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* * *
by Jeffrey C. Wells
* * *
Part Four: Stranger Danger
"EE EE EE!" said Pinkie, vibratin' back and forth. "EE EE EE EE EE EE EE! Girls! Girls! It's my graduate thesis advisor!"
"Your graduate what now?" said Rainbow.
"Pinkie," said Twilight, looking back and forth between the approaching newcomer and our Ms. Pie. "I thought we agreed… I mean… maybe we shouldn't…"
"Please, Twilight!" said Pinkie. "We have to tell them now! He's here! What kind of welcome party are we gonna be able to have if nopony knows who he is?"
"Does there have to be a welcome party?" asked Twi, sounding helpless.
"Uh, sugar," I said, "you been living under a rock or something the past year? Pinkie even threw a party for that well-inspector from Canterlot last month came to study our manganese levels."
"And don't forget her annual 'Hello, Mister Tax Collector!' soirée," added Rarity.
"And the bash she hosted for that one pony who robbed the Bank of Manehattan," said Dash. "The one who was trying to lay low, remember?"
"Deserved what was coming to him," I spat. "Ain't never heard of such a thing. Taking money what doesn't belong to you? I swear."
Twilight sighed heavily. "Fine, Pinkie. We can tell them about Professor Danger."
"WEE-HOO! I gotta go get Iggy!" Pinkie shot off back in the direction of the library, leaving a pink streak in the air behind her.
"Fine!" Twilight yelled after her. "Talk about Iggy too! But don't talk about your other invention! The really dangerous one! Or any other science project from here on in! Can I get an actual Pinkie Promise on that this time?"
Pinkie reappeared, going from lightning to zero in no seconds whatsoever, now carrying that same asbestos bag she had in her mouth last night. "YEPH!" she said, around the bag. Then she dropped it on the ground with a heavy clunking sound. "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"
"SQUONK," went the bag.
"I have no idea what's going on," said Fluttershy, cowering on the ground.
"Take heart," said Rarity, stroking Flutters's back with a hoof. "You wear confused expressions well. They make me look just dreadful, like some sort of horrid startled bovine."
"Ooh! Ooh!" said Pinkie. "Rarity, make a mooing noise!"
"No," said Rarity.
"Pinkie, sugar," I said, "are you saying you actually wrote a thesis paper on something when you were in college?"
"Pinkie, are you saying you even were in college?" said Dash.
"Indeed she was, and indeed she did," called out the stranger, crossing the last few yards of space between him and us. "Her thesis, with its associated contraption, was one of the most brilliant things ever to shine forth from our humble institute." The white-coated pony undid the traces of his pony cart with his teeth, crossed over to a gleeful Pinkie, and gave her a real affectionate neck-hug, which she returned.
"Hello, liebchen," he murmured. "It has been so very long."
Pinkie broke the hug and turned back toward the rest of us. "Girls, I'd like you to meet—"
"Major-Doctor Stranger von Danger," said the Professor, turning around so fast his coat flew up a little. He looked up at the sky, then, like he was waiting for something.
"Professor?" said Pinkie, cocking her head at him. "Is something wrong?"
"Himmel," he said. "No, Pinkamena, everything is fine. I have merely forgotten that I do not travel with my usual cohort of students this time. I am in need of a, how do you say, unoccupied pegasus pony." Stranger Danger looked over the all of us, dismissed us, and then started scanning the rest of the hillside, his eyes eventually lighting on that one mare with the funny derped-up eyes, who was fluttering from place to place doing some dandelion-collecting about half a hill away, humming a little off-key tune to herself. He crossed over to her like a pony with purpose and whispered in her ear. Derpy-eyes seemed to like what she was hearing, and she zipped away, eventually returning with a little black thundercloud gripped in her mouth. Professor Danger walked back over to us and then gave her a ready nod.
"Pinkamena," said Stranger Danger, "Please attempt to introduce me once more."
"Girls," said Pinkie, sounding a little confused, "I'd like you to meet—"
"Major-Doctor Stranger von Danger," said the Professor, and even before he finished saying his thing, Derpy started a-jumping all over her stormcloud. Thunder and lightning lashed out, briefly burning our eyes and leaving Professor Danger-shaped sore spots hovering afore them.
"Thank you," said Professor Danger, as we all blinked and tried to recover. He pulled a one-bit coin from a purse on his cart and tossed it into the air. Derpy caught it and stowed it in one of her muffin-clip saddlebags.
"Yaay!" said Derpy.
"Very important, dramatic thunder and lightning effects," said the Professor. "Funny-eyed pony, you will follow me everywhere I go and help give my words the emphasis they require. You will be compensated for your service."
"Okay, science man!"
Stranger Danger looked back over at all of us. "Now, then," he said. "To answer all your questionings. Yes, I had the honor and privilege of supervising Doctor Pie throughout her graduate school career."
"'Doctor' Pie?" said Rainbow Dash, flapping in close and scrutinizing Pinkie. "You're a doctor? Like with medicine?"
"Nope!" said Pinkie. "Like with philosophy!"
"But… you're a baker!" said Sweetie Belle.
"Yeah!" said Dash. "What was that load of turnips you were laying down about 'being who you really are' just now?"
Pinkie giggle-snorted. "Silly Dashie," said Pinkie. "I really am a baker!"
"The culinary world's gain is our terrible loss," said Stranger Danger. "And the world at large's loss. There is no telling what she might have accomplished had she stayed with us in Maresachusetts."
Meanwhile, the asbestos bag had nudged its way open, and a shiny little copper-colored face had appeared at the opening. As y'all might expect, dear Fluttershy was all over that like red on apple.
"Oh, how adorable!" gushed Fluttershy, gathering the little lizard monster – the famous 'Iggy', I suppose – up in her hooves.
"SQUONK," said the lizard monster, cuddling up to her.
"Fluttershy, don't touch that!" said Twilight. "Him! Whatever!"
"That cute little lizard was responsible for last night's forest fire!"
There were mutterings all amongst our little pony crowd. Fluttershy's face fell, and she returned Iggy to arm's length. "Did… did he mean to do it?"
"Likely not," said Professor Danger. "Iggy is a kind-hearted contraptionoid. It is just that when he eats too hot of peppers, well, he burns things up."
If anypony was actually trying to make Fluttershy put the fire-lizard down, telling her that the fool thing had some kind of special dietary condition was exactly the wrong row to hoe. "Poor dear!" she squealed, pretty near rubbing her face all over it. "He reminds me of a salamander I had to nurse back to health a few years ago. That's the same thing that happens to them."
"He is a salamander!" said Pinkie. "You're right!"
Fluttershy blinked. "But he's got such hard scales, like a baby dragon," she said. "And he's so… heavy."
"Iggy is not an animal in the way that you know them," said Professor Danger, striding imposingly up to Fluttershy, who immediately folded up into a quivering mess on the ground in front of him. "He eats, sleeps, and feels, but he is a creation of metal – built, not born. And he is the brainchild of your friend, Doctor Pie."
"You… built that?" said Scootaloo, staring up at Pinkie.
"Mm hm!" said Pinkie.
"Pinkie," said my kid sister Apple Bloom, mouth practically hanging open, "you're a genius!"
"No I'm not! I'm a chicken!" said Pinkie. "Bk'GAWK!" Then she pulled the stack of papers back out from behind her back. "Shoot," she muttered. "Wrong scene again!"
"Iggy escaped from Professor Danger's home in Maresachusetts," explained Twilight, sounding kinda resigned. "We had hoped to take him back there as soon as possible without a lot of complicated explanations to anypony. And I still think that's a good idea, but I need to know that what happened last time isn't going to happen again. Professor, how are you planning on containing Iggy?"
"An excellent question, small and purple one," said the Professor, plucking Iggy away from Fluttershy with his teeth and walking back over to his wagon. With a little fancy-prancy flourish, he pulled the tarp off, revealing a little cage made out of some kinda shimmery gold wire mesh stuff.
"Ooh," said Twilight, leaning in. "Is that orichalcum?"
"Indeed," said Stranger Danger. "Takes up heat like a sponge. Unmeltable and unburnable."
"I've never seen an entire cage's worth in one place," said Twi, as though rare and shiny metal was something important, like apples. "This should do nicely. Just out of curiosity, though, what was his previous enclosure made out of?"
"Orichalcum," admitted the Professor. "But we know what went wrong and have taken steps to prevent it."
"What went wrong?" asked Twilight, sounding less enthus-i-ated than she did before.
"Iggy was fed something dangerously, improbably hot, by a student of mine whose association with the Institute has now been terminated, as a direct result of this action. We call the substance 'pure capsaicin', and it is not something that comes about by accident. It must be specially manufactured, and it is hotter than any pepper known to pony."
"Seriously?" butted in Sport Pepper, flapping over to the Professor and positioning herself between him and Twilight. "Yeah, I don't think so. You just haven't tried Pepper family peppers yet. My cousin Árbol is test-growing a Dorset Naga bush in one of the hothouses that'd make el Lobo himself cry down in that fiery pit of his."
"Tiny yellow-green thing," said Professor Danger, "Capsaicin is hotter than that. It is everything that is hot about a pepper, violently torn – by special chemical reaction – away from the pepper that birthed it, and then suspended in solution in a state that is not quite alive but not quite dead either." He narrowed his eyes and leaned in close to Sport Pepper, who sank slowly to the ground. "It exists," the Professor hissed, "only to burn."
Sport gazed up at Professor Danger, eyes big and blinking. "Why… why would you even do something like that?" she eventually squeaked out.
"Because we can," said the Professor. Without breaking his staredown of Sport, he reached back to his purse and tossed a coin into the air. Derpy caught it and began hopping on her storm cloud. Thunder boomed and lightning crashed.
"SQUONK," said Iggy, chewing at a hunk of grass.
I sidled up to Pinkie. "Pinkie," I whispered, gesturing aimless-like. "Was your old friend the Professor here always this…"
"Strange and ambiguously threatening?" Pinkie said, frowning. "I don't think so. But we haven't seen each other in years, so maybe I'm not remembering him right. And he's been on the road for a while. That's always stressful."
"Huh," I said.
"Don't worry, Applejack," said Pinkie, smiling reassuringly. "Everything's all right. I'm sure of it. Ninety-nine percent sure." Pinkie put one hoof behind her neck. "Maybe ninety-four," she said.
"O-kay!" said Twilight. "This has all been very sinister, Professor Danger, thank you. I'm going to conditionally take your word that everything's going to be okay from here on in and surrender Iggy to you, if and only if no more of this 'pure capsaicin' substance currently exists."
"Mine is the only laboratory capable of producing it," said the Professor. "And it will not happen again, I promise you."
"Great!" she said. "Iggy gets locked in my library, in that cage, until you're ready to hit the road. And then we bid both him, and you, a fond farewell. Will you be ready to leave tonight?"
"Twilight!" said Pinkie, right aghast. "Stranger Danger is my friend and mentor! I insist that he stay overnight, at the very least! It's a long way back to Maresachusetts!"
"Pinkie's right, Twilight," I said, maybe a little too eager to jump on that bandwagon. "You ain't being real hospitable."
"No sense being stingy with our affections," said Rarity. "So long as that lizard-cage is really as fireproof as you say. And so long as it doesn't come anywhere near my boutique. And so long as I don't have to interact with it in any way, shape, or form. Or think about it very hard. What's the harm?"
"The Professor seems like a pretty cool guy," remarked Dash.
Fluttershy whimpered on the ground.
Twilight looked at all of us. "Well, it's not a consensus, but… if most of you girls think it's okay, we can put Stranger Danger up for the night. You're welcome to use the Library's guest bed, Professor."
"Nonono," said Pinkie. "I insist he stay at Sugarcube Corner with me."
"Thank you both, ladies," said the Professor. "But I refuse to impose. I have a perfectly serviceable camp set up on the Ridge, in the burned-out area. It seems that a single lemon-grove survived Iggy's forest fire; I will take shelter there. I have also brought a bag of lemon-fruits from said grove, which you may take as a gift for your kindness."
Lemons, I thought. More lemons.
"Those'll be great sliced up and floating in punch!" Pinkie said. "And there's going to be punch, because you know what you're getting, right, Professor?"
The Professor smiled. "Is it," he said, "something else beginning with the letter 'P'?"
"YES!!!" Pinkie exploded. "A PARTY!!! It'll be a 'Welcome My Thesis Advisor – Farewell To Iggy – We Stopped A Forest Fire – Let's Show Off The Elements Of Harmony' Party!"
"Wait, that's right," said Twilight, looking up at her crown thing. "We're still wearing the Elements. Should I collect them, or…?"
"We might as well just leave them on at this point," said Dash, tapping at the Loyalty amulet. "We're really tearing through those emergency glass panes."
"Don't I know it," admitted Twilight. "You wouldn't believe the paperwork."
"It's settled!" said Pinkie. "A quadruple party! No, wait, this is too good to be multiplicative – LET'S GO EXPONENTIAL!"
"Expowhat now?" I said.
"Square, cube, hypercube!" said Pinkie, ignoring me. "TESSERACT PARTY! WOO-HOO! We'll invite everypony in Ponyville to my Tesseract Party!"
"And us?" said Sport Pepper, eagerly. "Pepper family too?"
"Of course!" Pinkie said. "Everypony in Ponyville and all the surrounding farms! This is going to be the best night ever! We'll have punch and candy and cakes and games and prizes and… except… hm." she frowned. "I think Sugarcube Corner is booked for a cuteceañera tonight."
"Y'all can use Sweet Apple Acres," I said, all proud. "Plenty of room to spread out, which y'all are gonna need if you're inviting everypony."
"Oo!" squealed Pinkie. "And if we're doing it in a barn, we can add a square dance, too! Or maybe even a hypercube dance! You're my hero, Applejack!"
"Shucks, Pinkie," I said, feeling glowy. Things had gone back and forth a couple times now, but they were definitely back to looking up again. Maybe before Stranger Danger leaves, I thought, Twi'll think better about sending Iggy off with him alone. Maybe she'll still take that vacation with Pinkie, and I can still do my rodeo without any of the colts and fillies getting distracted by Twi being around. A real honest-to-goodness Pinkie Pie Party, hosted by yours truly, followed by a Twilight-less junior rodeo? There's gonna be some changes around these parts, I tell you what.
I didn't realize at that point how right I was, hear, but for all the wrong reasons.