Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies

by Georg

21. Pony-People Interactions

Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
Pony-People Interactions

“Common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.”
Rene Descartes

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 10:40 A.M. Monday June 22, 2015
Location: KAKE News at the UPS Sorting Facility, Kansas City, Missouri
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“As you can see behind me, people from all over the world have been sending our alien visitors gifts and presents for their return home. United Parcel Services here in Kansas City has been so kind as to donate one of their shipping hubs for the task of separating out a smaller selection of the gifts, since we don’t think the portal they’ve been talking about for the last few days is going to fit a dozen semi-trucks.”

Travis Pratt took a long wave around the yard with stacks of boxes in all directions, and one large UPS semi in the last stages of loading. Several men in dark suits and ties were supervising one last set of boxes, and a UPS driver in his traditional brown uniform was right behind them, checking things on a clipboard.

“We here at KAKE News would like to remind our viewers that there just isn’t space for everything you’ve been sending to the ponies. Since they’re going home today, many of the gifts are going to be wasted or wind up donated to the Salvation Army. Even they may be overloaded with the worldwide tide of generosity, so their divisional headquarters in Kansas City has put out a call for volunteers in order to sort and divert the flood to other charities.

“If you would still like to donate to the ponies, the charitable fund they’ve set up will be in operation for several more months, and the list of suggested charities we have on our website includes various horse rescue organizations and of course the American Red Cross will welcome any financial contributions.”

“Excuse me!” A grey pegasus with flyaway mane came fluttering down to hover at about Travis’s eye level, to his shock. Her identity as Derpy was obvious, because just about everybody had seen one or another of her crashes on YouTube or television. “Have you seen a box of hot sauce from—” she held up a piece of paper and squinted at it, or at least one eye squinted “El Fuego’s Hot Sauce Emporium from some place called Amazon? Miss Laminia said I should make sure it gets to her before the portal opens or—” the pegasus swallowed “—it wasn’t very nice.”

“I’m on the air,” hissed Travis, splitting his attention between the hovering pegasus and the television camera without the advantage of Derpy’s independently pointing eyes.

“I thought you were standing on the ground?” she asked, turning her head and entire body sideways and looking down, while somehow remaining airborne. “I’m in the air, and you’re not flapping or anything.”

“Just a minute, folks.” Travis gave the camera a weak smile. “I suppose there’s nothing like live television.”

It took several minutes of walking around with the volunteers before the errant box of hot sauce was found and Derpy hefted it up on her back. “Wow, that’s heavy. I hope it doesn’t fall off before—”

The UPS driver gave a huff of effort when he caught the sliding box with a jingle of the internal contents. “It’s probably full of glass bottles, Ma’am. Let’s get it loaded into the truck instead.” He hefted the large box up and added it to the rest of the cargo, then rolled the back door closed. “You can ride back in the cab with me if you want. They didn’t know if we were going to get to Randolph before the portal closed.”

“Oh, Twilight wouldn’t leave me behind.” Derpy hopped up into the semi-truck’s cab, and after several tries, managed to scramble over into the passenger seat with little property damage other than a coffee cup flying out and shattering on the pavement. “She says reading her mail is the high point of her day, because she gets to go visit so many of her friends in Ponyville to track it all down, and nobody delivers mail to friends like I do.”

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 11:45 A.M. Monday June 22, 2015
Location: Kauffman Stadium parking lot A, Kansas City Missouri
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The low whine of the electric golf carts cut off abruptly and both side doors of the Taurus popped open with Widget’s pink magic aura, followed promptly by the unicorn crawling into the back seat. She poked her nose into the darkness behind the other folded-down seat, talking just as fast as she had been doing for nearly the last hour.

“...had a hot dog or at least just a nibble off one end and Claire finished it for me and you should have seen the football players because one of them just shrieked when Doctor Stable went up to shake his hoof but he got over it and I talked to Mr. Berry and he’s just the nicest guy even though he’s so huge but not as big as Warpaint and you should have met her and Susie because all of the baseball and football and all the other ball teams came out to see us and I just barely got time to see the whole television studio and scoreboard before Miss Anacostia said we had to go and they autographed a bunch of their balls and…”

Claire considered the bouncing tail end of the unicorn, which had not quite gotten all the way into the Taurus, and turned to the two mismatched doctors on the other KC Royals golf cart, which had followed them up to the car.

“Doctor Stable, are all of the teenaged unicorns from Ponyville this excitable?” she asked.

“You should see Pinkie Pie.” The unicorn physician snorted and rolled his eyes under the shadow of his Royals ball cap. “Actually, she might be at the portal opening in a few hours, so brace yourself. Sorry I’m going to miss it, but I’ve got hospital rounds, and I’m sure she’ll tell me all about it when we bring Granny back. Doctor Schwartz really wants to meet Ponyville’s party legend.” Doctor Stable lowered his voice and added, “He wants to introduce his granddaughter to her. If we coordinate it right, the return portal for Granny Smith might just open on her birthday.”

“Sneaky.” Claire hefted the two tote bags full of autographed baseballs, footballs, several jerseys, both a baseball and football helmet, and more loose autographed baseball cards than she had ever seen. Going around to the other side of the car, she pushed them in through the open window and tried to find a space for them in the back seat that would still let Widget be comfortable. “I noticed you two were already at the stadium when we arrived, Doctor Stable,” she added, giving the football helmet an extra push to pack the unicorn loot down tighter. “Did the FBI sneak you out of the hospital last night under the cover of darkness?”

“No, I just walked down the back employee staircase and had Doctor Schwartz pick me up at the food service loading dock. You have to know the door code, though.” The unicorn doctor took another long drink out of his souvenir glass. “We’ve been doing that to get in and out of the building ever since Friday. Why, did you have trouble getting Widget out of the hospital?”

Claire stopped trying to stuff souvenirs, considered her words, and shook her head. “Goose and Karla distracted the press, and I snuck Widget into the parking garage. I’ll get the whole story out of those two on the way back to Randolph and call you tonight after they’ve gone home. Oh, and who’s this? Hey, where’s Karla?”

The incoming FBI agent walking across the parking lot could have easily been a football linebacker in his previous career not too many years ago. He did not sport the same Royals ball cap that the rest of the tourist group had received, although he still had the same bulldog-with-a-burr-up-his-ass expression that they must have taught agents on their first day of class.

“Change of plans.” The husky agent nodded at Claire. “I’m Agent Hallman. You’re going to have to find another way home, Miss Bruener. I’ll be driving our alien visitors on the next leg of their journey. This is official business, so I’m afraid I can’t allow any passengers.”

“What?” As Hallman slid into the driver’s seat, Widget stuck her head out of the car door, emerging out into the sunlight with her KC Royals baseball cap tilted slightly off to one side despite the anchoring effect of the hole in the brim where her horn emerged. “Of course Clarie is coming with us. And where’s Karla?”

“She’s been reassigned.” Agent Hallman started up the car and flipped on the air conditioner. “Ma’am, if you could move the rest of the way back into the car, we can get started.”


Widget finished backing out of the car considerably more cautiously than she had entered and sat down on the hot asphalt. Well, briefly.

“Yikes! That’s hot. Anyway, I’m not leaving without my friends, Mister Hall Man.” With that, and a brief glow of Widget’s horn, the engine of the Taurus turned off, the windows all rolled back down, and the car horn honked several times. In the distance where a number of the FBI agents had gathered together in a dark clump much like a flock of crows, Claire saw a familiar face look up, shake her head, and begin striding in their direction, looking down at the asphalt parking lot surface every step of the way.

“Widget.” Agent Anacostia took a deep breath and gave Claire a sideways look, like she had somehow instigated the equine rebellion. “Agent Hallman is a perfectly good driver. Besides, I’ll meet you over at the office anyway. I left my truck there.”

“Then you can drive us there,” insisted Widget. She limped over to the reluctant agent and rubbed her short mane against Karla’s side, which exposed the bare patches of skin on her neck where various nurses had trimmed away her mane, shaved down to her dark hide, and left a number of puncture wounds during her ordeal. “You’re my friend,” she said in a trembling voice. “You and Claire were there for me when I was scared out of my wits, and I’m not going to get to spend much time with you today before I have to go home. I want to make the most of it.”

“And get more cheesecake,” drifted Goose Down’s trembling voice from inside the car. “I-I’m still recovering from that flight. The cheesecake helped.”

Karla gave a tense chuckle and opened the front door to the Taurus. “Come on, Hallman. Widget can turn the car off faster than you can work the key, so we can sit out here on the hot pavement and argue all day or we can head off to the air-conditioned office for a quick tour with our guests. Your choice.”

“Well.” Hallman gave a furtive glance at the distant cluster of FBI agents and reluctantly climbed out of the driver’s seat. “I suppose if I ride along—”

“Shotgun!” declared Claire, dropping into the passenger compartment on the other side as Widget scrambled up into the crowded back seat. Karla Anacostia slid behind the wheel and slammed the door, leaving Hallman standing alone in the parking lot as four mismatched female friends sped off to the next stop on their trip.

Form 502 notes: After discussing the standoff with Agent Hallman, we came to the conclusion that interspecies relations would be enhanced if the subjects had a driver who was familiar with their physical needs. With that in mind, and taking Claire Bruener as an impartial witness, I conveyed the subjects to the Kansas City FBI Field Office where the incident under investigation occurred.

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 12:05 P.M. Monday June 22, 2015
Location: Riley County Police Department Prisoner Pod B, Manhattan Kansas
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“Lunch!” announced the perpetually cheerful voice that Samantha appreciated so much, but that Marge Felts must have begun to loathe with the heat of a thousand suns. “We’ve got a delicious rice dish with—” there was a brief hesitation “—chicken fried in it, beans, cornbread, the sweet vitamin beverage with two ice cubes so it’s nice and chilled, and guess what’s the best part of all?”

Samantha remained around the corner of the cell, trying her best not to snicker out loud. The entire Felts family except for Marge had made bail, with the one exception being held “out of respect for the foreign government representative she assaulted while diplomatic relations were being established, in case extradition was requested.” Some massive judicial wheels had been turning behind the scenes in rapid sequence, because while Sergeant Samantha Rice had just barely gotten comfortable speaking directly to the Governor of Kansas, getting a call from the former Governor of Texas on Saturday night had set her back a pace. Then when the private jet carrying a contingent of legal assistants from the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis landed at the Manhattan airport Sunday morning, she had the feeling a box turtle must experience whenever a semi-truck safely passed over it on the highway.

She had no idea who the legal firm had been hired by, only that their orders seemed to be ‘Make our guests happy.’ And she was happy not to be the target. That was no fun for the turtle.

One of the parts of the whole glorious process was that Jailbird, one of the Equestrian ponies with the strangest of cutie marks, had been available to be a Trustee for the limited human prisoner population of the Manhattan RCPD detention center. Seriously, last Friday she was just getting used to ponies having marks on their rumps that defined what their special talent was when she found one who had locked himself into the back seat of her cruiser and refused to come out until he was transported to ‘an appropriate prison facility as per Equestrian law regarding inadvertent interdimensional incarceration, Section 407 Stroke B Subsection 12.’

After considerable inspection, he had determined that the RCPD detention facility would suffice on a short-term basis and moved right in like he belonged there, leaving Sam to seriously wonder about Equestrian criminal code.

“You’re getting cake!” announced Jailbird with all the joy one would expect from someone receiving a lottery check. “Angel Food cake with whipped frosting and sprinkles! And if you dig in and clean your tray, I’ll see about getting a cookie from the kitchen.” Samantha could hear the scrawny stallion’s chest swell with pride as he added, “I suggested we add them to the menu for our model prisoners.”

It probably was only going to be a minute or two before Marge flung her tray at the cheerful Equestrian, so Samantha decided to take the opportunity to step forward and call out, “Prisoner Jailbird, are you prepared for transport?”

There had not been any orange shirts small enough for his skinny chest, and frankly Sam thought even if they did have a shirt his size, it would drape like a tarp over his bony frame. She had no idea where he had gotten the matching orange cloth cap, but Jailbird stiffened to attention and locked his eyes straight forward.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Then follow me, and we’ll get going.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” They made a brief detour to the pony’s cell to pick up his belongings, which had swollen with the RCPD ‘donations’ of the multitude of logo things that the department had put out over the years, including key chains, coffee mugs, and pens. Although Jailbird had wanted to carry everything in a pillowcase — tradition, she supposed — the officers had convinced him to take a pair of RCPD branded duffel bags and tie the handles together so they fit over his back like saddlebags.

From the way they were stuffed, most of the RCPD members had slipped ‘a little something extra’ into his bags before he left. Sam certainly would have struggled to carry them both, although Jailbird did not miss a step under the heavy load. They checked out at the front desk, shook hands/hooves with all of the on and off duty officers, and headed out to Sam’s patrol car.

“You know,” mused Sam while they walked, “you’ve been such a good prisoner, what with cleaning your cell, taking up your trustee duties, and even calming down that one juvenile detainee we had last night, that I may just send a letter back with you, asking for them to shorten your sentence.”

“Don’t you dare!” gasped Jailbird, which made Sam chuckle while she was loading his heavy bags, although there was a suspicious clank when she put them down in the back seat.

“What in the heck?” She let Jailbird hop on into the back seat, then opened up one of the bags to see what made it so heavy.

“Ah,” said Jailbird with a happy smile. “Post-incarceration inspection of personal effects. It’s so nice that you follow the rules.”

“A crowbar?” Sam removed the heavy steel bar with a frown and examined the tag. “From Doctor Freeman, very funny. And a file. A hacksaw. No, several hacksaws. Sledgehammer and chisels.”

Jailbird was ecstatic. “Oh, good. I’ve been meaning to get the Ponyville Jail signs properly inscribed.”

“And a pneumatic angle grinder?” She hefted the tool out of the bag and gave Jailbird a skeptical look. “Really?”

“The emergency shelter toolbox in Ponyville doesn’t have one,” he explained while digging through the other bag. “Oh, they found the oxy-acetylene torch I asked for, but no tanks. I’m not sure ours will thread the same way yours do, but I can always get Quick Fix to re-tap the threads. Is the handle for this hydraulic jack in that bag? I can’t find it.”

Samantha wordlessly handed over the steel bar and began repacking the bag for their trip up to Randolph.

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 12:04 P.M. Monday June 22, 2015
Location: Subway Restaurant, Topeka Kansas
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“So, Mister Henderson. Just about every restaurant here has meat in their salads?” Specialist Rose produced a Visa debit card for the awestruck clerk, floated it into her hand, and watched as she put it into the credit card machine. “And you can use money on plastic cards anywhere?”

“Just about anywhere,” said Dakota. “Soda machines are hit or miss, and most personal transactions want cash. You know, I can pay for my own lunch.”

“And just where do you think I’m going to be using this card back in Equestria?” Rose accepted the card back from the clerk, engaged in some friendly banter that involved an autograph/hoof stamp, and resumed their conversation once they had moved to one of the restaurant tables. “Besides, you’re doing us a favor by videotaping our meeting in Kansas City.”

“Which I’m going to upload to the Chronicle site and collect residuals on,” he pointed out while claiming one of the macadamia nut cookies. “Showing the respectful way that the FBI and our guests are interacting is a good thing for both of us.” He eyed the two sweaty pegasi who were sitting at the next table, demolishing a pair of tuna wraps each. “They don’t seem to have problems with any kind of food. Tuna, at least.”

“You say that now, but in about an hour, you’re going to regret being downwind of them.” A lock of Rose’s short pink mane fell over her eyes when she took a bite of her salad and chewed. “For now, let the boys have their fun.”

“If you just let them have their fun, they’d still be dive-bombing random police cars on I-70 like they tried on their way here.” Kota got a good bite of his own teriyaki chicken sub and considered just how oddly-normal it was to be sharing a Subway sandwich and joshing with fellow military members again, no matter how many limbs they had.

“Rose is a lot more fun. Grace never lets us get away with stuff,” said Left through his mouthful of sandwich.

“Always by the numbers and by the book,” said Right. “Boo-ring.”

“She’s been like that ever since she joined the police force. I helped her through that trying time.” Specialist Rose used her magic and a napkin to clean a bit of lettuce that was sticking to her lip. “It’s part of having a cutie mark for photographic memory. Every bad thing she experiences, every paper cut or heartbreak, she gets to carry for the rest of her life just like it happened a few minutes ago. She likes you two lunkheads, and if one of you got seriously hurt, she’d never forgive herself.”

Both pegasi slowed down their rapid chewing and seemed to think, which was one reason why Kota suspected that Rose had been promoted before her fellow female guards. It warranted a change of conversational direction, and Kota cleared his throat.

“Rose, are your helmet communication devices able to reach Goose Down yet?”

“Just barely, or I wouldn’t have stopped for lunch.” Rose tapped the side of her helmet with a sharp click. “They had cheesecake, visited the ballbase stadium, and now they’re headed for the FBI office and a tour there. Oh, and Cadet Goose met one of the locals who sold her a knife. Apparently, she just gave him the card in exchange instead of using one of those machines. Kids don’t know how to manage their money, I suppose.”

They shared a few comments about their respective children, Rose with her adopted trio and Kota with his absentee pair of girls, before heading back out to the bicycle-chariot and taking to the air again. Kota was really looking forward to things going well at the FBI office, because he never had toured one of them before, and thought it would make a nice bookend to the upcoming video.

Later, he would look back and wonder how he could have been so optimistic.

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 12:37 P.M. Monday June 22, 2015
Location: Kansas City FBI Field Office, Kansas City Missouri
- - - - ⧖ - - - -

“Are you certain you have all the listening devices in the bag, Widget?” Agent Karla Anacostia shook the bag in question, which was also bulging with all of their cell phones, just in the odd case that some hacker was going to remotely turn them on and listen in. It could be called paranoid by somebody who had not gone through so many of the classes that the FBI had put her through.

“Everything,” said Widget, who was looking over the backs of the seats with her horn faintly glowing. “Even that cute little magnetic one that was stuck under the dashboard.” She gave a little squeal of joy. “Oh, I can’t wait to show them to Mom and Dad when I get back.”

Karla glanced in the rear-view mirror and made the last turn on the way to the FBI office, trying to keep calm. “Look—”

“You told us before. Your fellow agents are going to try to push Goose and Widget around,” said Claire. “The bigwigs in DC want a pony in the worst possible way. Chillax. All they can do is try to pressure cute little Widget, and she’s a stubborn kid.” Claire Bruener ruffled Widget’s short mane, which she put back with a brief glow of her horn. “Besides,” added Claire, “worst case, they order you to sort penguins in Antarctica and try to split up the Trouble Twins back there. They’d have to be flipping nuts to use force on the first alien visitors on Earth, friendly aliens to boot. So even if they order you away and toss my butt out of the office, all our two friends have to do is walk out to where I’m sitting on the curb, I’ll call an Uber to pick us up, and we’ll get back to Randolph on our own. Worst case, it takes us so long that they miss their portal and have to hang around a week or two for the next one.”

“And that would be so sad.” Widget gave her best ‘sad face’ complete with pouting lip and big eyes. “I mean we’d have to go to the Cosmosphere or the Boeing airplane factory or something to cheer me up.”

“I still haven’t gotten to see a human mall yet,” said Goose from her nest in the trunk. “And we’d need an FBI agent to keep an eye on the dangerous aliens, right?”

Karla let out an aggravated huff of breath. “After this is over, I’m going to be lucky to be counting penguins. It’s going to take a week for me to write up a reasonable Form 502 on the last few days, Hallman’s going to want my ass—”

“Really?” Both of Widget’s ears perked straight up and brushed against the top of the car. “I thought he was wearing a ring, and you said those were off-limits.”

Not in that way.” Karla swiped her card to open the office gates and let the big Taurus roll forward, trying not to look at the trail of other vehicles behind her. “Look, maybe they’ll back off after you tour the facility, get some pictures with the leadership—” except there was no sign of them at the stadium “—and play with some of their toys. Heck, maybe Goose can toss Hallman around on the mat a few times to loosen him up.”

“Really!?” The batpony popped her head out of her trunk-cave, just as alert as if Widget had passed a Radio Shack. “You think he’d let me? I mean I’ve practiced with minotaurs before, but they always want to use weapons.”

“Let’s just… play it by ear,” admitted Karla. “Smile, wave, enjoy yourselves, and keep an eye on the time so we can get you back to Randolph at least somewhere near your departure time.”

“As long as we visit the gun range,” said Widget while they were parking.

“And I get to work out in the gym,” added Goose with a stretch of her neck and the popping of vertebrae.

* * * *

To be really honest, Claire had not known exactly what to expect out of an FBI office. Something out of Army boot camp maybe, with broad-chested men wearing cut-off shorts running laps followed by shouting drill sergeants. She really didn’t expect it to look like some insurance agency office, although with several small conference rooms for what she assumed were interrogations… or more likely several bored FBI agents taking notes while some disreputable white-collar criminal detailed their accounting scam. The firing range was far smaller than the one she used in Ogden, with only two lanes and barely enough space for two shooters and two observers.

Although that kept the lurking FBI agents outside of the room.

“Not bad. Not bad at all.” Agent Anacostia held up the QUI-99 paper target and counted holes. “One magazine, fifteen yards, fifteen hits. Too bad you didn’t bring your gun.”

Claire patted her Sneaky Pete holster. “If I had, where would I keep my vaping gear? Besides, I’ve never needed it around Manhattan, and I wouldn't want Krystol to get her hands on it when I’m sleeping over at her place. It’s bad enough when she gets into my vaper and tries to mix up cannabis fluid to get high. Last one she broke, sold to a pawn shop, then I didn’t find out it was broken until I bought it back.”

“Sounds like a wonderful friend.” The FBI agent got out another loaded magazine, then looked over at the pony observers, both of whom looked considerably discouraged by the noise despite their earmuffs. “Widget, do you want to try a shot? I’ll load one round, and as long as you keep it pointed downrange, you can’t really hurt anything.”

“I-I think so.”

The pink unicorn moved cautiously up to the firing line, clunking a little due to the plastic brace she had around her leg. The tour of the facility had not taken very long, but Widget seemed to have run out of most of her boundless energy after her tour of the ‘ballbase’ stadium, and Claire was starting to think she might have to be carried out to the car if this went on very much longer. The blue aura surrounding the pistol did not flicker with fatigue as Claire expected, and after a brief amount of squinting and trying to find a comfortable position to look downrange, the glow intensified, and the gun fired.

“Wow,” breathed Widget, who was in the process of turning toward Karla when the FBI agent retrieved her gun, which likewise had been turning. “Oops. I wasn’t thinking. But it’s empty, right?”

“No,” said Karla and Claire at the same time. The FBI agent removed the empty shell casing which had not fully ejected and handed it over to the unicorn, who tucked it away as if it were her most precious souvenir so far.

“Four major rules of gun safety,” said Karla. “Well, maybe three for unicorns. First, consider all guns to be loaded, even if you’re sure they’re empty. Never point them at something you don’t want to shoot, because even if you’re positive the gun is empty—” She pointed the gun downrange, paused, and pulled the trigger with a click.

“I thought it was going to go off,” said Widget with her eyes wide open.

“That’s why I won’t buy a Glock,” said Claire. “Part of the cleaning process involves pulling the trigger on an empty chamber. As much as you try to follow the process correctly, all it takes is one mistake.”

“Third rule is never to put your finger on the trigger unless you’re ready to fire,” continued Karla, looking only slightly irritated at the slight on her Government-Issued weapon. “Unicorns… may have to adapt to that one. And the fourth rule is always be sure of your target, what it is, what is behind it, what may get between you and it during a shot. Just because we’re at a gun range doesn’t mean somebody isn’t doing something stupid like walking downrange to pick up a target or untangle one of the wires.”

“My dad always said the vast majority of gun safety is learning how not to shoot,” said Claire. “When you’re scattered out to go pheasant hunting, there’s always at least one idiot who shoots at a low bird and sprinkles some shot in your direction.” She touched the holster at her waist and took a short breath. “Then again, being able to shoot is something you have to train for. I was a witness at a liquor store robbery once in Chicago.”

When Claire could not say any more words, Karla gave a short glance over her shoulder at the watchers in the hallway behind the glass wall and patted her on the arm. “Not here,” she said in a low voice. “Maybe you can tell us about it on the way back.” Standing back up straight again, Karla picked up the second magazine from her pocket and put it on the shooting bench. “Tell you what. I don’t see any holes in Widget’s target down there. Do you want to give it a try before we visit the gym?”

“I… suppose.” Claire hefted the empty Glock and peered down the sights. “I’ll try not to limp-wrist it like you did, Widget. If you don’t keep a firm grip, the action doesn’t cycle right, and the slide fails to eject the empty round.”

“Oh.” Widget peered at her empty brass treasure. “It’s bent. That could have gotten jammed in the mechanism.”

“Yep.” Claire hefted the gun and looked at the paper target. “RSO, range seems clear.”

“Range is clear. Load,” said Karla, passing over the magazine.

The Glock was a little different than her range gun, so it took a moment to seat the magazine and work the slide. She pointed it downrange and called out, “Ready.”

“Commence firing.”

Taking her time and reminding herself that she was not showing off, Claire fired until the slide locked back, then ejected the empty magazine and double-checked the chamber. “Clear.”

“Cease fire,” called out Karla, taking the gun back. “Let’s see how you did.”

Widget was impatient, and did not wait for the paper target to get all the way back to them before she plucked it off the clips and floated it over for closer examination. There were holes in it at least, and not quite as neat as the FBI agent’s target, but nothing that Claire felt particularly bad about. After all, there were holes in the center of mass.

“Better than I expected.” Karla checked the chamber of the gun, put the empty magazine back in, and closed the chamber before holstering it. “And I’m out of ammunition, so we might as well keep going with the tour. Widget, do you want to keep that?”

The unicorn’s magic was already folding up the perforated paper for storage as she headed for the door. “Yeah,” she said with obvious fatigue in her voice. “We better catch up with Goose. She headed for the exercise room after your last shot.”

* * * *

The mat-covered gym was the largest room in the FBI office so far, probably a little small for a game of volleyball but big enough that a dozen agents could toss each other around, if they were careful. It was lit as brightly as outside and included several skylights, so Goose had slipped the shaded visor back down over her eyes as she stretched.

It was a sight that Claire was never going to get used to. If ponies ever got into the adult film industry, the batponies were going to clean up royally because ‘double-jointed’ only began to describe her flexibility. Thankfully, there was nobody else in the room other than Widget, because FBI agents just did not need to be exposed to this degree of feminine contortionism without a bottle of lotion and some tissues.

“Just getting warmed up,” said Goose, who was resting her chin on the base of her tail with one wingtip extended so she would not tip over. “I probably should tape up my hooves so I don’t scrape you, Karla. Do you have any pads?”

“Uh… no?” The FBI agent walked across the floor to where they had stacked all of Widget's souvenirs against the wall and began to shed her jacket and shoulder holster. “Normally, I’d just take my shoes off, but that’s not an option for you, I guess. Catch.” She tossed a roll of blue self-adhesive elastic bandage over to Widget and kicked off her own shoes with the rest of the stuff. “You know we can’t spar for very long.”

“Even a couple of falls will help.” Goose shook one hoof and held it up for Widget to start wrapping it. “I’ve gotten so fat and lazy over the last few days. Plus, I’m going to have to tell my brother Shadow all about it. He trained me when I was getting ready to go into the guard, and he’s going to have words about your first visit to the hospital room.”

Claire stole a look at Widget, who appeared angelically innocent as she finished wrapping Goose’s hooves, although the light on her horn did not go out when she was done and stepped over to the side with her human friend.

Ever so slowly, Karla nodded, looking a little silly in her bare feet and white shirt but still quite focused. “Here, we have what we call a Tueller Drill, or the twenty foot rule. It’s based on the average reaction time for somebody to draw and fire on somebody closing on you with a knife. Closer than twenty feet and you most likely can’t get a shot off in time. Further and you might. Want to give it a shot?”

“Sure.” The batpony arranged herself a distance away from Karla, who made a ‘finger-gun’ and acted like she was tucking it into her waistband. “Claire, you say when we go.”

“Okgo!” she called out.

Being quadrupedal was a distinct advantage, considered Claire, both in the ability to lunge into a sprint and stability, although she remembered a story from history class about Jesse Owens running a 100 yard dash against a horse and winning. The thing was that particular horse did not have wings to give her an instantaneous burst of speed at the beginning, and the same wing swept forward as Goose shot past her target, catching the FBI agent at the ankles and sending her tumbling.

The same thing happened when Karla tried it with more distance between them, only since Goose could not pass her target without plowing into a cinder block wall, she came to an abrupt halt just inches away.

The problem was the enormous blast of air that accompanied the instant braking maneuver, knocking Karla backwards into the wall and stripping every single piece of paper from the nearby bulletin board into a huge vortex of government documents scattered around the room.

Once Karla had gotten to her feet and Widget finished snagging all the floating paper, they decided on a more close-in sparring method which had less chance of demolishing the building by accident.

“So you want me to hit you as hard as I can?” asked Karla a little hesitantly. “Even where you don’t have armor?”

“The armor should absorb whatever you can dish out,” reassured Goose, who moved in front of Karla and turned sideways. “Unicorn enchantments let it protect exposed areas just about as well as everything else. Go ahead and give me a thump.”

“Well…” The agent ‘thumped’ Goose Down like a watermelon, which only made everybody in the room giggle. Then she balled up a fist and gave her target several blows, increasing in strength. “It’s like a punching bag. Does the armor effect get stronger, the harder I hit?”

“Yeah. But it stings a little. That’s on purpose. It tells us how close the blow is to overwhelming the spell.” Goose twisted out of the way of the next blow, then ducked a quick grab. A rapid exchange followed, with the batpony hopping up into the air to avoid a leg sweep, then staying there to feint a rear hoof blow at Karla’s face.

“Hey, unfair!” Karla tumbled backwards on the mat, coming to a halt in a breathless squat with one hand held up. “People can’t hover.”

“Not my fault.” Goose touched back down on the mat, looking as happy as Claire had ever seen her.

“Time!” called out the agent, who vanished into the bathroom for a moment, emerging with a short length of rope. “Ok, different approach. You’ve shown what you can do with wings, so let’s see how you can function without.”

Goose snorted. “Shadow made me train with one wing in a sling, both wrapped up or tied together, and blindfolded. Tie ‘em up.”

“No, just keep them together for now,” said Karla, settling down into a crouch and making a complicated knot in the rope. “This time, I’ll attack and you try to defend. Provided I still remember how to do this from my college rodeo days.”

“Oh,” said Claire as realization struck. “Oh, that’s cruel. Oh, my.”

The dark FBI agent took the loop of rope in her teeth, looking much as if she were grinning while Goose gave a quick, troubled look back at Claire, who also could not help but grin. Ponies had a jump on humans in a lot of situations, but this was something they probably had never experienced before. “On your mark,” called out Claire as she got out her phone and tapped record. “Set. Go!”

Karla darted forward, left hand held low and feinted a blow at the batpony’s face, which Goose reared back in order to block. Then the FBI agent kept going past her target, reaching out with her right hand to grab the pony just in front of her opposite side hind leg while her left hand grabbed onto Goose’s ear. Planting her feet and heaving just as hard as she could, Karla managed to flip the startled pony onto her back, then darted down with the rope. In seconds, Goose was hog-tied and flopping around on the mat.

“Time!” called out Claire and touched the stop button on the recording. “Nine seconds. I believe that’s the current record for Equestrian pony roping. Hold up a second so I can get a good photograph.”

Goose was not much of a good sport about it, but she did hold relatively still while Claire got a picture, complete with the out-of-breath FBI agent leaning casually on her captive.

“Hey, what’s this?” asked Karla as she began to get up. She scooped a metal object off the mat and examined it while Goose rolled forward to a relatively upright position, then lifted off to hover with slow, steady beats of her enormous wings.

“It’s the knife I bought off the human who visited the car while you were in the ballbase stadium. I think it’s broken,” said Goose.

She brought her nose down to the loops of rope and began nipping them loose while Karla turned the knife over in her hands, giving it a flick to extend the blade, then retracting it. Claire had to come over and look too, and returned the questioning look by the FBI agent with a shrug of her shoulders. Widget, however, seemed entranced.

“Mister Auto Kershaw must have put a spring inside it,” she said, lifting the black blade out of Karla’s hands for closer inspection of the mechanism and brand name. “The button makes it flick out, and you have to push the button back in to fold it. You probably can’t get the button pushed without a thumb, unless I add a fetlock bump there. I’ll get the welder from our shop and fix it up for you when we get home, Goose.”

“So you bought it,” said Karla, taking it back out of Widget’s magic aura. “From some guy in the parking lot with your Visa card. Did he come up to the window and offer to sell it to you?”

“No, he got into the driver’s seat and looked like he wanted to start the car.” Goose managed to get her last hoof unwrapped and started to coil up the slightly tattered rope. “He must have been hot and wanted to run the air conditioner. I may… have startled him a little.”

“Explains why the seat felt damp,” muttered Karla. She turned the knife back over to the batpony and watched as it was tucked away into what little of her short purple mane that could be seen peeking out from under the dark armor. “And oh crap,” she added when the doors at the other end of the gym opened and a line of FBI agents began to filter in.

“Don’t worry, Miss Anacostia,” said Widget, who swallowed and continued to look even more worried. “I’ll just tell them I want to go home and they’ll let me.”

“We hope,” murmured Claire as the agents spread around the outside edge of the small gym, and the bulky Agent Hallman emerged into the room.