Mate Retrieval Expedition (/nmp/)

AngryWino Feb 21st, 2018 (edited) 2,087 Never
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  3. >This was just another day.
  4. >Captain Dawn Moonglow arrived at Mate Retrieval Headquarters, an otherwise nondescript building just outside the castle grounds at the center of the Crystal Empire, and carefully took in her surroundings before entering.
  5. >Force of habit, really.
  6. >In Equestria there was no real threat of danger right now.
  7. >But habits developed over many years of Guardian service and Expeditionary missions were not so easily dismissed.
  8. >And the last thing she would allow herself to do was to get soft.
  9. >It was her responsibility to set the example for her team, after all.
  10. >As well as to make sure that every pony returned safely, with their target.
  11. >”Husband Hunters”, as they were popularly known in civil circles.
  12. >Like all the members of the MRE Teams, she was an Earth Pony.
  13. >They had discovered early on in the program that Unicorn Pony magic was not effective in the world they visited regularly.
  14. >Likewise, whether due to differences in gravity or the atmosphere, Pegasus Ponies found themselves unable to fly.
  15. >The natural advantages of Earth Ponies, such as strength, endurance, and agility, continued to give them an advantage there, fortunately.
  16. >”Good Morning, Captain Moonglow,” the Guard at the front desk said courteously as she presented her identification.
  17. >Dawn Moonglow returned the greeting in kind, and continued through the lobby into the interior of the building.
  18. >These expeditions had been going on for a while now, and were getting in danger of being routine.
  19. >Captain Moonglow was no great fan of routine, it encouraged complacency.
  20. >And some few MRE Teams had already discovered to their detriment that complacency was a luxury that they could not afford.
  21. >The world they would be visiting was alien.
  22. >It was mysterious, sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrible, and occasionally hostile.
  23. >The death of love and compassion could do terrible things to a world.
  24. >Not for the first time, she wondered to herself how such creatures managed to tolerate one-another long enough to perpetuate their own species.
  25. >There certainly seemed to be a lot of them.
  27. >======<
  29. >You are Special Agent Anonymous, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  30. >And it was the end of a very long and frustrating day.
  31. >This was supposed to be your dream job.
  32. >You’d kept yourself in top physical condition, preparing for it.
  33. >You’d studied hard in school, finally graduating college Cum Laude with a degree in Computer Science, minoring in Criminal Justice.
  34. >When you made your application to the Academy, you had practically sailed through the qualification process.
  35. >Quantico had been a whole different world, but a challenge you readily rose to meet, like all other such challenges you had set yourself.
  36. >The day you graduated and received your credentials had been the proudest day of your life.
  37. >You were glad your father could see it before he died.
  38. >Sometime during that process, however, the dream had soured.
  39. >As a result of intensive partisan bickering in Washington, the mission of the Bureau had undergone many changes.
  40. >The FBI had been stripped of its National Security role, which had gone to Homeland Security.
  41. >The work of the Bureau was becoming more and more politicized, and you hated it.
  42. >Ongoing interference from the top extended even to telling you what you were and were not allowed to investigate.
  43. >So instead of defending the Nation from foreign threats or terrorists, you were stuck with ridiculous missing persons cases, like this one.
  44. >You sighed as you entered the bar on Harrison Avenue, a favorite place to hit the reset button and wind down after work.
  45. >The bartender there recognized you as you entered and immediately opened a bottle of your favorite brew, setting it on a bar mat before you as you settled tiredly into your accustomed seat.
  46. >”Rough one today, eh?” he asked, scrutinizing your face.
  47. “Yeah.”
  48. >You took a long pull of your beer, relishing the feel of the cool liquid sliding down your throat.
  49. >”Hey,” came a feminine voice behind you.
  50. >The speaker came into view, sliding gracefully onto the stool next to you, and you took a moment to size her up.
  51. >She wore expensive clothes and jewelry, and was several years older than you.
  52. >”Feeling lonely?” she asked.
  53. “Naw, just tired, thanks.”
  54. >”Too tired for a good time?” she asked sweetly.
  55. >Pandering was illegal in this state, but that didn’t seem to stop them from plying their trade.
  56. “I’m already having a good time.”
  57. >Her face didn’t betray even a hint of disappointment.
  58. >”Doesn’t look like it.”
  59. >You declined to answer, so presently she rose and wandered off into the gloom of the bar once more.
  60. >Probably looking for easier pickings.
  61. >Not your problem.
  63. >======<
  65. >Dawn Moonglow pushed her locker shut with a metallic bang, then went over to the mirror to check her appearance.
  66. >When she’d accepted her Royal Warrant to the MRE Teams, she’d traded in her ceremonial armor and helmet for this less flashy, more stealthy and utilitarian, black full-body uniform.
  67. >It was designed to let her carry what she needed, while reducing chances that she would be observed by human authorities on the alien world.
  68. >Her silvery mane contrasted perfectly with the dusky blue of her coat, accented by her violet eyes.
  69. >It was a real pity that she had to wear a hood over her head for these missions.
  70. >Ever since one excitable human had discharged a firearm at an MRE Team a few years ago, such uniforms had become an unfortunate necessity.
  71. >The mare hadn’t been too badly wounded, fortunately, but it was some time before she was able to resume her duties.
  72. >Captain Moonglow was proud of the fact that she had carefully avoided such dangerous interactions on her missions, and had always brought every member of her team back uninjured.
  73. >Of course, she couldn’t take all the credit for that.
  74. >”Hey Dawn, ready for another trip?” said the grinning zebra mare that appeared at her side.
  75. >Every leader needed capable subordinates, and Sergeant Steel Mane was her right-hoof pony.
  76. >”Always ready!” Dawn Moonglow replied with her usual enthusiasm. “Is the rest of the team ready?”
  77. >”Aurora Shine, Lucky Eyes, and Solar Gem, all present and accounted for, Ma’am!” Sergeant Mane responded.
  78. >”Oustanding, Sergeant.” She glanced at the clock. “Make sure they know the Mission Briefing starts in twenty minutes.”
  79. >”Yes, Ma’am!” Sergeant Steel Mane responded crisply, settling into a more professional demeanor.
  80. >Outside this building, they were a tight-knit group of good friends.
  81. >But inside, they had a job to do, and they knew how to buckle down and get it done safely.
  82. >Game faces on, go-time was coming soon.
  84. >======<
  86. >Coming to this bar today had probably been a mistake.
  87. >Sure, it was usually a great place to relax, but tonight some unseen forces seemed to be conspiring against you.
  88. >In this instance, the unseen forces had taken the form of a guy who had occupied the stool next to yours, and was drunkenly explaining to anyone who would listen that everything that was wrong with the world was some sort of government conspiracy.
  89. >”I mean it, man! The Government keeps all kinds of secrets! You got Roswell, Area 51, Cuba, the Kennedy assassination, Nine-eleven, Benghazi, Pizzagate…”
  90. /Can’t a Federal Agent just have a couple of quiet drinks in peace after work?/
  91. >”An’ now there’s all these people going missing! The Government will never tell you anything about that, but it’s in the news, right? Only they don’t tell us what’s really going on ‘cuz the Government keeps ‘em quiet about it!”
  92. >You didn’t really feel like explaining the First Amendment to this guy, so you decided you’d had enough.
  93. >You called the bartender over and settled your bill.
  94. >Time to go home.
  95. >”But I know what’s REALLY going on! They’re being snatched up by ALIENS! I know it ‘cause I seen ‘em! Little four-legged critters in black uniforms, takin’ some guy away!”
  96. “What?”
  97. >You paused at the door, looking back at the drunken pundit.
  98. >The guy rounded on you with a manic grin.
  99. >”I seen it I tell ya! They took this guy down an alley, a-a-and I lost sight of them, but there was, like, this BIG flash, and when I looked there weren’t nobody there!”
  100. “And you saw this? With your own eyes?”
  101. >”Yup!” He replied with a proud grin, happy to have found a receptive audience at last.
  102. >You pulled out your phone and sent a quick text, giving the address of the bar.
  103. >This guy didn’t know it, but he’d just yupped himself into an extensive debriefing session in a secure government facility.
  104. >Sure, it sounded like a standard drunken rant, but there were a couple of details in all that hogwash that lined up with other reports you had read.
  105. >Maybe coming to this bar today wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
  106. >You sat back down, waving the bartender away when he offered you another beer, and kept the guy talking about sports until the door opened and two more men in suits entered.
  107. “That’s a fascinating tale, my friend. Would you go on the record with it?”
  108. >”I sure would! You a reporter or something?”
  109. “Something like that…”
  110. >You showed him your badge.
  111. >The guy looked around slowly, noticing quickly that he was more or less hemmed in by three people wearing suits.
  112. “You’re not under arrest, and we’re not laying any charges against you. But we would be very grateful if you would assist us with our inquiry.”
  113. >All that piss and vinegar that had marked the man’s drunken rant seemed to evaporate, and he slumped slightly with a tired sigh.
  114. >”Yeah. Okay man. I’ll go quietly.”
  115. “Thank you. We really appreciate your cooperation, Mister…?”
  116. >”Smith.”
  117. “Sure. After you, Mister Smith.”
  118. >The four of you left the bar together.
  120. >======<
  122. >”He’ll be on the fourteenth floor. Apartment 1402. Remember, hooves make too much noise on stairs, even with the pads; and you don't want to tire yourselves out, so use the elevator.”
  123. >Solar Gem groaned.
  124. >She’d gotten her tail caught in an elevator door once and was none to fond of the devices as a result.
  125. >”What’s the operating environment?” Sergeant Steel Mane asked.
  126. >”Light urban area, some build-up. Going in early morning well before sunrise, so there shouldn’t be much traffic.”
  127. >The Director of Operations, a pleasant, businesslike Earth Pony named Silver Strike, himself a Colonel of the Guard, had just briefed the dossier of the human they were targeting for retrieval.
  128. >As was her habit, Dawn Moonglow took copious notes to aid her memory, though she knew she couldn’t take them with her.
  129. >”Any security at the building he lives in?” she asked.
  130. >”Guards during daylight hours, but at night the doors are locked. There may be an alarm system, we can’t tell for sure,” Silver Strike replied.
  131. >An alarm system could mean trouble, unless they could fool it.
  132. >”Okay, so I’ll need to bring the tools,” said Aurora Shine.
  133. >One other item in the briefing had given Captain Moonglow a warning flag - the target was a law enforcement officer of some kind.
  134. >That meant, at the very least, he was likely to be armed.
  135. >But still, the Crystal Heart had chosen him for some lonely mare here in Equestria, which meant at the least that he could probably be reasoned with, and was likely to be receptive to the offer they were making him.
  136. >The Crystal Heart was never wrong, after all.
  137. >”Are there any other questions about today’s mission?” Silver Strike asked, looking around the room.
  138. >Captain Moonglow looked around as well.
  139. >”No Colonel, I think we’ve got it.”
  140. >”Alright. Because of the target’s background and location, this is assessed as a high-risk mission, so if you want to back out, now’s the time to say so.”
  141. >”Aw c’mon, Colonel, when has anyone on our team ever backed out?” Lucky Eyes replied.
  142. >”Yeah!” the others chorused in assent.
  143. >Dawn Moonglow’s Team unhesitatingly accepted the high-risk retrievals.
  144. >”You know the rules, I have to ask,” Silver Strike replied.
  145. >”Relax, Colonel, we’ve got this!” Captain Moonglow responded.
  146. >“In that case, get your gear and assemble in the Portal Chamber; insertion is in forty-five minutes. Good luck!”
  147. >Silver Strike left the briefing room, as Captain Moonglow turned to her team and held out a hoof.
  148. >”What do we do, team?”
  149. >The others added their hooves.
  150. >”We always get our man!” the other ponies answered in unison.
  151. >”Alright!  Let’s do this!”
  152. >The five mares got to their hooves and went to the cage to draw the equipment they would need.
  154. >======<
  156. >Mr. Smith had consumed an entire pot of coffee, but had proved to be a very cooperative witness.
  157. >Several details of his statement corroborated reports you had from other eyewitnesses, such as the four-legged and black-uniformed appearance of the abductors, but Mr. Smith had been able to provide additional details.
  158. >Such as the fact that they moved like equines.
  159. >You’d had to ask if he was sure, but Mr. Smith averred that he had grown up on a horse ranch, and knew horse-like motion when he saw it.
  160. >Also, to your astonishment, he stated that the person they were taking seemed to be going along willingly.
  161. >What would compel someone to willingly submit to alien captors like Mr. Smith described?
  162. >The bright flash and the disappearance of the subjects were difficult to credit, but Mr. Smith remembered where he had seen the incident, so a visit to the scene in the morning might provide some clues.
  163. >You repeated the interview process, asking questions from different angles, ensuring that Mr. Smith’s account of what he had seen remained consistent.
  164. >A member of the clerical staff had typed up Mr. Smith’s statement for him and he had signed it.
  165. >He had willingly provided contact details, should a follow-up interview be necessary.
  166. >You cautioned Mr. Smith against discussing his interview with anyone and sent him home in a taxi, and settled down for the part of the job you hated, the paperwork.
  167. >Mr. Smith’s statement was logged into evidence, and you updated the case log and master case file with the salient points.
  168. >That had taken longer than the actual interview.
  169. >At least now you had something to show the SAIC tomorrow when he asked you about your progress.
  170. >Now it was well past sunset, and this was your second attempt to go home.
  171. >You were yawning because you were tired as hell, and this day had been unreasonably long.
  172. >But if it moved you any closer to breaking this weird case, it would be worth it.
  173. >You stopped at a Seven-Eleven on the way home to get a burrito and some chips, because you decided you were too tired to cook yourself dinner.
  174. >It was so late when you got to your apartment building that the guards had already left, so you punched your code into the keypad and snatched the door open when the strike buzzed to admit you.
  175. >A quick trip up in a grumbly old elevator, and you pulled your keys out of your pocket and let yourself into your apartment.
  176. >It was sparsely furnished, since you lived alone and were saving money for a real house, provided of course that you weren’t reassigned to another office.
  177. >Working for The Bureau meant world-wide assignability, of course, but at least they provided relocation assistance when they moved you.
  178. >You yawned tiredly as you threw your burrito in the microwave to warm it up, and turned on the TV to catch the news.
  179. >While you ate your simple meal with a beer from the fridge, the newscast did a story on the disappearances, which provided another detail you had already noted in your investigation.
  180. >All of the disappearances thus far had been single males, with few social contacts.
  181. “I guess that puts me at risk.”
  182. >You chuckled ruefully to yourself as you washed down another bite of microwaved burrito with a swig of beer.
  183. >You didn’t really know many people outside of work.
  184. >You were interested in starting a family, but so far none of the girls you had dated seemed suitable.
  185. >They seemed more interested in your pay and benefits, or the allure of your position, than in you as a person.
  186. >And apparently $54K a year wasn’t enough to get them excited.
  187. >With a sigh you turned off the TV and got up to rinse your plate in the sink, throwing the empty beer bottle into the trash along the way.
  188. >After a hot shower, you checked your alarm clock and went to bed, hoping that your phone wouldn’t wake you up in the middle of the night.
  189. >An uninterrupted night’s sleep was what you wanted more than anything right now.
  191. >======<
  193. >The goal was to travel as lightly as possible, to minimize the risk of leaving something behind for human authorities to find.
  194. >So the load-out changed each time, depending on the mission parameters.
  195. >Captain Moonglow and Sergeant Mane checked and double-checked the team’s equipment, ensuring that they had everything they would need for the retrieval.
  196. >Satisfied that they were fully prepared to execute the mission, the MRE Team entered the Portal Chamber.
  197. >No matter how many times they’d been here, the Portal never failed to impress.
  198. >It was a marvel of magical construction, allowing the Retrieval Team to travel to an alien world in another dimension, and return safely with their target.
  199. >Already the emitter elements were turning, carefully supervised by experienced Unicorn mages preparing the device to rip a hole from one universe to another.
  200. >The heavy, armored doors slid closed behind them and locked with an audible clunk, sealing them inside the Chamber.
  201. >A necessary precaution against something hostile coming through the Portal and escaping into Equestria.
  202. >For the sake of Equestria, and for those they were able to rescue from a world which was, by all accounts, dying, the Team prepared to make the dimensional jump once more.
  203. >A Unicorn mage approached bearing a scrying stone attached to a black strap, which she affixed to one of Captain Moonglow’s fore hooves.
  204. >The scrying stone would help them locate the human they were sent to retrieve.
  205. >In Equestria, a scrying spell lasted about half a day, but on the alien Earth, it lasted slightly less than a quarter of that time, giving them a narrow window of opportunity to complete their mission.
  206. >”Energy is building, Portal opening in three minutes,” one of the mages warned Captain Moonglow.
  207. >She cast a glance over her shoulder to ensure all her team were ready to go, and they raised their hoods to conceal their heads from prying human eyes.
  208. >”MRE Team ready,” Captain Moonglow reported.
  209. >”Go for Portal,” one of the mages reported.
  210. >”Make it happen,” Silver Strike said.
  211. >The Unicorn mages moved into their final positions and concentrated their magical energies on the emitter elements, which began to spin faster.
  212. >”Spatial-temporal synchronous lock achieved,” one of the mages reported, “preparing dimensional breach.”
  213. >”Crystal Heart on line,” reported another, “Portal is harmonizing.”
  214. >A glow began to build in the center of the Chamber, amidst the frenzied dance of the emitter elements.
  215. >The MRE team pulled shielded goggles down over their eyes.
  216. >”Five… four… three… two… one…”
  217. >A brilliant flash burst from the center of the Chamber, and from it a spinning, multi-colored disc expanded until it reached halfway to the ceiling, hanging in midair at a crazy angle.
  218. >One of the mages, her horn glowing, made an adjustment to the Portal until it was aligned vertically, revealing a dark, cluttered alleyway on the other side.
  219. >”Portal is oriented and stable… Go for insertion!” she reported.
  220. >”For Love and Peace!” Captain Moonglow called to her team, and one by one the five ponies leapt through the open Portal.
  221. >They quickly spread out into a watchful formation on the other side, and Captain Moonglow checked to be sure they had all come through.
  222. >The Portal winked out of existence, plunging them into darkness.
  223. >”Three hours… mark.”
  224. >The five ponies started the countdown on their chronometers.
  225. >Captain Moonglow looked up, noticing that the sky seemed devoid of stars: washed out by the glare of artificial lighting from the city they were in.
  226. >Sergeant Steel Mane wrinkled her nose under her hood.
  227. >”Just once, I’d like to arrive somewhere that isn’t full of garbage.”
  228. >”Surest way of staying unobserved,” Lucky Eyes pointed out.
  229. >Captain Moonglow moved quietly to the head of the alley and consulted the scrying stone.
  230. >A pale purple glow on the stone’s surface indicated the direction in which their quarry lay.
  231. >Covering it up again, she turned to her team.
  232. >”This way. Move out.”
  233. >The team moved swiftly and silently, keeping to the shadows as much as possible.
  234. >It was the wee hours of the night here, and the street was mostly deserted.
  235. >Occasionally they would hide and wait as a single vehicle passed by.
  236. >They detoured through another back alley to avoid an establishment that was open all night.
  237. >As they rejoined the main street, Solar Gem spotted a distinctively marked vehicle approaching, with extra equipment fitted to its roof.
  238. >”Police,” she hissed, warning the others, who melted into the shadows behind some shrubbery.
  239. >The approaching vehicle’s engine note changed, and the bar atop it flared into life, dazzling red and blue flashes reflecting off the windows facing the street.
  240. >Captain Moonglow muttered an oath and thought very small, very quiet thoughts, preparing to run if needed.
  241. >Its engine roaring, the patrol vehicle accelerated past their position, its siren warbling briefly at the next intersection.
  242. >Captain Moonglow risked a glance at the scrying stone, which was still indicating the direction they were headed.
  243. >So that wasn’t their quarry, at least.
  244. >Checking to make sure the street was still clear, she gave the order to move out once more.
  245. >Presently, they arrived at a tall apartment building.
  246. >A quick check of the scrying stone informed Captain Moonglow that their target was within.
  247. >There wasn’t an alarm, per se, but the door had an electric lock, and there was an intercom and keypad next to it.
  248. >After surveying the entrance from afar, Aurora Shine moved, keeping carefully out of sight until the last moment, then lunged and slapped a piece of opaque, sticky tape over the camera lens.
  249. >The threat of observation dealt with, she waved for the rest of the team to join her.
  250. >As Captain Moonglow arrived, Aurora Shine was already pulling tools out of her pockets, and attacking the access panel over the intercom.
  251. >It was held on with special security fasteners, but this was far from her first rodeo.
  252. >In a matter of seconds, she had the panel open, exposing the wiring within.
  253. >She pulled a short wire terminated with alligator clips out of another pocket, and shorted two terminals together.
  254. >The strike buzzed, and Solar Gem pulled the door open.
  255. >”Easy day,” Aurora Shine said with some satisfaction as she removed the wire and secured the intercom back into place.
  256. >The Team filed in, letting the door close behind them, and Lucky Eyes reared up and pressed the call button for the elevator.
  257. >The Security desk was vacant, and they waited nervously, watching for any humans that might happen along.
  258. >With a ping, the elevator doors opened, and the team breathed a collective sigh of relief to see that there were no humans inside.
  259. >That had happened once, and it hadn’t been fun.
  260. >The team loaded up, Solar Gem taking extra care to ensure her tail was clear of the doors.
  261. >”Fourteen,” Captain Moonglow hissed, thankful that this elevator didn’t play insipid music at them as Aurora Shine reared up and pressed the appropriate button, and the doors closed.
  262. >The floor lurched disconcertingly as the elevator began its ascent.
  264. >======<
  266. >Your phone had thus far stayed mercifully quiet, but you became restive at the sound of a gentle tapping at your apartment door.
  267. >The tapping was repeated, a little more insistently, and you woke, sitting up in bed and picking up your phone to check the time.
  268. >Whoever was rapping on your door did it again, slightly louder.
  269. /Who in the hell would be calling at this hour?/
  270. >You threw off the blanket and levered yourself to your feet, then, pausing only to pull on a bathrobe in case the caller was female, you went groggily into the living room, turning on a single light.
  271. >Knock-knock-knock…
  272. “Alright, relax, whoever you are, I’m coming.”
  273. >You went to the door and looked through the peep hole.
  274. >No one there.
  275. >Odd.
  276. >Frowning slightly, and only still half-awake, you unlocked the door and opened it, and stuck your head into the hall, looking up and down.
  277. >Still no one.
  278. /Was I dreaming?/
  279. >”Down here, friend,” said a feminine voice.
  280. >You looked down and saw a four-legged creature that came up about to the level of your stomach, dressed all in some kind of black tactical gear.
  281. >A sudden adrenaline rush pushed you to full consciousness.
  282. “Shit!”
  283. >Another one pushed past your legs, opening the door all the way, and was immediately followed by two more.
  284. >You lunged for the bedroom, where you’d stupidly left your gun.
  285. >You barely made it two steps before two of them pounced on you, securing your arms and bearing you down to the floor.
  286. >You’d been taken down plenty of times during training in the Academy, and it occurred to you that this was the gentlest takedown you’d ever experienced.
  287. >You struggled, of course.
  288. >Whatever they were, they were pretty strong.
  289. >You heard the door shut, and a different feminine voice called, “Clear!”
  290. >From your kitchen, another voice called “Clear!”
  291. >”Clear!” Came a third voice from your bedroom.
  292. >One of the creatures holding you down held up a faintly glowing purple stone attached to her wrist and touched it to your face.
  293. >It changed color, briefly flaring green, then went dark.
  294. >”It’s him,” she told the others, then turned to face you.
  295. >”Are you alright, Anonymous?” she asked with a gentle, reassuring voice.
  296. >You ceased struggling in amazement.
  297. >One, that was a really weird question for anyone to ask someone they’d just dusted.
  298. >Two, the speaker spoke perfectly understandable, unaccented English.
  299. >Three, the speaker knew your name.
  300. “What the fuck?”
  301. >Captain Moonglow chuckled beneath her hood.
  302. >That was not an unusual exchange on these high-risk retrievals.
  303. >”Please, calm down,” she said in measured, calming tones, “we will not harm you.”
  304. >Your mind raced.
  305. >Aliens… five aliens, presumably the target of your investigation, were in your apartment.
  306. /What the hell do they want from me?/
  307. >”I’ll ask again, Anonymous. Are you okay?”
  308. >You turned your head to look at the speaker, amazed once more at her evident concern for your well-being.
  309. “Yeah… yeah, I’m… how do you know my name?”
  310. >”We’ve been watching you, Anonymous, because we came here for you.”
  311. “Huh? Me? Why me? What do you want?”
  312. >”We want to give you something wonderful.”
  313. >You slowly began to relax as your adrenaline rush faded, replaced by curiosity.
  314. “What’s that?”
  315. >The speaker relaxed her grip on your arm and placed a black-clad limb comfortingly on your chest.
  316. >”A chance, Anonymous. We want to give you a chance at love, and happiness.”
  317. “What makes you think I’m unhappy?”
  318. >The limb moved from your chest to your face with a gentle stroke.
  319. >”Your world is dying, Anonymous. That doesn’t mean you have to die with it.”
  320. >Your fear faded altogether and you relaxed.
  321. “So… what, you’re here to save me?”
  322. >”Yes, we are. If you’re willing. The choice is yours, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
  323. “Are you responsible for the disappearing people?”
  324. >”Yes, we are. Some of them, anyhow.”
  325. “What happened to them?”
  326. >”They came back to our world, Anonymous, and they’re living happy lives, with their partners.”
  327. “Yeah? Why should I trust you?”
  328. >Captain Moonglow sighed.
  329. >”Anonymous, look at me.”
  330. >She reached up and pushed her goggles and hood back, exposing her head and face.
  331. >It was a minor violation of mission protocol, but she’d discovered some time ago that a more personal touch helped to reassure difficult cases.
  332. >Your heart skipped a beat at the sight of her wide, violet eyes, framed in a soft coat of dusky blue, and presided over by a shimmering silver shock of hair.
  333. >Her face was vaguely equine, but softer and rounder.
  334. >She gave you a gentle smile, and you felt a warmth and reassurance flood into you from her gaze.
  335. >”Do I look like something that wants to lie to you? Or hurt you?”
  336. >You heard the question, but its meaning escaped your mind entirely.
  337. >Those eyes.
  338. >You could get lost in those eyes, and you would consider yourself a fortunate man.
  339. >”Anonymous?” she asked, a pleading expression on her face.
  340. >You blinked, snapping out of it.
  341. “What?”
  342. >”Do you trust me?”
  343. >Captain Moonglow felt her heart racing.
  344. >When she found it necessary to take this step, she often felt a little tiny spark of… something, when she looked into the subject’s eyes.
  345. >She had never felt it so powerfully before.
  346. >She found she was actually struggling to keep her breathing under control.
  347. >The man’s face was close, almost like they were sharing breath…
  348. >No, dammit, this wasn’t for her.
  349. >She was just the delivery service.
  350. >There was some soon to be happy mare back in Equestria, waiting for this man.
  351. >Professional detachment could be a real pain, sometimes.
  352. “Yeah. Okay. I trust you.”
  353. >The mare smiled kindly at you.
  354. >”Okay then. Sergeant?”
  355. >Gradually, the creatures holding you down relaxed their grip, moved their weight off of you, and stepped back, the other one with her hood still on watching you warily as you got to your feet.
  356. “So… now what?”
  357. >Captain Moonglow took a deep breath to compose herself, and checked her chronometer.
  358. >”Now, if you’re willing, you come with us, Anonymous.”
  359. “I… uh… I have so many questions…”
  360. >Captain Moonglow smiled kindly at you, causing your heart to skip a beat again.
  361. >”And we have so many answers, but we don’t have a lot of time, Anonymous. The return Portal will open in less than an hour and a half.”
  362. “What are you?”
  363. >”We call ourselves ponies.”
  364. “Where are we going?”
  365. >”Our world, where love and compassion still thrive in abundance.”
  366. “Can I… should I bring anything with me?”
  367. >”As little as possible, Anonymous. Just the clothes on your back, and anything to which you have a particular sentimental attachment. No weapons, no technology of any kind.”
  368. “Why not?”
  369. >”You won’t need them.”
  370. >”May I make a suggestion?” Steel Mane said.
  371. >She had a slight accent… African, maybe?
  372. >”What is it, Sergeant?” Captain Moonglow said.
  373. >The still-masked pony turned to you now, looking you up and down appraisingly.
  374. >”Maybe you should change your clothes,” she said, a smirk audible in her voice.
  375. >The other ponies in the room giggled quietly as you looked down at yourself.
  376. >In the struggle, your robe had fallen open, exposing your bare chest and the comfy boxers you had worn to bed.
  377. >You blushed, realizing you were standing half-exposed in your living room with five female aliens, and hastily tied your robe shut.
  378. “Good idea.”
  380. >======<
  382. >You had already showered before bed, as was your usual habit.
  383. >The five ponies demonstrated their trust to you by allowing you to close your bedroom door for privacy as you changed your boxers and dressed yourself in your cleanest shirt and your newest suit.
  384. >Your gun lay in its holster by the side of your bed.
  385. >It would be so easy to take control of this situation now, and obviously this represented a major break in your investigation.
  386. >But something in your heart rebelled at the idea.
  387. >There was something mysterious, yet wonderful, happening here.
  388. >You wanted to know more; the curiosity that had driven your decision to become an investigator was burning like a flame inside you.
  389. >And something else, as well… some feeling that refused to be ignored or overridden.
  390. >As quietly as possible, you picked up the semiautomatic pistol and freed it from its holster.
  391. >You dropped the magazine and opened the action, locking back the slide to make the weapon clear and safe.
  392. >Then you set it down carefully on the bedside stand, alongside the magazine, and the single round which had fallen from the chamber.
  393. >Then you looked at your phone.
  394. >One call, one text message, and the situation would change radically.
  395. >Instead, you turned it off, and set it back down alongside your gun.
  396. >Then you went back to your closet and pulled out your lucky red necktie.
  397. >The same tie you’d worn that day when you crossed the stage and shook hands with the smiling Director of the FBI, as he had handed you your credentials and a photographer took your picture.
  398. >Speaking of which, after you finished tying your tie, you opened your top drawer and pulled out the black leather case containing your badge and identification.
  399. >You’d worked hard for this, you were taking it with you.
  400. >There was a soft knock at the door.
  401. >”Anonymous, please hurry. Time is short.”
  402. “Yeah, alright.”
  403. >You tied on a comfortable pair of shiny black leather shoes, and opened the door.
  404. >The five ponies on the other side looked up at you.
  405. >”Nice outfit,” the one with the African accent commented.
  406. >”Cut the chatter, we have to go, now.”
  407. >With her hood back in place, Captain Moonglow was all business once more.
  408. >When retrievals went wrong, they tended to go wrong in the extraction phase.
  409. >Lucky Eyes reared up and opened the door, then used a mirror to check that the hall outside was empty.
  410. >”Clear,” she reported.
  411. >”Let’s go,” said Captain Moonglow.
  412. >You followed the five ponies as they filed out into the hallway.
  413. >Aurora Shine reared up and pressed the call button for the elevator, which opened with gratifying speed.
  414. >You paused at the door, taking one last look into your apartment.
  415. /Have fun, whoever gets assigned to investigate this./
  416. >If you followed through, it wouldn’t be your problem any more.
  417. >You closed the door and boarded the elevator with the ponies as Aurora Shine pressed the button for the lobby.
  418. >The ponies looked about nervously as the elevator lurched into motion.
  419. “It does that. This building is old.”
  420. >The ponies seemed to relax a bit at your explanation.
  421. >Two of the ponies checked their chronometers.
  422. >”We have to move swiftly, time is getting short,” said one of them.
  423. >The elevator doors opened onto the lobby, and you moved quietly in single file, Lucky Eyes holding the door open until everyone was through.
  424. >You chuckled at the sight of the sticky tape over the camera lens.
  425. /The lab boys’ll love this./
  426. >The ponies moved at a fast trot, forcing you to jog to keep up with them.
  427. >No worries, you were in great shape.
  428. >You followed them as they retraced their route, ducking down a back alley to avoid the Seven-Eleven.
  429. >Pity, a farewell cup of coffee might have been nice.
  430. “Is there coffee where we’re going?”
  431. >”Yes. Please keep quiet.”
  432. >So serious, for something so cute.
  433. >A delivery truck turned onto the street you were on from a side street and came towards you, diesel engine growling as the driver shifted gears.
  434. >The ponies vanished into shadows.
  435. >”Anonymous! Get down!” one of them hissed at you.
  436. >You kept walking, however, shoving your hands into your pockets and whistling the theme from “Jeopardy”.
  437. >Nothing to see here, just some guy walking somewhere.
  438. >The delivery truck rumbled past, saturating the air around you with the smell of its exhaust.
  439. >The driver didn’t even look in your direction.
  440. >As it receded into the distance, the five ponies caught up with you.
  441. >”Why didn’t you get down when I told you to?” one of them asked crossly.
  442. “You might seem out of place here, but I don’t.”
  443. >She seemed to consider this.
  444. >”Fair point. Okay, there, that alley, just ahead on the right.”
  445. “Okay.”
  446. >The ponies trotted ahead and you followed them as they turned into a narrow alley behind a restaurant.
  447. >There was nothing in the alley except a big smelly dumpster, some rats, and the restaurant’s grease trap.
  448. >You wrinkled your nose at the odors assaulting you.
  449. >The ponies looked around watchfully.
  450. “Not exactly a notable social venue. What are we doing here?”
  451. >One of the ponies, the leader, apparently, checked a device on one of her wrists.
  452. >Or would that be hooves?
  453. >”We wait a minute.”
  454. “For what?”
  455. >”You might want to cover your eyes,” the one with the African accent advised you.
  456. >”Six… five… four… three… two…”
  457. >You hastily shaded your eyes as a blinding flash erupted into a spinning multi-colored disc, that grew and shifted until it formed a doorway of some sort.
  458. >The rats fled in terror.
  459. >Looking through the Portal was hard.
  460. >You could see some sort of large room on the other side, but the view twisted and shimmered, lending a surreal air to what you were seeing.
  461. >One of the ponies consulted an arcane device she had withdrawn from one of her pockets.
  462. >”Portal is stable, go for extraction!!”
  463. >And then she leapt through the shimmering doorway.
  464. >Two more ponies quickly followed.
  465. >One of the ponies turned to look at you.
  466. >”Last chance, Anonymous. After this, there is no turning back.”
  467. >It was the leader, you recognized her voice.
  468. >You took a last look around.
  469. “Eh, what the hell.”
  470. >You ran and leaped into the portal.
  471. >Indescribable sensations assaulted you.
  472. >You could smell color and taste light.
  473. >You could see the entirety of creation.
  474. >And then suddenly it all dwindled to a singularity, and then you were through.
  475. >You gasped from the shock of the experience and sagged to your hands and knees, fighting back the urge to vomit as a woozy sensation descended over you like a blanket.
  476. >”It’s okay, Anonymous, we’ve got you…”
  477. >”Just breathe… you’ll be okay soon.”
  478. >Strong limbs helped you up and guided you over to a padded cot of some kind.
  479. >"Here, lie down."
  480. >”Mission accomplished, Colonel!”
  481. >”Retrieval Subject and all Team Members are accounted for, Sir.”
  482. >”Very well. Shut it down.”
  483. >The bizarre, eye-twisting light faded from view, and you heard a sound like high-speed machinery winding down.
  484. >”Dimensional gateway closed, the Portal Chamber is secure.”
  485. >Someone pressed a cool container into your hand.
  486. >”Here’s water, if you need it. Don’t gulp it, just take small sips.”
  487. “Thanks…”
  488. >Your voice sounded weird to your ears.
  489. >God you were thirsty, and you gulped down some water in spite of the advice you had just received, coughing some of it back up.
  490. >A wave of dizziness convinced you that the advice you had gotten was sound, and you drank more carefully.
  491. >You managed to open your eyes as a yellow pony with a horn atop her head, wearing a white coat entered your field of view.
  492. >”Try to relax,” she said, as her horn began to glow.
  493. >You felt a warm tingle suffuse your entire body, driving away some of the unpleasant sensations that lingered from your inter-dimensional trip.
  494. >The yellow pony smiled at you.
  495. >”You’ll recover soon. The first trip through the Portal is always the hardest. Fortunately, you only have to do it once. You may want to lie still until the room stops spinning.”
  496. “Yeah… good advice.”
  497. >”Metallic object detected in left chest area.”
  498. >A distinguished-looking, gray-maned pony entered your vision, a kindly smile creasing his features.
  499. >”May I see that, please?” he asked.
  500. “Yeah… okay.”
  501. >You reached into your coat pocket and pulled out your badge case, handing it to the older pony.
  502. >Silver Strike settled a pair of reading glasses on his nose and opened the case, carefully scrutinizing your credentials.
  503. >”Anonymous T. Cipher,” he read aloud, “Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Department of Justice.”
  504. >He closed the case and returned it to you.
  505. >”I don’t believe we’ve ever had the pleasure before. I hope later you’ll tell us about what you did on Earth.”
  506. >You tucked it back into your pocket, closing your eyes.
  507. “Yeah, sure. As soon as the room stops spinning.”
  508. >Silver Strike chuckled with amusement.
  509. >”Anonymous? I’d like you to meet the members of your retrieval team.”
  510. >You recognized the leader’s voice, and opened your eyes to see five ponies, their hoods and goggles removed.
  511. >There she was again, the blue one with the silver mane and pretty violet eyes.
  512. >And… was that a zebra?
  513. >You idly wondered if she was the one with the African accent.
  514. >”Anonymous, this is Lucky Eyes, our recon specialist.”
  515. >”Hi!” said a cheerful pink pony, chewing a piece of gum.
  516. >”Our tech expert, Aurora Shine.”
  517. >”Nice to meet ya,” said the tan pony with a smile.
  518. >”Our intel specialist, Solar Gem.”
  519. >”You’re going to love it here, trust me,” said the yellow pony with green eyes.
  520. >”My second-in-command, Sergeant Steel Mane.”
  521. >”Welcome to Equestria, Anonymous,” said the zebra.
  522. >Yup, she was the one with the accent.
  523. >”And I’m Captain Dawn Moonglow, Team Leader.”
  524. >Dawn Moonglow… you turned the name over in your head.
  525. >The armored doors made a clunking sound, and then slid open with a soft hum, admitting a taller, pink pony with wings and a long horn, and wearing a tiara of some sort.
  526. >”Ten-SHUN!” Steel Mane called out.
  527. >Captain Moonglow was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
  528. >Though she was technically in overall charge of the program, it was very rare these days for Princess Mi Amore Cadenza to visit the facility herself.
  529. >”At ease,” said the Princess, and every pony in the Chamber relaxed.
  530. >”Please, don’t mind me Captain. I’ve heard so many good things about you that I just had to come and see for myself.”
  531. >You were feeling a little better, and the room had stopped spinning, so you sat up to get a better look for yourself.
  532. >”Please, carry on,” said Princess Cadance, smiling.
  533. >”Er, yes, of course, Your Highness,” said Captain Moonglow.
  534. >She turned to the Support Team.
  535. >”Do we have the recipient’s dossier?”
  536. >”Yes Ma’am, right here” an orange Unicorn responded, his smile too wide by half as he levitated the leather-bound file over to her.
  537. >”Thank you, Sunburst.”
  538. >This was it.
  539. >It was time to say good-bye to her charge.
  540. >For the first time, that moment felt a little bitter to her.
  541. >”Anonymous T. Cipher, on behalf of The Sovereign of the Sun, Princess Celestia; her sister, Ruler of the Night, Princess Luna; The Princess of Love,” she inclined her head in Princess Cadance’s direction, “Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, Regent of the Crystal Empire; and the Princess of Friendship, Princess Twilight Sparkle, it is my pleasure to formally welcome you to the Land of Equestria. You have not been brought here lightly; you have been specially selected and brought here for a wonderful purpose: a Mission of Love and Happiness. If you agree, you will be mated for life with one of our citizens; to have and to hold; to love, honor and cherish. May the blessings of Love and Peace be yours forever.”
  542. >Captain Moonglow smiled at you and opened the folder.
  543. >”This is her dossier. Your mate’s name is…”
  544. >She read the name, and her brain stopped processing.
  545. >You took another sip of water, waiting.
  546. >Captain Moonglow read the name again, disbelievingly, as smiles bloomed on the faces of all the other ponies in the room.
  547. >She closed the folder, and took a deep cleansing breath.
  548. “Well? Please don’t keep me in suspense all day, what’s her name?”
  549. >You decided to drink some more water while you waited.
  550. >Dawn Moonglow opened the folder and read the name again.
  551. >Her name.
  552. >She lifted the dossier’s information page, revealing a photograph of herself.
  553. >”Wh-wh…what’s the meaning of this?” she stammered.
  554. >”It means exactly what it says, Captain Moonglow,” said Princess Cadance, ”Anonymous has been chosen for you.”
  555. >Spit-take.
  556. >Your heart skipped a beat.
  557. “What?!!”
  558. >Well, there’s the Surprise of the Day.
  559. >”B-but I… I never a-applied…” she protested weakly, her voice trailing off.
  560. >”Of course you didn’t, silly,” Lucky Eyes piped up, “We applied for you!”
  561. >”You? B-b-b-but how—”
  562. >”Oh come on now, honey,” Steel Mane interrupted, “How many evenings have we spent at the Block and Tackle, talking about our ideal mates?”
  563. >Dawn Moonglow glanced shyly in your direction, a deep crimson coloring her cheeks.
  564. >It was a serious breach of protocol to send a pony on one of these missions if she was personally involved.
  565. >The emotions could get in the way and cause complications.
  566. >Of course, she had no idea she was personally involved until just now.
  567. >”B-b…”
  568. >Dawn Moonglow turned away from you, swallowing the lump in her throat and taking a deep breath, her cheeks still very red.
  569. >You sipped some water and decided to hold your tongue, as events unfolded before you.
  570. >”We worry about you, love,” said Aurora Shine, “you spend all your time making other mares happy.”
  571. >”You deserve happiness, too,” said Solar Gem.
  572. >”But my duties,” Dawn Moonglow protested weakly, glancing at you again, “I’m away so much…”
  573. >”Actually,” said Princess Cadance, smiling, “That’s the real reason I’m here. I wanted to ask you if you would like to take over the post of Director of Operations.”
  574. >Captain Moonglow swung her head sharply towards Silver Strike.
  575. >”Colonel?!  You…?”
  576. >Silver Strike chuckled with genuine warmth.
  577. >”I’m retiring, my dear. My wife wants to travel while we still have the ability. Princess Cadance asked me who I thought would be best suited to take over my duties, and your name leapt to mind immediately.”
  578. >Dawn Moonglow looked back at Princess Cadance.
  579. >”The post comes with a promotion, of course, to the grade of Major,” Princess Cadance told her.
  580. >Dawn Moonglow’s cheeks colored scarlet, as she imagined herself in a Major’s dress uniform.
  581. >With you by her side.
  582. >At your wedding.
  583. >She blushed deeply, completely at a loss for words.
  584. >”That means your team needs a new Leader, of course, and if they agree, I think Sergeant Steel Mane would be a fine choice,” said Princess Cadance.
  585. >”What? Me?” said Steel Mane, taken aback.
  586. >”YES!” exclaimed Solar Gem, Aurora Shine, and Lucky Eyes, in unison.
  587. >”Very well then, by the authority vested in me, I hereby commission Steel Mane as a Lieutenant in the E.U.P. Guard Corps.”
  588. >”WHAT?!” Steel Mane exclaimed, “Wait, does that mean I have to go to Officer School?”
  589. >Princess Cadance laughed. “I’m afraid it does, Lieutenant.”
  590. >”Rea-ea-eally?” Said Steel Mane, rolling her eyes in mock exasperation.
  591. >Her million-watt smile, however, told a different story.
  592. >”So, that’s everything settled, then,” said Silver Strike, “except for you, my dear.”
  593. >Dawn Moonglow looked around her, feeling the love of her friends.
  594. >”I… I don… I don’t know what to say!” she said, overwhelmed.
  595. >”Well,” said Princess Cadance, “maybe you should start by saying something to Anonymous.”
  596. >You sat up and set your water aside at the sound of your name.
  597. >Dawn Moonglow turned to face you.
  598. >All traces of her cool, efficient, professional demeanor had evaporated, leaving a blushing, trembling blue pony in black tactical gear, smiling shyly at you as tears formed in the corners of her eyes.
  599. >Those beautiful, violet eyes.
  600. >Tentatively at first, and then with a sense of purpose, Dawn Moonglow walked up to you.
  601. >She took another deep breath, her heart fluttering in her barrel.
  602. >”H-hello, Anonymous. My name… is Dawn Moonglow, and…”
  603. >She broke off, letting out a short, nervous laugh.
  604. >She extended a hoof towards you, but quickly thought better of it and pulled off the tactical stocking with her teeth, and extended her bare hoof towards you.
  605. >”…and I… heh… I’m your mate… apparently…”
  606. >She was blushing so hard you swore she lit up the room with a reddish cast.
  607. >God, she was adorable.
  608. >You reached out your hand and gently grasped her hoof.
  609. >The moment you touched, something ineffable and undefinable passed between you.
  610. >Her trembling stopped, and she locked her teary eyes onto yours.
  611. >Those beautiful, violet eyes.
  612. >You could get lost in them forever, and count yourself a very happy man.
  613. “You know what, Dawn Moonglow?”
  614. >The blue pony’s breath hitched.
  615. >Clearly, what she felt when she’d looked into your eyes, back in your apartment, on another world, was real.
  616. “I’m glad it’s you.”
  617. >Her tears flowed freely now as you pulled her into a hug, and she wrapped her fore hooves tightly around you, as though she would never let you go.
  618. >Princess Cadance sat, and clapped her fore hooves together in delight.
  619. >This sparked a round of applause that quickly engulfed the room, as Dawn Moonglow nuzzled you and kissed your cheek.
  620. >”You GO girl!” yelled Lieutenant Steel Mane.
  621. >You slid your hands up her sides to her face, then lined her up and gave her a proper, passionate kiss, which she eagerly reciprocated.
  622. >”Aw gee, get a room, you two!” Lucky Eyes joked loudly, prompting a ripple of laughter amid the applause.
  623. >Dawn Moonglow clung to you, her new treasure.
  624. >This was the happiest day of her life.
  626. THE END
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