Foreign Nationals of Unusual Importance

by Dave Bryant


Sunset spun out her history since emerging from the fabulous magical portal that connected her world to mine. As far as I could tell she held back nothing, presumably convinced doing so wasn’t a good idea, though her voice roughened as she struggled through the more difficult passages. The others chimed in with their own perspectives at various points, and eventually Twilight Sparkle took up her part of the tale, voice shaky at first. Through it all I listened closely without interrupting, taking shorthand notes on a small notepad I carry, as much prop as memory aid. More than an hour passed before they all wound down and looked at me in silence.
Only then did I begin asking follow-up questions. I kept my tones respectful and sympathetic and matched my approach to the personalities before me—blunt and direct to Applejack and Rainbow Dash, quiet and coaxing to Fluttershy and Twilight, polite and gallant to Rarity and Sunset, outrageously casual and teasing with Pinkie Pie. Finally I was satisfied I had a complete picture of events. It was time to reward them for their frankness and forbearance.
“And now it’s your turn,” I encouraged. “Obviously I can’t provide answers on classified matters, but I’d say you’ve earned your chance to gather your own intelligence. In fact, given your role as magical defenders, I’d say you need to gather intelligence.”
The girls looked surprised but gratified, and spent a few moments in thought. Predictably, Pinkie was first to stick up her hand and wave it energetically. I nodded to her.
“So you aren’t going to kidnap us and put us in a laboratory and dissect us or put radio trackers in our—”
“Pinkie!” the others cried out.
I cracked up, laughing uninhibitedly and doubling over. I simply couldn’t help it, between the effervescent young woman’s uncanny ability to blindside people and the scandalized reaction of her friends. After I caught my breath, I straightened and answered, “S-somebody’s been watching too many bad B-movie thrillers. No, for heaven’s sake, nobody ever even mentioned that! Who do you think we are?” I took a moment to consider my explanation. “Look, six of you are citizens of this nation, and the seventh is a foreign national and a subject of the crown, not to mention having personal ties to both the most senior and most junior royals in that nation. I’ll grant the government and its employees aren’t perfect, but most of us wouldn’t countenance treating any of our citizens that way—and doing so to a foreigner is a guaranteed diplomatic incident if not an act of war! No. Just . . . no. Next question.”
Sunset half-raised her hand and got a similar go-ahead; she asked simply, “The sirens?”
“Not my department, so I don’t know. My best guess is they’re getting their own case officer, who’ll get a support staff, but I couldn’t say which agency that’ll be from. Law enforcement or social services seem most likely, though. They need it, especially now that they probably are more helpless and powerless than they’ve ever been in their lives—at least, I’d bet they feel that way. I may be asked to send an inquiry through you about returning them, but I can’t say for sure. Without their magic, they may be better off here, especially since they might suffer pretty severe culture shock if they went back, based on your speculation about the portal’s possible time slippage.” I got askance looks from one and all, so I elaborated, “They seem to have adapted to modern technology just fine. I’m thinking more about the changes to the world they came from. It’s got to look radically different now from what they remember. Who’s next?”
Twilight brought up a hand just enough to wiggle the fingers. “I have to ask. What’s next? Will we be seeing more of you?”
“Next I go and write a very long report. And to think I fondly imagined, after graduating from university, I was done with homework.” I sighed; it was all too true. “After that, any number of things might happen, but most of them won’t involve you girls directly. Yes, I’ll be in touch, though we may not meet in person very often—more because we’re all very busy people than for any other reason. In fact . . .” I pulled a small metal clamshell case from another pocket and extracted a sheaf of very official-looking business cards to hand out. “As for another possible meaning of your ambiguously worded question, you might hear from or meet some of my superiors, but only if something urgent or unusually important happens. I’m the case officer, so most of the time everything should go through me, both ways, to prevent confusion if nothing else. Anyone else?”
Applejack leaned forward, not bothering with niceties. “Mebbe y’all ain’t gonna haul us off or nothin’, but yer just gonna let things go? Yer not doin’ nothin’ else? I mean, we’re right grateful an’ all, but . . .” She trailed off and held her hands out to the sides in a shrug.
“What do you propose we do?” I asked rhetorically. “Announce the existence of the portal to the world?” Everyone winced, including me. “No. Keep it secret but close the school and the neighborhood around it, disrupting the city for no apparent reason?” Another wince. “No. In a lot of ways, our hands are tied. Besides, it’s the only contact you have—especially you, Ms. Shimmer—with her home. For that matter, it’s the only contact we have. What if something happens to you? Who else do we get in touch with but them in the event of a magical emergency? What if they need to get in touch with us for some reason? After all, the portal goes both ways, and I can think of all kinds of problems our world might generate for them, accidentally or, worse, on purpose.”
I shook my head ruefully. “For now, all we can do is go on as we have, with you girls acting as our first line of defense. Yes, it’s strange and awkward, and a lot of people are having sleepless nights over it for a lot of reasons, including worry over seven young women being in the line of fire as well as more practical considerations. But in the short term, at least, it’s the only workable solution.” Everything I told them was true, just not complete or strictly accurate; most of the worries were more pragmatic than humanitarian, but I wasn’t about to admit it. “Next?”
Dash spoke up. “So what if we hadn’t beat Sunset and Sci-Twi here and made friends with them?”
I replied coolly, “Then all of you would be talking to someone else, probably several someone-elses, and it wouldn’t be a very pleasant conversation.” Starting with local law enforcement, no doubt, and working all the way up to military authorities at the highest level. None of those people would treat anyone involved with kid gloves, especially the pair in question. Powerful as they may have been, I suspected they wouldn’t stand up to, say, battalion- or regimental-strength combined-arms operations involving armor, gunships, and infantry. What a mess that would be. “The less said about that the better. Next.”
Rarity rubbed her chin with a fingertip. “Why you, Mister Cook?”
“Because I am a sophisticated and debonair man of the world, just the sort to charm a group of lovely young ladies.” I held a straight face until they responded with snickers and rude expressions, then grinned and continued, “I’m closer to your age than most career diplomats, I was available for the assignment, and I think the powers that be figured I have the right personality and, well, flexibility of mind for the job.”
Realizing I hadn’t heard from one of them, I turned and asked quietly, “Do you have a question, Ms. Fluttershy? You’re the only one who hasn’t asked yet.”
Fluttershy shook her head mutely, and I spared her a small smile. “All right, then.” I sat back and spread my hands invitingly. “The floor is open.”

A chime and a buzz from my phone interrupted the discussion most of an hour later. By that time the whole group seemed to have warmed to me at least provisionally, talking more freely than I think they realized. I was more pleased by this success than I expected, for the vivacious and likable young women had charmed me as well. Conscious of my security clearance, I wasn’t quite as open as they, but I gave them a bit more of my personal background than I originally intended.
I slid the clamoring phone out and glanced down at it as I silenced the alarm, then up again. “I must be off; other business awaits—but I have two more things to say before I go.” I stood and swept my gaze across the group. “Remember in the months and years ahead you have friends and champions in unlikely places. And last but not least, I hope someday I have a daughter who grows up to be as fine a young woman as all of you are—including you, Sunset Shimmer.”
Sunset’s eyes were misty and she raised a trembling hand to her mouth, unable to speak.
“And with that, I must bid you all adieu, adieu, fair maidens, adieu.” With the ease of much practice I clicked my heels and bowed, then pivoted and strode back down the ramp.
I didn’t breathe easy until I was back on the street, just another passerby tending to his business, purposeful but not hurried. It would be up to the DSS ringer to tie up loose ends, such as locking the gate behind me.