• Published 1st Nov 2018
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Equestria : 1940 - Georg



While Europe sinks into bloody war and the powers of Nazi Germany dominate the continent, a new dark power begins to rise that could destroy them all. The Nightmare is returning. And all will bow before her glorious night.

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2. Layers of Layers

Equestria : 1940
12 June - Above the Atlantic

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh…”
— Exodus 8:20


“I’m not a spy,” blurted out Jon, although his voice sounded about as convincing as a young lady holding a bloody letter opener over the corpse of a gentleman caller while attempting to explain the fatality as a minor correspondence slip.

Taking a deep breath and unable to take his eyes off the Army-issue .45 automatic still pointed at him by Colonel Bradley, Jon tried again. “The State Department cleared me. I’ve got a Top Secret clearance. I lecture at the military college, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know. I listened to one of your lectures, back in ‘37 when this whole thing in Europe was getting hot.” Jon was hoping that getting the colonel talking would move the muzzle of the automatic to a point somewhere not on his body, but it still did not even twitch. “You claimed the Equestrian state would stay out of any conflict because the ponies were unable to even consider a war of aggression. And yet, they just kept sending ‘advisors’ and ‘science consultants’ over to the Reich even after that ‘temporary’ military support withdrawal during the Spanish Civil War.”

“The US has Equestrians too,” protested Jon somewhat weakly. “In fact, there’s one on the aircraft, probably headed back home to rest and recharge.”

“She’s one of ours, a civilian contractor in aircraft failure analysis and quality control,” said Bradley. “Flawless record and perfect loyalty. Unlike you.”

“And if you suspected I was a spy for the Equestrians,” continued Jon down the logical chain his distracted mind could not help but follow, “why did you let me board the aircraft? In fact, America is supposed to be as neutral as Equestria in this glorified mess. There’s never been a declaration of war, and we’re even running Neutrality Patrols across the Atlantic.”

There was a sharp knocking at the door by Jon’s elbow, but he remained just as still as somebody with a lethal weapon pointed at them by a madman should under the circumstances. Colonel Bradley moved the automatic behind the cover of the briefcase again when a light blue glow surrounded the door, and it swung open just enough for the Equestrian in question to put her head through and ask a question. Due to the noise of the engines right overhead and the wax earplugs, Jon could not hear whatever it was she said, and from Colonel Bradley’s expression, he could not either, but the armed soldier seemed ready to pull his automatic from behind the cover of the briefcase when the young unicorn mare slipped the rest of the way into the room and closed the door behind her.

“Ah, man. That’s so much better.” The noise of the big Pratt & Whitney engines overhead had abruptly cut off right before the female unicorn spoke, giving an almost eerie silence to the small aircraft cabin although the vibration of their activity remained. The unicorn lifted her headphones up with her magic and draped them around her neck before turning a sunglass-impeded long look at Colonel Bradley. “Hey, it’s the big man himself. How’s it hanging, Big O?”

Colonel Bradley nodded back somewhat tersely, and responded in the oddly silent cabin, “Vinyl Scratch, we’re trying to have a private discussion here.”

Vinyl held up a hoof and waved it dismissively while taking a short step toward the tiny little aircraft bathroom, then pausing. “Hey, it’s cool. You’re cool. I just needed to use the can, man. Before I do, though, I gotta tell you something.”

There was an odd series of clicks behind Colonel Bradley’s briefcase that Jon had trouble identifying, but the source became obvious when a magazine full of chunky .45 shells floated out and landed on the center of the table, followed by the single round which had undoubtedly been ejected when the unicorn had unloaded the automatic. Then the cool sensation of magic brushed up against Jon Walther’s chest, the loaded .38 revolver he had in his shoulder holster likewise floated out over the table, popped the cylinder out, and six somewhat smaller shells rattled down on the table next to Colonel Bradley’s ammunition.

“Not cool, man,” chided the unicorn with a slow shake of her head. “So many negative vibes.”

“Don’t tell me you’re spying for Equestria too,” growled Bradley, looking as if he really wanted to make the futile effort of trying to put together a gun with a unicorn nearby who could disassemble it faster than he could put the parts together. He gave the empty automatic a bitter glare before dropping it in the middle of the table with the rest of the munitions.

“No, man. Oh, wait.” Vinyl nosed around in her saddlebag for a moment before a short section of lead pipe floated out. “Actually, yeah. Sorry about the resignation, Big Daddy O, but the scene’s too hot and my cover’s blown now, for you cats at least.”

The short section of lead pipe floated over to the table and landed between Jon and Bradley with a quiet thud. It was a little more complex than it had looked at first glance, seeming to be only two sections of pipe no larger than a man’s middle finger, screwed together with a coupler and capped at each end. Somebody, or more probably somepony, had sawed through each end and released the contents, but the sharp scent of acid mixed with gasoline still wafted out of it. Jon had no idea what the device was, but Colonel Bradley sucked in his breath and looked up sharply.

“Where did you find this?”

Vinyl rolled her shoulders and pointed with her horn. “Left wing tank, man. I caught it while doing a last run-through over the bird. Made this really nasty hissing noise, on account of the acid, so I fished it out, real subtle like, and checked to make sure there weren’t no more of ‘em. If I hadn’t given it a chop job, I figure it would have burned through in a couple hours, like right over the big pond.”

Jon cleared his throat. “Do you two mind telling me what that is?”

“Chemical pencil,” said Bradley, who had cautiously picked up the short lead pipe and was turning it over in his hands.

“In ordinary words?” asked Jon.

“Bomb, man.” Vinyl sat back on her haunches and waved her forehooves. “Like, pow. Once the copper fizzed out between the two sides, the juice would mix up and get frantic. All fire and falling out of the sky. Real bummer.”

“Are you sure there aren’t any more of them?” Jon looked out the tiny little window at the bottom of the aircraft wing, even though a few seconds of intense observation made him realize that even if he could see a chunk of molten lead burning its way out of the fuel tank, he would not be able to do anything about it at all.

“Yeah, man. We’re cool.” The unicorn gave Colonel Bradley a quizzical look with a raised eyebrow in a signal of Second Degree Query. “We’re still cool, Big O, right?”

Colonel Bradley did not put down the short length of lead pipe, but tapped it against the table instead while frowning at it. “How do I know you didn’t set this up to cover for your fellow spy here?”

The .45 automatic lifted up into the air in the pale blue of Vinyl’s magic, reversing the previous disassembly until it floated in front of Bradley, butt end first. The sound of the slide being cycled for a fresh round to be loaded into the chamber was very loud, then the heavy automatic floated down into Bradley’s waiting hand.

“I kept the safety on,” explained Vinyl. “If you don’t believe me, go ahead and shoot us both.”

“Um…” started Jon. “There’s no rush.”

“Lemmie use the can while you’re thinking.” Vinyl turned and vanished into the small bathroom cube, pulling the curtain closed behind her and leaving Jon and Colonel Bradley sharing an awkward silence. Finally, the colonel scooped up Jon’s empty pistol, gave it a quick spin of the cylinder, and passed it back over to him, butt first.

“Put that thing away,” he grumbled while holstering his own automatic. “This whole spy thing is driving me nuts. Give me an enemy I can shoot any day of the week.”

“So you don’t believe I’m a German spy because a unicorn gave you a bomb and is willing to let you shoot us both?” Jon put away the revolver but left the loose .38 rounds in his pocket instead of trying to reload. He was afraid his hands would start shaking with the adrenal letdown, and that was the last thing he wanted right now. Being in danger once in a while was one of the hazards of studying abroad in uncivilized nations, but so far he had never escaped being killed twice in a matter of minutes.

Well, other than trying to drive in Washington D.C. traffic.

“I’m not sure what to believe anymore.” Colonel Bradley made an exasperated gesture with one hand before pinching the bridge of his nose. “France is burning, Spain is more than happy to welcome the Hun, and Britain came within a fraction of having her whole army chopped up and captured at Dunkirk. That’s not even considering where all the U-boats are popping up. Everybody in the General Staff knows we’re going to wind up in this damned war eventually, but until then, we’ve got the socialists and the America First people out shouting their heads off about getting dragged into the Old War, and German spies all over the place. Nobody knows anything, but they’re willing to shout it at the top of their lungs.”

“Hey, man.” Vinyl Scratch’s quiet voice drifted out of the bathroom, sounding concerned. “You find out anything useful, you let us know too. We’re just like little leaves out of the end of a branch, and nobody knows what the big tree’s doing. Something big’s going on, though. I can feel it in my horn.”

“Does it have anything to do why so many American Equestrians have decided to travel home over the summer?” asked Bradley.

“Dunno, man. A bunch of cats over in Europe, they was supposed to go back home months ago, but no can do. The Ger-man came down on them like a ton of bricks. Boss lady’s gonna have a fit, and they ain’t gonna like it none over there.” Vinyl chuckled from the bathroom cubicle. “Sunburn, man. They’re gonna get burrrrrned.”

Jon frowned sharply, regretting that he had given away his newspaper. “I didn’t see anything in the papers about any Equestrians in Germany or Italy being refused visas to leave the continent. Could they just be having problems traveling to neutral countries?”

“All of them?” The toilet paper dispenser in the tiny toilet compartment squeaked, giving notice that the unicorn was about ready to emerge. “Unlikely, man. Mister Mustache has them all locked up. Says it’s for their own good, but that’s a crock of manure.” Vinyl poked her head out of the compartment, seeming to look for pointed pistols, before coming the rest of the way out. “That’s about all I know, man.”

Jon frowned even more. “No idea why I got selected for a sudden tour of the Equestrian countryside?”

“No, man.” The unicorn gave what in human terms could be called a shrug. “Command decisions on compartmented intelligence doesn’t get shared with field operatives. The info from us goes up, not down. Or at least that’s what the trainer pounded into our heads before we got the green light to go stateside.”

She cocked an eyebrow in the pose of First Degree Serious Query, complete with the slight tilt of her head and both ears held high, then turned to the colonel. “So, Big O. We good?”

Colonel Bradley nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry I accused you of being a spy, Miss Scratch. A German spy, that is.”

Vinyl Scratch smirked and patted the wall of the seaplane. “Depends on perspective, I guess. Sorry to say goodbye like this. You cats run a righteous batch of big birds with some of the coolest pilots and fanciest widgets. It’s been a primo experience working this gig, like a big mama bird making sure all her chicks got good wings. I’ll miss you all.”

“Wars don’t last forever.” Colonel Bradley gave a quick ruffle through his briefcase and extracted out a card. “Look us up if it ever gets over. You can come over and have a beer with the missus.”

“Dig that,” said the unicorn with a grin. “I’m gonna miss the Big Apple. You cats got the craziest music. See you later, Big O.” The unicorn floated the card over and tucked it into her mane before vanishing out the compartment door with a flick of her tail. It was supposed to be a motion of relaxed confidence, but her tail twitched too abruptly to be authentic, and made Jon only too aware of his own lack of tail to twitch. At least the sudden influx of noise from the engines covered his nervousness when the spell that Vinyl Scratch had been using to make the cabin quiet vanished with her departure.

As much as Jon wanted to follow the unicorn out of the boxy cabin and back to his seat, particularly with the experience of having escaped death twice so far, he stayed put and just breathed in and out for a few moments. A little bit of excitement every once in a while was good, but he was probably paid up on that front for a few months now. From the way Colonel Bradley was leafing through his briefcase, he seemed to have the same opinion of the way the world was dealing cards to him, or perhaps he had a little lingering resentment at not getting to shoot a German spy.

Still, there were a lot of unanswered questions on Jon’s mental list. Once he had gotten used to the noise of the engines again, he turned back to the colonel, swallowed, and loudly asked the question he really did not want to ask. “So, do you know why I’m here?”

“I know how you’re here,” growled Bradley. “The why is something I’ve been concerned about. The whole General Staff has this wild notion that the Equestrians are able to use mind control spells, which explains a lot about—” The colonel jerked, and his eyes twitched in the direction the unicorn had just departed.

Afraid that he was about to be shot, Jon cleared his throat and kept his hands on the table where they had been. “I don’t think she’s able to use any mind control spells. Hell, I don’t think Equestrian magic has any mind control spells in it, but if it did, a unicorn with a cutie mark of musical notes would be the last pony able to cast them. That’s probably how she knew what we were talking about despite the engine noise. Unicorns can do some pretty amazing things inside their own specialty, but most of them are one-trick ponies, to turn a phrase.”

To his great relief, the colonel relaxed slightly and did not pull out his .45 again.

“You mean to tell me she can eavesdrop on anything we discuss,” said Colonel Bradley with a growing scowl, “and has been able to do that for any conversation in her vicinity for the entire time she’s been working for the Army?”

“Probably,” said Jon, hedging his opinions.

“Water under the bridge.” Colonel Bradley tapped one finger on top of his briefcase, then heaved a deep breath. “I’m sorry for accusing you of being a spy, but we’re both stuck here for another—” he checked his watch “—eleven hours, and neither of us can get out and fly there on our own. If I could get a better briefing on Equestrian culture before we reach our destination, it could save me from making…”

After a period of non-silence while listening to the roar of the engines, Jon picked up the conversation. “You could keep from making a complete ass out of yourself in front of the ponies, like the first time I asked a unicorn student if she needed an escort to the dormitories.”

A most peculiar expression of mixed disgust and curiosity crossed Colonel Bradley’s face, one that Jon had seen several times during his Equestrian studies from humans with less than positive opinions of human/pony personal relations.

“No, I didn’t bed her,” said Jon in as controlled a tone as he could manage. “But I did find out that the word ‘escort’ in Equestrian also translates out as ‘teleportation.’ Also, that certain humans react to interdimensional spaces in a negative fashion, and that throwing up all over a unicorn transfer student’s dorm room does not make her more friendly.”

“That’s… a new one,” admitted Colonel Bradley. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “You’ve never had to deal with Equestrians on a military base before. We get to see the wrong end of them, I suppose, with all of the youthful hormones from young soldiers. The marines are worse. Bunch of horsefu—” The colonel broke off with a series of fake coughs.

“Yeah,” muttered Jon. “Anyway, my job includes writing behavior synopses and lecturing a number of clueless diplomats and VIPs over at the State Department, so I’ve been assigned to escort… that is to be a guide for several Equestrians on official visits. They’re really not that much different than people except in a few ways. Where did you want to start?”

“Start at the beginning. That’s always a good place.” The colonel closed his briefcase and put it on the floor, leaving the table clear except for a pad of paper. “You don’t mind if I take notes, do you?”

“Not at all.” Jon cleared his throat. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

“Not that far back, Mister Walthers,” said the colonel. He tapped his pencil against the pad. “Start where they came from.”

“I was trying to.” Jon took the pad away from Colonel Bradley and drew a quick map of the Atlantic, drawing in Greenland at the top with the Equestrian island some distance below and the Azores speckled off to the right. “There’s two major theories in that regard. The conventional theory is their presence was due to some sort of dimensional rupture in Greenland, and then a southward diaspora of some sort after their magic was unable to sustain living conditions, most probably by riding a magically stabilized iceberg. The second theory…” Jon tapped the pencil on the south-east portion of the European continent.

“The Garden of Eden theory is strictly for crackpots,” stated the colonel. “There’s archeological evidence of early pony groups traveling with the Vikings to North America, and ice samplings in Greenland show at least something pony-related a few miles under the ice. Stick to the facts, please.”

“Very well.” Somewhat reluctantly, Jon drew a line down the middle of the Atlantic. “Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Azores Islands on the east, Equestria far larger and older on the west. Other than a few mythical goddesses whom historians claim to have been Celestia in one form or another, the world in general was unaware of the entire island until a storm in 1490 blew a pegasus named Corduroy into Portugal. He turned into a real celebrity, eventually making his way to King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella at about the same time Christopher Columbus came around begging for money, and the rest was history.”

“That part I remember from school,” said Bradley. “Princess Celestia visited his ship, thanked Columbus for bringing back her subject, and sent them on their way with two weeks of favorable winds and fresh supplies.” He pursed his lips and tapped the map. “Not quite like the second trip.”

“Fourth,” corrected Jon. “Columbus took a more southerly route for the next two visits to the Caribbean, but the next time, he had to go one more time to the well. He had such good luck with kidnapping the human natives and bringing them back for curiosities in Europe that he decided a few talking ponies would make a much more interesting and profitable return trip. If he had just asked instead of forcing the issue, he might have gotten away with it. Goodness knows enough ponies with wandering hooves have been poking their noses into just about everywhere on Earth since Celestia raised the prohibition.”

The colonel took the pad back, turned the page to make a few more notes, and nodded for Jon to go on. It was a comfortably familiar topic for Jon, and if left unsquelched, he could happily chatter for hours about the ponies and their history. Unfortunately, it always caused young ladies at cocktail parties to edge slowly away from him and find other things to occupy their time. Men too.

Having a captive audience, even if the Army colonel had considered killing him, was an infrequent enough event that he went into serious detail about the interactions the Equestrian monarchy had with both the English empire and the newborn American colonies. Spain had learned its lesson from Columbus and declared the island principality was too far away from the normal route to their colonies, but the English were determined to succeed where their rival had failed.

Therefore King George had set his mind to taking over the convenient midpoint in the long trip to ‘his’ colonies, and it took three increasingly disastrous attempts at Equestrian conquest to get it through his thick head that not everypony wanted a king.

The first fleet he had sent found itself simply unable to maneuver directly into the wind, no matter which direction they approached the island nation, the second found ranks of Equestrian guards lined up on the coast wherever they tried to make landfall, and the third experienced a rather unique method of disarmament.

“They did what?” asked Colonel Bradley.

“The Equestrians did not resist at all.” Jon flipped over a page on his own notepad and drew a quick sketch of a beach and a harbor. “The English forces landed, put their troops on shore, and marched inland several miles to establish a fortified camp. Then in the morning, when they looked back at where their ships were supposed to be, they were gone.”

“Gone,” echoed Bradley, tapping his pencil on the paper. “That little fact was never covered in any historical briefing I’ve attended.”

“Because the Army can’t do it, and the British wrote the human history of that encounter,” admitted Jon. “The night sentries on the ships were knocked out, most probably from unicorn spells cast from air carriages approaching from under cloud cover on the leeward side, where they were not expected. Once they landed and filled the belowdecks area with sleeping spells, all the humans were tied up, and the pegasi towed the ships to a different location.”

The colonel seemed impressed. “That’s something our boys can’t do, I suppose. What did the ponies do about a few thousand Redcoats on shore?”

“Very little.” Jon drew a circle around the British camp sketch. “Every day, a note appeared on the commanding general’s bedside, requesting his surrender. Every morning, he tore it up and doubled the guard around his tent. After five days in camp, he put on his dress uniform, picked up a white flag, and marched out into the open.”

“Where he was met by Princess Celestia and a painter.” Colonel Bradley frowned and drew an x on the map. “That, at least, was covered at the academy. There’s a print of Admiral Collier and Celestia that every cadet has to walk past on their way in or out of the administration building. The first full-scale invasion to take place and fail without a single casualty on either side. I had always thought the British forces had been defeated by some sort of magic.”

“The magic of planning, I would presume.” Jon waved at the scribbled drawing. “Something like this doesn’t just happen, even with the best trained soldiers. Celestia could have just continued keeping the ships away with the pegasi controlling the wind, but she held her guard back and trained them for this until she was ready to send a message.”

“Don’t screw with the Equestrians.” Colonel Bradley nodded. “Something Roosevelt should have thought about.”

“Beg pardon?” Jon’s frown wrinkled his forehead and took another cup of coffee from the percolator to cut down his building tension headache. “I presume you’re talking about Theodore Roosevelt’s trip to Manehattan back in 1901 on the Texas, where he met with Princess Celestia and signed a number of trade deals, right? Because that’s the only historical meeting I know of.”

“The real details are probably something that doesn’t make it into many of the official history books on either side,” admitted Bradley. “It’s most likely still classified. But since you have clearance, I suppose it won’t hurt.”

Colonel Bradley pulled a map out of his briefcase and put it on the table, tapping on the enlarged view of the Equestrian Manehattan harbor. “As I heard it told, the Texas dropped anchor right here, which coincidentally would put about half of the city within range of her guns. She was supposed to drop anchor back here.” He tapped the map again, several miles back. “Then the Equestrians would come out, have their little diplomatic meetings and do whatever it is diplomats do when they get together. Vice President Roosevelt, however, was anything but diplomatic. He wanted access to Equestrian ports and trade, to open up the country much like Commodore Perry opened up Japan, and coincidentally shut it down for European access. When Princess Celestia came out to the Texas and inquired about the change of plans, scuttlebutt has it that there was some shouting involved, on his part, not hers. God only knows if Celestia can even raise her voice. Supposedly, negotiations ended with a threat. His, not hers.”

“I know it ended well,” ventured Jon hesitantly. “History shows that.”

“Yes, indeed.” The colonel had a most unsettling chuckle. “Celestia had the ship’s captain put out a lifeboat and anchor it about a mile away. Said it was for ‘educational purposes.’ Once it was anchored and the crew returned to the ship, she just sat there and watched it with the vice president at her side.”

The colonel brought his hands together. “Then it was gone. The Equestrians had taken a tree trunk, wrapped it in iron, and flew it about a mile or two above the target. It would have punched through the thin top armor plate of the Texas like a hot knife through butter, and there was no telling how many more they had.”

It shone a light on the event in a fashion Jon had not thought of before. “So that’s why the trade treaties seemed so favorable to the Equestrians. Huh.”

Colonel Bradley nodded. “Needless to say, the battleship branch of the Navy wants to keep it classified forever, the air power advocates want it spread out on the front page of the New York Times, and the Army thinks it’s just a distraction from the real war in Europe. Even if we could buy the devices they used to drop an explosive bomb that accurately, they’re probably unicorn mumbo-jumbo, and I doubt we could get more than a few dozen in time for whatever’s unwinding in Europe.”

He turned a page on his notepad and sharpened a pencil before giving Jon another abbreviated nod. “Enough on the military history. How about some historical background on when ponies and people worked together, like Paul Revere and his smithing apprentice, Silver Hammer. I had to memorize the poem for school, and it seemed cheating for Longfellow to leave the pony out of it, even if his name didn’t rhyme well.”

It was a welcome change of pace. Jon really did not like violence, although he fortunately was willing to use it in his own defense, or his trip to Egypt a few years ago would have ended on a far worse note. The Revolutionary War story of Silver Hammer and his wife, Thunderbolt, was a lot more comfortable to relate. There were only about a dozen Equestrians in the colonies at the time of the Revolution, mostly pegasi who carried express post at a time when roads were merely suggestions in the mud, and their reluctance to use violence tended to brush them aside into the margins of history books.

Still, they had an influence on history far greater than their numbers would indicate, reflected in the orders that the British had to detain and imprison any Equestrians they came across in order to forcefully repatriate them to their home country. There had been only one fatality, a young pegasus mare named May Flowers who had the misfortune of attempting to fly away from a trigger-happy British patrol, but she had been given a hero’s funeral, and even had the posthumous honor of a State Visit from Princess Celestia a few years after the war was over. During the visit, Celestia had even been invited to speak at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, and it was said that the resulting document had her hoofprints all over it.

The presence of the coffee pot with real coffee made for a comfortable environment to lecture in, and Jon had just gotten up to a particularly fascinating story about the Civil War and balloons when Colonel Bradley held up a hand to stop him. The Army officer slipped out of his seat and moved to the door, gave a quick peek into the main body of the aircraft, and returned to his seat with a much more comfortable expression.

“Good. She’s sleeping.”

Jarred out of his comfortable zone by the abrupt change in Colonel Bradley’s behavior, Jon asked, “Does this mean you’re going to shoot me?”

“Don’t be stupid. I just wanted a conversation without a certain unicorn horning in.” Bradley pulled the briefcase out from under the table and extracted out a folder before continuing in a flat tone.

“When the President of the United States wakes up to a pegasus tapping on his window, it gets his attention. When the pegasus is carrying a letter, it gets read. When the letter is from the divine goddess head of state of a neutral power while Europe is going straight to hell, it damned well gets action. When FDR takes a leisurely morning trip to Hi-Catoctin with his wife and Admiral Stark, nobody notices anything but smooth sailing. You can tell why I suspected mind control.”

Bradley moved his hands in a motion to indicate waves. “Why the Hell they didn’t pick anybody from the Navy for this idiotic messenger mission, I don’t know. President Roosevelt is former Navy, so it’s right up Admiral Stark’s alley and all the spooks in the ONI.”

It was an implied question that begged for an answer, which Jon tried to provide. “That’s why. Obviously, if the Chief of Naval Operations traveled to Equestria, the Germans would be all over it. You’re just a staff member, from the Army, for that matter. The president has been sending diplomatic gestures to Equestria for so long that it would look odd if he didn’t send somebody, but keeping it out of his favorite chain of command and out of the Diplomatic Corps makes it look like just another rote gesture.” Jon hesitated, his eyes unconsciously tracking to the briefcase and the little stub of lead pipe sitting beside it. “This is a rote gesture on the part of the United States, isn’t it?”

As a response, Bradley reached into his briefcase and slid an envelope over to Jon. It was a thick and rich white vellum-like substance that most probably did not have the same origin of real vellum, sealed with a broken but familiar gold foil sunburst and further embossed by a set of Equestrian toothmarks. He opened the envelope and looked at the included letter, which was starkly straight and to the point.

Franklin,
I must see you at once. Meet me at Hi-Catoctin tomorrow.
Celestia

The flowing script was flawless and perfect,without a single blot or smear. It was the kind of calligraphy that only a skilled unicorn could manage with years of practice, but stuffed into the same envelope much like a cuckoo egg in a nest was a second piece of paper. Despite being official White House letterhead and signed by the president himself, the human note appeared far less impressive than the beautiful Equestrian missive. Until he read the typewritten contents.

It authorized, in substantially more words, that Lieutenant Colonel Bradley could do more or less whatever he wanted including physical violence in order to get one Jon Walthers, of various degrees and positions, into Equestrian waters and to the port of Manehatten in Neigh York by 15 June 1940 at the latest, although earlier would be preferred. Upon arrival, he was to hand over said Mister Walthers to Equestrian authorities who would then escort him into the mainland for whatever purposes Princess Celestia had in mind. There was no further information on his fate after the turnover, which made Jon more than a little nervous.

“A lettre de cachet from the President of the United States?” Jon put a finger inside his shirt collar and pulled slightly. “There must be some mistake.”

Colonel Bradley looked less than convinced. “Try explaining it without mind control spells, Mister Walthers. Everywhere that damned horse goes, all the diplomats nod their head and agree with whatever she wants.”

“She’s an experienced politician and diplomat,” countered Jon. “Centuries of experience. She could make herself queen of the world if she really wanted to. She turns enemies into friends and shows up whenever she’s invited, but only when invited. League of Nations? President Wilson turned down her request for entry, and it shows. The armistice at the end of the Great War? France and Russia both objected to her assistance because they wanted to get their hands on a piece of Germany, and look at where that got them.”

“It certainly didn’t hurt Stalin,” countered Colonel Bradley. “Russia cuddled right up to that snake in the grass Germany, and got a good chunk of Poland in the deal. With Germany’s eastern border secure, it’s only the flip of a coin whether Hitler is going to stay in the south with Mussolini to take over all of Africa or north to grind up Britain. Hell, maybe he’s crazy enough to think he can do both, I don’t know.”

Jon really did not have an answer for that. A few years ago, he had expected the German general staff to have put some sort of damper on Hitler’s ambitions, or his obvious frothing hatred for the Russians to have scotched the Ribbentrop Pact. Trying to second-guess anybody crazy enough to try to lead Germany was a foolish idea.

And still, Jon was on an aircraft headed for Equestria. Things could scarcely get more crazy.

“I’m in the Army too, or at least I think I still am,” he volunteered. “Reserve Officer Training Corps with a commission as Second Lieutenant several years ago, but I moved about ten times after college and spent seven months in Egypt doing post-grad studies, so my paperwork got lost or misfiled. They kept moving the ‘H’ from my last name up to my first name. My State Department job is supposed to cover my duty status while they chase paper, but I don’t even know what happened to my uniform since the move to Washington.”

“Lieutenant Walthers. It has a nice ring to it,” said Bradley in a flat tone. “Very Germanic.”

“The Germans can go straight to Hell,” said Jon, then, “Sir,” after a moment. “My father still has relatives scattered across Europe. Several of them just vanished off the face of the planet, and nobody will talk about what happened to them. Everybody on my mother’s side is trying to get out of the country or have changed their names. I can’t even go back to Egypt to finish up my postgraduate work. It’s too risky. Hell, writing letters to my mother’s relatives there could get them killed.”

“I’m sorry.” Colonel Bradley took a deep breath and looked out the nearby window. “I have relatives over there too. The only thing we can do for them is to carry on as best we can.”

“True.” Jon heaved a sigh. “I wonder what’s so special about June fifteenth.”

“I thought you would know.” Bradley thumbed through an appointment calendar and pointed to the date. “It’s about three-quarters moon, and one of the hottest days of the year, but other than that, nothing.”

“No Equestrian holidays either, other than Summer Solstice on the twentieth, when Princess Celestia picks a random town and performs the Rising of the Sun there. Hm…” Jon pulled his own calendar out of his bag and thumbed through it, trying to ignore the colonel’s snort of derision.

“Raises the sun. Bunch of primitive barbarians who still think their god-empress rules the sun and moon.”

“Admittedly, they’re not up to American technological standards,” admitted Jon. “Their trains are lightweight gauge using European measurements. No aircraft other than dirigibles, which are mostly found in the Griffon kingdoms. There are a few small ships they’ve purchased from other nations and refitted to pony controls, but they’re shallow draft. Of the two islands, the eastern one is completely lacking any ports deep enough for a modern ship to dock, and the main island effectively only has tourist destinations of Manehattan, Vanhoover, and if a pilot is very careful, Fillydelphia. San Franciscolt would be an option, if not for the tremendous number of rock outcroppings on the western shore. Lack of energy resources such as coal and oil have caused issues with industrialization, so they manage with a far smaller footprint than people. No motorcars or trucks, naturally, but they’re building a telegraph network, and they repeat some of the New York radio programmes and the BBC from the capital, Canterlot. What they lack in steam and steel they make up for in other areas. Don’t underestimate them, Colonel. Remember Roosevelt.”

The colonel had a peculiar smirk where he tucked up the corner of his lips and rolled his eyes, which in Unicorn Gesture meant about the same as it did in people body language. Jon decided to take a different tack on the problem and unfolded the map Bradley had brought, spreading it out on the table and putting a pencil across the North Atlantic to hold it down before continuing.

“You are familiar, of course, with the Titanic rescue in 1912?”

Colonel Bradley nodded, but with a frown. “A hundred and fifty people lost their lives, but it could have been a lot worse if the Equestrian forces had not been keeping an iceberg watch.”

“A hundred and fifty seven people, and five pegasi as well as three griffons that we know of,” corrected Jon. “Dead from exposure and overwork, after flying load after load of wet, freezing people to nearby ships.” Jon pointed at the end of the pencil, a short line from the Equestrian continent to a spot in the mid-Atlantic. “Celestia herself arrived about twenty minutes after the first CQD message, with over a hundred pegasi and air transports.” He moved his finger to the other end of the pencil. “Where do you think they came from?”

Catching himself before reaching across the table to point at the obvious answer, Colonel Bradley’s frown grew a little deeper. “That’s probably classified.”

“That’s stupid,” said Jon. “Anybody with a ruler and a stopwatch knows it’s further from the Equestrian capital city to the site than twenty minutes by air.”

“You can’t mean to think Celestia put an iceberg in front of an ocean liner, do you?”

“No, of course not,” said Jon. “But applying Occam’s Razor to the problem says there is some way for the Equestrians to move that many of their troops over that distance on short to zero notice. They put out an excuse about some sort of troop exercise coincidentally being in the vicinity, but it doesn’t hold water. She probably used an ancient artifact or some other expendable magical device to transport the rescue force, but we’ll never find out from her.”

“Don’t tell me you believe those fantasy stories about Daring Do also,” said Bradley. “Mysterious world-destroying artifacts from South America jungle ruins are only found in books.”

Jon doodled a picture of the crescent moon on his notepad and tapped on it with his pencil. “Maybe. Maybe not. Only Celestia knows, and she won’t talk about her past.”

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