Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies

by Georg

10. Moving Party

Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
Moving Party

“There is no real need for decorations when throwing a barbecue party - let the summer garden, in all its vibrant and luscious splendour, speak for itself.”
Pippa Middleton

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Time: 10:15 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, June 19, 2015.
San Francisco Chronicle building, California
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The San Francisco Chronicle was smaller than most people thought, and still large enough to harbor the worst of energy-sucking parasites. Staff meetings drew them out like ticks to a hound dog, so Dakota Henderson felt glad that the lead editor had limited the pony-discovery discussion between various writers to a brutal few minutes. A story such as this out in the blighted American midwest would be of interest to the newspaper readership, even if it did not measure up to some of the fanciful editorial theories about the aliens fleeing an ecological catastrophe or being oppressed by a carnivorous race. Two poor suckers had been selected out of the volunteers to travel out into the wilderness to gather information for the more enlightened writers back home to craft into columns, and to Kota’s hidden delight, he was one of them.

Kota had not disclosed that he found out about the aliens over an hour earlier from a military buddy, and had already hit Orbitz for a plane ticket to Kansas, so having the Chronicle pay for his purchase was going to be a nice bonus for a part-time stringer. The fly in the ointment so to say was the other reporter volunteered for the trip, who chattered along by his side with a cell phone held to her ear as they walked through the halls of the building.

“They’re ponies, like little horses who talk English of all things, Dawn. Isn’t that just divine! Romping through the grass, naked to the world. It’s no wonder they’re advanced intelligences who can travel through dimensions. Of course, I’ll bring you one of their crystals for your girlfriend. Hey, Kota! Are you going to make our plane reservations for tomorrow?”

It took him a second to realize the question was directed at him, and Dakota shifted the duffel bag higher on his shoulder before responding. “I keep a bag at the office for just this occasion. My ticket is for about two hours from now, so I’ll have to hustle to make the plane as is.”

“Just a sec,” said Crystal, mashing her thumb down on the Android phone ‘mute’ button. “Look, weirdo. You’re not stealing my story! Jeff is sending us there together! I’ve got to pack and make arrangements and get tickets and—”

“And I’ll be in Kansas City in five hours,” said Dakota. “I’ve got my bug-out bag, my laptop, some clothes, and my traveling gear, so I’m good. I’ll be talking to alien ponies by the time you’re done talking to your plants tonight. Bye.”

It probably spelled the end of his journalism career at the Chronicle, but it still felt good to slip into the Uber he had called for the trip to the airport and leave the blonde chatterbox behind. There was no time to relax, because what little he had managed to get off YouTube and his Army buddy at the site indicated that the town was going to be sealed off from anybody who was not a resident, and that included a few thousand reporters—domestic and imported—who most probably would be trying to crowd into the tiny town in the next few days.

Thankfully, he had actually written a chapter in one of his fantasy novels about such a dilemma, and it took literally less than ten minutes during the drive to the airport for Zillow to find an affordable house for sale in Randolph. Then a call to his lawyer in North Carolina to set up the deal, a conference call with the real estate agent, and he had a purchase agreement by the time the car reached the airport.

Over the last ten years, his lawyer friend had taken care of his book deal, the life insurance his parents had left behind, and whatever other money Dakota had sent his way, leaving a tidy growing balance locked away from his ex-wife’s grasping fingers. A fellow Marine, he also held a power of attorney over his investments, so by the time Kota was in line for TSA, a little over sixty thousand dollars of his cash reserves from his parents’ estate was on the way to a bank in Leonardville, and the digitally signed documents were being finalized to be delivered to his mailbox while the airplane was still in the sky.

Bruce Wayne had it right. Cash is its own superpower.

TSA was moving at a good clip for a change, although Dakota had a brief moment of panic over the thought that a few loose pistol rounds may have been lost in the corners of his carry on bag from his last trip to Montana to go hunting with some military buddies. After some time in line checking for spent brass, it turned out to be a false alarm, allowing him to pass through TSA and head for his gate without incident.

Boarding pass, ticket, debit cards, check, check, and check. Transportation was going to be a sticky link at the far end of the trip, and Dakota was not looking forward to sleeping on a bare floor or in the backseat of a subcompact rental car, but there was an option he had always wanted to try.

And surprisingly, it only took another ten minute phone call and the wave of a magic credit card to accomplish the task of creating Cinderella’s pumpkin in Kansas City, all ready for pickup when he got there. A two week RV rental was probably guessing long, but he had the cash, and if this worked, he would be one of a very few reporters in the world with alien access, which should be able to make back his investment plus some.

He was feeling pretty good about himself and mentally putting together some story outlines for his horsey interviews when a sharp fingernail poked him from behind and a familiar voice said, “Hey, Kota. They’re boarding in a few minutes, so you might want to get that bag checked.”

“Crystal!” Dakota whirled to find the blonde bombshell looking back, with her beaded purse slung over one shoulder. “What are you doing here?”

“My friend got a plane ticket and texted it to me,” she explained, counting off points with her immaculately manicured nails, “and I’ll get a hotel in Randorf tonight. She’s going to FedEx me the bare essentials today, and they should show tomorrow morning. Until then, I’ve got my little red dress and some spare underthings. How about you?”

Dakota could not resist. “There’s no hotels in Randolph. I bought a house there, so I’ll be staying right there at the landing site, while you get a hotel room in Manhattan and have to fight your way through a few thousand reporters to get a story.”

“Manhattan?” Crystal wrinkled up her perfect nose. “Isn’t that a long way away? Like I didn’t think Kansas was that close to the coast.”

Three hours of being trapped in an aircraft seat next to the blonde did nothing to raise her level of conversation. She was smart enough to swap seating assignments to be next to him, but dumb enough that Dakota could feel his brain cells begin to wither and die with every word she spoke.

Or at least until the refrigerator door opened and he could see a little light bulb turn on.

“Dakota Henderson, single, divorced father of two,” she mused almost under her breath, or at least loud enough for him to hear over the aircraft noise. “You bought a house in this podunk little Kansas town.”

It was certainly not a question, so Dakota just grunted and kept writing in his notebook.

“Scuttlebut around the newsroom said your ex soaked you for every dime she could get her hands on,” said Crystal. “So what, did you dig a hole and bury some cash?”

“After our divorce, my parents passed away,” said Dakota. “The estate only split two ways with my sister, and I locked down every dime of the insurance money I could keep out of my ex’s hands. It’s still not enough to buy a reasonable condo in San Francisco, and I’m not about to pay the highway robbery rates that a mortgage would cost me, particularly with taxes and the way real estate prices flail around. So I held onto a down payment in cash, just in case an opportunity came up.”

Crystal snapped her gum and gave him an evaluating look. “You know, if I were your ex, I woulda dragged you back into court and got you to cough up extra child support money.”

“She did.” Dakota shrugged. “She found a female lawyer and a friendly female judge and was all ready with her girlfriend to take me to the cleaners. Then I showed up in court with a friend of one of my Marine lawyer buds from a few years ago. Got caught in an IED explosion and lost an arm, so he left the service and decided he… well, she liked it better on the other side of the gender fence. The courthouse railroad ran right off into the ditch at that point, particularly when he showed that my ex’s girlfriend had moved in with her for the last few years and no longer kept a separate address. Their combined income is at least one decimal point or two away from mine. That’s the only way I still have the money to buy a house on short notice, although it made getting visitation with my kids absolute hell.”

Crystal pursed her lips in a silent whistle. “So you bought a house.”

“Is there an echo in the plane? Yes, I bought a house. It was dirt cheap, compared to about anything in Frisco that isn’t on fire, and unless the authorities seal off Randolph totally and ship everybody to a hotel somewhere, which I’d do if there were a bunch of aliens there, the only people allowed in or out will be residents.”

“And we’re residents now,” said Crystal with a long, slow nod. “Makes sense.”

“I’m a resident,” clarified Dakota, although with immediate second thoughts about his fellow reporter, who had much more experience in the business than he did, and occupied a far higher link in the food chain. “You can be a paying guest for expense account purposes,” he added with more than a little reluctance, but a recognition that some mutual backscratching would assist his career.

“Paying?” Crystal gave him a pouting look with a curled-out lower lip.

It took very little effort for Dakota to pick up his mechanical pencil and return to his notebook. “This project is going to be expensive, and you’re not going to flirt your way out of paying the bills. Besides, you’ll get them reimbursed. You’re the lead reporter, so you’ll get the bylines too. Even if the aliens are only here until Monday, we’ll be writing stories on them for several weeks. Then it’s back to the Chronicle, I’ll sell the house in Randolph, and life returns to normal. My ex has been making noises about us getting back together. We’ve started dating again, and the kids are talking to me for a change. I’m not going to screw this one up.”

“Or screw this one?” added Crystal with a wink.

“Darned straight.” Dakota flipped over a page and started to draw a sketch from one of the pony pictures he had stored on his phone. “It’s the only way I’m going to get to see my kids for more than once a year.”

Crystal remained blissfully silent for a time while watching him draw, then settled back in her seat and returned to her book reader for the rest of the journey.

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Time: 8:30 P.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
Kansas City International Airport
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“So this is your idea of a rental car?” Crystal climbed into the passenger seat of the RV and remained relatively quiet while Dakota and the portly driver exchanged pleasantries, only resuming her carping once they had traveled down the road to drop off the driver at his home. “The paper will never reimburse this,” she grumbled. “It’s like a portable hotel room.”

“I bought an empty house,” said Kota once he had gotten the heavy vehicle back on the road and up to highway speed. “They don’t come furnished, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to sleeping on the floor. The house is just to get me… I mean us access to the town. Think of it as a portable bed and breakfast. I’ll park the RV in the driveway and we can sleep in it. If it takes more than two weeks, I’ll get us a couple of air mattresses for the house and rent a car. I’ll bet there’s not a regular hotel within thirty minutes drive of Randolph, and I guarantee the traffic will stretch that out to hours.”

“Huh.” Crystal looked marginally impressed, and went back to explore the strange vehicle once they were on a fairly straight piece of road with no bumps. “There’s only one bed— Oh, wait. There’s one over the driver too. And there’s a toilet back here!”

“It’s a lot better than that trip to Uganda I got to go on last year,” said Kota. “There’s still a couple hours to Randolph. If you want, get my laptop and hotspot out of the bag. You can probably have a story filed by the time we get there. Bold, adventurous reporters off into the American West in search of alien pony encounters and all that.”

“K. Cool.”

That was all Dakota heard out of her for some time, other than the clicking of keys and the murmuring of her phone. He drove in silence with the occasional glance at his phone for Siri’s directions, picked up the ticket to get onto the turnpike, then paid to get off of it in Topeka an hour later.

“Hey!” objected Crystal during one of the sweeping turns the interstate had put in their way. “Are you lost?”

“Nope,” he called back. “I-70 doesn’t have a straight bypass here, according to Siri. We’re going to stop at Walmart for supplies, get coffee, and be back on the road in about a half-hour. Worst case if we have to camp outside of the town, we won’t starve.”

“Can we stop by Neiman Marcus?” asked Crystal. “I can get a couple of blouses to tide me over until my girlfriend gets my stuff shipped to me. Oh, poo,” she added, poking at her phone. “The nearest one is in Kansas City. Can we go back?”

It wound up taking more than the expected time to buy supplies at the local Walmart, but they still managed to get back out on the road with Crystal stocking the small refrigerator and complaining about the lack of organic vegetables in their purchases. She typed for a little more while he drove, then settled into the passenger seat to stare out the window as the lights of civilization became fewer and the darkness closed in.

“So why did you buy the carrots?” asked Dakota in order to fill the silence without random radio tuning.

“Well, duh!” Crystal flicked one wrist. “They’re ponies, right? I grabbed a little bit of everything in the grocery aisle, but ponies are supposed to really love carrots.”

“They’re aliens, not people,” said Dakota, who was really appreciating having a second person to talk to while driving, although he kept wanting to change her channel to something smarter. “Humans are wildly different from state to state, let alone on the other side of the world. You never would have made it during the Uganda trip. We were held up at gunpoint twice, and ate things that you just can’t find in California. These creatures may look like ponies and even act like them a little, but they’re not even people. We’re going to have to be careful not to anthropomorphize them too much.”

“They were eating pizza in one of the videos,” pointed out Crystal.

“Err… Point taken. I don’t know why anybody would feed horses pizza. Their digestive systems can’t take it.”

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Time: 7:30 P.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
City Park in Randolph, Kansas
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Normally, a group of displaced people who have gone through a disaster will be depressed, huddle together with their families, and worry.

To counter that, the people of Randolph got together and decided to have a party at the city park for their new guests, with a barbeque (corn on the cob and carrot dogs) and music. The crowds could have easily gotten out of hand, but the radio and TV stations were very careful to specify that the party was by the residents of the town, for the ponies, so piling into the car and trying to visit was only going to get people trapped in a miles-long traffic jam before being turned back. Besides, several local TV stations broadcast live feeds, giving the watchers a far better view of the festivities than sitting in a stalled car in the Kansas heat.

So the party started with the population of Randolph(163), a certain small fraction of Ponyville(243), various MPs and other soldiers from Ft. Riley, a dozen or so of the local media, and the Kristina Craig Band. They had arrived in Nebraska before Country Stampede to do a little catching up in their hometown, and since it was only a three-hour trip away, took the opportunity to do a gig for the new alien guests.

The humans really did not understand that ponies considered music to be a participatory sport.

By eight o’clock, the temporary stage had about as many ponies as people on it.

By eight thirty, the only human not dancing was on the drums, while the rest of the band positions had been supplemented by musical members of the audience.

By nine, the humans had experienced their first spontaneous musical number. It was viewed by most of them as a stunningly unique and special experience. There was one exception.

- - Ω - -

“So is that your father?” Widget blinked drowsily at the television set and flopped her head over to look at Claire, who was typing on her tablet. “He looks familiar.”

Claire looked up for a moment, then returned to pecking away on her wireless keyboard. “Oh, God. Yes, that’s my father. Mom’s the one dancing with him. If you can call that dancing. Can we change channels?”

“That’s nice.” Widget yawned and wiggled her wrapped-up hoof slightly. “Ouch.”

“I think we can cut down the morphine in her IV tomorrow morning. How about we turn off the TV in a few minutes and let you both get some sleep,” said the short chubby nurse who was watching over Granny Smith. The elderly pony had gotten up once to be walked back to the bathroom and for the doctor-unicorn to examine her hip, but had gone straight back to bed afterward and seemed to be content to just sleep with a quiet snore.

“D’wana,” muttered Widget, turning back to the television where several humans were dancing while pegasi flew above them in complicated patterns. “Wanna dance. Go see the world. Wanna see it all.” Her horn lit up in a flickering aura and the can of Sprite on the table wobbled, but Claire caught it before it could fall and held it up to Widget’s lips for a drink. “Wanna see the bathroom,” she said carefully after getting her drink.

After a few more keystrokes, Claire got up and began to move the blankets on Widget’s bed with a yawn. “Okay, but once you go pee, it’s back to bed and sleep.”

“K.” Several other nurses slipped into the room while they were undergoing the complicated maneuver of getting twice as many legs out of bed and onto the floor than Claire was used to, although Widget held her injured foreleg up on her own during the short walk to the bathroom. “Good friend. Claire’s good friend.”

Waiting until the unicorn had finished the awkward task of peeing in an alien toilet and underwent the long trip back to the bed, Claire finally mumbled, “I’m not that good a friend.”

“Iz too.” Widget leaned out as far as her IV would let her and brushed her cold nose against Claire’s neck. “Called that nice judge for me. Stopped the nice agent lady. Nice.”

Claire held her hand over the pony’s mouth, then carefully began to get her comfortable on the hospital bed. “Let’s not talk about that, please. Why don’t we talk about… Ponyville?”

“D’wanna.” Widget yawned, smelling a little horsey from the applesauce she had eaten today without brushing her teeth afterward. “My parents are from Ponyville, and their parents too. I’z an only foal, so I’ll be there too. Runnin’ the shop. Fixin’ stuff. Marry some stud, have foals, stuff like that. Never see the world.”

“I’ve seen our world,” said Claire. She held up her tablet and showed the screen it was on with a picture of mountains in the background. “Bicycled the Alps. Visited all my mother’s crazy relatives in Portugal. Spent six weeks in Japan with a youth conference. It has its awesome and sucky spots.”

“Heh.” Widget settled down on the pillow with her eyes closed. “Bet you never saw a Sonic Rainboom.”

“Bet you can’t finish describing it before you fall asleep,” countered Claire, turning the tablet camera in the direction of the sleepy unicorn. “I’ll video it for proof.”

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Time: 11:30 P.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
K13 Bridge by Randolph, Kansas
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“How do you know this is the right bridge?” Crystal peered out into the darkness as the Winnebago quietly hummed along. “It’s so dark out there.”

“You think it’s dark here, you should have seen Afghanistan.” Dakota Henderson peered out the windshield and pointed at the glow. “Looks like Randolph right up there. Street lights, running water, and everything.”

“You don’t think there are any… indians out there?” asked Crystal. “This far out in the plains, that is.”

“You’ve got one right here.” Dakota grinned. “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

He paused for the expected indignant response, then caught a good look at Crystal’s stressed face reflected on the auto glass. “No, there’s no wild indians here,” he added with as much reassurance as he could force into his voice without laughing. “The ponies are probably all sleeping at whatever shelter the government set up for them, so we’ll just follow Siri to my house and sack out until tomorrow morning.”

They drove in silence for a short while until Crystal spoke up. “We have to get through the roadblock first,” she said once the side road to the town loomed up out of the darkness and the MP could be seen, holding out his hand. Dakota slowed the RV into a turn, bringing it to a halt beside the soldier and rolling down the window.

“Hello, Private… Fitzgerald, “ said Dakota with a short salute and a squinting look at the soldier’s ACUs in the light of the RV’s interior. “Looks like our alien visitors brought out the Army.”

“Yes, sir. Do you have business in the town?” said the MP, who sounded relieved to get some company.

“Just headed to our house, sir.” Dakota thumbed off Siri and unlocked his iPhone. “Let me get the bill of sale for you.”

“Oh, you’re a resident.” The MP waved them on. “Have a nice night, and watch out for our visitors. Most of them are down at the park, but there’s a few out and about.”

It took a moment for his words to soak into Dakota’s tired mind, but he tossed his phone onto the dashboard and thanked the MP before driving slowly forward, past the roadblock and onto the dark street. Crystal at least waited until the checkpoint was behind them before breaking out in a bad case of the giggles.

“You didn’t even have to buy a house,” she managed through her laughter. “They just let you in.”

“Indian luck,” he retorted, leaving the window open and sticking his elbow out into the cool breeze. Even though small towns tended to roll the streets up at night, he could hear the distant sound of loud music, so somebody at the park was active. Maybe the ponies were party animals. “We native Americans got screwed on everything else, but—”

A blur of orange flashed across the headlights, and Kota’s slowing reflexes barely were able to slam the Winnebago’s brake pedal to the floor before the blur resolved itself into…

The weirdest pony he had ever expected to see. And it was flying.

Most of the pictures he had seen showed three kinds of ponies in muted pastel colors, with occasional vibrant blues and pinks. This pegasus was different. Way different. The powerfully pink pegasus fairly glowed neon in the headlights, and almost literally to boot, overshadowed only by the vibrant orange of her mane and tail that practically ensured her complete and total safety during deer season, as well as anyone within a few dozen yards.

The human eye was not meant to see this kind of color explosion at close range and without time to brace. Every time Kota blinked, she seemed to strobe in the headlights, until she swooped up to his open window and spoke in the most beautiful plaintive voice.

“Um, excuse me, sir or madam. We’re trying to get the students back to their sleeping quarters, and we got turned around in town, so if you could direct us to the Bruener’s farm, we’d be deeply appreciative.”

Several more blinks on Kota’s part made him realize that the colorful mare was wearing armor of some dark blackish-blue material, thus making her one of the military members of the stranded ponies. He reflexively saluted as the concept of ‘Officer’ triggered neurons that had been properly trained by the Marines over several years of service.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he snapped, putting the stopped Winnebago into park. “Let me just pull up the map on my phone and we’ll get you and…”

Distracted by the pegasus’ vibrant colors, Kota had not noticed the smaller horde of ponies that followed her, most of which were gathered around the front fender of the motorhome and making noises like “Cool!” and “Neat!” In the darkness, they would be more invisible than deer, and if there were any other vehicles driving around, the first thing they’d notice would be the thump of the first interdimensional traffic fatality.

“Crystal, open the door,” he called back. “We can drive Miss…” He paused and looked at the pegasus with a bit of a squint.

“Specialist Thermal,” she said with a shy smile from where she was still hovering. “And my son, Standing Water.”

It took a second for Kota to spot the sleeping pegasus colt in the carrier to Thermal’s side. His light blue and dark blue coloring merged with the mottled shadows, plus his mother’s vibrant colors kept dragging Kota’s eyes away. The rest of the little ponies who came stampeding up into the RV were easier to pick out, although all he could do for a few moments was marvel at the diversity of pony accessories and color schemes.

Particularly when a glowering bat-winged demon pony followed them all inside.

Glowing golden eyes swept across the squabbling children, sucking away a lot of their youthful energy and making the little colts and fillies settle down on seats and the carpeted floor. It even stopped three little fillies from using the bed in back as a trampoline, although it took a second fierce glare to stop the last bounce.

“Better,” she rumbled, turning her dragon-like gaze on Dakota and obviously forcing what was supposed to be a friendly smile if not for the glint of razor-sharp teeth exposed to the interior lighting of the RV.

Crystal gave a muffled shriek. Dakota did his best to appear non-threatening, carefully retrieving his phone with no sudden moves and pulling up Google maps. After all, the creature had not eaten any of the little ponies, and it was wearing the same dark armor as the other military mare.

“All accounted for, Lamby?” Specialist Thermal popped her head in the side door and looked around at the quiet children-ponies while the demon nodded her head.

“Just missing Lucky. We should have headed back to put these troublemakers in bed an hour ago,” grumbled ‘Lamby’ with another quelling glance where several of the young ponies had discovered the refrigerator.

“But the party was so much fun!” declared one of the ponies with a bounce on the bed that made the ribbon tied in her mane flop like wings.

“There were all kinds of carrot dogs, and they just kept feeding us!” declared a little pegasus, who also started bouncing on the bed with the assistance of real wings.

“And new music!” declared a white unicorn filly, who nearly bounced out of the bed with an enthusiastic bounce from the other two.

“Echaw! Booya!” declared a small similarly bat-winged filly in a carrier that ‘Lamby’ had across her armor. Despite looking almost identical to its terrifying mother, the little filly was just heart-rending adorable with big golden eyes and a shock of brilliant blue that swept down her mane like a stroke of lightning.

There was a sharp rattling at the passenger side door and it popped open, allowing a scruffy green pony the opportunity to hop up into the open seat. Like the other mares, he had a foal carrier across his back, which he wriggled out of in order to get his rear seated in the cushioned chair, but unlike them, he was not wearing any kind of armor.

“Here we go,” he declared, pulling the door closed and getting the sleeping green foal in the carrier situated on his lap. “Hello, sir. Thanks for giving us a lift.”

“No prob… Lucky,” said Dakota, still holding the phone. Instead of opening up Google Maps as he originally intended, he thumbed open the camera app and swept the inside of the RV, getting several pictures of the smiling ponies, both large and small. “Bruener,” he murmured while changing applications and zooming into Google maps. “I think…”

“Down this road,” said Lucky, leaning over and pointing with one hoof at the map. “Then you will need to make a—” He tapped several times on the phone with the edge of his hoof before frowning sharply. “This is a lot easier with fingers.”

Dakota shifted the map on screen and Lucky nodded. “There we go. Turn right about there and park with the rest of the RVs. We’ll get the little ones sorted out to the correct sleeping quarters then, if they can stay awake for five minutes.”

“Fie!” declared one small voice from behind them. “Fie! Fie!”

“No flying until we get everypony settled, Stargazer,” chided Lucky without even looking back. “Then you and your mother can keep watch over everypony. Shall we be going, sir?”

“Oh. Yes.” Dakota passed the phone over to the green pony, who was fastening his seat belt, then shifted the Winnebago into low gear and began to roll down the back roads of Randolph again, this time a lot slower and keeping a much sharper eye out for any wandering ponies.