Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies

by Georg

5. Army Strong

Farmer Bruener Had Some Ponies
Army Strong

“But in the military you don’t get trusted positions just because of your ability. You also have to attract the notice of superior officers. You have to be liked. You have to fit in with the system. You have to look like what the officers above you think that officers should look like. You have to think in ways that they are comfortable with.

The result was that you ended up with a command structure that was top-heavy with guys who looked good in uniform and talked right and did well enough not to embarrass themselves, while the really good ones quietly did all the serious work and bailed out their superiors and got blamed for errors they had advised against until they eventually got out.

That was the military.”
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Shadow

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Time: 8:15 A.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
Colbert Hills Golf Course, Manhattan Kansas
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There was something magical about sunrise at the golf course, with the cool morning wind coming from over one shoulder and the feel of the damp grass underfoot. With all of the chaos and confusion surrounding the entirety of Fort Riley every day, it was important to have at least one day a month when the stress in General Hackmore’s life was forgotten and he turned into his other identity, just plain old Gregory Hackmore attempting to chase a little white ball around a bunch of green grass. It was a driver day on the fourth tee, or at least that was the club he was most comfortable with making the attempt at par. Straight down the middle and between the rough, address the ball, ease up on the backswing, and twitch when his aide’s phone started buzzing away.

“Corporal,” he started, keeping an eye on his ball as it bounced down the fairway on the left side, where he was going to have to loft it over the stubby trees to even get close to par. “Didn’t I tell you to shut that infernal thing off? We’re playing golf here, not babysitting my second in command. He can handle the job for a few hours.”

“Just a moment.” The corporal looked up and handed his phone over with a whispered, “It’s Lieutenant Colonel DeJoya with the Division MPs, sir. They have a situation.”

His first instinct was to simply order the captain to deal with the situation, but DeJoya was a competent officer and would not have jumped ranks like this for any ordinary problem. Hackmore listened on the phone for a while, interspacing his grunts of acknowledgement with short comments such as “They can fly?” “So, where is their spaceship?” and “The only weapon the police reported was a spear?”

At the end, he remained silent for a while as he thought. He had seen far too many movies where the sole use of the US military might was to provide popcorn for technologically advanced aliens to detonate in pretty explosions, even if most of the movies had been so tactically ridiculous that he had to keep himself from shouting orders at the screen. There had been a science fiction story⁽*⁾ he had read in his youth once which seemed to roughly parallel the situation as described, where a starship full of little teddy bear-like creatures had landed their steam-powered spaceship in New York, marched out with their flintlocks and black powder weapons, and had been promptly chopped into hamburger by the modern military response.
(*) The Road Not Taken by Harry Turtledove.

He had never dreamed of being in a First Contact situation, but as described, the ‘situation’ was little more than a cosmic bus with a flat tire, breaking down by the road until a few friendly neighbors helped patch it up and send them on their way. Still, the potential for an international… make that interdimensional incident of immense magnitude existed, and would only be exacerbated by micromanaging on the massive scale that modern electronic communications tended to lean toward. Plus, there was always the possibility of this being some sort of feint or diversionary tactic for a larger invasion of… herbivorous quadrupeds, out to strip the green and fertile earth of its grass.

That’s a story Hollywood will never film. Killer Cows from Mars Invade Kansas. Take me to your alfalfa.

There really needed to be somebody on the scene to properly evaluate the situation before a few hundred generals in the Pentagon started demanding mutually-contradictory actions from his division. Hopefully, if what the RCPD had told the MPs was true, long before that would happen the odd alien invasion would be over and they would all be gone except for the inevitable trash. Besides, he was curious. He had never seen an alien before and most likely would never see one again before retirement.

“Colonel DeJoya, I presume you’re already sending some MPs to the scene. Send one of the cars to stop by the golf course and pick me up. Yes, Colbert Hills. I’ll be at the clubhouse, waiting on them, so don’t make me wait long. Just to be cautious, we’ll be going to FPCON Bravo just as soon as I get a hold of the S3, so expect the orders shortly. If the aliens are really peaceful, I don’t want any screwups, but I’d rather not wind up in a Pearl Harbor situation either. We’re going to be balancing a thin line here between preparedness and not having a bunch of people screaming about an invasion, so make sure your men are properly briefed. And thanks for the heads-up. I’ll make sure it doesn’t roll back downhill on you. Dismissed.”

Thank God I threw my ACU’s in the car, or I’d be meeting aliens in my golf pants.

The general tossed the phone back to his aide with a short sigh. “Golf is going to have to wait. We’ve got some unexpected visitors from out of town, and I need to go say hello. Send a text to the wife telling her something’s come up, but don’t mention aliens. God, please don’t mention aliens.” Then, thinking about his granddaughter who was staying with them for the week, he added, “And ponies. Whatever you do, don’t mention ponies.” Grabbing the handle of his golf bag, Hackmore began walking back along the cart path to the clubhouse as he got out his own phone, turned it on, and started to make calls, unaware that the first meeting between the two military forces had already begun.

* *

Lieutenant Nicholas ‘Nick’ Comena had been determined to make the most of every minute of his extended weekend away from Fort Riley. With his civvies in the truck and all of the camping gear packed, he had been on Hubner road out of the fort five minutes after final inspection, and cruising down the gravel road leading to the Tuttle Creek Off-Road Vehicle Area less than a half-hour later. Well, after a brief stop for supplies, including a bag of ice and a case of Prince of Pilsen, a fine pale lager horribly underappreciated in this barbarian state.

A friend of a friend of an army buddy who knew somebody had told him of a little farm pond just jumping with hungry perch, and a few phone calls had gotten him permission to pitch his tent in the spillway as long as he picked up his trash and didn’t scare the cows with fireworks. Since the only cows who wandered by his camp kept to the other side of the barbed-wire fence, he had free rein over his little slice of heaven, which he could imagine as his native Georgia if the heat was a little more intense and the mosquitoes twice the size. It beat the holy hell out of the dusty baking clay of Afghanistan, which was probably where he was going to wind up redeployed again if things kept hissing and popping there.

The night had been filled with cold beer, hungry fish, and a hot campfire full of miniscule perch fillets, without the primary negative aspect of Georgia night campouts: alligators.

Morning had dawned just a little too brightly and too early for Nick, but the rest of Four-One was supposed to show up sometime before noon for a little team bonding where their big black boss would show them the world did not revolve around the sixty tons of steel and depleted uranium of their charge. They were a fairly new team, and a day of informal drinking and bullshitting outside of the range of spouses and girlfriends would help cement the working relationship they had so far. Still, whatever politically incorrect asshole who had alliteratively assigned Nick a gunner nicknamed ‘Spic’ and a driver named Rick deserved a few dozen trips through the extensive collection of Army training materials on harassment, doubly so for whatever wise ass who had named their tank ‘Fury.’

Nick unzipped the nylon cover to the tent and took a cautious step outside in his bare size-fourteens, wriggling his toes into his sandals and enjoying the morning breeze through his boxer shorts. He had picked the fairly remote location in order to be away from the constant pop-pop-pop of training at the fort, or the earth-shuddering thuds of rounds on the impact range, but some asshole over in Randolph had started the Fourth of July early, and had been popping off firecrackers in the distance for nearly half an hour. The first pop had woken him up out of a sound sleep with the thought of incoming fire, but the pitch and timbre of the sharp sounds was all wrong for small arms, and the erratic popping ever since had just made him regret the inability of calling in a drone strike in the middle of Kansas.

“Asshole,” he muttered before shuffling over to the open tailgate of his truck and rummaging through his campout gear for something to deal with his headache. He washed the Motrin down with bottled water, because twisting open another bottle of beer this early in the morning was for Marines.

Halfway through drinking the bottled water, all thoughts of his headache went away. “Sheeet.”

Something high above had given off a sharp pop, followed by a hideous squeak of pure terror, and it sure was not a Bald Eagle from nearby Tuttle Creek Reservoir. The noise grew into a louder scream as Nick threw the bottle back into the cooler and looked for the origin, but at first glance, he could not see anything.

It could not be good news. Months of experience in the mountains and hills of Afghanistan had trained him that unexpected events were never good. Fighting an urge to drop his seat down into the comforting coolness of sixty tons of steel, Nick nearly jumped out of his sandals when the water out in the pond geysered up into a fairly large splash and the high-pitched screech abruptly cut off.

He started toward the pond, then broke into a dead run with his sandals flying behind him when the voice of whoever was flailing for their life out in the water called out, “Help!” The greenish water splashed to both sides as he hit the surface in a long dive and swam out to the flailing child with strong strokes, snagging the struggling victim under the forelegs before turning and swimming back toward the shore. Only then, did a certain peculiarity soak into his mind.


“Thank you, mithter,” gasped the little horse he had trapped under one arm in the approved American Red Cross lifesaving technique. “I can’t thwim.”

“Really?” It was all he could say as he swam, but he managed to catch his breath a little as he stood up and began wading up onto the shore. It also gave him a better view of the little dog-sized horse under his arm, which might have been some sort of a delusion if it had not also been wearing a huge pair of glasses in addition to the reddest blaze of its mane and tail.

It could not possibly be a joke his new crew was pulling. That was the only possibility which floated to mind at the moment, but standing almost naked and soaking wet while holding a little pony under one arm was not conducive to coherent thought.

He sat the soggy little pony down on the grass at the edge of the pond and picked off a few strands of water weed. It did not help his state of mind. Despite the huge purple glasses, the little pony had a fascinated gaze that scanned him from top to bottom, making him suddenly self-conscious about having slept in his boxer shorts last night. “Let me get you a towel,” he blurted out, fumbling his feet into the discarded sandals and digging his towel out of the truck. “Where did you come from?”

“Mama alwayth thaid thhe found me under a cabbage leaf.” The little pony shook vigorously before taking the towel he handed over and starting to dry her glasses. “Did you thee the retht of my friendth?”

“No, I…” Nick blinked several times as he looked around the sky, his eyes finally making sense of the odd birds in the distance as horses with wings, circling in large loops and curves as if they were searching for something. It was weird enough to shut his mind down for a few moments as the little pony behind him excitedly lisped something about some huge dark monsters which had attacked their town during some ritual involving sunrise, treating the attack just as if she were describing a trip to the county fair.

A second motion over by the edge of the scrub brush at the other side of the pond caught his eye as a dark, shadowy creature much like the little pony was talking about paused at the top of the low hill, then began to gallop at full speed toward him. It certainly looked like some strange and hostile alien from this distance, about the size of a small horse, but with glossy violet armor plates wrapped around its pale grey coat and a featureless visor across where its eyes probably were, although weirdly enough it had a floppy hat perched on top of the helmet with a broad brim much like a black sombrero.

Nick was just wondering if the bizarre creature was going to dive into the pond too when it spread a huge pair of wings for its size and almost casually glided across the water directly in his direction. He took a step backwards and groped for a piece of firewood as the cyborg-dragon-horse swept nearer, grabbing the biggest chunk of wood he could find and bracing himself in front of the little pony he had just rescued. If this was one of the aliens who had attacked the little pony, he was going to be damned if he did not put up a fight.

Yesterday, I was commanding a twenty-first century fighting vehicle able to kill anything within sight, and now I’m a nearly naked black man with a club. This isn’t fair!

The weird hybrid pony slowed its skimming forward across the pond as it grew closer, eventually hovering over the shallow water with almost laconic strokes of its wings that—according to his knowledge of aerodynamics—could not have possibly held it up. It looked at him from under the sombrero, then craned its head to look behind him where the little pony was still cleaning her glasses and chatting away, and then it looked back at him again.

“Twist,” it called out in an extremely female voice, completely different than the robotic voice he had expected. “Are you safe?”

“Mith Gooth!” exclaimed the little pony, shoving her water-splattered glasses back onto her face and squinting. “I’m thafe now. Thith nith minotaur fithhed me out of the water. Where did Mith Twilght’th thpell put uth?”

“We’re supposed to be at the Manehattan emergency teleport beacon,” said the dark batwinged pony, still hovering casually over the edge of the pond. She eyed Nick again from under her dark sombrero before adding, “I think she missed.”

“Wait just a second,” said Nick, trying to resist a powerful urge to hold his hands over his boxer shorts. “What are you? Where did you come from? What’s going on?”

“Just one moment, sir.” The armored pony put one hoof up to her helmet and tilted back the visor, revealing a pair of big golden eyes with vertical pupils which were contracted to thin lines in the bright morning sunlight despite her broad-brimmed hat. “Sergeant Hardhooves, this is Wings. We’ve got a straggler. I just picked up Twist outside the perimeter by almost a furlong, so we’re probably going to have to increase the search area. Uh-huh. Yes, sir. No, sir.” She held up a hoof as Nick was about to interrupt. “She’s in the care of one of the locals, sir. Name of…”

“Nick,” he blurted out.

“Nick,” repeated the batwinged pony. Yes, sir. Copy and out.” Taking her hoof from the side of her helmet, ‘Wings’ looked at Nick with a brisk nod. “We appreciate your assistance, Nick. If you could rendezvous with the rest of the civilians about four or five furlongs that way—” Gooth waved a hoof vaguely in a westward direction “—and take Twist with you while I check out the perimeter for more stragglers, we’d appreciate it.”

“I’m not a civilian,” said Nick somewhat defensively, despite his near-total lack of uniform other than the army-issue boxer shorts. “Lieutenant Nicholas Comena, platoon leader for 4th Squad, Fourth Cavalry, Armored.”

The dark batwinged pony seemed impressed at that, with one eyebrow vanishing up into the shadows under her helmet and a sly smirk on her face. Still hovering, she saluted and snapped off in a military-precise voice, “Cadet Goose Down, Pegasus Trainee for the Royal Guard Academy, provisionary.” Goose gave a sharp nod at the end and a small smile for Twist. “You two had better head to the rendezvous point. Princess Twilight Sparkle will probably have a return portal set up by now.”

Nick found himself saluting back, because it was a thin thread of normality in a world gone suddenly crazy, although he used his other hand to cover something which the thin, wet boxer shorts were doing an insufficient job of concealing. “Let me grab my pants first, Cadet. Don’t want to show up there in only my underwear.”

This time the dark pegasus most definitely gave his wet boxer shorts a subtle glance, although there was nothing subtle about the brief lick of her lips and the sly wink afterwards.

“Why not?” she said. Then Goose turned and glided away across the pond, extending her legs like landing gear and resuming her rapid gallop once she was back on dry ground, which left Nick to stare until she vanished behind the trees.

Still, Nick put his ACU shorts on and his ‘Army Strong’ t-shirt before taking the damp young pony in the direction indicated, talking on his phone as he walked.

Author Notes

One of the joys of living in a city right next to Fort Riley is the artillery range. There’s a thick layer of limestone that goes right under the impact range (that’s where the artillery shells land when they’re practicing) and all the way under Manhattan, about a half-hour away or fifty seconds worth of acoustic travel along the rock plate. One of the things the fort does is practice what are called Time on Target barrages, in which *all* of the shells in a barrage blow up at the same time in order to catch the enemy troops out in the open. It’s a little distracting, particularly the first time your pictures rattle on the wall, but after a few years, you get used to it, even at 5 AM. At this very moment while I’m typing, the windows are rattling in my house because the fort got a new Paladin artillery system and they have to play with their toys. For the record (and measured on the map) I’m 37 miles away from the impact range. I hope they’re wearing earplugs.

(FYI: For those of you in California who get jittery when the earth moves and the pictures rattle, tough. We refer to the time between those events as ‘reloading.’)

Goose Down is an aged-up to late teens version of Luna’s Nocturne from Peter’s story, Jake and the Kid as well as the sequel, How To Train Your Batpony. She will be one of four Nocturne caught in the transdimensional portal accident along with Pumpernickel, Laminia and Stargazer, although you may want to count Laminia twice as she is newly pregnant (again) even while nursing Stargazer (which I looked up, and is not that odd of an occurrence in equines). Goose is indeed the odd duck, because… Well, you’ll see.