• Published 20th May 2017
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Brightly Lit - Penalt

The village of Brightly, British Columbia is a small, isolated place where everyone knows everyone, with a strong sense of community. A community that starts to include colourful little ponies.

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Chapter 18: On Top of the World

I’m on top of the world, and now I’m livin’
And the good just gets better, keeps on givin’
Not even close to the end, it’s just beginnin’

On Top of the World - Tim McMorris

“Who was that at the—” Jean began to say, as a pair of dark furry muzzles rounded the corner into the living room, “door.” The newcomers froze at the entrance to the room as they looked in, and Jean could see them focusing on the furred heads of the sleeping children, as well as her horn and Lynn’s wings.

“Welcome to the pony club,” Jean said, hoping to draw the pair into motion and out of their frozen shock.

“Hello,” said a familiar, male sounding voice, from one of the ponies. “Mrs. Pedersen, is that you? It sounds like you.”

“Father Addison?” Jean asked right back, then smiling as the original speaker smiled and nodded. “Come in and be welcome in my home. There are towels to your left. Dry off and pull up a blanket by the fireplace.”

“Here I thought I was going to be shocking and surprising you,” Father Addison said, reaching out a leathery wing and snagging a towel that he passed to his wife. “It seems Natasha and I were right to come to you for some help.”

“How long has this been going on?” Natasha asked, taking the towel from her husband and starting to rub herself dry.

“For the kids, a couple of weeks now,” Jean said, mesmerized by the ease at which her new guests were using their wings as secondary hands. “For me and Lynn, it’s only been tonight. Speaking of which, how are you doing that so easily? It took me and Lynn almost an hour just to be able to walk straight.”

“We just seemed to be able to do it,” Addison said, towelling off his dark blue-grey head. “After the creature we gave succor to passed away—”

“Wait, what happened, Father?” Ernie said, a little loudly, making Skylark stir in her sleep and Lynn put a feathered wing against her husband’s lips.

“Maybe you should just tell us what happened, Father,” Lynn said, pitching her voice low. “Then we can tell you how it happened with us and compare notes, but please keep your voices down. The children have all had a very busy evening and they need their rest.”

Over the next half hour, Addison told the story of how he and his wife had heard something crash in the chapel, only to discover a mysterious being that they gave comfort and aid to in its final moments. As the creature died it seemed to pass something into the two of them, turning them into the bat winged ponies that they now appeared to be.

In return, Jean quietly told the story of how Rowan had found the book containing the magic spell, of how it seemed to be filled with power and how using it turned anyone who happened to be nearby at the time into a colourful little pony blessed with extraordinary powers of one sort or another.

While Arnold made another trip upstairs for more blankets, Ernie picked up the story with what had happened in the hours previous, and how their little ponies had been instrumental in preventing what could have been a devastating flood. What piqued the interest of Father Addison and his wife though, was the description of the creature that had healed Billy from the life-threatening wounds sustained after he had bucked the huge tree trunk in half.

“That ‘Night Horse’ sounds exactly like what came into the chapel tonight,” Natasha said, toweling off the last of a very long, black mane shot through with blue highlights.

“I knew it had to have been a creature of God,” Addison said, his own dark grey mane bobbing with the force of his nod. “You are sure it actually healed Billy?”

“Sir,” Arnold said, resting his hand on his son’s side. “I was getting ready to have to bury my son, even as I held him in my arms. I don’t know if what saved his life was of your god, some spirit related to Jean’s beliefs, or what. All I know is that right now my boy is alive and well.”

“And there were witnesses to this miracle?” Addison asked, insistent.

“Yes,” Arnold said, drawing out the word. “Why is that so important?”

“I don’t know if you know it,” Addison said, snuggling close to his wife, “but a witnessed act of healing is one of the criteria for sainthood. The Catholic Church is quite big on finding such accounts for their saints. Mother Teresa is a recent example.”

“Well, the Night Horse isn’t… wasn’t exactly what one would call human,” Arnold said. “So it couldn’t exactly be a saint now, could it.”

“Acts, chapter ten,” Ernie said from his spot, to Arnold’s surprise. “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, and those that fear Him and do what is right are acceptable to Him.” Addison nodded in confirmation of that.

“Plus, when you combine that with the creature reaching out to the cross in its final moments,” Addison continued. “It makes for a fair argument that it was one of God’s creatures.”

“Not so fast there,” Jean said, chuckling a bit. “Just because something comes to a place of worship and does good deeds doesn’t automatically make it one of yours, Father Addison.”

“You’re saying it wasn’t a good creature?” Natasha asked, backing up her husband.

“I’m saying it was a good creature who was seeking a place of peace in its last moments,” Jean said, smiling as Arnold ran a hand down the back of her neck. “Epona is the protector of all equines. Horses, donkeys, mules… and ponies.”

“And a protector of such creatures would have a vested interest in healing one of its kind who had performed a heroic act,” Addison said, a rueful smile crossing his muzzle. “I have a feeling we could debate this all night.”

“Yeah, we should probably get some rest,” Arnold said, and then a thought crossed his mind. “You said it really wanted the cross in the church. Is there anything special about it, other than its symbolic importance?”

“It was carved from a single piece of Douglas Fir, by one of the carvers in Bella Bella,” Addison said, putting a hoof to his chin in thought. “It was a gift to the chapel back in the 1960s when we went against the Methodists by giving our blessing to the return of the potlatch. The only other thing about it is the ruby mounted on it.”

“Ruby?” Arnold asked, sitting up a bit at that.

“An extremely flawed one, but yes,” Addison said, his voice holding a note of caution. “It’s not worth much of anything, being more a piece of crystal than a true ruby, but it was a gift by John Leung a few years before his death. No one knows where he obtained the gem.”

“John Leung again,” Ernie said, continuing as Lynn looked at him inquiringly. “Remember that the kids dug up the book by the ruin of his old warehouse? That’s twice now his name has come up in connection with what’s going on. What was it Churchill said about things?”

“Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action,” Lynn said.

“Ian Fleming, actually,” Natasha said, and all eyes shifted to her.

“What? I like James Bond,” she said with a smile, tossing her mane to one side.

“Either way, I think Ernie has a point,” Jean said, just before she gave a huge yawn, which found itself echoed around the room. “I really think we all need some sleep though. Father Addison, you’re more than welcome to spend the night.”

“Thank you, Jean. I hadn’t wanted to impose, but the weather out there is not the best. We gratefully accept,” Addison said, with a nod of his head. The other adults in the room smiled at the exchange and started to snuggle into their blankets, all except Arnold.

“You two know each other?” he asked, confusion on his face and in his voice.

“When Mrs. Pedersen first came to Brightly,” Addison said, wrapping himself and his wife in a blanket by the fireplace, “some of my parishioners were somewhat less than Christian in their attitudes, and it took a few sermons to remind them that we are long past the days of ‘suffer not a witch to live’.”

“It was from before you moved here, Arnold, and it all worked out in the end,” Jean said, her eyes closing. “Sleep well folks, I just can’t stay awake any longer.”

The others in the room were just as tired as the white unicorn, if not more so, and what had been a long night had become even longer with the arrival of the bat ponies. The other adults murmured “Good Nights” to each and slowly, as the wind and rain beat a lullaby against the roof of the cozy home, people and ponies dropped off one by one into a deep and restful sleep.

It was a quarter to three in the morning, and Shaushka was typing up the incident report on what had happened earlier that evening at the Carmanah Dam. With only fifteen minutes left in her shift she was pounding out the words as fast as she could, chewing on strands of her bright red-orange hair. Her eyes flicked back and forth over the screen as she mentally compared what her memory told her with what she had written down. She had just saved what she hoped would be the last draft of her report when the phone at her station rang.

“Tech Shaushka here,” she said into the phone with as much professionalism as she could muster.

“It’s Sahota, do you mind coming to my office for a few minutes?” asked the pleasant sounding voice of the facilities manager.

“Not at all, Ma’am,” Shaushka said, knowing full well that when someone two levels above your pay grade asks you over for a quick chat it’s never a good thing. “I’ll be right there.”

“Shaushka,” Tara Sahota said, a couple of minutes later as the tech walked into her small office just off the working area of the facility. “Come on in and have a seat.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the tech said, sitting down in the spartan office. It was a small, barren cube of an office, built along with the rest of the facility back in the 1970s. Shaushka knew Sahota had been using this office for nearly two years now but it retained not one whit of her personal life, being instead filled only with the necessary items of a middle manager.

“I’ve been going over your personnel file,” Sahota said, leafing through a manila file folder and Shaushka felt a chill go down her spine as she recognized her name on the cover of it. “Been with us a few years now. Smart, ambitious, you have a reputation for knowing the job and getting it done with a minimum of fuss.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Shauska said, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

“So, can you tell me why you decided to risk a promising career by doing something as incredibly dumb as what you pulled tonight?” Sahota asked, leaning back and looking Shaushka full in the eyes.

“I’m not sure what you mean, Ma’am?” Shaushka said, knowing full well that the jig was likely up, but it was best to admit to nothing until she knew what Sahota knew about what had gone on.

“I mean this,” Sahota said, spinning around her monitor so that Shaushka could see a video clip of her talking on her smartphone while at her station. It was from one of the many security cameras from around the facility and from the timestamp Shaushka could see that it was from when she had called her friend at the radio station.

“I’ll go clean out my desk,” Shaushka said, shoulders slumping. Her career with BC Hydro was over. No one liked a leaker, which made it probable that she would be spending a long time in the unemployment line.

“Not just yet,” Sahota said, a small smirk on her face. “As I said, you’re smart, you know the job and you’ve got some ambition. Other than this, your record is spotless, and if this recording was to somehow ‘disappear’ you would likely have a long career with us.”

“Are you saying you would be willing to do that for me?” Shaushka asked, hope flaring in her breast.

“Like you, I plan to go a long way in my career here,” Sahota said, and the smirk turned predatory. “It would help me a great deal to have someone personally loyal to me in the company. Someone who was smart, knew their job and knew when it was time to break the rules.”

“Are you… blackmailing me?” Shaushka asked, incredulous. “I mean, yes, I want to hang onto my job but I’m not going to do anything illegal to keep it.”

“Who said anything about illegal?” Sahota asked rhetorically. “You broke the rules tonight. It was the right thing to do, but the rules in a Crown corporation are adamant, and if I follow the rules your career is over. But rules are not the law, and rules are not always right.”

“As long as it doesn’t mean breaking the law, I’m more than willing to report to you directly on things,” Shaushka said, choosing her words with care.

“Right then,” Sahota said, tacitly accepting the conditions while pulling a small usb device from the computer and handing it to Shaushka. “First things, first. You’re off remote monitor duty and tomorrow evening you’re flying out to Haida Gwaii.”

“What?!” Shaushka sputtered, “Why?”

“There’s going to be a massive investigation into what happened tonight,” Sahota said, grimacing, “and while Hemphill is an ass he’s got the rules on his side, as well as upper management. I need you out of sight and away from that investigation.”

“What am I supposed to do up there?” Shaushka asked, still not understanding why she had to travel hundreds of kilometers just to get out from underfoot.

“Not only do I need you out of the way, I need an honest report about the condition of the Carmanah Dam by someone who isn’t covering their ass,” Sahota said, tossing her midnight hair back. “You know the systems, you know what happened, and I need you to tell me the situation there before any ‘official’ report comes down. That way I can make sure both of us are covered when the political fallout rains down from above. Once the dust settles there should be some good positions for us to rise into.”

“So, I’m headed to Brightly eventually?” Shaushka asked, red eyebrows climbing toward her scalp.

“You’re headed to Brightly directly,” Sahota said, laughing. “I’m designating you as the manager of the assessment and repair team.”

“I’ve never managed a field team,” Shaushka protested, spreading her hands wide. “In fact I’ve never managed anything bigger than a safety meeting.”

“You were going to need some managerial experience anyway, and from what I’ve seen tonight you work well under pressure,” Sahota said, extending her hand. “So, are you ready to work with me and start moving up in the world?” Shaushka looked at the hand extending towards her, and for a minute considered walking away knowing the bargain she was being offered.

“Yes Ma’am,” Shaushka said, taking Sahota’s hand in a firm grip as she made the only choice she could to save her career.

“Okay then, finish up, head home, and pack,” Sahota said, releasing her new lieutenant’s hand. “Your itinerary will be waiting for you at the Air Canada desk at YVR.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Shauska said, getting up. “I’ll call in when I’m on site in Brightly.” Sahota nodded and waved the tech out her door.

“Meanwhile, I’ve got a few calls of my own to make,” Sahota said quietly, lifting the handset of her phone while she twirled a duplicate of the usb stick she’d handed Shaushka in her fingers.

“Good Morning, BC. John Chernicke here, with your Global TV weekend news update for 7 AM. News is just coming in of a dramatic battle against rising flood waters in the remote town of Brightly on the Central Coast overnight. For the latest we go to Jill Chou in our newsroom. Jill..."

"Hello John. Details are sketchy at this hour, but it seems that the BC Hydro dam on Carmanah Lake malfunctioned, allowing water to flow unchecked toward the nearby community of Brightly, British Columbia. Preliminary reports say that the local volunteer fire department was able to somehow do the impossible, and get the dam functional long enough for BC Hydro to remotely close the spillway, saving the town from what could have been a catastrophic flood. No one with BC Hydro was available to speak to us on the situation, but we will keep looking into this story and update you as we know more."

"Thank you, Jill. In other news related to the powerful storm that battered the coast overnight…”

Romy Pedersen cracked open her eyes to see the light of morning coming in through the living room window. She was warm and comfortable under her blankets with the comforting weight of her mother’s arm around her. The incessant pressure of a full bladder made going back to sleep impossible, however.

Yawning widely she raised her head up and looked around the room. Despite it being well into the morning everyone was still fast asleep. Her mom was there, of course, as were Zak and Kya’s parents, and Billy’s dad. Poking out of the blankets around the room, Romy could also see the manes and tails of her sister and their friends. There were also a couple of lumps covered in blankets by the fireplace, from which the sounds of sleep emerged. Someone else had come over after she had fallen asleep, obviously.

Any further thoughts were cut off by increasingly loud messages from her bladder as it demanded attention, and Romy stepped out of her blankets as quietly as she could to make her way to the bathroom on silent hooves. Something twigged at her, but her still waking mind couldn’t focus on it as she took care of her business. Opening the door of the bathroom she was momentarily startled to see Billy standing in the hallway, waiting for his turn at the toilet.

“Hey,” he said, shifting a bit from side to side. “All done?”

“Yeah,” Romy said, stepping out of the bathroom. “Go ahead. I’ll get us thome cereal. Meet me in the kitchen when you’re done.”

“Okay,” Billy said, moving quickly past her and into the bathroom while Romy carefully negotiated the stairs back down. She had discovered it was far easier for a four hooved pony to go upstairs than down, but she did it and by the time Billy joined her in the kitchen she had poured out a bowl of Cheerios for each of them.

“How you doing?” Romy asked as she nudged a bowl toward Billy, who awkwardly climbed up onto a table.

“Pretty good,” Billy said, nibbling a few of the oat based circles. “I wonder when we’re going to change back.”

“Change back?” Romy asked, confused for a moment, and then blinked in realization. “We… we’re still ponies.”

“Yup, by the way, how are you doing?” Billy asked, munching on his dry cereal that neither pony had bothered to add milk to. “You were pretty out of it after you got the dam to work, which was super cool.”

“Thanks,” Romy said, blushing. “You were too, and that mark you got was awesome.”

“Yours is too,” Billy said, smiling before scooping more oatey goodness into his mouth.

“Mine?” Romy said, twisting her head around to look at her hip. “Hey! I did get one. When did that happen?”

“You kinda did the big glowing ball of light thing, like I did,” Billy said, a few Cheerios spilling from his mouth. “It lit up everything all around.” Silence broken only by the sound of hungry munching went on for a few minutes.

“Should we wake the others?” Romy asked, when she had finished her bowl off.

“Nah, you wanna go outside for a bit?” Billy asked, finding and slurping up the last few stray bits.

“Still raining, “Romy said. “Any idea who that is by the fireplace?”

“Nope, they must have come in after we went to sleep,” Billy said. “You wanna go back to sleep?”

“Too awake now,” Romy said, moving the now empty bowls to the sink. “How about we go up to my room and I get out a board game?”

“You guys don’t have any video games?” Billy asked, getting down from the table.

“Power is still off,” Romy said, shrugging.

“Oh right,” Billy said, “Board games it is then.”

John Horgan, Premier of the Province of British Columbia, sat waiting for the phone to ring as he rested in his kitchen. He was the elected leader of the massive chunk of land that formed Canada’s western gateway to the Pacific. The nearly million square kilometer landmass was populated by a mere five million people who were as diverse as the land they inhabited.

Every day reminded Horgan that he had won the election, toppling an entrenched political dynasty, by a mere 190 votes in what had been probably the closest election in the 150 year long history of Canada. The storm that had come ashore overnight was just another in a never-ending series of challenges and opportunities that he had to face if he was going to stand a chance of re-election in a few years time. So, when the phone finally did ring, he was ready for it.

“Horgan here,” he said into the phone, putting down the newspaper he’d been idling through.

“Mr. Premier,” said the voice on the phone. “We’ve got a potential situation.”

“Of course we do, Peter,” Horgan said to his personal assistant, Peter Cutter. “Do you need me in the office or can you tell me over the phone?”

“I would much rather go over this with you in your office, Sir,” Cutter said, his voice polite but insistent. “At the request of the Minister of Energy and Mines, I’ve set up a conference call for you with him and the president of BC Hydro, in about an hour from now.” That made Horgan take notice.

“This have anything to do with Site C?” Horgan asked, his fingers tightening on the handset.

“Not directly, Sir,” Cutter said. “At least not that I can see. If you would come down to the office, Sir, I can brief you fully before the conference call.”

“Right,” Horgan said, getting up from the table. “I’m on my way.”

Author's Note:

Pulling in some actual people and places into the story again. John Horgan is indeed the current Premier of BC, and he did win the last election in a squeaker. Site C is a real place and I'll leave you folks to google it if you like before I spell things out in the next chapter.

I think we can expect a time of relative peace for our pint-sized protagonists, but as you can see the ripples of their actions are spreading far and wide

Huge shout outs to my editors: Sandstorm94 and Coyotethetrickster. Thank you for sacrificing your sanity.

Support me if you can on Patreon for as little as a dollar a month. Patreon is probably one of the best things ever for keeping word Sherpas like me in coffee and working keyboards. Some months you folks really make the difference.

A big shout out to the ongoing support through Patreon by:

Canary in the Coal Mine,

and my newest Patron,

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