Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
Sunday Afternoon Baseball
"If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out."
— George Brett
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 1:30 P.M. Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Kansas University Medical Center, Fourth Floor
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
“So they have clubs—”
“Bats,” corrected Claire.
“—but they don’t use them to hit the other players,” said Widget with a sharp frown of concentration. “They throw balls to miss the human holding the bat, unless they throw at the batter, and if they hit him, he gets to go to base, but if they touch the runner with the ball, he has to go back with the bulls.”
“The bullpen,” said Claire Bruener. “Turn it up a little.”
The remote control had long ago been separated into a small collection of parts, but Widget’s horn glowed twice and the television’s volume rose slightly, followed by the puzzled unicorn working her way through an even more complicated problem than terrestrial electronics. “But they can’t throw it at the player running, or it’s a bad thing, unless they hit the runner by accident, which is acceptable.”
“Unless the player is standing on a base,” said Claire before standing up and jabbing a finger at the television. “Oh! That was a strike! The umpire is ripping the Royals off!”
The pile of cushions in the corner of the room gave off a low grumble, and Claire lowered her voice. “Sorry, Goose.”
“Looked like a strike to me,” said Granny Smith. “You humans is blind.”
“Just the umpires,” grumbled Claire. “I wish we could be at the game. It’s really a hoot, but it’s sold out.” She wanted to add that Kauffman stadium was just a virtual stone’s throw away in Missouri, but outside of the ponies’ restraining order, something that most likely should not be spoken about since her tablet was up in the corner of the room in order to livecast their baseball party.
Widget raised her plastic-wrapped foreleg and wriggled her hoof. “The brace feels better, and since we’re going home tomorrow, do you think we could at least go see the stadium? It’s huge, bigger than the one at the Crystal Empire, and we don’t have those big picture displays. I’m not going to get another chance.”
“I’ll check with the FBI agent who’s driving,” said Claire. “Hell of an alien invasion. Take us to your Jumbotron so we can play with the wiring.”
“Shh,” hissed Widget. “Something exciting’s going to happen.”
There was a brief pause, and an advertisement for pizza rolls began playing, gathering attention from both of the awake ponies and a perked-up ear from the cushion pile. Claire merely rolled her eyes and settled back into the uncomfortable chair with a quick glance at her tablet propped up in the corner. At least when the ponies went back home, she’d have a few dozen hours of video to remember them by, and a couple bucks in her account from the advertising if more than a dozen people watched her stream.
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 11:15 P.M. Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Moscow, Russia
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
“Score?” gasped Colonel Vaslov as he stumbled back into the room with the other dozen or so Russian intelligence specialists.
“The Bostonian Crimson Stockings have scored another point,” said one of the lower ranking men. “The Kansas City Imperialists are getting stomped. Did you bring the dill chips?”
“Yes, and a box of Aptek waffles for each of you. How are the girls getting along?” Colonel Vaslov dropped into his seat and tried to ignore the spokesman on the corner of the monitor nattering on about the joy of some sort of pizza in a bun while all three ponies were riveted to their television thousands of miles away.
“The early reports of them being hedonistic capitalists seem to be playing out, Colonel. Gadget is wanting to get a tour of their sports stadium, and their handler is going to arrange it with their Federal Security Service. The elderly Party official has been most disrespectful of their sports judging officials, leading us to believe their eyesight is far sharper than human standards.”
“The psychic alien intrigues me the most,” said a second specialist. “The way she can control matter with her mind in such a casual fashion indicates a vast training network on her home planet, far larger if she really is only a member of the proletariat masses.”
“Save it for the final report.” The colonel opened a bag of chips and settled down in his chair to watch the split screen between the Kansas native’s livestream and the baseball game. “Hopefully the Royals can do better in the fifth inning. I’ve got a bet with the Chinese MSS on them making the World Series.”
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 2:15 P.M. Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Kansas City, Kansas
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Karla was not sleeping well. She blamed ponies. And Washington. Staying up most of the night and the morning had screwed her sleeping schedule into a granny knot, along with guilt over what she was going to be doing to the ponies tomorrow. Even a hot shower just degrees from scalding had not helped relax tense muscles, and some blithering idiot in the apartment complex had decided to play their stereo loud enough to rattle windows. True, breaking into their apartment and shooting the radio was an option that would get her out of pony escort duty tomorrow, but it would screw her career as thoroughly as her uneasy sleep.
She was just beginning to drop into slumber when her cell phone rang with Clyde’s ringtone. After three rings just to make sure it wasn’t a butt-dial, she scooped it off the recharger and managed a more-or-less polite, “Hello, sir. What’s up?”
“Just wanted to see if you’re good for driving the ponies tomorrow, Karla.”
It almost relaxed her to hear Clyde sounding more human, except she remembered the expression on the DAG’s face when she had demanded Karla’s cell phone and personally checked it for unauthorized calls. The chance this call was not being recorded by the NSA for review by dozens of native Washingtonians ranked right up there with the Royals winning the World Series.
After blowing once across the iPhone’s microphone, Karla put on her most official, Frankie FBI Agent voice and responded, “Yes, sir. I will carry out whatever orders you have, sir.”
“Very good, Karla. Oh, and I wanted to pass along a heads-up on your assignment tomorrow. The higher-ups think it would be good public relations if you were to take our two young guests on a short tour of Kauffman Stadium. They’ll take care of all the details, if you make sure to brag about the Washington Nationals’ stadium while walking them. It should make them more willing to travel to our nation’s capital, don’t you think?”
“Yes, sir.” A momentary flash of inspiration made her add, “And I think it would be a good idea to show them the firing range at the FBI field office, too. We saw a television show with some gunfire in it last night, and I think Widget would be fascinated.”
We just won’t mention letting her disassemble my unloaded service weapon and poke around the firing mechanisms during one of Claire’s streaming breaks. If ponies weren’t such a law-abiding race, she’d probably steal it before she goes home. As well as half the hospital equipment.
“Since you’re the agent on the ground, I’ll defer to your judgement,” said Clyde. “I’m not sure about the higher-ups. This whole operation is being run from Washington, and I’m little more than an observer. I’ve made my suggestions already.”
There was a faint noise from the phone sounding a little like a train chugging along the tracks, much like Clyde liked to make under his breath whenever they were on a conference call that was being run, controlled, and dominated by idiots, chugging down the tracks to a predetermined outcome regardless of any reasonable suggestions. Being able to spot the inevitable upcoming train wreck was a matter of agency experience, and God forbid anybody make a serious attempt to stop it. That might smudge the reputation of Those Upon High, revealing feet of clay.
“I’m sure they have things well in hoof,” said Karla with a wince at the unintended ponyism. “Now, if I can get a couple hours of sleep before our evening strategy meeting, sir?”
She hung up the phone and put it back on the recharger, unable to even say what was bothering her out loud just in case some paranoid bastard had bugged her bedroom. Instead, she curled up around a pillow, tried not to cry, and let the dark wings of fatigue drag her into slumber.
When she woke to the sound of her alarm several hours later, she felt refreshed and renewed, like she had been sleeping on a cloud. Even dreams of those terrible movie monsters or betraying the innocent ponies had not bothered her, although there was a faint memory of a conversation with a woman even darker than her grandmother, with flowing hair filled with stars and the most compassionate turquoise eyes.
It was probably nothing important.
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 2:10 PM Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Wamego, Kansas
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Toto’s Tacos was supposed to be closed. The thing was that tourists had been flooding down K-99 all day to visit the ponies, and then streaming back when they were turned away at the Randolph intersection because only residents were being allowed in, just like the announcements had indicated every time the ponies had been mentioned on TV or radio. The failed tourists were tired, they were frustrated, and… hungry. So Craig had opened the restaurant with one assistant, and the traffic kept them both busy since early this morning. It was a bit of a strain working on one of his few days off, but it was doing what he loved so it was not all that bad, even if it was a little monotonous.
Until the dragon walked in the restaurant door.
It took several blinks before the identity of the customer bounced around and fell into the tiny and unlikely slot in his brain labeled ‘pony.’ Then it took another hop with ‘and fussy baby.’
The dark grey pony did not look like any of the colorful pictures in the Topeka Capital-Journal this morning, but the chance of something not-one-of-those showing up here ranked right up there with the Tin Man from the Oz Museum next door coming over to ask how to get home. Membranous wings, glowering yellow eyes, a subdued snarl that showed glittering white teeth, it really was understandable how he first saw it as a dragon. That and the gleaming armor.
“I need to find somewhere to nurse that doesn’t have a bunch of swooning humans groveling over me,” growled the odd pony in a beautiful contrello that really should have been singing instead of snapping. “Where’s your bathroom?”
“They’re for customers only,” said Craig before he could stop himself, since the logical section of his brain was occupied, although he did maintain enough presence of mind to point.
“Fine, fine.” The pony nipped into her mane and tossed a plastic card in his direction while walking forward. “That’s supposed to be a hundred of your dollars. Some human gave us each one of them. Just… make me something. Anything. And a Sprite. Without much ice.”
The pony vanished into the bathroom, leaving a general sense of stunned amazement among the few customers and the staff. From what Craig could remember out of the newspaper article, the ponies were herbivores, so he started whipping together a black bean salad, a Sprite, and considered a shot of whiskey to top it off. For himself, of course. Instead, he put on extra guacamole.
“Do you want cheese on that salad?” he called out.
“Buck yes, I want cheese on that. Lots of cheese.” The pony’s head popped out from the bathroom door while her hindquarters were going through the feeding process from the sounds filtering out. Her nose twitched, and she added, “Hot sauce?”
“Sure.” Craig finished a generous sprinkle of cheese and added, “How hot?”
“Human hot sauce is like water,” she grumbled with one odd facial twitch from the ongoing feeding taking place out of sight. “Give it a big glob.”
Craig hesitated with one hand over the hot sauce collection. The typical Kansas native had no appreciation for the variety and intensity of the sauces he had brought from California. “So what brings you to town? Our bathroom isn’t that famous.”
“Husband is escorting some Very Important Griffon over to the Friendship House, and they’re all gooey over Gustave. It’s enough to make me sick, if the morning sickness wasn’t doing that already. Hey, what’s keeping that salad with the weak-ass hot sauce?”
The customer is always right. And this one needs a lesson in courtesy.
“Coming up,” said Craig, giving the black bean salad a good, solid layer of Chichen Itza’s Habanero and bringing it over to his customer while hoping that the Friendship House across the street was at least was getting a more polite variety of pony.
* * *
The remaining staff in the Friendship House were entranced. Not one, but two of the Equestrian visitors were striding through their kitchen area, sniffing and sampling the remaining portions of the day’s cooking, or at least whatever remained after the tourist onslaught of the day. Every movement, every scrutinized flake of pastry, every bite or sniff was a memorable experience for the human staff.
And even more striking, the guests were not ponies.
Leonine hindquarters, bird-like heads, and wings. Really, Marge had a hard enough time comprehending alien ponies, but to have a pair of griffons in her restaurant for the last hour was mind-blowing.
Finally, the griffons stopped what they were doing and whispered between each other in short chirps and squawks, then the larger male turned to Marge and announced, “Gustave le Grand hereby pronounces this acceptable.”
“Acceptable?” she echoed.
“Your kolaches will have to be evaluated out of the oven, because they are far too cold now. The cherry pie was exceptional, the peach extraordinary, the apple not quite so much, although the bierocks make up for it and then some. I look forward to tasting them fresh. Also, you have no éclairs. How can you run a restaurant without éclairs?” The griffon made a clucking noise somewhere deep in his syrinx that caused his neck to wobble slightly. “We shall have to rectify that in the short period we have remaining before we return to our homes. What time will you be arriving here tomorrow morning?”
“A little after five,” she managed despite her confusion.
“Then we shall see you here when you arrive. Come, ma chérie,” announced Gustave with a turn to the door with the silent female griffon right behind. “They have much to do in preparation for our arrival tomorrow.”
“Wait!” called out Marge. Her eyes darted to the doorway where the dark batpony escort crouched, much like a disheveled old dishrag with narrow golden eyes and the occasional sharp-toothed yawn. The guard did not seem upset, so she turned back to the griffon with a cautious, “Mister le Grande, if I may be so forward. Um…” She looked back at the male griffon and the question she had been suppressing for the last hour burst out.
“How did you grow a mustache on your beak?”
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 3:30 PM Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Ft. Riley, Large Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facility, Kansas
- - - - ⧖ - - - -
You see a lot of things on the way to becoming a US Army General in charge of an armored division. Some were catastrophic like the young woman who managed to get a massive M88A2 Tank Recovery Vehicle stuck in a river until nothing but the crane was sticking out of the mud. Some were obscene, and could not be described in mixed company. Some were classified, such as new weapon developments that could only work in specific environments, with specific people running them (but if the Army ever found an enemy who could invade a testing ground with a few months warning, they would be able to wax them in ways that made the mind boggle). Until an hour ago, listening to the Royals game in the Fender Shed with three unicorns and a half-dozen equipment maintenance specialists ranked top on the list.
Then the ponies had gotten their supplies arranged, including cutting torches and the steel feed stock, and the process of spear point production had begun.
3D printers still baffled Gregory Hackmore. The idea that some metal replacement widget could just be produced out of dust and lasers was science-fiction. It took him hours with his woodworking tools and multiple hardware store visits to make some of the parts he had used to remodel his house. Magic put technology to shame, in this respect at least. The unicorns had merely lit a dozen oxy-acetylene torches, used their glowing horns to hold them in a dance of plasma jets and red, glowing steel, and produced socketed spear points just as fast as a man could chop a piece of celery.
“We only need ten at most,” announced Specialist Grace, who looked even more alien in a set of welding goggles. “If twenty is enough for your purposes, General, we can start the enchanting process, then get them sharpened.”
Hackmore looked at the gleaming pile of steel blades accumulating at the end of the short workbench (lowered to pony height) and nodded his head. “We wouldn’t want to strain you.”
“It’s no problem, General.” The last two blades floated across the workbench to arrange themself into neat lines with a faint click, and the three unicorns played their torches over the last fragment of steel which seemed too small for a spear. “We’ll put together a knife for you out of the scraps. You can use it as a letter opener so you at least have something personal on your desk to remember us after we go home.”
“To be honest,” said Hackmore, giving the Army technical team recording the process a sideways glance, “every single thing you give us is probably going to wind up in Washington being examined by scientists for the next decade.”
The female unicorn did not seem to like that, and frowned at the glowing sliver of steel she was playing the torch’s flame across. Silver runes began to chase across the surface, and she exchanged whispers with the other larger unicorn, Specialist Epsilon. Even more glowing silver runes began to spiral around the glowing steel until they seemed packed as tight as a book of Army regulations.
“Titan, get ready,” she cautioned. “General Hackmore, if you would come over here and press one of your digits against the hilt. No, the other end of it. Right there.”
“It’s still glowing red-hot,” he said as the warm air ruffled the hairs on his knuckles.
“It won’t hurt,” she said in a flat, very non-reassuring tone.
“Jesus Christ on a fucking crutch!” he bellowed, holding his burned finger clenched into a fist and hopping around the concrete floor. “That’s fucking hot! I thought you said it wouldn't hurt!”
The unicorns did not respond at first, since Specialist Titan had contributed his magic to the glowing knife, but the glow and the silver runes flared, then both quickly faded until a simple if somewhat short knife floated above the workbench.
“Please finish it before we work on the spearheads,” said Grace, turning to the red-faced and irate general. “Allow me to see your injury, please,” she added.
“Are you going to chop it off so… Oh,” said Hackmore as a light green aura of magic formed around his finger and it abruptly stopped hurting. A small white bandage seemed to form out of thin air and wrapped around his index finger several times, ending in an ornate bow knot.
“I advise you to get that seen to by a physician in the next three days before the thaumic bindings fade back into their primal state,” she added while wrapping the finger in a second, nearly transparent bandage which had just as impossibly appeared out of thin air. “If we have a chance before our departure, Corporal Bug Light does a marvelous job of whittling, and can make you one of those wooden display stands for your desk, engraved with our names and the EUP logo. That, unfortunately, will not be bound by the True Ownership spell, and will not return to your presence if you pass more than a dozen Celests away from it. The same can be said when you pass it down to your offspring, and them to theirs. With luck, it will last your family two or three centuries before the enchantment fades.”
“That— True ownership?” General Hackmore was not completely without fiction reading experience, and had rather enjoyed several swords and sorcery types of books over the years. The end result of the unicorns’ work was not very Conan the Cimmerian worthy, more of a tiny sword made for rabbits, just barely long enough to rest the point on the end on his middle finger with the hilt on his wrist.
That same fiction reading experience still left him unprepared for being able to put his whole hand around the blade without even a papercut, while any of the other soldiers in the building who were wanting to try it out found it was not the kind of blade they wanted to test on your thumb unless they really enjoyed having nine fingers. It was, however, the kind of blade that glittered in the sun like it had been chrome-plated, and sharp enough to pare off spirals of steel from the edge of the workbench.
By contrast, the spear blades the unicorns enchanted over the next hour could not only carve chunks out of the workbench, but plunge all the way through the pitted steel surface like a lightsabre went through tinfoil. It made Gregory consider commemorating his eventual retirement by leaving the letter opener stuck in his desk top with a note tied around it.
Forsooth, whosoever draws forth this blade from this desk shall be the rightful General of the Big Red One.
Naa, somebody would wind up cutting off a finger and suing. Besides, his grandkids would have a fit.
“That should do it,” declared Grace, looking up at General Hackmore with her stoic expression unchanged. “One of your soldiers is off procuring shafts for the spears, something about buying out the farm and garden store, I believe. While we’re waiting, if you like I’ll show you how the enchantments on the blades work against armor.”
“Yes,” he managed. “Thank you. I had some body armor procured from supply. They should be here soon.”
“No need to trouble yourself, General.” Grace lit up her horn, and LTC DeJoya gave out an abrupt yelp. The MP commander was supervising the rest of the MPs and happened to have drifted closer to the interesting activity, which turned out to be a little more exciting than he anticipated. Like a pickpocket snagging four wallets at once, the SAPI plates in his armor parted company with him, floated up into the air surrounded by a pale green glow, and over to the unicorn. “Heavier than expected for non-metallic armor,” she mused, placing the SAPI plates on the workbench with dull clunks. “They work in conjunction with the rest of the soldier’s equipment, I suppose.”
In a display of relative brilliance and forethought, DeJoya promptly began to strip off the rest of his gear before the nearby curious unicorn similarly relieved him of it all the way down to the skin. Specialist Grace accepted each article of gear as it was passed over, giving them each a thoughtful frown before arranging them precisely on the table in a way that made it look a little at the end like she had vaporized one of the MPs without harming the outfit.
“You don’t mind if we damage the armor during testing,” said the unicorn almost over her shoulder, in what certainly was not phrased as a question.
“Provided we can get some samples in return,” said Hackmore. “Those plates are boron carbide, able to take a rifle round without penetration, so I don’t think—”
The unicorn was backlit by her green magic when she jammed the spearhead straight through the body armor and beyond, making her seem almost diabolic in the eerie glow reflected from the penetrated steel workbench. Particularly the way she smiled during the process.
“Unenchanted,” she murmured, removing the ruined armor plate out of the plate carrier and tossing it onto the workbench. “Might as well be out there naked. Give us a few minutes with the other plates and we’ll see what we can do.”
Even without orders, several of the surrounding MPs had begun to remove the SAPI plates from their body armor and make a stack at the other end of the workbench. It seemed that the fascination about getting magic armor was contagious.
“That’s… fine,” said Hackmore, who had picked up the hefty chunk of body armor and was looking at the hole drilled through it. The rest of the plate had not broken, but more or less had crumbled into a narrow roughly trapezoidal hole where the spearblade passed through. He picked up his letter opener off the table and gave the unbroken portion of the plate a precautionary poke, watching as one of the hardest substances known to man short of diamonds separated like warm cheese against the blade.
While the three unicorns gathered around the rest of the SAPI plates and began covering them with glowing silver runes, General Hackmore made a command decision to ignore the ‘advice’ of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Equestrians were sharing their technology in a way that any US Army unit would never have considered if they had been in the same situation. It was only fair to let them get an unbiased look at how US Army soldiers used the full resources of Ft. Riley.
It took a little fumbling in his pocket to get out the SMEPED and call Sergeant Hardhooves, who had stayed in Randolph to oversee security. Something like this really needed to be coordinated between the heads of the two militaries, after all.
As long as there was no personnel exchange once the portal was up. He was a little old to go jaunting off into other dimensions no matter how interesting the experience would be.
- - Ω - -
“If I walk straight, it doesn’t hurt much.” Widget strode slowly down the carpeted hallway with Claire Bruener on one side and Doctor Stable supporting the other, although technically a number of nurses and orderlies were running interference along their projected route. Dr. Schwartz waited at the other end of the corridor and checked his patient with a thoughtful frown.
“You’re lucky to be walking at all, young lady,” he admonished. “If not for Doctor Stable, we would be looking to see what kind of prosthetic to fit onto your stump, and I don’t know what would have happened with Granny Smith.”
“Now, when you get back to Ponyville,” started Doctor Stable in what seemed to Claire to be a completely unfair doctoral ganging-up on the poor patient, “I expect you to be giving that leg regular exercise, walking a little more each day, and keep the brace on unless you’re sleeping. Then you need to have it wrapped and elevated. A moon or two should see you right as raindrops, about the time your coat grows back in.”
Claire unconsciously brushed Widget’s powder-blue mane over the bare patch on her neck where the IV had been inserted, leaving her dark skin exposed. There were a lot of bare patches scattered across the soft pink of her coat, making it look a little like the unicorn had been the target of some demented game of paintball. It made Claire wonder if perhaps little pink tufts of alien hair were being analyzed in laboratories all across the country, with suggestions to the nurses to shave her every chance they had until she looked like a naked mole rat.
“I wish I could go back with you, Wige. Since your side will be opening the portal for Granny Smith and the doc in a few weeks, I could take care of you until then. And, seeing Equestria would be ultimately cool,” she added.
The equine doctor chuckled and patted Claire on the thigh. “I don’t think Princess Celestia would approve.”
“And my mother is going to smother me anyway. She’s always so worried I’m going to go somewhere strange and get hurt,” said Widget. “And… then I went somewhere and got hurt, I suppose. Just don’t tell her I said that. Seriously, I don’t know how they managed to keep her from storming up here and taking over my hospital room unless they found something sparkly to keep her attention.”
* * *
“Try it now,” declared Silver Spanner, who had managed to wedge her entire body under the hood of Clarie’s Volvo except for her twitching tail. “Last time. Just give it one twist.”
Heavy Roller nodded and gave the key a quick turn, then returned it to center once the starter had made the short noise.
“Ah, HA! Found it! The fuel injector on number three cylinder isn’t making electrical contact, so it’s not injecting any fuel,” she declared, kicking and wriggling some more to get a better magical grip on it. “Let me get this out of here so Mr. Bruener can order a replacement, then we can go look at his combine reaper again and see why the transmission isn’t engaging third gear.” Silver Spanner gave out a little squeal of joy. “This place is just so fantastic!”
“You said it!” rumbled Heavy as he moved over to look down into the engine compartment. “Sweetie, you know all the words to my heart. Best second honeymoon ever.”
* * *
“I mean her and dad control every single part of my life,” complained Widget while both doctors peered at her bare ankle. “I’m an only foal. You’d think with as much as they like playing with wagon parts that they would have played with each other’s parts more.”
“Well, one of those parts needs what we call an MRI,” said Doctor Schwartz. “Since we’re going to send our favorite patient home, those legs are going to get more photographs than Betty Grable.”
“You better not take the MRI machine apart,” cautioned Claire as she gave the patient’s horn a gentle flick. “And I’m not sure how your built-in antenna is going to react to getting magnetically zapped once it starts up.”
“It’s not a lot of fun,” admitted Doctor Stable. “I went through it yesterday so they’d have a calibration target. Think of a sewer pipe that you have to lay in very quietly while somepony beats on the outside with sticks.”
Widget had been very quiet, so Claire cautiously touched her neck, then began to rub at the knots that were forming. “Don’t worry, Widge. They have an intercom in the room, and I’ll tell you about the time I got to tour a submarine, with all the valves and pipes to keep you calm. Would that be okay?”
“Well…” Widget brushed her neck up against Claire’s hip. “As long as you’re going to be there. Having an Emotional Support Human has been the best thing ever, even if you won’t let me buy you a collar or the vest.”
“You are never going to let me live down that commercial, are you?” asked Claire with a sigh.
- - Ω - -
The trip to Ft. Riley’s firing range had been educational for both armed forces. The humans found out that the range of a unicorn’s magic blasts was by far shorter than the 5.56mm rounds of the Army standard M-4 rifle, while the unicorns were ecstatic about the way their enchantments on the SAPI plates shrugged off the same bullets. Both sides wound up amused by the way that the .50 caliber rounds made the plates fly through the air, although admittedly a little discouraged by the resulting damage to the enchantments.
Although the pegasi had the most fun firing the machine gun, once proper ear protection had been procured.
By mutual agreement, they determined that it was probably best that both armed forces remained friendly to each other. Still, it was impossible for two groups of dissimilar soldiers to remain in the same location without asking the question of just how such an engagement would look like. And there was no better place to play out the possibilities than the Fort Riley Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, colloquially called Victory Village.
Wired for sight and sound, the simulated town had all of the normal structures one would expect, from a church, a gas station, businesses, houses, and all the rest. After a few building and room clearance exercises observed by the unicorns and pegasi, in all the full-automatic fire glory of a demonstration for the foreign dignitaries (with blanks, of course, and all gunfire recorded for later playback), it was time for the shoe to go onto the other hoof.
“General, technically, we’re short a couple of earth ponies for a nine-pony platoon,” said Corporal Bug Light, a yellowish-tinted unicorn who had not said a word until this point. “We can still carry out the mission, of course. I’m just telling you ahead of time that we may not be at our best.”
“Understood, Corporal.” Hackmore pointed to the building across the street. “For the purposes of this exercise, there are at least three armed suspects in there along with an unknown number of noncombatants. We don’t have MILES units for your armor, so we’re going to count a shot as an injury and two shots as a kill. You can go whenever you’re ready, just try not to rough up our guys in there too much, please. They’re expensive.”
Bug Light grinned, then turned to the two other unicorns and the three pegasi, at which point his expression turned dead serious. “You heard the general. This will be a two-part Sixteen Delta. Titan has the bowling task, I’m the ball, Grace blocks, and Flash will be first in through the roof door. Questions? Then go.”
All three pegasi shot up into the air, and by the time Hackmore lowered his eyes again, the unicorns were crossing the street under a haze of magic shielding. One rifle barrel stuck out of a window to take them under fire, which turned out to be less than a good idea as the rest of the rifle briskly followed, dragged out by Grace’s green magic and tossed out into the street. Not even breaking stride, she made a leap that jammed her horn into the window opening for just a fraction of a second, and a brilliant green flash of light burst out of every crack in the building, bright enough that even Hackmore had to blink away the afterimages despite standing across the street.
Titan’s horn lit up also, but not to attack. Instead, he grabbed onto his NCO and hurtled him through the front door in a spray of splinters at almost the exact second that Flash Sentry went through the roof access point in a crash dive, followed by the twin pegasi so close together they could have been one horse with four wings. An extremely short series of flashes and loud thuds followed while Grace moved to the front door and kept an eye on the outside, seeming unconcerned by the brief sounds of combat behind her.
“Jesus,” murmured Hackmore. “Time?”
The training coordinator checked the radio, then looked at his stopwatch. “Seven seconds from breach to clear, with no shots fired, sir. Five tango’s neutralized, all the civvies separated, and they’re checking for injuries now. I’m just glad these are the fucking royal guard on their planet, because if they were ordinary soldiers—”
“We’re on camera,” cautioned Hackmore.
“Fuck the cameras, sir,” said the coordinator. “Ponies rock.”