• Published 13th Jul 2014
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Adrift Off Fiddler's Green: The Final Conversion Bureau Story - Chatoyance

A last minute assignment takes newfoal reporter Frontpage to the very greatest secret of Equestria... and beyond.

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1. The Irrepressible Legacy

Adrift Off
Fiddler's Green

A C o n v e r s i o n B u r e a u S t o r y
By Chatoyance

1. The Irrepressible Legacy
The character of Frontpage, The Newfoal Reporter is used with the permission of the brilliant Midnight Shadow

Police Chief Ronald Chua was the only stallion in all of Canterlot - possibly all of proper Equestria, not counting the Exponential Lands - that had a human name. But that alone was not enough to make him worth a cover story. What truly made the light gray stallion in the blue uniform and cap interesting was that he was still... a policeman. Or policestallion, if one were accurate, which Police Chief Ronald Chua invariably was.

Frontpage had been trying for over a week to get an exclusive interview with the Chief. It was a cookie of a story, with a lot of angles to it. The only pony in Canterlot... maybe anywhere... with a name from another world. The only policestallion in all of Equestria, period. Full stop. Well... except for the Chief's deputy, a pegasus named Flitterwing. But there was a story in that, too - apparently Chief Chua had appointed his deputy from some poor colt suckered into the long-gone terrorist group, the PER! That was the rumor, at least. Officer Ronald Chua, the one and only chief policestallion, ever! What had inspired Celestia herself to appoint him in Canterlot? There was no crime! There had to be a really juicy story in just that, alone.

Frontpage rounded the corner of Poll and Dock. Still no Great Police Chief Chua. That was what they had called him, the humans, a hundred years ago, back on earth. He had been a living Planetary Cultural Heritage Treasure, back in his human days. Now, he was just plain difficult to meet. The Chief was only one pony covering a large location, so to make the rounds of Canterlot City, below the palace, he chose a different route every day. The path was unknown except to him. Trying to chase the Chief down was itself a bit like playing cops and robbers - only the cop was the one hard to find. Worse, Frontpage was coming to the conclusion that another rumor might be true - that Great Police Chief Chua was a very private pony who did not like to do interviews, and might be cleverly avoiding him entirely.

Frontpage sat down, resting his weary haunches on the walkway. He stared out across the busy cobblestone street, ponies bustling about shopping, going to shows, and eating in open-air cafes. His gaze lifted up, up, up to the impossible heights of Canterlot castle. Golden-topped spires and decorated towers circled by playful pegasai met his view. The flying ponies looked like specks, dots of color, dancing and chasing each other in the perpetually blue sky.

The sigh was as much from frustration, as it was from weariness. Day after day, chasing after a pony who had more than two hundred years of experience in both discovering, and avoiding, other ponies. Chua had been 145 years old at the time of his Conversion, or so they said. That was a lot of experience.

Frontpage's own birthday was coming up soon... 134 years. It would have been an amazing number to him, a century ago. Only living cultural treasures like Chua, or the wealthy elite, had access to all the life-extending technology of old, gone earth. If he hadn't been talked into taking the purple, on that day, in the Bureau, by one of the very first Conversions... he'd be dead by now. Well, he would have been dead anyway - along with the earth. But if the earth hadn't been already doomed, if Equestria hadn't shown up to rescue everypony - he could never have hoped to see one hundred and thirty-four years.

And that was only about a third of his expected life span. Frontpage realized, with a start, that he was just entering middle age, for an Equestrian. "I'm... middle aged!" The words just sort of blurted out of him. "Almost. Nearly." The thought was astonishing. One hundred and thirty-four, and barely middle aged. It was incredible to realize... he was middle aged now. Again. The notion weighed on him.

Chief Chua would have to be about 245, with another two hundred years to go. Newfoals had their clocks reset by Conversion. Even the oldest, would come out young, in the prime of life. Chua would live an extraordinarily long life even by ordinary pony standards. That was another angle for the story!

Not that there likely would be a story. Frontpage sagged, sitting on the corner of Poll and Dock, and let his head hang almost to the ground. His brown fedora with the PRESS badge on it fell to the street in front of him. He stared at it dully. Over a week. Plodding all around Canterlot City, down every alleyway, up every street, in and out of the market stalls. Middle aged, exhausted despite being an earthpony, and clearly not talented enough to find the only policestallion in the entire universe, within the one, single city that was his beat. It was beginning to look hopeless. And he was running out of time.

In less than two weeks, it would be the one-hundredth anniversary of Zero Point. The centennial of the very last Inclusion Day. One hundred years since the end of the doomed, dying planet, Earth.

As a newfoal, as one of the small number of newfoals who had been allowed to live within Equestria Proper - there just wasn't room for the billions upon billions from earth - that date had meaning for Frontpage. He had wanted to do something special, something newfoal-oriented to celebrate it. He had hoped that the Very Last Policeman Of Earth - and the only policestallion in Equestria - would feel the same way.

Frontpage stared at his hooves, pale brownish-tan, a lighter shade than the dark brown of his upside-down fedora, laying in the street. Sparkling glittery points of light - gemstone dust - glimmered in the gutter. That was him - a reporter without a story was just a speck of light in the gutter. Or something like that. Frontpage moaned, softly, and sagged further.

"Muzzle up, mister Frontpage! The first rule of policework is to always get your pony!"

The shadow that covered the dejected reporter swept back, leaving the sunlight to dazzle his down-turned eyes with gem sparkles once more. Frontpage lifted his head and grinned. It was Great Police Chief Ronald Chua, right there, right on the walkway, not three hooves from him! "I thought the first rule was to 'Go Home Alive'. Very pleased to - finally - meet you, mister Chua!"

"And you, mister Frontpage! It has not been easy eluding you for this long. You have presented me with a very enjoyable challenge this past week. And you are correct. This being Canterlot City, though, the greatest challenge to my life is surely the fine doughnuts at Pony Joe's, and that is almost within my control. Almost." Chua, a gray pegasus in a blue uniform and cap, grinned back.

With a smooth and practiced motion, Frontpage was on his hooves, using his left foreleg to snag and twirl his fedora onto his head. "Can I buy you lunch, Chief Chua?" There was nothing like sharing food to get the conversational ball rolling.

"Attempting to bribe an officer of the law, mister Frontpage?" Chua's eyes twinkled at the sudden flustered discomfort in the earthpony reporter. "If I recall, the fourth rule of policework is Know Where All The Good Food Is. Especially late at night, though that is not our concern at the moment." Chua glanced briefly down the busy street. "How about Topic's? I like the food, and, since you are doing a story regarding my history as a newfoal, it is a newfoal owned establishment. There is a pleasant symmetry there, I think."

Frontpage swallowed. Topic's. Hot Topic was the only other newfoal reporter. He had done a massively popular column, the society section of the Canterlot Querier for decades. While Frontpage had worked his hooves off struggling to do serious journalism about serious topics in a paradisaical cosmos, that sweet-frosted Topic had been schmoozing his way into the graces of the Canterlot elite. Of course he would end up owning a chain of restaurants and other noteworthy concerns. Topic didn't work at the Querier anymore. The overly-successful muffin-muncher.

"C-certainly! It is very kind of you to allow me to interview you. And to come to me. Frankly... I was just about to throw in the towel - and I'm really short on towels, too!"

Chief Chua laughed. "They don't pay you well at the Querier?" The look on the reporter's face answered the question instantly. "Then allow me to buy you lunch. The princess pays me far too much, much more than I deserve. Besides - " Chua smiled broadly at Frontpage " - it can only encourage a positive article, after all."

"Trying to bribe a member of the press, mister Chua?" Both stallions laughed.

"I think I like you, mister Frontpage. I've never liked a reporter before. Equestria is filled with miracles." The only police chief in the universe turned and began walking up the street, with Frontpage at his side. Topic's was just a block away, at the corner of Poll and Billet.

"FRONTPAGE!" the colt reporter was yelling from down the road. "FRONT...PAGE!"

"It seems somepony is following you! Do reporters interview each other now?" Police Chief Chua was only half joking.

"It's Puffpiece. Rookie reporter, thinks he's hot cocoa." Frontpage let his ears sag to the sides and sighed.

"Frontpage! Oh! I'm glad... I caught up... to you in time!" Puffpiece was breathing hard, having apparently run quite the distance.

"Puff. What's news?" Frontpage was pleased to see Officer Chua had smiled at that.

"Gotch...Gotchararzzi says drop the dead donkey - there's a total marmalade dropper she wants you to do instead!" Puffpiece was breathing more easily now, and licked away a speck of foam from his muzzle.

"What? No!" Frontpage's ears pulled back as if being puppeted by overly-tight strings. "You have got to be kidding me! I just managed to..."

"Gotcha's totally lathered for this, Front!" Puffpiece shook his head. "She says to get on this, or hit the trail. Seriously, Front. I don't think she's fooling around this time!"

"Well... muffins!"

"A citizen has died? On my watch?" Officer Chua was instantly on the case "Take me to this unfortunate donkey with no delay! It is required that I be informed of any fatalities within Canterlot or the surrounding area immediately!

Puffpiece and Frontpage stared, briefly, at Legendary Police Chief Ronald Chua and began to snigger. They couldn't help themselves.

"Oh." Chua's blue cap sank low on his brow, tugged down by his ears. "The newspaper term. Earth. Of course." Chua tapped at the edge of a cobblestone with a back hoof. "I have been a citizen of the crown for a very long time now."

"I guess we newfoals have had a bigger impact than I ever realized." Frontpage's ears perked "Now that's a story, right there!"

Puffpiece stamped a forehoof. "Exactly! That's what Gotchararzzi was going on about! She wants to make the whole newfoal centennial into a front page deal, an article a day, starting tomorrow, leading right up to the event itself!"

"Event?" Frontpage hadn't heard about any fuss being made. Newfoals were old news, except to themselves.

"Oh, cupcakes, Frontpage!" Puffpiece shook his head again "You're always going after all the weird stuff - 'Is Equestria A Copy Of Old Earth?', 'What Really Created The Everfree?', 'What Is The Real Secret Of Princess Luna's Thestrals?' - nopony cares! That's the big secret - not a loving pony cares about any of that stuff? Why do you think Gotcha's out to fire your tail?"

"Fire... me?" Frontpage gulped air like a waterless fish. "From my job?"

Puffpiece stared. "No, Front, from a party cannon. To the moon. Of course from your job!" Puffpiece sighed. "You go after all the weird, obscure stuff, but you don't even know about the festival."

"Festival?" Frontpage felt like all four of his legs were failing.

"The Newfoal Centennial Festival! Sweet pudding, Front. I just don't even..."

Officer Chua placed a comforting hoof on Frontpage's back. "It is clear that you need to put your house in order. Let us enjoy our meal another day. I will be here - and when you return, I promise that I will be easy for you to find." Chua smiled, gently, the edges of his eyes crinkling in a fatherly way.

"I... I would really like that." Frontpage raised his head high. "Thank you for understanding, Officer Chua."

Chua was already ambling away down Poll street. "It's taken two hundred years and two universes to find a reporter I like. Keep your job!"

Frontpage nodded, and grinned. Finally a cop he could like in return. Equestria truly was a land of miracles.

The tan earthpony mare with the bright red mane walked down the long dirt path that led between two high walls of regularly placed banana plants. The plants were tall, with thick stalks and wide blades. Her goal was at the end of the road, a field expansion recently planted with new corms. There had been a problem with the planting, because some of her workers had thought the soil too compacted and that it had poor drainage. Over the decades, the demand for bananas had only increased, and the scale of Acres Plantation had grown ever greater.

The mare sighed, looking at the hardpacked ground. The banana corms had been well set, but it was clear that the workers had been right. A quick dig with a forehoof proved that the new expansion area was less than ideal. It was her fault, she had been spending too much time with her sister, and not enough time with the bananas. It was impossible to say no to her sister. Especially after that ruling from the princesses. Her sister had worked so hard... but the issues raised were rational.

The mare made a rapid series of clicks with her tongue and lips, aiming into the thick banana plants that bordered the newly planted field. When nothing happened, she tried again, making the loudest sounds she could manage.

A thin, far-away string of clicks finally responded. The mare waited. She noticed a small green sprout in the packed soil. For a moment, she closed her eyes. The tiny sprout began to explode from the ground, like fireworks in green, expanding in size over the course of seconds into a fully mature strawberry plant.

The mare opened her eyes and lowered her head. She nibbled several of the red, ripe strawberries while she waited. After a few additional berries, clear, strong clicks could be heard from nearby, inside the tall banana plants.

It walked on eight yellow and black legs. It wore eight tiny, thimble-like shoes. It's large dark abdomen was speckled with yellow dots and tan streaks. Strapped to the abdomen was a set of specially designed saddlebags, filled with gardening tools. It stood to attention, clicked with it's mandibles for a while, and saluted with one of it's forward legs. It stood half the height of a pony.

The tan mare made more clicking sounds, pawed at the ground with a hoof, and pointed at the strawberries.

The gargantuan banana spider stepped forward, snagged a berry in its palps, and stepped back, smacking and grinding the fruit. It reached over it's abdomen with a rear leg, and pulled forth a small trowel with a large ring built into the handle. Slipping a forward leg thimble-shoe into the ring, it dug with the implement while making more clicking sounds. Finally it scooped out a mass of small stones, and poured them on the ground.

"Ah!" The mare nodded. "I see... there is drainage... it's just the compaction on the top. That can be fixed!"

The spider's eight shining eyes regarded her, unblinkingly.

"Oh. Sorry." The mare clicked with her mouth for some time.

The spider cleaned and replaced it's trowel. It bowed and clicked. It stepped forward and snagged another berry, before turning and scuttling back into the forest of banana plants.

For some time, the red-maned mare moved her mouth from side to side, and forward and back. She lifted a forehoof to massage her jaw. She used her pastern to rub her lips, for a while. Musa-Arachnian was a troublesome language that always left her lips numb and her jaw sore. The spiders could understand Equestrian perfectly well, but insisted, contractually, to be addressed in their own language. They could understand Equestrian, but they could never pronounce it. It was a matter of pride to them. One worth unionizing over.

Crimson Beauty Acres, once Petra Alice Bettencourt, the wealthiest little girl on the long lost planet earth, had been put in charge of her mother's plantation. Her pony mother, her true mother - the mother that had personally chosen to adopt her out of genuine love. Banana Acres. Crimson loved her mother. And somepony needed to keep the plantation running - Banana was beyond weary of the entire operation. The spiders were excellent workers, but negotiations were always tough... and truth be told, Banana was not comfortable around the sapient arachnoids. Or their overly-proud culture.

Crimson swept the bright red fall of hair from her eyes with a twist of her long, tan neck. Her sister Plantain was out there, on the mountain, near the Everfree. In her institute. Forever trying to make Snow Bunnies safe. Safe enough to be allowed into pony society.

Ponies shared their cities, towns and villages with many other sapient creatures. Donkeys, certainly, but also goats and pigs and sheep, too. Dogs and cats. Ordinary rabbits and chickens and other birds. Griffons and dragons, sometimes. And, more and more, the troll-like Diamond Dogs.

But despite all of her sister's efforts, Snow Bunnies remained too dangerous to live in close proximity to ponykind.

Crimson began to walk back to the house. Plantain had come so close. She had thought she had solved the problem for sure. An adaptation of the simple binding ring created for the Bureaus, long, long ago.

Newfoal unicorns sometimes woke up unable to control their telekinetic and magical powers. It happened commonly enough that a solution had been created - a horn ring, into which a thaumatic construct, a spell, had been fused. The ring corked the very flow of magic through the horn, and so shut off the powers of any unicorn. The device was very powerful, and could nullify the thaumatic energies of even the Royal Corps Of Unicorns, who had developed it. There were tens of thousands of the rings, left over from the days of the Bureaus.

Plantain's idea was simple, even elegant. The rings were large enough that they could serve as collars for the tiny Snow Bunnies. Around the neck of a Bunny, the creature's horrifying defense mechanism - freezing everything around it - was utterly nullified. It made the bunnies perfectly safe.

As long as the weighty rings were worn.

And that was the reason the princesses' had denied Plantain's petition to permit Snow Bunnies to escape the dangerous Everfree and join civilization. The horn rings worked, but they were heavy to the little bunnies, and could not be comfortably worn all of the time, without exception. The bunnies couldn't easily sleep with one on, they were a drowning problem in the bath, and they limited mobility in any case. No bunny could be expected to carry around, every day, all day and night, what amounted to being - for them - a solid metal life preserver. Especially when the lives being preserved were every living creature anywhere within a radius of almost 20 hooves.

Plantain had fled, crying, from the throne room, and Crimson had tried to comfort her sister, but the fact was... Crimson agreed with the princesses. It was a sad thing - the bunnies were kindly creatures, intelligent, talented, they didn't deserve to have to live in the Everfree, where the monsters roamed. But they could not control their tremendous power. Their unconscious, automatic reaction to feeling threatened made them too dangerous to be around. The Everfree was their proper home, because, as sweet and kind as they were, they ultimately were... monsters.

That was something Plantain could not hear. It was something she would not hear, and when Crimson had broached the fact, the two sisters had parted on less than warm terms.

Thus it was that Crimson ran the family banana plantation for crown and country, and Plantain continued to research a solution to the plight of the bunnies. The Royal Equestrian Institute For The Integration Of Discordant Creatures. It was Luna, they had learned, that had funded the creation of the institute, and who paid to maintain both it, and Plantain's dream.

Crimson had been glad that one of the princesses' had done something to benefit her sister, but it had also meant that they would live apart. Crimson had no wish to live on the border of the Everfree, close to where scary and dangerous things prowled. She certainly couldn't raise a family there.

As Crimson approached the plantation main house, her current youngest, Clover, broke away from her older sister, Jinx, and ran to her mother.

"Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! There's a porter an he's here an he's wantsta darticle you!" Clover pranced around Crimson, repeating variations of her message in assorted combinations until they reached the front steps.

"Mom. There is a strange stallion in our house." Jinx was as calm and flat of tone as Clover was excitable. Except when she sang. Jinx was a very good singer. "I let him in and gave him some water and some of our melonade and some of our banana chips. I told him you would be back soon and to wait. He is a reporter, mother. He works for the Canterlot Querier."

"An' he's gots a HAT! Mommy! Mommy! He's gottsa HAT!" Clover was very insistent on this point, it must be important.

Crimson nuzzled her children. They smelled nice, warm and sweet, in the perpetual summer. Crimson took her time. They grow up so fast. They youngest was nearly fifteen now, and Jinx was approaching twenty-five. By thirty, they would reach puberty, and then everything would change, and these gentle, sweet, dependent moments would be gone forever.

"Well, then, I suppose I should go and see this reporter, shouldn't I?" Crimson untangled herself from her foal-and-filly sandwich and ascended the steps.

"Me too? All go? Jinx go? Go too?" Clover looked up with large eyes, excited at anything new.

Crimson thought about the date, about what was approaching in a week and a half. "Reporters are serious stuff. Usually. This is big pony stuff, sweety. Real boring stuff."

"Like MATH?" Clover did not like numbers. She believed they came from the Everfree, carried on the backs of all the scary stories that ever were.

"All math. It's all math." Crimson kept her muzzle tight and her expression serious.

"I gonna go play. Bye." Clover galloped off. While new things were exiting, boring new things were not. It was a robust and rigorous theorem strongly supported by the equation {(NEW) - (FUN) = DUMB}. No foal of proper credentials thought otherwise, it was a peer-reviewed fundamental principle.

"There's some... stuff... I need to do. Is that okay, mom?" Jinx would stay if she was asked to. She was a very helpful filly.

"Run along. If I need you, I'll call." Crimson nodded like one of Celestia's Ceremonial Guard, stalwart and severe.

Jinx nodded back, then turned and ran. She tried to be the proper older sister, but it was clear that she recognized the legitimacy of Foal Mathematics.

Crimson let herself laugh only when her daughters were out of earshot.

A reporter, then, inside her house. It could not be a coincidence. In nine days, it would be the hundredth year since Zero Point, and Crimson Beauty was a newfoal. In some circles a mildly famous newfoal.

She was, after all, one of the Everfree Six.