The Ukrainian was not pleased. He’d been told to go find the place where the doorway had opened into the pony world. He’d done that, no problems. It looked like the ponies had been there, but none were present when he’d showed up. It didn’t look like they’d found much.
The interception at the doorway terminal in Ponyville had taken him completely by surprise. He had no idea how they had figured him out, and had instinctively reacted by running.
He’d managed to get away. The security people on the other end of the doorway had been suspicious, but he’d ducked them and found himself outside the building and in Chicago scot-free. He vowed to be more careful in the future.
He pulled out a cigarette and lit up. He hadn’t managed to get any of his favorites imported from home, but these were good enough. He'd managed to find them at a Russian-owned grocery store in the city. A smoke was just what he needed to calm his nerves. He would need it. He was about to go see the scariest men he knew.
Down in the deep, old part of the city stood a building. It was nondescript, and made of uninspired architecture. It had been kept in good repair, but nothing had been done to attract attention from passerby. The armed guards were well hidden.
The Ukrainian stepped up to the door and knocked. After a moment, a voice demanded a password.
He gave it. The long pause that always followed made him think that perhaps they only gave one password for every visitor, and there was a list to make sure the correct person had given the correct password. Eventually, the door opened.
“I need to see the boss,” he said, stepping in.
The stone-faced man behind the door gestured him to the stairs. He went up, his apprehension growing with every step. The boss would not like what he had to say.
The door at the top of the stairs was open. He walked inside. Two men waited for him. One was Charles Line, the boss. The other was Oscar, his favorite employee. Oscar enjoyed killing people. Line enjoyed ordering it.
“You look nervous,” said the boss. The Ukrainian shrugged to conceal the fact that that was the truth.
“There was a little problem.” He spoke English well, and had managed to loose most of his accent.
“I checked on the place where the doorway opened in the forest. It was found by the ponies, but none were there when I checked. On my way back, I was stopped by the police. I ran before they could question me.”
“How did they know about you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Really?” said Oscar. “The Flim Flam Brothers told a pretty cute story.”
The Ukrainian looked panicked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, truthfully.
Oscar laughed. “Just playing. You should see the look on your face.”
The man relaxed. He had smoked a cigarette while he waited for the brothers to arrive. After that, he had given them the contraband and departed. Nothing more. He was sure that he hadn't done anything wrong. Oscar was known for his mean jokes.
“Get out,” said Line. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” The Ukrainian nodded and went back down the stairs. He felt relieved.
“I’ve got the van and the knives ready to go,” said Oscar.
Line nodded. “Take care of him. Any idiot that gets caught by ponies is useless to me.”
The file of information about the human scientist didn’t mean much to Constant. He read through it, but it didn’t appear to connect to anything he had.
He decided to try a different approach. What if he could think ahead of the bad guys? If he could predict what they would do next, that would give him an advantage.
All right, where to start? With the Flim Flam Brothers dead, the humans using the doorway would need new contacts in Equestria to help them. Who would be their second choice?
There were a couple of names that he could think of. If he asked around, he might find something. He also might tip them off, so he would have to be careful.
He called Ponyville and talked to Applejack for a while. With their combined brainstorming, Constant discovered a few new leads to check out. Applejack offered to come help out. She said she wouldn’t mind getting out of Ponyville for a while. Constant thought it was a great idea.
He asked her to come to the RIS office in Fillydelphia. She had something to finish, but should arrive in a few hours. Constant set a time for them to meet.
When he got off the phone, he sat for a moment. There were leads he could be running down. Applejack appreciated hard work, and would understand if he started without her.
Some particularly unsavory characters hung out on the west side of the city. Constant put on a pair of saddlebags to cover his cutie mark and pulled a hat low over his ears. The police had managed to find where the Flim Flam Brothers’ key belonged, and he headed there.
It looked like some kind of long-closed store. The police line was still up, telling him that there was no point in him going inside. The police were generally pretty good, and it would probably be a waste of effort trying to find something they missed. He’d read the report later.
There were other places to visit. He had a whole list of suspects.
Another day, another doorway. Daniels was beginning to think that a good portion of his life would be spent standing in lines. If it was a personal trip he was on, he would have considered abandoning it.
The ponies had reported a suspicious Ukrainian man. Going through the passport records for entrances, Jackson DePaul at the office had found a suspect. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the man had come in from Chicago.
Armed with this information, Daniels was going back to Ponyville to deliver it by hand. They didn’t have a fax machine there, and international mail was slow.
Once in Equestria, Daniels headed for the RIS office. Applejack looked up as he came through the door.
"I've got this profile on the man you met yesterday," said Daniels.
"Have to look at it later. Ah was just about to leave for Fillydelphia."
“We’re going to check out some leads. Constant’ll probably want to see the information about this Ukrainian feller, too. Say, you want to come along?”
“I got the impression that Constant didn’t care for me.”
“Just get to know him, and he’ll warm up.”
Daniels shrugged. “All right, I’ll go."
Bending a doorway around to connect to a different place in the same dimension was theoretically possible, but it was simple enough to just make a transfer through a different place. Daniels and Applejack went though the Ponyville terminal to Earth, and then directly into another doorway to Fillydelphia.
Constant was not waiting for them in front of the RIS building. “What time is it?” asked Applejack. Daniels checked his watch and told her.
“He’s usually waits out here a little early. Maybe he’s inside.” They walked in. After a short search, they hadn’t managed to find him. Nopony in the building has seen him for a few hours.
“I don’t understand,” said Applejack. “Constant Clock is never late.”
“Where could he have gone?” They searched his desk for clues. There was not much to be found. A list of suspects and their locations was the only thing that seemed to indicate what he might be working on.
On the other side of the city, Constant crouched in an alley and peered through a small gap between boards that covered a window. He was completely aware that he’d blown his appointment, but knew that what he was watching was more important.
There was a doorway in the room. The building had once been used as some kind of factory. Old equipment was scattered around and partially blocked his view, but there was no doubt what he was looking at.
He’d seen a couple of ponies and one human moving around, carrying things. Most were packaged in plain boxes. It looked like a smuggling operation.
Constant didn’t know what they could be trading. Most things that ponies actually wanted to buy were legal and could be bought and sold legitimately. So what was it, then? Were they using Equestria as a temporary holding ground for smuggling between two places on Earth?
Against his better judgment, Constant decided to get closer. He used his magic to quietly stack a pile of crates up so he could reach a second-floor window. Unlike the ground floor, these hadn’t been boarded up.
He was taking a big risk. At any moment, he could be spotted. Carefully applying magic to the window lock, it clicked open.
The room was tall. What had originally appeared to be second-floor windows actually opened to higher spot on the wall of the first floor. Luckily, there was some kind of machine backed up to the wall nearby. Constant was not a technical pony, and did not recognize what it was for. He carefully climbed onto it, closing the window behind him. He slipped down and came to rest out of sight behind the machine.
He waited for several minutes. There was nothing to be heard but footsteps, hoofsteps, and quiet conversation. He slowly moved into a position where he could see.
The doorway was circular, rather than rectangular. There was an awkward gap at the floor that the ponies and the human had to step over. Constant thought he saw another human on the other side.
For several minutes, he watched. He was in the shadows and somepony would have to look directly at him to see that he was there.
A couple last boxes were transferred. The second human stepped through, holding some kind of case.
“Shall we discuss payment?” he asked. His voice triggered something in Constant’s mind. Was it the same man who had visited the Flim Flam Brothers?
The ponies who had helped seemed eager for money. The group walked through a door at the other end of the room and left the doorway unattended.
Constant quietly sneaked over to it and looked through. The other side appeared to be another industrial building remarkably similar to the one he stood in. That didn’t tell him much.
Several shots were suddenly fired, and Constant ducked automatically. He realized that they had come from behind the closed door where everypony had disappeared to. After a moment, the door opened and a man came out, open case in one hand, and a gun in the other.
He stared at the pony beside the doorway and then raised the gun. Constant reacted instinctively and jumped through the doorway. It was far from an ideal solution, but now the man could only shoot at him through the narrow circular portal.
Constant heard approaching footsteps. He was safe for the moment, but he had no idea how to escape. He ducked behind the equipment that powered the doorway. His eyes fell on a button marked “emergency stop.”
He glanced up and saw that the man had nearly reached the doorway. With few other options, he pushed the button. The doorway immediately shut off.
Constant let out a long breath. That was one problem solved, but it had created dozens of others. He didn't know how to get the doorway working again, or how to redirect it to someplace where there wasn’t a man with a gun waiting for him.
Constant looked around. He had no idea where he was.