Foreign Nationals of Unusual Importance

by Dave Bryant


“You did what?” I wanted nothing more than to shout at the top of my lungs. Maybe I did; it was hard to tell through the pounding of my pulse and the tooth-gritting rage inspiring it.
Sunset cringed. The other eight young women present shuffled in place and exchanged uneasy glances. I squeezed my eyes shut and took the deepest breath I could. “Sunset. You went through the portal to pick up your new pen-pal journal. Fine, no problem there.” Notification and approving acknowledgement of that errand already had gone up and down the line, so I was telling the full and complete truth. “But you didn’t bring back just the journal, did you? You also brought back someone else without asking or even telling anyone!” My voice rose again and I struggled to bring it back under control. “Do go on. I’m sure there’s more and better to come.”
Applejack stepped forward and cleared her throat. “Cook, Ah know yer mad, and Ah guess Ah can’t blame ya, but ease up on Sunset, will ya? She already knows it ain’t the best idea she’s had, and it ain’t like she had anything ta do with the rest of it.” There were bobble-head nods of agreement from everyone else aside from Sunset, who simply looked down and hugged herself.
Her woebegone look more than her friends’ support moved me to calm down a little. “I’m sorry, Sunset. I shouldn’t have blown up like that. But you did something pretty rash, and I’m human enough to be worried not only about the effect it could have on you and the city, but on my career too.”
She looked up again quickly. “Oh stars, Cook. I didn’t—I didn’t even think about that. Are they gonna blame you for something I did?” Her expression quickly went from stricken to horrified as the potential consequences, probably not just for me, clearly began playing out in her mind’s eye.
I rubbed my face with both hands, muffling my first few words. “I wish I could say ‘no, of course not’, but the truth is I have no idea one way or the other.” When I caught sight of her huge frightened eyes, I sighed. “Let me worry about that. I shouldn’t have brought it up, but . . . I’m pretty rattled right now, to tell the truth. Done is done. Move on.”

The enigmatic text message from Sunset arrived out of the blue, conveying nothing other than where to meet and when—at the front of CHS and as soon as possible. I was not best pleased to be interrupted in the midst of composing yet another weighty tome to send off to my lords and masters, especially on such thin and peremptory notice. My role as Sunset’s case worker gave me a fig leaf of an excuse to visit the school, but the very prospect gave me a crawly feeling reminiscent of “no pants” nightmares, given how visible the plaza was to an entire neighborhood.
The whole affair seemed designed to annoy. The streets immediately around the school were no-parking zones and its doors and gates were locked for the summer. I was forced to park some blocks away and hike to the plinth, where the whole female herd awaited me. Even in my irritation, though, I recognized it was uncharitable to blame a gaggle of high-school students for not thinking to meet me in a more convenient and less exposed location. Besides, I’d gotten the impression Sunset and her friends viewed the portal site as a sort of anchor in their lives, so proximity to it probably felt comforting to them.
The addition of two strangers to the familiar faces was a dire omen. Their introduction, complete with a summary of the circumstances behind their presence, briefly convinced me I would perish on the spot of an apoplectic fit. Even after I reined in my temper, Sunset’s jitters so affected her stammered explanation that Twilight, of all people, took up in her stead. Her story was bolstered by supporting testimony from everyone else—including the sheepish Starlight Glimmer and the alarmed Juniper Montage; the latter looked ready to bolt any moment. My sardonic prediction turned out to be dead on the money.
“Oh my aching head,” I groaned when the whole dreadful tale was told. I swiped both hands through my hair in a harried gesture I rarely allowed anyone else to see and tried to force my paralyzed brain into motion. “I’ll fire off an alert about the scene at the mall as soon as I can, but there isn’t a lot else I can do. That’s way above my pay grade, and way out of my jurisdiction. I’m not sure how much anyone else can do about it, but you can bet there’s somebody available to take on the job.” I moved on quickly, not wanting to give the agile minds before me time to consider the full implications of my last point.
“You said Princess Twilight retroactively blessed Starlight’s junket, right?” Upon enthusiastic nods of confirmation I continued, “All right. That covers my a—back. I can argue it’s tantamount to issuance of a temporary travel document by competent authority. There’s no formal border-crossing procedure in place anyway, so I predict the lawyers and scholars will have a field day. With luck, they’ll be so busy arguing they won’t do anything else. If you’ll let me photograph the journal page, Sunset, I can include that as part of the documentation.” The now-calmer unicorn-girl nodded again, looking more hopeful. “Also, if you could ask Princess Twilight to write out something more explicit, it would help, although I might be able to tap-dance fast enough even if I can’t get that.”
The whole group listened attentively, making me all too aware of my task as metaphorical fireman. “Juniper, I’ll have to debrief you at your earliest convenience. Not immediately,” I added as faces started to cloud. “Tomorrow, or the next time you’re off shift, is soon enough. Let me get your contact information.” I duly noted everything down, then asked, “What about the mirror?”
More glances were exchanged. Juniper said in a small voice, “I still have it—what’s left of it. There isn’t much except the frame. I was just gonna throw it out.”
“No, don’t do that,” I implored her hurriedly. “I’ll take it, or as much of it as you still have. I can package it up and send it off as a peace offering. Let some back-room boffins gnaw on it for a while.” I pulled out my wallet and handed her some cash. “There. Bought and paid for, right?”
“I guess,” she allowed, staring at the bills in her hands. She jumped when Rarity, standing alongside, elbowed her lightly, then explained, “It’s in my locker at work. I can give it to you when we talk, right?”
I bit my lip briefly. “Fine. I definitely will need it then, though.” I took a deep breath. “Am I forgetting something?”
Mumbles, head-scratches, and shrugs averaged out to a consensus; nobody could think of anything to add. “Okay. I’d better jump on this as soon as I get back. You girls . . .” I sighed and pinched my eyes. “Enjoy the movie.”

A week or so later the immediate aftershocks seemed to have died down. Within a day I’d sent all the urgent notifications I could. Starlight eventually returned home through the portal, glowing from her vacation of sorts. Her perspective on Sunset’s friends and their counterparts in the other world had been enlightening and sometimes hilarious, as well as providing more fodder for assessments. Juniper was meek from shell-shock, which I mentioned discreetly to her new friends, urging them to see what counseling they could find for her. I dispatched the remains of the mirror through channels, imagining it would end up in a desert hangar somewhere. Finally I settled back into my routine of keeping tabs and writing reports.
That ended abruptly with the arrival of an ominously official-looking envelope via departmental courier. I was being recalled.