Rough and I exited the giant house, now made even more enormous from my smaller form as a Winona. Closing the door, Rough chuckled to themself for some reason, causing me to tilt my head in askance.
"You know," Rough explained, ensuring the door was locked by jiggling the handle, "here I am, goin' for a walk on the town with an alien shapeshifter from outer space disguised as a collie dog." Rough then looked to me with a smirk on their face. "You ever have one o' them days, Blue?"
"Uh... to clairify, I should only speak when no other not-minotaur are around, correct?" I asked, sitting down next to Rough and looking up at them.
"Unreal." Rough sighed, moving away from the door and beckoning me to follow. Once we had moved further down the gravel path, Rough changed to a different topic. "So, Miss Collie dog that's really an alien named Blue, what's it like where you're from?"
"Well, that's a very wide topic. Is there anything you wanted to know specifically?" I replied hesitantly. There was a great deal that I didn't know about even my own hive, let alone ponies and Equestria. I was only a tunneler after all, there wasn't a need for me to learn much of anything.
"Um..." Rough hummed, scratching their chin. "Okay, how bout this: You had any special bugs you had your eye out for back in the hive?"
I blinked. "Well... Queen Chrysalis would be the one to look out for, if I understand correctly."
"The Queen huh? Shootin' big!" Rough praised. "What's she like? I mean, for an alien bug queen."
"Commanding, intelligent, protective, vengeful, tricky and resourceful." I summarized. It wasn't anything anypony wouldn't know after our attack on Canterlot, even if it had failed. Actually... maybe the Not-Minotaur wouldn't hear about it?
Rough whistled, "Wow, seems like my kinda gal. You got good taste in... eh... Queens?"
"Taste?" I asked, turning my head again. I was keeping pace easily with Rough as we walked alongside the road towards a cluster of larger buildings in the distance. "We don't eat the Queen," I explained, "If the hive is starving, it's the Queen that feeds off of us."
I felt a tinge of sympathy from Rough. "Dang... that's like a prayin' mantis or somethin'. Didn't know you had it that rough, Blue."
I didn't really know what to say to that, so I remained quiet. It was just a way of life in the hive. Keep the Queen alive, that was all that mattered. She would provide the rest. It had worked out fine for centuries, I had been told. I didn't really know how long centuries were, and I had no idea if I had lived one while being a tunneler. There was no way to keep track of time in the hive anyway, so it never bothered me. I worked when I was told, and I slept when I was told.
"So..." Rough began awkwardly, "What do you think of Earth so far?"
"Is that what you've named this place?" I asked. I had expected something less... pony-like. There were earth ponies after all, but naming a country after them?
"Hey, I ain't the one that called it that; it's just what it's called." Rough replied defensively, though not truly offended.
We had both been walking long enough that the town in the distance had become the buildings close by. It would only be a few more minutes before we reached the town, and I had some questions. "Rough, what am I supposed to do once we're in town?"
"Okay, two things. First, why do you call me an' my sister 'Rough' and 'Soft'?" Rough asked, "I'm Ricky, and she's Maria."
"Well, your voice is rough, and Soft's voice is soft." I explained. It wasn't that difficult a concept, I had thought.
"What's wrong with callin' us by our names?" Rough continued, somewhat upset.
"The names don't mean anything to me, so I can't translate them properly. You also don't like it when I mimic your voices, so I refrain from doing so to not upset you." Apparently it wasn't as simple as I imagined.
"So you mean if you heard any word in any language, you'd be able to tell what it meant?" Rough asked, interest spiking.
"I would have to know what is being implied or what its supposed to be conveyed. For example, were I do go to another hive I would have no idea what they were trying to communicate. Each hive often has different methods of speech, some even going as far as a hive mind."
"What, you mean like the borg?" Rough asked, scratching their head.
"Nevermind, Blue. Let's save it for some other time. I gotta get to the second thing I was gonna tell you: Don't say a word. Dogs don't speak, remember? Well, actually they do speak, but nothin' intelligent. It's mostly just barking and panting." Rough summarized as we reached the first platform of the town. The stone on the sides of the road were lighter in color, like an off white or a light grey. What seemed to be storefronts lined the entire way through the town with a few streets veering off elsewhere. A large building with a pointed roof dominated the center of the town and I pointed it out.
"What building is that?" I asked.
"Okay, we gotta come up with some way of communicatin' where you don't get us caught." Rough huffed. "How 'bout this: You blink if you don't understand somethin', you nod your head if you agree, you shake your head if you don't, and you point at stuff with your paw. Got it?"
I was about to blink at the simplicity of the instruction, but instead nodded my head.
"Good. I know it sucks, but I really don't want us gettin' caught while we're walkin' around. If you absolutely need to talk to me, nip my leg, okay?"
Well, I had some questions that needed answering... So I immediately nibbled on Rough's clothing.
"Ah!" They blurted, shooing me away with their hand. "Really? What?"
"Mom said that both you and Soft were supposed to go to school today. Are you not going?" I asked, my ears showing my concern by drooping downward.
"Mom means well, but I haven't gone to school in a while now. I mostly help out around Jim's Auto-shop to get some money and do something with my spare time, but I'm not technically hired neither." Rough explained a bit sadly. "I just show up whenever I need some quick money and do some work for them."
I nodded, and we continued along with our walk. Other not-minotaur were wandering around, going from shop to shop or climbing into different metal beasts of their own, some roaring to life and others simply gliding away. Not many people paid any attention to either of us, but I noticed some bursts of affection directed my way whenever I looked back up at them. I guess not-minotaur are very fond of Winonas.
"Hey Blue, I know you eat love an' all that, but i'm starvin'. I know a dog-friendly diner we can go to for a bite, if you're up to it." Rough chimed in after a while, looking down to me for an answer. I had no reason to decline, and this would allow me to learn more about where I was, so I nodded. " Hey, good girl!" Rough teased, though they did scratch behind my ears. Somehow, that made everything better for a few moments.
I followed Rough around a street corner and waited patiently next to them as they pressed some kind of button on a metal pole, getting a 'beep' from it in response. I looked curiously at the beeping thing, trying to stand on my hind legs and attempt to press the button as well, but I was too short to reach it.
"Hey Blue, easy. It's just a traffic button." Rough chuckled, "It tells the cars that we need to cross, and they stop so we can walk across to the other side."
My curiosity sated, I pushed myself away from the button and landed on my paws... something that was very strange to walk with when I was used to hooves. For some reason I didn't have difficulty with maneuvering in my new form, but I attributed that to the fact that I had received some tips from the Infiltrator caste before we were sent to Ponyville. 'Just do what your body tells you to do; don't fight it. Keep up the act and the rest will take care of itself.'
Rough pointed to a white light shaped like a walking not-minotaur. "See that, Blue? That means it's safe to walk. Be careful though, sometimes people just drive right through anyway like jackwagons." Rough waved to me, motioning for me to follow. Suddenly, and as if to drive the point home to what Rough had just said, a yellow beast screeched to a halt right next to them, screeching loudly.
"Hey buddy, I'm walkin' here!" Rough shouted, smacking their hand on the beast a few times. I saw a not-minotaur yelling from within, also upset. Rough pointed to the lights behind them. "It's red, dummy!"
I decided that staying around to fight something with a beast wasn't the best idea, and tugged on Rough's leg, urging for us to continue to the other side of the road before it changed color as I had seen the center lights do a few times. Green allowed passage, red denied passage, and yellow... was pretty much ignored. Why even put up a yellow light?
Rough and the yellow beast soon parted ways, the beast itself screeching off into the distance in a cloud of smoke as soon as we moved from its path. This made Rough grumble threats under their breath, but nothing that was actually serious. "People like that, Blue, are the reason I don't make friends. Only lookin' out for themselves."
I sympathized, knowing how the Warrior caste would treat Tunnelers when the Queen was annoyed or upset. For some reason, this made my body involuntarily whine. Rough looked with surprise at me, smiling. "You're really good at being a dog for not knowin' what a dog is, Blue." Now I was feeling affection from them... odd. Not-minotaur are either very strange, or more likely, I have no idea what I'm doing.
"That over there," Rough pointed, "Is Alice's Restaurant. A place where you can get anythin' you want. It's also the only diner in town that happens to be dog-friendly, and they serve a mean pancake n' egg special."
I tugged on Rough's leg, causing them to lean over. "Can I get love at Alice's Restaurant? I'm still hungry..."
Rough raised an eyebrow at me in amusement. "Sure, Blue. I'll bet you can find some love at Alice's."
My tail began wagging. Perhaps this place would soothe my hunger for the first time in the last few days! If everything worked well, I would even be able to create my own living area at 'Home'.
"Let's head on in, Blue. Mind your manners, ya hear?" Rough smiled, a coy look on their face.