• Published 10th Apr 2019
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Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies - Georg



When a disaster causes Princess Twilight Sparkle to evacuate most of Ponyville, the inhabitants find themselves in a much different place than expected. The people of Kansas are a little surprised about it too.

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14. A Day of Arrest

Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
A Day of Arrest

"A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults."
Don Vito Corleone - The Godfather


- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 8:30 A.M. Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Kansas University Medical Center, Fourth Floor
- - - - ⧖ - - - -

Karla was in pain. More physical than mental, but pain nonetheless. It had been a long time since Karla Anacostia the college student wound up couch-surfing through the night at a friend’s home, and Agent Anacostia the FBI officer always had a hotel room to stay at during long deployments, so she had obviously gotten soft.

Shifting her weight and moving the thin hospital blanket to one side, her first thought was to check on the Glock 22 in her shoulder holster, which had made a nasty lump in her already uncomfortable sleeping surface. Then badge, phone, wallet, and keys, all where they were supposed to be, thankfully. Cracking her eyes open only showed one pony in the room, however.

Granny Smith looked right back at her, with a look that Karla’s own grandmother had used far too often when she had overslept at her home. “So, yer up finally.”

“Yes, Granny Smith,” managed Karla, swinging her legs down off the hospital couch and looking for her shoes. “I didn’t mean to drop off like that, but it’s been a long—”

“T’be honest, I fell asleep first,” admitted the old mare. “You young girls all chattering about stallions and such. It’s been a long time since I’ve been off with a bunch of young ‘uns.” Missus Smith paused and looked… oddly plaintive. “Actually, growing up on a farm didn’t rub me up against most mares. Between our fight with our neighbors and my pappy’s naturally cranky nature, weren’t no real friends to be had. Mah grandfoals done did so much better despite me.”

“As I recall,” started Karla, who was starting to feel a little better. “One of them is the Element of Honesty, one is that little filly you can’t quit talking about, and Big Mac, who sounds like one heck of a guy, and what is that?”

There was a strange, wind-like noise from out in the hallway, together with a young child shrieking in laughter. It was probably what had woke her up, although not anything that seemed dangerous, mostly from the way the Highway Patrol trooper in the doorway was looking while trying not to laugh.

One of the nurses, who Karla had not noticed before, stirred from a chair next to the older pony and said, “The girls got up early and decided to go entertain the kids in the next wing. The energy of youth, I guess. Those three make me tired just watching them.”

Granny Smith chuckled. “There’s three little ponies I know that’ll make them look like little old mares. Go out and see what they’re up to, Miss Anacostia. Just be glad there’s no tree sap around.”

Her feet hurt when she put weight on them, which was probably a sign that she had been spending too much time standing as of late, and there was a hammer chorus in her forehead from caffeine deficiency. At least there had been no drinking, so she was not hung over after their long girl-party last night. There had been stories about dating, games of Truth or Dare, video clips from YouTube, one pizza daringly snuck through hospital security, and last but not least, a movie at the end. The ponies most certainly did not like horror movies (thankfully), so Pacific Rim had been picked out of pay-per-view options, and by the end of the movie, Karla was positive that the mechanical-oriented unicorn was planning on building her own Jaeger.

And darned if Karla wasn’t starting to think she could.

The corridor was empty of any strange sights when she reached the doorway, although the Highway Patrol trooper was still snickering, and all of the nurses in the hallway were looking in one direction. She wanted to ask what was going on, but whatever it was seemed to be a recurring phenomena, so she used her time to run fingers through her hair and arrange her clothes to make it a little less obvious that she had slept in them.

In due time, the strange ripping noise sounded through the corridor again, soon followed by a sight at the far end that Karla never would forget. Riding on the back of the dark batpony like some fairy-tale princess in a nightgown was a little girl, who was squealing at the top of her lungs while Goose made a sharp turn, nearly touching the ceiling tiles and floor at the same time with her enormous wings. When she leveled out, both wings were brushing against the walls on either side of the corridor as she glided in Karla’s direction with the little girl on top, still whooping up a storm. That is until her Royal Steed finished losing altitude, retracted her legs, and skidded to a halt on her furry chest just a few feet away.

“Whee!” declared Goose, sounding just out of breath.

“Again!” declared the skinny little girl on her back.

“One ride to a customer.” The dark monster stood up and began folding her massive wings in a process that gave Karla a little flutter of fear in the back of her head. “There’s three more little human fillies waiting in line, and we don’t want to keep them waiting. Glad to see you’re awake, Karla,” called back Goose as she trotted off with the clatter of steel shoes on tile.

“Furthest she’s made it so far,” said the Highway Patrol officer once the pony and her energetic passenger had vanished around the corner. “The kids were a little skittish around her until they found out she could fly. Now they can’t get enough of her.”

“Weirdest alien invasion ever,” murmured Karla. A task of higher importance shook her out of the moment of stunned amazement, and FBI Agent Anacostia pulled out her cell phone.

“So what are you doing?” asked Granny Smith, who had moved near the doorway with the assistance of her personal nurse.

The pony’s face was still looking drawn and pale, although it was difficult to see through all the hair of her coat. The old mare had been fairly quiet last evening, contributing to the conversation only in small bursts and when Claire had used her phone to call Big Mac. Then she had lit up like a happy light bulb, and told a half-dozen stories in a row about Ponyville and her early life there as a little filly.

“Turning off airplane mode so I can send video of their next run to the field office director, Missus Smith,” said Karla. “Clyde’s gotta see this.”

The cell phone promptly rang before the next exhibition started, and since several of the nurses had their phones out too, and the caller id showed it was Clyde calling, Karla decided on employment over recreation.

“Good morning, Agent Anacostia,” said the director immediately. “This is Agent in Charge Smith. Before you say anything, Miss Bruener set her tablet up last night to livestream your little party on YouTube, and it’s still broadcasting.”

Karla looked over her shoulder at the innocuous tablet sitting in the corner of the room and said something which ought to have been self-censored before going out over the internet. A second thought about the eavesdropping devices all lined up on the window sill where Widget had placed her precious toys did make her change languages in order to add something special that Grandmother Tashi once taught her when she had hit her thumb with a hammer. A few minutes later once Karla had gone down the hallway to the soda machine and away from her career in mass media, she managed, “Thanks, Clyde. I should be where I can talk now.”

Clyde always had been a sensible boss and liked to be on a first-name basis with his employees, so the way he continued in clipped words with formal protocol on the call twigged Karla solidly to the suspicion that he was not the only person on the line. And from Karla’s interaction with ‘Quills’ Gates yesterday, she was hoping that older and more mature members of the Department of Justice had decided to give up on their hairbrained scheme of effectively kidnapping several of the peaceful (although cute/frightening) aliens off to the hive of scum and villainy that was Washington.

Unfortunately, only good ideas die in a bureaucracy. Bad ones grow.

“Good. Agent Anacostia, I have to say you’ve done a fine job of gaining the aliens’ trust and incidentally reducing the public’s natural fear of the unknown.”

Translation: Good work on snuggling up to the cuddly aliens on YouTube. Wait.

“How many people were watching that stream?” blurted out Karla. “I mean a few hundred viewers watching me and the girls—” leaving unsaid just when Karla had transitioned from viewing them as ‘scary aliens’ to ‘frightened teenagers’ in her mind “—talk about nail polish and dating can’t be that…” She took a breath and swallowed. “How many people were watching?”

“The actual number of viewers local and international is not important,” started the director, to Karla’s growing horror. “What is important is that we have the opportunity to introduce the Equestrian nation to the world at large, and we can’t do that where they are.”

Translation: Outside of the restricted hospital. To the United Nations. Or diplomatic embassies. In DC or New York, not podunk Kansas. Damn.

“So with that in mind,” continued the director, “we want you to see if your new friends can be enticed into taking a little trip for a few days. They’ll be treated like royalty, meet the cream of society, and still be back for whenever their home—” the hesitation was almost imperceptible “—dimension puts up a portal for Granny Smith’s return.”

“You do realize, sir, she’s over a century old and just had a hip replacement,” said Karla despite her best efforts to remain silent and not get into trouble.

Control your expression and nod. Several of her peers had informed Karla that was the appropriate response when talking to anybody more than four levels above your pay grade, and she was getting the sinking sensation that one individual on the line was the top of the pay scale. After all, he had two young daughters who would be tickled just as pink as Widget to meet an alien pony.

“You are quite correct. It has been determined that the elderly pony is too fragile to be moved.” The director took a breath into the handset of his cell phone, which was one habit he had been very insistent on telling every agent under his command not to do, because it was unprofessional and bugged the heck out of him. “Therefore, we believe the two younger ponies should jump at the opportunity to see our nation’s capitol, if encouraged. Arrangements have been made for Air Force Two to be placed at KCI so they can be picked up in style and flown to where we need them to go on Monday.”

Passive voice, using the Royal We. They must be practically holding Cyde at gunpoint.

“Monday, I’m supposed to be driving them back to Randolph, sir,” said Karla rather cautiously, particularly since Clyde absolutely hated to be called ‘sir’ in an informal discussion just between agents. “And we can’t legally remove them from KU Med because of the governor’s restraining order, since it’s in Kansas.”

By a few hundred feet.

“We don’t believe that will be a problem, Agent Anacostia,” said Clyde again, which only reinforced Karla’s suspicion that there were other listeners on the line. “Just find an excuse to bring them to the field office in Missouri on Monday, and we’ll take it from there.”

“I understand, sir.” Karla was deep in thought when she closed the call and considered the nearby hospital surveillance camera, which was most probably pointed at her. A day ago, she had almost shot the little ponies, and now she was being ordered to betray their trust. It warranted at least some profanity, perhaps kicking a nearby trash can, but she put her phone away and walked back to the room instead. The pains of aching joints from sleeping on the couch were almost gone now, overwhelmed by the thought of what the sweet and innocent Widget would think when her new human friend stabbed her in the back.

Even watching Goose carry laughing children in gliding paths through the hospital corridors did not cheer her up. In fact, it made the feeling worse, because the dark batpony—

Oh, no. If they try stuffing her into Air Force Two, she’s going to kill somebody.

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 9:44 A.M. Central Standard Time, Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Olsburg Lutheran Church, Kansas
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Of all the things in the universe, having aliens drop in on his farm was the second most unlikely thing Jonagold Bruener had ever thought would happen to him. Taking one of them to church was… way off the chart.

“Hi everyhuman.” Derpy waved at the congregation from where she was hovering behind the lectern. “Wow, that’s not very loud. Do I just talk into THIS?” she added, moving close enough to the microphone to brush it with her nose.

He had to wonder if his wife — who had taken the indescribable unicorn Grace to the Methodist church — had really thought this idea through. They were aliens, after all, even if they had hooves instead of pointed ears. Well, hooves and pointed ears, to be technically correct. The area churches had pitched in like crazy to help the dimensionally displaced ponies, and it was only right and proper to thank them for their generosity, but he could not help but think a polite Thank-You note with perhaps a signed picture would have been a better idea. Worse, or better perhaps, was the way the idea had caught fire with the community. Practically every church in a one-hour radius wound up with a pony visitor, a human volunteer escort, and a deputy or two in plainclothes lurking in the background just in case. Even the Kansas governor had gotten in on the event, and was sponsoring the Equestrian mayor at a Catholic church in Topeka, although they were flying there by pegasus cart instead of driving.

“I recognize some of you from when we crashed in Mister Broomer’s farm,” continued the cross-eyed pegasus. “Like you over there. And you with the white hair. And you drove the fire truck. Sorry about the windshield. And setting fire to the hose.”

Thankfully, the traffic had calmed down due to Randolph being effectively sealed off except for residents and ponies. A few thousand cars being turned around for two days discouraged the vast throng which would have certainly followed, making the traffic on the highway this morning fairly close to normal during the short drive to Olsburg. It gave Jon a few minutes to talk with the pony chosen to pass along their thanks, much as she passed along letters ballistically in her hometown. Since they were all leaving tomorrow, Jon figured she could not screw up too badly.

“I was supposed to read off of some note cards, but I lost them,” said Derpy, whose voice was muffled since she was rummaging around in her saddlebags with her nose and bumping letters out onto the church floor. “Oh, I found the instructions the mayor gave me.”

And to Jon’s surprise this morning, Derpy and her young daughter had listened to his cautions and a three-minute lesson on Martin Luther’s version of Christianity during the drive. They had both been very quiet and subdued, greeting the other congregants and the pastor with hoof-shakes, sitting in the pew during the service, and even singing. Thankfully, the singing did not turn into an event, like it had during the Friday concert. That was exceptionally good, given that Lutheran hymns tended to evoke feelings of severe depression and grief.

“Don’t muffin this one up,” read Derpy off the card. “Try not to break anything, or set anything on fire, or drop anything on any human, or step on anyhuman’s toes, or break anything… Hey, she said not to break anything twice. I wonder why.”

The hovering pegasus turned to look at Pastor May, brushing a candle on a stand in the process, which fell toward the altar in a chain reaction that had most of the candelabras tipped over, the communion cups scattered all over, and a flock of a half-dozen church congregants scrambling around to chase, wipe down, or extinguish what needed, respectively.

“Wow,” said Derpy. “When something bad happens, humans are right there to help. You’re really amazing.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” said the aging pastor, moving forward to gently nudge Derpy’s trajectory back to the pew where Jon was sitting, thus saving the life of a fragile glass vase full of flowers nearby. The congregation rose to their feet to quietly applaud, there was a considerable amount of hoof-shaking for anybody who had not been shaken already, and the whole crowd moved in the direction of bible study.

It made Jon more than a little nervous to see Dinky go bounding off to the sunday school rooms with her chattering child peer group, but there was a plainclothes member of the RCPD in the congregation who was volunteering in their class also. The worst thing that could happen to the extradimensional foal there would be returning with a paper model of Noah’s Ark. Technically, Vacation Bible School started on Monday, but with all the hustle and scrambling that was going to happen… Then again, it would put all of the energetic little ponies in one spot instead of scattering them all over the town. It was something to bring up to the Methodists later, since they had the most space.

Sitting through the adult bible study class today with a pony at his side could not have gone much better. Derpy was more attentive than Claire or any of his sons had ever been, and asked one or two questions about Paul’s trips through the book of Acts that showed she really understood how dangerous travel like that could be. In fact, the bible study class turned out to be far more ordinary than he had expected, except for Derpy managing to dump his coffee into his lap.

Once church was over and it seemed that Derpy got to shake hooves with every member of the congregation again, Jon almost started to head home before he remembered that they had been invited to Pastor May’s house for lunch, an event that several dozen other ponies were probably experiencing all over this end of Kansas. Lunch was sponsored by the Lutheran Ladies Aid, which Jon could have guessed because the May’s house had a buffet with more food than a restaurant chain, containing only a few incidental meat dishes.

“I can’t tell you how honored we are,” said Pastor May once all the guests were inside, including several deacons of the church. “It must be terribly frightening to be so far away from home, in the middle of so many strange creatures.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” said Derpy with a remarkably human wrist flip. “I fly the mail up to Canterlot all the time.”

“Well…” said the pastor, who seemed taken slightly aback. “I also wanted to tell you that we took up a special offering at church, and we raised over four thousand dollars to help out with your town’s expenses.”

The surrounding church deacons and Jon politely applauded as the pastor passed over the envelope, although Derpy had turned her back on them to root through her saddlebag. A moment later, she emerged with a pencil and began writing on the front of the envelope, talking quietly to herself with the pencil held firmly in her teeth.

“Need to remember to have an Equestrian postal code assigned to the house, so we’ll just use the unassigned code for now, and the mayor’s name all swoopilly like she likes it, and there!” She put the pencil back into her half-full saddlebags, and removed a small fleck of sticky paper that stuck to her nose. “I guess you don’t have two Equestrian bits for the stamp, so I’ll have the mayor take it out of the donation.” Several strong hoof-stomps later, the sticky alien postage stamp was secured in place, and Derpy turned back to the pastor with a lopsided smile. “Did you want the stamp back after I deliver the letter, Mister Pastor May? Some of the human people really like to collect stamps, just like Dinky.”

“Yes, that would be wonderful,” said the pastor. “I—”

There was a gust of wind, a thump from the front door, and the room contained one less pegasus.

“Sorry,” said Dinky, the pale purple unicorn foal whom everybody tended to overlook when her more energetic and accident-prone mother was in the room. “She gets like that whenever she sees an envelope. When you were passing the collection plate around, I had to hold her back to keep from delivering all the little envelopes inside.”

“That’s perfectly fine.” Pastor May braced his hands on his knees so he could bend over and talk to the young unicorn, who was shorter than the young humans the tall pastor normally interacted with. “So, I understand you collect stamps also?”

“You bet!” Dinky’s face lit up nearly as much as the pastor while they looked through his stamp collecting books and special little treasures. Once they were well into mutual philately, Jon pulled the president of the congregation into the other room and asked him a very pertinent question.

“So when Derpy brings back the cancelled stamp, will it go to Pastor Mays or the church?”

“The pastor, I suppose. Although I…” Congregational President Thurgood looked at the Ebay page that Jon had pulled up on his phone and stared wide-eyed.

“A few of the ponies won’t be going back with Monday’s portal,” said Jon. “The nonprofit expense fund we set up to support them should be able to cover their outstanding medical and housing expenses, but it would be a nice gesture if the church were to auction their stamp off and donate the proceeds. Am I right?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.” Thurgood wiped a trickle of sweat off his forehead. “I suppose since they are aliens, that makes whatever stamps they brought truly unique collectors items. Auctioning them to support the ponies would be a really good idea, Jon.”

“Wasn’t mine.” Jon poked a few more buttons on the Ebay page and showed him the auctions for authenticated Equestrian bits with signed certificates. “There’s a pony named Filthy Rich who thought of it, and personally, I’m glad he’s going home on Monday, or he’ll wind up owning half of the country by next year. Two of his ponies and my wife are busy running the site, certifying bits, organizing cancelled Equestrian stamps, and whatever else the ponies brought that will sell. I expect Chinese counterfeit merchandise will start coming out after they’ve gone home, but that’s out of our hands. We’re looking at well over a million dollars from just the auctions, then you add in personal appearance charges and interview fees and…”

Jon shook his head and put away his phone. “My lawyer had to hire five other local lawyers and an accounting firm from another state, and wound up splitting the first account into actual Equestrian expenses and their earnings, and a separate account for incoming human charitable donations, domestic and international. Mostly for tax purposes, although the Equestrian Foundation has been actually discouraging large donations for fear of turning it into some bloated whale with million-dollar directors and private jets. And you know the craziest part of it?”

After taking a quick peek into the other room where the pastor was explaining the various grades of his stamps and making a small pile for the cute little unicorn to take home for her own collection, Jon continued in a quiet voice. “Get this. After they leave, the charitable foundation will work on returning the money to other international charities for several years until it’s empty, but they want the leftover funds in the expense account to reimburse the county and state for their expenses, and pay for the Army units guarding them. It’s the first alien invasion ever that will pay for itself.” Jon hesitated. “In addition to being our first alien invasion too, I suppose.”

“That’s… amazing.” Thurgood had used the time while Jon was talking to take out a cigarette and tap it nervously against his knuckles. “Was it safe to send Miss Derpy out with a million dollars worth of stamps and envelopes, though?”

“I… um… hope so.” Jon took out his phone and started typing in a text message. “I’ll just warn my wife that she’s coming so they can keep an eye out for her. I don’t think anybody is going to be stupid enough to try kidnapping one of the Equestrians before they go home, but you never can tell.”

- - - - ⧖ - - - -
Time: 9:12 A.M. Sunday June 21, 2015
Location: Bruener Farm, Randolph Kansas
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“Ooo, they’re just so cute and adorable I want to steal them all away and keep them forever!” Missus Felbaum ran her fingers through the purple mane of the little sleeping batpony, all curled up in the ‘Pet Bed, Cuddle Type’ that Stargazer had been put into a few hours ago. The sleeping foal gave a yawn, showing off her sharp teeth and long tongue, before curling up against Standing Water, a more conventional pegasus-type foal who had somehow wandered over into the occupied dog bed when everybody was looking the other way.

It didn’t matter to the foals that one was a dusky grey and the other a bright blue, only that they were each warm and snuggly against the duck cotton of the bed. It had made Nicholas Comena a little uncomfortable to see the half-dozen or so infants sleeping in dog beds, even if they liked it so much that the mothers said they were going to take them back home to Equestria. Those pony mothers of the kids were all out at various churches right now, spreading a four-legged thanks to the volunteers who had pitched in so vigorously during the Equestrian exodus. The armored Equestrian guards likewise had been scattered out to watch over their VIP charges, and it had only been sheer dumb luck that Nick had not been assigned a pony and church too. Leon from Four-Three had not been so lucky, and found himself escorting Laminia and Pumpernickel to the Second Missionary Baptist Church of Junction City while Nick had been voluntold to this task.

Babysitting.

Truth be told, Nick would never refer to breaking in new tank crews as babysitting again. He did not really like kids, and would have been more comfortable in church this morning, even if he probably would have nodded off. Several members of his division called the Baptist church in JC their home church, and their energetic services always made him feel like he was back in Georgia. Instead, he got to share the sun room of the Bruener home with six sleeping foals and two civilian volunteers, including Grandma Felbaum, who could not have been happier with her task if they had all been her own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Nick had just worked up an excuse to let him go out and take a nap in the porch swing outside when one of the foals woke up all rested and ready to explore. And, of course, it was Princess Clover. Or just plain Clover if Nick could keep his big mouth shut for another day.

“Oooo, she’s awake!” cooed Missus Felbaum, who scurried over to the alert infant with the homing instinct of the maternally inclined. “Does ‘ums want a bottle, you cute little thing?”

“Shh,” cautioned Tiffany, a college student in pre-veterinary studies who had won the student lottery for today. “You’ll wake them all up.

“I’ll get her,” volunteered Nick, snagging a fresh diaper, a bottle of milk, and a box of wipes from the ‘Clover’ pile. The little green foal reared up just as Nick scooped one arm under her, and nuzzled up to his side as he headed for the door, just as coordinated as if she had a human babysitter since she was born. “I’ll be right outside on the porch swing,” he added. “Call me if you need me.”

“B’kon?” declared Clover once they had gotten outside.

“Diaper,” he countered, sitting her down in a patch of clean grass. “Then bottle, then play. Then maybe if you’re good, I’ll sneak into the house and get you a little piece of bacon.”

“B’kon!” Clover wriggled free of her wet diaper with one quick motion and held still while Nick fastened the clean one on. The Equestrians could probably pay for their entire visit and purchase an island of their own if they just patented their variety of diapers. They didn’t leak, absorbed an entire baby’s weight in pee, and kept the front and back connected until an adult wanted them disconnected. It was just unfair to humans, particularly with the way Nick’s baby cousins had seemingly been able to poop out of their diapers sideways.

The bottles were likewise examples of Equestrian technology that made human baby equipment look like rocks and sticks, Clover’s in particular. The ‘plastic’ bottles were always cool to the touch, the contents never spoiled, and when Nick shook a few drops on his arm to test, the milk was just right. He let Clover take the bottle, whereupon she immediately rolled over on her back and held onto it with all four limbs while nursing with specific intent.

“I have no idea why your mother prefers bottles,” said Nick in his least sarcastic tone of voice. “Other than you’d probably bite her tits off.”

The little winged unicorn stopped sucking on her bottle long enough to look at Nick, giggle, and say “Tits!” Then she went right back to nursing, leaving Nick to wonder how many of Earth’s ‘special’ words were going back to Equestria in that tiny, innocent creature. At least she was keeping out of trouble while her father was off in Topeka with the mayor and the Kansas governor.

Last night had been quite busy, what with the county workers dropping by at 2AM to replace the broken culvert, something which probably took an alien invasion to see happen. Several of the unicorns had even taken care of levitating or telekenissing or whatever the old, rusty culvert out and placing the new culvert into the resulting hole, then earth ponies with shovels had covered and packed until the tank transporter from Ft. Riley had arrived. This time there was no problem with it passing over the culvert in either direction, and only the most acute observer would be able to notice the difference between vehicles if they squinted at the numbers encoded on the new Four-One’s bow. The replaced M1A2 was on its way to a secure corner of Ft. Riley with most probably munitions and metallurgy experts taking microgram samples for extensive classified papers on the incident. Heck, there was a possibility Nick and his crew would get a medal on the grounds of ‘Here’s something to make you happy that you can never pin to your uniform and a few thousand bucks on the side to keep your mouth shut.’

First military engagement of the Equine War resulted in one combat-loss tank and the expenditure of the entire invading army’s munitions. Pentagon declares victory, invests in new spear-proof tank armor kit for five billion dollars.

The morning light spilling across the nearby gravel road to the highway revealed no signs of the drama of yesterday or the determined repair by Riley County in the pre-dawn murk. Just a clean road with level gravel and a lot of hoofprints where the earth ponies had tamped things down. And by this time Tuesday, it would be the most visible sign of their visit. Which was a pity, because Nick was really getting to like the fuzzy little surprises.

“Hey, Nick.” Sergeant Spasowski was leaning out of the hatch of the newly christened Four-One, holding onto an embarrassed little winged unicorn under one arm. “Aren’t you supposed to be watching this one? She just poked her nose in here like she owned the place.”

Nick’s eyes flashed to the flat section of grass where the little foal had left the empty bottle, then across the gravel road to where the tank was sitting. “She couldn’t have gotten over there that quick. I just took my eyes off her for—”

“A moment, yeah,” completed Spaz. “My daughter did that too at her age. Do you want to come get her before she disassembles the targeting computer?”

“Puter!” Clover’s legs started to churn in mid-air and she fluttered her wings. “Puter! Puter!”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Nick hustled across the gravel road and let Spaz hand her down to him. “I’m not calling the general about ponies breaking another one of his tanks. And what’s this, little lady?”

‘This’ was a small black knob that the little foal had tucked under one wing, which on closer examination had several other bits of military equipment as company. “Isn’t this one of the AIDATS knobs?” he asked. “And a radio knob, and your earbuds, I think.”

“Leon’s earbuds, I’m guessing,” said the frowning sergeant. “Just a sec.” He vanished into the tank’s interior and returned in a few minutes. “Dangit, we need to loan that kid to the Russians and have her steal one of their T-14 tanks. Lucky even said she hasn’t used her unicorn magic yet. Once she gets her horn and wings going, nothing’s going to be safe.”

“Sergeant!” Nick held the little winged unicorn close and put one thick-fingered hand over her ears. “Don’t encourage her into a life of crime at this young age. What do you think she is, a Ranger?”

“Hey!” objected a nearby bush. The Ranger behind it, all kitted out in a ghillie suit and dark camouflage paint leaned out and gave Nick a quick thumbs-up. Thankfully, General Hackmore had added the Ranger squad to the limited Above Top Secret list who knew of Clover’s special royal status, or they would not have been on guard duty, and the Equestrian guards would not have been free to help with Operation Church Visits. “Don’t look at us for moral guidance. You’re the one teaching her bad habits, sir.”

* * * *

The flat patch of grass over by the house seemed to be a fair location to keep Clover out of trouble, away from classified military technology, and away from kidnappers, although Nick was starting to think he was actually protecting anybody stupid enough to try stealing the foal. There was a red rubber ball sitting in the grass which seemed innocent enough, and that kept the little unicorn’s attention with the simple game of roll there and roll back.

Roll the ball there. Roll it back. Watch Clover giggle. The more he did it, the more he was tempted to steal the little creature away himself. Darned if the ponies didn’t grow on you. His phone chirped after some time, and Nick pulled it out one-handed so he could keep up the entertainment while checking his text message.

“Mom sent me your number. Thought you’d like to see your fillyfriend with the kids. Hm.” The smartphone was processing the attached video when more messages started rapidly popping up. “No stop delete. Go back. Don’t read that. Siri how do I delete a sent message thingie. No no no no. Widget I need a time spell. Don’t make me break it. What do you mean it was sent already. No I’m not going to talk to him. Neigh snort fladdlapp. Give me that. Siri scent. Send. Go. Why are all your words showing up on the little screen. I’m telling your mother.”

If it was spam, it was the weirdest spam text he had ever gotten. At least the wireless in the area had gotten better with the removal of a few hundred cars stacked up on 77 and the restoration of fairly normal traffic patterns, so downloading the video only took a few minutes.

Comprehending it took a little longer, and playing it twice.

The big-winged pegasus, Cadet Goose if he remembered right, was flying through a hospital corridor in the video, actually flying, although her batwings were brushing both walls, and the little boy on her back was clutching onto her mane and grinning so much the corners of his lips were threatening to touch his ears. They were next to the camera for just a moment, and then she was gone, and the phone pivoted to catch the near-vertical turn that took winged horse and young rider around the corner, although the joyous shrieks could still be heard.

Clover gave out a grumpy cry, and Nick found he had not rolled the ball back to her, due to his brain having been badly distracted. He gave the ball a push and considered just what trouble a teenage girl with a phone could get into with four-legged accomplices. It was Bruener’s kid Claire, if he remembered right. The batpony family had taken over her room at the farmhouse while she was in Kansas City, which explained why he had not seen Goose since that one memorable near-naked occasion.

Another aggravated noise from the little pony he was supposed to be watching made him remember to roll the ball back while he was thinking. It probably wouldn’t hurt to send the batpony family home with Army Strong t-shirts and a signed picture from The Big Red One or something. In fact, it would be an Army coup to set up the returning ponies with appropriate Army swag instead of any of the other branches of the armed forces. After all, the government budget spigot was open for a limited time, t-shirts were inexpensive, and most likely every pony going back was going to be loaded down like tourists leaving Disneyland. A little interdimensional loot exchange would be a good thing, moreso if he could mention it officially to the general once he returned from Topeka.

This time when Clover made her impatient noise, he accidentally rolled the ball back a little hard, which he did not realize until it returned at just under the speed of sound, ricocheted off his rib cage, and knocked him backward into the grass. Upon impact with the unyielding ground, all he could do was try to breathe for a few moments while watching the red ball bounce across the gravel road, roll toward the new Four-One, and take an awkward hop that made it vanish under the tank.

It was a fairly unimportant observation. Getting air back into his lungs had a higher priority.

“Ball?” asked Clover, who had galloped over to him and was looking down at his face with a terrified expression. “Ball?”

Across the road, the glowing bulk of Four-One just fucking lifted off the ground as if it were some sort of balloon, the red ball started rolling back in their direction, then the sixty-two ton tank dropped the three feet or so back to the dirt emplacement with a low thud that shook the ground. By the time the ball had rolled back to Clover, Nick had pulled himself into a sitting position and waved back both Sergeant Spasowski and the Ranger who had pulled himself out of his camouflaged position.

“Ball,” he managed after as deep a breath as he was able. “Throw ball gently,” he added, taking it from her, and then rolling it a few inches back to her. “Put tank down gently. Not scare the nice sergeant.”

“Scare?” Clover gave Nick the most heart-melting, big-eyed look of pure repentance.

“Scare,” said Nick firmly, which was made a little easier by the stinging sensation around his chest where the ball had impacted and the aching ribs under it. “Not drop tank. Now come on, and we’ll go apologize to the nice man and his crew for waking them up.” He hefted the baby winged unicorn up and carried her over to the somewhat misaligned tank where all four of the crew had scrambled out onto the hull, one of whom was mopping at a scratch on his forehead.

“See,” said Nick, pointing to his second-in-command. “Sergeant Spasowski was a little frightened when you dropped his tank. Weren’t you, Sergeant?”

“Scared the f— I mean, yes, sir.”

“And you knocked the tank out of alignment,” added Nick, looking at the deep treadmarks. “He’s going to have to tidy that up sometime before anybody notices, right?”

The tall Polish NCO opened his mouth to speak again, but before he could get a word out, the tank floated up a few inches, realigned itself with the previous tread marks, and settled back down just as lightly as a multi-ton feather. It didn’t even dislodge any of the crew members, who kept to their precarious perches like a bunch of mottled tan crows with wide open mouths.

“Very good, Clover. Say you’re sorry,” said Nick, trying to figure out just how this was going to get written up in the After Action Report, if at all.

AAR: Tank Four-One encountered two accidental telekinetic attacks from one of the immature alien life forms, resulting in negligible damage and one minor contusion on Private Liam, the loader. The attacks were repulsed and the alien sent to time-out. No request for a Purple Heart is anticipated.

“Sowwey.” Having that sorrowful expression directed away from Nick gave him the moral strength not to break down in tears and worship the tiny goddess-horse. The tank’s crew was less lucky, and Nick could swear he saw unprecedented tears in Spaz’s eyes when he turned to head back to the house.

“Now, we’re going to go back inside with the other kids, Clover. I want you to play nice with them and not hurt anybody. If you can do that, we’ll come back outside and play with the ball later.”

“Ball!” declared Clover, who promptly curled up around the red rubber ball like a cat around a rubber mouse. It gave Nick a warm feeling despite the recent events, a warm feeling that went away fairly quickly when he strolled back into the room with all the little foals.

Two of the human babysitters were hiding in the closet, all of the sleeping beds had been piled into a giant bed-fort of some kind, the walls had become decorated with crayon pictures, and the little barbarian ponies were all dancing and flapping around the room on their individual missions of pure destruction.

Nick was starting to think he had gotten the easiest little pony to watch out of the bunch.

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