul circled Oswald’s name. “It does look suspicious,” he agreed. “What do you think happened to him?”
“There are two options. He either went willingly or was kidnapped.”
“Neither of those is very attractive.”
“I’m no psychic, but I’ll bet it was the former. Oswald seemed to have big ideas, but the military was trying to keep the doorway technology contained. Maybe he wanted to go to an outside source to help get his plans accomplished.”
DePaul frowned. “You mean he sold out?”
“I’m not saying that he did it for money. He could have been doing it for the good of humanity. I’m just saying that I think it’s more likely than somebody grabbing him.”
“Security was pretty tight on the project,” said DePaul. “To find out that he was involved, the so-called kidnappers would have had to have someone else inside to tell them that. If they had someone inside, then they probably would have just taken the plans rather than Oswald.”
“So you agree with me?”
“Let’s just say I’m interested.”
“All right,” said Daniels, leaning back. “If we’re going to explore this, let’s go all the way. If he was going to give the technology to someone, who would it be?”
“The Russians?” said DePaul, recalling the cigarette.
“I would have thought that he’d go to an ally first, but it’s possible.”
“The United Nations, maybe? If he was doing it for idealistic purposes, that’s probably the way to get the doorway distributed to the most people.”
“Fair point. I think we probably would have heard about it by now, though.”
“Some kind of criminal underworld? The black market?”
Daniels considered it. “That sounds reasonable. It’s probably the worst-case scenario, though. There’s a lot more ground to cover than if we were just considering countries.” He stood up. "I’m going to go check if the forensics crew knows anything.”
DePaul sighed. “Sure, leave me with the work.”
“What can I say? You’re good at it.”
“Oh, get out of here. I’m keeping the muffins.”
It took the police seven and a half minutes to arrive. Constant was still picking through the apartment. He showed them his RIS badge.
The Sergeant who showed up to take charge of the scene interrogated him. Constant had no reason to conceal anything.
“So you followed them here. Why were they under surveillance to begin with?”
“There’s been reports of unauthorized doorways. We think they might have had something to do with it.”
“And then a human walked in and killed them?”
The policepony glanced briefly at the gore. “Well, it looks like that checks out. That’s definitely the work of a human weapon.”
“After discovering the bodies, I searched the apartment. There’s nothing obvious. I’m sure with a little more time, you can check for hiding places or read their mail or something.”
The Sergeant nodded. “I’ve heard of these ponies before. I’m sure they were up to something.”
Two policeponies were going through the brothers’ personal items. Constant noticed a ring with three keys on it. One had the apartment number stamped on it. One was small, as if it belonged to a mailbox. The other one was different. He pointed that out.
“Do you think they had somewhere else where they did business?”
The suggestion seemed to interest the police. Constant left them with that thought. He walked downtown to the RIS office to make his report.
Fillydelphia was a large city, and while the office was proportionally busy, it was nowhere near the size of the national headquarters in Canterlot. Constant had grown up there, and taken a job away from home just for something different.
“Hey Connie!” called a voice. He didn’t appreciate the nickname, particularly since he’d learned that it was a name for human females.
“What? Uh, ma’am.”
“I wanted to ask you about the Flim Flam Brothers,” said his boss, a severe-looking mare named Sugar Song.
“They’re dead. Some human shot them.”
She nodded. “Word gets around fast. Did you learn anything?”
“No, not really. We knew that they were criminals of opportunity, and dabbled in everything. I found out that they probably didn’t do much business from their apartment. They must have a place somewhere else for that. The Filly PD said they would keep us updated if it was found.”
She nodded. “All right. Oh, what time is it?”
“Six minutes, forty-two seconds past the hour,” he said automatically.
She nodded and walked away without thanking him. Constant grumbled to himself. He felt under-appreciated.
He went to find a telephone. His friend Applejack would want to know what had happened. He would make sure she got the formal report as soon as it was ready.
The phone was newly installed. While useful, it had not been designed with ponies in mind. Constant thanked Celestia that he’d been born a unicorn. Trying to hold the receiver with his hooves would have been difficult. He used a pencil to poke the numbers.
Up until a few weeks ago, there had only been one phone in the Ponyville Town Hall. It was shared among the offices housed there. Constant was somewhat skeptical of human technology, but in this case welcomed it. He didn’t need to listen to the Mayor practicing her speeches on him as they waited for someone from the RIS office to come get the phone.
“Royal Intelligence Service, Ponyville branch,” said a clipped, professional voice.
“Hello Paper, it’s Constant. Is Applejack there?”
There was a clatter and a muffled tarnation as she fumbled with the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey there. Didja find the Flim Flam Brothers?”
“Yes, but it didn’t go quite like I hoped. They were murdered.”
“Darn it! They might’ve been the only ponies who could tell us what was going on.”
“Maybe. In fact, I think it’s likely. They could have been killed to keep them from talking.”
“Well, I guess you’re in a better position to find out. Nothing much happens here in Ponyville.”
He laughed. “If you want excitement, you should come to the big city, AJ.”
“Tried it. It ain’t for me.”
A pony stepped up behind Constant and waited for him to get off the phone. “I have to go. Is there anything else?”
“Human investigators are also workin’ on this. One of ‘em said he might have a suspect. I’ll give him your name.”
Constant didn’t appreciate that, but said nothing about it. “All right. Good luck to you.”
“You too, Connie.”
He put the phone down and went to write his report. He carefully listed all the details that he could remember, including precise times. It would have to cross Sugar Song’s desk and get her approval before he could distribute it to interested parties. He’d be sending a copy to Ponyville.
None of the ponies in the office seemed to know how to use the new facsimile-telecopy machine. Constant doubted they had one in Ponyville to receive the document anyway. It was a mystery to him how a fax traveled through the phone lines. Magic, maybe.
It would have to be Airmail, then. Constant waited. Sixteen minutes later, Mrs. Song returned the report, miraculously without demanding more detail. He had just barely enough time to make a copy and get it put into an envelope before the pegasus mailpony arrived.
She was cross-eyed and rather clumsy, but good at her job nevertheless. The report should be on Applejack’s desk by the next day.