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Dave Bryant


E-mail: dave@catspawdtp.com • Discord/Bluesky: catspawdtp • DeviantArt/Ko-fi: CatspawDTP • Telegram/FurAffinity/FurryMUCK/Tapestries: Tom_Clowder • Mastodon: @tom_clowder@meow.social

Sequels1

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This story is a sequel to Foreign Nationals of Unusual Importance


A Twin Canterlots story—second in the Cook’s Tour series

What’s the reward for a job well done? Another job. Cookie Pusher, the junior diplomat keeping an eye on Sunset Shimmer and her friends, has pleased his superiors with his diligence and competence. Deciding he’s ready for bigger and better things—and not wanting to brief in yet more people about the portal—they assign him a new task: travel through the portal as chargé d’affaires en pied to open diplomatic relations with Equestria.

Takes place about twelve months after “Through the Mirror” and six months after “Rainbow Rocks”—early in season six.

Reviewed 16 July 2017 by Singularity Dream.

Chapters (7)
Comments ( 64 )

I like where you're going with this so far. I'm looking forward to reading more.

You have a pretty interesting setup so far ("first contact" stories are always fun if done well), and I'm looking towards seeing how the meeting goes and what sort of agreements can be hammered out - and what it will mean for both worlds.

Though you also have lots of backstory to fill as well - how did the human government discover Equestria and what was the initial reaction? How did things get from there to sending delegates over? What does everyone hope to gain from the current interactions? Why does the guy keep mistakenly referring to Twilight as some sort of a minister instead of Princess (misunderstanding on his part/Twilight, ever the humble, having downplayed her own role?) - and so on.

In other words you have a good framework with lots of potential, but you should probably consider adding some filling before forging onwards too much :)

Good start never the less, and I'm looking towards more.

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Cookie Pusher is introduced in the most recent installment of my immediately preceding entry, Lectern’s New and Used Books, under the title “Striped Pants”. In it he provides the girls a brief explanation, which boils down to “someone noticed some weird Youtube videos and social-media posts, someone else noticed odd satellite images, another agency investigated to put pieces together, and, well, here I am.”
Opening diplomatic relations, even if, as in this case, there can be little or no other regular interaction, is only prudent—especially considering what has come through the portal (or might do so) to pose a threat. Certainly that’s the view of Cook’s superiors, and as he points out in his initial meeting with the girls, it works both ways: What if Equestria needed to contact them?
Keep in mind that “princess” is a rank, not a position. I grant the distinction is subtle, but it is important. Cook knows full well Twilight ranks as a princess, and repeatedly refers to her as such throughout the story. He also knows—based on such things as the events in “Party Pooped”—Twilight at least sometimes fulfills duties normally assigned to the position of foreign minister, and in her case ambassador at large. Note that he even differentiates between rank and position explicitly: “The third, unsealed, copy went directly to Twilight, acting not only as a royal in her own right but as the de facto foreign minister.” (Emphasis added, and I did reword “effective” as “de facto”.)
In standard diplomatic practice, as a chargé Cook should be meeting at the ministerial level; normally only ambassadors present their credentials directly to heads of state. However, even ambassadors are expected to provide unsealed copies of their letters of credence to foreign ministers. It’s all very irregular, but Cook is doing his level best to adhere to the standards and practices hammered into him through his training for the foreign service.
. . . Also, I didn’t want to add another character, much less one made up out of whole cloth, to the story.

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Cookie Pusher is introduced in the most recent installment of my immediately preceding entry, Lectern’s New and Used Books, under the title “Striped Pants”. In it he provides the girls a brief explanation, which boils down to “someone noticed some weird Youtube videos and social-media posts, someone else noticed odd satellite images, another agency investigated to put pieces together, and, well, here I am.”

I see. That did prompt me to go and read that little series (and it's highly entertaining - I always enjoy discussion about the cultural and social differences and similarities between Earth and Equestria when they are being explored in due depth), which has left me marginally more satisfied. Might I suggest you add a link/note in this story's description detailing it as a spin-off/continuation of "Striped Pants" ? I imagine that could head off more confusions such as mine :raritywink:

Though I still hope that we will get to see how things progressed from "Cook gets the full story from Sunset" to "Cook (and by extension the government) goes to Equestria for a meeting". Twilight had to be involved no doubt, and I imagine it would be all sorts of entertaining to see her reaction to Sunset informing her (or I assume that's how she would find out) that the government knows and that they have - politely - requested a meeting to discuss avenues of further and more official contact. Cook's and Twilight's first meeting should be all kinds of fun :pinkiehappy:

Keep in mind that “princess” is a rank, not a position. I grant the distinction is subtle, but it is important. Cook knows full well Twilight ranks as a princess, and repeatedly refers to her as such throughout the story. He also knows—based on such things as the events in “Party Pooped”—Twilight at least sometimes fulfills duties normally assigned to the position of foreign minister, and in her case ambassador at large. Note that he even differentiates between rank and position explicity: “The third, unsealed, copy went directly to Twilight, acting not only as a royal in her own right but as the de facto foreign minister.”

Hm, so it basically is Cook going off by his own (still fairly limited, I imagine) understanding and observation of how Equestria functions, and adding familiar (to himself) labels to things in order to better make sense of it all. Same with the "Diplomatic credentials letter" I guess - he's seeing and doing things from human perspective and procedure, and I guess the princesses are respectfully humoring him since the practice seems important to him/his government, while not necessarily existing in Equestria to begin with.
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So far so good, and I find myself rather liking this Cook guy (probably why he was selected as the ambassador ... and an easy sacrifice if things go wrong, haha!) - it was surprisingly honest and forthright of him to point out how interactions between "uneven" societies can go (probably wouldn't earn him brownie points from his own government, heh).

And you also get brownie points for Cadence's rebuke that this isn't necessarily the case here and that Cook might be missing the obvious. It's indeed the case in history that less technologically advanced cultures have fared poorly when meeting more advanced ones, but that's within the context of Earth, where general level of technological advancement tended to speak (broadly speaking) of how advanced the society was socially and culturally and their general understanding of the world as a whole, thus making them easy to impress and dazzle with things they didn't comprehend (see how the locals thought Spanish conquistadors on horseback as being akin to gods, and so on).

That's not quite so cut and dry here - what Equestria lacks in technological prowess (I do believe you are overstating the 150-year gap and it doesn't quite line up with what is seen in the show, but I'm not going to nag this point much, as it obviously serves the plot's purposes), they make up for having a whole another field of science that Humans haven't even heard of until recently and are probably well past whatever "world awareness threshold" and cultural/social advancement measurement that is required to not easily succumb to human culture and "viles" - not any more than humans would be succumbing to Equestrian culture when things finally go public at any rate, I would think. And a millenia old ruler that's more ancient that most modern day countries - there's that, too.

It's actually a lot more even of a meeting compared to a hypothetical Equestria on exactly the same tech level as present day Earth - because then one side would still have magic, and the other would have diddly squat to show for themselves in turn, so them being slightly behind technologically actually evens things out, interestingly enough.

--
On another note, you get more bonus points for having everyone slowly succumbing to diplomatic-talks fatigue (sans Celestia, of course) while Twilight seems to be getting only more energized by it - I can actually see that happening. Give her a few more years of experience and she will bore most bureaucrats to tears and have them begging mercy, without ever realizing she's actually doing it :rainbowlaugh: Equestria's greatest diplomatic weapon in the making - one Twilight Sparkle, eternally enthusiastic and giddy no matter the drollness, length and minute details of the subject!

So far so good, looking towards more.

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Numbering points so I can keep them straight in my tiny but active mind. . . .

1. I put in a brief addendum with links to “Striped Pants” and Lectern’s New and Used Books after your previous comment, because it is indeed a good idea. My initial posting was a bit hasty, and I didn’t take full account of new readers who hadn’t encountered my previous works.

2. I don’t know if I’ll write a “prequel”. If I do, it would be after finishing this. A lot of the bureaucratic procedures involved would happen “off-stage” and would be even more boring than the diplomatic details Cook is busy glossing over in the current story. Also I’d have to do a ton of research and commit to a specific nation’s methods of doing things, which I’ve avoided assiduously so far. However, if I’m able to find a storyline that keeps the focus on Cook, Twilight, Sunset, and company, I might take a swing at it.

3. I’m assuming diplomatic practices are roughly similar in both worlds, including the differentiation in rank between a full ambassador and a mere chargé, but the princesses elected to short-circuit the usual ministerial-level meeting for a chargé because the portal presents such a unique and difficult situation for both sides. Otherwise Cook would have met exclusively with Twilight to present his letter of credence, she would have conveyed his sealed copies, and it all would have moved much more slowly. He does know some of Twilight’s background, including her stint with the yaks in “Party Pooped”, which probably showed up in at least one of the newspapers sent to Sunset, much to Twi’s embarrassment.

4. Cook is intended to be a very likeable fellow, and I’m glad that comes across—and yes, his junior status makes him a convenient scapegoat in the event things go wrong. He’s not unaware of that, though he may not understand the whole extent of it. He’s as capable as the next diplomat of all the tricks and strategems involved in negotiation, but at the same time, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if mere contact with his world damaged Equestria and he contributed by failing to act. The reactions of his superiors probably would vary all over the map: Some of them would applaud him; others would excoriate him. I’m betting he won’t mention it in his report.

5. I explain elsewhere my reasoning for delimiting the technology gap, and the actual figure (based on the 2010s as the starting point) is closer to 130 or 140 years. Calling it “nearly a century and a half” is a convenient conversational or narrative shorthand, but does overstate it slightly.

6. One of the great Rubicons of history is the scientific method—any society that approaches the world in scientific terms (including Equestria) is much more difficult to hoodwink than one that doesn’t. Cook hasn’t internalized that completely, which is why Cadance’s observations catch him off-guard. And yes indeed, Celestia is a tremendously effective sea anchor for Equestrian society, something else Cook is slowly coming to realize.

7. I’m doing my darnedest to keep everyone in character and to stay true to the franchise’s storytelling tone even when addressing more adult topics and ideas, and I confess I’m enjoying the story immensely.

Why isn't there an Equestria Girls tag?

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The bulk of the story takes place in Equestria; only the opening and—maybe—the closing take place on the other side of the portal. Per the guidelines posted for tag use, that isn’t enough to justify the Equestria Girls tag:

Equestria Girls
Stories that take place in the Equestria Girls universe. Only for stories where it plays a significant part. If the story primarily takes place in Equestria, such as a “Sunset Shimmer returns to Equestria” plot, that’d get the Sunset Shimmer tag but not the Equestria Girls tag.

Without looking up from her writing, Celestia added, “I seem to recall also this is a school day, is it not, Sunset?”
“Oh!” Sunset looked stricken for a moment. “Yes it is. Principal Celestia gave me a day pass.”

Now that would be an interesting pass: excusing a student for an interdimensional diplomatic meeting. :derpytongue2:

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Yes it would.
C: “I can’t believe I’m writing this.”
L: “Really, sister? After everything that’s happened?”

And thanks very much!

Reasonable, well-researched diplomacy between the two worlds. I can't say for certain, but this may be a first for pony fiction. Excellently done, especially the balance of protocol and plot that kept the procedures proper without boring the audience.

(As for the whole "Twilight won't outlive her friends" thing, I've always taken it the other way. Just because she was the first among them to ascend doesn't mean she'll be the only one.)

In any case, thank you for another enjoyable entry in this continuity.

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That’s an interesting perspective on the lifespan question, and one I hadn’t considered! You’re absolutely right; it’s a good point that hasn’t been ruled out, but based on Occam’s Razor and the likeliest path to be chosen by a scriptwriting team and a toy company, if I had to lay a bet I’d put it down on the side of mortality.
I try hard to stay within established canon, or at least within statements made by show staff, as much as I possibly can. If I absolutely have to extrapolate, I try to put myself in the heads of the scriptwriters and their corporate overseers and see things from their point of view. In general that means taking things at face value unless I have reason to do otherwise—for example, Princess Twi’s description of the post-defeat sirens as “harmless teenage girls”. Only as a last resort do I try to cobble together a completely original explanation for something. My hope is to maximize compatibility with existing canon and minimize the possibility future developments will scotch my efforts.
Thanks so much for your comments on the research and balance, too! I’m pleased to know they have, at least for some readers, hit the mark; indeed, part of my goal was to accomplish exactly what you describe, especially taking an unprecedented path.

Welcome to the magical kingdom of Equestria.

That is the biggest and most difficult difference to explain away between the two worlds: Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna are just teachers at a suburban high school. The Royal Pony Sisters are immortal diarchs and, depending on your headcanon, definitely ageless, possibly immortal and certainly quasi-divine in nature.

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That’s one of the reasons I figured the portal must not work exactly the way it initially was presented—there simply were too many discrepancies. More precisely, it must not work in the human world as initially presented. Even with the hand-waving explanation I came up with, the timing doesn’t work out exactly right, but it comes a lot closer.

:pinkiegasp:Wow, a legit reaction to interdimensional contact with a non-hostile nation.:rainbowderp:
I wonder how Cook is going to handle the pony side.

Just sitting here thinking about officials from the other side of the portal trying to get one over on the Princesses. And laughing. So hard.:trollestia:

I'm not sure a trained diplomat would have slipped on form of address like that¹, but I could put it down to nerves and his limited experience. Although I have to give you props for actually addressing it and not simply continuing the overuse of "Highness."

1: You use Your Majesty/Highness once and then switch to Sire, Sir or Ma'am. This is something a _lot_ of authors on FiMFiction get wrong.

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Cook is erring on the side of caution. As he notes, he wan’t expecting to encounter Cadance. Moreover, while he has a decent amount of background on Equestria, including styles and usages, he has almost none on any other nation on the far side of the portal, including Cadance’s realm. Until he’s given explicit permission, he can’t assume he can revert to a less formal salutation. I may insert a statement to that effect into the narrative.
   In an early journal post here on Fimfiction, I specifically mention the very point you bring up, for the very reason you bring it up, along with a little history on how it evolved.

Equestria's level of technology is only generally a century behind. There is a plastic industry, we have seen computers of sorts with hospital equipment and arcade machines and suggestions of space travel from a particular Nightmare Night costume being the first things that spring to mind.
I think it's less they don't have the technology but more a lack of need to implement it en masse.
It is also possible that mass production is a rarity, with most things being hand-made that would slow down production time and size by a fairly large margin.

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I always base my portrayal of Equestria and its world on Ms. Faust’s original design, which hewed closely to what society and technology looked like around 1860–1880—without the anachronisms imposed by Hasbro’s edict that the series show things familiar to a very young, even preschool, audience. I can understand why the edict came down, but I do feel it compromised the world-building terribly.
   There are tremendous problems with mixing technology levels willy-nilly. The existence of a plastics industry, for instance, requires an advanced understanding of chemistry and materials that would have ramifications all across science, technology, and society. Digital computing, especially, reshapes everything! If those ramifications don’t show up, the world-building quickly falls apart for any serious storytelling.

I vowed then never, ever to play chess, poker, or sun and moon with her.

Though I reckon a game of Diplomacy with her would be – at the very least – educational.

I agree very much that the likeliest long-term reaction would be to open diplomatic relations. There's another society on the other side of the portal, one with tens of millions of inhabitants and a slightly different set of technologies (including magics) than the American one.

Invasion -- through a bottleneck as small and vulnerable a portal we don't understand and can't readily duplicate -- would be insane. A culture like that of the 16th century Spanish or modern North Koreans or Iranians might do something like that, but I don't think any late 20th - early 21st century First World country would choose that option. Heck, I doubt that the late 20th century Soviets or Red Chinese would have done so -- they would have planned a future conquest, but starting with subversion rather than open attack.

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That sums up my own viewpoint pretty well. For that matter, even if Equestria were more warlike than it is, the same factors militating against lauching invasions through the portal would work both ways. It’s a unique situation in international affairs—friendship genuinely is the only practical long-term course! Of course, a liberal democracy would have an easier time accepting and acting on that basis, and while I avoid identifying Cook’s nation, and fictionalize some aspects of it, I do assume it is a large, prosperous liberal democracy.
   Subversion certainly would be the only theoretically feasible plan for hostilities, but between the transformation and unfamiliarity with conditions on the other side, I don’t think it would work very well. It might take a while, and several busted operations, to figure that out, though.
   When faced with multiple possibilities I tend to default to US practice, for several reasons. First, that probably is how the scriptwriters, themselves generally US citizens, think. Second, it’s what I’m most familiar with. Third, I get the impression the country indeed is supposed to be of a size, geographically and economically, that best matches the US.

Definitely a good story and a good entry into this little continuity. More folks need to read these!

I raised a hoof (all right, all right) to tap the alicorn gingerly

um, that should be "horn" not "alicorn".

I knew I was, at least, and after such a large spell I felt sure Celestia was as well. It was no wonder the ancient unicorn tribe had burned out so many of its best and brightest doing the same job, and I spared a moment for that long-past sorrow. Pony history was no less colorful and tragic than ours, just in different ways. Sunset’s eyes met mine for a moment and we shared that understanding.

reminds me of a story, "the princess Equestria always had", where the effort of raising the sun required 10 unicorns...and most of them would suffer Permanent magic-burnout! only Starswirl the Bearded was able to do it more than once!

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Alicorn, derived from the Italian alicorno, is the traditional term for a unicorn horn and the substance of which it supposedly is composed. It originated in the Middle Ages, possibly as long ago as the thirteenth century, so it is a very old word with much history. The reinterpretation of the word to describe a winged unicorn dates back to the 1980s at the earliest, making it a very recent neologism.

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That anecdote is based on The Journal of the Two Sisters, pages 106–107:

“As Luna and I had seen, six Unicorns are required for the task of raising and lowering the sun and moon every day and night. Star Swirl was always one of the six for both the rising and the setting. But it takes a powerful amount of magic, and what nopony told us was that the Unicorns who volunteer for the job can only withstand the task for a short period of time before their magic is completely depleted . . . forever. Star Swirl himself had been the only Unicorn with strong enough magic to withstand this process day in and day out, night after night. But ten other Unicorns constantly needed to offer up their magic as a sacrifice for all of Equestria. This morning they ran out of Unicorns with magical abilities and were unable to perform their task. When Star Swirl tried to lower the moon by himself, he was unable to, his magic was depleted, and his beard turned gray.”

8369808
Nope, that's perfectly correct. Alicorn is a medieval French(?) term for both the horn of a unicorn and the substance the horn is made of. The fandom and then the show started using it to mean a wingéd unicorn based on Piers Anthony using it as such in a moderately obscure novel from the 80's.

Finally caught up to all but the in progress installment of this series! It's such an addicting read and i love the detail that goes into it!

Thank you for the enjoyable read so far and i look forward to more! :twilightsmile:

8604418
Thanks very much for the compliment and for watching!

And now I finally get to see the answer to a question I've had since I started reading this series: What tribe of pony is Cookie Pusher?

They are indeed still doing such tours, or at least they were in 2010.

Loving your descriptions of the ponies and surrounding thingamajiggers.

While I agree that certain techs require others to build off of, I can't say I approve of the notion of a unified tech level that's a set number of years behind. That would imply that technology development always follows the same set path, and that unique factors, such as advanced magical theory and abundant mana, have no impact on said development. One way that the ponies are clearly ahead of the humans, thanks to more advanced and abundant magic, is in weather engineering. After all, they make their weather on purpose, and in a factory no less.

You did touch on Equestria being more magically advanced, but I don't see why magical and mundane tech should be considered any more separate than chemical and electronic tech.

Even ignoring magic, there are still random chance and people's decisions that decide which things get researched. One example (I think Admiral Biscuit brought it up in a blogpost) would be if we'd decided to explore Mars with humans first instead of robots, or kept the Moon landing program running, we may have developed more human-enhancement tech instead of better robots. Or maybe things would be different if HDDVD had better marketing than Blu-ray Disc.

And then there's how ponies have different needs than humans. It's unlikely, for instance, that they would invent human-style nail clippers, while humans are less likely to invent, say, a glove that you could walk on without tearing while maintaining the ability to grip through it (however grippy hooves work). That'll push tech development down divergent paths, as well.

TL;DR: The notion of a tech level that's X years behind ours is a gross oversimplification that cuts out a lot of interesting possibilities for world-building, though fleshing out these possibilities would be a lot more work.

Pet peeve rant over. Back to enjoying your fic.

I wonder if anypony will ever teach Cook how to use basic telekinesis.

My gripes on differing interpretations of canon and taste in world-building aside, this was good stuff. I hadn't seens stuff about diplomacy before, but you appear to have done a good job with it.

And it helps that I like Cook.

Thanks for writing this story, and the rest of the series.

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It’s a matter of having to start somewhere. You may notice I’m purposely vague about specifics, both in terms of time and technology, to provide some leeway for minor variations; elsewhere I do have Sunset mention one such difference. I avoid messing with technology in major ways partly to avoid contradictions and inconsistencies and partly to hew more closely to Ms. Faust’s original vision as described—admittedly loosely—in various interviews with and comments from show staff. Her description made it sound like she planned to stick pretty close to historical period technology. Moreover, I honestly am convinced screwing around with technological development too much leads to house-of-cards worldbuilding.

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You’re welcome! I’ve discovered I enjoy writing both Cook and, even more, Rose—though alas there isn’t as much scope for the latter.

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He does learn it, albeit slowly. I imagine it’s rather like trying to learn a language as an adult, and the more difficult thereby.

And now I have learned things about the show itself. I approve. Where might I find this original outline?

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This is stitched together from interviews and Q&A sessions I’ve seen on the Web, anecdotes related to me by mutual acquaintances, and a host of other pipelines. I’ll stand by the result, but I can’t point to any single source, because to my knowledge it’s never been presented anywhere as a complete entity.

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And if Diplomat Twilight starts to get a little tired, she has access to a princess-sized coffee maker...:rainbowlaugh:

I'd just like to point out that even at their existing technological level, they could still have casein plastics. This can be done at home, with milk, vinegar, and a heat source.

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Have you heard the theory that referring to them (the ponies, not the horns) as alicorns is actually a corruption of alarcorn, meaning winged unicorn?

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According to my research casein plastics appeared at the dawn of the twentieth century. As near as I can tell Lauren Faust based Equestria on the late nineteenth century—specifically the 1860s–1880s—which is a generation or two previous to that.

I forgot to mention last chapter that this is no longer canon given that we now have the show’s take on Sunset and Celestia’s reuniting

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