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Twilight Sparkle felt a sense of pride when she stepped in to the bright day. Her teacher had brought this day to Equestria as she had each morning for thousands of years. Her day began with her running small errands before joining her friends for a picnic. It would be the last picnic they could enjoy before Winter since they were each wrapped up in Winter Welcome preparations. And Twilight Sparkle was responsible for organizing it all.
The first visit on her list was Sugarcube Corner to make sure the Cakes received the order for a winter themed cake and cupcakes. So with Spike mounted on her back with a scroll and quill in hand to assist in planning Twilight trotted down Street.
“Spike, can you go over the roles my friends will be taking in Winter Welcome?” Twilight Sparkle felt that you could never go over your checklist too often.
“Let's see.” Spike unrolled the scroll carefully while maintaining his balance on her back. “Pinkie Pie is arranging the the games, Fluttershy is in charge of helping the animals find burrows for the winter and getting the Spring Chicks ready, Applejack will provide cider and take care of the food, and Rarity is overseeing decorations.”
Twilight rolled her eyes as she recognized the lilt in his voice as he spoke Rarity’s name. “We’ll discuss how they are doing at the picnic today. Oh, Rainbow Dash was released from the hospital today. We may see her at the picnic."
“Oh great, then we’ll have to deal with her whining about the doctor’s no flying order,” Spike groaned leaning forward across her back as if the thought of it exhausted him.
“He said that she was lucky that the fall twisted her wing, but it was the same wing that she twisted before. He’s concern that she might cause some really bad damage if she doesn’t at least give it a week’s rest.” Twilight trotted across the street toward the bakery.
As she approached the front steps, she noticed a plate of cookies with a tall glass of milk on the bottom step at the corner. “What is this?”
“Who are these for?” Spike scooted off her back, eyeing the milk and cookies.
“I don’t know. Don’t touch them!” Twilight cried out as Spike grabbed a cookie and sniffed at it.
“They’re just gonna get stale out there.” Spike popped it into his mouth and spoke between chews.“They’re not gonna miss one.”
“Don’t blame me if you make the Cakes mad,” Twilight muttered as she entered the bakery.
“Welcome to Sugarcube Corner!” Both Cakes greeted from behind the counter. On the far side of the bakery front, the twins were in a playpen with a lid to keep the foals inside.
Smokey was standing at the bar with his son, Ember, near his hooves. “Hello, Miss Sparkle.”
“Hello, Smokey, Cakes, and Ember.” Twilight noticed that Smokey had lines on his face and she wondered if he was sleeping well.
“Ember and I came in for a treat before we went home.” Ember hid behind his father's legs shyly peeking at Twilight between them. “Ember, say hello.”
“H’lo,” an endearing voice spoke.
Behind Twilight, the door swung open and Spike walked in with an incriminating milk mustache and brown crumbs dotting his chin.
“Oh no! Spike, those were for the mites!” Cup Cake bemoaned putting a hoof to her forehead.
Twilight facehoofed and shook her head, “Spike!”
“Mites? Who are the mites?” Spike furiously wiped his mouth on the back of a hand. “Did we know them?”
“Mites aren’t ponies,” Carrot Cake explained as he scooped more cookies onto a plate while his wife went to the small fridge for the milk. “These are little creatures that like to play pranks. The other day, they swapped the sugar bag with the salt bag.”
“If you set a treat outside for them, they’ll be so excited; they’ll forget about the prank they planned on pulling.” Mrs. Cake finished up the explanation as she poured a glass of milk.
“So you give them a treat instead of getting a trick?” Twilight Sparkle wrinkled her nose. “Sounds like extortion.”
“Oh, when I was a foal, you had to be careful when mites came around.” Smokey shuddered as foalhood memories came to him. “My nan told me stories of them. They can pull some pretty funny pranks, but you had to be careful because when they get mad, they get nasty and pull some tricks that can hurt a pony, like putting glass in a shoe or weakening the top step on the stairs.”
“My grandmother took a spill down the stairs when I was foal!” Cup Cake exclaimed in horror. “My father didn’t put out any treats for the mites after they put liquid soap in my mother’s eye drops.”
“Didn’t you tell me that your mother had very bad eyesight? Couldn’t she have mistakenly used liquid soap instead of her eye drops?” Twilight spoke up injecting reason and logic into the conversation. “And didn’t you tell me of how your mother kept complaining about that loose step for years and it took your grandmother falling down the stairs before he would fix it?”
The Cakes look at her as if she sprouted a second head. Twilight was used to this response from the Ponyville ponies since her arrival. But she already opened up the door of reason and she had to propel them through it, “Maybe because you worked so late the other night, you might have accidentally switched the bags?”
“I can tell the difference between salt and sugar. I’ve been a baker for years.” Carrot Cake almost looked offended.
“But that doesn’t exempt you from making mistakes. There is no such thing as mites. They’re imaginary things that ponies can blame whenever they make a mistake.”
“Regardless, I’m certain imaginary things wouldn’t mind a treat,” Cup Cake said sweetly as she set the plate of cookies and glass of milk on the counter. “Spike, be a dear and put these on the front step without eating them.”
“Uh, yes ma’am.” Spike complied picking up the tray and carrying it outside.
Twilight felt that it would be a good idea to change the subject to her purpose in coming, “I came by to see if you have everything for Winter Welcome?”
“Oh yes, we’re thinking large chocolate cake with marshmallow top covered in blue icing, to give it a sort of hot cocoa taste,” Carrot Cake spoke firmly as if he had been issued a challenge by Twilight. “It will be the center piece of the Winter Dance.”
Twilight regretted that she indirectly insulted his baking skill, and decided to end her visit as soon as possible. When Spike stepped back inside, she grinned, “I also came to pick up the cupcakes I ordered for a picnic.”
After paying for the cupcakes, she carried them out with magic and beat a hasty retreat from the story. Why was it that whenever she offered simple logic, the ponies act as it she made a nasty mess on the floor?
“Whoa!” Spike yelped as he pointed at the first step.
Twilight paused and glanced where he was pointing. It was the same tray that he had carried out but the cookies were gone and the glass of milk empty save for a few drops at the bottom. “Spike! Did you eat the cookies after Mrs. Cake asked you not to!”
“No! I swear Twilight, I didn’t!” Spike gripped at the mane, his teeth chattering with fright. “It was the mites....”
“Not you too!” Twilight huffed as she trotted off so suddenly, he nearly fell off.
Her next stop was the train station to make sure that the substitute teacher from the north had arrived yet. She should be coming any day now to take over for Cheerilee. So far the letters she received from Cheerile reported that her mother was stable and there have been signs of improvement, but the doctors were still cynical toward any recovery. Twilight sent her best wishes and promised that everything was fine in Ponyville. She didn’t tell her about Applebloom going missing or about closing the school down for a week. Those were worries that the schoolmare didn’t need during this time of stress.
After seeing that the northern teacher hasn’t made it yet, she resume her other errands. She checked in with the mayor to make sure the town would be clean and available for the Winter Dance and that the meadow and market would be ready for the festival. She also checked with the liaison from Cloudsdale to make certain the pegasi would be ready to create Ponyville’s first snowfall of the year.
By the time she finished the rounds, it was nearing noon and she hurried to meet up for the picnic lunch. Despite her best efforts, she was the last one to arrive. The others have already laid out a blanket and spread out the foot. Rarity was in good shape sitting on a thick cushion sipping from a tall class of herbal tea while the others passed around a tray of sandwiches.
“Hey guys.” Twilight Sparkle greeted laying the box of cupcakes at the edge of the blanket. Then she noticed an extra picnicker. “Hello, Applebloom, I didn’t know you were coming.”
The filly was sitting on her haunches with front legs crossed and a pout on her face. “Hmph.”
“Applebloom! You be polite and say hello.” Applejack delivered a sharp cuff on the foal’s head while looking at her with severe disapproval.
“Hello,” Applebloom grumbled, her face not relenting from her pout.
“Sorry, ya’ll. Big Macintosh had work to do and Granny Smith is off visitin’ her old friends. So Ah brought Applebloom along.” Applejack glanced apologetically at Twilight Sparkle.
“May Ah please go play now?” Applebloom’s orange eyes glanced at the meadow.
“We haven’t eaten yet.” Applejack set a plate with a sandwich in front of Applebloom. “What do you want to drink? Rarity brought herbal tea and Pinkie Pie brought soda.”
“Ah’m not hungry.” Applebloom said through gritted teeth.
“You ain’t had anythin’ since breakfast. Now eat up.” Applejack gave her a pat on the back before turning to Twilight, “There’s somethin’ I wanna ask you later, ya don’t mind.”
“Oh, certainly. We can talk later. By the way, how is Winter Welcome preparations?”
“We’re all set for Winter Welcome. We’ll bring plenty of apple cider for everypony and apples for roastin’.”
“Excellent.” Twilight floated a quill and scroll from her saddle bag to take notes. “How about the rest of you?”
“Games and surprises are good to go!” Pinkie Pie said with such infectious glee. “With giggles, spiggles, and biggles alike!”
“When I'm done with the town hall, it’ll be as glorious as Canterlot’s Moonlight Ball. Of which I still don’t have an invitation, but I will carry forth brave and beautiful.” Rarity put on a brave face. The Canterlot Moonlight was an annual dance for the elite, but tickets were purchasable, but quite expensive.
“Sorry, Rarity, I would hate to ask the Princess for tickets.” Twilight understood that her friend dreamed of the elitist lifestyle that Canterlot had to offer and the Moonlight Ball was almost as prestigious gathering as the Galloping Gala. “But remember how the Gala was?”
All the ponies shivered as each recalled her personal humiliation. Neither of them was in a hurry to repeat that fiasco.
“I’m stuck doin’ nothing this year,” Rainbow Dash groused. Her wing was still bandaged tightly, as if the doctor had decided to take matters into his own hoof to prevent her from flying. “I can’t fly or do anything!”
“You can help Pinkie Pie,” Twilight offered. “Or you can lend a hoof to Rarity in decorating the Town Hall or help out the Apple Family. There’s a lot that can be done without flying.”
Rainbow Dash buried her face into her hooves as she grunted something indistinguishable and rocked back off her haunches and onto her back. “This is gonna be the worst Winter Welcome ever....”
“That has got to be the worst idea ever.” Trevor eyed the soda suspiciously. “Chocolate soda? Seriously? I heard of vanilla soda and that's good, but chocolate? C’mon!”
“Hey, my sister swears by it.” Belgard sat in the chair backwards with the back against her chest. “Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.”
“Ugh.” Trevor popped open the lid and took a cautious sip. “Blah, tastes like ass.”
“My sis always had bad tastes in food and in men.” Belgard smirked as he set the can aside.
“Seeing you is always great, but I gotta be ready. Laotaner is on her way.” Trevor turned to check his console. “If she thinks I’ve been hanging out in here with you instead of working she’ll....”
“Grind your bones to make her bread,” Belgard finished as she reached forward to play with his glasses. She grinned devilishly as she noticed his cheeks blushing. “Careful, you should be more worried about me dipping you in chocolate and taking a bite for myself.”
“I wouldn’t bother.” A cold voice spoke up behind them. “He looks as if he’d be too lean and chewy. You’d likely choke on him.”
“Commander!” Trevor surged from his chair, nearly toppling it as he saluted. Belgard rolled her eyes and stood slowly, pushing the chair back under the work table. She took her time and stood at attention after giving a small salute.
Noa Laotaner looked between them, displeasure apparent in her eyes. “Belgard, what are your current duties?”
“I’m on a break, ma’am,” Belgard replied casually as if Laotaner inquired about her health.
“Hm, then perhaps you should spend it elsewhere right now. Trevor has some work to do.”
“Yes ma’am.” Belgard sauntered toward the doorway. After she passed Laotaner she turned and blew a kiss at Trevor before walking out.
Trevor prayed that he wasn’t blushing right now. “I’ve compiled a report on the sociology of the ponies, just the things on the surface we could determine from what the drones collected for us.”
Laotaner took the chair Belgard had occupied and sat down. Trevor took his seat and as he brought up the archives, he noticed that where Belgard had sat beside him it had been pleasant and warm, but now with the commander he felt nervous and code. Not to mention that he felt he was being scrutinized under a microscope by her icy blue eyes. He flung himself into his lecture mode which he brandished as a shield when he was nervous.
“There are three breeds of ponies. The first and most numerous breed is what I call the norm.” Several pictures of ponies appeared on screen. They held the appearance of normal equines save for their large eyes and pastel coloring. Also, they each had a tattoo or mark on their flanks. “These ponies are usually seen performing agricultural jobs such as farming, animal husbandry, or even mining. However, there have been exceptions. Such as the female ponies working the local bath house and one pony I’ve dubbed the First Lady.” An image of a gray mane pony with a scroll tied with blue ribbon. “I’ve determined she’s the leader of this town seeing that most of the ponies obey her instruction.”
The monitor switched to ponies with spiral horns. “These are the unicorn breed. These ponies have shown telekinetic abilities.” One image had a pony floating a jar surrounded by a glow that matches the one around her horn. “From observation I’ve determined that the horn is a source of their psychic ability. The horn is maybe attached to the brain, but I can’t say so for certain without a cranial dissection.”
Laotaner listened silently, her eyes studying each image that came up on the monitor.
“And lastly we have the pegasus. These ponies are able to fly as shown by the wings. They can fly at very high speeds and altitudes. Also, strangely enough, they have weather controlling capabilities. How this is possible has yet to be determined.”
“Has the language been translated yet?” Laotaner glanced at her nails checking them for dirt or grime. She was already getting bored with the images.
“Yes ma’am and ready to be distributed to the brain via an eye injection whenever you’re ready.” Trevor turned off the console seeing that Laotaner wasn’t interested in it anymore.
“I’m ready now.” Laotaner rose and moved to the chair against the far wall. It was the sort that could recline back to any angle for any procedures.
Tervor scooted his chair to a cabinet where he drew a long tubular device with a long thin needle. He took a prepared data chip and inserted it into a slot at the top. The device would send a surge of electricity through the back of the eye and along the optical nerves directly into the brain. The data carried with the current would inscribed information into the brain allowing the patient to learn a subject in seconds what would have taken months of study to master.
“I can give you a light sedative to help relax you,” Trevor offered. He had seen even the toughest soldiers squirm like nervous school girls during this procedure.
“Just do it already,” Laotaner replied lazily as if he was just going to take out a splinter. “Also, prepare a second injection for Briggs.”
“Briggs?” He rolled the chair over to her side, surprise written on his face. “Why her?”
“She’ll be joining me on this mission.” Laotaner tilted her face upward, blinking her eyes.
“How does Briggs feel about that?” He set the tub over her right eye and stood up to easier look through an eyepiece. He could see a close up of her eye looking back at him.
“She doesn’t know yet. I really should tell her before I put a needle in her eye.”
He pushed the tip of the needle toward her eye. “You’ll feel a slight pinch.”
The tip indented at the iris and then puncture through.