Applejack shoved through the crowd of ponies queueing up outside the mayor’s office and bucked the doors right off their hinges.
“This election’s been rigged!” she proclaimed at the top her voice. She brandished a parchment poster like a shotgun. “Who’s gonna answer for this?”
The room went silent. A long line of ponies snaked around the main room and up the stairs to the second floor, where the mayor’s office was. They all stared at the floorboards in sheepish silence. Pleasant muzak buzzed softly from invisible speakers. It made Applejack’s eye twitch.
Finally, a mare on the opposite side of the room spoke up. “Miss Applejack,” she said, “seeing as this office has been converted to Mayor Mare’s campaign HQ, I hope you understand the severity of your entering. It’s against the rules for competing interests to enter here without written consent.”
Applejack recognized her as Mayor Mare’s personal assistant. “Well, since you went and threw the rule book out with this little stunt of yours, I thought I’d break a few rules myself.”
“It’s just Applejack, please and go-buck-yourself.”
“Thank you for clarifying. I’m afraid I don’t know what rules you think we’re breaking.”
“This!” she shouted, gesturing madly to the line of ponies. “This is blatant schemery.”
“You read that poster?”
“Uh—no. Everyone knows reading’s for unicorns and socialists.” A few earth ponies in the line nodded their heads. “But the pictures were very illuminating. Like I said before, this is schemery of the highest order.”
“Hosting a public forum is not scheming.”
“If this is a forum, then I’m a gall-dern unicorn’s daddy.”
Several of the unicorns in the queue cast nasty glares her way. Applejack didn’t care. She’d never polled well with unicorns, but this was an earth pony town, so buck them.
“It’s just Applejack.”
“Beg pardon. You really should leave.”
“Not before I talk to Mayor Mare and let her know exactly what I think of this sham of a public forum.”
The assistant took a clipboard from the wall and regarded it dispassionately. “Despite being a competing political interest, you are also a resident of Ponyville. We’ll go by hoofball rules here and say the two offset. You may see the mayor.”
“But since everyone else here is also a resident of Ponyville, you’ll have to wait in line to see the mayor.” The assistant arched an eyebrow. “Unless you think you’re entitled to special treatment.”
Every eyeball in the room shifted to Applejack. The weight of all those stares hit her like a truck.
Where’d their shame go? Shame was a powerful tool in the hands of a gifted politician. By the way the assembled ponies looked at her, she’d just let that power slip through her hooves.
Her face went red. Hatred twisted her gut. “Fine,” she spat. “I’ll wait in your stupid sham of a line.”
“Even you can trust Mayor Mare about this much,” the assistant said as Applejack walked out to take her place at the back of the line. “If you respect the line, the line will respect you.” She raised her voice to a shout. “And that’s a Mayor Mare Promise!”
Everypony in line applauded the beaming assistant.
Applejack stormed outside. She really wished she hadn’t kicked the doors down when she came in, if not just to have something to kick as she left.
The line had grown considerably since she went inside. Applejack diligently took her place at the back of the line. While she waited, she re-read the crumpled poster in her hoof.
“Public forum,” she mumbled. “The hay it’s a public forum.”
“Applejack?” a voice came from behind her.
She turned to find her neighbor and farmer-in-crime, Dirty Dozer, walking towards her. “Dozer, how’s it going?”
“I’m doing okay. Corn’s rotating out this year.”
“Mhmm. Not a good year for corn.”
“Yeah. Gonna give the east field the ol’ green bean supreme.”
“Good year for green beans. What about the west field?”
“Westie got green beans last year, so I’m rotating it out.”
“Mhmm, not a good year for green beans.”
“Yeah. Gonna do corn instead this time.”
“Good year for corn.”
They stared at the ground in silence, their earth pony minds lost in visualizing the growth of green beans and corn.
“Anyway,” Dozer said, “what brings you here?”
“I’m here to take down Mayor Mare.” Applejack held up her poster for Dozer to read. “There’s illegal political knivery going on behind them there doors, and I’m dead-set on exposing it.”
“There aren’t any doors over there,” Dozer pointed out.
Applejack reflected on her recent B&E. “Right. That’s one of those fancy political turns-of-phrases.”
“Oh, wow, never heard that one before.” Dozer chewed on the word thoughtfully. “Doors. Neat-o.”
“Yup. Once I blow the doors off this sham, the mayoral seat is as good as mine.”
“Well, good for you! Them politicians and their doors can go rot in the sun. You know you’ve always got my vote. Us farmers gotta stick together.”
“Darn right.” She held out a hoof, which he bumped solidly in return. “So what are you doing out here?”
“Oh, I’m comin’ to the forum, too.”
Applejack’s jaw went slack. “You’re what?”
“Yeah, I saw that same poster on the lightpost by my street corner, so I thought I’d check it out.”
“Now, you know as well as anyone I can’t read. But those pictures on the poster were very illuminating.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“This isn’t fun for me, Applejack. This is politics. I really need to let Mayor Mare have it. Especially after all those impositions she leveled on farmland zoning. She’s really overstepped her bounds.”
“Can’t you just send a strongly worded letter or something?”
“No one reads those letters. We all know that. I’m gonna march right in there and let her know, alright.” Dozer eyed the queue. “After everyone else has their turn, of course.”
Applejack frowned a deep frown and turned around. She loved Dozer to the moon and back, but seeing him here made her nervous.
How many other supporters of hers saw those darn posters?
Half an hour passed. The line moved at an unsettlingly brisk pace.
Just as Applejack was about to pass through the doorless doorway, she heard someone shouting her name behind her. She rolled her eyes and turned around, bracing for something awful.
This time, the culprit was a reporter from the politics section of the Foal Free Press, a portly pegasus named Inky Intuition.
He approached from the air like a fat griffon trying to stalk a paralyzed salmon, then careened to a stop just a hoof’s length away from her.
“What do you have to say, Miss Applejack?” he panted, shoving a recorder into her face.
She brushed it aside. “It’s just Applejack. And I don’t know what I have to say about it, cuz I don’t know what it is in this context.”
“It, your majesty, is this.” Inky Intuition swept his hoof in the direction of the line. Applejack cringed. The way he was waving that recorder, he’d pick up more windy sounds than voices.
Ironic, given that most of what politicians had to say anyway was hot air.
“This is a sham of a public forum,” Applejack said. “I’m here to give Mayor Mare a piece of my mind.”
“Are you now?” The portly pegasus tried to shove the recorder into her face again. She parried his advance. “Here’s a headline: queen of the farmers waits in line to give it to ol’ Mayor Mare.”
“I would advise against running that title.”
“Cuz it’s bad.”
He gestured to the poster still clutched in her hoof. “I see you’ve read the posters. If that sign was posted legally, you had no right to tear it down, you know.”
“Reading’s for unicorns and socialists,” she said. “And I just happened to come across this poster on the ground. Someone else with half a lick of sense must have torn it down.”
“So would you say you’re calling your supporters to tear these legally-placed posters down in an act of rebellion?”
“Can I quote you for the next issue?”
“Depends on what the headline’s gonna be.”
“Oh, I dunno. Probably something along the lines of, “‘Princess of postmodern political persecution denies rebellious intent, rebels anyway.’ How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like too many lies to fit in one headline.”
“It’s going up online. We can make the titles as long as we want.”
Applejack groaned. She looked over her shoulder at the massive queue. She really hoped she could get out of here soon.
Another hour passed. Just getting up the stairs took nearly twenty minutes. Ascending to any height higher than sea level left most earth ponies uneasy. Since Applejack was an extra earth pony-y earth pony, that fact went doubly so.
Thankfully, she made it off the stairs without collapsing. The mayor’s office was dead ahead. All that separated the two rivals was a single door.
And Applejack knew how to deal with doors.
A shower of wood shards heralded her arrival. “Shemery!” she shouted, brandishing the poster. “Dirty rotten schemery!”
The scene of the scheme made her draw back with a gasp. Two security guards lounged atop the mayor’s desk, casually browsing sports magazines and making small talk. In front of the desk was a box two-thirds the height of a pony (not that Applejack could articulate that much—fractions, like reading, were also for unicorns and socialists).
From one end of the box protruded the snout of Mayor Mare. From the opposite end protruded her bare rear end.
Applejack had to admit—the pictures on the poster really did the scene justice.
“Is that Applejack?” The box rattled slightly. Mayor Mare’s mouth moved, muffled slightly by the constraints of the box. “This is my official campaign headquarters. You shouldn’t be allowed in here.”
“Well, here I am. I’m here to expose this illegal sham of a forum.”
“Is that all?” The box shook some more. “Miss Applejack, there’s really nothing left to expose here.”
“It’s just Applejack,” Applejack hissed. “And look at yourself. This is trading favors for votes!”
“On the contrary. I’m trading favors for nothing.”
“That’s right. This really is an open forum. I’m laying it all bare for Ponyville to see. Any citizen is free to come around and—” she wiggled her rear end. “Express their concerns.”
Applejack’s brain started to boil in her skull.
“Think of it like a town hall. Ponies have concerns. I want to hear them.”
“What can I say? It’s an election year.” She paused. “Oh, silly me. I tried to wink at you, but I forgot I’m still in the fuck-box.”
“I have many concerns to raise about the ethics of this.”
“Of course. You’re a citizen, and you waited in line. You have all the same rights as anyone else in town. But it might be rather difficult to accommodate you as it is. You see, this position is a very unnatural one to hold for long periods of time. So within this box I’ve rigged a complex system of ropes and pullies to support me.”
A blush sprang onto Applejack’s face. “Didn’t need to know that.”
“But if you really wanted to have your concerns addressed—”
“We could perhaps tip the box over so I’m facing upright—”
“Suit yourself.” The mayor cleared her throat. “I would be happy to continue this conversation, but as you’re well aware there are a lot of other ponies who also have a need to address their mayor. We can continue our chat if you’ll allow them to proceed with their discourse as well.”
Before Applejack could respond, the security guards rose from the desk and ushered in the next stallion in line—which just so happened to be Dirty Dozer.
“Oh, hi Applejack!” he said. “I hope I didn’t interrupt.”
“Not at all,” the mayor chimed in from her box. “You may address your concerns however you see fit, citizen. Miss Applejack has some points on political theory she’d like to discuss while you go.”
Dozer gave Applejack a funny look. “You do?”
“No, she’s lying. I don’t know any political theory.”
“Of course she does! All good politicians do.”
“I’m no politician. I’m a farmer.”
“Your recent remarks on the ethics of postmodern sexual liberation and its relationship with political favor-gathering are very eye-opening.”
A frown wormed its way onto Dozer’s face. “It is. Very eye-opening indeed.”
“No, Dozer, you gotta believe me. I don’t know a lick of what she’s saying.”
“Oh, really? I don’t buy it. That politician spoke very eloquently about how much of a politician you are.”
“But she’s a politician, dozer. You can’t trust them!”
“That’s true...” Dozer scratched his chin. “Then what were you doing here, anyway?”
“I was here to expose this sham of a public forum,” Applejack said, a little less sure of herself now.”
“And did you expose it?”
“Looks like it’s already fully exposed.”
“Then what are you still doing here? Besides holding up the line.”
“She wanted to watch,” Mayor Mare said. “Ope, there I go winking again. You still couldn’t see it, could you.”
Dozer’s face contorted in horror. “That’s some degenerate unicorn schemery if I’ve ever heard of it. That ain’t family values. It’s certainly not Dozer Farms. And it sure ain’t me. Consider my vote revoked, Miss Applejack.”
“It’s just Applejack!”
Before Applejack could react, the two security guards flew into action. They picked her up under both arms and escorted her out of the room. She was so shocked she didn’t even start kicking and screaming until she made it to the stairwell.
“Unicorns and socialists!” she bellowed as the guards tossed her into the street. She jerked upright and puffed out her chest. “This ain’t no way to treat one of your own. I’ll be back.”
“Miss?” said a voice from behind her.
She whirled around, ready to knock the teeth from the skull of the pony who dared call her Miss.
It was a townie earth pony named Billowing Buns, one of the artisans who worked at the Cake family bakery during the off-days when Pinkie Pie needed to save the world.
“Sorry,” he said as he approached, “but I saw that awful display. Those Mayor Mare guys are nothing but thugs. I can’t believe they’d treat you that way. You’re the other mayoral candidate, right?”
“Yeah,” Applejack said. Her kicking legs tensed up as Billowing Buns approached. “What about it?”
“I’m just glad someone finally had the gall to stand up to Mayor Mare’s degenerate unicorn-sympathizing orgies of sin. It’s no earth pony values. It’s not Ponyville. It’s certainly not me. I’m just glad to know someone out there is fighting for me.”
The fighting fire that burned in Applejack’s heart dimmed to a smolder. “Well, you know me. Gotta stand up to power where I can.”
“That’s right. And what a good thing there’s so much power to stand up to! I’ll come back next week to cheer you on.”
“Next week? What’s going on next week? Do I have a rally or something?”
“No, that’s when the next sham of a public forum is being held.”
“I’m afraid not.” Billowing Buns pointed to the poster. “It’s all right there.”
Applejack studied the poster again. A mote of suspicion rose in her voice. “Wait a second... there ain’t no picture of another forum happening next week.”
“Yes. But it’s written down there at the bottom.”
“You know how to read?”
“Yes, I actually studied for a year at a school in—urk!”
Applejack stuffed the poster down Billowing Buns’ throat.
“Keep yer vote,” she growled.
Lesson learned—unicorns and socialists took many deceitful shapes.