Part 14 - Machinations
A perfunctory "thoomp" broke the stillness of a tiny, cluttered office, heralding the arrival of a message capsule through the building's pneumatic tube delivery system. This caused the skinny, pale yellow unicorn slumped over the paper choked drafting table to stir and flick an ear at the unaccustomed sound. Nopony ever sent messages down here.
His face peeled free of the blueprint he had been working on as he sat up groggily. He pushed his bifocals up his narrow snout with the side of his hoof as his horn sparked with green magic, enveloping the message and floating it over. His eyes widened as he saw it bore the gold and royal blue insignia of the head office, and hastily unscrewed it with his telekinesis and read over the note contained inside.
The rawboned stallion drew in an alarmed breath as he finished, and exclaimed to nopony in particular. "Great Hurricane's Ghost! What the everlovin' hay does the big boss want with me?"
With that he leapt down from his stool and clattered across the concrete floor, pausing at a small row of framed patents by the door so that he could check his reflection in the glass. He smoothed back his thinning red and white mane and straightened his tie, gave himself a not entirely encouraging nod, and hurried down the dimly lit hallway toward the stairs, magically closing his office door behind him. Dislodged by the sudden movement, a cardboard sign declaring the office's occupant as "F. Flim Flam" in fading magic marker fluttered to the grimy linoleum.
Several minutes and many, many more stairs later, the skinny unicorn staggered out of the stairwell and leaned against the mahogany paneling, wheezing to catch his breath.
Looking around with glassy eyes, he met the stern gaze of a prim unicorn mare seated behind a massive bulwark of a reception desk. Her voice rang out in the rarified air, brisk and efficient with an unmistakable note of disapproval. "Can I help you, sir?" It was clear from her tone that beyond helping him back down the stairs with a hoof to the backside, her capacity for assistance was extremely limited and entirely provisional.
He waved vaguely down the plushly appointed hallway, gasping for air with each word. "Her... high... ness... expect... ing me..."
The secretary pursed her lips in a look of boundless skepticism. "And you are?"
The scrawny yellow unicorn panted out his name. "Flim... Flim... Flam... I'm... from... R... and D..."
With a brisk glimmer of magic a bakelite cone levitated off of a nearby apparatus of lacquered wood and brass and settled onto the tip of her horn, which pulsed softly in time with her words as she spoke seemingly to herself. "Trivet? There's a Fin Fang Foom from Research and Development here. He claims he's expected."
There followed a brief pause, as the bespectacled stallion's breathing finally evened out. The receptionist flicked an ear, gave a perfunctory nod, and spoke to herself again. "All right. I'll send him right in."
With that, she floated the cone off of her horn and back onto its cradle, then turned her attention back to Flim without her gaze becoming one iota less chilly. His attempt at a charming smile wilted like a daisy in a blast of arctic wind.††
She pointed him down the hallway with a flick of her horn. "Her highness is waiting. Step lively. Up the stairs and to the left."
Flim drew in a shuddering breath, braced himself, and did as he was told.
Diamond Tiara spun her high backed executive's chair around to face the skinny unicorn stallion blinking in the bright sunlight streaming through the high arched windows behind her who now cast a meek little shadow on her expensive, imported carpet. The silvery hull of an airship with a royal blue stripe and a golden compass rose crest drifted majestically past through the fluffy white clouds outside like a whale swimming slowly through shoals of plankton.
The young mare was elegantly dressed in a dusty maroon jacket and a frilly white cravat, with her cutie mark inspired tiara glittering coldly atop her severely styled lavender and pearl mane. The gemstones matched her eyes perfectly.
She regarded him for a moment, savoring the mild quiver she spotted in the scrawny researcher's knees. "I'm going to cut to the chase, Flim Flam. I want a progress report on your brother's little project." She made "air quotes" with her hooves over the last word.
The skinny stallion flinched at the mention of his elder sibling. "I... uh... I don't know... um... your... your highness. He... well... he hasn't spoken to me for five years... not since I... uh... since I started here. Especially not about any inventions he might be working on..." He gave her a halting, apologetic shrug. "S-sorry, your highness."
The pink princess steepled her hooves in front of her. "Well, that's just too bad. I think he might be interested to know that an outfit called Harmony Aeronautics is going to be demonstrating their own pony flying machine to the Princesses this coming weekend for a royal charter. Seems like they've got a bit of an inside track on it too."
The unicorn's yellow face went a couple of shades paler. "Great thundering blunderbusses! He'll... he'll pop his cork when he hears about that!"
The young mare smiled a calculating smile. "Which is why his one and only brother should be the one to break the news to him, wouldn't you say?"
Flim gulped and tugged nervously at his collar. "With all due respect, your highness, I wouldn't say. Last time I saw him he threatened to twist my horn off with a crescent wrench and shove a lit stick of dynamite into the resulting socket."
That elicited a chuckle from Princess Tiara. "Flamboyant, isn't he?"
The scrawny unicorn gave a weak laugh, as was required of a minion in his position.
The pink mare's words came out as a honeyed purr as a smile played across her face. "I'm not suggesting you go and risk your neck to tell your estranged, and more than probably violently unhinged brother that the invention he's been obsessing over for the past five years is going to wind up on the junk pile because of a bunch of dilettantes who've got themselves an in with the princesses."
Her expression hardened as she met his wavering gaze over his bifocals. "I'm telling you to do it."
Flim's ears, tail, and tie drooped in abject terror as his spectacles slid down his snout. Diamond Tiara tossed her head and called out in a sharp voice. "Trivet!"
A demure looking unicorn mare with her mane drawn back into a tight bun winked into existence beside her in a flash of white light. She was followed closely by the appearance of several parchment envelopes all stamped with the Royal Blue Airship Line's seal. With brisk efficiency the secretary floated the bundle over to the trembling stallion, the bluish magic fading to a sputtering green as he took them from her.
The pink earth pony princess leaned back in her seat with a faintly gloating smile. "You'll find a train ticket to Cutica, a voucher for a cab if you need it, and a generous offer to buy out his half of the patent on his invention, if he's got it in a workable state, and if he happens to be lucid enough to be willing to make a deal."
Flim gave her a shaky smile, clearing his throat as he tugged at his tie. "Um... I doubt he'd be open to that, your highness, based on what he said he'd do to... uh... to the board of Royal Blue after he threatened me with the wrench and the dynamite."
Princess Tiara gave a diffident shrug. "Ah well, his loss. I guess you're the one who got all the Flim Flam family's horse sense."
A profoundly uncomfortable look tinged with regret washed over Flim's features. "Heh. Yeah, I... I guess so... your highness."
A cruel smile played across her pastel pink features as she casually waved a hoof to shoo him out of her office. "Now get going. I'll be interested to hear what he plans to do to Harmony Aeronautics after you tell him he's being scooped."
It was late evening under gloomy skies as Flim Flim Flam finally picked his way up a weed choked path to a mouldering manor house perched on a hill overlooking the dull industrial hamlet of Cutica. A tall, wrought iron fence festooned with "Keep Out" signs encircled the property's blighted lawn.
The skinny yellow unicorn shifted uncomfortably on his hooves and cast a nervous glance back at the cab puller, who looked back at him with a blasť expression and gave him a noncommittal shrug. Casting about, he spotted a brass pipe with a trumpet like flaring at the end, sticking up out of the ground next to a bell pull by the gate. With a tentative hoof he reached up and gave it a tug.
A woosh of dust puffed into Flim's face, causing him to blink and cough as a gravelly, unfamiliar voice buzzed out of the trumpet. "Go 'way or we let da dogs loose."
The unicorn stallion cleared his throat and spoke haltingly into the trumpet. "Hello! I'm uh... I'm looking for Flam Flim Flam."
There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the tube, before the voice sounded again, a bit uncertain. "You a town guard?"
Flim blinked. "Um... No."
The voice continued its interrogation. "You a tax collector?"
The bespectacled stallion shook his head. "No."
His interlocutor took on a perfunctory tone. "Den dere's nopony here by dat name. Scram!"
The unicorn planted his hooves, his voice faltering a bit as he pressed his case. "This is his brother Flim! I need to talk to him!"
Another long moment of consideration passed by, before the voice returned. "Ohhh. His brudder. Hokay. You wait right dere, da bozz got someping for ya." Flim wasn't at all certain he liked the caginess of the unseen speaker's tone.
Some movement at the front door of the house caught his attention, as the paint flaked double doors creaked open. The unicorn stallion's eyes went wide in alarm as the large brass bore of a cannon poked out of the opening.
He dropped to the ground as it went off with a thunderous boom, bursting the wrought iron gates asunder over his cringing form as he covered his head in his hooves and screamed in terror. The cannon ball grazed the top of the cab, sending the pony pulling it galloping away in a blind panic.
After a long pause to collect his scattered wits, Flim warily raised his head and peered through the smoke and bent metal of the fence. A rotund, very low slung earth pony emerged from the doorway pulling a small wagon containing a fresh charge of powder and a cannon ball.
He was a sickly brownish green in color with a bristly black mane and tail, and wore a threadbare tweed riding cloak and sloped cap. His cutie mark was a black circle with a lit fuse, which didn't bode well at all to the shaken unicorn. The dwarfish stallion didn't so much gallop as scuttle as he made his way to the front of the cannon and busied himself hefting the canister of explosives into the smoking muzzle of the gun.
The stunted pony hummed a jaunty tune to himself as he worked, pausing to call over his shoulder to the dumbfounded Flim. "You stay right dere while I reload, hokay?"
The shellshocked unicorn could only blink in response as a strident voice sounded from inside the house. "Otto! What in blue blazes was all that racket out front about? I thought a stray spark had set off the phlogiston again!"
A tall, pallid yellow unicorn stepped out onto the porch to take in the smoking ruin of the fence and lawn and the scurrying earth pony hastily rolling a cannon ball down the steps with a series of ringing clangs.
He was dressed in a dark vest and tailcoat, his rumpled cravat loosely tied around a soot stained, starched collar. His mane and handlebar mustache were an inky black, with the faintest hint of red at the roots.
His bloodshot eyes widened in shocked recognition as Flim leapt to his feet and called to him. "Brother! It's me!"
The black mustachioed stallion's face hardened, and he muttered out of the side of his mouth to the dwarfish creature straining to lift the cannon ball with his dumpy little forelegs. "Load faster, Otto."
With that, he strode down the steps with a grim set to his jaw as he approached the younger unicorn. "So it is you, you backstabbing mountebank. You double dealing half portion. You gilded, gelded sell out."
He stopped face to face with his sibling, snorting in barely suppressed rage as Flim gave him a nervous, lopsided smile. "It's... It's good to see you too, Flam."
The elder brother drew himself up with flaring eyes. "That's Professor Destiny to you, you worm. I cast aside the name Flam Flim Flam like you cast me aside to purvey our precious patents to that puffed up ponce of a princeling and his pernicious payola."
Flim reached up with a hoofkerchief to wipe the spittle off of his face as the self proclaimed Professor called back over his shoulder. "What's keeping that cannon ball, Otto?"
The scuttling little earth pony's grating undertone sounded in the distance as he frantically tamped down the load with a ramrod. "Workin' on it, bozz."
The pallid unicorn turned back to his estranged sibling with a growl. "You have however long it takes my assistant to reload to either speak your peace or get out of my sight, you slippery, belly crawling weasel."
Flim smoothed back his frazzled red and white mane and nervously cleared his throat. "I'm... I'm here to talk about the B.A.T. Five, Fla... er... Professor."
The dourly dressed stallion sneered. "That's the B.A.T. Nineteen, and you'll have to pry the plans for it out of my cold dead hooves if you want to take them and sell them to your misbegotten masters, you unspeakable..."
The younger unicorn hastily cut him off with a vehement shake of his head. "You don't understand. I've gotten word that another company, a new company with close ties to the princesses, has developed their own personal flying apparatus. They're going to demonstrate it to them this coming weekend, and they're almost a shoo in for a Royal Charter."
Professor Destiny's red rimmed eyes widened as the pupils shrank to pinpricks, and he reached up to grasp his brother by the lapels of his trench coat. "WHAT?"
Otto's gravelly voice sounded from the porch. "Fire in da hole, bozz!"
Another huge blast shook the heavens as the black mustachioed unicorn dragged his sibling to the ground. The cannon ball sailed over their huddled forms and smashed the trunk of a dead tree down the path, sending a murder of panicked crows skyward. Their frantic cawing filled the air as the echo of the blast faded in the distance.
As the smoke began to clear, Professor Destiny let out a cough and climbed painfully to his hooves, looking down at his cowering visitor with an expression somewhere between a sneer and a wry smile. "You'd better come inside and tell me all about it."
He turned toward the porch and strode away, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Otto! Go and put the kettle on!"
Behind him, Flim let out a quavering moan and got busy trying to get his trembling legs to work again.
He muttered ruefully to himself. "So far, so... good?"
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.