• 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 29: Talking in your sleep

The day dawned clear and bright over the small hamlet nestled in its spot in the forests of British Columbia. As day began to move forward, clouds began to move in, while the inhabitants and their working visitors greeted the new day with various levels of enthusiasm, expressions of wonder, and dark curses in the case of those who had over imbibed at last night’s celebration.

Among the last group was the newly appointed manager of the Carmanah Dam. She’d fallen asleep in her chair and now she had a crick in her neck to go with the thunder in her head. Muttering vile curses at the swill Wilcox called “beer,” Shaushka made her way over to the greatest gift her crew had given her, a coffee machine.

She was just sitting down at her desk with a cup of dark ambrosia when her phone rang. Not her useless mobile phone, but an actual plug into the wall, rotary dial phone that was sitting on a corner of the desk. The artifact rang again, demanding attention and driving an icepick into Shaushka’s skull. She picked up the phone, more to save her brain than anything else.

“Hello,” she said into the device.

“Manager Shaushka,” replied a voice that was far too cheery for the hour. “This is Richard Smothers, I work with the Capital Investment Group. I know it’s early, but I need a few minutes of your time.”

“Of course,” Shaushka said, putting as much fake energy into the reply as she could, while she added an extra helping of sugar to her coffee. “What can I do for you?”

“Yay! We’re ponies again! Ponies! Ponies! Ponies!” came the happy chant from the big bedroom the two Harding children had shared overnight with their three friends. In the kitchen, Lynn and Ernie rolled their eyes to each other at the kids’ antics, smiles on their faces. Ernie got up from the kitchen table and poured out a measure of reddish pellets into five bowls sitting in readiness.

“Kids!” Lynn called out, and the chorus dimmed somewhat in enthusiasm. “Breakfast!”

There was a sound of furniture being moved across a floor followed by the bedroom door opening and a short lived stampede to the kitchen. Within seconds a group of five colourful little ponies were sitting at the table, questioning looks on their faces as they saw what was sitting in front of each of them.

“Dad, what’s this stuff?” Zak asked, pushing some of the hard pellets around with a hoof.

“Smells like licorice,” Billy said, his nostrils flaring as he drank in the scent of the food.

“Those are cria pellets,” Ernie said, pouring himself a bowl of bran cereal that looked remarkably similar to what the kids had in front of them.

“Um, what are cria pellets?” Romy asked, also sniffing at the food. “They do kinda smell good.”

“Baby alpaca food,” Ernie said, pouring in some milk and crunching down on some of his cereal.

“Alpaca food!” came the united complaint of five voices. “Yuck!” Lynn turned toward the counter so the kids couldn’t see her wide smile.

“If you kids are going to be quadrupeds at least part of the time,” Ernie said, deliberately holding up a spoonful of his bran cereal. “You are going to need nutrition aimed at quadrupeds. I know it’s not actual horse food, but it’s the best thing I could find that seemed a little appetizing as well.”

“But we’re magical ponies,” Rowan countered. “We’ve been doing just fine on regular people food.”

“So far,” Ernie said, pausing in his own meal. “We don’t know if you kids need any special trace elements, or protein requirements or amount of roughage. It’s not like there’s anyone we can just ask about this sort of thing. Besides, I checked this stuff over and even if you should just be having regular food this stuff won’t hurt.”

“It’s not bad,” Kylara said, crunching away on some of the pellets. “Tastes like granola with sugar on it.”

“That would be the molasses they use as a binding agent to hold it all together,” Ernie said. “So eat up kids, and even though school is open, you five are staying home today.”

“‘Cause we’re ponies?” Zak asked, around a mouthful of the pellets.

“Just for now,” Lynn said, turning back to the conversation. “We’re hoping something can get worked out over the weekend. We’ll redo some of your homework in a bit so you don’t start falling behind, after that I could use your help making some more pony harnesses.”

“Already?” Ernie asked, surprise in his voice. “The kids ones are fine, aren’t they?”

“Not theirs,” Lynn said, as a bit of a blush came over her cheeks. “I’m making one for me, Arnold, Jean and Jessica.”

“For you and…” Ernie began, his voice trailing off as he wisely decided not to get in the way of what had obviously become something of a major new project for his wife.

“Also, be a dear and when you come home today, bring me any spare tack from the farm,” Lynn said, and Ernie just nodded and went back to his bran. Which probably tasted a lot worse than what the kids were eating.

“...So that’s the long and the short it,” Shaushka said, addressing the combined dam and powerline teams later that morning. “The Carmanah Dam, at least for the next five years, is going to be a manned operation. Hydro is offering all of you first pick of positions. For those of you who choose to stay on, it will mean moving up a full pay grade, plus a generous moving allowance and a remote site bonus. HR needs to know by the end of next week if you want to make the jump. Okay, that’s it. Get back to packing up. Our ride back to Bella Bella will be here noon tomorrow.”

“How many of them do you think will take the offer?” Wilcox asked, as he walked up through the rapidly thinning crowd. Shaushka had let the reporter sit in on the meeting as something of a pay back. Despite the revolting qualities of his so-called “beer,” he had made for a fine person to just sit and talk with. He’d let her vent without judgement, and filled in his side of the conversation with interesting stories about his job.

“Not sure,” Shaushka said, walking back to her office that overlooked the turbines. “I’ve only been in charge of this crew for a couple of weeks. Some of them will sign on, I think. The rest seem to like the challenges and the big overtime pay cheques of being part of a troubleshooting team.”

“Okay, got it,” Wilcox said, nodding. “And thanks for letting me sit in.”

“I owed you a bit, mate,” the tech turned manager said, waving a hand dismissively. “Plus the formal announcement will be in a few hours anyway, so it’s not like it’s a huge revelation.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” Wilcox said, flipping his notebook closed. “I’ve got to call this in. Beer later?”

“Lord no,” Shaushka said, laughing. “I wouldn’t touch that swill again if you paid me to.”

Wilcox was about to reply when Shaushka’s phone told her that 40 year old technology still worked just fine. The reporter made a “bye” gesture and walked away at a brisk pace while Shaushka picked up the plastic handset.

“Shaushka here,” she said, speaking into the phone as she picked it up while leaning against her desk.

“It’s Weitz,” said the voice of the head of the powerline crews. Weitz was a huge man of German descent who managed his people by getting into the dirt and wet right alongside them and outworking all of them into the ground.

“What’s up?” Shaushka asked, curious. Weitz wasn’t one for wasted conversation, either in the office or the field. He wouldn’t be calling her unless he needed to.

“Got a man missing,” Weitz said, without preamble. “Didn’t sleep in his bed, didn’t show up for work, not like him.”

“Well it was a big party last night,” Shaushka said, walking around her desk and looking for the personnel list of the crew under her. “Who is it?”

“Tim Kielops,” Weitz said, not enlightening Shaushka at all. “Good worker. Big eater.”

“Oh, him!” Shaushka said, her mind flashing to an individual she’d seen eat a burger in two or three bites. “Well, he might have had too much to drink and been taken in by some locals for the night. I heard that happened with a couple of your crew?”

“Ya,” Weitz said, the word Teutonically tinged. “They were back in time for work though.”

“Kielops usually on time?” Shaushka asked.

“Ya,” Weitz replied, “Never missed a shift before.” Shaushka got it now. Weitz was worried about his man, not angry at him.

“Okay, give it until after lunch,” Shaushka said, thinking. “If he hasn’t shown up by then I’ll go talk to the mayor and see if he can make some calls to find our lost lamb.”

“Big lamb,” Weitz grunted out. “If he shows up, I will call. I don’t call, you go see mayor.”

“Right,” Shauska said, realizing that Weitz just wasn’t worried, he was very worried. “I don’t hear from you by 1pm sharp, I’ll be on the phone to Montcalm.”

“Thanks,” Weitz said, and hung up the line. Shaushka hung up her phone and sighed. LIfe had been so straightforward before Brightly. She knew her job and she knew those around her. Now, it just felt like like she was flailing around blindly and waiting for someone to notice she didn’t have a clue. Pulling up her day planner app she added “Call Mayor” at 1pm, and saw that the next thing on her list was to check the status of the barge that was returning to pick them up.

Tim Kielops woke with a groan. His head was killing him and the rest of his body didn’t feel so good either. He tried opening his eyes but something seemed to have glued his eyelids shut. Rubbing at his eyes and face instinctively he absently noted that his face was covered in a slightly gooey, drying crumbly substance.

It was the work of a few moments to remove the offending material and Tim blinked a few extra times in surprise as his vision cleared and he realized he was sitting in the middle of the woods at the base of a very large tree. Looking down at his hand, he saw that it was covered in dried and not quite dried blood.

“Oh, Tim,” he said aloud to himself, wincing as a probing hand found a very sore spot on the crown of his head. “Where have we gotten ourselves into now?”

Weaving slightly the big man levered himself upright, leaning himself up against the trunk of the big tree to steady himself. It wasn’t the first time he’d woken up in a strange place after a bacchanal, but it was the first time he’d woken up in the woods after one. He rested against the solid giant behind him, slowly taking deep breaths and gentle exhales to clear his mind of the fog.

Head clearing, Tim looked back up the slope down which he had tumbled. It was steep, tree covered and Tim wasn’t sure if he could climb back up it. He circled around the tree to see what was on the downslope and realized that the tree he had smashed into had probably saved his life.

On the other side of the tree was a vertical drop off of some ten meters down to a rocky stream that had cut its way deep into the ground over the eons. Tim realized that if the tree hadn’t stopped him, he would have gone over the edge and smashed into the rocks below. Tim whistled in appreciation and took a step forward to get a better look down into the narrow, but deep ravine.

Tim was a big man and carrying the impressive amount of muscle he had made for an equally impressive number showing up on any scale he stepped on. So when he stepped onto the undercut lip of soil and roots that had been loosened by some of the heaviest rain in the past fifty years it gave way beneath him. With reflexes that a cat would envy, the man tried to spin around to grab the edge of the embankment even as he fell, but time, space and gravity conspired against him.

His reaching fingers only grabbed the thinnest of roots, enough to slow his fall but not stop him completely, and he fell heavily to the stream below. Tim landed in a thigh high pool of water with a tremendous splash, pain lancing up his left leg as it landed on a large rock on the bottom. The big man tried to stand up with both legs, but Tim quickly found that his left leg would only just take his weight.

“I think I might be in trouble,” Tim said, half hobbling, half swimming his way out of the pooled water.

With the recent rains the stream came up almost to the very side of the deep, narrow channel but he managed to find a good size rock to sit on while he examined his left leg. Nothing seemed broken, and while he had several scrapes, cuts and bruises he wasn’t bleeding. That was the extent of the good news though. His left ankle throbbed in time with his heartbeat, and he was thoroughly soaked and chilled.

He looked up the embankment he had just fallen down and whistled at the vertical slope. These was no way he could climb back the way he had come. If he had some of his climbing gear with him, it might be possible, but with a hurt ankle and no gear it wasn’t going to happen. Standing up, Tim began to make his way downstream ignoring the pain in his left ankle as much as he was able.

“Do it like ‘Survivorman’ does. Follow the stream to a bigger stream,” Tim said aloud, hoping to scare off any wildlife that might think of him as tasty. “Follow that to a river, then to a lake or the ocean. People can see you there. Ya, that’s a plan.”

Still talking to himself, the power lineman made his painful way along the streambank, unaware that his plan was doomed from the start. During the night Tim had unknowingly crested the ridge that divided Brightly from the rest of the Great Bear Rainforest. By following the stream and heading downhill he was now heading deeper into the ancient range of the Spirit Bear and further away from civilization and rescue.

Brian Cummins sat in the pub that was one of the two watering holes in Brightly, while pushing a fry aimlessly around his plate. It was barely half past one, and there was nothing left for him to do here. No one would say more than a few words to him, and even those few were almost always said with a frown of displeasure of having to be in his presence. He had been, as someone had once said, ostracized with a dull ostracizer.

In hindsight, what he had done to so monumentally mess things up was clear. In the Lower Mainland, people would have been clamouring for his attention. Begging to be “the” source, to be the breathless person on camera going, “I saw the incident…” Everyone in the big city wanted their five minutes of fame so they could stand out from the faceless masses.

Brightly didn’t work that way though. There were no faceless masses here, and no crowd to stand out from. Just living here was to stand out against the trees that crowded in from all around. No one wanted recognition here, because everyone already knew everyone else, and that didn’t count the many people who had come here for a place where they could just be themselves. Without the prying eyes of a pushy reporter poking his nose into everything.

By trying to force the locals to react to him the way people did in the cities, he’d pushed them away, and become the quintessential “city slicker” in their eyes. Barring a miracle, there was no coming back from that. Unless he wanted to take up permanent residence here and spend a couple of years trying to mend fences.

Cummins frowned at that thought. There was no way he had that kind of time. What’s more, there was no way he needed these people to like… The TV reporter’s thoughts were cut off in mid-flow as the incredibly loud sound of an air-raid siren, of all things, sounded nearby.

Looking around Cummins could see that every person in the pub was sitting bolt upright in their chairs and looking around. A few making quick comments to their tablemates, questioning looks on their faces. Wood scraped along the floor, and the reporter saw two people quickly rise from their seats and reach for their wallets.

“Don’t bother,” said the waitress over the siren’s wail to the pair, who Cummins now recognized as Brightly’s pair of paramedics. “I’ll send the bill to your boss.”

Nodding in thanks, the pair bolted out of the pub and into a pickup parked out front. A squeal of tires could be heard over the dying notes of the siren and conversations began to pick up again as quiet returned. Curiosity afire, Cummins got up from his table and went over to the waitress who was now cleaning up the abandoned lunch.

“What’s with the siren?” Cummins asked the older woman. “What’s going on?”

“Stuff,” the woman said, frowning as she recognized Cummins. Then smoothed her face before continuing, “Fire department got a call, is all.”

“Thanks,” Cummins said, handing the woman a twenty. “Keep the change.” He quickly turned and headed for his hotel room, which was in the building attached to the pub, fire in his veins. There was a story to be had, and ostracized or not, he might have a way to get the scoop on nearly everyone.

“Keep the change he says,” the woman muttered as Cummins left the room. “On an eighteen dollar meal. Gee, thanks.”

Cummins knew he was causing a scene as he bolted through the small lobby of the hotel part of the building and pounded up the stairs to his room. He didn’t care. These people didn’t like him? Fine. There were still stories to cover and news to be had, and in Murrow’s name he would be the one to cover them.

Reaching his room, he quickly dove his hands into his end table, coming up with the small, but powerful radio scanner he had used the night before to listen to passing airliners. It took only a few moments after Cummins turned it on for it to find and lock onto a powerful signal.

“This is Fire Three,” crackled a voice in Cummins’ ear. “I’m on my way in. Do we have to use these silly call signs?”

“Yes we do, Ernie,” a voice Cummins recognized as Montcalm’s said. “You were the one who came up with the whole call sign idea in the first place, so we might as well use them.”

“Hoser Two here,” a young male voice said, who Cummins thought he recognized as Ben Thompson, the young man who had climbed the tower to align the dish at the dam. “I kind of like them.”

“Fire Two,” a deeper man’s voice said. “I regret showing you my old copies of SCTV now. I really do.”

“Cut the chatter people, and get in as quick as you can,” Montcalm said. “We’ve got a SAR situation. A guy on one of the Hydro crews went missing overnight. They’ve been looking in town all morning, no luck.”

“Fire One, Fire Three,” the fireman said. “ETA is about five minutes. You know, we could get some help on this.”

“The hydro crews are already offering half their people,” Montcalm said. “Just get your ass in here, Fire Three. You’re the furthest out.”

“Seeker and her friends could be a big help,” Fire Three said, pressuring his boss, and Cummins still listening through the scanner, felt as if a bolt of lightning had gone through him. Seeker, the mysterious unknown Seeker, who everyone in town seemed intent on covering for might be a part of what was going on. Cummins had just been given the miracle he had given up on. If he could learn Seeker’s identity he could prove to his boss that he was right. If he did it in the right way, he might even get back some of the respect he’d lost.

“I’ll think about it,” Montcalm said. “We’ll talk about it when you get in. Fire One, out.”

There was a click as the frequency stopped being used and the scanner began to hunt up and down its range for more things to lock on to. As it did, Cummins sat back on his bed, absorbing what he had just heard, wondering if it could have been some sort of trick or set up to make him look bad. After all, he shouldn’t have been able to listen in to the conversation. Emergency service channels were usually encrypted or otherwise unable to be detected by his little scanner.

This is Brightly, he remembered, in realization. The little town was probably using radio technology from the 1990s, at best. They wouldn’t, couldn’t be on a trunk system that would be hopping frequencies, and on top of that, any sort of encryption from twenty years ago would have been broken long ago and pre-programmed into his scanner. The fire department didn’t know he could listen in.

Cummins spent the next ten minutes getting ready for what might be a long session. His room had been furnished as a working bedroom, so it had a writing desk and chair. He’d gone and ordered up a large coffee pot and pre-ordered a couple of meals, to be delivered at intervals over the course of the day. So when his scanner locked onto the frequency used by the fire department again, he was ready.

“Rescue One and Two, are you set up at the park?” Montcalm asked over the radio.

“Yes, sir,” said the female voice of Rescue One, who Cummins had identified as Jessica Harkins. “The first search teams are fanning out now. Everyone has maps and CB radios set to channel 19.”

“Okay, we’ll use the school’s park as our base of operations for coordinating searchers and any needed medical response,” Montcalm said. “Shaushka, the boss at the dam, tells me that she’s closing down operations there for the day and sending her crews to search to the north and west.”

“Boss, I really think we’re missing an opportunity,” said the voice of Rescue Three, Ernie Harding. “You know what Seeker can do, not to mention how helpful Darter and Skylark could be.” Cummins made a note of the message and time of the comment.

“Fine,” Montcalm said, huffing out a sigh. “I suppose that they just so happen to somehow have radios?”

“Um, well, me and Arn— Fire Two, did have several spare sets lying around our places,” Ernie said, and Cummins could almost see the grin on the firefighter’s face.

“I know when I’m beat,” Montcalm said. “But, we keep them as hidden as possible. We don’t want that damn nosy reporter catching sight of them, or having someone spotting them and telling him.”

“No worries on that,” said Fire Two, Arnold Kye. “After word got out about him harassing me and trying to bother Jean no one is willing to say more than two words to that ass.” Cummins’ hand whitened for a moment as he gripped his pen with excessive strength but forced himself to calmly wait for the next development. Fifteen minutes later, he got what he was waiting for as his world was turned upside down.

“Hello, Fire One,” a happy young girl’s voice chirped on the radio. “Mrs. Ped… um ‘Q’ tells me you might have a mission for the Power Ponies?” Cummins shook his head. “Q” and “Power Ponies” sounded like something from a cheesy kids show, and that was a child’s voice. What was a child doing on the fire department’s radio frequency?

“Everyone is getting call signs, eh?” asked Montcalm. “Never mind. Yes, Shield Maiden. I may have a ‘mission’ for your team. What’s their status?”

“Power Ponies are ready to go,” replied the young voice enthusiastically, who Cummins mentally tagged with the name Montcalm had given her.

“Has um, ‘Q’ explained what’s going on?” Montcalm asked.

“No sir, just that you needed us,” Shield Maiden said. “Right now, Q is just outfitting us with some new gear, but we’re ready whenever you say.”

“Okay, here’s what’s going on and what I would like,” Montcalm said, and Cummins noticed unusual hesitation in the mayor’s voice. “One of the men from the Hydro crews is missing after the party last night. We think he tried to take a shortcut, got lost and wandered off into the woods during the night.”

“We’ll help any way we can,” Shield Maiden said, and Cummins could hear several young voices in the background. All agreeing with equal enthusiasm at the prospect of helping in the search.

“Seeker might be especially helpful,” Montcalm said, in a firm voice as he tried to exercise some discipline over the radio. “Can her way of seeing things be of use? Maybe see the heat from his footprints or something? I’d also like to have Darter and Skylark doing an aerial search. But only if they can do that and keep from being seen.”

Since when does Brightly have airborne search assets? Darter/Skylark, local drone enthusiasts, maybe? Cummins wrote in his notebook. Four ‘Power Ponies’ so far. Seeker seems to be one of them. Why ‘Power Ponies?’ Young voices. How old are they? Have Research do an internet search for name or similar.

“Darter here, sir,” a young boy’s voice said, a moment later over the radio. “Skylark and I can keep low, or really high. Whichever you think is best.”

“I’d rather the two of you go high to avoid running into a surprise,” Montcalm said. “I’d like Iron Hoof, Shield Maiden and Seeker to stick together on the ground. I’ll send Fire Three to you with maps of where I want you to start your searches. Once you are on scene, work with Rescue One. She’s coordinating the search teams and will do her best to make sure you don’t run into anyone. Use your call signs at all times, keep out of sight, use your radios, got it?”

“Yes sir!” said the voice of Shield Maiden, and Cummins’ earbuds were nearly exploded out of his ears by a joyous shout of, “POWER PONIES ARE GO!”

Author's Note:

Uh oh, looks like things are about to get interesting for the Furred Five. And their friends. Will they be able to find the Timmy before he falls down a well? What is Cummins going to do with what he's hearing? Where is Luna?

And will I be able to write another chapter this month?

Only time will tell, dear readers.

Oh, feel free to hunt for errors this chapter. I decided to try an automatic tool for the final edit process instead of my usual method of having Fimfiction itself read the story back to me.

My Patreon is up and running if you want to send a small pledge my way. My kind and wonderful Patrons have made the difference in keeping me up and writing. They are:

Canary in the Coal Mine,

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