Chapter 3: Night on the Town
Perspective Change -- Third Person
Contrary to what many Americans thought, the average “secret” government office was not twenty stories below ground, in a bunker. Instead, most were in plain sight, with only a few strategically-placed security measures to keep out any that were not allowed inside; most of their security came from their mundanity, as the average person would not think twice about an unremarkable office building in a city with fifty others.
It was in one of these office buildings that four people were meeting, combing over the reports brought to them from the past few days.
“So what do we know so far?” asked the oldest of the four, dressed in a military uniform with medals and other pins on his upper chest.
Another, a man in his late forties, shook his head as he looked over the files presented to them. “Science Team says it was some sort of stable plasma, but they weren’t able to get any samples. Interestingly enough, the turbulence caused by the aircraft in the area didn’t cause it to lose form; observations report that over time it simply dissipated on its own.”
“Because of this,” a youthful young woman broke in, dropping a manilla folder in front of them, “we combed over the entire city’s traffic to see what we could find. Besides the norm of a few persons of interest and those we’ve kept tabs on, we came across this.” She opened the folder, which held fifteen sheets of paper with a single photo attached to each one. “These people all checked into the same hotel together, and all but two of them do not exist, according to public records; the two that do have been missing for nearly two years, now.”
True to her word, thirteen of the files had no information on them other than an address, a DOB, and a name. The other two featured two younger men, one of which was presumed dead, and the other only confirmed to be missing, because of unconfirmed sightings nearly a year ago.
“The same day of their ‘arrival’,” the 2nd man used air quotes, here, “the entire city’s grid went down for about a minute. The only sort of thing that could cause that would be a massive discharge of energy of some kind, but there were no storms in the area and no solar flare confirmed by NASA.”
The first man rubbed his chin with a troubled expression. “I’ve lived too long to believe in coincidence.”
The room was completely quiet for a few moments before the final person -- a young man dressed in a suit in tie -- voiced his thoughts. “Do you want to bring them in, sir?”
The eldest man shook his head without hesitation. “No. We don’t know who or what we’re dealing with, so for now, I simply want us to observe. Set up a network to keep tabs on them: I want to know what they’re doing, the names of anyone they talk to, and anything they buy. Try and get some sort of listening device on them if we can. Do not -- I repeat: DO NOT -- move in to apprehend unless you get word from me personally. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir.” the youngest man answered, saluting crisply.
The older man sighed and rubbed his temples tiredly. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we may be dealing with first contact with an alien species. From what we’ve seen so far, it is quite possible they are highly advanced, and likely extremely dangerous if provoked. Do not underestimate them.”
Perspective Change -- Frostbreaker
“Dude, I can make my nuts clap!”
My brother proceeded to hold his shorts out, freeing everything up within, and gyrated his hips back and forth quickly. Sure enough, a clapping sound issued forth, and I lost all control, nearly falling to the ground in laughter. It was nice to know that, despite everything we had experienced over the years, my brother was still a big dork when it came right down to it. What made it even worse -- or better, depending on how you looked at it -- was the fact that we were standing in line for a roller coaster, with at least two hundred onlookers around us. The fact that he didn’t give a damn just made me laugh harder. Lastly, because it was a completely random event (we had been waiting quietly with Applejack and Pinkie beforehand), I laughed until my gooch hurt...and if you don’t know what that is, look it up.
After composing myself and standing again, Applejack was shaking her head with a dumb grin. “Ah’m gonna be married ta this guy; what am Ah thinkin’?”
My brother sauntered back over to us, shrugging his shoulders at Applejack’s comment. “I don’t know anymore than you do. I’m just hoping age takes you before you realize what a horrible mistake you’ve made.”
Applejack responded by stepping forward and pressing her body flush against his, her voice low and husky as she answered, “Ah guess you’ll have ta keep me distracted, then.”
“I can think of a few ways to do that.” he countered, leaning in and pecking her quickly on the lips, showing an enormous amount of restraint, considering how he usually was. “I’ll have to remind you of those ways tonight, I guess.”
As chilled-out as she usually was, Applejack still had a shy side to her when it came PDA. Her facade finally cracked, and she cleared her throat and looked away as a flush began to form on her face and neck. She whispered something to him that I couldn’t hear before pulling away, opting to lace her fingers in his as we continued to wait for the line to move.
“You were right: cute as hell.” I whispered to Pinkie as I mirrored my brother’s actions with her own hand.
Pinkie smiled at me and nodded, leaning in to whisper back, “Jackie is still so adorably shy and blush-y around him; it’s so much fun to tease her about it.”
I looked at the two in front of me and couldn’t help but smile at them, though. “That’s true love between them, though. They tease and mess with each other, but you can tell there’s a powerful bond between them, too. That’s all anyone could hope for in a relationship.”
Pinkie’s hand reached for mine, and I grasped it firmly as she looked up toward the towering ride. “So what’s this one called?”
“Superman: Ultimate Flight.” I answered, turning my own eyes to the huge coaster we were about to go on. “It’s named after a fictional superhero, and it’s supposed to simulate what it feels like to fly -- minus the actual free-air aspect, of course.” I shrugged as I turned my eyes back to Pinkie, who was still looking excitedly at the ride. “I can tell you right away that it’s not the same as real flying, but it’s still a hell of a ride, and worth the wait.”
I glanced around at the other people in line with us, and shrugged. Save for a few very obvious subjects that I purposefully kept away from, I hadn’t done much to keep our conversations private. For the most part, people tended to assume I was talking about moments of “you had to be there to get it,” which might as well have made us invisible. Unless I was talking about Earth’s current events -- which I hadn’t kept up with, for obvious reasons -- most people tended to tune us out, which worked just fine for me. Granted that things would be different in a small town, but the majority of the suburbs and urban areas could be traversed without anyone looking twice at us...well, at me anyway -- the girls were going to draw attention no matter where we went.
All that being said, I was still careful what we talked about in public. A spell that muffled our speech to everyone but the four of us helped.
So far, our little vacation has been a smashing success. Everyone had enjoyed the waterpark, and most of them were pretty keen on the thrills the rides of the main park brought, as well. Some -- such as Fluttershy and Rarity, for example -- were more interested in enjoying the atmosphere and calmer events within the park itself, but it wasn’t called an “amusement park” for no reason: no matter what someone liked, there was something for them to do.
“Come with me; don’t ask questions,” my brother suddenly whispered in my ear, pulling me by my wrist to follow him. I bid the girls a quick farewell as I followed him away from the line, disturbed by the sudden seriousness in my brother’s tone. We walked around a few of the stands and small buildings in the park -- basically walking a large circle -- before coming around the back side of the roller coaster we were set to get on. My brother in turn pulled me into the bathroom off to the side, and went into a urinal stall, motioning for me to do the same. Truth be told, I did have to drain it a bit, so I did my business and waited for whatever had my brother so paranoid all of the sudden.
After a few moments, he leaned close and whispered, “I think we’re being followed.” He finished fake-peeing and whispered, “When we walk out, look for a red cap and blue shirt, with jeans. He’s been showing up everywhere we go for the past hour now.”
I nodded in response, zipping myself up before washing my hands and heading outside. As we both headed back to the girls, I kept my eyes open for our unwanted company. Sure enough, after only a few moments, I spotted him out of the corner of my eyes: a guy, likely in his mid thirties, with a red ball-cap and a blue baseball jersey. When we finally arrived back at the line -- which had moved us nearly to the front, by that point -- I kept a close watch on the area, and kept seeing the same man appear. He would walk around a bit, sometimes leaving my sight, but sure enough, he would reappear again. Now, I’m not a paranoid guy most of the time, but neither is my brother; if he noticed something amiss, it was likely this one guy wasn’t the only one following us.
We greeted Applejack and Pinkie, of course, but then I turned to my brother and asked, “What do you think we should do?” Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation without causing a ruckus.
“Well,” he began, scratching his chin and looking the other direction, “we can either leave, ignore him, or…”
After a few moments of silence I urged him on. “Or…?”
My brother turned and grinned at me, his smile decidedly mischievous. “Or, we could send a message.”
I returned the smile, liking the plan more and more. “I’ll go with option C. Ideas?”
He motioned to the line, and we were part of the next group that would be going up. “Well, there’s no sense leaving now that we’ve waited all this time. Let’s go on this ride first, and then let’s ditch the girls; something tells me they wouldn’t like what we’re going to do.”
I glanced to Pinkie and Applejack, frowning at the thought of lying to them, even for a good cause. “I think you’re right. Okay then, we’ll hand them off to ‘Sun and Moon’ before we do it. I don’t want them involved in this, if I can help it.”
My brother was silent, but nodded in agreement. With that out of the way, we patiently waited until the coaster rolled into the dock and the previous occupants left, freeing it up for the next group. The gates opened and allowed us in, so the four of us -- as well as the other twenty-eight people of our group -- hurried to get into our spots. The ride operators went about making sure everyone was restrained correctly before pressing a button on their console, which caused hydraulics to pull the seats so that we were tilted forward, until we were parallel with the ground. After that, the ride began with an initial jolt before it smoothly moved along the track.
Despite the flips, twists, and turns, the ride was not as much fun as I remembered it to be. Luckily for me, Pinkie and Applejack loved it, but then again, they didn’t naturally fly. For me though, it just seemed slow, and overly safe. As a young child, I had actually been terrified of roller coasters; now, after a good stint as an alicorn -- and let’s not forget war -- I fought with myself to keep from yawning in boredom. As crazy as it seemed, I almost wanted to get my wings back, break out of the harness, and just fly into the sky for real. Thankfully, due to a modicum of forethought that was trained into me by Luna and Night, I didn’t. I really, really wanted to, though. Instead, I focused on the girl next to me -- Pinkie, who was on the end, and out of sight of my brother and Applejack -- and played to her mild exhibitionism: I teased and toyed with her to see how hot and bothered I could get her before the ride was over.
Just under a minute later, we were pulling back into the dock, and I found myself glad that Pinkie was able to walk without stumbling. Let it simply be said that her skin tone on her face matched her name again, and those that knew to look would notice her breathing harder than the thrill of a roller coaster accounted for. Much as I wanted to find a secluded place and finish what I’d started, I quietly promised Pinkie I’d make it up to her, before finding Celestia and Luna in the park. As we had planned, my brother and I dropped Pinkie and Applejack with the two princesses -- we made up a story about having to go and set up the next part of our day out, which allowed us plenty of time to take care of things.
So, with my brother and I now alone, we set off into the park again, and I was pleased to see our little follower was still stuck to us instead of the others. It didn’t take long for us to make our way to the exit toward the parking lot, and we were quite obvious in where we were headed: toward the area of the carpark that held the buses and shuttles.
We rounded one of the unoccupied buses, and I trained my sharp hearing on listening for the sound of footsteps following us. My brother and I stayed quiet as we waited, until sure enough, another pair of feet stopped just around the front of the bus -- they were out of sight, but certainly close enough to hear anything that was said. I nodded to my brother, and he wasted no time in reaching around and grabbing our company, yanking him to the broad side of the bus and slamming him against it.
Whether by acting or an honest reaction, the expression on the man’s face was that of shock and slight fear at facing down a two-on-one situation. Even if he were trained by a government agency or something -- which the jury was still out on, as far as I was concerned -- he would stand no chance against the two of us without backup. Because of this, I simply kept my mouth shut for a few seconds as I waited for the reality of the situation to completely descend on him: that he was alone, likely in over his head, and could very well die from this (the latter wasn’t true, but he didn’t know that).
He struggled feebly against my brother’s iron grip, but it was no use. For our safety, I had only changed our appearances upon coming to Earth, which meant that my brother was every bit as strong and agile as a human as he was a dragon; while no gem dragon, an Obsidian was not to be trifled with in terms of battle prowess.
Once it became clear to the man that he wasn’t going anywhere, I pulled the sunglasses off of his face and the hat off his head, inspecting the two before asking, “Why are you following us?”
Honestly, I couldn’t tell whether he was acting or was honestly baffled at my question. “Um...what?”
I glanced to my brother with a raised eyebrow before repeating to the man, “Why are you following us?”
His brow furrowed as he shook his head and pulled at my brother’s hand to try and free himself. “I-I wasn’t following you.”
I inspected the man a little more closely, and it was when I noticed something running from his collar up into his long, shaggy brown hair. I reached over and pulled on it, revealing an earpiece connected to a wire that ran down into his shirt. This immediately set off alarm bells in my head, so I threw aside all subtlety and nodded to my brother. He took the hint and quickly and easily tore the buttoned shirt open, along with the white tee underneath. The man only had a second to suck in a shocked breath of air before he was completely naked up top, allowing us to follow the earpiece to a small receiver device in his back pocket. My brother then went over the shirt with his eyes before pointing to the front collar of the outer shirt, where a small button-like object could be seen affixed to the inside -- it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on, here.
I picked the small microphone off of the shirt and held it on the tip of my finger, my eyes slowly swiveling to the restrained man. “Okay, I’m going to ask just one more time: why were you following us? Lie again and things might get ugly.” My eyes snapped to the man’s right hand, which had been inching toward his rear waistband, and I grabbed him by the wrist before he could pull out whatever he was reaching for. Again, I nodded silently to my brother, and he continued to restrain the man by the neck with one hand while he reached around the back to reveal a small, subcompact pistol.
“Now,” I began, taking the firearm from my brother and inspecting it disinterestedly, “we have your gun, too. Last chance.” I assured the safety was on before pointing the gun at the man’s face, holding it there -- and, I’ll admit, taking a sick pleasure in watching him sweat -- before lowering it and letting out a loud laugh. After composing myself, I focused on the man -- who was now equal parts afraid and confused -- and explained, “We’re not going to hurt you. Instead,” I raised my hand, which still held the tiny microphone, “we’re going to lay down some ground rules for your bosses.” I raised the microphone until it was a little over six inches away, and began speaking into it. “Testing: one, two...one two…” I then shook my head and chuckled. “Actually, I don’t care if you all have anything to say, because right now, all you need to do is listen: I know you’re watching us, and I have a good idea why, as well. All you need to know is that we mean you and your men no ill will, and frankly, I don’t care if you watch us -- observe to your heart’s content.”
“But,” my brother broke in, moving closer so the microphone would pick up his voice clearly, “should any of us suddenly ‘go missing’, you’ll find yourself at war with an enemy the likes of which you've only dreamt about in nightmares. It would be unwise to test this little warning.”
I smirked to my brother and nodded silently before picking up where he left off. “That being said, as long as you don’t harm us or intentionally try to make our lives needlessly difficult, you have nothing to worry about; we’re not going to be breaking any laws, and we’re not intent on causing damage to anyone, or anything, of any kind. I hope we’ve come to an understanding...thank you for your time.”
With that, I placed the microphone into the man’s palm, then turned my attention to the pistol. I ejected the magazine and chucked it into the woods, then popped out the chambered round as well, making the pistol completely safe before handing it back to him. I then patted him on the shoulder and jerked my head away, giving him silent permission to leave, which he took without hesitation, and hastily.
My brother and I stood silently in place, waiting until we were alone again before he offered, “You could have given a display of force, like freezing his legs in a block of ice and leaving him here.”
I thought for a moment -- and, I’ll admit, pondered the feasibility of my brother’s idea -- before shaking my head with a smirk. “Nah, it’s better this way. You see, right now, ‘big brother’ has no idea what we’re capable of; for all they know, we’re completely harmless...or we could be more dangerous than anything they’ve ever faced before.” I began walking, twirling my finger aimlessly in the air. “You think I just happened to overlook the fact that we would be tracked by creating a group of people out of nothing? The girls don’t exist here, and we’ve been away for a long-ass time, so I knew that would cause us to pop up on the grid.”
“So why do it?” He asked, confusion clear in his tone. I didn’t have to look at him to envision a raised eyebrow, and half-smile that came with the question.
I shrugged nonchalantly. “Drawing out potential enemies is the best way to keep track of them. Now, we know we’re being watched, and they know that we know. One of two things is going to happen: either they’re going to assume we’re harmless, and do something stupid, or they’ll keep their distance because they’re cautious of what we can do if provoked. Either way we’ll be able to handle it, but that’s also why we’re going to stick together. I’ll send out a message to everyone that we’re being watched, just so they don’t get super paranoid about thinking they’re being followed.”
“Speaking of sticking together,” he began, picking up his pace and pulling ahead of me, “we should probably get back to the rest of them. AJ’s probably worried about us just disappearing like that, and if we’re gone any longer, I’m not going to be able to use taking a piss as a reasonable excuse.”
I nodded in agreement, breaking into a jog as I followed him back to the park.
Perspective Change -- Rainbow Dash
Only one thing to say about amusement parks: Equestria needs them!
The rides, the food, the atmosphere...it was all so great! To think that humans had come up with the idea to put a bunch of awesome rides all together, enough that it would take all day to ride them all -- they know what’s up. Every ride was bigger, and faster, and took crazier turns than the last. Granted, as a pony, I could fly, but being stuck on the ground offered a whole new world of thrills that I never knew about before.
The adrenaline and feel-good things that flooded my brain every time a roller coaster took a hairpin turn, or a sudden drop, had me shaking and laughing like an idiot. The little bit of fear that came from the knowledge that I couldn’t stop myself in the air if I suddenly fell out of the ride only added to the excitement, and I knew for a fact that we were going to have to go to more of these things.
That being said, it wasn’t all perfect.
I was used to being in the sky for hours at a time -- hay, sometimes I spent all day drifting on the currents -- so it was a big letdown to have the ride finish just as my heart was starting to race. When it was over, and me and Ditzy had to get off to make room for the next group, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Buck, now I have to wait in line again?’ Still, I couldn’t really get that upset over riding on machines that ponies might not even have for decades.
The one thing that did bother me was that there was this guy who had been following us for about half an hour now. He’d never gotten close or anything, but I kept seeing the same outfit pop up no matter where I went, and it was starting to bug me. Granted, I wasn’t really worried about him trying anything, but let’s just say I wasn’t wanting to cause a scene by driving this guy into the ground.
“We’re being watched. Stay calm and meet me at the picnic area next to the go-karts.”
Frost’s voice ran through my head, and by Ditzy’s subtle flinch, I knew she’d heard the same thing. We locked eyes for a second before silently agreeing, heading towards the picnic place.
Even from far away, it was easy to see Dark’s tall figure towering over everyone else, which made it easier to be sure we were in the right place. Ditzy and I walked up just as Spike and Rarity arrived as well, which meant we were all present now. With a silent hand motion, Frost asked us to block sight of him from anyone else, so we gathered around as he cast a spell around us. Once he nodded, we all sat down and waited for him to explain just what the hay was going on.
He let out a long, slow breath before he began. “We’ve got people watching us now -- probably some government agency, though I’m unsure which one. My brother and I found one of their agents already, which means there’s probably dozens more out there. The reason I’m telling you all this is because I want you to understand the situation instead of being ignorant of it: you’re all mature enough to know how to handle this, so I thought it better to let you all know instead of keeping it from you.”
“That being said,” Dark began, continuing where Frost left off, “we’re going to be staying in groups of two or four -- whichever you choose -- to ensure there’s always someone there to watch our back whenever we’re out and about. We don’t expect anything bad to happen, but preparation is important as a fallback measure, just in case we’re wrong.”
“However,” Frost spoke up again, “we would like to keep any and all special abilities a secret as a trump card, so no obvious magic use in public -- even telekinesis projects a colored aura of energy. If the worst happens, and we end up needing to defend ourselves, I want our adversaries to have no clue of what we’re capable of. That will ensure a lack of adequate defenses brought against us, and it will increase our odds of coming through this unscathed.”
Dark held up his hand, drawing attention to him as he added, “However, our greatest safety net will be simply playing it safe, not breaking any laws, and then going home at the end of it all. If we’re not a threat, it’s likely they’ll leave us alone.”
“You act like you can’t trust the government here, or something.” Ditzy spoke up, voicing my own thoughts as she did so.
Frost looked to her and sighed heavily, his posture drooping a bit as he took a seat on a bench nearby. “Let me briefly paint you a picture of what is the United States government: right now the year is 2016. Well, around 1770, the country that this country’s forefathers came from to escape persecution decided they didn’t like the fact that this country’s people were finding ways to live on their own without the father-country’s imports. Well, as you can guess, that father-country didn’t like that, so they decided to go to war with this country to beat them into submission. Long story short, this country fought off the invaders, and eventually -- after a bloody civil war -- became the United States of America, one of only a few world superpowers in terms of economy and military might. Now, the ironic part is that this country, that is a land formed from people running from persecution, persecutes its own people if they expose the government’s wrongdoings, such as: wrongful arrest or execution, torture, police brutality, and stealing from its own people. Those people that expose the wrongs committed tend to ‘disappear’ pretty quickly, and they are painted to be conspiracy theorists and all-around crazy people.”
“The fact of the matter is,” Dark broke in, picking up the explanation, “the larger a nation gets, the more difficult it becomes to control, and the United States doesn’t have love and toleration to fall back on like Equestria does. Generally, humans as a species suspect first, and aren’t the most welcoming of differences of opinion: most of our wars came about simply because two or more groups of people believed different things, and hundreds of thousands died for it each time…sometimes even millions.”
Terra was no stranger to differences of opinion -- and, I’ll admit, war -- but to think that millions of people could be killed simply because two or more groups didn’t agree on something...well, it was kinda scary. Of course, Earth had a population 4-5 times that of Terra, but that still didn’t weaken the blow. I didn’t like it, and even then, I was sure I wasn’t the only one.
“So,” Frost began again, “we’re going to stay in groups from now on. I don’t care if it’s just to walk around a corner: always have at least one other person with you, and I’d prefer if there was at least one magic-user in the group at all times. As far as I know, humans have no defense against magic, so that will likely be our greatest asset.” He then stopped and rubbed his chin idly. “Although, I don’t want to reveal our true abilities unless absolutely necessary, so try and keep it on the down-low.”
“The what?” I blurted out, confused.
Vinyl tapped me on the arm and explained, “He means be discreet. If this should ever turn dangerous for us, we want to catch them completely by surprise in terms of our capabilities.”
“Vinyl’s right.” Dark agreed, nodding to Vinyl. “Only our physical forms are changed, so we’re still as strong as ever, we can still use magic, and Spike and I can still breathe fire. The point is, we don’t want anyone to know that, because they could use that against us. This is still a vacation for us, and we’re going to spend it like one, but this is just one of those possible dangers that my brother and I warned all of you about.”
“Now,” Frost broke in with a grin, “who’s up for dinner and a movie?”
Perspective change -- Lyra
We took the train and buses back to the city as the afternoon began to fade into evening, and after changing, we walked for a half-hour to a “movie theater” that was nearby. Now, Equestria didn’t have the technology for television or movies yet, but Frost’s explanation of “a hyped-up play with more special effects” caught our attention, and we would be breaking up into three groups: one would see a comedy, one would see an action film, and the last would see a romance.
I was no stranger to plays -- Canterlot was where my orchestra met, after all -- but it would be interesting to see a human take on genres we already had in Equestria. The main difference, in Frost’s words, was this: in Equestria, you were awed by the skill of an actor playing a part, but on Earth, the movies seemed so real and drew you in so much, it was easy to forget it was fiction. Needless to say, I was very interested.
One thing was for sure: I was very pleased with Rarity’s work on our clothing.
A few months before we left, Frost had told us all about how Earth worked, what was considered the norm as far as customs, and what we had to be careful of as well. Now, for a pony, having to wear clothing all the time in public was rare even in Canterlot, but Frost and Dark had been quite clear that clothing on Earth was required and non-negotiable. Because of this, Rarity had asked him all about the styles of clothing on Earth, and had done her very best to make clothes that were both functional and fashionable, while still being as comfortable as possible for beings that normally only wore clothing for reasons pertaining to fashion. Because of that, I was quite pleased with the knee-length teal dress that looked nice, while still being comfortable.
It was also incredible to watch the city transform as night fell, the beautiful sunlight being replaced with thousands of lights and glowing signs, giving the city a completely new atmosphere.
Following Frost’s request, I had found my “buddy” for the night, and currently had my arm looped in Ditzy’s as we made our way to the movie theater. I’ll admit that Frost and Dark’s warning that we were being watched had made me a bit paranoid, but more than anything I was nervous around the 1-3 ton hunks of metal that were rushing around the streets by the dozens. These “cars” could move quite a bit faster on the ground than anything I knew of in Equestria, and the fact that some of the drivers may be half-asleep wasn’t helping my anxiety.
Luckily for all of us, after buying tickets for the shows, Frost led us all to an Italian restaurant nearby (he advised us it was a mirror for “Istallion”) that allowed us to get off the street and away from the cars. Because we hadn’t eaten much during the day, I was rather hungry, so the scents of the establishment immediately caught my attention. I could smell fresh herbs in the air, with a hit of lemon here and there, along with what I imagined to be olive oil. The place seemed to be half-full by the looks of it, so I only hoped we could find a place to sit together.
The host looked up from his small podium as we approached, and asked, “How many?”
Frost smiled at the host and answered, “Fifteen.”
The host looked down at his book, which I could only imagine was the seating chart for the restaurant. “Hmm...I’m not sure we have the space for all of you to sit within the same area. Perhaps-”
Frost interrupted the man by pulling out the wad of money he had in his pocket, and counted out two of them -- the hundred-dollar notes, I think -- before putting the “bills” on the podium. “I believe I have a reservation.” He smiled at the man as he waited patiently for him to respond.
The host cleared his throat and discreetly pocketed the money before grabbing menus and gesturing to us to follow. “Right this way, then.”
Frost then leaned conspiratorially to Night and muttered, “I’ve always wanted to be able to do that.”
I rolled my eyes at the comment -- and something tells me I wasn’t the only one -- but followed the group toward our destination. After weaving in and out of tables, we finally arrived at a large, semi-circular booth, where another long table was being pulled up to rest against the end of the first. Chairs were then brought over by a few of the workers, which gave us ample space for our party. We took our places and gave our drink choices to the server before settling in and enjoying the chance to sit down after being up and about all day.
“So, what have you all thought so far?” Frost suddenly asked, breaking the momentary silence between us all. With a minor hand gesture, the air around us shimmered, and I recognized the feel of the muting spell put around us.
Everyone went into their own thoughts as we all tried to come up with words that accurately described what we thought of the trip so far, only for Dash to sum up her feelings in one word: “Awesome!”
I nodded in agreement. “Yes, it’s been really fun so far. There’s so much here that Equestria just doesn’t have, and even though I’m not exactly the most active pony, I enjoyed the amusement park and waterpark quite a bit.”
“I must agree.” Rarity piped in. “Though I’m not usually one for such active outings, I can admit it’s been quite a joy to experience so far.”
Frost nodded to Rarity. “And I thank you for hanging in there with us all, because I know what we’ve done so far today isn’t your normal choice for something to do. So, to make up for that -- and for anyone else that prefers an alternative -- we’re going to be heading to Underground Atlanta tomorrow, which is a huge underground mall full of all kinds of stores, and even a few pubs and clubs. There’s something for everyone there, and we’ll have two guides: my brother, and me. I’ll take all of you to the things like shopping, seeing the sights and such, and the rest of you will go with my brother to the pubs and clubs. That should ensure everyone gets to do what they want,” the then shot a look directly to the fashionista, “and I’m sure you’ll enjoy being able to take a good look at modern Western fashions on Earth. If nothing else, it’ll be some good inspiration for you.”
“We’ll be staying in Atlanta for another day before we head off to Virginia. We’re going to quickly show you around the place we used to live -- just to show you where we came from -- before we head off to California to enjoy the beach and some of the crazy things that state has to offer.” Dark explained, grinning all the while.
“What about this ‘England’ place you told us about?” I asked, curious as to one of our apparent destinations.
Frost chuckled at my question, just shaking his head. “Beautiful countryside and quaint little towns, but it rains about eighty percent of the time. There’s a lot of history there, though, so I’m sure you all will enjoy it.”
We all silently opened our menus as the conversation tapered off, and proceeded to pick out something that sounded good. Luckily for all of the Equestrians, most of the vegetables on Earth existed on Terra, which made the descriptions of each dish in the menu that much easier to envision. I personally thought the linguine al pesto sounded very tasty, and the fresh squash and tomatoes added in promised to make it a very nice meal. I’ll admit I was a little curious as to how a dish with meat would taste, but I wasn’t curious enough to actually try one, as the thought of ingesting meat still made my stomach do a little flip.
The server returned a few minutes later with all our drinks, and we all spent time passing around said drinks so that each could taste the different flavors to find one we really liked. In addition to water and a few juices was a huge selection of carbonated drinks, the latter of which was something Equestria had just recently discovered. Humans, on the other hand, had been experimenting with the drinks for almost two hundred years, and it showed in the quality and taste of the different drinks they had. My favorite ended up being a lemon-lime “soft-drink” (as they were called), which I couldn’t help but imagine would make Equestria a better place simply by its presence there.
Another few minutes later, the server took our orders, which left us to pick up our conversations or, in my case, relax against the reassuring strength of a friend. Dash wrapped her arm around me reflexively and offered a smile before leaning her head atop mine, relaxing a bit as we waited patiently for our food. Much as I tried to fight it, the bustle of the day caught up with me, and I quickly found myself dozing as I rested against Dash’s reassuring strength.
A repetitive poking at my side roused me from my short nap, and as I opened my eyes, I noticed several servers setting down our meals at the table. Stemmed glasses were set out next, and what I could only assume was wine was poured for all of us. Frost had a short conversation with the servers after they finished, after which we were left to enjoy our meals. To be honest, I had worked up quite the appetite over the long day, and I was more than happy to tuck into some good food.
Roam was a popular place back in Equestria, and I had the privilege of having played in one of their more famous concert halls on one occasion, so I was quite familiar with Istallion cuisine. That being said, I had expected slight differences in the taste and quality of Italian vs Istallion food, but I was very surprised at just how similar it all tasted. The noodles were different of course -- being made of wheat instead of hay -- but other than that, it was nearly an exact match for the same dish I’d had while touring with the symphony. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement, and I wasted no time in devouring the quality dish before me. We didn’t spend any more time than necessary at the restaurant, and after finishing our meals, we promptly left to make our way back to the movie theater.
Perspective change -- Frostbreaker
Luckily for me, I had broken up the groups pretty evenly so that there was one “leader” in each movie being seen, a couple magic users, and at least one alicorn so that everyone would be safe. It was a bit odd for me to take over the leading role in something that didn’t involve fighting, but as Moonfang explained it, “An alpha guides his pack through wisdom and strength, not because they want to, but because the alpha knows it is for the good of his pack.” I didn’t necessarily agree with the choice of the two wolves (my brother, for example, was far more confident in himself than I was), but being the only two of their kind with us, I had a feeling they had a good handle on what did and didn’t make a good leader.
Even with what happened halfway through the day, things were turning out pretty nicely, and the group was pretty excited to see exactly what humans were capable of as far as the arts; it’s true that movies weren’t what most people think of when one hears “the arts”, but taking a mere idea and turning it into something worthy of a theater screen takes skill, so I include it. That being said, I had to have a brief talk with everyone present to be sure they understood that any wounds, deaths, or other morbid things happening were simply a part of the story, and were not real. More than anything though, I hoped that Luna could control the volume of her laughter in the theater, so that she didn’t give us away to anyone that could be watching.
On my side of things, I ended up sandwiched between Celestia and Night while watching a romantic comedy. The only others from our group seeing the same movie were Fluttershy and Moonfang, the latter of whom seemed to be struggling to stay awake for the sake of his mate -- it was true that they were quite the match, but that didn’t mean they had all the same interests. Regardless of the minor setbacks here and there, the night at the movies was a grand success, and all the Equestrians were very adamant that Terra could use a movie theater or fifty. Dash, Venn, and Ditzy in particular were pretty jazzed-up from the action film they had seen, and it was quite entertaining to see them reciting lines from the movie, complete with gestures and sounds.
Hours later, my brother and I were down in the hotel lobby, going over recent major news articles to be sure we stayed on top of things, so that we could be more prepared for any possible issues that may crop up. There were quite a few things to catch up on -- the federal legalization of gay marriage and the cropping-up of new terrorist groups, to name a couple -- so it took us time to sift through the media propaganda to find the truth of the issues -- or, at least, as close to the truth as one could get from mainstream media. What we found was worrying: the world as a whole was a very different place than what we left behind only two years ago, so much so that the things happening were in the realm of what a sane person would expect of a silly satire than anything else. Now, it seemed some of the movies we saw making fun of these possibilities had actually been accurate, which was scary.
“Dude, check this out.”
The newspaper my brother had been reading was pushed into my vision, and I immediately noticed the story he had circled in magic marker, which clearly read, “Donald Trump to run for presidency in 2016”. I did a double-take at what was being shown to me, and if I’d been drinking something, I probably would have spit it out. Donald Trump, the big-business mogul and owner of the world’s most visible toupee, was going to be running for president of the United States in a year.
“What. The. Fuck.” I slowly muttered, honestly unable to believe that what I was seeing was a serious thing. Just to be sure, I checked the date of the paper, only to find that it was not, in fact, a paper from April 1st, so I was unfortunately looking at a fact rather than a prank.
“On the other hand,” my brother continued, “this Putin guy is a badass.” He thrust another paper my way, and tapped the article on the page. “Guy’s basically taken a sinking boat and not only kept it afloat, but made it bigger and better. Not exactly a guy known for political correctness -- which Americans hate, of course -- but he tells things like it is, and seems to be doing the best he can to bring his people and country into the 21st century in terms of their economy, military, and sciences.”
I nodded absently. “Sounds like he could be a pretty dangerous guy if the wrong person pissed him off.” As I went back to skimming the newspapers from the past month -- which the hotel staff was kind enough to provide -- I finally picked up the most recent “world news” paper and frowned when I noticed just how big of a “splash” my little performance in the air had made. It seemed that countries around the world were very interested in the event, and while some were obviously trying to write it off as a hoax, an overwhelming number of different countries were reacting with vast interest. A few countries in the eastern hemisphere, for example, were claiming it to be a sign from a deity (which was ludicrous, but they didn’t know that). Anyone who knew me would never confuse me with a god, that’s for sure.
There didn’t seem to be that much in the news that would be useful to us, but I had no doubt I’d be able to learn more the next time I came across another person from whatever agency was watching us -- assuming it was only one. After all, I knew that they were going to be testing their boundaries with us, trying to find some sort of leverage to use over us should the need arise. I had already advised at least one of them that I had no plans to cause any trouble, but if the people of Earth could safely assume the truth of someone’s words, things would be a lot better off. So, that being said, I understood that we were still going to be watched, and tested, and watched some more, so I had come to terms with the fact that we would have no real privacy; in fact, if my hunch was right, we were being watched right now in the lobby, and it was likely we would find more bugs in our rooms by tomorrow.
Yeah, we’d found at least twenty listening devices spread across all the rooms, and I took great pleasure in finding, deactivating, and leaving them in a sealed envelope for whoever had planted them to find. I hadn’t been lying when I told everyone we needed to stay under the radar as far as our true abilities, but those watching us needed to know we weren’t going to just allow our privacy to be invaded, even if we understood why we were being observed.
“So what’s up for tomorrow?”
I glanced to my brother again, and silently agreed that we’d researched enough for one night. Standing and stretching, I jerked my head toward the elevators and led us back to the rooms. “Well,” I began, scratching the hair that had already grown on my face, “I was thinking we’d still hit Underground Atlanta, but I also want to take Twi somewhere special. After all, most of the stuff down there is pretty cool, but it’s not really her cup of tea.”
“So, nerdy stuff then.” my brother surmised with a smirk.
I nodded with a grin of my own. “Yeah. I was thinking maybe we’d hit up some of the tecchie stores around the around the area, just so she can get a good feel for human technology. Besides being something fun for her to see, I think a lot of this technology can be adapted to work in Equestria, but cleaner without the use of fossil fuels or nonrenewable resources.”
My brother scratched his own beard as he thought, which had grown phenomenally fast in just two days. “Yeah, that’d be cool. Gotta admit, I miss me some GTA sometimes. Doesn’t compare to flying, or real sword-fighting, but it’d be nice to be able to do some crazy stuff without the possibility of hurting myself or other people.” We had arrived at my brother’s floor by this point, so he exited the elevator and turned to me with a simple thumb’s-up before heading off to his room.
In only another few moments, I had arrived at my room, and I entered as stealthily as I could to keep from waking anyone up that may be sleeping. Of course, unfortunately for me, my departure was noticed, and I entered to find a pair of worried ladies waiting for me.
Lyra’s head snapped to me when she heard the door click shut, and she stood with Vinyl by her side and waited for me to approach. It was probably my fault that she was so worried -- my notification that we were being watched had put a few of them on edge, unfortunately -- so I did my best to soothe her as I encompassed both girls in a loving embrace.
“Where were you?” Vinyl asked, likely voicing Lyra’s concern as well as they pulled away.
I shrugged helplessly, finding it pointless to lie to them. “Checking over as much news as I could easily get my hands on. I figure the more I know about what’s going on in the world, the better prepared I’ll be if something goes wrong. Better safe than sorry, after all.”
“Do you really think we’re in danger?” Lyra questioned, her poorly-hidden worry clear in her tone and posture.
I brought her in close with an arm and kissed her on the forehead, doing my best to silently reassure her. Regardless, I answered truthfully, as she deserved to know. “I don’t know the people we’re dealing with, so I don’t know for sure. However, if the war has taught me anything, it’s that preparation and prevention can save time and lives, so that’s what I’ll be doing. I promise,” I punctuated the words with another kiss, passing one to Vinyl as well, on my other side, “I will do everything in my power to assure everyone is safe, so we can enjoy ourselves here. Just trust me -- I’m handling it.” I released a long breath before pulling away and ruffling Vinyl’s shaggy hair, which she countered by playfully swatting my hand away. “That being said, Terra is actually far more dangerous than Earth is, by leaps and bounds. The only difference is that the dangers presented here are things you all aren’t familiar with, but that’s what my brother and I are here for. We’ll be fine, I promise.”
Luckily, the girls trusted my judgement in matters pertaining to Earth, so my words worked well to put their minds at ease as we all headed to the makeshift sleeping-pallet in the main room. The three of us wasted no time in finding places to snuggle into the pile -- Dash practically yanked me down on top of her, once she sensed me -- leaving us to simply sleep the rest of the night away. Tomorrow would be interesting, that’s for sure, but I’d be ready for it, and the girls would enjoy themselves.
Perspective Change -- Third Person
Once again, four people of unknown loyalties were meeting to discuss what they’d observed from the “anomalies”, but the tune was quite a bit different now. The consensus of what they were dealing with was already divided, with one of them believing the anomalies were in no way a threat, and should be ignored.
“So, the agent has been completely debriefed, then?”
“Yes sir,” the only woman of the group answered, throwing a glare to the elder in the military uniform, “but I’m not convinced we’re dealing with some sort of alien super-soldiers. From what I gather from this, they’re just a bunch of people that were in the wrong place at the right time, and the unknowns could simply be using fake ID’s to move around unnoticed.” She crossed her arms and blew a strand of hair out of her face, which had begun to rebel from the hairstyle after a long day of work. “Frankly, I think we’re wasting resources on this. I offered my support because I thought we had something concrete, but the two young men that fell off the grid for awhile are idiots at best, and they don’t appear to possess anything useful to us. Sure, they exposed and disarmed one of your agents, but that may simply speak of a lack of adequate training for-”
“Watch yourself, missy.” the older man warned, glaring coldly at her. “Don’t forget who’s signing your paycheck, and who’s offering their support to your team out east.” That caused the woman’s mouth to snap shut, though she defiantly glared back. The man simply ignored the look, and addressed the other two in the room. “For now, we will continue to observe and gather intel until we have something we can use. I have a hunch we won’t have to wait long, and all we may need to do is offer a slight nudge in the right direction.”
“What are you thinking, sir?” the younger military man questioned, having been silent during the whole meeting until that moment.
The older man shrugged, pointing at the pictures of the two men that appeared to be the leaders of the group. “These two are brothers, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they miraculously reappeared together, at the same place and the same time. They are our main focus, so we will need to gather intel on these two before anyone else. Try and force a response of some kind if we can -- even a minor one -- so we can gauge what we’re dealing with.” Reluctantly, the other three left the room, ready to put forth their next plan of action. The man twirled a game piece in his hand -- a chess rook -- before sighing loudly to himself. No matter how this all ended, it was sure to leave him in the pages of history. It was his job, however, to be sure it was a positive note instead of a negative one, and he was very good at finding solutions.
No matter the outcome, one thing was clear: sooner or later, they would need a live subject to study in order to confirm or refute their suspicions.