Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
― Benjamin Franklin
Time: 6:00 A.M. Monday June 22, 2015
Location: Bruener farm, Randolph Kansas
The night had been far too short, and the morning swift in its arrival. But at least there were no bugles. Former Lance Corporal Dakota Henderson nosed his way out from under the comfortable sheets and blearily regarded the two additional ponies in Claire’s repurposed bedroom, who had made enough noise entering that his Marine instincts had dragged him up out of a perfectly good sleep.
One of the ponies was obviously Grace, looking rumpled but at least clean in her dark armor without the paint splotches of last night. She was prodding the immobile green lump that was Lucky, who was still curled up in the doggie bed on the floor. His little daughter was nowhere to be seen, but she could be felt, because there was a warm lump who had settled down in the blanket covering the crook of his knees, and the tiny sound of snoring.
He would have moved around to see about picking up the tiny foal from her comfortable nest, except there was a second unicorn in the room, who had to be Sizzler from his blood-red coat and bone-white mane. Kota had only seen him from a distance, because the rest of the military people had practically mobbed his grill three deep when he was cooking, and the military ponies preferred not to talk about him at all. The steak cutie mark on his red flanks probably explained a lot of both, and was amplified by the way his magical aura was a nearly colorless field with wobbling bits of red that made the plate he was carrying look slightly as if it were bleeding.
Well, not so slightly.
“He’s up,” hissed Sizzler, nudging Grace with one hoof and rattling on in a rapid avalanche of short words. “Can I give him breakfast now? The sausages are starting to cool and I’m not too sure about the eggs. I’ve never really done eggs before and I know Mister Bruener said that the yolks should be soft and runny but not too much so I tried but the bacon was all done and getting—”
“B’kon?” asked Clover, coming abruptly awake with perked-up ears and an eager expression. Dakota managed to get an arm around her before she galloped off the bed in search of her favorite snack, then scooped up the plate with his other hand so it would look less like it was bleeding all over the sheets.
“Good morning, Mister Sizzler,” managed Dakota. He put the plate on the bedside table and broke off a tiny bit of bacon for the eager foal he had trapped under his arm. “Are you excited about going home today?”
“I… um…” The suddenly nervous unicorn gave Grace a quick look, and at her nod, turned back to Dakota. “Yes, I am.” There were obviously other words bottled up behind his lips, because Kota had never seen that kind of energy in a unicorn before. His watery eyes were streaming slightly into the dark patches of fur beneath his eyes, he shifted his weight from one hoof to another almost constantly, and his head practically vibrated up and down.
While Clover gummed and drooled over her tiny bacon bit, Dakota regarded the rest of the breakfast plate, which was far more meat-heavy than his expectation. There were two sausage patties, fried to a golden brown and dripping just the tiniest bit of fat at the crispy edges, with two full strips of bacon done just to that delicate stage before crispy and above floppy where the flavor really shone.
And then there were two eggs, oozing yellow yolk and just a little crinkly around the edges. By comparison, they were so plain that he had to go look at the perfect bacon again.
“It’s… art,” murmured Dakota.
Sizzler nearly wriggled his butt with happiness like some stub-tailed terrier who had just been patted on the head and offered a treat.
“Yes, it’s an art form,” said Grace with the flat tone and odd posturing that made Dakota think she was holding her breath as much as she could in order not to breathe in the delicious scent of sausage and bacon, done to a perfect…
“Let me take this downstairs,” said Dakota fairly quickly, managing the ballet of getting his shirt and pants on while keeping the rest of the plate away from Clover, then heading barefoot down the stairs of the main house with Clover under one arm. He was not quite sure just why he picked up the infant pony, or why in the world the pony prince upstairs trusted some California photographer with the adorable alien princess, but the job came with bacon, so what the heck.
“Good morning, Jon. Missus Bruener.” Despite his casual attire, Dakota slipped into the only empty spot at the kitchen table, sharing his breakfast with at least two governors and the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, a fairly long title for ‘Secretary Kerry is stuck somewhere else in the world and somebody has to say goodbye to the ponies.’
“You brought the little cutie!” Maria Bruener fairly squealed with delight and held her arms out. “Come to Auntie Maria. Oh, I’m going to miss you so much tomorrow.” Clover seemed to agree with her appraisal, and leaped to trade human carriers for the reward of another tiny piece of bacon and some feminine snuggling. “So how did you sleep last night, Mister Henderson? Oh, nevermind. I’ll go get a bottle while you eat.”
Dakota was relishing a bite of the first sausage patty, and could not have replied even if he wanted. The entire rest of breakfast was like that, until he was seriously debating licking the plate right in front of the various informal VIPs in the kitchen while Sizzler made himself busy at the stove, just in case he wanted seconds. Or thirds.
“Didn’t sleep too bad,” he managed after snagging a piece of toast and using it as a plate sponge. “Nothing can ever beat the comfort and peace of a Navy bunk at sea, but it was close. How’s today’s schedule looking for the departure?”
Spike looked up from his notes with a piece of bacon still stuck to the corner of his cheek. “As far as I can translate Twilight’s last letter, and given that time passes at different rates between our worlds, my best guess is just after noon, probably close to one. There’s still a lot to do today. We sent Big Mac off before dawn with the K-State Vet Med students. The school will be shuttling a van back and forth as long as Granny Smith is in physical therapy. Oh, and we sent Miss Koni and Missus Killough also. Granny asked for them specifically. Well, not exactly asked,” he corrected. “And Koni’s dog is in the back yard with Zipporwhill.”
“How about the pony I hit with the swather?” asked Jon. “Widget, I believe?”
Spike checked his clipboard. “Grace and the twins are headed to Kay You Med later to pick her up. She’ll be back here before noon. They should be here well before the portal opens, but will miss all the morning speeches. I went over things with the CNN crew by the movie area and put together a tentative speaking schedule for the morning for the mayor’s approval, once she gets done with breakfast over at the other house.” He passed over a sheet of paper to the nearest governor and continued.
“This television thing of yours is really useful. There must be a dozen politicians lined up to make speeches in person or on the screen all morning from now until Twilight gets the portal open this afternoon. Or at least hopefully opened,” added Spike. “Only a few hours have passed on that side of the portal by now. I’m thinking she may not be able to reverse her spell this soon.”
“Something certainly to consider,” said Governor Brown. “We’ll try to keep expectations under control. The last thing we need is to get the press all riled up. They’re self-riling.”
Dakota wiped his face with a paper towel and reluctantly moved away from the stove and its tempting contents. “Speaking for the press, just throw a few of Sizzler’s delicious hamburgers at us and we’ll be fine. I’d be more worried that one of them might kidnap your excellent cook.”
It was physically impossible for the blood-red unicorn to look even more red when he blushed, but somehow he managed. Sizzler bent over the frying pan with the spatula gripped in his disturbing magical field and murmured something in return, squirming more uncomfortably when Governor Brown suggested, “You could stay here in Kansas a week or two until Granny Smith goes home, you know. We’d be proud to put you up at the mansion in Topeka.”
“Or in Missouri,” suggested a different governor. “You could tour Branson, maybe even get some fishing in. You like fishing?”
“Oh, no,” said Sizzler almost instantly with his ears flopping down against his skull and a look of extreme woe sweeping across his placid features as the pace of his stammering words accelerated, much like a verbal machine gun. “I don’t cook fish any more since… Well, they blame me, even though I wasn’t… Nopony or griffon died, but the entire diplomatic contingent… I poisoned an entire banquet hall. By accident. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t have the experience to detect the henbane with my magic and they almost died!” he finished with a miserable sob. “And it made Chef—” The blood-red unicorn broke into a series of fierce chirps and squawks, ending with a sharp snapping noise as if he had just closed a very sharp beak, which seemed to be all Sizzler could say before breaking out into a torrent of tears and practically thrusting his face against Dakota’s side. How Kota had become the Designated Despondent Unicorn Support Human was unknown, but after a few comforting pats on the head and a gentle ear scratch, the rather odd pony recovered enough to murmur, “I want to go home.”
“I understand,” said Dakota while the rest of the room looked uncomfortable. “You’re a long way from home, you miss all your friends—”
“I don’t have friends. None of the other chefs like me,” said Sizzler in a rather muffled fashion with his nose still buried in Dakota’s shirt, which must have still reeked of sweat something fierce because he had not gotten a chance to shower or change yet. “I think I’ve talked to more creatures in the last few days than ever. This is the first time I’ve been away from Canterlot, ever. I didn’t think I could do it, but Princess Celestia insisted. Really hard, although it may have been because I tried to get her to try—” Sizzler broke into the strange chirping and squawking language again for a few words. “It’s supposed to be served rare,” he added almost apologetically. “Although I may have needed to sear it for a few extra seconds to keep it from bleeding on the plate, I suppose. I haven’t seen her so upset since I let all the griffons in the diplomatic banquet get poisoned. There are so few ponies who appreciate meat. That’s my special talent, you know,” he said, looking up with his big pinkish eyes. “It’s very rare. I never thought I’d get a job, and then I was offered the Meat Station in the castle kitchens, preparing food for the guests. They must be having so much trouble now.”
There was a hesitation in his flood of words, which Dakota tried to fill before one of the other people in the room said something to set him off on another crying jag. “Because you’re the only pony talented enough to cook for meat-eaters, in a world of herbivores?”
“No, because I locked the kitchen’s Meat Station when I left,” said Sizzler, looking much like he critically needed to use the bathroom and speeding up his words accordingly. “It was only for a few hours. Nopony ever goes there, but since I poisoned all of the griffons in the banquet, I’ve been very careful to keep it safe against anypony who would poison the hydra heads I have soaking back in cold storage, or the — you call it Polska kielbasa wedzona — that I’m preparing, although I didn’t have enough time for it to cure properly before I left so it’s hanging all over the Meat Station and I made some here out of the meat Mister Bruener’s icebox since he said this place obeys the Treaty of Menagerie and it’s safe although I put paprika on some of it because I think it’s better with paprika even if that’s not the traditional way of preparing it in—” he gave three quick chirps and a squawk “—except in the south and it’s out in Mister Bruener’s smoker right now so somepony will have to take it out when we leave or it will get all dried out like all the sausage I have hanging all over the Meat Station. Oh, it’s all going to be ruined,” he moaned. “I thought I’d be right back.”
“So…” Dakota considered the emotionally fragile pony and caught the eye of Lucky, who had just come downstairs, and was looking like an Explosive Ordnance Technician trying to come up with a good reason to grab the lit stick of dynamite that everybody else was treating like a pretty candle. “You look tired. When was the last time you slept?”
“When did we get here?” The unicorn blinked several times, and Dakota could not help but notice how small his pupils were. “I remember we were falling… I’ve been cooking ever since.”
“Why don’t you lie down until the return portal is open,” said Dakota, giving the odd pony a nudge in the direction of Lucky as it seemed both ponies wanted. “Just remember to take your key with you when you go home so you can unlock that door. And save the sausage,” he added out of reflex.
Sizzler shook his head with a yawn, making his greasy bone-white mane sway. “Oh, I don’t have the key. I keep it hanging on a hook by the door to the Meat Station. I don’t want it to get lost.”
“Bed. With a shower first,” said Lucky, nudging his fellow pony down the hallway, away from the human audience, who were all looking at each other and their plates. Dakota could understand why, due to Sizzler’s confession about poisoning the diplomatic dinner, but it had sounded more like an accident than intentional. And besides, breakfast had been so good, it was well worth the risk.
Silence reigned until the two ponies were out of earshot, then Jon Bruener gave out a low whistle. “You know, when the first pony found out I had a freezer full of meat, I thought there was going to be a riot. They all looked at me like I was a serial killer. I had to spend about an hour repeating that Earth didn’t have any intelligent species other than people, and that cows and deer here were dumb as bricks. Then that baker griffon brought Sizzler over, and the tables flipped from fear to fascination. I was wondering where all my sausage makings had gone, and why the smoker in the backyard was fired up.”
Spike had dealt with the last of his eggs by licking the plate clean during the conversation, and looked as if he was seriously thinking about eating the plate too. “Princess Celestia says that everypony in Equestria has a purpose. Some of them just are a little more difficult to place than others.” He waved the empty plate in the direction of the empty hallway. “Like them.”
Governor Brown cleared his throat and said, “You handled Sizzler’s anxiety attack very well, Mister Henderson.”
“We had worse in the Marines,” said Dakota. “Take a whole stack of young kids who have never seen the ocean, put them out on a ship for weeks on end, and the squirrels come out.”
“I could tell you so many stories,” said Spike, who had stood up on his toes to put his plate into the sink. “I used to think Ponyville attracted all the nuts because we lived in an oak tree. Then we started traveling Equestria and I found out we’re fairly normal.”
Dakota withheld his opinion. After all, normal was relative. And the Equestrians were like the odd side of the family relatives, with all of the weird uncles and odd cousins.
“To be totally honest,” continued Spike, “the townsponies have been fairly quiet here. Kansas has been like a vacation, only without the ability to get out to the countryside and be tourists. There’s so much to see.”
The governors shared a mutual chuckle, leaving Jon to speak up. “I’ve been to a lot of places over the world, and I’ve never heard Kansas described that way before. I mean Equestria has dragons and griffons and all kinds of ponies, from what you’ve said.”
“But you don’t have monsters in the exciting places around here, so it’s safe to go looking,” countered the little dragon, who pulled a number of glossy fliers out of his shoulder bag. “There’s this place, and this one…”
“Second largest hand-dug well in Kansas,” said Dakota, passing the fliers along to Jon. “The Davis memorial, K-State’s insect zoo. I don’t know. There’s probably a waiting list.”
“If Twilight can’t get the portal open today, we’ll have time. She’ll be upset, but that’s fine,” said Spike with a short glance in the direction Sizzler had taken on his path to bed. “Our friends will have to calm her down, she’ll mope for a day or two, then she’ll think of something brilliant. She always does.”
“If you don’t think the rest of the ponies will mind, and provided Sizzler feels better, a delay might let the President attend your going-away event,” said Secretary Franz between bites of his own meat-heavy breakfast. “Since the Secret Service determined that it was not safe enough to fly Air Force One into the area with unidentified portals opening up today.”
“That is a zoo today,” said Governor Brown, pointing at the window with his empty fork. “Toss the President into the mix and we’d have cars backed up to the Nebraska border, and a potential riot. We’ve already got CNN’s video feed to the K-State stadium and any other place that can handle a crowd. Besides, I don’t think Mister Bruener has any more guest rooms.”
“There’s a three governor limit in the basement,” said Jon, who had remained fairly quiet. “I hope the kids didn’t keep you fine gentlemen up all night with their video marathon. There must have been thirty teenagers stuffed into the TV room down there.”
“It could be our last chance to see human movies,” admitted Spike with a muffled yawn. “I liked Godzilla the best. Game of Thrones is too violent, and the dragons are just little squeaky things.”
All of the men in the kitchen chuckled, leaving Maria looking a little puzzled from where she had come back into the room with Clover tucked comfortably in one arm and shaking a bottle of milk with her other hand. She shook the confusion off and passed the baby pony (with bottle) to her husband, who took up the feeding task with the experienced motions of a parent. “Spike,” she stated firmly, “I noticed everybody else from your town has bags for taking souvenirs back. How about I get you one of our old suitcases so you can pack your things also.”
“I don’t want to take too much stuff,” protested Spike. “That’s a really bad idea. Dragons grow according to how many valuables they hoard, and… Well, I wouldn’t fit through the portal for starters, and I don’t want to be stomping around the farm while the tanks shoot at me like that movie we watched last night.”
Maria frowned. “Superman?”
“Godzilla!” declared Spike. “We found all kinds of movies on Dee Vedee. Scary movies, mostly. Black Beauty and the Star movies, and some movie with a crazy nightmare monster.”
“You are going to want to bring souvenirs back for your friends, so I’ll get you a small bag,” said Maria, who checked the back end of the little foal’s diaper with a wrinkled up nose. “You’ve certainly been helpful enough with tasks around the house to deserve it.”
“Like changing Clover?” he asked, taking the foal as Jon handed her over. It only took a second for the little cutie to commence a licking attack on the dragon’s face that claimed the last bit of bacon that had been stuck to his cheek. “Yuch. I’ll get right on it, Missus B. Anything else for the schedule?”
“Nothing I can think of. It looks like everything is all set for your return home.”
* * *
Time: Zero five hundred hours Monday June 22, 2015
Location: Classified, Washington D.C.
“Gentlemen, I don’t believe we can afford to let an opportunity like this slip through our fingers. It could seriously affect the balance of power on this whole planet.” The various generals had been repeating similar phrases for most of an hour while Colonel Wright stood quietly next to a simple cardboard box. Pentagon coffee and donuts were terrible at best, but the subdued stress of trying to run an Army-only meeting made that stolen cruller just lie in the bottom of his stomach like a concrete puddle.
The ongoing discussion had see-sawed all over the map with suggestions on how to retain the Equestrians for a few weeks or years. It would only be until US manufacturers could do whatever the unicorns had done with the Small Arms Protective Insert samples that lay scattered across the table, sporting pits and craters from enthusiastic gunfire at the Fort Riley gunnery range. Personally, Wright thought the best example was the one with the ragged crater in the middle, sporting a label to show it had been subjected to a 25mm Bushmaster cannon round.
Since normally a 25mm explosive round would go straight through a piece of boron carbide and spread out the soldier behind it like strawberry jam, having body armor that could make that survivable would be a plus, even if it was created by a horse with a horn.
A week ago, the idea of being yanked out of his secure Pentagon office to jump on board a C-37A for a rapid trip across the country, then a rapid trip back with a cardboard box full of magic armor… Pulling Excalibur out of his bathtub would have been more likely.
Still, Wright had listened to the radio during the aliens’ first interview, examined the photos on the internet for signs of digital manipulation, and had been practically glued to the TV for every interview that had been aired afterward. He would have gladly cut off his left arm for an hour with that green unicorn he had spotted in one of the news broadcasts, because if she was not an intelligence officer from the Equestrian world, he would eat his socks. While being grabbed at random to be flown to Fort Riley had been exhilarating, being passed a cardboard MRE box of ceramic plates on the flight line and not permitted to deplane while the aircraft was being refueled was a little like driving a kid past Disneyland’s front gates and back to the orphanage.
Thankfully, General Hackmore had included a thick sheaf of reports for him to read on the trip back, and provided the company of one of the Army Rangers who had been responsible for guarding the alien ponies. After most of an hour talking to Fitzgerald, he had seriously thought about ordering the pilot to return to Kansas. At least it would have kept him out of this ongoing meeting that had more general’s stars than a galaxy.
“If what they’ve been saying for the last few days is true,” started a stout general, “they’re planning on leaving and never returning. I don’t see why we can’t just hold onto the unicorns for a few months until they tell us how they did—” he tapped one of the pitted SAPI plates “—this.”
Wright could not hold back a response, despite his surroundings. “General, with all due respect, that’s a terrible idea. The unicorn officers gave General Hackmore templates for the… enchantments, and a set of basic magic instructions, although they said it might take us a century or two to work them out.” He opened up a manila folder and put a short sheaf of paper on the desk for the first general to page through. “They said other races of Equestria could use their magic without unicorn horns, so we might be able to understand it too. With patience and time.”
“It’s garbage,” said the general who was regarding the enchantment instructions with a sharp frown. “How are we supposed to make heads or tails out of this?”
“That’s what the unicorns said.” Colonel Wright checked his notes. “Each of the Equestrian races have their own magic. Some of it is fairly personal and minor, like the regular ponies can grow things, from what I understand, and pegasi can fly. Griffons even have a rune magic, minotaurs have something involving mechanisms, and changelings can alter their appearance to look like other ponies. None of them can learn the other’s magics except for alicorns, who have the magic of the three major pony races. Humans can’t do their magic. You’re looking for a shortcut that isn’t there. By detaining the unicorns, all we would be doing is pissing them off. And that could lead to a disaster far worse than you can imagine.”
Producing another sheet of paper, he skimmed it across the table to General Wallace. “I don’t know if that should be classified to a new level or published on the front page of the New York Times. At one time on their planet, groups of unicorns used to move their sun. It took a bunch of them, and had a risk of exhausting their magic, but apparently their world doesn’t have the same stellar mechanics as ours. The leaders of their world are two alicorns, one who moves the sun now and the other moves the moon and before you call this a foolish myth,” he added while raising his voice to be heard over the murmuring of the other generals, “think good and hard about how they got here, how they can speak the language, and how comfortable they seem to be here. The number of parallels between our world and theirs is far too high to be coincidence.”
“So you’re saying the Equestrians have been here before?” asked one of the generals. “That’s poppycock.”
“Explain our legends of unicorns, then,” countered Colonel Wright. “In the notes I received, one of their military unicorns suggested that it was possible for spontaneous portals to open up between worlds at random times. Small ones, sufficient for seeds or animals to pass through perhaps, or larger ones on rare occasions. Our worlds have to be what you might consider to be next-door neighbors for the malfunctioning evacuation spell to have forced open a connection.”
Seeing the general looks of disbelief on the generals, Wright changed his approach. “Think of it as electron potential energy. Each electron in an atom orbital can be considered to be unaware of the electrons in other orbitals, until they are nudged into changing their state. The larger the orbital shift, the larger the energy required to change states. Since only one Equestrian triggered the spell to send all of the ponies here, it only stands to reason that they could not have been sent very far. The problem, when put into their terms, is the large number of nearby dimensions around us. According to the notes, their evacuation spell used multiple tiny portals all tied into one larger guidance spell, or they would have scattered the evacuees all across the neighboring multiverses.”
“Tiny portals?” asked one of the generals.
“Inverse cube law,” said Wright. “The bigger the portal, the far greater amount of energy it takes to create and maintain it as a cube of the… Well, it’s described in the notes, and more. That sheet of paper has the spell they claim they used to raise the sun on their world. If we ever do develop magical technology, what you are holding is the equivalent of every atomic bomb equation, from the ones developed during World War II all the way to the present and including fusion reactors, wrapped up and delivered straight to us with a pretty bow on top.”
“I find that hard to believe.” General Wallace picked up the sheet of paper and squinted at the squiggles and marks. “If we encountered this alien race on their own territory, we would never give up our own military secrets like this.”
Wright shrugged. “They’re not us. They’re also not like any alien race we’ve envisioned. My preliminary analysis, or best guess, is that the concept of atomic weapons scares the heck out of them, and the idea that a warlike planet full of omnivorous monkeys has thousands of them and hasn’t managed to kill themselves off… confuses them. Heck, at times it confuses me. If a few centuries from now we accidentally stumble across whatever rules of magic we can control, if we can use it, of course, there would be a good chance we would destroy our entire civilization. This—” he tapped the stack of paper he was still holding “—is a life vest in an oncoming flood. It’s also a very good sign. If the Equestrians decide to keep a channel of communication open between our worlds, I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a peaceful relationship.”
“Captain Cook said much the same thing to my people,” said one of the generals who obviously had some Hawaiian in his ancestry. “If they’re as peaceful and trusting as I’ve seen on videos so far, they’d be a lot better off to run screaming back to their homes and slam the door on us, not give us the key.”
There was an uncomfortable silence around the room before General Wallace began putting his papers in order. “On that sobering note, we’ll adjourn. I have to say that our response to this alien invasion has gone far better than any movie I’ve ever seen.”
There was a low round of laughter that went around the table, but Wallace was not done yet. “Mostly because of what we did not do. Now, since the vast majority of the Equestrians will be going home this afternoon, we should at least be prepared for a sequel, or possibly a spin-off in the event they change their minds and decide to keep a channel of communication open. I expect you all to be busy planning for the next few days. Colonel Wright, you will come with me so we can brief the heads of the other armed forces branches. The flyboys, at least—” Wallace tossed one of the damaged SAPI plates into the cardboard MRE box “—are going to want a whole herd of stealth unicorns of their own, and the Navy will want to teach them how to swim. I think a little collective discouragement of their plans is in order before we brief the President later this morning. I’ll want summaries of your ideas focusing on three possibilities: peace, degrees of conflict, and outright war, with special emphasis on the peaceful ones. I’ve seen the damnedest things on video since they showed up, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they could throw the Earth into the sun if they got sufficiently frightened. If they’re gone this afternoon as planned, we’ll at least have a process to go on for the next bunch of aliens that drops in unannounced, and if they miss their cosmic bus and have to stay a while, I’d like them just as happy to be here as possible, not herded around like scared animals.”
“And if the next batch of aliens is hostile?” asked one of the generals.
Wallace grinned. “Hopefully by then, our grandchildren will take them to the cleaners in ways we can’t imagine.”