24 October, 1983 – H 7:00 to 18:00
Name...surname...photo...expiration date...everything was in order. The eyes of the Inspector were moving between the old lady who, with patience, was standing in front of him and his first passport.
"Well, all seems good to me." Hektor said with a calm but firm tone of voice, giving a quick glance to the rule book opened on the desk. He was trying to figure out how to activate the stamper to approve the visa.
"I'm travelling for pure curiosity, you know. News about the new world arrived in Republia in no time and I want to visit it...what do I have to expect there?" the old lady asked the Inspector, who, in the meantime, was completely focused on his searching for the proper instruments to use.
"Do not ask this of me...I barely know what I have to do here," he replied while, with the automatic printer he found in a drawer on the right side of the desk, printing the green approval stamp on the passport.
"Here is your document. Glory to Arstotzka...I hope you'll be satisfied from what you'll see there," he said, a little embarrassed for the time wasted.
"Thank you, young man. Have a nice day." The old lady replied with an huge smile on her face, before reaching the door that leaded to the portal for the parallel world. Before it closed, Hektor was able to hear the voice a guard that asked the traveller to show the approved visa.
<<A strong surveillance indeed.>> he thought quickly <<I let the first person for Equestria pass...I thought it was harder to...>> A staccato buzzing jolted him roughly out of his thoughts. He recognized it as the sound of the old printing machine positioned under his desk...a sheet came out from it:
Alert: Only Arstotzkan and Equestrian allowed.
FIRST WARNING: NO PENALTY GIVEN
<<Great...first person, first error,>> Hektor thought, disappointed by himself. <<Let’s see if I'll be able to get kicked out before dinner.>> He read the message for a second time without saying a word, before putting it in the pocket of his jacket. In that moment of doubt of his abilities, he slipped from his bald head the warm and comfortable shapka, looking at the Arstotzkan eagle in the middle. A lot of thoughts came to his mind…he could not surrender himself after one mistake; he had to go on, he needed that job, for his mother and, above all, for himself.
He replaced the fur hat and took a deep breath. "Well...let’s start again," he whispered before saying to the microphone the magic word that everybody outside was waiting for. "NEXT!"
A young man with an elegant brown jacket came in, hurrying a little.
"Come on! I waited for hours, you know? I want to see this new world!" The newcomer said, placing a passport from Impor on the desk. "It's me. Everything is correct. I don't want to lose time!"
Hektor took the passport with patience and, after giving a quick glance at the nationality wrote on it, he activated the automatic printer for the denials and stamped a bright, red stamp on the visa in the passport. "Only Arstotzkan and Equestrian citizens are allowed." he said, giving back the passport to the owner who was reddening like a tomato.
"So I can't pass...one hour in the line for nothing...barbarian!" The man exclaimed before going out from the booth with an angry expression.
The inspector shrugged his shoulders at that reaction. <<The first of a long series.>> He thought while calling the next in line with the microphone. After these first two events, Hektor began to gain trust in himself and his job became easier. With a fixed smile on his face, he was able to face all kinds of difficulties he encountered.
"Papers, please...Arstotzkan passport...everything is in order...approved! Have a nice trip! NEXT!"
"Papers, please...what Equestrians look like? I don't know...and considering that this passport is expired, I don't think you'll find out. NEXT!"
While working, Hektor began to read the infamous Rule Book: a tome with an ugly brown cover and far too many pages.
<<Cities and regions...information to check...fortunately everything is rationally sorted, just like all the things in Arstotzka.>> Surprisingly, there was an entire chapter about the Equestrians; the part about the differences between the two worlds was both interesting and useful.
<<Photos are not reliable...a table that shows the time difference between the worlds to check the passport expiration date, drawings of the Equestrian’s stamp to check the validity of their documents...this book is more precious than it looks.>>
But in Hektor’s mind there was something more interesting than that book: the different reactions of all the people that came to cross the border. Some were polite, some were curious, some decided to fill the head of the Inspector with stories about his life...it was indeed an intriguing thing.
The last one who came tried to menace Hektor. "Let me pass or you'll face grave consequences!" The young, blonde man cried out, his fist raised. "I'll clean up that grin on your stupid face!" An ominous click cut his diatribe short, "OUT!" shouted the guard with a determined voice, persuading the man to desist, though not before giving to Hektor one last menacing look.
He shook his head, looking down to his desk, closing himself in a strict silence that, after few seconds, was broken by a loud laugh. When he looked up, he saw a man coming in without the proper call. "The expression of that man was quite funny," he said, looking at Hector with a strange smile on his face. "All of you are funny...and intriguing...if the weather here was just a bit warmer and sunny, I could decide to stay here a little longer." He added, stroking his short white beard and walking toward the Inspector.
"I didn't allow the next access," Hektor said, following that new guest closely, "Papers, please."
"Papers?" asked the newcomer that, from his appearance, looked like he was in his forties. "When I passed the Equestrian border, nobody pretended to see my papers...and I think I don't need them here either," he added with a smile, "come on pal, let me pass...I want to go back to my comfortable bed".
Hektor's expression changed abruptly when he realized that the one he was facing was not human...he had the aspect of an human being, his face with those white eyebrows could be easily of a common man...but the little two dark blue wings that fluttered from the long jacket he wore; it was clear that he was not part of this world.
"An Equestrian, I presume?" Hektor asked, focusing his attention on the alien.
"It is so obvious? A shame indeed...now I know why everyone in the queue were looking at me in that strange way." The foreigner smirked while caressing again his goat-like beard. "Maybe I had to better cover these wings."
"Even if you're from Equestria, I need to check your papers...that's the protocol." Hektor insisted, drumming his fingers on the desk.
At those words, the Equestrian put his hands on his chest "Do you think that I, the Spirit of the Chaos, have to follow the protocols? That’s annoying.”
A brief silence followed, as he was waiting for a reply from the Inspector…a reply that wasn’t coming. “Come on...let me pass, I'll not ask this another time." The man was getting insistent, but Hektor wasn’t breaking the rules for this guy.
"Mr. Spirit of Chaos-" Hektor tried to say, putting emphasis on that particular title.
"Call me Discord...with respect, please."
"Well...Mr. Discord, I don't know who you are in Equestria, but here, everybody needs a passport, common citizens, ministers...and spirits, too."
Discord remained silent of some moments, frowning, lost in deep thought. "I think I forgot them in the other jacket...speaking of clothes, I found yours very ugly...you have no sense of taste! At least they're warm..."
"No passport, no entry," Hektor cut him short, "Please, Mr. Discord, leave the booth now."
The Spirit of Chaos breathed deeply, snorting after few seconds, "Well then...you leave me no choice." He said this with a faux sad face, "I'll have to do what I did to the Equestrian inspector that tried to stop me," Discord said calmly. The man seemed to be preparing to snap his fingers with the attitude of someone cocking a loaded gun. "Would you like to become a pig, a cat, a worm...as you wish."
The expression of Hektor's face couldn't be more confused. "Some kind of joke?" he asked with a serious expression.
"No my friend...it's just magic!" The Equestrian replied. "Now...considering that you didn't choose, I'll choose for you. Have fun being a...cat!"
Discord snapped his fingers...but nothing happened.
Discord stared in betrayed shock at his fingers, while Hektor watched with amused confusion. Did the old fool really think his fingers could turn people into animals? The man tried again, aiming his fingers at Hektor, focussing furiously. "The cats doesn't work? Ah, they're too independent...let's try with a...dog!"
He snapped his fingers again, with the same result. The guard was watching now, laughing quietly behind his fingers.
"A llama,” *snap* “A camel,” *snap* “A frog,” *snap* “A snake!" he exclaimed, repeatedly snapping his fingers at Hektor.
"Listen, Mr. Discord," Hektor had had enough of listening to this idiot rave. "If you want to see a magic trick, I can make you fall asleep without even let you notice."
"Ah," exclaimed Discord, clearly amused, "If the Spirit of Chaos can't do magic, nobody can! Let me see, come on!" He spread his arms and described a circle on his chest. "Show me, I dare you!"
"Well," Hektor raised his fist "At three...two...one..."
And, with a vicious *CRACK*, the wooden end of the guard’s rifle struck the back of his head. The humanized Equestrian fell on the ground, unconscious.
"Thanks, guard," Hektor said to the guard, nodding. "He said that he crossed the Equestrian border without a passport...what kind of work are they doing there?" he added, looking at the unconscious man.
"I don't know, and I don't care." the soldier replied, giving a severe look to Discord before facing Hektor. "Should I bring him to the prison?" he asked, and Hektor realised that he was in charge of the man.
Hektor looked another time at Discord, contemplating the body on the floor; for a few seconds he remained silent, before speaking again. "I know Arstotzkan prisons, and I think that it would be too harsh a penalty for him. Just leave him outside the booth...maybe the cold wind will bring him to his senses."
The guard looked conflicted for a moment, opening his mouth as if to interject, before shrugging. “You’re the boss.” he said, before lifting up Discord to drag him from the booth. “By the way, my name is Ian, Ian Molin. You can call me by my name, instead of guard.”
Hektor nodded to him, while looking at the door of the booth closing behind the blonde guard. During the brief moment of peace that followed , he thought about his actions: was it correct to leave him in Arstotzka? Maybe he was too rough...
Anyway, he could not let him pass; one error was already enough for that day. "NEXT!"
"Kolechia...<<another one>>... denied...NEXT!"
"Arstotzka...everything in order...approved...cause no trouble and have a good trip. NEXT!"
The time passed so quick that the Inspector hadn’t realized that it was almost the time to close the doors until he noticed he was starting to squint to see the passports in the orange sunset. While checking the clock, a woman with an elegantly styled head of long purple hair came in, together with a little girl with equally well-styled light pink, curly hairs. Hektor was sincerely stunned from the couple in front of him; it was uncommon to see a such beautiful girl and such a cute child, both dressed in wonderful white coats and scarves, each one mirroring the hair colour of the other.
"Good evening, darling." the woman said with a lovely but solemn voice, "You're the Inspector for the checkpoint to Equestria, yes?"
"Yes, madam," Hektor replied, a little embarrassed. The woman tossed her hair, clearly having noticed her effect on the poor man, and as she did Hektor noticed a small white protrusion on her forehead. A horn. "You're both Equestrians, I presume?" he added, trying to affect a courteous smile.
"That is correct, Mister-” She leaned forward, scrutinising his name tag. “-Popov. We came here to see your world, but this trip was not as I expected," the pale lady said while taking out from her obviously very expensive bag bag their passports. "We had hoped to find an elegant capital inhabited by rich and polite people...but all we found here was cold, snow, and rudeness!" she added with a melodramatic voice. "At least everything is over, now...isn’t that right, Sweetie?" she cooed, looking at the cute child, who only looked down at the floor of the booth and scuffed her expensive little buckled shoes on the wood, before going back to look at Hektor.
"You look tired sir. Are you alright?" she asked, her voice so sincerely worried that Hektor looked at her in flabbergasted shock. She was the first person to have worried about him, rather than on their own problems (most of which he was causing)
"Well, let's just say that it was a long day..."
He then took the passports from the purple haired girl. The first thing he noticed was the photos...there were photos of two animals! The creatures were vaguely equestrian, with four hooved legs and muzzles, but each had a long horn extending from it’s forehead, and very un-horse-like expressions. Interestingly, the photos were full-body, rather than the face-only Arstotzkan photos, with some emphasis given to the strange marks the creatures had on their flanks. He looked at them with an indescribable expression. <<So this is how Equestrians look like in their world. Honestly, this shouldn’t have been a surprise,>> Hektor thought.
Rarity focused her attention on Hector’s expression. "If you're thinking about how we're different from our photos, sir, just think at the surprise we received when we turned in ... well ... this" she added pointing at herself. In that moment, Sweetie Belle nodded, looking at the Inspector with her big, bright light green eyes.
Hektor reddened for a moment, nodding at her direction and smiling sincerely for the first time that day. "Indeed, I can't imagine what that might have felt like." he said before opening the two passports "So...Sweetie Belle...and Rarity...let’s see..."
"Take all the time you need, Mr. Inspector. Everything is in order." the graceful woman said, looking at him with her penetrating and intrigued eyes. "After all, we already passed all the checks in Equestria...oh, by the way," Rarity suddenly added, her kind expression changing to a grimace of disgust. "I met somebody I know outside."
"You mean the other Equestrian who came here earlier?" Hektor asked, skimming both passports.“That Mr. Discord guy?”
"Yes, indeed...what is he doing here?"
"He tried to pass the controls without a passport...he said that he was able to pass the Equestrian border without problems, but here the laws are strict and without the proper documents we can't allow passage." he explained, stamping the green stamp on the visa of her passport.
"You made the right choice, Hektor,” Hektor reddened. Rarity smiled mischievously, having elicited the response she was after, "He is such a ruffian, you don't know him like I do...and besides, when laws are not respected, it is correct to pay the proper price."
"Yeah..." Hektor agreed. "All the laws must be respected...speaking of which..."
"Speaking of which?" Rarity repeated, looking quizzically at Hektor.
<<This could be a problem...a very big problem!>>
His eyes moved around few times, as he was checking something two, three, four times. Hektor’s face was more worried than he wanted and a loud silence began to spread through the booth like honey. The eyes of the two Equestrians girls were focused on him; clearly, they were waiting for an answer.
<<I’m beginning to really hate this job!!>> He thought, taking a deep breath.
"Speaking of which...I see that the passport of Miss Sweetie Belle is expired."
"WHAT?!" Rarity exclaimed, shocked. "How is this possible? At the Equestrian border they checked everything! You have to check again!"
"No mistakes," Hektor replied, reluctantly taking the clock under the desk and setting it on the wooden surface for the hundredth time. "According to the instructions written on the rule book and comparing the expiration date on the passport with our calendar, it seems that your daughter's passport expired two days ago."
Suddenly, the calm and beautiful face of the purple haired girl began to change slowly, and Hektor resigned himself to having pissed off the only person he had met so far who had been pleasant. "Please, Miss Rarity, try to stay calm..."
"My...daughter?" Rarity spoke slowly, eyes narrowing, "How dare you, Mr Inspector?!" And with those words, Hektor could see the small amount of respect he had earned from her slowly sliding into the latrine. "Can’t you see that I’m not so old, you fool? She is my sister!” Every word was underlined in such a dramatic way that it wasn’t possible to understand whether she was joking or if it was a serious complaint. “Do not forget, mister...you’re talking to a lady of Equestria. And I thought I was talking to the first gentleman I met here!"
Hektor recoiled, almost shocked by the reaction of the woman who had made a complete one-eighty in her behaviour.
A boot hit the door with a thunderous crash and Ian rushed into the booth, alarmed by the loud sounds he heard. "Give me a sit-rep!" The muscular guard boomed. "Are you having problems?"
"Not serious ones," he replied, trying to regain a calm attitude, "This young lady is an Equestrian and..."
"He dared to insult me, mister guard!" Rarity interrupted, pointing her finger at Hektor. "Such way of dealing with guests is...is...unacceptable! I’ll present an official complaint to our Princess! She has to know the rudeness you treat foreign guests!” Her beautiful face was twisted in rage, ruining her carefully-applied makeup.
Hektor couldn’t hide his embarrassment and shame; the words of that lady pierced his soul somehow. He bowed his head and took a deep breath, isolating himself from what was happening for a moment.
“It wasn’t my intention to insult you...if I said something bad, I’m really sorry.”
Both Ian and Rarity were surprised by that sentence. “I appreciate your apology, mister Inspector,” Rarity appeared more calm and a smile made its way onto her lovely face. “Anyway, it is clear that you still have to learn how to behave properly.”
The soldier kept his rifle on his shoulder while looking at the group in front of him; he seemed annoyed from the situation. “You’re slowing down the line, miss. People outside are freezing waiting for their turn.”
“Oh dear...now that I was able to find a true gentleman…” Rarity turned her attention to the guard, disappointed by the interruption. “You should learn from mister Inspector there. He knows how to be calm and patient with guests.”
Ian closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "Are her documents valid?" he asked with a calm voice to Hektor, who was trying to hide the amusement he was feeling in that moment. "Yes...I even stamped the approval stamp on her visa".
"Good ... I'll take care of this" the soldier said smiling to Hektor before coming near Rarity with fast paced movements. Without saying anything, he began to push the Equestria lady to the door leading to the portal.
"DON’T TOUCH ME!” She yelled, beating her fists on the man’s back in protest.“I’ll report everything! I promise you!”
Her resistance was useless, however, as Ian forced her from the booth as easily as the wind pushing away a leaf. “WAIT! STOP! THERE IS STILL SWE..." Her panicked shout was cut off, as Ian slammed the exit door, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
Hektor followed all the scene in silence then put his head between his hands. <<And this is just the first day!>>
The silence in the booth was a good thing to enjoy…a thing that lasted just for a moment, as a melodic voice broke it.
"Sister..." The little child murmured, frightened by the events. Only in that moment Hektor realized that the other Equestrian girl, Sweetie Bell, was still inside the checkpoint.
The problem was serious: as the laws ordered, she couldn't be approved. She had to remain in Arstotzka all by herself.
He looked at the lonely child, whose eyes were now pointed to him.
<<What do I do now?>>