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The Other Side · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Checkpoint
The building, long and low, had once been a graystone monstrosity, a tribute to the clash of classical building design with modern sensibilities of Spartan efficiency, designed and erected a hundred years ago. Painting it lime green had not helped. It stood at the end of a long avenue, surrounded by asphalt parking lots that shimmered in the relentless summer heat, which in turn were enclosed by electrified fences topped with razor wire.

At the rear of the building, connected to it in the most architecturally offensive clash possible, stood a large wide steel warehouse, also in lime green, with a corrugated and unpainted roof. A tall thing like a transmission tower rose from its top, covered with ceramic insulators, with multiple guidewires to keep it in place. Still the thing hummed, shimmered, and occasionally seemed to strain as if it would leap up into the heavens were it not firmly restrained and bolted down. Every once in a while, a passing pigeon would get too close and spontaneously transform into a fruit or vegetable for a few minutes, before recovering and flying shakily away.

In the parking lot, before the entrance to the main building, a plywood sign in garish red with white letters proclaimed:

EQUESTRIAN BORDER CHECKPOINT

NO CARS BEYOND THIS POINT

NO FIREARMS BEYOND THIS POINT

And the list continued for fifteen entries. Underneath the sign flowed a long line of beings, composed mostly of humans with a few ponies, and interspersed with carts laden with various goods. A similar line flowed out of another entrance.

Jerry Hyskiewisc was one of the few among them that read the whole sign, but he didn’t dawdle; he wanted to be on time for work. He was of moderate height, with sandy brown hair and a muscled frame that was starting to show hints of a donut belly, which was fortunately concealed by his Kevlar armor. He could use a more active job, but this wasn’t likely to be it. He adjusted his blue hat, wiped his sweating brow, summoned his confidence, and strode forward.

Two guards were discussing a complex schedule that had been written in Lovecraftian hieroglyphs on curled paper tacked to an extremely worn clipboard that was almost paper-thin itself. One of them, a tall hawk-faced man in a rumply uniform, glanced up and saw Jerry. “Stevie?” he said to the other guard. “I think that transfer you requested is here.”

The one named Stevie turned. She was short and broad, with dark copper skin and fierce brown eyes. Jerry felt that she had taken his full measure the instant she saw him, and that she was not impressed. “You are Mr., uhm, Huskeywhisk? Please pardon my pronunciation.”

“No problem, ma’am,” said Jerry. “That’s close enough, and Jerry works too.” He started to present his credentials to her. “Uhm, I was supposed to report to a Ms. Rosalyn—”

“That’s me. Rosalyn St. Valens.” She flashed her own ID. “My last name got abbreviated on a document to STV, and that became my call sign. You know how that goes.”

“Indeed I do, ma’am.” He handed over his ID and other paperwork. “My regular post won’t want me back until Thursday of the week after next, so I am at your disposal until then.”

“Great,” she said flatly, flipping through more papers. “I have great hopes that you will help us hold back the forces of chaos until our colleague, Mr. Rashid, returns from his leave. By the way, I don’t see that you’ve worked with any Equestrians before…?”

“No, ma’am. I’m told my great-great-great-great grandmother ran a horse stable…” Jerry sensed that the joke had fallen flat, then collapsed into a sinkhole and caught fire. “…Me, I’ve never been good with horses—Earth horses, that is. I have nothing against the ponies.”

He endured her stare for what felt like a solid minute, but couldn’t have been more than forty seconds.

“Okay, down to brass tacks,” she suddenly broke the silence. “Let’s get you shown around and settled in. Dunstan—” she indicated the hawk-faced man “—is your supervisor under me, but I strongly advise, Jerry, that you defer to any agent at this facility, regardless of your prior experience, at least until you have accustomed yourself to how we run things here. Is that likely to be a problem?”

Jerry suppressed several emotions that were tripping over their own feet anyway. “No problem at all, ma’am. Please lead on.”

He followed Stevie and Dunstan through enormous open steel gates into a large long open space that reminded him of the Grand Central terminal, if it had been designed as a gateway to Limbo rather than a portal to a magical fairyland full of talking ponies. They had apparently run out of lime green paint for the interior, and much of the original stonework was visible in the tall gray buttressed walls. The main signs of modernism were the mazelike lengths of security fencing, and the scanners, conveyors, metal detectors, and other paraphernalia by which humans attempt to divide the Sheep from the Goats. The incoming streams of humanity and equinity poured in channels, guided by painted lines on the floor and metal partitions, into the equipment that was to process them in safety and security for the greater good, at the least annoyance to all involved.

Or such was the goal of the system, as would be agreed to by any one individual if one took them aside and asked them that in a straightforward way. But it never quite seemed to work out that way in practice. Jerry had seen how the sausage of security got made on both sides, and these days he simply tried to comply with as many regulations as possible while doing what he could to genuinely help.

As they walked, Stevie and Dunstan called out various aspects of the apparatus to him. Jerry noted the exceptions to what he already knew and tried to fit in the rest. But his attention was also caught by the interactions of the immigrating sapients around him with the rigid rules given faces by the occasionally sadistic and relishing, but often hapless and apologetic guards. Inasmuch as he would be joining them soon, listening to how they handled things was also valuable. The mostly calm but commanding tones of the guards were familiar to him, as were the tones of the crowd in response: often polite and even apologetic, some surly, some conceiving to gain some advantage from the implacable system by treating its human servants to varying levels of calculated indignance or artistic screeching.

He caught fragments of conversation as he walked past them, treading in secure areas where only guards were permitted to pass.

“Ma’am, these are chocolate covered espresso beans. You cannot bring them to Equestria. No, I understand that Equestrians can eat chocolate and can also drink coffee, unlike Terrestrial horses. However, they have listed chocolate products containing caffeine as Schedule A restricted, meaning that it has the potential to impact resources necessary to the security of the state. No, I do not know what that means either, but you cannot bring them in.”

By the time Jerry stopped listening to that, Stevie was finishing up an anecdote.

“We caught some silly idiot trying to dig a tunnel. A freaking tunnel. And where the rest of them went to, we had no idea. We had to call in the BCU in for a search and rescue mission…”

Jerry’s eye was caught by another commotion.

“Sir, you cannot bring those in here! Sir! They are non-sapient mules. They are not permitted entry here. They cannot even be issued visas—”

“You must let them in,” declaimed a calm gentleman in a sweeping yellow cloak. “They have informed me that they wish to apply for asylum from their owner.”

“You…” The guard seemed ready to weep as he reached for the police hotline. “You aren’t their actual owner, are you?”

Jerry tuned into Stevie’s words enough to figure that she was discussing metal detector operation, on which topic he was sufficiently informed to disregard most of what she was saying.

“Ma’am, this is beef jerky. It is a schedule B restricted substance. You cannot bring this into Equestria. The ponies have actual dungeons, Ma’am…”

Nearby, Jerry got his first close look at an Equestrian Guard. She was dressed in modern armor designs, one area in which the ponies had learned some valuable things from humanity. Instead of the traditional burnished and magically resistant bronze, she wore a comfortable barding of padded and enchanted Kevlar. She was what Jerry figured, from his introductory pamphlets, to be an Earth pony, meaning she was the kind that most closely resembled a real horse, if one disregarded the pastel teal hair. She was certainly larger than the average pony he’d seen on the news, close to the size of an Earth horse; perhaps the guards just bred larger. She was leaning over a conveyor belt with passing parcels, doing a sort of weird grimace with her teeth and inhaling deeply, and occasionally nosing one package off to the side for further inspection.

“What’s going on there?” asked Jerry.

“Looks weird, doesn’t it?” said Dunstan. “That’s how horses smell things, when they want to do a thorough job. She’s sniffing the packages.”

“Couldn’t they be using a dog for that?” inquired Jerry.

“Equestrian noses are just as sensitive as dog noses,” explained Dunstan, “and there’s the added benefit that they can just tell us what they’ve found.”

“Ah, looks like she got something interesting,” observed Stevie, as the mare opened a satchel with her teeth and extracted a plastic bag containing suspicious green buds.

“I admit I’ve seen people try just about anything,” said Jerry. “But why bring drugs into Equestria?” His mental vision of the mystical land was something like a parody of an acid trip, with bright orange hills and paisley fields and dancing Heffalumps.

“Well, there is a legal point,” said Dunstan. “The… contraband is not illegal in Equestria. It is still of course illegal here. So you can certainly have it when you’re in Equestria, but it can’t go through this checkpoint.”

“Ah. …But why does the Equestrian here seem to be pocketing the contraband?”

“She may have missed breakfast,” said Stevie with the most mordant deadpan expression Jerry had ever seen. “In any case, we tend to worry more about things going in the opposite direction, and harder drugs in any case. We wouldn’t waste a prosecutor’s time with small amounts like this.”

“Equestria is exporting drugs? Here?” Jerry’s mental image of Equestria as a dayglow-colored land lit by blacklight bulbs and lava lamps became even more inaccurate.

“Well, your training materials covered the Changelings, right?” asked Stevie.

It turned out they hadn’t.

“Well, it’s a bit complicated, because nowadays there are some good Changelings, but there are still some… of questionable ethics who lurk about. We suspect that they are making arrangements with human groups of similarly questionable ethics. We’ve stopped a few shipments so far, but we know there’s more out there. You’ll be helping us to keep an eye out for such things, of course.”

They walked on, and Jerry noticed a cart that was being brought in on the From Equestria line. It was pulled by two large muscular Equestrians, and the cart was piled high with a stack of what looked like four by fours.

“Is there a market for magical lumber on Earth?” he asked. He’d had a vague impression that the trees and their wood should be bright, hot candy pink.

“Those are actually steel girders,” said Stevie.

“Uhm… Okay, I will take your word for it.”

“Equestrians turned out to be very very good at metallurgy, and they have plenty of ore to spare,” explained Dunstan. The Earth ponies understand the soil—and by extension, metal—deeply, and once you can make them understand what you want, which is admittedly the tricky part because of the cultural barriers, they can perform amazing feats for you.
And Unicorn-powered magical sintering techniques are opening a whole new world of materials engineering. It’s an exciting time to be alive!”

“Anyway,” continued Stevie, with a side glance at Dunstan, “they transmute the girders into a smaller, lighter form to make them easier to transport. The effect doesn’t last forever, particularly on Earth, which drains away magic fairly rapidly. These boards will revert to their original form within two days.

“Gotcha. I suppose it would suck to build a house out of them in the meantime.”

“You would be unpleasantly surprised,” said Dunstan.

They passed through several more security cordons, at each of which Stevie waved her security pass over a scanner. Jerry noticed that the pass took on a purple glow at these occasions, and glanced at Dunstan. “Magic,” he said. We’re using some Equestrian spellwork to aid security. The pass ID is literally unforgeable.” Jerry had some reservations about that, but kept them quiet.

Soon, they had arrived at a metal staircase which ascended in a square spiral to a small office that had originally been a cargo container, but now rested on a platform about two stories up, an excellent post from which to oversee the entire operation. As they climbed, their boots clanging against the rough metal risers, Jerry kept hoping for a stray breeze from the outer gates to relieve the stifling heat, but it never arrived. But he felt a drip from above, and looking up again he saw an air conditioner mounted in the wall of the office. He spent the rest of the climb looking forward to the blessed blast of coolness at the end.

At the top, Stevie raised her pass, and the door to the office opened with a beep and a brief purple glow. She and Dunstan entered, and Jerry followed them expectantly into a stifling cargo container being roasted in the lowermost pits of hell, if Jerry was any judge of hot places. The groaning, ancient air conditioner was doing little more than moving the hot air around the room.

Jerry was led through a haze of introduction in which he failed to get everyone’s name and would feel silly if he had to ask again, a situation he’d resolved in the past by glancing at nametags. After this, everyone quickly sat down. Jerry observed the pecking order as Stevie headed straight for the desk with the largest rotating fan. The two other people already in the office rearranged themselves by rank after her and Dunstan, in order of best benefit from the remaining airflow. Jerry was left in a corner by the door to become slowly cooked into stew inside his uniform and Kevlar armor.

“Is there any reason we can’t open a window?” he asked Dunstan.

“Security, mainly. They didn’t install the more expensive kind of security window with ventilation. They spent so much money on refitting this old building for security purposes that they undid all the benefits of buying a cheap property in the first place. We’re trying to get a new AC worked into next year’s budget. In the meantime, we’re just using workarounds.”

“Okay, Jerry,” said Stevie. “I think we’ll continue your orientation by GODDAMMIT!” She whirled to pick up a chiming phone that was ten times louder than the other ones, holding up her finger at Jerry to immobilize his attention as she spoke. “Uhuh. Uhuh. No! Uhhuh. Nuh-huh. Are they flipping CRAZY?” She stabbed the mute button. “Jerrythisisgoingtotakeawhilepleaseexcuseme!” She stabbed mute again, and launched back into the fray.

Dunstan had headed for a table with some wilted-looking snacks set out. “Ugh!” he exclaimed. “Did Rashid buy the salsa again before he left? This stuff tastes like it came from New J—uh, NY. Get something real next time!”

“Get it yourself, next time!” said someone whose name was Trisha, or Tesha, who was stationed at a panel of fifteen security monitors. She spun around on her chair. “So anyway, Jerry, we were having a discussion before you came in. What’s your view of the future? Better with the partnership of the Equestrians, or not?”

Jerry was tempted to look for a trap in this question, but she seemed sincere. “Optimism. And you?”

“A dystopian tale.” She sighed. “I find myself disillusioned by the future’s promise. We’ve reached a dead-end, friends.”

“I live for sweeter dreams,” said someone whose name was Raoul or Harold, who was alternately typing away at a terminal and shoving wads of paper into a shredder. “When I compare what we once were, to what we strive to become… then the future seems twice as bright. Perhaps all potential futures are hidden in our one reality.”

“That’s a game of pones, not people,” Tresha said.

“Maybe people should be more like ponies, in some regards,” said Rahrld.

“Oh, God, don’t tell me you’re one of them,” she said. It would be just like you, wouldn’t it? Please tell me you’re not one of them. Are you one of them, Jerry?

“YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MOTHERFLIPPING MIND—” shouted Stevie into the phone.

Jerry chose to be more tactful. “Uhm, who are ‘They’, anyway?” he asked.

“Hah! That’s just my point!” she crowed. “Who even knows who they are! Do they even know themselves?” She darted an odd look at Rohurld, then turned back to her monitors.

Jerry shot a look of his own at Dunstan, who just rolled his eyes and waggled a finger near his head. Well, Jerry had had to put up with weirdos as co-workers in the past; why would people who worked around magical ponies everyday be any less likely to have popped a cork?

Just then, Jerry heard the sounds of several people clanging on the outer landing, as if they were wearing steel boots. “We’ve got some loud visitors, eh?” he chuckled.

The door opened, and a single Equestrian guard entered the room, folding his wings. Oops, thought Jerry.

“Hi, Panz!” cried most of the people in the room, Stevie slamming down her phone by way of winning the argument.

“Hello, everyone,” said Panz, smiling in what struck Jerry as a hideous way and drawing a deep breath. It was that horse smelling trick again. “Uh, It’s a bit stuffy in here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, tell us about it, Panz,” said Stevie. “The AC unit’s on the fritz again.” She lifted an eyebrow.

Panz made an exasperated horse noise. “Stevie, I love you, but I can’t do this for you guys all the time. I’m as busy as you are, and likely more. Old Mare Meadows is retiring in two months, and I have a shot at moving up when she leaves. I’ve got to conserve my energy and stay focussed…”

“Sometimes friendship is tragic, Panz. Please, for me?”

Panz rolled his eyes. “Oh, okay.”

Panz spread his wings, reared up rampant, and drew a deep breath. Stevie felt and smelled a presence in the air, which he would later learn was the sweetish ozone of magical force. The moisture in the air condensed into a small cloud of steam, which formed into a small funnel that went down a drainage grate in the floor. The air in the room was now blessedly cooler. “That should hold for about an hour,” said Panz.

Stevie leaned back in her chair. “Wow, that’s great, Panz! Thank you very much!”

Raharl stood up and stretched his back “I’m going to run to the vending machine. Anyone else want a drink?”

“Me! Alcoholic of course…” said Tishra.

Raharl shook his head. “So noted,” he said, and walked out, his expression unreadable.

“So, what brings you here, Panz?” said Stevie. “Anything we should know?”

“Until further notice, all tourist visits to Ponyville are being cancelled. They’ve got a minor infestation of Cutie-Mark fleas—”

Stevie had stopped listening. She was sharing a look with Dunstan.

“Bum, bum, bum—” sang Dunstan.

“Another one bites the butts!” she sang; then they sang together.

“Bum, bum, bum—Another one bites the butts! And another clamps on, and another clamps on—”

“Ahemhrm!” coughed Panz. “I am aware that Cutie-Mark fleas are mainly an annoyance, but that is no reason to make light of those afflicted.”

“No offense was intended, Panz. Sorry.” But the grin didn’t leave Stevie’s face, at least until the phone rang again. “GOD—”

Panz winced and his ears flattened involuntarily.

“—dammit. I have to take this again.” Her eyes softened. “Panz, I hate to be a pain, but Jerry here is taking over for Rashid for a while, and I’m not getting anywhere with his orientation right now. Is there any chance you could take him with you, and show him the ropes on your side?”



Which was how Jerry, for the first time in his life, found himself walking alongside of a genuine Equestrian, trying not to think silly thoughts. Maybe they could read his mind; he just didn’t know. It was somehow worse because he’d had to walk down the stairs himself and the Pegasus had just jumped over the railing and flown down to meet him at the bottom. They were now walking towards the rear gates of the building, where the new warehouse section which contained the portal to Equestria connected to the old building.

“So, uhm…” Jerry sought for conversational topics. “Your name is Panz. Are you named that because you’re big and tough like a tank?”

“It’s short for Pansy Puff,” said Panz, with not a trace of inflection to help Jerry figure out if he was telling the truth or bluffing, or it was true and he was being sarcastically rueful, or it was a bluff and he was being sarcastically arch, or it was true and he was challenging Jerry not to laugh… Jerry’s social intelligence ran out of processing power on this and gave up.

“Jerry, are you possessed of fair mental flexibility?” Panz suddenly inquired.

Jerry paused again to process this. “I like to think so,” he hazarded.

“Good. As newcomers may not know, the magical fields from our realm induce a certain amount of unpredictable events in areas of poor magic drainage, such as Earth. In circumstances like these, it is well to keep an open and flexible mind. Do you understand?

“I think so. As long as you don’t let it turn to mania, I guess. Like those complete opposites, Tesha and Raoul, that I’ve looked at—”

“Love, from both sides now, would not be lost. Their friendship, a test subject to their challenging environment, nonetheless endures, and will soon ripen to visible romance. So my nose tells me.”

“Your nose? Tell me you’re joking…

“Please, please tell me you’re joking.”

“I am most serious,” said Panz. “In that tightly packed office, with that heat, your pheromones reveal more about you humans than you would be comfortable to hear me relate. So I will only state the obvious, and spare your feelings.”

“I see,” said Jerry, wishing he could excuse himself to take a shower.

“Here we are,” exclaimed Panz, walking up to a small door that stood beside the large processing gate. He turned and placed his butt against the card reader, an act that made Jerry’s brain lock up for a moment until he realized that Panz’s security pass was mounted on that part of his armor, near a transparent section that showed his Cutie Mark. Whatever helps security, Jerry thought, comforting himself with the knowledge that he only had two weeks of this to go.

The door opened, and from it came a gentle breeze, a breath of fresh air, smelling of deep forests and flowing streams, open fields of sweet flowers, and an occasional hint of horse sweat.

Jerry stepped through, and beheld a thing like a huge oval mirror, a hundred feet high, linked to cables that ran to pulsing machines that connected to the massive roof antenna. And through this mirror was a green field, and the cleanest, most orderly security setup Jerry had ever seen, all being run by horses. There were neat orderly lines without shouting loudmouths or weeping geshryers, there was a children’s play area where the kids were amusing themselves with balls and swingsets, there were even two kids—well a kid and a foal, Jerry guessed—that were playing target practice with a padded bow and arrow set. Briefly, he was ashamed of his own people, but that was no way to get along with people you had to work with. “It looks very efficient,” he told Panz, who just nodded.

“We’ll need to get you an extended badge and finish up more forms before you can step through to the other side,” said Panz, “but you can see enough from here to get you started. Our security setup mirrors the logic of yours to a great degree, and indeed we mostly modeled it on your approach. Our leaders appreciate well conducted and balanced processes—”

And that was when it happened. On the other side of the portal, in the line of people awaiting processing for admission to Earth, a large woman in a yellow dress was screaming and clutching at her satchel. A blue Pegasus with a red mane had the handle in his mouth and was tugging with determination. She suddenly lost her grip and fell over backward, and the thief sailed skyward with his prize, cackling with glee.

“Come on, Jerry!” shouted Panz.

“What—?”

“No time!” Panz bit down on Jerry’s uniform shoulder and yanked him into the air as he waved his arms and squawked. Panz then backed under Jerry before he could fall. Jerry landed on Panz’s back, his legs behind Panz’s strong flapping wings. Panz threw himself forward, and Jerry instinctively clutched at Panz’s mane and squeezed his legs tight to keep a grip. In a moment, they were both through the portal into Equestria. The magic field stretched with resistance around them like a layer of static-charged plastic wrap, then it popped soundlessly and fresh clean unpolluted air and golden alien sunshine hit Jerry in the face like the breath of a goddess.

“Don’t worry, Jerry, we’ll square up the paperwork later.” said Panz. He was speaking at normal volume, but somehow it carried well to Jerry through the rushing air. “Some air time will look good on your annual review. It’s your first time on our side, eh? Hope you like my homeland.”

“It’s…” Jerry paused in awe. Gone were the LSD fantasies he had pictured, replaced by something stranger, but not random; something real. This was a magical fairy land in truth, pastoral and peaceful, under a sky with more blue than Earth’s sky had room to contain, with rolling blue mountains in the distance dominated by an utterly impossible titanic spire with an equally impossible palace clinging to its side, a splendid wonder of blue granite growing a flower of alabaster and gold. “It’s beautiful.” He had no better words.

“I’ll take you on a tour later. Let’s catch that arseclown now!” Jerry could see that two Pegasus guards were now flanking them, aiding the pursuit. He stared after the fleeing suspect, and his eyes narrowed. The thief was glancing back at them. There was something about that look…

“Take us back, now!” yelled Jerry, wishing that Panz were wearing reins.

“Sorry Jerry, no turning back. You’re here for the ride now. We’re close to outpacing them—”

“Wait, Panz, this is a distraction. He wants us to chase him, I swear it. Get us back to the portal now!”

“You’re sure?” Panz looked back with a searching eye.

“Dead sure. You can blame it on me if I’m wrong.”

“Okay, but if I lose my promotion over this, I am going to make your life wet, gray and miserable all next week. Airgale, Slipstream! Keep after them!” Panz flared his wings and came to a halt that almost violated physical law, and Jerry fought to keep down his lunch. Panz kicked back against something invisible, and he and Jerry hurtled back towards the portal.

Panz made a galloping four-point landing, and Jerry yelled, “LOCKDOWN! HALT ALL TRAFFIC! BOTH SIDES!” He reached to an emergency switch on a nearby pole, opened it with his security pass, and punched the button inside. Alarms chimed and doors closed.

“You’re in it knee-deep now, Jerry. You’d better be right,” said Panz. “By the way, you can get off me now.”

“Huh? Yeah. Umh…” Jerry had never ridden a horse and didn’t know how to dismount. He was suddenly unsure of his balance and where he could politely put his hands.

“Oh, Celly’s Sunrise! It’s okay, jump down!” Panz said. “Alright, hold on, then…”

Panz bucked his back, and Jerry went flying into the air again. The air around Jerry suddenly felt thicker, and he landed safely, though he skidded as his shoes touched the floor.

“I’m sure you have security cameras on this side?” he said. “Or something similar?”

Panz led him to a crystal ball on an ornate stand. He touched his nose to it, and it started to play the past few minutes in a scene that projected itself on the air. Over intercoms, guards chattered, the complaints of the delayed travelers rumbled like ocean waves, and Jerry could note from the corner of his eye the presence of Stevie heading his way beyond the portal, with a very serious expression on her face, one that could make snakes faint and rocks crumble. I’d better be right, indeed, he thought. But no, it has to be, I’m sure—

“There!” he said. “Could you back it up a bit?” He pointed to the children and foals playing in the free area beyond the checkpoint, then traced a line in the scene to one cart. “There, see it? It’s so quick it’s hard to see, but it has to be that one.”

“Okay,” said Panz. “Let’s go check it out.”

They passed through the portal again, and Jerry felt it the moment the old hot muggy polluted air smacked him in the face. It smelled like the goddess’s other end. He prepared his explanations and approached Stevie, with what he hoped was a professionally serious expression untinged by apprehension. Soon, the three of them were marching for the cart.

The cart had reached the Earth exit inspection station for processing before the lines halted, and next to it stood a green unicorn with a bored expression. “Can’t smell anything on it,” he said.

“It’s been searched for transfigured contraband?” said Panz.

“Well, no. That would take forever to do for each shipment, and besides, they already inspected it on the Equestrian side—”

“Well, going by what we saw on the tape, it’s probably this one.” Jerry indicated one of the boards. Panz pulled it out by his teeth, tossed it off to the side. “Check that one out in detail, please.”

A minute later, the unicorn, muttering curses, cast a full dispellment on the stick while all stood back. It stayed exactly the same.

“Wait a minute,” said the unicorn. “That should have been enough to revert it…” He sniffed at the beam, then lifted his hoof and brought it down at one end. The beam splintered, revealing a hollow inside, and brown paper packages. The unicorn sniffed again, and his nostrils wrinkled. “Oh, my, yes. This is that heroin you humans hate so much. Good catch, there.”



“So the joke’s on me, I guess, ’cause I still don’t get this,” said Dunstan, as they all met back in the office at the end of the day.

“Well, first, let’s understand a few things about transfiguration,” said Stevie. “The steel girders were transmuted into smaller and lighter-weighted sticks, using an enchantment meant to last only a day or so until they got to their destination on Earth. They aren’t transmuted any smaller than they are because that hastens the time until they revert to what they were.

“So this load of sticks gets inspected by the Equestrians, and passed, by the book, above board and all proper. Now it’s heading towards the portal to pass through our side and get another, admittedly less intense inspection.

“But at this point, there’s that debacle. The changelings did whatever they do in the shadows, and became that fat woman and slim pegasus in the crowd. They cause their shenanigans, and everyone looks at the commotion as one of them flies off, and the guards pursue.”

“And right at that point when no one’s looking,” said Jerry, “that foal in the back of the video there, the one playing with the kid who has a toy bow and arrow? That’s not a foal and probably not a kid. They’re more of these Changelings, who now have an excuse to carry around a bunch of little wooden sticks, like miniature versions of the ones loaded in the cart.

“And one of them is a stick that’s been transfigured several times,” continued Stevie. “It started as bags of heroin, which got transfigured to steel. This got put in a steel box, and that got transfigured into a wooden stick like the ones in the cart. And, a short while before all the troubles begin for us, that stick gets transfigured into a little arrow. Get it? The H is three levels deep now.

“So, while everyone is distracted by the escaping pegasus, the ‘kid’ shoots this ‘arrow,’ probably aided with levitation magic, into the cart that’s just heading through the interface between worlds. The extra layer of transfiguration wears off quickly, and now it’s a wooden stick of transfigured steel that was transfigured from a load of heroin.

“Now, on a day that nothing arose, we’d do it differently, but there are no days where nothing arises, right?” They all nodded. “A cursory reading won’t find the heroin, but just encounters wood reading magically as transfigured steel, which is all the scanning spell expects to see anyway. It gets a perfunctory scan, then it heads out to its listed destination, only something delays it on the way, and that extra beam gets removed when the driver isn’t looking.”

“Human agents on Earth must have found a way to contact the rogue Changeling hives, or perhaps it was the other way around,” said Panz. “It will be very difficult to stop them from growing and manufacturing such substances, so we’ll all have to be rather more vigilant going forward.” He made a sad horse noise that sounded a bit like a razzberry. “Addictive substances used for love harvesting. Love goes to the rogue Changelings, cash to the pushers, death to the addicts, around and around. The gift that keeps on giving.”

“And this’ll be the first…” Stevie sighed. “…last time that it works. I hope.” She turned to Jerry. “Nice going there, champ. You’ve made a good start here.”

“All in a day’s work,” said Jerry. “But this is really just an old idea with a new twist. I can’t tell you how often I see the distraction con in my regular rotation. Know thine enemy, and all that.”

“Very well done indeed,” said Panz. “And while it’s too premature to make any promises, I think some reins might well be pulled, should I succeed in gaining my promotion, to extend your rotation here beyond two weeks. I think you have a great deal to share with us, and I could use my advanced position to enhance your career considerably. It would be the very least I could do for you, considering how much you’ve helped me and helped us all…”

And for a moment, Panz thought, Jerry’s expression suggested that he was standing exactly in the middle between two piles of hay.
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#1 · 2
· · >>Baal Bunny
I'm trying really hard to figure out the author's intent here. It was starting pretty standard, and I was warming up to the idea of the border checkpoint between our worlds. It's neat. I like it. I also really like the word Checkpoint. Just a really great word.

But everything kind of went awry in the office scene. I know heat makes people act weird, but my god, did people start acting weird. Suddenly shouting and a lot of unprofessional behavior (in contrast to the professionalism before it), one guy seems to have his name changed every line ohhhhhhh now that I write this I remember you saying that Jerry couldn't remember people's names. I guess that one's my bad. But still an awkward joke to use when suddenly nobody is a consistent character.

And then I started to notice the prompts... And just in case this is one of our new entrants, psst, the idea isn't to drop as many prompts as possible. And when you do this it it keeps breaking my concentration, but maybe you wanted that?

See this is what I mean, I don't know how seriously I'm meant to take this story.

After this, the story takes a rather drastic left turn into conflict, which is good, I was wondering where that was, and I even liked how the transfiguration twist was disguised as unimportant worldbuilding. But it all feels very hand-wavy in how it was resolved. Our friend Jerry was just suddenly able to figure everything out with nothing more than a smirk from a bad guy. Sherlock would be impressed, but I just felt lost and disconnected.

That's my take, anyways. Thanks for writing!
#2 · 1
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I agree with >>Miller Minus:

It's a fun and interesting setting, but the characters don't ever really come together. I'm still not sure if Jerry's glad to be working this site or not. Does he just want to do his job for a week and a half and then get back to the "real world," or is he looking forward to this experience? Let us get to know Jerry by the things he thinks, the things he feels, and the things he takes note of in his surroundings, and that'll draw us into the world and the story.

Mike
#3 · 1
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Good Stuff: Border control between Equestria and Earth isn't a new concept, but I like this "look at the office" approach. Jerry was our guided tour through the inner workings of customs, and as a workplace piece I had fun seeing how both sides dealt with drug smuggling and security risks. The changeling scheme was quite clever too, especially the way you fitted all the little details together that we just saw. All throughout, I was wondering how this one was going to go, so kudos for that! Not every fic can do that.

Bad Stuff: I had a hard time connecting to any of the characters, especially when the prompts started showing up. I lost track of who was doing what, and I think you need to cut down the named characters to Stevie, Jerry, and Panz who had distinctive parts to play (the guide, the newcomer, and the main pony presence). The rest are just bleh. As much as I like the tour guide and the crime reveal at the end, I don't think they mesh together into a strong whole. It goes against the "unexpected" in the Good Stuff I listed, but maybe sprinkle more hints so I know there's a mystery to solve. And mention early that changelings can turn into humans, because as it is it felt like a contrivance.

Verdict: Mid Tier. This one is messy and tangled, but once tidied up and tied together properly, I think you have the makings of a strong rope. It's enjoyable when you can follow what's going on. And I would get rid of those prompts. They're just distracting.
#4 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
There's a lot of good worldbuilding and hypothesizing here. I love stories that focus on the nitty-gritty details of Earth-Equestria relations, and I don't think I've come across one that deals with the Customs inspections that each nation must have in place. It's neat to think about.

So, that's fantastic. However, I have to say that at a certain point it begins to weigh on the story. Let's consider how that plays out:

This story is ~5,900 words long. The first ~4,100 words are spent explaining the setup. It's not until that point that the actual conflict takes place -- the smuggling effort and Jerry's role in stopping it. That conflict takes up exactly 1,079 words.

Think about that. Only 18 percent of this story deals with the actual conflict. The rest is establishing the world, developing the characters, and the conclusion.

I feel like this is a composition problem. Yeah, there is other conflict present – Jerry feels awkward on his first day on the job! – but that's not a real conflict. Not a real literary conflict, anyway. It's just life. A considerable rebalance of effort might be useful here, and reading some of the other comments, I think the other readers agree.
#5 · 1
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I agree with everybody else here that the worldbuilding and the ideas are really nice. It's also a very interesting twist to focus on an area where ponies are more morally grey than humans. The whole gritty "Earth-and-Equestria-meet" genre usually focuses solely on humans being the "evil" ones, so flipping that cliche on its head was super clever.

I'm not as bothered as >>Cold in Gardez was by the pacing problems, but I did notice them and I want to note it. What bothered me a tick more was the characters. So much of this story focuses on the mutual weirdness that humans and Equestrians experience when meeting each other, and much of this weirdness deals with purely physical traits. So while I understand that Panz's sense of smell, his weather-crafting, and even his name are strange and a little disturbing to Jerry, this doesn't tell us much about either Panz or Jerry in terms of their character.

I understand that much of the purpose of this story is to isolate the main character, but this does seem to clash a little with the ending, where the point seems to be that Jerry is forming connections with the other members of the border guard. The cause of this shift in tone—Jerry figuring out the smuggling scheme with his Earthly experience—does not feel emotional enough to sell itself, IMO. The ending in general also just feels a bit abrupt to me.

So, while I really liked the ideas and the tidbits of worldbuilding that we're given, I'm having trouble parsing out a wider narrative arc from this piece. If you do choose to work some more on this story, I would suggest tightening your focus on your theme and shaping your characters better in order to meet that theme.