• Published 5th May 2018
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Seven Days in Sunny June, Book V: The New Frontier - Shinzakura

The conclusion of the Seven Days in Sunny June saga! The world has changed, and those within it must cope with the aftermath of what has happened.

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August 16, AM: Today

Sunset woke up with a start. The first thing she noticed was that her room was larger. A lot larger. There were items in the room that she’d never seen before but could suddenly remember getting. Items she’d never owned before but knew she bought at one time or another.

She stretched, got out of bed, and stepped onto the luxurious carpet that felt like it melted under her feet. That was new, too. Everything in the room was expensive, ridiculously so, and she wondered at what point did she end up back in Canterlot…Equestria’s Canterlot.

She walked over to the bedroom door, completely confused. Grandmother, what did you do?

She then left the room, hearing several other doors open at the same time.

“Sunny?” she heard a voice say just a second before she got a hug. It was Twilight, and her face was a picture of confusion. “Where are we?”

“Home? I think,” she said and the moment she did that, she could see two things in her mind: both what had been and yet had never been, and the now that had never existed but was clearly here.

She saw a briefly blank look come over Twilight a second later, her sister shook her head. “That…was weird. Was this your doing?”

“No, but I think it was my grandmother’s.” The two looked around and saw what vaguely looked like their original house, but now on a much larger, much more luxurious scale: there were sculptures and paintings. The antique press that Fluttershy had purchased with her father’s credit card now sat as a display piece downstairs, now looking not-so-ridiculously-out-of-place as it had before.

“This…is weird.” They turned to see Octavia approaching, with an equally freaked out look. “I just came out of my bedroom, which has all-new stuff from when I….” She suddenly looked afraid. “Did I…?”

“Yeah, you did,” Sunset said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “But we’re family, okay? I forgave you then, and that hasn’t changed.”

Three more doors opened and a familiar voice said, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” The three turned to see the triplets come out of three other rooms – their rooms.

“Did I just imagine all of reality?” Adagio asked them.

“Did you really wet the bed when you were nine?” Sunset asked.

“I don’t know!”

“She did,” Sonata explained.

“She did?” Aria asked and then had that blank moment. “Yeah, she was stressed, but thankfully Aunt Glitter helped with that.” Those last words came out of her mouth automatically, and then Aria had a moment of disbelief. “I haven’t had an aunt before. Or….”

“What about our sœurs? They were our mothers, practically,” Sonata said in a soft voice. “And I barely remember them! I don’t want to forget them!”

“I don’t think it works that way, sis,” Adagio told her. “We never met them in this timeline because we have parents…but we won’t ever forget.”

“Let’s get down to the kitchen,” Sunset suggested. “I think we’re all going to need some coffee.”

“Sure! Lead the way, cuz!” Sonata said, then looked at Sunset as though she was stunned to say the same thing.

The six girls looked at each other with apprehension, recalling both a time that didn’t exist and one that did – and they weren’t sure which was which.

Sunset smiled and closed her eyes and recited the unofficial family mantra: “In this household…”

“…the difference between cousin and sister is nonexistent,” the other girls all said automatically, looking at one another.

Group hug immediately ensued afterwards.

After a few minutes, the six girls went downstairs, walking by Spike’s room; unsurprisingly they heard the sound of videogames from within and decided it would be best to leave him alone for the moment. He was a kid, and best not to shock him.

As they descended the stairs, Adagio noticed something. “Wait a minute,” she commented, pausing the group. She looked at the large mirror on the wall, then said, “Ari, give me a hand with this.”

“No need,” Sunset said, snapping her fingers. At once the mirror floated off the wall in a cyan glow, levitating just out of the way. Behind it was a solid steel door, clearly meant to be an access point of some kind.

“An elevator shaft,” Sonata said automatically. “I built this.” She blinked. “I…built this? But that’s impossible!”

“That word you keep using,” Octavia snarked, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Princess Bride jokes will only get you so far. But seriously, it shouldn’t have been possible for me to build this – in either timeline. And yet I clearly remember doing so!”

“Maybe we should look into it?” Adagio advised.

“We should look for my parents right now,” Twilight told her. “We know Spike’s okay, but what about them?”

“Good point,” Adagio noted. “Ari, take point. Soni, take the rear—”

“Dagi, I think we’re safe. We’re at home, with my magic,” Sunset assured her.

“We’re in a place we think is ours, and your magic might be our only ace in the hole. We might not have ever been Canadian SIRENs, but we are your SIRENs, Sunny.”

“Guess we’ll have to come up with a new name,” Aria mused. “I kinda liked SIREN, personally.”

“We should probably talk about that later. Let’s head downstairs.”

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, they noticed a bookcase that was conspicuously set for anyone who was particularly looking for something. “And there’s the actual doors to the elevator,” Sonata said. “We can look into it later.”

“I hear voices coming from the kitchen,” Octavia said. “At least I think that’s still the kitchen.”

“Sunny, hate to do this, but could you gen up some guns for us?” Adagio asked.

“Tasers would be better,” Aria suggested. “That way if there are any innocents in the line of fire, it’s not fatal.”

“Tasers it is, then.” Sunset held out her hand and a second later, three gunbelts with tasers appeared.

“That is going to be entirely too convenient,” Octavia observed. “Could we ask your grandmother to redo the timeline again so that we’re biologically related to you, Sunny?”

Sunset gave her cousin a smirk. “Cute.”

“I thought it was.”

As they reached the closed door, Adagio gave hand signals, making it clear they were to strike in three. She counted down: 3, 2, 1, and got into position to kick the door in.

Unfortunately, right as she launched her strike, that was right when the door opened. She felt the impact of her foot against something soft, and ingrained habits being what they were, she rushed in, stomping over the obstacle in order to get to her target.

“DAD!” Twilight shouted.

Adagio froze, realizing that somehow, she’d done something stupid without intending it.

“Dagi, do you mind putting that gun away?” Adagio looked and saw Velvet, her hands up, with a coffee mug precariously perched in one hand.

“And get off my dad!” Twilight insisted.

Adagio looked down to see that she was standing on Night Light, who looked a bit worse for wear.

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” she muttered.

“We’ll work our way from ‘grounded until the next century’ and go from there,” Velvet said evenly.

“This…is going to be an adjustment, girls, no doubt about that,” Night stated a few minutes later, once he recovered his dignity from being body slammed by a slip of a girl.

“I’m sorry,” she said, genuinely, feeling bad for hitting her uncle like that. The fact that he was now – and always had been – her uncle, she didn’t comment on.

“I’ll admit, I didn’t expect this much of a change,” Velvet said, “but I guess if I’m raising six girls, I should’ve seen this coming. The thing is, I feel bad for my brother.”

“Dad?” Adagio asked, not believing the word that had come out of her mouth. “Why so?”

“The Everblue Sky I remember from the old timeline…if that’s the right thing to call it…was a confirmed bachelor. While he and Lotus dated for a while, they never got married because he wasn’t the tied-down type. And he probably wouldn’t have slept with Softspoken, much less married her. When I last spoke to him, he was an economist for the London embassy, not the chargé d’affaires for the Baghdad embassy.”

“I see.” Adagio looked at her sisters. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Aria said. “This…this is a massive change for all of us and yet it’s never been a change. The thing is, I think this is a change I’m going to like. We’re SIRENs, but we’re also normal girls.”

Sonata snapped her fingers. “That’s what the elevator leads to!” she crowed. “That’s where we keep all the weapons, ammunition and the gateway to Sunny’s homeworld – in a secure bunker beneath the house!”

“Okay, maybe not so normal,” Octavia said with a whimsical grin.

After a quick breakfast that Sunset summoned up – and Velvet insisted Sunset not get used to that – the whole family talked. It was agreed that they weren’t going to speak much about it with Spike, except to see what he remembered and what he didn’t. After that, they compared notes once more, with Sunset explaining everything she knew that might not have changed vs. everything that might have.

“So everyone else is relatively safe – most of the changes happened to us, it seems,” Night commented. “Although I have some questions, needless to say.”

“I think we all do. But the biggest one I have is: are Shining and Cadance safe?” Velvet asked. “As well as Tia and her boyfriend and Luna’s, too.”

“I think she mentioned Moonshadow had been shot by SIRENs,” Night commented. “And then there’s the other Sunset Shimmer and her mother.”

A crestfallen look washed over Velvet’s face. “Dear Lord, what if she doesn’t want to go through with what we agreed upon?”

“I think she will, dear. I don’t think Sunset’s grandmother would have gone to all of this if it was going to backfire. I’m sure she made sure that Sunny would stay with us.”

“Just in case, I’d like to talk to her again. To make sure that’s the case.”

At that point, Night’s cellphone rang and he answered the phone. “Yeah, Night here…Oh, heya, Iron! What’s up?…Really? Well, I hadn’t really thought of that…No, sure, I’d be happy to at least look at the contract, though I’d have to see if the University would let me do it…Really? They’d go that far? Well, sure then…Yeah, just bring the contract by and I’ll give it a look see…Okay, talk to you later. Bye.” He calmly set down the phone and said, “That was my agent.”

“You have an agent?”

“Yeah, and we’ve apparently known him for years,” he said delicately. “Ironclad Contract.”

“The name sounds vaguely familiar,” Velvet replied, then she got what Sunset was mentally terming the “infodump gaze” as Velvet suddenly recalled a past that never was yet always was. “College buddy of yours that went into law and helped you get a contract for your first book.”

“Yeah,” Night said, not entirely convinced. “Anyway, I just got an offer to do a new version of Cosmos – the old show by Billion Stars? Apparently, they’re doing a sequel, and Planetarium wants me to co-host it with him! Apparently he’s a fan of that show I did on PBS a few years back – Just Visiting This Universe – and he insisted that he wanted me as a co-host!”

Twilight’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. “Planetarium? Planetarium?” Though Sonata said nothing, she too got a case of eyeshine.

“That’s the black astrophysicist in New York, right?” Sunset asked.

“As well as one of Twily and Soni’s personal heroes,” Aria noted. “Stand by for freakout in 3…2…1….”

“OhmiGod – you have to do it, Dad!” Twilight was practically leaning over her father. “You have to!”

Sonata had joined her. “Please, Uncle Night? Please? You’d do it for your favorite niece because you love me, right?”

Velvet never looked up from her coffee cup, instead choosing to use it as her personal talisman at the moment. “Girls, let him breathe.”

Night silently thanked his wife for that. “Well, Ironclad said that given that the original series was filmed in several locations, they’ll probably do the same thing again, so I’ll be doing a lot of travel. But he also said they spoke to the University already and they’re fine with it and willing to work with my schedule in order to do it.”

“Except you never did a show on PBS, dear,” Velvet reminded him, and then got the infodump gaze again. “Apparently that, as well as your books, paid for this house. Nevermind.”

Except that Octavia noted it. “Are we going to be doing that for a while? That weird stare that we get when our brain catches up to the new reality we’re living in? That’s going to be creepy as hell.”

“At least we’re coping with this together. I don’t know how the others are.”

And then they heard the panicked scream from upstairs.

Seated on the porch of the guest cottage at her uncle’s place, Sunset Shimmer looked at the wide field. Somewhere to the northeast was the city of Canterlot and somewhere out there was her sister. Or maybe herself. Counterpart? She wasn’t sure of the term anymore.

Sunset Shimmer was now not only not the only Sunset Shimmer in this world, she was literally not the only Sunset Shimmer in this world. It was different from twins. Back at school, she knew a pair of identical twins that attended the British section. Fish and Chips were so alike that you actually had to pay attention to what they were wearing to tell them apart. But that was the thing in the end: you could tell them apart. They were Fish and Chips, not Fish and Fish or Chips and Chips.

But now this alien/not alien, this girl who was both her identical twin sister and yet her doppelganger from another reality was here, and she was also Sunset Shimmer. They were both Sunset Shimmer and even though she herself went by Shimmy and the other by Sunny, there was little to tell them apart, save that the alicorn looked like Shimmer hoped she would in a couple of years. Maybe that was what she would look like when she hit twenty.

It made her jealous of Sunset. When they got back to Sunset’s family’s home, Zephyr had looked at her and called her “porn star perfect”, a fitting if jarring appellation. Aside from earning a glare from both her mother and Sunset’s mother, it wasn’t too far off: Sunset looked like a perfect version of Sunset, if that made sense. And now here Shimmer was, the imperfect Sunset, while the other one – an apparent literal goddess amongst her kind – chose to walk this world instead.

She knew her friends would tease her about that if they ever found out. Especially Beachcomber, who often liked to say that “people should be the best them they are.” As grammatically incorrect as it was, it made sense: don’t worry about others; worry about your own self. But how could she do that when the best version of her wasn’t her, but was another her – and that best her was better than her by a longshot?

It gave Shimmer a headache just thinking about it.

“Hey, you look like someone shot your dog.” Shimmer turned to see Zephyr standing there, looking at her. “You okay, Shimmy?”

“No, I’m not. All my life I’ve been Sunset Shimmer and now I find out I’m a second-rate one.”

He headed towards the kitchen to get some coffee, though still talking to her. “You’re not second rate, kid. It’s just…well, that other Sunset has a few extra things.”

“I know. And it makes me feel inadequate.”

Zephyr smiled as he poured himself a mug. “I’ll bet she feels the same way, too.”

She looked over at him. “How so?”

“Well, for starters, you’ve been human all your life, where she’s only been that for about five years now. She still doesn’t get everything about us. And she seems like she carries a lot of guilt about something, not the least of which is that demon that possessed both of you – she probably thinks it wouldn’t have appeared here if it wasn’t for her. And her family has only been in her life for a year, while you’ve had your mother for all your life, and me for at least a year now.”

“That’s another thing! We only just met you a couple of weeks ago, and now you’ve been my mom’s boyfriend for a year, Zephyr! Doesn’t that seem weird to you?” Shimmer asked.

“No. Way I see it? I owe Sunset’s grandmother for tweaking that. Your mother and I fell in love while we knew each other in the short time we did. Call it crazy, but that’s how love works. And I was a hurting unit over what my wife did to me. But now that Paradis has been my ex-wife for two years in this new reality and I have custody of the kids….” He chuckled. “You’re going to be a big sister now, you know that? Just like she is – sudden and out of nowhere. I’m sure you two could talk about that.”

“But all the deaths! And your partner!”

“Yeah. Saffron didn’t deserve what happened to her, and knowing her, she went out like a champ.” He gave her a melancholy grin. “But I think she would’ve been okay with this. The good guys won, the bad guys will get what’s coming to them, and the world doesn’t know how close it came to everything ending. I call that a win – bittersweet, but better than the alternative.”

“But I have more questions than answers still.”

“I guess that’s how it works. And I guess the answer to that is: do you want to know the answers? There’s someone who can give them to you, if you’re willing to reach out to her.”

Raspberry had a full body blush. “Look, it’s not like I instinctively know how humans use the restroom!” she gasped. “Nor have I figured out how human locks work – I thought that little thing at the end of the knob was decorative!”

“Well, Spike,” Aria said, patting her mortified cousin on the shoulder, “just think that you might find that interesting in about a decade more.”

“Ari, that’s just sick,” Octavia pointed out.

“Hey, not my fault that some people are into that—”

“I can ground more than one of you,” Velvet said archly and the middle triplet suddenly realized that discretion was the better part of valor.

Sunset tapped her friend on the forehead, and said, “Here. Now you know everything I do about feminine care in this world.”

“Thanks, Sunny,” Raspberry said appreciatively.

“Don’t mention it.”

Raspberry thought about it for a second, then looked at the other girls in horror. “You mean once a month you have to—”

“What part of ‘don’t mention it’ did you not understand, you idiot?” Adagio snarled. “The quotation marks?”

“I’m sooo glad things are returning to normal around here,” Twilight said, genuinely happy.

“Hey, don’t we have to work today?” Sonata asked Sunset and the latter nodded.

“Yeah, we may as well go,” Sunset said.

“We should probably all go,” Twilight advised, “and I’ll call and have the girls meet us there. I suspect we have a lot to talk about.”

“So it was just three teenage mercenaries who caused all this shit,” Shining Badge said from behind his desk.

“Yes. From what evidence we’ve uncovered so far,” Shining Armor replied, “we found that they were taking a specialized performance-enhancing drug that was designed to boost their natural abilities. The problem was, it severely damaged their minds and made them think they were some sort of animal. They were already ritually killing young women for reasons we have yet to understand. But at some point, they just snapped and committed wholesale slaughter of their own kind, save for the three we have in custody.”

“The ones that turned themselves in to warn us about the firefight that broke out during that freak hurricane,” Badge grunted. “I still have a hard time believing that they just turned themselves in on ‘what they felt was right.’ Seems too pat, if you know what I mean.”

Someone knocked on Badge’s door, and a second later the office secretary poked her head in. “Hey, boss, Agent Truth is here to see you.”

“Yeah, the CIA. Right on time, what a surprise,” Badge said. “Sure, send him on in, Paperclip.” Shining was about to depart when Badge added, “Stick around; I think you might want to hear whatever bullshit’s about to be spun.”

Shining thought of what he’d been through the past few days, as well as what he’d also really been through the past few days…and he still wasn’t sure which one was real. But he knew one thing: he had to protect his family, including his not-really-human sister. “Sure thing,” he said, moving over to a nearby seat.

Hidden Truth came in, followed closely by another man. “Well, good morning, Special Agent Badge, Agent Armor. Glad you’re both here.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Agent Truth,” Badge said lightly. “Who’s the other spook?”

The other man grinned. “Please to make your acquaintance, gentleman. My name is Changeling, and I’m an agent for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Since you two clearly seem the direct type, we won’t waste time beating around the bush: we’re here for the three women you have in custody.”

“The Dead Hand Killers? Oh, no – no. Those girls aren’t going anywhere,” Badge said, leaning against his desk. “Right now, they’re in the medical wing over at Norco, both because they killed literally hundreds of people as well as the fact that whatever drugs they were being fed backfired on them. They’re drooling bodies now, and from what the DA’s office says, they might not even ever stand trial.”

Changeling nodded. “Oh, I’m not here for them – you can have those three, Agent. They can rot in whatever little hellhole Uncle Sam finds for them, and we don’t care. No, I’m here for Lt. Blue and SLts. Storm and Blue. They’re heroes of the nation and we can’t have them sitting in prison.”

“Agent Changeling, you might have a hard time believing this, but they didn’t have authorization to be on American soil with guns and military hardware that usually belongs to our boys and girls. At best, that’s terrorism – and I don’t think I need to go into what it looks like otherwise.”

Truth looked at them. “We would have a crisis on our hands right now if it wasn’t for those three women, Agent Badge. Doesn’t that concern you?”

“I’m not concerned with geopolitics – not my job or my inclination. My job is justice,” he said. “And what I have is three women that broke a serious amount of laws. Now I get that they essentially stopped shit from getting out of hand, and I can appreciate that on a personal level. But whether or not they see one side of a prison cell or the other is for a court to decide, not me.”

“Well, too bad your boss disagrees with you.” Truth reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a letter. “I have a signed letter here from FBI Director Firm Justice ordering the release of said RCN officers to the Canadian authorities, namely Mr. Changeling of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

When both Shining and Badge glared at Changeling, he gave an affable smile. “I wear a lot of hats, gentlemen,” was all he said.

“So that’s it? They get away?” Shining gasped.

“No, they don’t.” Changeling looked at the two FBI agents and his jovial nature vanished. “One of the people brutally murdered by Capt. Blast was her XO, Cmdr. Rhapsody Blue, who was the older sister of Vesper and Intermezzo Blue, as well as sororal figure to Madrigal Storm as well. They had to let her die – to sacrifice herself – in order to plan their counterstrike on their own organization, as well as to turn themselves over to your custody. They may be heroes, but they will have to live with the fact that their older sister died and that they are forever traitors to the Canadian military. For three women literally raised from birth as illicit Royal Canadian Navy commandos? Letting them sit in your prison would actually be a kindness, as far as they are concerned.”

“And if that’s the case, sending them back to Canada would be a death sentence for them, wouldn’t it?”

“Les SCARS would probably agree with you, as would ARROWHEAD. Believe it or not, not all Canadians are nice and polite. Some of us, sadly, can be downright…well, let’s just say American-like, when the situation calls for it,” Changeling replied. “But that’s not your problem anymore, gentlemen – that’s an issue for the RCMP.”

A few minutes later, when the spies departed, Shining looked at Badge. “I don’t like this.”

“I don’t like this either, Shining. We lost several good people on this case, and it doesn’t feel right.” He sighed. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to make a call to Washington and try to figure out just who was stupid enough to even agree to this fiasco. Take the rest of the day off – you earned it.”

“Yeah, besides, I’ll need it, since now that the task force is winding down, I’ll probably be transferred back to CPD.”

“We’ll talk about that later. Now get going; I’m sure that lovely lady of yours would like to spend time with you,” Badge grinned.

The first thing that Sunset noticed when they got to Sugarcube Corner was that it was larger – a lot larger. The original one took up a corner storefront on the block. The new one looked as though a couple more storefronts got added to it, as well. She wondered if Pinkie and her aunt and uncle still lived above the restaurant.

“Well, ready?” Sunset asked.

“No, not at all,” Sonata admitted. “Think they’ll forgive me for just up and quitting?”

“Who said you did?” Sunset commented. “You left last time because you got dragged back into that military fiasco. In this reality…that wasn’t there to begin with.” She patted Sonata on the shoulder. “Besides, you have me.”

“Yeah, I guess I do, don’t I?” Sonata said hopefully. “Well, here goes. Are the others going to be here soon?”

“Well, everyone except for Pinkie, who lives here.”

“We think.”

“Good point.” Sunset was quiet for a second. “Also, wasn’t there a building here last time? I don’t recall the café having its own dedicated parking lot.

“Yeah. I think things are going to be very different, Sunny.”

They walked into the door and the first one to greet them was a familiar face. “Welcome to Sugarcube Cor…oh, hi, Sunny! Hi, Soni!”

Sunset fought to keep the look of shock on her face. “Rose? What are you doing here?”

Compass Rose smiled. “Well, Pepperdance called in sick, and Blossom has a last-minute medical checkup,” she began, “and Cucumber Splash had to work over at the Knickerbocker store today, so I offered to switch with Pep.” She sighed. “Besides, it was either sit at home and be maudlin about Matchie’s death or get out here and do something. I hope you don’t mind, boss.”

Boss? “Uh, no, but….”

“Thanks. I knew you wouldn’t mind.” Rose kissed Sunset on the cheek. “I appreciate it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta take this to table 23.”

“No, uh, go ahead.” As Rose walked off, Sunset said, “Boss?”

Sonata followed it up with, “Table 23?”

A familiar head peeked out from behind the kitchen. “Oh, Sunset, you’re here today,” Cup said, a tired smile on her face. “I thought you were taking some time off due to your familial issues.”

“I…needed to talk to Pinkie,” Sunset said truthfully. “Is she in?”

“No, she’s probably back at our place,” Cup replied. “But while you’re in, do you have a moment? I think we need to talk about the San Palomino location.”

“San Palomino location?” Sunset asked.

“Uh, go ahead, Sunny. I’ll…um…call the girls and see if we can meet at Pinkie’s.”

“Sure. Go right ahead,” Sunset stated, stalling for time while she raced through her brain to try to figure out what had changed.

“Well, c’mon, Sunset. We can meet in the office, upstairs.”

Office upstairs? “Sure thing.”

As they walked up the stairs, Cup sighed. “You know, I almost wish I could go back to the days before you started working here, when we only had the one store. But between five stores and two more opening in the area, we’re doing very well. Still, I miss the time when I was just a baker and coffee shop owner, instead of the CEO of a small chain of coffee shops.” She chuckled. “Well, Starbucks, Caribou and Panera haven’t been able to meet our numbers in town, so we must be doing something right.”

“No doubt,” Sunset said, looking at a wall. There, against the wall, was a map of the Canterlot Metro area. In addition to this store and the Knickerbocker, there was also one at the mall, one over by ECMAH and one in Northside. There were also two additional pins denoting the upcoming locations in Old Towne San Palomino and Bella Vista.

As they reached the top of the stairs, she saw the comfortable home that had been above the café was gone…and might not have ever existed. The whole thing was configured for an office, with three main offices, as well as a conference room. Only the kitchen, which looked far different than she recalled, hinted that this floor had ever been used for a domicile.

They entered Cup’s office and she gestured towards a small table, where she and Sunset sat down. “Now, I know you’ve needed to take off a few weeks because of what is going on with your home life. How is that going, by the way?”

“It’s weird,” Sunset said, just telling the truth – sorta. “To find out I’m a long-lost French princess is…well, it’s nothing I ever expected, that’s for sure.”

“I’m sure it isn’t,” Cup agreed. “In any case, with the two stores opening soon, I’ll need to hire a new head waitress for this location.”

Sunset’s eyes widened. “Mrs. Cake, I’m sorry, but….” The teen stopped as she saw the woman grinning. “Is something the matter?”

“Oh, Carrot and I were talking and decided that we were having such a hard time finding an evening manager for the San Palomino location that…well, if you’re interested, we want to offer you the position of assistant manager for that location. It would be closer to home for you and Sonata, since I’m sure she’d want to work there as well. And usually while a position like that is typically for an adult, we trust you implicitly.”

“But what about this location?”

Cup smiled. “Garden Variety just started college, remember? She’ll have a lot more flexible of a schedule to be able to handle the position. Besides, you trained her and all the other ones well – it’s part of the reason why we gave you the position.” She grinned. “Sadly, I think Rose will be disappointed, though – it’s clear that she’s got her eye on you.”

“I think she’s dating someone else,” Sunset replied, silently adding, At least I hope she still is. She made a mental note to see how her extended circle of friends were doing.

As Sunset came downstairs, she looked at Sonata. “Things have changed a lot.”

“Yeah. Apparently I’ll be working with you at the new store, since it’s closer to home,” Sonata told her cousin and Sunset looked even more confused. “I guess they figured that it would be better for me as well.”

Sunset hugged her cousin. “That sounds great, Soni.”

Sonata smiled at the affection. “Anyway, I called Pinkie. They apparently now live in a house three blocks away over on Bowtie Road. She said she’ll call the others and have them meet us there.”

Celestia woke up. She wasn’t usually one to sleep in, but today was the day to do it. She knew what had happened the night before. She knew what awaited them now and it frightened her.

She had seen something in the eyes of Sunset’s grandmother – something divine and indecipherable. Something that had judged her and found her wanting. Maybe she was imagining it, but there was something in that alien being’s eyes that made Celestia look inward…and it unnerved her.

Like a part of a life lost, something – maybe a million things – she should’ve done.

“Are you okay?”

She turned to look at her boyfriend, Sable Loam. Scarcely older than half her age, and they’d only been together for a handful of weeks and yet she would do anything for him. She was his now, as he was hers. Years were meaningless if they had nothing to show for it in the end, and in the small time they had been together, Celestia felt as if she’d lived and loved the same number of years as Velvet had for her husband.

“No, I’m not. I’m afraid of what the world has in store for us the moment I get out of bed.”

“It has me, doesn’t it?” He smiled. “It has you. Tia, that’s all I’ve ever wanted and all I ever need.” He leaned down and kissed her.

Kissing him reminded her of something instantly. She sat up and unintentionally butted heads with him.

“Wow, remind me never to make you angry,” he said, rubbing his head, but with a slight smile on his face.

“Lu! Oh God, Shadow was shot! We have to—”

“Do nothing,” he told her calmly. “She called half an hour ago. It seems she woke up with him at a hotel in Klamath Falls, where they went this weekend.”

“This weekend? But didn’t we…?”

“No. I’ve been sitting here, trying to puzzle everything out. The dinner that we had over at their place happened a month ago, not last night. And…I met your family two weeks ago.” He grinned. “Your mother insisted that we elope immediately so we can start working on a grandchild for her since, as she said, you’re not getting any younger.”

Celestia frowned. “That sounds like something Mama would say,” she groaned. “How’s Lu?”

“Luna’s just as confused as we are. She says she’s going to make sure that Shadow wasn’t shot, just in case, so they’ll be in bed all weekend.”

That sounds like something she would say,” she added. “And what about us?”

“Oh, I’m fine. So are you. Trust me, I checked.”

“No. I mean—”

He silenced her with a kiss. “Tia, when you were captured, I thought my life was over. Not because I had to fight my way into some sort of evil castle to rescue you from a madman and his militaristic gunmoll – and does that ever sound like the discarded plot of a videogame, let me tell you,” he commented drily. “No, I thought my life was over because I thought I was going to lose you.”

“You haven’t. You won’t.”

“I know. Things are different now and I don’t know how different. I still have my school ID, and apparently, I’m still a teacher over at the Blanks. You’re still principal of Canterlot High. That’s as much as I know. How different everything else is, we’re going to have to find out. But we’ll find out together.”


“I thought we agreed to at least wait a year so people won’t think we’re nuts.”

“After what we’ve just been through, it’s taking me everything I have to not throw you in the car and drive to the Nevada border.”

“Then at least let me take the time to buy you a ring before we make it formal?”

“Sable, I’m fifty-six. I could care less about formal.”

“You might not, but your mom would. Imagine if she didn’t get to be the mother of the bride.”

Celestia sighed. “Okay, you have a point.”

The house on Bowtie Road didn’t look familiar to Sunset at all, but once she walked in, despite the different configuration, it looked like, for lack of a better term, a “remixed” version of the apartment she remembered Pinkie’s family living in. And at the moment, eleven girls sat around a coffee table, confused as could be.

At the moment, she’d explained how much their lives had changed and how much they remembered a life that somehow happened despite not happening. The others listened intently, and from what Sunset saw, occasionally one of them had a moment of infodump blanking them out as new details filled their world.

“And that’s how my – our – lives have changed,” Sunset explained.

“So where is Raspberry right now?” Rarity asked.

“Mom is giving her a quick rundown on how life is as a human. We don’t know how long she’s going to be with us; tonight, I need to figure out how the portal works since it’s been moved, and barring that, get a note to Equestria via dragonfire candle. If what Razz says is true, my own homeworld could still be in danger.”

“I don’t even want think to think about getting into another war right now,” Adagio drolled.

“We’re not. I’ll send Razz back if it’s safe to, but right now she’s stuck here,” Sunset replied. “Cut her a little slack.”

“Sure. All she has to do is just not be a bitch and I won’t punch her face in.”


The eldest triplet huffed. “Fine. But only because you’re my cousin.” She flashed a quick, private smile at that, then went back to frowning.

“Well, that’s our lives in a nutshell,” Octavia said. “What about the rest of you?”

“I guess I’ll go first,” Pinkie said. “I still get a ladyboner over Sunny…and now that there’s two of them, well….”

“We did soooo not need to know what you were thinking, Pinkie,” Aria groaned, facepalming.

“Hey, at the end of the day one’s enough for me. Even a Pinkie can get too much of a good thing.”

“Anyone else have anything to contribute?” Twilight asked.

“Well, as far as I can tell, nothing in my life has changed at all, except that I don’t have a job at the zoo anymore,” Fluttershy said, blushing. “I guess my public performance was hampering with zoo operations because people were coming to see me for who I was rather than for the place, so I quit. Since then, I’ve been working on my music.”

“We should jam together sometime then, Flutters,” Octavia told her.

“I think I’d like that,” the chiffon-haired girl said with a soft smile.

Rarity was next. “Nothing in my life has changed at all. My parents still have the same jobs, we live in the same place, and about the only thing that has is that they bought me a car last year,” she said. “Though I think Mother’s considering having a third child.”

“Yeah. Same on this end, including the parents doing the horizontal bop, though you guys already knew that,” Rainbow added, trying not to blush. “Scoot’s complaining that she’ll have to change diapers, but hey, that’s life.”

“Mah life hasn’t changed much,” Applejack said, “except that now Ah have a little brother. Ma…she didn’t lose the baby and now he’s seven. He’s named Melrose, or Mel for short. Pa totally loves him even though…well, Pa just says he’s an Apple no matter what his genes say.”

“I’m starting to see a pattern here,” Rarity commented.

“Hey, Grandmother is a goddess. Are you going to tell her no?” Sunset giggled.

“Seriously, what about our friends and whatnot? Apparently, Rose works at Sugarcube now. As well as some girls I hadn’t heard of.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie stated. “Although with the County Fair going on at the end of the month, we’re going to be real busy at the main store. So while most of the girls will be working at the stand there, it’ll be like things didn’t change, at least for a few days.”

“Besides, I think the uniform is cute,” Fluttershy admitted.

“Although I wouldn’t mind seeing Sunny in just the apron….”

“I think I liked Pinkie better when she wasn’t as horny,” Rainbow said in a monotone.

“I think we should take the day to figure out what’s changed and what hasn’t,” Sunset commented. “We can meet at my family’s place this evening and discuss it. For that matter, I think we’ll need to speak to Ms. Celestia and Ms. Luna, as well as my brother and Cadance and compare notes. Plus, I want to see the underground bunker. I know this much: those that died are still dead. Rose is still mourning Tennis Match’s death.”

“Ah would be more worried if some of our friends became casualties, like Lyra or Bonnie,” Applejack added.

“Okay, so meet at our place at six tonight, okay?” Twilight suggested and they all got ready to depart.

“So what’s your plan now, Sunny?” Octavia asked her.

“I have something…personal to do. Soni, mind dropping me off?”

“Sure, no problem,” the youngest triplet commented. “I want to get home to start piecing together everything about downstairs anyway.”

As Sunset left with Sonata, Twilight pulled Pinkie aside. “Can I have a word with you?”

“Sure thing, Twily.” Pinkie’s smile fell as she watched her love depart before turning to said love’s sister. “You’re not going to hurt me or anything, are you?”


“I’m not stupid. I recall the old timeline and the new one. And I know something’s happened to my feelings for Sunny. Before, I guess you could call them a girlish crush, but now? I know she’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. And yes, I am feeling a bit hormonal right now; I would hope that will pass in time, because I love your sister too much to make her feel squicked out about me.”

“Then can I offer you a bit of advice?”


“Be yourself. Be the Pinkie we know and love. I don’t know what her preferences are, only that she’s very emotionally vulnerable right now because of everything that’s happened. But I do know that you’ll push her away if you come on too strong. Think about Rose and how she is.”

“I try not to,” Pinkie commented. “I don’t want to get into ‘Here Comes a New Challenger’ mode.”

“Look, I’m just saying that right now she needs a friend more than anything else. If you want to score points with her, be that friend.”

“So you’re giving me your blessing to chase after your sister?”

Twilight sighed. “I plead the Fifth.”

Luna looked on at the skyline of Klamath Falls, Oregon. She was still coming to terms with everything that happened. The fact that her boyfriend had died and that she and Celestia nearly had as well, before Sable rescued them. She had known that Sable had been in the military, but she hadn’t known he had been Army Special Forces. But that hadn’t mattered in the long run, because she was grieving.

And then she’d been put to sleep by Sunset’s otherworldly grandmother and something within her had said that everything was going to be fine.

She woke up this morning here, next to him.

She passionately made love to him. Not sex, like they usually did, but love.

She was seriously going to have to rethink her life priorities now.

He was asleep again and she was here, watching the day go by.

She smiled; even though she was fifty-two, she felt like she was perpetually in her late twenties and that she was more her niece Cadance’s age than her own. That Velvet, even though she had been Luna’s lifelong friend, was living another life that Luna couldn’t touch.

And now for the first time today, she had.

She looked back at her sleeping boyfriend, then to her own hand – and the engagement ring that hadn’t been there the day before.

She smiled. The future wasn’t going to be so bad, was it?

“So, the DA has assigned me the case, because the killers are underage,” Cadance told Shining over lunch. “As usual, my ‘Goddess of Love’ reputation strikes around the office.”

“He knows I’m the arresting officer, right?” Shining asked her. “Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

“At this point, nobody gives a damn about anything other than making those Black SIRENs fry,” Cadance told him.

“You’re…taking this a lot better than I was, Cady.”

“Because they’re killers, love. Whether they were the Dead Hand Killers in this new reality, or whether they were just shapeshifted attack dogs in the last one…they did it willingly, according to the triplets.”

“Yeah, that’s another thing.”

“Shining Armor, don’t you dare say anything about them!” Cadance warned. “They’re your cousins, and raised practically like your sisters – like Tavi!”

“No, not that. I don’t think anyone would believe me anyway. Besides, Sunny vouches for them, and even without the interference from her grandmother, they were on the side of the angels. They get a pass, as far as I’m concerned,” he told her. “What I meant was that will the charges stick?”

“Again, no one really cares. I suspect you would even have a hard time finding an impartial judge, and if they’re ever sane enough to stand trial, it’s going to have to be moved out of the county. I’m going to have to make arrangements to go see them, in order to offer them the inevitable plea bargain that I know the DA doesn’t really want to give but that the state requires. For that matter, your mother will have to come with me, as they are legally minors until a judge declares them to be held liable as adults.”

“Well, Badge told me I have the rest of the day off, so I’m going to go see Mel’s family and see how they’re holding up,” Shining commented. “Then I’ll go check on Sandy in the hospital.”

“Let her know I’ll be there later,” Cadance told him. “But for now I just want to enjoy the time I have with my fiancé, because right now?” She gave him the sunniest grin possible. “That’s the most normal thing in my life, regardless of whatever time fuckery Sunset’s grandmother did.”

“I hear that,” he agreed.

“And so we’ll have you stay in this room for the moment,” Velvet said, pointing to a particular one. “This one is a guest room. I think. I still haven’t gotten the hang of the house.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Velvet,” Raspberry said in a soft voice.

“You’re welcome, dear. I know this is hard on you – it’s been hard on all of us – but I’m sure you can deal with it.”

“No…I’m not sure I can.” Raspberry looked up at the woman.

“I doubt that,” Velvet assured her. “You’re a strong young lady.”

“No! I mean…I’m not talking about my ability to fight. I would do that for anypony—”

Anyone, dear. Not anyhuman and definitely not anypony.”

“See? I don’t know how Sunny does it. She’s so natural at being a human and I don’t know if I could do this for the rest of my life. What if I had to? Where would I go?”

“We wouldn’t just force you out, Raspberry. We owe you a debt of gratitude and besides, I wouldn’t let a child go like that.”

“I’m not a child, though. I’m twenty-three.”

“No, you’re not. As a pony you might be, but what I see is a sixteen-year-old girl. Maybe your counterpart, wherever she is, is the same age. At least, given what I see between my daughter and the other Sunset, that’s what I figure. But you won’t be alone on this world, Raspberry. You have us, at least.”

“Thank you. Now I just need to know one thing, if you don’t mind.” She whispered something into Velvet’s ear.

Velvet gave the girl a sardonic smile. “Raspberry, dear, you’re about to learn the horrors and joys of what it is to be a human woman.”

Raspberry looked at Velvet with fear. “I was afraid of that.”

“Come on. I’ll take you to the store and I can explain everything on the way.”

“And you’ll promise to keep that under your hat, Lyra?” Fluttershy asked.

“I’m genuinely hurt that you would think I would tell anyone, Flutters!” Lyra told her. “Besides, I haven’t told anyone about you.”

“Yes, but my information is public already, as much as I would rather have done it in a better way. Sunny’s isn’t, however, and I think she and her family – both sides of her family – should make that public in their own fashion.”

“Don’t worry, Flutters: we’ll keep it under wraps,” Trixie insisted. “She’s our friend, after all. Though is it really true?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Yes, as unusual as it may seem.”

“Coming from you? That says a lot.”

“Well, French princess or not, she’s our bud, and we don’t go blabbing on buds,” Lyra insisted. “She doesn’t want to talk about it, we don’t talk about it, simple as that.”

“Wow, Ly, that’s surprisingly mature of you,” Trixie told her best friend.

“At least until I can figure out how to work it out to my advantage,” the celeste-haired girl said with a grin.

“I hereby rescind my compliment,” Trixie sighed.

Sunset got off the phone. “Dad said he’ll make the calls and see who can make it tonight. I think that should be everyone, except for Ms. Luna, who’s out of town.”

“Okay. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Soni, I have to test my new powers out in a relatively safe location,” Sunset said. “Right now I don’t know if it’s safe to have anyone around for that.”

“I can wait, maybe go down the road to the Burger King and sit it out there?”

“Look, I know you’re doing that SIREN thing, but have some faith in me, okay? I need to test my powers out, because I don’t know what the limits are.”

“Okay. I take it you’re just going to teleport home, then?” The look on Sonata’s face was unconvinced.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“I know you will be. I’m just more worried about how Dagi will react if she knows I left you by yourself right now.”

“We’ll talk about it tonight, okay?”

“Deal.” With that, Sonata got in the car and departed, leaving Sunset in the middle of the Everfree Forest.

She hadn’t taken two steps before she heard mocking laughter behind her.

“I thought it was you.”

Though her voice was faint, it was unmistakable: Chernabog. “So the pretty pony got an upgrade. I hear you’re even more fuckable now. Bring me back and I can satisfy you all night.”

“I’m looking for that last string you have tied to this realm,” Sunset said, ignoring the demon’s taunts. “Once I cut it, you’ll never be able to return.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I could be of use to you. Help you.”

“I really don’t want your help,” Sunset said, beginning to weave an intricate spell. “You’ve done enough damage to this world, you and your kind.”

“You don’t even realize what you’ve pissed off. That old biddy of yours done stepped on some tails she shouldn’t have. And you’re going to pay the price for that – you, and everyone you love.”

“The more you talk, the more I can zero in on that one connection,” Sunset responded. “You must be desperate to be forever trapped in nowhere.”

“No, just giving you a final word of advice, Sunset.”

That was different. Chernabog had never referred to her by name before. “What can you tell me that would make me want to listen?”

“Only the simple fact that you ponies aren’t the only ones with magic in this realm. Humans have it, too. It’s rare, but they have it. And we demons covet it. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Judeo-Christian legend of the Twelve Tribes. There is some truth in that: there are twelve different magical bloodlines on this Earth.”

“I already know that,” she lied. Sunset then made a mental note to follow up on Chernabog’s claim, even if it yielded her nothing but a little peace of mind.

“Bullshit you did. I could tell you more, but there’s a price.”

“I told you, I don’t make deals with demons.” And then, shining in front of her, was the quantum string in question, vibrating in time with the universe. “And I found your loophole. Any last words before the world forgets you exist?”

“Just one. And please, hear me out.” To Sunset’s surprise, the tone was sincere.

“You’re not going to be freed. Don’t bother asking.”

“I know you won’t. But let’s just say that neither you nor Shimmer were the first in her family that I’ve possessed. The last time I did, I had me some fun. And had a child as a result. That child inherited my powers, and those powers rang on true down the bloodline.”

Sunset laughed. “Oh, you’re not going to tell me that you actually care about something other than yourself, Chernabog.”

“No, I’m telling you because you care about her. She is one of your own friends. And she may be tempted by a power far more dangerous than I.”

“And why are you telling me this?”

“Because, young goddess, I want to see how good you really are. If you can beat me as a mortal…there might just be more to you than even you realize.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t have to tell you. You can figure it out yourself.”

Sunset looked at the quantum string. Cutting it wouldn’t impact reality, but would ensure that Chernabog had no way of having any influence on this realm at all. Unfortunately, that damage was already done, and there was nothing left but the healing, both the clean breaks and the metaphorical scar tissue.

Besides, it had been her mother – her pony mother – that had taught her that sometimes having an enemy survive was better than vanquishing them. It was pragmatism over idealism, something Sunset hated.

“Fine. I will leave this string alone for now. But you will have no influence at all in this world. And if you even try to possess her, I will destroy you.”

“Couldn’t even if I tried – I need a descendant with the right genetics, and that only comes along once a millennium. Your friend is safe. Well, from me at least.”

“No – she will be safe, period. And if she has your powers, Chernabog? You might just find that she is made of far stronger stuff than you will ever be.”

“Now that’s just insulting, Sunset. Boo hoo. I guess I’ll just have to play with myself to keep busy while biding time for the next opportunity.”

“One you will never have.” And with that, Sunset banished the link. While the string remained intact, thankfully there were other ways to plug the metaphorical hole in the dyke.

Now, it was just a matter of finding out which of her friends had the blood of a demon, assuming that was even true.

Yeah, and I thought starting school again in a couple of weeks was going to be the hardest thing I’d have to deal with. Turns out that’s going to be a cakewalk.

At least one thing was for sure: she knew and trusted her friends. Whether it was Rarity or Bon-Bon, Rose or Applejack, it didn’t matter: she knew them and trusted them.

If you are telling the truth, Chernabog, it’s not going to do you a damn bit of good. I of all people know that our pasts are not today.

Sunset teleported back to her room. She was done for now.

“And so it was three little girls,” Sandalwood said in an angry tone though Shining wasn’t sure whether she was angry at herself or the Dead Hand Killers. “Three kids that literally slaughtered hundreds?”

“Well, not exactly. Keep in mind that those ‘kids’ were trained since birth to be Canadian assassins—”

“Canadian assassins,” Sandalwood scoffed. “Do you realize how stupid that sounds? Canada is known for Lightfoot and really bad beer, not military prowess!”

“Be that as it may, from what the task force is piecing together, the current theory going is that these girls were killing others ritually in trying to summon demonic powers for themselves—”

“I repeat my last: you realize how idiotic that sounds?”

“Just before I left work, they told me that forensics found a hidden location beneath the construction site that’s filled with a bunch of antiquities stolen from museums around the world as well as from the estate of some French prince who died last year.”

The woman shook her head. “This is getting more and more ridiculous.”

“Thus, when they didn’t get their magic powers or something, the drugs they’d been taking just overloaded their minds and they snapped and turned on their masters.”

“So let me get this straight: a firefight between these Canadian rogue military personnel and mercenaries hired by Canada to stop them takes out half of them at a hidden base during the freak hurricane.”


“Meanwhile, the other half of them are drugging up three girls with performance enhancers that boost their natural abilities but damage their minds into thinking they’re some sort of animal creature ritualistically killing innocent girls to sacrifice for demonic powers. And when that doesn’t work, they turn on their benefactors, slaughtering the remaining military personnel during the earthquake we just had – a 6.0 earthquake where nothing got damaged because we’re in the stable part of California?”

Shining merely held his hands up in a shrug, as if that would answer anything.

Sandalwood groaned. “Clearly the doctors need to give me what it is that the rest of you are taking, because I still don’t believe it.” She sighed. “Look, you know as well as I do that with a group like this, they don’t let their rogue elements loose, because that’s a potential noose around their neck. If I was whoever’s the ringleader of this shit and I had three girls that were about to go nuts? I’d put them down, because they could spell potential disaster for my plans, not steal ancient artifacts and let them build a sacrificial altar or some shit.”

“And yet the current theory is just that. Apparently the three women that switched sides and informed us about all this are saying that this Cantata Blast woman did just that.”

“Three of them turned tail?”

“Yeah. Apparently three women in their thirties, who were raised together by the organization, saw the light and turned themselves in to give us as much warning as they could. They’re in Canadian custody now, and on the way back to Canada, I presume, to inform their government and stand trial there. I don’t know the full details, and I suspect we won’t know.” Shining diplomatically omitted the fact that the CIA had pulled strings to ensure that the three SIRENs would be turned over to CSIS.

“I don’t know. Something still seems too pat about this, like it’s a patch job to cover something up.”

“Between you and me, Sandy?” Shining told her. “It probably is. The higher ups wanted the killings done, and they’re done. When I arrested those three girls, they seemed like they were out of their minds, too far gone to be able to mastermind the serial killing of a couple dozen girls. They were naked and howling like animals…and certainly not capable of killing dozens of heavily-armed women. So you want to know what I think? I think that the three women we let go are the ones that killed all the others of their kind. That they took them down by surprise when it was least expected, because they had a chance to do so before this Cantata Blast executed whatever her plans were. And I don’t think it was just those three – I think they’re just the only ones that survived.”

Sandalwood thought about it for a second. “Yeah. That makes a hell of a lot more sense. But it’s not going to be on the official record, is it?”

“At this rate, we’ll be lucky there is an official record – everyone higher up wants to just bury this and forget it ever happened, probably because we’re talking an international incident now. I suspect you’ll hear a lot of accusations from Washington and a shitload of apologies from Toronto—”

“The capital of Canada is Ottawa, Shiny, not Toronto.”

“You know what I mean. In any case, a year from now, this will be forgotten except by some low-level Federal employees playing cleanup, historians and conspiracy theorists.”

“Yeah, I guess. In any case, I hope those three women get what they want. As much as people think they should probably be behind bars, they probably saved a lot of lives. But as someone who was in the military myself? I know the heroes often don’t get the credit we deserve. So I hope they get a happy ending.”

“Probably not,” Shining told her. “From what I gather, they’ll probably get kicked out of the Canadian military and either spend the rest of their days behind bars or be executed by other elements of their government for existing as an embarrassment.”

“Hell of a way to go,” Sandalwood said sadly. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be in their position right now.”

It was late afternoon when Madrigal, Intermezzo and Vesper walked out of the Central Equestria County Jail. Waiting for them, by a nondescript silver SUV, was Changeling.

“Hello, ladies,” he said calmly. “Hail to the Heroes of Canada.”

“Spare us, whoever you are,” Intermezzo told him. “We know you’re here to take us back to Ottawa for trial.”

“No, I’m not,” he said, and they looked at him with confusion. “I’m a spy, not a coroner. I don’t deal with dead bodies, unless I make them so.” The moment he said that, they tensed up, ready to attack him. Sensing that, he waved his hands in front of him. “I’m not here to do the deed, especially not here in front of a jail, okay?”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here to tell you that you’re dead. In an hour, you’re expected to board a chartered Air Canada flight back to Ottawa. What you’re not supposed to know is that it’s a trap – the aircrew aboard is Les SCARS, and they have orders to kill you until you are very, very dead. Your little act of counter-rebellion might have earned yourself the sobriquet of heroes in the eyes of Parliament Hill, but as far as CSIS goes, any surviving SIREN is a noose around their neck, and they can’t have that.

“So, this is what we’re going to do: you’re going to give me hair and blood samples. Then you’re going to get in that SUV and head to Dallas, where you will find a house in the pleasant and quiet suburb of Mesquite. Your new identities have bank accounts and an untraceable paper trail attached to them, so you won’t have to find jobs immediately, though I’d recommend doing so in the long run so you can become valued members of the community.” He then frowned. “As for Vesper and Intermezzo Blue and Madrigal Storm, sadly, they will become victims of a plane crash somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. Of course, foul play will be suspected, especially once they’re identified by DNA samples. CSIS will get the authorities off their backs, at least until the anonymous package mailed yesterday gets to RCMP National Headquarters with enough incriminating evidence to put Golden Rule and her cronies behind bars for the rest of their days. But that’s a few months down the road, and by then, you three lovely Texas ladies won’t have a care as to what another country’s problems are.”

Madrigal looked at Changeling and asked a simple question: “Why?”

“Because I wasn’t always Agent Changeling, CSIS. A long time ago, I was an RCN petty officer who knew Admiral Poutine long before he was chosen to lead a secret project. The admiral was the sort of man that was kind and gentle and would never let an injustice like SIREN stand.” He took off his sunglasses and looked them straight in the eyes. “My grandfather was not that sort of man, not at all.”

“And what happens to you? You’re not going to be able to hide from this kind of heat,” Intermezzo told him.

“I vanish, of course; it’ll only be a matter of time before they trace everything back to me – and I can’t have my wife and children remain in danger. So I – we – vanish.” He grinned. “But maybe someday, if you’re ever in Cheyenne, Wyoming and you see a familiar guy, you might want to wave hello.”

Twenty minutes later, it was done. Changeling got into a black sedan across the street, waved farewell and departed, leaving the three women to the future.

“So what now?” Vesper asked. Madrigal laughed and her friend asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Just something I was thinking about. Last night, I had a dream. The three of us, well…we had daughters. Teenage daughters.”

“Teens?” Intermezzo shook her head. “Do you realize how young we would have had to have been to have kids who are now teens?”

“As it was, we got turned down for being sœurs,” Vesper reminded them, “so we didn’t have teenagers around us at all.”

“Look, it was just a dream, I know that,” Madrigal told her. “But…it felt so real, almost like it really happened. We were all a family: we loved them, and they loved us.”

“So you want to be a mother, Maddie, is that what you’re saying?”

The now-former SIREN nodded. “Yeah. As crazy as it sounds…yeah. I don’t think I’d mind being a parent.”

Vesper looked through the phone that Changeling had given her. “Well, if I’m reading this right, there’s a day care center for sale in Mesquite.”

“Day care center?”

“Good a place to start as any. You up for it, Maddie?”

“Sure…as soon as I figure out what my new name is,” she laughed.

Intermezzo groaned. “You two are impossible, you know that?”

“Maybe,” Vesper admitted. “Let’s go be impossible together.”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

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