Autumn is Double Take’s favourite time of year. The light chill in the air, the long sunsets, the brisk winds carrying smells of cinnamon and sounds of crinkling leaves… it’s all so much better than the balmy heat of Fillydelphia’s summer, or the snow of its winter. Autumn is when he does his best work.
The work involves making creative solutions. It requires confidence, speed and careful planning. It takes the sort of pony who’s willing to risk a lot.
The work is very, very profitable.
Walking through the crowded streets, Double Take makes sure nopony gives him that crucial second glance. The Royal Guard is onto him. He knows it. He can feel it. He doesn’t know how they know his M.O.—he’s been on the most-wanted list for years and they never even had a name—but, oh so suddenly, it’s begun to fall apart.
Caches discovered. Hoofprints analysed. Tiny glimpses, over time, gave rise to better and better descriptions of the phantom thief.
Double Take had decided that very morning. It’s time to take a break. Perhaps a very long one. He’d done enough business in the last few years that he could probably retire, if he really needed to. It wouldn’t be a life of luxury, but hay: few ponies his age could ever hope to have the kind of savings he did.
Yes. Time to give it a rest. Let the heat die down. At least for a while.
After this one last job.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
She cocks her head at Double as she says it, and he can tell that even if he answers in the affirmative she won’t believe him. He does anyway, though. “Yes. After tomorrow, I’m finished. Maybe forever. I’ve had a good run. I can quit.”
“Oh, sure,” comes the response, with an eye roll. “You can quit any time you want. We all can.”
They’re in a ‘speakeasy’—a tavern with silence charms on all the booths and tables, so ponies can be sure they’re not eavesdropped upon. They’re popular with the few serial criminals in Fillydelphia, but luckily, they’re popular with other ponies, too. Particularly couples. A group of ponies at the table next to them are having what is probably a very, very loud game of cards.
“Look,” Double replies, annoyed, “I would bail out on this job right now if I hadn’t already been paid in half. It’s not worth the risk. But it would be a shame to end things on such a… lame note.”
“I feel you,” his fellow thief nods. “I wouldn’t bail on it either. But then, I wouldn’t pretend to be quitting the life. Especially if I were as good at it as you are.”
“Yeah, well,” Double says, “You haven’t made as much out of it as me, either.”
She sticks out her tongue at him, just as the stallion they’re waiting for arrives. “Hey, Ghost. And… Clicky.” He flicks his head at the mare as he looks at Double. “What’s she here for?”
“Nothing,” Double replies. “Just catching up while she’s in Filly.”
“Well good,” the stallion said. “This job don’t need any safecracking. Just good timing.”
“The jewels are as good as yours,” Double says easily. “Tomorrow you’ll have them. Just give me the drop-off location and get out of here.”
“And then the day after that, you’re retired, huh Ghostie,” Clickspring says with a mocking grin. “Did he tell you, Bob? He’s quitting after tomorrow. ‘Cause he’s afwaid of da guawds catching him!”
“You wasn’t serious ‘bout that, was ya?” The stallion, Bob, looks shocked. “Thought you was messin’ with me.”
“No, I’m serious,” Double Take says, beginning to actually look irritated. “Maybe I’ll come back to the life once nopony’s looking for me any more. But that’s gonna be years and years. So yeah. For now, I’m calling it a retirement.”
“Eh. To each their own,” Bob says with a shrug. “You’ll always be the best. Maybe in a decade you’ll have learnt not to be so reckless to boot.”
Clickspring snorts loudly, giggling further after the unicorn shoots her a withering look. “He’s right. It’s your own fault they’re onto you. You’ve been too cocky for too long.”
“Just gimme the note,” Double says to the stallion with a glare as he turns away from Clicky. Bob hoofs over an envelope with a magical seal, and nods to both of them before turning to leave.
“Good luck, Ghost. Don’t fall at your last hurdle.”
No no no no no no NO!
This is the only thought going through Double Take’s head as he runs as fast as his legs will carry him.
He looks back. Both pegasi are still in pursuit. Their armour should be making them slow, but Double was never the fastest runner. He’d never needed to be. It wasn’t fair.
Then, a cross-street. A crowded one. That’s his chance. Concentrating, Double casts his trademark spell, pouring more energy into it than he ever has before. His legs go weak, and he stumbles—stumbles into the crowd of ponies trying to make their way through the entertainment district.
He knows he’ll be safe if he just keeps his focus. Come on. Lose them, he thinks to himself. Legs still shaking from the casting, and gasping slightly, Double Take begins to follow the flow of pedestrians. Beginning to regain his wits from the fog of panic, he realises he’s headed in exactly the direction he wants to be. A real stroke of luck.
Only one option now, Double thinks. He hates it. It’s truly a last resort. But it’s with a strange sense of calm that he accepts it. If the guards had known his target, they likely knew a lot more. He has to get out.
Bob won’t be getting his gems today. But at least his cover is still intact, unlike Double Take’s. Double was always the risk-taker, and it’s finally caught up to him.
The tram station is his first destination. From there, he can hopefully make it to the cache he needs. He can only hope they won’t be expecting his next move.
He risks a glance upward. Sure enough, the two pegasi guards are scanning the crowd below, eyes flitting to and fro as they attempt to alight on their quarry with their gaze more than once. Double Take knows it isn’t going to work, not while he’s so well-hidden.
The tram station is in sight. Need to be smart, he reminds himself in his head over and over. Need to make it to the border.
Of course, there are no borders in or near Fillydelphia; at least, not any conventional ones. Double take is headed for the Dimensional Gate, the rift in reality that, for the last several decades, has been the thing that put Fillydelphia on the map.
It leads to a place very unlike Equestria—very unlike Equus. A place where gold is rare but plastic is the norm. A place where machines do everything from flying faster than any pegasus to thinking faster than any mathematician. A place where money is imaginary and power is metaphorical.
It leads to the world of the Human Race.
It had been slow, at first, the opening of the Gate. The alicorns had tried to stop it. By the time they concluded it was impossible, contact had been made with the other side.
All these years later, seeing a human in the street doesn’t even make you look twice.
It was his human contacts that had given Double his last resort. He had made them rich, after all. In return, they had smuggled in the best human gadgets, just for him. The mundane ones he sold. The interesting ones he kept for himself.
In the criminal underworld, Double Take is known as The Ghost. Nopony knows his base of operations, which is in a way a shame, because it meant Double can’t show off his impressive collection of expensive and illegal human technology.
But he’s leaving it behind, now: for, in a little duffel bag under a stone tile in a lonely basement, waits a powerful potion of transformation. With it, a flawless fake passport, complete with forged visa papers and stamps, and a change of human clothes.
Double Take enters the basement quietly. The bar upstairs is closed, but there’s no such thing as being too careful. Sighing as he lets his concentration drop, lets his spell end, Double takes a moment to catch his breath and really think about this plan.
It’s only a matter of time before they catch me if I stay here. That much was true. Fillydelphia was, finally, wise to his presence. Worse, it wasn’t as if anywhere in Equestria was likely to be much safer. He’d stolen from museums and mansions all over the nation. And everywhere he went, The Ghost showed up in the papers.
His spell didn’t make him invisible, just… unnoticed. Ponies’ eyes swept past him without stopping; it was as if their brains simply didn’t want to know that he was there. But, if they did see him, and if they looked twice… cover blown. He was good at making sure it didn’t happen. But he wasn’t good enough to avoid undercover guards from now until the end of his life.
So why not take the potion and stay here? That idea had some appeal. But the longer he considered it, the more Double realised it wouldn’t work either. Humans were almost a common sight, now, but they were still novel enough—and highly-regulated enough—that he could only pose as one with a very, very robust backstory. Which he didn’t have.
Damn it, damn it all!
There was no sense putting it off. Double Take walked slowly over to the loose tile, pulled it up in his magic with a grunt, and took out the dusty duffel bag. Replacing the tile, he took his time looking over the fake documents.
Daniel Tucker. That would be his new alias. It didn’t sound good to him. He looked over the clothes. Nothing fancy like a suit or anything, just green khakis and a grey t-shirt. Appropriate, as he would be losing his grey coat and olive green mane.
He spends several minutes memorising the details on his passport, and looking over the rest of the bag’s contents: a wad of strange paper human money, a key with an address listed on a tag, and a device he recognises as a cellular phone. A very basic one. He tries, and fails, to press the tiny buttons with his magic. There’s a note with the number he’s supposed to call once he’s safely on the other side.
Double Take realises, then, that there’s no more putting it off.
He takes the potion in his magic, uncorks it. It doesn’t have a scent, even to his sensitive nose. Grimacing, he quickly brings it to his lips and drinks all of it, just like he’d been told to do.
For a few moments, nothing happens, but just as Double stops bracing himself, a stranger feeling than he ever could have expected comes over him. It’s as if his insides no longer want anything to do with him. It feels as if he’s both falling, and getting heavier, at the same time. His vision wavers.
He realises he’s paralysed just as the changes begin.
The first thing he notices is his jaw: it makes an unpleasant cracking noise as it repositions, begins to shrink along with the rest of his muzzle. His hooves are warping in a faintly sickening way, too. His skin crawls, literally.
Another wave of shocking wooziness hits Double and he slowly topples onto his side. It feels so—
His face shifts and his vision goes dark for a moment—
His shoulders widen and his back arches oddly—
His legs lengthen in places and shrink in others—
His chest feels like it’s caving in—
After a moment he loses his lucidity altogether and simply lies there, twitching slightly, as the changes continue in earnest.
For several long minutes the unicorn can only wait, unthinking, for the transformation to end.
When he comes to, the first thing he notices is the cold.
He’s curled up, naked, on the bare stone there in the cellar. With no coat to protect his skin he shivers violently, fighting off nausea as he wills himself into a sitting position.
The second thing he notices is his vision. He blinks, confused for a moment at how narrowed his field of view has become. He blinks and brings a hand up to his now flat face, feeling his tiny eyes and nose, before staring at the hand before him.
Deciding that he should figure things out by getting dressed as soon as possible, Daniel Tucker grabs the bag of clothing, shoves himself to a standing position—taking the advice he’d been given to not think about it—and stumbles over to a nearby crate. It’s… really, not big at all, now. It would have been chin-height, before, but now it’s just below his waist.
Double hastily pulls on the undergarments, noting how… necessary they seemed to be for keeping things in order. The socks give him more of a problem, but it’s only a few minutes before he manages to balance himself against the crate and put them on his bizarre new feet.
The rest of the clothes follow in relatively short order, though he’s forced again to the floor in order to put on the khakis. The shoes are the biggest hurdle of all. It feels incredibly odd cramming his feet into things that seem so unwilling to be worn. He has no idea how tight the laces should be. After minutes of fiddling clumsily with them, they still don’t feel right.
There, he sits for a moment, taking in what he’s just done.
I’m a human now. And I have no idea when I’ll be able to change back. He tries to levitate the bag down from the crate, but of course nothing happens. Double grunts his way to his feet—Celestia that’s high—and again takes stock at what he has. Passport, papers, an allegedly large amount of money, and a phone. Fumbling more than a little, Double takes the band off of the roll and begins to count the money in the dim light filtering through the slit windows at the top of the cellar.
Five that say ‘100’ and ten that say ‘20’. So I have seven hundred dollars. Dollars. It’s an odd word. Double takes a moment to worry about the place he’s headed to. He doesn’t know anything like the amount he should about it. He never really expected to ever need this contingency.
He knows the city is Philadelphia, in the nation of the United States. He knows that the primary method of transport is self-powered metal carts, and that humans are the only sapient species. But he’s never actually seen the place. When ponies talk about it, they sound like they’re talking about any other place in Equestria… but they keep saying how different it is.
But Double supposes he’ll figure it out when he gets there. He knows that he needs to find a taxi, and have them take him to the address on his key, where he’ll find what had been described as a “mobile home” for him to live in while he figures out his next move.
According to the humans who set this up for him, he’ll be part of ‘their crew’, and can expect to find plenty more money to use in the mobile home along with a token few bits of nonperishable food and ‘a piece’. Double doesn’t know what it’s a piece of, but figures they’ll be happy to explain once he gets there. He understands that they’ll want him to join them in their criminal activities, but of course The Ghost has no problem with that. It’s what he loves to do.
Taking a deep breath, Double zips the bag shut with everything inside and, taking care not to think too hard, walks over to the cellar stairs and ascends. Pushing the door open and blinking in the light of the sunset, he begins to make his way back to the tram station.
He notes how odd walking feels compared to being a pony. Every step isn’t really a step; it’s a controlled fall. As he’s pondering this, Double notices a guardspony nearby, and reflexively tries to send power to his horn to cast his spell. Again, he feels nothing.
Right. It’s dawning on Double Take, now, how drastic this course of action really is. He wonders if he should have found another way—too late now, of course. He doesn’t have a potion to change back.
But the guard only gives him a cursory glance. Double lets his breath out as he boards the tram direct to the border. Among the dozens of ponies, there are a couple humans—a couple other humans, he reminds himself. He steals looks at them as the tram moves off.
Somehow, they don’t look as odd as they once did.
The Gate is encircled by high stone walls. There are more humans around, now, as Double approaches the security checkpoint. They tower over the ponies, over the uniformed guards. Double joins the line for a particularly bored-looking agent, and reaches the front in what feels like no time at all.
“Name?” comes the first question before the pony even looks at him.
“Um. Daniel Tucker.”
“Heading home, Mister Tucker?”
“That’s right.” Double swallows. “I was just here for a short… business trip.”
“Papers?” Asks the bored agent. Double realises that this really does feel like a pointless formality, to her. Obviously he belongs on the other side of the Gate. He’s human.
He takes the passport and visa papers from the duffel bag and hands them over. She gives them a cursory glance, stamps them, and gives them back. Then she uses her mouth and a pencil to scribble something out on what looks like a tiny form.
When she gives it to him, he realises it’s a ticket telling him what ‘party’ he’s supposed to enter the Gate with, and what time they’re scheduled to do so. “Hope you liked Equestria; safe travels. Next please.” And with that, Double is waved on.
He passes through the magical scanners without detection. Now all there is to do is wait for his party, J9, to leave. It’s made up of a fairly even mix of ponies and humans. He stands near one of said humans, a man with no mane and a cheap suit.
“Always a shame to be leaving the land of sunshine and rainbows, eh?” asks the man when he catches Double looking at him.
“Uh, yeah. Real shame,” Double replies nervously.
“Ah well. At least we got cheesesteaks, right?” Obviously the human seems to find this highly amusing. Double gives a short laugh, hoping that would suffice.
It seems to, as the man turns away with a sigh and gazes at the looming Gate and its strange blue energies.
“Party J-9 now ready for Gate transversal. Please follow your guide and do not rush. Thank you.”
The other side of the Gate is very different.
The first thing Double notices is the signs. They depict a multitude of different things, all in silhouette, and then encircled with the universal ‘not-allowed’ symbol of a red circle with a line through it. From what he can glean, he is not allowed to use cell phones, fire-making devices, unicorn magic, wings, knives, spray cans, or a range of other things he fails to recognise.
The second thing he notices is that the entire gate, and surrounding facility, is enclosed inside a massive structure that looks to be made of metal. It is illuminated by lights that hurt to look at, suspended from the ceiling far above.
Double simply joins the line up to the desk and tries to look like he belongs there. When he gets to the front, the agent looks at him with sharp eyes. Double gulps.
“Passport.” Double wordlessly hands it over. The agent looks at the photo, compares, and frowns a little. “Name?”
“Daniel. Daniel Tucker.”
“Date of birth?”
“November 20th, 1988.”
“Place of birth?”
“Get your passport photo up to date, Mister Tucker.”
“Will… will do, sir.”
“Why are you entering the United States today?”
This throws Double for a moment. “Just… returning. Business trip.”
“The,” he pauses for only a split second, “hotel business. Looking at managing a hotel in Fillydelphia.”
“So you were in Equestria for a job interview.”
“Something like that.”
“Alright. Thank you Mister Tucker, welcome back to the United States.”
“Th-thank you,” Double Take says as he gratefully moves past the desk. Unfortunately his ordeal is far from over.
He eyes the security measures in his path. They’re all made of metal and plastic, and they’re all manned by at least two humans. One looks like a bag scanner; another, an upright glass tube for scanning humans. The pony scanner is much smaller but doesn’t look any more inviting.
Fingers are so much work, Double thinks as he tries once more to dial the correct number on the little phone.
He’s braced, hunched, back to the harshly cold wind that rushes by every few seconds. He’s outside, now, and trying to ignore the noise of the city beyond the concrete expanse in front of the Dimensional Gate building. Closeby is a road on concrete stilts, and he can hear dozens or hundreds of motorised carts—cars—flying past. Occasionally a siren wails in the distance. Nopony seems alarmed by this.
Double Take would have to admit that so far, Philadelphia is a very different place to Fillydelphia. He can’t even see the sky: it’s just a dim grey expanse of cloud.
At this point, Double gets the number right and hears the ringing he expected from the little device. Holding it to his tiny ear, and shivering a little, he waits.
Finally, “Who’s this?” The voice is harsh. It comes through oddly warped.
“Is this Antony?” asks Double, walking away from other humans in order to avoid being overheard.
“Who wants to know?” the response comes after a pause.
“This is The Ghost. I had to run. I’m in your world now.”
“The Ghost! You know? The pony who sold you all those—” he glances around again, then continues in a harsh stage whisper, “—stolen potions? I bought a computer from you?”
“Oh, shit! The Pony! Hell, we never actually thought you’d get over to this side!”
“Not like I had a choice,” Double replies as Antony laughs on the other end of the line.
“This is wild, this is wild… Alright. You got that key? You on your way?”
“I’ll get a taxi now,” Double replies. “Just… just letting you know I’m here. I have no idea what I’m doing. This was my last resort and I never expected to need it.”
“Alright. Alright, someone will be at your place in the morning. They’ll give you the rundown on our operation. Goddamn. Wait ‘till everyone finds out The Pony is actually here in the flesh.”
“Is… that what you call me?” asks Double, wincing.
“Oh yeah. That “ghost” shit sounds corny as all hell. You’re The Pony.”
“Can you just call me… Daniel?”
“Daniel. Dan. Alright, Pony Dan, you got it. See you when we see you.”
And with that, the line goes dead.
Getting a taxi wasn’t very different in the human world. Before long, Double Take was on his way to… wherever he was going.
A flash of anxiety, more intense than any others so far, makes the former unicorn grit his teeth. How is this where I am? This morning I was just another unicorn. Now I’m an alien in another world. As the city, bathed in dusk, flashes by outside the windows, he tries to see this as an opportunity. An adventure. Before, he jealously prized the few human inventions he’d been able to have smuggled across the border. Now, they’re all available to him without restriction.
By the time he’s paying the taxi driver and squinting into the darkness at his new place of living, Double is feeling a little better about the situation. From what he can see in the light of the nearby lamppost, it’s a remarkably regular box of a building. Wide, but he can tell it’s almost definitely very shallow.
He takes the four steps up to the door as the taxi drives away. He gets the key into the keyhole within only a few seconds. Hands are becoming easier to use, now. His new body knows what to do, just like with walking.
It’s cold inside the mobile home. Double fumbles around in the blackness, knowing there must be a lightswitch on one of the nearby walls. Fingers finally alighting on it, he finds himself blinking in a combined kitchen and sitting room. There are two doors on the wall to his left; probably a bathroom and bedroom. The surfaces are bare and the corner sofa looks cheap.
He sits down on it anyway. There’s no fireplace, so Double doesn’t know how to make it warmer inside the little house. He rubs his hands together instinctively, then remembers himself, and holds them up before him, lost in thought.
They’re so… weak. But they can do so much. He wiggles each finger in turn. Some are stronger and easier to control than others. Best of all, the big one on the side. The thumb, he remembers. Flicking through his paper money felt so easy. Manipulating things like that with unicorn magic was practically an ordeal by comparison.
He curls his right hand into a ball. A fist. He’d once been told it was impossible to smuggle more than “a fistful of bits” across the border at a time, even with his spellcasting making said bits unnoticeable. It didn’t seem it could be worth it, but apparently, Equestrian bits were far more precious in the human world than in Equestria.
He takes out his money again, and wonders how much more he has access to in this world. His human acquaintances had promised him as much as he needed. Still, it stings leaving so much in Equestria. Hopefully most of it would still be there waiting for him when he returned.
Double realises, then, how hungry he is. So he stands and makes his way to the little kitchen. Ha. ‘Little’... if he were back home it would be far too high for him to use. Opening a couple of the cupboards, he finds cans of soup. The labels are incredibly detailed and covered in tiny writing. Taking one, he squints at it to try to read what it says.
A list of ingredients, almost all of which are nonsense to him. He recognises ‘tomato puree’, and ‘aqua’, assuming it just means water. Below that are preparation instructions, which tell him to put it in the ‘microwave oven’ for two to three minutes ‘on high’.
He looks around. There’s no oven, but there is a little stove, and a box with a keypad on it. He pulls open the plastic door of the box suspiciously. Inside is a glass plate. It’s clear that this is a device for doing something; if he’s lucky, it’s there to heat up his soup.
He puts the can inside and hits the buttons until the display says ‘2:30’, then hits ‘start’. It begins to hum loudly—
Double jumps back, stumbling in alarm as the machine makes a horrific buzzing sound and more than a few loud bangs. He can see what almost looks like flashes of lightning through the mesh-obscured window. He quickly darts a hand out and hits the stop button. The machine goes silent with a beep, and a large wisp of smoke comes out when he cautiously opens the door.
There are little char marks on the paper label around the can.
Okay. So… that’s not what that’s for. But a stomach rumble stops Double from giving up and going to bed. Sighing, he uses the can’s pull tab to wrest it open—again marvelling at the utility of fingers—and takes a tentative sip of the contents.
Hm. Not the worst. Good enough to put up with, at least.
Double awakes with a start at the sound of several loud bangs on the front door. He jolts upright and wipes an eye, holding the table for support. He’d elected to sleep on the couch. It was softer than the bed, which didn’t have any bedding in any case.
He’d also slept in his clothes. This has left parts of him unpleasantly sweaty.
There’s more rough knocking. Hastily, Double Take gets up and in a mere few strides is at the door. He pulls it open to find two humans at the foot of the little stairway. One man is light-skinned with a very light, short brown mane and the other is a very dark brown-skinned man with no mane at all. For a split second Double wonders why bare skin on top of the head seems to be so common when it’s the only part of the body afforded any natural protection from the elements.
Both humans are wearing hoodies. They regard him through narrowed eyes, but then the light-skinned one breaks out in a smile.
“It’s really you, eh? Hell, it’s a crazy world. Pony magic is something else, huh?” Before Double can respond he goes on. “I’m Ant. Couldn’t resist comin’ myself. This here’s Terry,” he says with a gesture at the other man, who nods, “and this,” he says to Terry, gesturing floridly at Double, is Pony Dan.”
“You… can just call me Dan,” Double says uncomfortably as Terry stares at him.
“Alright, alright. Dan, let’s go inside. We got things to discuss.”
They enter the little mobile home. Ant sits down at the couch while Terry simply leans against the kitchen counter with his arms crossed in front of him. Double—or, Dan, now—simply stands awkwardly nearby. After a moment he leans against the wall behind him to appear more at ease.
“Okay,” Ant starts, “So here’s where we are. You’re here now and you’ve done really nice by us. Lotsa gold you helped us smuggle. Lotsa other stuff, too. We’re grateful.”
Dan just waits. He feels like more is coming.
“But now that you’re here,” Ant goes on, looking at his fingernails, “You’re more than just a collaborator. You’re a member of the crew. And if we’re gonna trust you, you’re gonna have to do some jobs for us.”
Dan nods. “Sure. That’s what I’m here for.”
Ant smiles wide. “Great. You’re one of us now, Pony Dan.” He gets up from the sofa and moves past the silent Terry. “Lookie here.” He grips a small vent in the floor, and pulls it away from the carpet. Reaching into the hole all the way up to his shoulder, Ant pulls out two things.
“Couple hundred dollars.” Ant tosses a folded brown paper bag across the room at Dan, who fumbles on the ground for it. “And a nice little piece.”
Dan freezes when he sees what the human is holding.
That’s… a gun. The little death cannons. But… that’s a murder weapon. Outwardly, Dan doesn’t let his horror show. “That’s for me?”
“How else you gonna protect yourself, Pony?” Terry breaks his silence with a cool stare.
Dan doesn’t have an answer, but Ant interjects anyway. “You ever used one? Hah, what am I saying. You’re from sunshine land, of course you haven’t.” He stands up and walks over to Dan, holding the little gun. It’s smaller than a fully outstretched hand.
How could that kill a pony? Dan wonders. Or a human?
“Now look. You just load bullets into it here,” Ant demonstrates how a little compartment slides out of the handle, “then cock it,” here he pulls on the top with his other hand, sliding it out with a click, “and then…. BANG.”
Dan winces as there’s a harsh click along with Ant’s sound effect; he’d pulled the trigger. Though of course nothing else happened without a bullet loaded.
“The Pony doesn’t like it,” Terry observes.
“No, no, I just… expected a real bang,” Dan lies.
“Bullets are in the vent,” Ant says, shoving the gun into Dan’s hand and slapping him on the back. “We’ll be in touch. Keep that phone with you at all times. We’ll have a job for you soon.”
And with that, both humans are leaving the little house. Dan watches as they go, watches as they get into a large black car and drive off, leaving behind a purported new ‘crew member’ feeling very much like he was missing a lot of important context.
“You’re gonna tell us what you told the cops, and you’re gonna tell us now.” Dan can only watch as the tall human looks down at the kneeling man with a cold expression of what could almost be boredom.
The empty concrete lot is dark, but not so dark that Dan can’t see the man’s angrily defiant face, slick with sweat and blood.
“I didn’t… tell them… nothing,” he spits. His hands are bound behind his back and his shirt has been torn off.
“Oh, we know,” the tall human, whose name is Rodney, says easily. “You most definitely told them something. Not nothing. Or it’s a coincidence that they paid you a visit and then arrested two of our boys.” He considers this as he takes a drag from a cigarette. “I mean, it could be. But we ain’t gonna just assume. You understand.”
Dan just looks at the cigarette. He doesn’t want to listen to the bound man’s reply. Why would anyone, he thinks, like breathing smoke? It’s not the first time he’s wondered. It seems to be universal. Every human he meets eventually pulls out a little white stick and starts sucking on it even as it burns. He’d asked and they’d laughed. Told him it was gonna kill them in the end. Maybe they do all want to die as soon as possible. It wouldn’t surprise him, really.
“Break his leg.”
That pulls Dan back to the here and now. He makes it halfway through a gasp before stopping himself. They’re mutilating him. Oh Celestia get me out of here. But none of the humans are looking at him. They just watch as the two big men put the wad of rags back in the man’s mouth to stop him from screaming, and without any ado one of them stamps, hard, on the man’s left leg.
The crack makes even a few of the other humans flinch. Dan, for his part, very nearly throws up there and then. It’s only years of waiting out the Royal Guard as they hunt him, feet or inches away, that lets him keep his composure.
They can hear him screaming through the rags. But apparently the show’s over. Whatever was said as Dan zoned out was apparently all that was going to be said. The other humans, the rest of his ‘crew’, are hastily trotting away. He follows, trying not to think about what would happen if he went to help the mutilated human.
The cars are a ways away, and completely bathed in darkness. Once he’s in that darkness, Dan silently looks back to the man in the lot. His mouth drops open. That’s… impossible.
Not only is the human not passing out, he’s actually standing up. Standing with all his weight on one leg. Looking to the lights of the gas station beyond. He hops. Dan winces. But he’s… moving. He’s actually making progress, slowly, but more than Dan could ever have expected.
That’s a fatal injury. Or at least a debilitating one. But he’s… walking. Walking is a strong word. But a pony with a broken leg could do little else but moan deliriously, until given proper medical attention. Healing magic. Strong healing magic, if they ever wanted to walk again. Humans don’t have magic. And yet...
“Get in, Pony Dan.” He’s the last one not in one of the cars. He hastily jumps into the ‘land rover’ and shuts the door.
“Not too soft for this, are ya, Pony?” It’s Terry again. He looks at him coldly.
Dan gives him his best scathing look, but can’t think of anything to say.
“He talked to the cops. We don’t play nice with people who talk to the cops.”
“Yeah, I got that. Don’t think I feel bad for the guy. He was a rat.” It’s something he heard another human say earlier. “Rats deserve what they get. And we deserve what we get.”
“That’s right,” Terry says, more at ease. “Speakin’ of that, Ant said you can have your take of the first job.”
The first job had been robbing a jewellery store. Not elegantly, not with planning, not by intercepting their shipment or finding a way to steal a key without them knowing: they just attacked the back door with crowbars and grabbed as much as they could while the alarm blared. It was… disgusting. And they weren’t even robbing rich snobs. The place had looked as beat down as every other store in the ratty city streets.
He tried to look pleased anyway. “Alright. Good to hear. How much?”
Terry takes out a huge wad of cash from a bag on the floor of the car. Carefully, deliberately, he counts out a number of bills as Dan watches.
“Three thousand. All yours.”
“Three… thousand?” Until now, the promises of easy money haven’t been bearing fruit. Dan had been seriously considering taking all he could and trying to find legitimate work, far away from these people. Crime here was nothing like crime in Equestria.
But as he takes the money, all of that seems to… fade into the background.
If I made this amount every week… I could live in a real apartment like Ant’s. With all the latest tech. I could have everything I wanted from this world when I was in Equestria, and more.
Before he knows it, Dan is being deposited at his doorstep with a slap on the back and a “call you later, Pony Dan.” He’s convinced them that he’s one of them.
He… is one of them. The jobs here are easier than they were in Equestria. Inelegant, sure… but not everyone’s a mastermind. He steps into the house and flicks on the light, still staring at the three thousand dollars in his hand.
He sits on the couch. Something digs uncomfortably into his thigh and he unconsciously pulls out the gun. Idly, he aims down the barrel at a spot on the wall.
Before his vision flashes the bound, bloody man, squarely centred in his sights.
Slowly, his idle smile crumples in on itself and he drops the firearm onto the table as his face morphs into a rictus of stunned horror.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” The police officer maintains his stoic expression despite being more than a little taken aback. Border duty is usually boring as all hell. Not today, it seems.
“I said I’m an illegal immigrant and I’m turning myself in,” Dan says again bluntly. “I’m wanted in Equestria for… a bunch of serious crimes. I escaped by coming here. I’m not really a human. It’s just transformation magic.”
As the officer waves over a couple of his fellows, Dan repeats, “I’m turning myself in. I want to go back to Equestria.”
“...Alright, sir, based on your admittance, I’m taking you under arrest at this time.” The police officer takes a pair of handcuffs from his belt and motions for Name to turn around. “Do you have a name or any identification?”
“Identification is fake,” says Dan as he complies. “My name is Double Take. I’m a unicorn from Fillydelphia.”
“Alright.” The cuffs are applied and a newly arrived officer takes out a notebook, beginning to scribble furiously. The original officer goes on, “I’m going to read you your rights, now, and we’ll make some calls to see if any ponies can come here and verify your identity.”
Dan sighs as the officer begins his little speech. He doesn’t listen. It doesn’t matter any more. Soon this hellish ride will be over and he’ll be safe in the arms of the Equestrian legal system.
He lets out a giggle. It becomes a laugh.
The bemused police officer finishes reciting the rights as the purported former unicorn laughs so hard he chokes, head thrown back and staring at the bleak autumn sky.
“Why turn yourself in?”
The human looks down at the royal guardspony as he’s escorted to the nearest jailhouse from the Dimensional Gate. His expression is one of weary, faraway incredulity. “They’re horrible,” he says shortly.
The guard looks at him with a raised eyebrow.
“When can you turn me back into myself?”
“Whenever we deem it necessary. Transformation magic like that isn’t simple or cheap,” the guard replies stoically.
“No. No, you… you have to change me back now.” Dan’s voice starts to tremble. “I’ve been… this for too long. You can’t understand. It’s like—”
“You can make a formal request when we process you,” the guardspony interrupts. He glances over thoughtfully. “In all probability, if you care that much, a higher-up will consider it a fair request considering you’re coming so quietly.”
Dan breathes a sigh of relief. Of course… he’s back with the ponies now.
They’d never be so cruel as to leave him like this.
The sky, now, is aglow with all the colours of the sunset across a peaceful sky. The smells of cinnamon and chocolate, though faint and dull to human senses, are there nonetheless as Dan is escorted through the outskirts of Fillydelphia to the stares of the local ponies drinking hot cocoa from a nearby cafe.
The autumn winds blow past. They’re chilly, but in a good way.