By WarriorJoe.

In which canons are tortured, Agents feel tortured to watch the torture, and the tortuous torture shows just what effect a fresh Word-World has when pushed.

= = =

I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; it is the property of Hasbro, Incorporated, and was created by Lauren Faust and Jayson Theissen. The PPC was created by Jay and Acacia, and all Agents and characters not otherwise stated are the property of their respective creators, and either used with permission or free-to-use, depending.

Fritz Sorgebrunnen, Silas Tau Ceti, Narcolepsy, James Fairchild, Gauri Narain, and Snapshot are all my creations, and as such are the intellectual property of myself, WarriorJoe.

This fic can, in the words of Kanji Tatsumi, get bent.

= = =

So, the Floating Hyacinth “said”, watching the agents standing at the edge of her pool, welcome back to service.

The man on the right smiled and nodded. “I’d say it’s a pleasure, ma’am, but I’ve been here long enough to know otherwise.” Fritz Sorgebrunnen definitely looked the part of the changed man, the Hyacinth thought. He had lost weight on the FicPsych diet, and apparently gained back quite a few other things he’d lost besides his marbles--what had been growing bags under his eyes had disappeared, and those eyes themselves looked considerably healthier, bright and gleaming like polar ice in the sun. His smile no longer looked like it wanted to be anywhere in the world that wasn’t on his face.

The “man” to his left gave his partner a filthy look with one eye, while bowing to the Hyacinth and watching her with the other. “Apologies, ma’am.” Silas Tau Ceti hadn’t changed much, by comparison, though if anything he’d gained some weight thanks to Fitzgerald’s revised dietary recommendations. But according to Medical’s reports, his mind had only grown sharper without anything to distract it during the long period of recovery--and he’d picked up something of a smile, as well.

Accepted, Agent Silas. The Hyacinth directed their attention to a small stack of papers on the edge of the pool. And it is a good thing you are back in service. You two are desperately needed on a particular canon we’re short on.

Silas cocked his head. “What, One Piece? I know we’ve never had many people on that but I didn’t think it was active enough to require bringing us back.”

Bringing you two back was a personal endeavor on the parts of Doctors Fitzgerald and Freedenberg, the Hyacinth replied. And you can thank them later. But as you’ll remember, in your reconditioning, we used what was then a new My Little Pony show in the later stages, at the recommendation of the Department of Angst.

Fritz nodded. “Yes, I remember. It was quite good, actually, I was surprised.”

And not only you. The Hyacinth moved the papers into the light; on top was a chart which was going up so steeply it was nearly vertical. The show has attracted an explosive fandom, both in size and ferocity. Since the first season ended in May we estimate its size to have tripled, at the least. And it was not small, before that.

Fritz’s new smile vanished. “Tripled? You’re joking.”

You know better than that, Agent Sorgebrunnen. The Hyacinth moved down the stack; most of it looked fairly grotesque even at a glance. Not only was the fandom growing, but the lack of new content over the summer had caused large parts of it to turn nasty. Because this has happened so quickly, Personnel has been slow to move new Agents into training on this canon, and we are desperately short. So, to say the least, we are behind on our work, here. She moved another sheet; at the bottom of the pile were six or seven closely typed pages, with a notation in red ink at the top in block print.

It read “CUPCAKES. CERTIFIED BADFIC. AGENT GAURI NARAIN, DEPARTMENT OF INTELLIGENCE.

Silas frowned, and winced slightly, still unused to the motion. “Cupcakes. That was a song, right? I’ve only seen the show, nothing of the fandom, so it doesn’t sound familiar.”

“It is to me.” Fritz’s face was now hard as granite, and he was staring at the cover sheet as though he could burn a hole in it with his mind. “I got a hold of a copy while I was in recovery, I forget why. Put me into relapse for a week after I read it.” He looked up, at the Hyacinth. “There’s got to be worse out there, there always is, but I doubt anything else is as notorious. You’re certainly not giving us light duty to start with, ma’am.”

No, Agent Sorgebrunnen, I am not. The Hyacinth sat utterly still in the water. I have no other options.

And though Fritz and Silas didn’t say it, she could tell that that admission terrified them.

= = =

        “I still can’t believe the Hyacinth is putting you right back out on the force,” James Fairchild muttered.

        “Consider it an emergency order, if it helps,” Fritz replied.

James just sighed. He was sitting at the console chair of RC 518, watching Fritz and Silas dig through the only piece of furniture that had survived the Christmas Incident--Fritz’s wardrobe. They were both fully inside at that point and he had to wonder just how big it was. “You guys haven’t missed that much. No major crises or anything.” He pondered his own words for a second. “Well, that’s not true. Makes-Things came back.”

There was a very loud curse from inside the wardrobe, and Fritz’s head popped out. “What?

“He came back.”

“What, like, brought back? Cloning?” Fritz paused, rubbing his chin. “Was that crazy vacation theory someone espoused true?”

“No, he just... came back. One day he wasn’t there, the next day he was.”

Fritz stared at James for a good five seconds before shaking his head. “Some days I don’t understand how this place works.” He disappeared back into the wardrobe.

James spun around in the chair, leaning against its back. “Beyond that, we were assigned a new Technician--his name is Zerenze, they say he’s from the Halo continuum. A Sangheli.” He shook his head. “He’s nice, and quite competent, but I don’t trust him.”

This time it was Silas’ head that poked out of the wardrobe. “Why’s that?”

“He’s purple.”

Now Fritz reappeared, carrying the exorcism sack. “What? Elites aren’t purple.”

James looked abashed. “Well, purple-ish. And he’s an alien.”

Silas looked hurt. “What’s that got to do with--”

“Do me a favor, Silas?” Fritz asked, moving to the console. “Don’t ever read Battlefield Earth. You’ll understand where James is coming from, but you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s terrible.” The portal to the story opened, and Fritz hucked the sack onto his shoulder. “No disguises, I borrowed a DORKS instead for the extra versatility.” He waved behind him--Silas had already gone through. “Seeya, James. Bring the new guy over and we can get to know each other.”

“If you’re not dead crazy again by the time you’re done, sure.” The tech cracked a smile, waving them off. “So long, Fritz.”

And with that, the team from 518 was officially back in operation.

= = =

The pair landed right in the middle of Ponyville, in the middle of the day, which earned another frown from Silas. “Wait, what about disclaimers? Lead-ins? Eggshells, even a content warning?”

“None of that for THIS fic,” Fritz replied, fiddling with the DORKS. “This is the original copy, it just jumps right into the story.” With a loud TWOING sound, the DORKS sprang into life, and Fritz tucked it back into the exorcism sack. “There we are, it should randomize itself every now and then, make us a different pair of backgrounders. Not that it’ll matter once we get into the meat of the thing.”

Silas was already charging for the lack of any kind of warning as the story began to unroll.

The air was warm, the sun was shining, and all of Ponyville was having a glorious day. The town square was bustling and crowded. Busy ponies were making their busy way through the streets. All the pony folk seemed to have somewhere to be.

“Nice to have one with some actual description,” Silas mused, as the word-world happily complied with the description and filled the town square.

“Enjoy it while you can,” Fritz replied, but even so he couldn’t help smiling. The two of them walked across the square in the general direction of Sugarcube Corner as the fic appended, All, except Rainbow Dash. Her place was in the sky.

On perfect cue, a bolt of blue and rainbow slashed across the air above the square, and the Agents watched idly as Rainbow Dash looped and darted through the sky. “First paragraph isn’t that bad,” Fritz said.

Then she remembered that she had somewhere to be; she supposed to meet with Pinkie Pie in five minutes.

He sighed. “Though, of course, it couldn’t last. With that dropped “was” the sentence turns into her supposing she’ll meet Pinkie in five minutes.”

“Charge... for... mangled grammar,” Silas noted. He directed one eye up at the sky as the Words rolled on. “She’s just circling up there.”

“Gives us time to get ahead,” Fritz replied, breaking into a trot. “She’s pretty in-character, too, so I don’t think we’re going to need the exorcism gear.”

“What about Pinkie?”

Fritz looked like he was pondering a response, but at that moment a rather ridiculous-looking chimeric thing popped into existence on his shoulder, promptly curling around his neck. The Agent looked down, frowning. “And I guess YOUR name is Sugercube Corner, you... whatever you are.”

Silas watched as Rainbow Dash arced down from the sky, landing in front of the door to the bakery, and noted that Fritz hadn’t really answered his question.

 “Yay, you’re here, you’re here. I’ve been waiting allll day.” Said the jumping pony.

“Uh... that’s not good,” Silas said, as the two of them slunk into the shop behind Rainbow Dash. With no exclamation marks, Pinkie Pie sounded nothing like herself--in fact, she sounded almost sarcastic.

“Mmm... I think that counts as misused punctuation,” Fritz said. “Possibly something to do with character voice...” He paused, letting the story unwind. “Uh, forgetting to breath? I’m not even sure how to charge that...”

“I’ll put it down as confusing tenses,” Silas replied.

Dash gave a slightly uncomfortable laugh. She always appreciated Pinkie’s friendly, outgoing way of life, but her overabundant enthusiasm almost creeped her out.  Dash was polite, however. If Pinkie was got this worked up, then it must good; whatever it was.

Silas shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like Dash, that sounds like justification. Dash likes Pinkie’s enthusiasm, it took her literally talking to a bucket of turnips to creep her out. Slightly out of character.”

Fritz nodded. "And unless it’s made of wood, Pinkie planing anything is a charge...”

“MAKING CUPCAKES!” Pinkie happily announced.

“Baking”? Dash was disappointed. “Pinkie, you know I’m not good baking.

The Agents gave each other a look. “One count of preposition abuse, or horrible foreshadowing?” Silas cracked, giving his partner a toothy grin.

Fritz choked back a laugh. “Oh, God.”

Pinkie produced a cupcake as from nothing, and after some hesitation, Dash took it and chomped on it.

“Ok, now what?” Dash asked.

“Now,” Pinkie informed “You take a nap.”

“Informed who?” Fritz muttered. “You can’t use informed as a general.” The blue pony dropped to the floor, and he stood upright. “Right, that’s the nice bits done, now we--”

*SKTZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZKZZZZZZZCHRMMMMMMMMMMMMM*

Before the Agents could move, the entire Word-World seemed to lock up and fuzz before their eyes, like a TV screen with someone twisting the alignment knobs. There was a CRASH accompanied by sound of splintering wood, and abruptly the noise stopped.

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were both gone. Where they had been standing, a splintered, ragged hole had appeared in the floor of Sugarcube Corner, and a set of roughly cut wooden stairs led down to an unmarked door.

Both Agents just gaped, horrified, for what had to be ten seconds. “I... I don’t...” Silas stuttered, nearly dropping the pen.

Fritz walked up to the edge of the hole, eyes bulging. "Oh mein Gott, was zur Hölle ist gerade passiert?"

Silas tapped the pad, words lost. “Uh... uh, Creating noncanonical spaces in the middle of Sugarcube Corner? Emperor’s breath, I don’t know...”

Fritz sprang into action, rummaging behind the counter until he came up with a large CLOSED sign. “Silas, shut the blinds, close the upstairs windows.”

“Yessir.”

Fritz ran to the door, hanging the sign on and shutting it. He heard a few disappointed ponies outside as they spotted the sign, but for his part he breathed more easily, slumping against the door. The mini-Thing curled out of his exorcism sack, and he frowned at it, opening a portal to his RC and pushing it through. “Play nice with knucklejoe, you little whatever you are.”

Silas returned in a few moments, worrying out of his head. “Why didn’t it scene-change us? There’s not exactly a big gap in the Words, we should be right there by Rainbow Dash!”

“I don’t know, I don’t know!” Fritz grabbed at his hair, and for a moment he looked very much his old self. Then he stood up, purpose in his stride. “We don’t know, but we’ve got to keep up with the fic. It’s got to be continuing at the bottom of those things. Come on.” He pulled his bat from his belt, striding across the room and descending the stairs at an alarming pace.

Silas followed, more sedately, glumly eying the walls enclosing the stairs. “Fritz, I don’t like this. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Be prepared to like it even less, Silas,” Fritz replied, apprehension in his voice as he laid his hand upon the door. “Neither have I.”

= = =

The two of them peered through the doorway into a room as black as pitch. At the far end, belted to a wooden rack, lit as though by a stage light, was Rainbow Dash.

Silas hissed. “Definitely the right place.”

Fritz choked back a snort as he glanced up at the Words. “Rainbow Dash regained CONCISENESS? You’re kidding me, author.”

Across the room, Pinkie Pie suddenly bounded into the circle of light--looking somewhat sharper than before. “Goodie, you’re awake. Now we can get started,” she stated, and though the Words claimed it was gleeful the punctuation made it sound anything but. She vanished back into the dark, and the Agents slunk into the room, shutting the door behind them.

“Be sure to stand well away from the walls,” Fritz advised, seating himself cross-legged near the back corner. “You don’t want to touch the stuff that will appear when the author kicks off the description.”

“Right.” Silas sat down next to him, flicking on a small reading light so he could continue working the notepad. “Confusing consciousness and conciseness resulting in a canon waking up from being awake...”

The story reeled on, and Silas frowned. “Hang on, does this seem... cleaner, to you, Fritz?”

The senior agent rubbed his chin. “Now that you mention it, yeah. There’s none of the grotesque punctuation mistakes and the Words are actually formatted...”

“Special ingredient?” Dash was now breathing heavily and starting to panic. “What special ingredient?”

Pinkie giggled and responded “You, silly!”

        “And THAT!” Fritz flung out an arm, as if anyone could see it in the darkness. “I remember that line, that didn’t use to have that exclamation mark! Completely changes the inflection!” He gasped, standing up. “We’re in a different edition of the story, one of the fan-edited versions!”

        Silas’ pen ground to a halt. “Fan-edited? This thing has fans?”

        “Yes, and some of them recognized that the original author couldn’t write for beans and ran the thing through an actual spell-check job when he didn’t!” Fritz clasped his forehead, staring at the floor. “This just raises more questions! Why did we jump temporally but not spatially? Why are we in an entirely different version of the story?”

        “Why is Rainbow Dash getting scared instead of angry?” Silas offered. “She’s not a wilting lily, once she recognized there was no reasoning with Pinkie she should have been bucking at the restraints.”

        Fritz paused his reverie. “Good point. Charge for that--not entirely out of character but OOC nonetheless.”

        “And besides, no will find out. I mean, how long do you think I’ve been doing this?”

        “Charge for that,” Silas muttered, scribbling dropped identifiers on the notepad. “I’m getting really sick of--”

        The lights “came to life”, and true to the style of MLP turned into firefly lamps, kicking brightness out across a room that, for a moment, would have done a horror film proud. And then, the Word-World fuzzed again. The lights fizzed and the whole scene lost resolution, going from Flash 8 back to Hee Haw.

Colorful streamers of dried entrails danced around the ceiling, brightly painted skulls of all sizes were stuck on the walls, and organs done up in pastels filled with helium tied to the backs of chairs. The tables and chairs were made of bones and flesh of past ponies. Dash cringed at the center piece on the table nearest to her. The heads of four foals, their eyes closed like they were sleeping, wearing party hats made from their own skin.

Fritz hauled Silas to his feet, walking towards the front of the room. “So this is where all the description went. I don’t think you can even manage half of th--”

The world fuzzed again, and the Agents felt their eyes drawn to the aforementioned centerpiece. For a moment, it slid into perfect focus, and one of the heads turned into the supporting character Twist. Then, another fuzz, and it was gone.

Silas shook his head. “Oh, Emperor, what is going on here?”

Fritz pulled out his own notepad. “Uh, I’m not sure, but I’m charging them for killing Twist anyways. And...” He tapped his pen on his chin. “Charge for remaking the Hansel and Gretel cottage in cannibal chic.”

“What’s that?”

“Old fairy story.” Fritz looked up. “Hey, check out the duds. Mehr von diesem Schund.”

Silas snorted as the Word-World knitted Pinkie’s elaborate--and grisly--garment. “Has this author ever worn leather? A dress made of hip cuttings would chafe a full layer of scales off my hide in a day.”

Irrational clothing, charged.” Fritz tucked the notepad away, watching. “And horse leather, at that.”

Dash pleaded. “Pinkie please, I’m sorry if I did anything to you. I didn’t mean it. Please let me go. I promise I won’t tell anybody.”

“Oh Dash, you didn’t do anything. It’s just that your number came up and, well, I don’t make rules. We can’t turn back now.”

Fritz scoffed. “Numbers coming up? Rules? Is this author trying to crib from The Lottery?”

Out of seemingly nowhere, Pinkie displayed a blue and yellow painted skull. It was about pony sized, but it had a very defining feature: a beak.

“HAMMERSPACE!” Fritz shouted, pantomiming taking a drink.

Silas just stared. “Wait, wait.”

Dash was freaking out. “Is…is that….is…that?”

        The world FUZZED again, this time louder and more... angry-sounding. The scene came back into sharp focus, to the point of detecting the cracks on the skull.

        Silas dropped to his knees, clutching his head. “Now she’s killing characters for no reason at all!”

        Fritz moaned, rolling on the floor. “That was always the case... scheisse, my head, what the hell are these static things...”

        Pinkie broke into a long monologue about killing Gilda, and Silas groped around in the dark for the notepad. “Charging for killing a major supporting character... for having Pinkie EAT that supporting character...” He paused, one clawed hand on the notepad. “Hm, not quite cannibalism if it’s a different species, is it?”

        “Call it consumption of a sentient species,” Fritz replied from his position on the floor. “Or maybe just eating a supporting character, that should cover that. Hell, do both.” He rubbed his temples as Silas scribbled. “Uhhh, this must be the corrected version again, add one or two dropped conjunctive charges...”

Dash didn’t have anything to say. She just sobbed and writhed in her tight bonds.

“Well” said Pinkie with an air of finality, “that’s enough reminiscing. It’s time to begin.”

Fritz rolled over onto his stomach, singing. “When they begiiiiiin... oof, the Beguiiiiiine...”

Putting down Gilda’s skull, the pink pony gripped a scalpel in the cleft of her hoof and walked over to Dash’s right flank.

        Both Agents sputtered, scrabbling to get closer to the scene but staying out of the light. Sure enough, Pinkie’s hoof had developed a cleft, like a goat’s, and the scalpel was wedged into it.

        Fritz just gaped. Silas hunched over the notepad, furious. “Right, that’s bad biology and misrepresenting canonical designs and using hooves as hands and blatantly damn ignoring the show...”

        “Drop the last one, replace it with making excuses,” Fritz cut in coldly, whirling around and stalking into the dim light of the rest of the room. “Where the hell did I drop my bat?”

        “Is that a real charge?”

        “It is ‘cause I say it is!” the human Agent called back. “And, for the record, I don’t need a CAD to tell that that THING is a replacement!”

        Silas nodded, adding replacing the character of Pinkie Pie to the list and watching as the thing in the red dress skinned off Rainbow Dash’s cutie marks. “Does it need to take this long?” he muttered, glancing at the Words. “And all the mentions of tears, Emperor’s breath. It feels fetishistic somehow.”

        From the other end of the room, there came a loud curse in German as Fritz tripped over one of the pieces of bone furniture. Silas snickered, calling out as the replacement waved Dash’s cutie marks in her own face. “HAVING TROUBLE?”

        “I found it,” came the reply, getting closer in the dim light. “But these damned knickknacks are impossible to spot in this light, and they’re at the perfect-- AAAAGH!”

        A crash, and Fritz skidded into Silas’ sight range, one of the bone chairs hanging off his foot as the replacement picked up a butcher knife. He gave his partner a sheepish look. “The perfect height for me to trip over.”

        “You are a bit... crunched in this world, aren’t you,” Silas mused. “Myself, I feel fine.”

        “That’s because you’re a rinkydink alien who I could throw like a hammer if I felt like it,” Fritz replied, disentangling himself and sitting down next to the scene as not-Pinkie stretched one of RD’s wings out. “It’s not My Little Pony for nothing.”

        “Hope you don’t mind, I think I’m gonna wing it now,” Pinkie laughed. The knife dropped, and as it cut into the joint of Rainbow Dash’s wing, the world FUZZED again.

        Both Agents grabbed their heads, wincing, before looking up at the scene of agony before them and parsing what had happened. The scene was suddenly rough-edged again. Fritz’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “Oh, no, Gott im Himmel, tell me it’s not--”

        It was. The knife fell, carving a slice out of the pony’s back, and another FUZZ ripped through existence.

“Dash, you gotta stay still or I’ll keep missing,” scolded Pinkie as her friend howled.

“I will kill her,” Silas hissed, sliding into the sibilant speech of the Race behind the translator microbes. “I will kill her and let the Hyacinth kill me, anything to make it stop--”

It didn’t. Pinkie took another whack and hit her target, and another wave of static tore through the Agents’ heads. She swung again and again, and in short order both Agents were lying on the floor as the pony tossed the knife aside, deciding she hadn’t sharpened it, pure agony coursing through their skulls.

“I don’t...” Fritz heaved. “I don’t... I don’t understand. What are these...”

“Got it! Say Dash, why do they call it a hack saw? It doesn’t hack; hacking is what I was doing with the knife. This is a saw. I don’t get it.”

Silas directed an eye turret at the scene beside him, wincing. “Oh, by the Emperors past, this is only the START?”

Mercifully, the hacksawing didn’t seem to have as strong an effect as the chopping, creating a high-pitched whine at the back of both Agents’ brains that made them want to vomit, but not seeming to tear the world in half. By the time not-Pinkie moved onto the second wing, they had struggled to their feet, Fritz leaning on his bat and Silas leaning against his partner.

“Charge for Dash giving up...” Silas cursed, softly. “Dash doesn’t give up. Never. In her character.”

The sawing, and the high-pitched whine, stopped. Both Agents just stared--they were on the wrong side of the rack and couldn’t see what was happening, relying on the Words.

“Hey Dash,” Pinkie piped up. “Think fast!”

Fritz’s voice was as small as a mouse. “Nein...

Not-Pinkie ripped the wing off, and as it tore a strip of flesh all the way down Rainbow’s back the fuzz returned, building in intensity in conjunction with the whine and Rainbow’s screaming until the Agents couldn’t even think of anything but pain. They dropped to their knees as the scene exploded into black, and for a brief moment, knew relief.

= = =

Silas groaned, slowly shaking himself back to life. “Ohhh, my head...”

He felt a distinct pain in his backside, and rolled over--he’d been lying on his own tail for goodness knows how long. Wherever he was, it was dark as--

The mission.

At that, the Agent snapped to life, fumbling around until he located his things. His knife was still around his wrist, his notepad was right where he’d dropped it when his head had split in half... And there was his partner, out like a light with a grotesque look on his face.

It suddenly occurred to him that the TOTAL dark wasn’t right--hadn’t there been a spotlight on Rainbow Dash? Looking around and not spotting anything, Silas decided to risk a little light, flicking on his reading light and dialing up the power until it cast a beam like a miner’s lamp.

The rack was right in front of him--and empty. There was a smear of blood down it that he didn’t like the look of at all, and a pool of the same on the floor, but no sign of either Rainbow Dash or... or that thing that was calling itself Pinkie Pie.

Pinkie Pie stared into the mirror.

The Words popped up, and on cue another spotlight dropped in, across the room, illuminating not-Pinkie, still in the red dress, and holding...

Silas choked back a sob, jostling his partner to wakefulness. “Hey. Hey, Fritz, something’s not right.”

“In this mission?” The senior Agent lolled his head, the grimace softening as he fumbled for his bat. “Why am I not surprised?” Nevertheless, he sat up, getting a quick gauge on the situation, and gave a soft choke himself. “Oh, ick.”

She did a really good job, even keeping the eyelids. She winked, Dash winked back. Pinkie smiled.

“Okay, yeah.” Fritz rubbed his temples, returning the bat to his belt. “I see what you mean. This is the END of the story, were I to demean the meaning of the word by calling this a story.”

Silas cocked his head--lacking eyebrows or a society based around mouth movements, he was somewhat limited in his expressions. “How do you mean?”

“Well, it’s got no STRUCTURE,” Fritz elaborated, as not-Pinkie turned around and a light came up over the center of the room, revealing Rainbow Dash mounted on a draining rack--sans head. “This author knows much too much about gutting animals, by the way. The story is just straight torture porn, there’s no exploration of the characters, no rising plotline unless you count the violent death--and I don’t--as a plot, no denouement of anything, they never explain what the hell the numbers coming up are...”

He waved his hand half at the Words, half at the pink pony bouncing in front of the mirror. “And it makes things up to barrack its own nonexistent narrative, like that. Pinkie’s NEVER shown a talent for sewing. And every time I see that cleft hoof it makes me want to do what Cab TRIED to do and kill someone for real.”

Silas gave him a worried look, and Fritz raised his hands, concillatory. “That was hyperbole.”

“Good.” The reptilian Agent turned back to his notepad. “So do we just keep going and end it, or?”

“No, no,” Fritz sighed, clambering to his feet and pulling the RA off his belt. “We’ve got to get it all. However unpleasant the duty may be...

Silas nodded. “...I opted to do it, so bugger for me.

The two of them stepped through the portal, as the lights dropped on the grisly room.

= = =

        They stepped out at the start of the third section of the story proper, to see Pinkie pushing a needle of some kind into RD’s chest. “Ugh,” Silas hissed.

        “Focus, Silas,” Fritz admonished. “What’d we get from the ending?”

        The Agent checked his notes. “Uhh, one big charge and one little one. Killing the character of Rainbow Dash and giving Pinkie Pie talents she doesn’t have.” He flipped to a blank page. “Beyond that, I wasn’t really paying attention.”

        “Add corrupting the character of Apple Bloom and implying the death of the character of Diamond Tiara to that list,” Fritz said. “Because we can, and because that’s what happens in the section we didn’t see. Along with a few more grammatical charges.”

        “Your memory terrifies me sometimes, Fritz,” Silas replied, duly adding the charges to the list.

        Rainbow Dash woke up, and they both snapped to attention. The stench of her urine filled her mucus caked nostrils, and Fritz grimaced. He felt he could almost smell it himself. “I think that counts as unnecessary description.”

        “Noted.”

        Pinkie broke into a long rant, and Fritz wiped a hand across his eyes. “Oh, mein Gott, not this thing.”

        Silas turned one eye to his partner. “Come again?”

        “I got... when I was in recovery, that damned intern they had on me got into a huge argument with me over whether Pinkie was in character in this story.” Fritz grimaced. “Most of it was centered around the character having mostly the same “voice”. Which is a load of scheisse. I could read a Hitler speech in Pinkie voice and it would still be out of character for her.” Pinkie wound to a halt, and his grimace deepened. “And again with the crying! Jesus Christ, I’m not denying there would be tears but the emphasis this author puts on them makes it seem like he gets off to it.”

        Silas looked up. “You know, I thought the exact same thing.”

Pinkie then popped something red into her mouth and began to chew. She noticed Dash was staring at her.

“What?” she asked. “Oh this?” Holding up another piece. “Well, while YOU were asleep, I got a little impatient and helped myself sample. I got it from your leg, you’re not bad. Wanna try some”?

“Charge for cannibalism, and I can call it that now,” Silas noted. “Uh, charge for this being a repeat thing? How would I go about that?”

        Fritz twisted his face up again. “Lovely.”

        Silas tapped his pen on his notepad as the replacement turned its attention to a covered can with smoke billowing out of it. “Oh, hey, I recognize THIS.”

Charge for repeated instances of the former is nice and formal,” Fritz decided, as not-Pinkie stuffed the slice into Dash’s mouth and she spit it out. “Yick.”

        “Yeah, it’s uh... it’s...” Silas slowly lowered his notepad. “Fritz, something’s not right here.”

        Fritz shot his partner a look as the can turned out to have several red-hot nails in it, atop hot coals. “You do?”

        Silas cocked his head. “Fritz, am I going nuts or is the Word-World literally turning temporal nature backwards?” The hammer drove the nail into RD’s leg without not-Pinkie even touching it. The high-pitched whine was back

        “What in the name of...” the senior Agent walked towards the light as not-Pinkie nebulously picked up a nail and aligned it with Dash’s hoof. “What the hell is happening to time?”

        Silas dropped the pen--his own left wrist had erupted in simultaneous agony. “IT’S--AAAAGH, IT’S THE SAME THING! WHAT THE--”

        Fritz grabbed at his wrist--a sudden, lancing pain shot through it, as though it was on fire. “AAAAAAAAAAGH, JESUS CHRIST ALIVE!”

        “PLEASE STOP! PLEASE, PLEASE STOP!”

Pinkie rolled her eyes.  Putting hammer back down, she walked back in front of her friend. She stared pensively at the broken pegasus. Gilda didn’t even cry this much when she stuck that live parasprite down her throat.

        Silas lolled on the ground. “Fritz, I think--aaaaaagh, I think we’re getting some kind of sympathetic feedback from Rainbow Dash!”

        Fritz had a goofy look on his face. “BUT WHO WAS HAMMER? Tell me that, story, WHO WAS HAMMER?”

        “I don’t know!” Silas winced as not-Pinkie rolled the rack backwards. “But that explains the vomiting feeling earlier, remember?”

        Fritz rolled over, still clutching his wrist. “What? But how the Christ is that happening?”

        Silas stared in horror at the scene before him, putting two and two together. “Oh, no.”

        Fritz nodded. “Right, it said the hacksawing made her want to vomit...” His eyes widened to the size of saucers. “Oh, God, if this fic is going to make us go through the same things she is, we’re not going to make it out alive either!”

        She moved to Dash’s hind legs, bringing the can with her.

        Both Agents recoiled in agony, as their feet erupted in pain.

        Pinkie picked up the hammer again and she drove a searing piece of metal into the bottom of Dash’s hoof. Dash screamed again: Pinkie put one into the other hoof.

        Silas was curled up into a ball; Fritz noticed, halfway conscious, that the high-pitched whine was fading--and that the replacement had tied copper wires to the nails. “Oh, no, SILAS! SILAS, SHE’S GOING FOR THE GENERATOR, PORTAL OUT!”

        Silas scrabbled for his belt with his unhurt hand, but the replacement had quickly tied the wires to the generator and--

        Electricity rocketed through Dash’s body. The blue pony reacted immediately; body seized, muscles struck taut. Her hips thrust skyward and her eyes rolled back. She let out a deep, throat shredding cry.

        The Agents felt nothing. Fritz lay on his back, eyes wide, as the scene exploded back to black; the pain in his wrists and feet was fading. “What? I don’t... I don’t...”

        Silas just lay on his side, weeping softly, as the darkness ripped away and the sun came back out.

= = =

The air was warm, the sun was shining, and everypony in Ponyville was having a glorious day. The town square was bustling and crowded and busy ponies filled the streets. All the pony folk seemed to have somewhere specific to be.

“Oi. Oi, Silas.”

Silas opened one eye, uncurling. “Oh, Emperors past, tell me it’s not starting over...”

Both eyes shot open wide. The man standing in front of him, leaning against the Town Hall, was not Fritz--or at least not the Fritz he knew. Though he was dressed all in black, and wearing the same flashpatch, he had a saber at his belt, a black beret on his head, thinning salt-and-pepper hair, and a thin, lip-hugging mustache. The nose was more pronounced, almost hawklike, and there were deep wrinkles in his face. An image from the past floated into Silas’ mind, of a prison camp long ago and far away, watching a newsreel of British forces fighting in Europe against his own people being led by-- “Montgomery?”

The man chuckled, offering a hand as Rainbow Dash tore past above him. “As in, Bernard Montgomery, Viscount el Alamein?” His accent was unmistakably British, and thick as beans on toast. “No, though I’ve been told I look a lot like him. You can call me Monty if you like.”

“Looking like him is an understatement.” Silas accepted the hand, and clambered to his feet. “Who are you, then, and why are you here?”

“Who I am, I’m not allowed to say,” “Monty” stated, all business now. “And as to the why, that would be because you and little Fritz have stumbled onto a fic so bad that it’s putting holes into space-time.” He paused. “Well, maybe that is a bit much.”

“Oh, no, it’s bad.”

“I didn’t mean to deny that.” He started walking across the square towards Sugarcube Corner, and Silas followed. “I meant, the Word-World hates this thing SO much that it is tearing itself to pieces trying to get rid of it.” He gave the Agent a worried look. “I’m sure you know that THAT is not normal.”

Silas shook his head. “No, sir.”

Monty rounded a corner, and suddenly the two of them were standing right in front of the bakery. Silas goggled a bit. “How did you do that?”

The Agent chuckled. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, Silas m’boy, you pick up a few tricks of the trade.” He stepped into the bakery, pulling an RA off his belt. “I’m up to speed on the fic, if not the canon, but given how unstable things are around here the next scene change is likely to put both myself--and Fritz--back where we belong.” He gave the Race Agent a smile. “You know, he speaks awfully well of you.”

If Silas could have blushed, he would have. “Er, thank you.” He paused, thinking. “Er, how do you know Fritz, sir?”

Monty opened a portal, and pushed the other Agent through it, gently. “Well, that’s simple, Sllaz,” he said, and Silas turned both eyes on him at the correct pronounciation of his name--one he hadn’t heard in years. “I used to be HIS senior partner.”

The portal closed.

= = =

Silas shook his head, finding himself back in the black room. The whole place stank of burnt enamel and cooked meat, and he guessed he could decipher why.

Another portal opened, and Monty dropped in, notebook in hand. He grimaced. “Eugh. Haven’t smelled that smell in a long time.”

“I wish I never had.” Silas shook his head as Pinkie rotated Dash upright again and tried snap the drooling, delirious pony back to attention. “It makes me think of the opening of the Cairo assault. We lost three squads to a Churchill flamethrower tank before the armored companies could kill it.” He shuddered. “That horrible sound...”

“Sounds despicable,” came a familiar voice from beside him.

Silas looked up, and his mouth dropped open in a smile to see Fritz standing there. “You’re back!”

“I guess I am,” the Agent replied. “This temporal nonsense is getting worse by the sentence.” He paused, a look on his face as though he couldn’t believe what he was about to ask. “Would you believe me if I told you I’d just come back from the future?”

Silas nodded. “Yes, I think I would.”

Pinkie studied her handiwork, then reached into the medicine bag and produced a large syringe. “Alright, time for the last round.”

“Oh, good.” Silas muttered.

Fritz had his bat out again, and was idly rolling it in one hand. “I think I suppressed most of this.”

“This is a little something to take the pain away,” Pinkie informed Dash as she walked around to her victim’s ruined back. Dash flinched as Pinkie jabbed the needle into the lower part of the blue pony’s spine. Moving in front of her friend again, Pinkie leaned down and elaborated.

“In a few minutes, you won’t be able to feel anything below your ribcage. Then you’ll be able to stay awake to watch the harvest.”

The Agents looked at each other--the high-pitched whine was starting up again. “Harvest?” Silas asked.

“Uh, what does that mean for us?” Fritz wondered. “If the sympathetic--”

Dash started to cry again. “Pinkie?” she choked out.

“Yeah?”

“I want to go home,” Dash sobbed.

Something snapped.

Notebooks were tucked away, and with a flick of a wrist, the weapons were out.

Yeah, I can see wanting to do that,” replied the party pony.

Wordlessly, showing no evidence to the rage building up in their throats, the two figures broke into a run across the dark room, bounding over the grisly furniture and dodging the hanging “streamers” with preternatural ability.

“Sometimes, I just wanna give up, just say ‘I’m done with this mess’ and go to bed.”

Silas was fast, and always had been, but his recovery had left him drained, to say nothing of the mission.

“But you know what? You can’t shrug off your responsibilities. You got to pull yourself up and meet the challenges head on.”

Fritz’s legs were longer, and he had lost weight. In moments he had gained the lead, the bat raised, those brilliant ice-blue eyes now burning white-hot.

“That’s the only way you’re gonna get ahead in life.”

= = =

Dash hung her head and cried. And, at that moment, another sound was added to the empty room.

“UUUUUUUUUUURAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Not-Pinkie’s head snapped around, seeking the source of the war cry, just in time to see a figure twice her height, dressed in black, with blond hair and burning eyes and an upheld metal bat that seemed to shine in the darkness, take one step into the circle of light, plant his feet, and deliver a mighty swing.

The whine stopped as the blow caught the replacement on the side of the jaw, delivering such force that every tooth in the left side of her mouth flew loose like shrapnel from a bomb. The pony flipped out of the circle, tumbling into the dim light beyond as the Agent followed-through.

Fritz lowered the bat, shooting a look at Rainbow Dash. The novocaine shot was setting in, and was probably helping to keep her alive, but she’d lost a lot of blood, and if her wounds weren’t bandaged quickly it would soon be too much. Silas skidded to a halt in the circle, knife out, and his course of action suddenly became clear. “SILAS!”

The Agent turned one eye towards him, the other on the blue pony. “Yessir!”

He tossed Silas the exorcism sack. “Cut her down, keep her alive. We’re NOT delivering Fitzgerald her corpse.” Fritz wheeled about, taking the bat in both hands and stalking towards the fallen replacement. “This one’s mine.

        Silas nodded, turning the knife on the leather restraints. They parted as if they didn’t exist, and Rainbow Dash toppled into his arms. “Hang on,” he whispered to her, rummaging through the bag and coming up with a roll of gauze. “Going to get you to safety, patch you up right.”

        “Who... who are you?” she asked, barely conscious and groggy from the spreading anaesthetic.

        “A friend,” he replied. “A real friend, not like that ghoulish thing pretending to be Pinkie Pie.”

        Dash just sobbed. “My wings... she took my wings...”        

= = =

        Fritz stalked into the dark, Lauren Faust’s signature shining out from the bat like it was written in moon-silver, his voice barely a hiss. “Oh, you have NO idea how much trouble you’re in, dear. No idea.” He looked around--in the low light, it was impossible to tell where she had landed. “Let me give you some idea. If we put aside all the dropped grammatical charges, and the punctuation, and the creating a mini--all the technical guts of the chargelist, all thirty-odd counts of them--then, deary, what do we have left?”

        He stopped, trying to hear her moving. “It’s still long as my arm! Creating a non-canonical space in Sugarcube Corner, let’s start with that. Or how about some of the worst and most ignorant biology I’ve--WHUUUPH!”

        The thing that looked like Pinkie had planted her feet and bucked him in the stomach. If it had been Applejack, he probably would have been out right there--as it was, he staggered backwards, winded, wrapping one arm around her left leg.

        “Let GO of me!” she screeched, being dragged off balance. “HOW DARE YOU?! HOW DARE--”

        Fritz raised his other arm and brought the bat down on the knee-joint, handle first. There was a loud *CRACK*, and the replacement screamed.

        “Attacking an Agent.”

= = =

        With a *whump* sound, a billow of blue erupted in front of Silas’ eyes, and he boggled at the sight. “Dash,” he stammered, nearly dropping the gauze, “If that replacement took your wings, then what the Hell are those?”

= = =

        “You DARE!” Fritz hurled the replacement to the ground, swinging the bat again and taking the right knee this time. “YOU DARE!”

        Off across the lightening room, one of the bone chairs gave a quiet *pop*, and turned into carved wood. Fritz paid it no attention--more than his eyes were white-hot, now. “Decorating a room in gore! Killing characters for NO REASON AT ALL! Using “everybody” instead of “everypony”--und du besitzt die FRECHHEIT, dich Pinkie Pie zu nennen?!

        The bat swung, and swung, and with every blow something else broke or gave. The thing at Fritz’s feet was quickly ceasing to resemble a pony--and not only from the blows. There was something black inside of it, and it was leaking out--the eyes were no longer bright and intelligent, but animal and wild. The clefts in the hooves lengthened, and the legs followed suit, turning positively caprine. The balloons on the replacement’s flank vanished, and were replaced with something that hurt Fritz’s eyes to look at--so he squinted, focusing on anatomy only, placing each swing with the care of a surgeon. “You DARE to run this kind of story in THIS world, in THIS setting, with THESE characters! Butchery! Scatology! Ripping time in half like a sheet of velvet! Are you the devil? ANSWER ME, SCHWEINEHUND, BIST DU DER TEUFEL?!”

= = =

Silas looked up from his charge-- the room was not only lightening, but changing. The gory streamers were turning back into regular ones, the walls were going from gore-painted to pastel-painted; even as he watched, the rack collapsed and reformed itself into one of the shop counters. “It’s like the world is trying to reassert itself, all of a sudden. But--” A thought crossed his mind, and he remembered exactly where this room WAS. Setting Rainbow Dash down as gently as he could, he sprang up, spotting Fritz working the replacement over. “Wait! WAIT, FRITZ, STOP!”

= = =

        Fritz was beyond stopping. Flipping the bat into his off-hand, he yanked the replacement’s head up with one hand, glaring into those inhuman eyes. “I’m going to give you something you were going to deny everyone you met.”

        Holding her hair with two fingers, he ran his free hand across her skin until he found what he was looking for--the line where the skullcap met the skull. At that, he slammed her back down, taking the bat in both hands and raising it high. “I GRANT YOU--”

        “FRITZ, WAIT!”

        “A QUICK DEATH!” The bat dropped like a thunderbolt, and there was a vicious *CRACK*.

        The room went silent. Even Rainbow Dash had stopped sobbing, just staring at the scene. Beneath the room, a rumble began to be heard, building up louder, and louder, and louder by the second.

        Silas raced up, positioning himself in front of his partner and talking a mile a minute as the replacement’s corpse literally melted away into the rough floorboards. “Fritz, the story was holding its place here by force and force alone, and the replacement was what was keeping it here! You killed her, every blow you dealt changed something back, and now that she’s dead--”

        The fire faded from Fritz’s eyes. He looked up--then down, at the vanishing corpse--then up again, at his partner, finally noticing the rumbling. His eyes were the size of dinner plates. “It’ll snap back.”

        The room gave a shudder, and the floor plunged upwards into the ceiling, carrying man, alien, and pony along with it faster than you could name a dog Indiana.

= = =

        The sound of a party horn as loud as a foghorn tore across Ponyville, temporarily deafening anyone within a block of the bakery and stunning everyone else. From inside the library, Twilight Sparkle dropped her writing, dashing out onto the balcony. “What in the name of--?”

        She raced down, off across town, towards Sugarcube Corner.

= = =

        Flinging the CLOSED sign off the door, Twilight burst into the bakery. “What happened? Is everypony all right?”

        The room bore the remnants of what must have been an incredible party. Streamers hung from one nail, trailing across the floor, half-inflated balloons drifted lightly in the breeze from the door, confetti littered the floor. Draped across the main lobby of the Corner were nearly forty ponies, lying across furniture, across each other, all of them groggily coming to. Twilight recognized two of Apple Bloom’s classmates, Twist and Diamond Tiara, sleeping in an empty punch bowl.

        Lying on one of the counters at the far end was Rainbow Dash, fast asleep. And next to her, looking tired--of all things--was Pinkie Pie. She looked up, waving a hoof at Twilight. “Hey, Twi! What’s up?”

        “You mean you didn’t hear that?” Twilight stepped into the room, picking her way around reviving partygoers. “It sounded like an Ursa Major blowing a party horn. I think half the town is deaf, now.”

        “Wow!” Pinkie giggled, but it was missing its usual punch. “No, I WISH I’d heard that! This must have been a much better party than I can remember!”

        Upstairs, one of the windows could be heard being quietly opened, and a particular griffin did her best to slink out unnoticed. Twilight frowned. “Well, what can you remember?”

        Pinkie smiled. “Nothing at all!”

        “Sounds like a great party to me,” came a third voice. Rainbow Dash raised her head, rousing herself. “Feels like one, too. I can barely feel my wings.”

        “What, really?”

        She nodded. “Or my legs.” She shook her head. “Pinkie, this has got to be the best party I’m never going to remember.”

        The rest of the room--what bits of it were awake, anyway--laughed.

        Pinkie climbed down from the counter, pulling a cake cart out from behind it. “Here, Rainbow Dash, get on this. I’ll help you home.”

        The blue pegasus smirked, clambering down. “I feel like Scootaloo.” Balancing herself on the cart, she smiled at her good friends. “Thanks, you two.”

        “No problem, Dash!” Pinkie grinned, now fully back to her old self. “What’re friends for?”

= = =

        On the other side of the dividing wall, in the kitchen, two voices gave a sigh of relief as the partygoers followed the three friends out, hauling the still-sleeping after them.

        Silas slumped against the wall, ignoring his protesting tail. “I’m so glad none of them decided to leave through the kitchen.”

        Fritz nodded, tucking his bat back into the Hammerspace ring on his belt. “It would have made for questions we don’t need. I think I broke the DORKS when I tossed you the sack.”

        “Eh, it could have just been any of the times we got sent into convulsions.”

        “True.”

        The two of them paused, just drinking in the air--a wholesome smell of sugar, flour, and hot ovens. It was pure bliss after the time in that vault. Then, Silas rolled over, bracing himself on his side. “So. What the hell?”

        “I think I have an answer,” Fritz replied, pulling out his own notepad. It was packed full of notes. “While you were charging, I was making theories on our little Excellent Adventure. What I THINK was happening was that the Word-World was rejecting the story.”

        “But they all do that.”

        “Yes, but remember that most of the Word-Worlds we work in are years old, at the youngest. Rings is decades old, Les Mis is even older.” He flipped over the notepad to a page headed WHAT THE FUZZ. “This world is barely a year old, and beyond that it’s a VERY strong one. Excellent characterization, strong and believable characters, solid plotlines or old ones done well. So it was not only actively resisting, but it stood a damn good chance of winning. Hence the fuzzing and the sympathetic feedback. The show is so emotionally charged anyway that something like that should have been EXPECTED. The fuzzing was the World’s way of directing us to the big rips and jumps.”

Fritz rolled over. “The only stickler was...” He pointed the pen at Silas like a teacher’s pointer.

        Silas mused for a moment, and then let his mouth fall open in a smile. “Not its popularity.”

        “Got it in one.” Fritz held up the notepad; on it was a complicated drawing that he tapped as he talked. “On the one hand, you have the Word-World, which is trying to reassert itself and being backed by the fans AND the creators. A powerful influence. But the sheer notoriety of this thing was feeding an immense amount of “power” into the fic, which was being forced into the replacement and allowing it to keep the thing in place. Without the replacement,” he made a *boom* sound with his lips. “All fall down.”

        “And back into the way it is.” Silas shook his head. “And the alternate endings?”

        “Probably made it worse. Spread the impact out, the Suefluence-without-a-Sue.” Fritz leaned back against the wall. “But since we’ve killed the original, and at least one other edition otherwise, I’m THINKING most of those should collapse in on themselves now. Which isn’t to say they won’t still exist--but their influence on the World should be stopped.”

        “Which means we’ve saved the World,” Silas offered, grinning.

        “No more than we do every day,” Fritz replied.

        They shared a laugh, letting the tension bleed off. Then Fritz climbed to his feet, checking the clips on his belt and stepping through the swinging doors to the front of the shop. “Buggeration, did I lose my Emergency Bleepka?”

        Silas followed, shooting him a filthy look. “You had Bleepka all this time and you didn’t mention it?”

        “Well, I wanted to keep it for the end.” Fritz sighed, turning around to face his partner. “You know, for when I won’t have to endure any more of--”

        He froze, mouth hanging open. Silas stopped, looked in the direction his partner was looking--and felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

        Cowering behind the counter was a silver-white unicorn, with hair the color of old film and a magnifying glass on her hip. The look in her eyes was one of absolute terror--the look of a bad dream one thinks they have woken up from, only to discover it’s real.

        “Oh, God,” was all Fritz could say.

        “She must be one of the backgrounders.” Silas took a deep breath, and dropped to his knees. “Hey.”

        The unicorn looked at him, still shivering. “H-hello.”

        Though his eyes weren’t exactly built for it, the Agent tried to look compassionate. “How much did you hear?”

        The unicorn pulled her forelegs over her head. “Everything.”

        He winced. “And how much do you remember?”

        Now, she covered her eyes, her voice as small as a mouse. “...everything.”

        Fritz leaned against the doorjamb. “Oh, God.”

        Silas directed one eye up at him. “Fritz, straight neuralyzation isn’t going to work, not for trauma like this.”

        “No, I know that.” The Agent sighed. “Can’t forget your own death, no.” He pursed his lips, before standing up straight. “Well, there’s nothing for it. Give her about two hours, and we’ll take her with us.”

        “You sure?”

        “You’re asking me if I’m sure I’d like to give this poor thing a chance at actually living a relatively normal life again.” Fritz gave his partner an “are you thick” look. “And, yes, I know we don’t exactly do normal things. Yes, I’m sure.”

        Silas nodded, turning his attention back to the unicorn. “Miss, what’s your name?”

        She didn’t look up. “Snapshot.”

        “Aah, la paparazzi.” He pulled the neuralyzer off his belt. “Well, Snapshot, could I ask you to look at the black bit of this stick for me?”

        She didn’t move, and he reached out, placing a hand on her leg. “Please, miss.”

        Slowly, the unicorn stopped shivering, and lowered her hooves.

        There was a brilliant FLASH.

= = =

        Zerenze watched the mini-Discord curl itself around his arms, leaning back in the ratty armchair the T&A boys had dragged into 518. “Where ARE they? Their mission report dropped half an hour ago.”

        James just shrugged, from his position on the console chair. Narcolepsy was inclined to offer more than a shrug-- “You’ve been on a mission before, Z, there’s five million things to do in the wrap-up. Ten million if anything went wrong, and something always does.” He leaned against the bathroom door, his chatter drowning out a quiet *SNAP* from the kitchenette across the entry hall of the RC. “One of them could have gotten hurt, they could have wound up with something worse than the Intel report predicted--always a possibility--, they could have gone insane again...”

        “I’m surprised these bastards don’t, listening to you talk, Narc!”

        The door to the kitchenette burst open and Fritz raced out, catching Narc in the stomach with a shoulder-tackle. “Ha-HEY!”

        Narcolepsy could only offer a groan, but the other two Technicians leapt up. “You’re back!”

        “Right you are!” Silas poked his head out of the kitchenette as Fritz helped Narcolepsy back up. “Hey, you must be Zerenze, Fairchild told me about you. Nice to meet you!”

        The big Sangheli nodded. “A pleasure.”

        Fritz tossed the exorcism sack back into the kitchen. “Hey, I thought our furniture got all chopped up. Where’d this come from?”

        “We brought it,” James said, smiling. “A welcome-home gift, and just as ratty as before.”

        “And there’s food, too,” Narcolepsy wheezed, “Though I’m considering just eating it all myself given how you like to greet people!”

        “Not on your life,” Fritz said. Silas just licked his chops. “Thank you very much for the food, Narc, and very much for the welcome!”

        Narc nodded. “Well, now that we’re all here, let’s make a damn party of it!”

        And, two years late, the walls of RC 518 echoed the sounds of a proper celebration.

= = =

EPILOGUE

= = =

        In RC 1023, a tall woman with deep, dusky skin and black hair leaned back in her chair. “Forced breaks suuuuck...” She idly flipped a snub-nosed revolver in one hand, spinning it like a trick gunfighter. “I mean, that thing was CRAP, but I’m just fine... Why’ve I gotta take a damn break anyway...”

        Her console DINGed. “Ooh, work?” She sat up, perusing the message on the screen.

        Dear Agent Narain, Spy 1st Class, Department of Intelligence,

        In light of your recent activities into, quote, “especially terrible pieces of dreck”, unquote, I have been asked by a certain Floater pair you know well to lean upon the Marquis de Sod to have you assigned a partner. They are of the belief that it will be good for you, a good experience for the partner (who is recovering from severe mental trauma), and, quote, “hopefully it’ll get her to stop sending us all the really bad ones”.

`

        Your new partner should be there approximately by the time you finish this message. I think you’ll like her.

                                                                The Sub Rosa

                                                                Department Head, Intelligence

        True to its word, the INSTANT the woman finished reading the letter there was a knock at her door. Stowing the revolver, she got up and walked over, sliding it open.

        Out in the hall stood a silver-white unicorn maybe half her height, with long brown hair the color of old film, light brown eyes, and a magnifying glass mark on her hip. She was wearing a black vest, and an armband on one foreleg with the flashpatch of the Department of Intelligence.

        She looked up, with a bright, hopeful light in those enormous eyes. “Hi! Uh, I’m Snapshot. Is this the right place? I was told to ask for an...” her horn glowed, and a piece of paper pulled itself from her pocket, hovering in front of her face. “Agent Gauri Narain.”

        The woman gave the unicorn a soft smile. “Yes, this is the place. I’m Narain, come in. And just call me Narain, everyone does. Except the Flowers.”

        Snapshot walked inside, and Narain leaned against the wall of the hall, smiling. “Damn, Fritz. How’d you know I’d always wanted a pony?”

FIN

= = =

Author’s note: Scheiß. Drauf. This thing is godawful and I’m so very glad I was the one to kill it. It SUUUUUCKS!

I’d like to thank JulyFlame for constant reinforcement and moral support, as well as being a constant beta-reader and shoulder to cry on when it just got too terrible. She told me I could do it when I didn’t think so myself, and look where we’d be now if I hadn’t listened. Thank you VERY much, July.

Furthermore, a thousand thanks to FlareShard for Krautpicking and various bits of translation. She’s a wonderful gal, folks, and I’m glad to be working with ‘er!

I’d also like to thank the boys back at MLPonies.com, VoidChicken and Orange Fluffy Sheep especially, for helping me get ahold of the old copy of this thing despite their strong personal distaste for it. And rightly so! You guys rock.

I refuse to link to these things. Refuse. You can’t make me, it’s not like they’re hard to find anyway! YOU CAN’T MAKE MEEEEEEE