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Dave Bryant

Please consider buying me a Ko-fi • I have a vocabulary and I’m not afraid to use it.



This story is a sequel to Lectern’s New and Used Books: Summer Break

A Twin Canterlots story • When the nation hosting the portal terminus at Canterlot High School finds out about it, and the fiery-haired young woman who isn’t what she seems, what do the Powers That Be do about it? Why, send shiny new foreign service officer Cookie Pusher to investigate, of course.

  • This story stands on its own and does not require reading any other works.
  • Cook receives his initial briefing some seven months after “Through the Mirror” and less than a month after “Rainbow Rocks”.
Chapters (14)
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Comments ( 81 )

Hmm. Well, this should prove interesting. Getting a look behind the scenes at how (NATION REDACTED) deals with magic and its consequences should be most enjoyable, to say nothing of the look on Cook's face when he finds out he'll be going to Equestria.

Currently I plan to focus mostly or entirely on Cook’s interactions with the Mane Seven and Princess Twi, but who knows. . . . :trixieshiftright:


"Eloptic"? ... Ah. Well, I learned a new word today.

...at one point some wag even wrote “here be dragons”.

For some reason, it was on a photo of a puppy.

Huh. They had Sunset bugged during the rooftop musical number? That or she added it to the Rainbooms' repertoire.

Great showcase of why Cook was chosen for this one. He may feel in over his head, but he has a combination of duty and mental flexibility that will see him through these exceedingly unusual diplomatic incidents.

I vaguely remembered the term “Hieronymus machine”, but try to avoid real-world names, both for people (given MLP naming conventions) and for other entities or objects. That left me with the phrase I ended up using.

I hadn’t thought of “here be dragons” scrawled on (or maybe typed under) an image of Spike. :rainbowlaugh: It works for me!

My assumption is that any song not otherwise impossible to fit is part of the Rainbooms’ repertoire. The chapter books establish that a surprising number of the songs in the featurettes are supposed to be Rainbooms songs—or other in-universe songs.
I put “My Past Is Not Today” on the playlist for the music festival covered in Lectern’s, but that’s much later in the year. At the time Cook is reading, it’s soon enough after the Battle of the Bands that no more recent intelligence has gone through the pipeline to Secure Docs. That was a pity, because I’d have preferred to use “Right There in Front of Me” or “Hope Shines Eternal”, either of which would have been a closer fit to Cook’s decision.

I always love your comments! You do an excellent job of divining precisely what I’m trying to do or to get at in my writing. :yay:

C-5 Galaxy?

Interesting achronic ordering. The story's sort of playing catchup with itself, but in a very enjoyable way. It also continues to prove educational in areas I'd barely even considered until now.

The disordered presentation initially was accidental; I debated whether to reorder the chapters chronologically, but after some thought, decided I like the effect. The story’s chronology may settle out as it progresses, but since I’m writing by the seat of the pants, anything’s possible. In any case, the next segment, at least, will return to Cook’s dealings with the girls.
A major theme in Cook’s storyline is how much bigger the world has to be than the tiny fragment of it we see in the franchise, and how the latter would have to fit into the former; Amphorae also touches on this motif, albeit to a lesser degree. One way to convey a sense of this vast, complex world beyond is to spotlight a variety of unusual details, the more far-flung and contrasting the better—such as using a fictionalized version of the US military’s standby ridesharing program rather than sending Cook on a boring, everyday commercial or charter flight.
If I bring new information and ideas to readers while I’m at it, I consider that a welcome and wonderful bonus! :twilightsmile:

Heh. Trying to avoid becoming friends with those girls. Good luck there, Cook. You'll certainly need it.

I was going to ask what the other Apples thought of the girls' new observer, but then you went and answered my question ahead of time. For Granny, at least.

And yeah, avoiding Twilight's analysis is going to be as tricky as avoiding becoming too attached to the girls. A young woman who can build a dvice that shouldn't even function given local laws of physics is not to be trifled with, especially when there's a mystery right in front of her.

Cook is pretty much doomed on both fronts; he just doesn’t know it yet. How he’ll deal with them, and how his superiors will react, are the real drivers.
   McIntosh tends to keep his own counsel, but Apple Bloom’s a little more outspoken. The former may have the wit and discretion to talk to AJ first, but I definitely have plans for the latter—though just when and how that’ll happen is still up in the air.

Ah, Hieronymus. He did come up with an entertainingly unusual bit of quackery, didn't he?

It is pretty bizarre—and entertaining! Perhaps even weirder was the way John Campbell took up the banner so enthusiastically, but then Campbell is a profoundly ambivalent figure, given his fundamental influence over the entire genré of science fiction during its rise to prominence.

The question of gender connotations in pony-style names is an interesting one. I suspect there are a lot of implications at work that are opaque to us.

As for the chapter, nice display of Cook's investigative prowess. Seeing the interviews with the princessipals should be very interesting indeed.

Oddly, I find it easier to name a character in MLP style than any other I’ve encountered, but I grant it’s trickier than I think a lot of people realize, given how many terrible OC names I’ve seen.
   I’m pleased I was able to convey a good sense of discovery and progress! I did kind of sweat bullets over the arc for this chapter. Balancing detailed against summary narrative, finding and following a line of investigation, and hitting a word count neither too scanty nor too weighty was surprisingly difficult. In general I’m finding the background chapters harder than the post-contact chapters.
   I wasn’t sure whether I should skip the princessipal (I love that) interviews or not. I guess I shouldn’t!

I'm still not sure what to make of that map, honestly. Not sure how much of that is headcanon conflict and how much is "Why are three blocks of skyscrapers huddled up against those mountains on the edge of town?"

In any case, nice to see Cook loosening up a little. Hopefully not so much that his superiors start looking askance at him.

I think it’s better than the Equestria map, but that’s a pretty low bar. In both cases it’s plain they’d have benefited hugely by commissioning someone with more expertise in world-building to sketch out initial maps as exemplars for the final versions. Heck, even an experienced RPG game-master might have done better. I have a lot of questions about the city, like where are the airport and freeways/motorways? Yeah, why is downtown scrunched up against the hills on that side? Why did they ignore the scene in Friendship Games showing Twilight’s bus headed directly toward downtown?
   That said, it’s not terrible, and I’m willing to go along with it in the absence of something more definitive.

"Tachypsychia." Huh. Well, I just learned a new word.

In any case, a lovely chapter indeed. Cook may be a bit young for a father figure, but I 'd say he makes an excellent, supportive sounding board all the same. Hopefully his supervisors won't mind all that much.

And yeah, the Equestrian anachronism stew has gotten a lot thicker over time.

It certainly is true Cook’s rather too young to be a father-figure to a bunch of high-schoolers! The role he seems to be falling gradually into is more of an uncle or older brother. The tone of his teasing, for instance, fits the older-brother mold best, I think, though I’m not sure whether he actually is an older brother. (I don’t know much about his family at all, truth to tell.) And like a good older brother, he’s willing to listen and, to the best of his ability, offer counsel.

Just had a thought regarding downtown’s placement. The Santa Clara Valley where I live, more commonly known as Silicon Valley these days, bears some resemblance to the map—in particular, Lick Observatory is located on Mount Hamilton, the second ridgeline out from the valley, part of the Diablo Range. The nearest significant municipality is San Jose, which sprawls across most of the valley’s east side. It has Silicon Valley’s only skyline of any real height, and viewed from across the valley, perched on the Santa Cruz Mountains—where I used to do a lot of day hiking—that skyline does appear to be closer to the Diablos than it really is. The map artwork clearly is pretty stylized; without a scale (or even compass directions), it’s hard to say exactly what distances are supposed to be. About the only thing anyone without inside knowledge can say for sure is, the valley has to be bigger than the art makes it appear to be.

Covering all the bases, I see. Consulting Cadence is entirely logical here... though it does lead me to wonder if she and Twilight share as much history as their equine analogues do. If nothing else, Cadence covered for Spike; I doubt she'd do the same for just anyone.

Also, I can't help but wonder how this Cadence would react to meeting the other Twilight. And vice versa.

In the interim, I suppose next might be some parents. Or possibly Shining Armor. I'm not sure.

I think Cadance’s and Sci-Twi’s interactions during Friendship Games support the level of familiarity and affection Cook mentions, but there’s enough uncertainty beyond that I’m dodging anything more substantive than a brief reference. As for Spike, the Doylesian explanation is that I always have a tough time remembering to include him; your suggestion works fine for the Watsonian explanation.
   Cross-portal meetings of various characters is a whole subgenré in its own right, and a potentially delightful one, but if I ever venture into those waters it would be under separate titles. At the moment I’m leaning toward leaving it the hands of other writers with better comedic skills.
   Currently the narrative is in the “pre-contact” track, picking up from Cook starting his phone calls in the last few paragraphs of “Investigation”, which are designed to suggest the people Cook intends to see. If that isn’t sufficiently clear I’ll think about dropping in a more explicit time reference in “Cadenza”.

Blame... or thank? :trollestia:

But yeah, the Anon-a-Miss incident wanting to be simultaneously before and after Rainbow Rocks is why I usually disregard it entirely. (Well, that and it's terrible.) Still, great work in stitching together the timeline.

Of course, this means that Cook will be in the area when Juniper Monstar makes herself known. And with her, the rogue magic. That's sure to be interesting...


Blame . . . or thank:trollestia:

I’ll leave that up to the reader, I think. :trixieshiftright:
   I didn’t consider the Anon-a-miss story terrible, but I grant it wasn’t great and could have been better. The single biggest criticism people seem to level against it I think is unwarranted, though, for the reason Sunset gives in “Dialogue”. At the time it purportedly happens, she was their enemy twelve times as long as she’d been their friend. That’s a lot of social inertia to overcome.
   Never fear, the frantic antics of “Mirror Magic” will go under the spotlight next. The real suspense will be whether Cook suffers an aneurysm. I like “Juniper Monstar”, by the way!

Is it just me, or are these chapters not properly in order, timeline wise?

FanOfMostEverything and I discuss this briefly under one of the early chapters (“Transit”, to be exact). Initially the ordering was happenstance, but I liked the effect it gave, so I’ve carried it throughout the story. In each chapter I’ve provided contextual cues to sort where it falls, but a quick cheat-sheet follows:

Cookie Pusher: prologue
Contact: post-contact 1
Interview: post-contact 2
Briefing: pre-contact 1
Transit: pre-contact 2
Performance: post-contact 3
Investigation: pre-contact 3
Excursion: post-contact 4
Dialogue: post-contact 5
Cadenza: pre-contact 4
Princessipals: pre-contact 5

As you can see, the story essentially consists of two threads, with the dividing line being the moment Cook actually meets the girls. I do have storytelling reasons for doing it that way—for instance, starting in medias res at the plot-critical moment of the meeting I think has the greatest impact and the best chance of drawing in a reader, and I have greater control over what to reveal when. As of “Princessipals” the pre-contact thread has run its course and the post-contact thread is nearing its climax.

That ended abruptly with the arrival of an ominously official-looking envelope via departmental courier. I was being recalled.

Oh, dear. THIS does not bode well.


I dispatched the remains of the mirror through channels, imagining it would end up in a desert hangar somewhere.

"So Cook, whatever happened to that mirror?"
"Don't worry, Sunset, we've got our top men working on it right now."
"Uh, who, exactly?"
"Top. Men."
"... Is that actually someone's name, or—"
"Your friends have been sadly remiss in part of your pop cultural education."

In any case, I hadn't considered the immigration brouhaha caused by Starlight's jaunt into the human dimension. Poor Cook. And that envelope is certainly an ominous note to end on...

That bit of dialog made me snicker out loud, and is entirely plausible! :rainbowlaugh:
   I confess the border-crossing slant popped into my head instantly when watching “Mirror Magic”; that’s just the way my tiny but active mind works. Cook does feel a bit put-upon, poor guy, and only his growing affection for the girls, especially Sunset, probably saved him from a frothing fit. On the other hand, he is being recalled, so he may prefer to have fallen over after popping an artery!

For some reason, Pin Stripe brings to mind a more benevolent version of DC Comics' Amanda Waller.

I’m not familiar with that character, so I couldn’t say! But Pin Stripes is a pretty stock character in some ways, so I’m prepared to grant the similarity. :moustache: One inspiration for her is the character called Control in Person of Interest.

Ah, I'm familiar with Control too. I can safely say that Pin Stripes comes across as far more benevolent than her, too, which is a good thing. I want government officials to do their jobs, but I also want them to think for themselves, and Pin Stripes doesn't strike me as the sort to follow in her inspiration's footsteps.

Never fear, we’re not done with her yet. Further deponent sayeth not. :trixieshiftright:

I look forward to it. :twilightsmile:

I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad that you and I seem to be of the same mind in regards to timeline placement. I had an easier justification for it, alternate universe and all, but still, it's harder for you given you're working within canon.

I'm not complaining in the slightest, of course.

Phew. That was tense. And I have to be amazed at the Secretary's sheer contrariness when it comes to Cook's testimony. Precisely what explanation does he have for these phenomena, if not supernatural energies originating from a parallel horse dimension?
Okay, I can't fault him from being skeptical, but seeing vendettas trump obvious, overwhelming evidence never sits well with me.

Still, Cook's still in. And thank goodness for that. Had one of the Seniors gotten involved, they might be facing an interdimensional incident by this point.

Oh yeah, Pin Stripes is qualifying as a Badass Bureaucrat. And not only is she reminding me of Amanda Waller, but now I'm getting vibes from Henrietta Lange from her too...

...oh drat, now I have CCH Pounder and Linda Hunt's voices dueling in my head...

...anyway, if I could offer a practical guess behind the secretary appearing after Cook, perhaps it was simply a longer than anticipated transit time?

The problem was the secretary’s perception of Cook’s job performance and his predisposition to pick holes in it. Everything else was effectively irrelevant in his mind; he’d have been equally incensed if Cook was a liaison at an ordinary embassy, assigned to work with some run-of-the-mill dissident group or something of the sort, and dealing with the fall-out from a splinter faction carrying out a surprise attack.
   Mister Secretary might not take all the magical stuff completely seriously, but that has more to do with lack of exposure than with any inherent skepticism. His theory runs closer to the evidence being fabricated for Sunset’s benefit, and Cook being too gullible. (I’ve added another round of dialog to clarify this aspect.) Why? I could list several possibilities ranging from plausible through shaky to paranoid—but when one has seen as much weird nonsense really happen as someone in high government service has, it’s hard to dismiss anything out of hand.

No doubt that’s the excuse he’d offer, but alas, his real reason had more to do with interpersonal interactions.

He was chewed out by Pres. Whoever? Or had to do a lot of explaining to Pres. Whoever. Shit rolls downhill as they day and Cookie is pretty far downhill in this case.

That's my take. Also, why in the heck was this story thumbed DOWN by me? Did I hit the wrong button? Must've.

Could be! I deliberately keep Pres. (or Prime Minister) Whoever out of the picture, but that certainly is a plausible explanation, especially since Mister Secretary is the sort to make it roll downhill. As for accidental thumb’s-downs, don’t sweat it; I’ve done the same once or twice!

Wait, the story's over? I mean, I know this little universe isn't gone, but still, I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This story is over, certainly, though of course Cook’s assignment isn’t. I’m debating whether to close Foreign Nationals with the end of the scene in “Recall” taking place in Pin Stripes’ office, and moving everything after that to a new story taking place between it and Diplomatic Overtures. What do you think of the idea?

Naturally, the princess is here discuss Cook doing some work in Equestria itself. As for the rosette patterns, I'm afraid I can't say for certain.

In any case, a most enjoyable collection of moments in the most unusual diplomatic appointment this nation may have ever seen. Thank you for it.

Well, whatever you decide, I'm looking forward to it. These have been fantastic.

The rosette patterns are for the benefit of any color-blind attendees, who might not be able to distinguish between red and blue. Princess Twi shows up after her appointment with Sunset to see Rose Brass in Amphorae.
   I’m debating whether to close Foreign Nationals with the end of the scene in “Recall” taking place in Pin Stripes’ office, and moving everything after that to a new story taking place between it and Diplomatic Overtures. What do you think of the idea? I value your advice on such matters! And thanks so much for the kind words as always.


Honestly, I think leaving it as is and doing a bit of recap in the next story will do more for you. Leaving it off at "Recall" will make it seem like the next story will be about Cook's efforts to get back in his superiors' good graces.

In my AU, I went a different route in showing the differences in technological level between Equestria and Canterlot High. In my version, Equus does actually have alternate versions to the technology that we humans use. It's just not powered by electricity. Twilight and Sunset both had a cultural disconnect because the Canterlot Archives didn't use the more 'modern' versions available.

But that's why it's an AU; it deliberately ignores virtually everything post-season six.

Your works are surprisingly educational. I approve.

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