• Published 16th Feb 2012
  • 7,550 Views, 92 Comments

The Finger Trap - PPG Hunter

Ponies on Earth. Humans in Equestria. And one poor schmuck in the middle of it all.

  • ...

IV. Your Taxes at Work

By mid-afternoon Sunday, I had convinced myself that the previous day's events were truly in the past. However Danny and Molly were handling Twilight, they hadn't involved me since they left my house and I could see no reason why they would involve me in the future. So when I heard a knock at the door, I assumed it was from someone unrelated to the matter. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the door to be greeted by a man in full military uniform. He looked barely old enough to drink, and while his large frame was naturally imposing, his posture seemed almost submissive, like he was going out of his way not to scare me. "Adrian Parker?" he asked. I nodded. "Lieutenant Milton Wright, United States Air Force. I've been asked to escort you to McCracken AFB."

McCracken is the local Air Force base, less than a half-hour's drive from my house, though I didn't usually travel in that direction. My mind tried in vain to discern why they of all people would be interested in me. "Uh... what?"

"Sir, yesterday there was an incident at this location. I was not cleared to know the details, but I was told that it had national security implications and... something to do with ponies, if that makes any sense to you." Wright read my face for some sign of recognition.

"Jesus Face-Hugging Christ." My head and shoulders drooped. What did those idiots at animal control do? I asked myself. "Let me guess: you're really here as part of some government coverup. You've been ordered to silence all the witnesses to the, uh, 'incident.'"

Wright shook his head. "No, sir. The Air Force knows better than anyone the impossibility of plugging an information leak in the digital age. And in addition to violating several federal regulations, forcing your silence would deny us a vital source of intelligence. We only want to bring you in for questioning, to assess the damage and determine how much time we have to devise a response."

"If that's the case, I've got good news," I said. "I haven't told a soul about the incident -- except for the people I brought in to deal with it, and I'm sure you've already tracked them down."

"Be that as it may, sir, I have my orders." He paused. "But you do have the right to refuse my request. I can't legally compel you to appear. Just say the word, and I'll leave you in peace."

"No, no, that's fine. It's probably for the best if I cooperate. Incidents as big as this one have a way of making people forget about silly little things like federal law and the Constitution." I smiled wryly to mask a genuine pang of fear. "If I don't go with you, I'm sure I'll be brought to the base in the middle of the night, bound and gagged by some covert ops team."

Wright stifled a laugh at what he thought was mere paranoia on my part. "If you say so, sir."

I motioned back inside the house. "Can I at least grab my housekeys before we go?" I asked. "So I can leave the door locked while we're out?"

He thought it over for a second. "I see no problem with that, sir." I went back for my keys and picked up my phone charger as well, in the admittedly unlikely event that I was held at McCracken for an extended stay without having my personal effects seized. "Are you ready to go, sir?" Wright asked when I returned to the door.

"I am," I said. "Let's roll." With the door locked, we departed in Wright's Jeep. As I sat there in the passenger seat, I marveled at how few precautions he'd taken with me: first coming to my house alone, then letting me leave his sight possibly to retrieve a weapon, and now allowing me to sit next to him without any sort of barrier. Either he'd been trained very poorly or someone in the chain of command was absolutely certain I could be trusted. Maybe when this is over, I thought, I can get a security clearance for an IT job at McCracken. Civilian contractors for the military make a lot of money.

After a few minutes of driving, I decided to break the silence. "So... how 'bout them Reds? I know they've been playing pretty well this year. I just can't see them making the playoffs when all's said and done."

"Sir, I'm from Virginia," Wright said. "I don't follow local teams."

"Oh." I looked down and away. "So... Virginia. Is that Orioles country?"

"Nationals, sir," he answered.

"Right. Duh." I slapped my head lightly. "Bit of a brain fart there. Forgot Washington had a baseball team."

"I can't blame you, sir," he said, cracking a faint smile. "The way they play, sometimes I'd like to forget Washington has a baseball team." We carried on talking about baseball and other sports until we arrived at the base. After clearing me with the guardhouse, Wright drove me to a moderately impressive office building at the heart of the complex. He led me to a particular office on the ground floor, occupied by a heavily decorated gentleman with graying hair and well-worn features. "Colonel Patterson," Wright said after exchanging salutes, "this is Adrian Parker, here per your request. Mr. Parker, Col. Frank Patterson, commanding officer for McCracken Air Force Base."

"How do you do, sir?" I asked.

"Fine, thank you," Patterson replied. "That will be all, Lieutenant. You're dismissed." Wright closed the door behind him, leaving me alone with the colonel and feeling somewhat intimidated. "Have a seat, Mr. Parker." I did. "I'd like to begin by double-checking the information I've received about you. Yesterday, at 0911 local time, you contacted Centre City Animal Control regarding an intelligent pony-like creature at your house. The creature called herself Twilight Sparkle and claimed to have come from an extraterrestrial civilization known as Equestria. At approximately 0930 the same day, Ms. Sparkle was removed from the premises by two animal control officers. Am I correct so far?"

"Y-yes, sir," I stammered. My voice was uncertain and fearful; the gravity of the situation had finally caught up with me.

"Good, good." Patterson shuffled some papers on his desk. "Then let me bring you up to speed on what's happened since then. Animal control called NASA. NASA called us. We brought Ms. Sparkle and everyone else here. Now we're interviewing everyone who made contact with Ms. Sparkle in order to formulate a plan of action."

"And what are you doing with Ms. Sparkle herself?" I asked. "A good old-fashioned alien autopsy?"

"No, Mr. Parker," he said as gruffly as he could manage, which was quite a bit. "That's only in movies and TV shows."

"Really? Would you do one if I asked nicely? Heck, I'll even pay you for it." I should note here that I didn't really want to see Twilight in the morgue. I sometimes use inappropriate humor as a coping mechanism. "'Cause ever since she showed up, she's been a thorn in my side, so if you could make her go away, --"

Patterson cut me off. "Mr. Parker, have you ever seen E.T.?"

"Uh... yeah," I said. "Who hasn't?"

"Have you ever seen the alternate ending," he asked, "where E.T.'s alien buddies come back to pick him up, find out we've slaughtered him like an animal, and nuke our population centers in retaliation?"

"Um..." I scratched the back of my neck. "Was that before or after they replaced the guns with walkie-talkies?"

"Neither," he said, furrowing his brow. "It was never a part of the movie. And do you know why?"

"Because..." I hesitated. "Because it would have destroyed the film thematically?"

"Because we don't go around cutting aliens open without a damn good reason! Our policy toward extraterrestrial intelligences is and always has been to show them the same deference we would show any other official guest of the United States. That includes respecting their funerary customs, so even if one came to our world already dead, we wouldn't do an autopsy until we could confirm that their family or other basic social unit was okay with it." Patterson leaned back in his chair. "But I'm getting off topic. You're here to discuss your experiences with Twilight Sparkle."

"Oh right," I said. "The interrogation."

"Interview," he said firmly. "Okay, first question: according to Ms. Sparkle, you were the first human she met on our planet. Were you lucky enough to witness her actual arrival or did you only see her afterward?"

"The second one. I didn't see her come here." I shrugged. "Sorry."

"No need to apologize," Patterson said with a smile. "All I want out of you is the truth. We can worry about everything else later. Second question: Ms. Sparkle says she used, and I'm quoting here, 'magic' to extract knowledge of the English language from your brain. Do you recall her having done such a thing to you, and if so can you describe how it happened?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I know what you're talking about. There's not much to tell. Her horn started glowing, I got a nasty headache, and about a minute later they both suddenly stopped and she was able to talk."

"Interesting." He looked over his papers again. "Third question: besides Centre City Animal Control, did you notify anyone else about Ms. Sparkle, either personally or over the Internet?"

"I did not," I said. "Honestly I've just been trying to forget about her since she left. You guys aren't making that very easy."

"If that's so, I can guess the answer to my fourth and final question," Patterson mused. "But I have to ask it anyway. Did you record any photographic or videographic evidence of your encounter with Ms. Sparkle?"

"Again, I did not. You guessed correctly." I smiled. "So, if that was the last question, is there anything else you need from me?"

Patterson's face turned serious. "I'm afraid there is. Mr. Parker, the fact that you know of Ms. Sparkle's presence puts you in a rather privileged position. Until such time as she can be revealed through more official channels, I may have to rely on you and the others to assist me in certain endeavors. Nothing illegal or immoral, but maybe a bit unpleasant. Can I count on your help?"

"Do I have a choice?" I asked.

"Do you want to be sent to Gitmo as a security risk?" he replied. And Lt. Wright laughed at me, I thought. "Your first task is simple. Follow me to rendezvous with the other contactees. Come, Mr. Parker." He stood up and led me out of the room, to a medical facility in the basement with Danny, Molly, and a man with olive complexion and hair up to high heaven. "I take it you've met Mr. Thiessen and Ms. Wootton already. Dr. Renzetti, this is Adrian Parker. Mr. Parker, Dr. Beniamino Renzetti, formerly with the European Space Agency, now part of NASA."

"I'm the man they sent to look at these two's so-called 'meteor impact,'" Renzetti said with a mild but noticeable accent. "Very naughty. Lying to federal agents is a crime, is it not?"

"Let it go, Doc," Patterson sighed. "They weren't hindering an investigation. And our final guests should be joining us shortly." Sure enough, a pair of double doors soon swung open to allow a woman with glasses and a lab coat through, flanked by the pony that had ruined my weekend. "Everyone say hi to Major Dr. Megan Faust, chief of medicine here at the base, and of course Twilight Sparkle. Major Faust has spent the past several hours studying Ms. Sparkle. Can you tell us your findings?"

"Certainly, sir," Faust said with a smile and a nod. "Well, look at me. I'm a veterinarian for a real-life My Little Pony. It's every little girl's dream come true."

"Not quite, Major. You still have to report your results to icky boys," Patterson joked.

"Oh, that's -- that's clever, sir." Faust looked down at her chart. "All right. The physiology is largely equine. No surprise there. But the skeletal and muscular structure is very much anthropomorphic. The face is capable of a vast variety of expressions and vocal articulations. The shoulder and hip joints have a wide range of motion, slightly larger than that of human shoulders. The body is proportioned such that she can sustain bipedal posture and motion. Ms, Sparkle, if you could demonstrate...?" Twilight reared up on her hind legs and took a few steps before dropping back on all fours.

"And the hooves," Faust continued, "the hooves are the really curious thing. They have the keratinous walls, as you'd expect. But on the underside, instead of a thick layer of calloused skin, they have thin skin over a retractable muscle mass, almost like a tongue. When pulled in, it turns the hoof walls into natural horseshoes. When pushed out, it can be used for grasping and manipulation. It doesn't provide as much dexterity as a hand, but it's still fairly useful. Observe." She handed a pen to Twilight, who held up a forehoof to take it. The pen appeared to stick to Twilight's hoof, and she even twirled it a bit before the major took it back.

"This is all quite riveting, Major," Patterson said, "but it's not why I had you look at her."

"I know, sir. I'm getting to it." Faust flipped the page on her chart. "Unfortunately, the exact mechanism behind her magic is still unknown. What I do know is that her cells contain microscopic particles that are somehow tied to her magical ability."

"So they're like the midichlorians from the bad Star Wars movies?" I asked.

"Sort of," Faust said, "except these are smaller -- on the scale of ribosomes. Now if you'd like to know how they work, we can either send them to a physics lab and run months, maybe years, of tests on them, or -- and this was Ms. Sparkle's idea, not mine -- she can retrieve the Equestrians' own research material on the subject from her library." Twilight perked up at hearing her suggestion.

Patterson nodded. "I like the second one. Much faster. We shouldn't be reinventing the wheel if we can avoid it. But we should send someone with her so we can learn more about Equestria while we're at it. It'll have to be someone in this room. And since traveling to an alien world unattended is potentially quite dangerous, there's only one way to decide." The colonel touched his finger to his nose. By the time I realized the significance of the gesture, everyone else had done the same. "Congratulations, Mr. Parker. You're going to Equestria."

"Wait, whoa, whoa," I said. "You can't call 'not it' to decide who goes on a trip like this! You need the most qualified people for the job. Was the crew of Apollo 11 decided by short straws?"

"No," Renzetti said, "but after Apollo 1, perhaps they should have done it that way."

"Besides, the moon landing required a great deal of technical and navigational skill. This trip only needs you to do two things: survive and grab some books, and it's the first one that concerns me." Patterson cracked a smirk. "You're not Neil Armstrong. You're more like the dog the Russians sent up with Sputnik."

"Laika," Renzetti chimed in.

"Didn't that dog die?" I asked flatly.

"I should hope so," Renzetti responded. "They didn't even try to bring her back safely."

"But you have much better odds. We're not shooting you into the cold void of space. And if Ms. Sparkle can survive here, it's likely you can survive there. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get you ready to go." Patterson left the room for a few moments and came back carrying a helmet with a camera attached. "Wear this. It'll record your stay in Equestria."

I took the helmet. "You know, I really don't want to do this."

"And I really don't care," Patterson said.

I strapped the helmet on and looked at Twilight. "Are you sure you can get me to Equestria and back safely?"

"Very sure," Twilight said. She turned to the rest of the group. "And none of you want to come with us?"

"Not on the first attempt," Danny answered.

"Not on such short notice," Molly noted.

"Not while I have work to do," Faust said.

"Great." I took a deep breath and nodded at Twilight. "Okay. Two to beam up, Mr. Scott."

"What?" she asked.

"...nothing. Just go." Her horn glowed, and my entire body was covered with warmth, presumably because all my molecules were being excited in ways they shouldn't have been. In a few seconds, the drab walls of the Air Force base melted away from my vision and were replaced with the all-too-vibrant colors of Equestria. I was a long way from home, and it was only going to get longer.