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February 3, 2012
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A warm, cheerful summer morning always succeeded in lifting the spirits of the residents of Ponyville, and this morning was no different.  The sunlight bathed every inch of town with its soothing rays, signaling to everypony the start of another carefree summer day.  It seemed there wasn't anypony for miles who was anything less than perfectly content.

Anypony, that is, save for a certain grey pegasus, who was slowly being consumed by her own anxiety.

Ditzy trudged silently toward the front doors of Equestria Speedy Shipping Services. She opted not to fly for once; her distracted state of mind combined with her already poor vision had led her to several aerial accidents this morning alone, leading to a few hundred bits of property damage, and a splitting headache for the pegasus.

Ditzy couldn't understand what was holding her back anymore; a whole month had passed since Breeze had visited for dinner, yet the mare still hadn't told Dinky the truth about her job.  And her filly suspected something; that much was obvious even to Ditzy.  The young unicorn had been acting funny, like she knew more than she let on, and was just humoring her mother, allowing her to keep her secret a little while longer.  She'd also been spending an unusual amount of time in Ponyville after school, instead of coming straight home.  Once or twice, Ditzy had caught her sneaking in with an extra bag of books; apparently she had been at the Ponyville library.  But what had she been researching?

The whole situation was causing Ditzy a lot of undue stress. The feeling of tension in the Doo household had grown so greatly that even Ditzy's thoughts of Glow and her disturbingly well-thought-out shipping philosophies had been pushed to the back of her mind for the time being.  It was one thing to be worried about herself, and her effects on the lives of the ponies she encountered, but it was another matter entirely when Dinky came into consideration.  As always, the filly took top priority.

  For the umpteenth time, Ditzy swore to herself to tell Dinky the whole truth that evening, while noting sadistically in the back of her mind that she would probably be unable to work up the courage to do so… again.

Ditzy reached up to open the door to headquarters, when it swung open of its own accord, allowing a certain blue unicorn to exit.

Glow strode forward, no doubt already setting out on her assignment for the day.  Much to Ditzy's relief, the unicorn merely turned up her nose at the sight of her rival, and strode away without a word.  Ditzy watched her go for a moment, relieved to avoid a negative encounter, and then turned and entered the building.  

A few muffled voices issued from behind the door to the employee lounge; the only ponies present at the moment were Breeze and Cloudcover.

"Good morning," Cloudcover said as the mare entered.

"Morning," Ditzy replied unenthusiastically.

Breeze nodded as well, but said nothing.  The red pegasus scrutinized his coworker with concern; she was looking worse every day.  Breeze feared there would be negative effects on the mare's health if she didn't find some stress relief soon.

The intercom crackled to life.  "Cloudcover, please come to my office for your assignment."

"Right then," Cloudcover responded, with a glance at Breeze.  "We'll have to finish our conversation later, mate.  See you."

Breeze nodded again as his friend left the room, leaving him alone with Ditzy, who had wandered to the breakfast table.  Not even fresh muffins seemed to be putting the usual vigor back into the mare's step.  The red pegasus decided it was time to confront her again, for her own good.

"Ditzy, we need to talk."

Ditzy looked up from her food and allowed one eye to swivel in Breeze's direction.

"About what?"

"About you," Breeze said as gently as possible.  "I know I can't tell you how to live your life, but… I think this situation is starting to get the best of you."

"No, really?" Ditzy asked icily.  "Lately I've been under even more stress here than I was at my old job, and that's saying something, considering I spent most of my time there on the verge of getting fired."

"Then what are you going to do about it?" Breeze asked.  "Why won't you just tell Dinky about your job already?  Then you can stop dodging her questions and making up lies, and the two of you can get back on track."

"I want to tell her, really!" Ditzy insisted.  "But I… I just can't."

"Why not?"

"I don't know!" the mare wailed, dropping back on her haunches and staring at the floor.  "That's why this is so hard for me!  I really should tell Dinky the truth; I should have quite some time ago, actually.  But some nagging doubt in the back of my mind has been keeping me from doing so!"

Breeze stamped his front hoof.  "Then you need to sit right there, and think until you figure out what that reason is!" he insisted.  "Because clearly, keeping it a secret is not a better idea than telling her if this is what it's doing to you."

Ditzy said nothing.  She just scrunched up her face in thought.

"I think… it's not about me having a new job…" she started.  "It's about me having this job.  Don't you think being a matchmaker could, you know… be a bad influence on a little filly?"

Breeze raised an eyebrow.  "How so?"

"Well, I don't know," Ditzy stuttered.  "At Dinky's age, most ponies are just learning about the concepts of love and relationships.  Do you think it could have a negative effect on a filly if her parent essentially manipulates these delicate situations as an occupation?  I don't want her to get the wrong ideas about the concept of love."

"I'm not sure it really works like that anymore," Breeze pointed out.  "I mean, we get assigned to help colts and fillies with their first relationships all the time.  Most of them just want to get the object of their crush to notice them, but still."

Ditzy seemed unconvinced.  Breeze shifted his weight awkwardly when the mare didn't respond.

"Look," he said finally.  "I can completely understand that you want everything to be perfect for Dinky, but I really don't think this is something too 'adult' for her."  His expression changed suddenly as an idea came to him.  "If you still aren't sure how to break the news to her, why don't we go and talk to Candyfloss?  I'm sure he's the authority on this type of thing."

Ditzy brightened a bit.  "Yeah, maybe Candyfloss can tell me the best way to explain this job to Dinky, without her getting any of the wrong ideas."

Breeze trotted to the door, motioning for his coworker to follow.  "Come on, let's go see him right now."

Ditzy picked herself up and followed Breeze down the corridor.  The door to Candyfloss's office was slightly ajar; the pegasi pushed it open and peered inside.

Dr. Candyfloss appeared completely transfixed, merrily poking a tiny glass bird on his desk, which would swing forward and dip its beak into a small pool of water, before rising up again at regular intervals.

"Yes, Mr. Feathers, you are a very thirsty birdy aren't you?" the unicorn cooed as he watched the tiny toy dip down again.

Breeze gave Ditzy a bewildered look, and then cleared his throat.

"Uh… Doc?"

Suddenly aware of his employees' presence, Candyfloss snatched the ornament from his desk and stuffed it into a drawer, knocking a large pile of papers off in the process, before neatly placing his hooves on the desk in front of him as if nothing had happened.

"Hello you two.  What is it?"

Breeze just smirked.  "…Mr. Feathers, huh?"

Candyfloss scowled.  "I can have hobbies too you know, Mr. Breeze!"

Breeze chuckled.  "Never mind Doc, it's not important right now.  We… well actually, just Ditzy, wanted to come and talk to you.  And, if you don't mind, I'm kind of interested to hear what you have to say as well."

Candyfloss's gaze softened when he caught sight of the disheveled mare standing next to Breeze.  "What is it, Miss Ditzy?  Is something wrong?"

Ditzy nodded.  "You see, Dr. Candyfloss," she began.  "I like working here and all, but despite that, truth be told, I haven't actually told my daughter that I work here yet."

Candyfloss blinked.  "But… haven't you been working here for the better part of the last year?"

"Well, yes," Ditzy affirmed.  "But I've been just a little concerned about describing the details of my work.  Dinky is a smart little filly, and she'd probably understand, but I didn't want to take a chance and wind up giving her the wrong ideas.  How can I explain it to her without risking her misunderstanding the details of how careful you really have to be when fanning the first flames of a relationship?"

Candyfloss smiled his usual knowing smile.  "Ah, Ditzy, I can understand your concern.  As the only one of us at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services with a child of your own, you face unique challenges in being both a shipper and a mother.  You may rest assured, however, that one of those positions is not incompatible with the other; if they were, I would not have hired you in the first place."

A tiny, relieved smile appeared on Ditzy's face at her boss's comforting assurance.  She waited for him to elaborate.

"It seems to me you are worried about telling little Dinky the truth only because of how you are perceiving the act of shipping.  In other words, the only reason you are worried about Dinky misunderstanding, is because you yourself might misunderstand a bit about your own job."

"Huh?" Ditzy asked, scratching her head.

"Allow me to reword that," Candyfloss said.  "You seem to be forgetting that the position of a shipper is in actuality quite humble among the overall factors of a relationship.  Remember, we alone do not determine the success or failure of the pairing; I've told you this before.  In many cases, such relationships can, and often do, blossom entirely without our assistance.  And in almost all cases, save for the few very special jobs I take upon myself, the help we provide is only given at the request of the asker."

"Okay," Ditzy said.  "What's that have to do with my question, though?"

Candyfloss grinned.  "I'm simply saying that the only reason you wouldn't want to tell Dinky about shipping is because you fear it trivializes the seriousness of a relationship by allowing you to manipulate it.  But your 'manipulation', as you may recall, does not have a particularly profound effect.  Your job is to simply help a pony deal with a social impediment of theirs, or perhaps bend a few circumstances around the couple-to-be so that events occur in a fashion more favorable to creating romance.  Certainly, you've encountered both of these situations on numerous occasions in the field."

Ditzy nodded.

"Well, there's your answer then!" Candyfloss announced.  "Make sure you point out when you describe your position that you are not shaping an entirely new situation with your own hooves in whatever way you see fit.  You're simply working to help particularly shy or otherwise disadvantaged ponies with the decisions they have already made.  Do that, and your point is made, while the concept of true love remains impossible to tamper with."

Candyfloss chuckled delightedly as dawning comprehension slowly brought the usual smile back to Ditzy's face.  Breeze looked impressed as well.

"Wow, Doc," the red pegasus commented.  "You sure have this whole organization down to a science, don't you?"

"Absolutely," Candyfloss replied, before turning back to the grey mare.  "Now, miss Ditzy, may I assume that I have solved your problem?"

Ditzy nodded vigorously.  "Yes sir, Dr. Candyfloss!  Thank you so much!"

"Of course," the unicorn responded politely.  "Remember that you can come to me at any time for concerns such as this."

Ditzy skipped out the door, ideas of a clear and simple way to explain everything to Dinky rapidly being constructed within the confines of her mind.

Breeze glanced back at his boss.  "Thanks, Candyfloss," he said.  "Ditzy's been real cut-up about that.  I'm glad you were finally able to do something about it."

Candyfloss just nodded, flashing his enigmatic smile as Breeze turned to follow Ditzy.

A few moments passed.  The magenta-maned unicorn waited until his employees' hoofsteps had vanished.  He glanced quickly around once more before reaching into his drawer and again removing the small glass drinking bird.

"Now where were we, Mr. Feathers?  That little interruption has caused me to forget."

The phone rang, distracting Candyfloss from his bizarre hobby once again.  The unicorn sighed and lifted the receiver with magic.

"Equestria Speedy Shipping Services, Dr. Candyfloss speaking."

"Yes, hello," came a female voice from the other side.  "I would like to hire one of your shippers for today, please."

"Of course," Candyfloss mused.  "Please give me your location, and I will send somepony to you immediately."

"I will be in Ponyville park, near the statue of the town's founder," the client replied.  "The shipper can meet me there."

Candyfloss scribbled the location onto a sheet of paper.  "Very well, miss.  Thank you for calling Eques-"

"Wait!" the client interrupted.  "One more thing."

"Yes, what is it?" Candyfloss asked.

"I was wondering… is it possible to request a shipper?"

"It's unconventional," Candyfloss admitted.  "But there's no reason for me to say no.  Provided your request is available, we'll send him or her right over."

"Then perhaps," the client continued slowly.  "You could send me… Ditzy Doo?"

"Absolutely," Candyfloss responded.  "May I ask who is requesting her?"

There was a short silence on the other end of the line.

"Actually… can you not tell her she's been requested?  Just pretend it was coincidence."

Candyfloss blinked in surprise.  "Erm… very well.  I shall send Ditzy Doo to your location.  Thank you for contacting Equestria Speedy Shipping Services."

The unicorn hung up the phone, and moved his hoof to the intercom button, mildly curious as to what type of assignment one of his best employees was about to receive.

"Miss Ditzy Doo, please return to my office.  It's time for today's assignment."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ditzy hummed contently to herself as she floated over Ponyville, finally able to enjoy the beautiful day as much as everypony else.  The mare felt ready to tackle almost any assignment now that she wasn't so worried about her daughter.  Tucking her wings to her sides, Ditzy dove down into the park, and quickly made her way to the large statue, which was easily visible even to her bad eyes.

It was still early, so the park was quiet.  Only a few ponies trotted along the pathways, and nopony at all seemed to be standing in the vicinity of the statue.  Confused, Ditzy trotted in a circle around the large structure.

"Anypony here?"  she called.  "I'm from Equestria Speedy Shipping Services.  Hello?"

Silence.

Maybe they're late?  Ditzy theorized.  The mare sat down on the ground near the statue to wait for her client to arrive.

"Yaaaaaahhhhh!"

Something, or rather, somepony, who presumably had leapt from the top of the statue, crashed into Ditzy from above, sending both her and her assailant tumbling through the grass.  When they finally rolled to a halt, Ditzy struggled to untangle herself and get to her hooves.  She whirled to face her attacker.

But the pony Ditzy came face-to-face with wasn't a hostile.  It wasn't a burly earth pony nor a malicious pegasus.  Instead, Ditzy found herself staring into the bright eyes of a small, purplish-grey unicorn; a pair of eyes she knew very well.

"D-Dinky?  What… what are you doing here?"

Dinky grinned triumphantly.  "I'm just confirming my guess.  I knew I'd be able to uncover the truth eventually."  She pointed an accusing hoof at her mother.  "You aren't a mailmare anymore; you haven't been for a long time!  You work at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services!"

Ditzy felt a bit like she had just swallowed a boulder.  "I… um… how long have you known…?"

"A while," Dinky admitted.  "I knew something was up for a long time, but I didn't have any proof until Mr. Breeze came to dinner last month.  After that, all I had to do was find out what Equestria Speedy Shipping Services was, and then how to contact them, and I sealed the deal this morning when I contacted Dr. Candyfloss and requested you."

"I… you…" Ditzy stammered.  "But… why didn't Dr. Candyfloss tell me?"

"I asked him not to," Dinky said simply.  "I don't think he knew who was calling, but luckily he listened to my request."

Ditzy had nothing to say.  She was stunned.  Sure, Dinky had suspected something, but she'd actually managed to work her way all the way to the complete conclusion by herself?

Dinky took her mother's silence as a cue to continue.

"So, yes, I figured out everything that has happened.  But now I have another question…"  Dinky's expression suddenly changed from haughty to slightly hurt.

"Why, mommy?  Why wouldn't you tell me about this?  I was worried that something really bad had happened…"

Ditzy sighed.  "First of all Dinky, you should know that I really did want to tell you, and I definitely should have a long time ago.  And I'm sorry for making you worry.  I just didn't want to tell you about it because I was worried that you might not understand just what I'm doing for a living now."

Dinky frowned.  "What do you mean, mommy?"

Ditzy worked her tongue for a moment while she set her thoughts in order before beginning.  "You see, Dinky, my new job is very special.  As you probably know, I get assigned to help ponies with the first steps of their relationships.  It can be tough, and it's different every time.  But there's something about this that it's important you understand…"

Ditzy continued to relay all the information Candyfloss had given her less than an hour earlier to Dinky, careful to stress the fact that she was not controlling the path of the new relationship.  Dinky listened with rapt attention.

"I didn't tell you all this before," the mare said in conclusion.  "Because I didn't want you to interpret shipping the wrong way.  Now that I had an explanation to give, I was going to let you know about my new job as soon as possible.  But… it looks like you beat me to it!"

Dinky nodded.  "Mom, I kind of figured that was how it worked anyway.  I read about the organization in a recent business journal that Miss Twilight let me borrow from her library, which contained a little article about the company philosophy."

"Well, you've been a busy little bee, haven't you?"  Ditzy asked.  "How did you manage to get so smart, Dinky?  Because you certainly didn't get it from me."

The two ponies broke into a small fit of laughter at that.

"Dinky," Ditzy said once the two ponies had quieted again.  "I really am sorry for this whole mess.  Will you forgive me?"

"Of course!" Dinky squealed, embracing her mother in the biggest hug she could muster.  "You're still the best mommy in the world.  I know you were just looking out for me like always."

Ditzy tried her best to hide her watery eyes as she returned her daughter's hug.  "And you're still the best little filly a mother could have."

Ditzy felt as if the weight of the world had lifted from her shoulders.  At last, she could be honest with her daughter again; the estrangement the last few months had brought had now collapsed, and their small family had been restored to its former glory.  Ditzy couldn't help but let a few of her joyful tears escape into Dinky's mane.

After what seemed like a long time, the mare and her filly finally broke the hug, and Ditzy got to her hooves.

"Alright, muffin, I need to get back to work, so I'll see you tonight, okay?"

"Wait," Dinky squeaked.  "What about my assignment?"

Ditzy started.  "Your… what?"

"My assignment," Dinky repeated.  "I didn't just call Equestria Speedy Shipping Services to get to the bottom of the mystery.  I have a shipping request too!"

Ditzy's jaw dropped.  "You do?  I… but… aren't you a little too…"

Dinky shook her head.  "Mom, didn't you just get through telling me that shipping isn't such a big deal?  There's a colt in my class that I like, and I could probably just go talk to him myself if I had to, but I thought I'd do it this way, just to see what it's like.  But like you said, it's gonna' happen anyway."

Ditzy realized that her daughter, as usual, was absolutely right.  There was really no reason for Dinky not to hire a shipper if she wanted one.  And what better way to assure she got the type of quality service Ditzy wanted for her then to do it herself?

"Okay," she agreed finally.  "I'll do it.  Where can we find this colt?"

"That's easy," Dinky announced.  "The county fair is opening today, just outside of town.  Nearly every filly and colt in Ponyville is going to be there."

Ditzy nodded.  "Well, what are we waiting for?  Let's go!"

Ditzy bent down and allowed Dinky to clamber onto her back.  Then the mare took off, making sure to stay well clear of even the smallest obstacle; a crash while carrying a passenger was not an ideal situation.

"So, what can you tell me about this colt?" Ditzy asked the filly on her back.

"His name is Pipsqueak," Dinky said.  "He moved here from Trottingham about a year ago.  I've kind of had a crush on him for a while, and Twist keeps telling me I should get to know him, since I've hardly ever spoken to him at school.  He was at my birthday party, too, but that's just because you invited almost everypony; I didn't get to talk to him or anything when he was over."

"I think I remember him," Ditzy said hesitantly.  "Was he the white earth pony with the brown spots?"

"That's him," Dinky said.  "He seems sweet and well behaved, unlike the other colts in my class.  And his accent is so cute."

Ditzy laughed.  "Well, don't worry.  We'll get you two acquainted in no time."

The pegasus passed over the last buildings on the northern edge of Ponyville, and the fair came into view in the fields up ahead.  Dozens of colorful tents covered several square acres.  Music could be heard faintly from a few of the performances taking place far below.  The smells of fresh-cooked hay fries and tasty fruit pies wafted tantalizingly up into the sky.  Ditzy angled her wings and touched down outside the edge of the fair complex.

"Alright, the first thing I need to do is find somewhere to hide," Ditzy said.  "After all, we can't have the target finding out that I'm helping you, can we?"

"It probably doesn't matter, considering you're my mom," Dinky observed.  "I mean, that would avert most suspicion, unless he hears you talking about shipping.  But let's follow protocol anyway, just in case."

Ditzy nodded.  "I'll keep myself hidden under the south stage," she said, pointing to one of the many performance areas the fair sported.  "I can see most of the booths and tents from there, and you can crawl under and talk to me when you need advice.  Just don't let Pipsqueak know!"

Dinky gasped suddenly; Pipsqueak had just rounded a corner and came into view a few tents away.

"I gotta' make myself scarce," Ditzy said.  "Just go talk to Pipsqueak and ask him if he wants to hang out for a while, and come talk to me as soon as you can get away."

Dinky nodded, and Ditzy scrambled across the plaza and ducked under the stage, watching from the shadows.

Dinky took a deep breath to calm herself, and trotted toward the place Pipsqueak was standing.  The colt was purchasing some cotton candy, and didn't notice her approach.

"Hi, Pip," the filly squeaked, using the nickname all the other foals at school usually called the colt.

Pipsqueak jumped a little at the sound of his name and spun to face the pony who had addressed him.

"Oh, hi Dinky," he replied.  There was a short silence, in which the colt glanced at the sugary treat he was holding, then back at the unicorn.  "Um… want some cotton candy?"

"I…uh… sure," Dinky responded, taken off guard by the friendly offer from a pony she hardly knew.  "Thanks, Pip."

"It's nothing," Pipsqueak replied, passing a lump of the fuzzy pink mass to Dinky.

Another short silence endured as both foals dug into their snack.

"So, Pip," Dinky chanced, trying her best to sound casual in front of her crush.  "The rest of my friends aren't here yet.  Want to walk around the fair with me for awhile?"

Pipsqueak nodded.  "Why not?  I don't have any plans."

Dinky smiled.  "Okay, but… first I need to, uh, use the little filly's room.  Back in a minute."

Pip nodded and watched the unicorn trot away.  Once she was out of sight, the colt glanced around, before stealthily ducking into an unmanned ticket booth.  Closing the door of the small space carefully behind him, he turned and looked up at the other pony hidden inside; a white pegasus with a dark grey mane and a green beret.

"It worked, Uncle Cloudcover!" Pipsqueak announced excitedly.  "I shared my cotton candy with her, and she asked me to hang out!"

"Brilliant!" Cloudcover replied.  "Now, the best thing to do from here is to just get to know her better.  You two need to enjoy yourselves at the fair for a bit and get to be friends.  Ride a few rides, play some games, see a show or two, and remember to keep being just as polite and social as you can.  Then again, I'm sure you do that anyway; I can't imagine somepony not liking a perky little colt like you."

Pipsqueak grinned.  "Okay, I'll go find her again.  Thanks for the help, uncle.  You're a real good shipper."

"One thing, before you go," Cloudcover interjected.  "What was this filly's name again?"

"Her name's Dinky."

Cloudcover nodded, and watched as his nephew trotted back out into the plaza.  Dinky… he thought.  Now, I know I've heard that name once or twice before… but where?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Now, do you understand what you need to do?" Ditzy asked.

"Yeah, it's easy!" Dinky replied.  "I should just treat him like he's one of my regular friends, and pretty soon, he'll become one."

"Right," the mare affirmed.  "This is your best chance to build a bond with him.  Once he gets to know you, he'll probably start to like you!"

"Alright, I'm going to go and try," Dinky said.  "I'll come back if I have another question."

The filly clambered out of the crawlspace beneath the stage and ran back to meet up with Pipsqueak.

Things went like a dream for both foals for the next hour or so.  Dinky and Pipsqueak trotted all around the fair, having a blast with its many novelties and attractions.  They took a ride on the Ferris wheel, attended a short concert performed by a traveling polka band (and led by Granny Smith's brother, old Apple Strudel), and took a look into the pens full of prize-winning farm animals.  They even entered a pie eating contest; Pipsqueak was impressed when Dinky managed to place 6th, beating about half a dozen adult ponies also competing.

Soon, the two trotted onto another walkway that was lined with carnival games.  Each pony had a few bits with them, so it was possible for them to play a few games on the way by.

Suddenly, Dinky spotted the grand prize hanging at one of the stands; the official princess dress-up kit.  The box on the shelf showed a colorful picture of its contents; a plastic crown, chestpiece, and shoes, all modeled to look like the royal garb of Princess Celestia, but resized to be worn by a filly.  Dinky was spellbound.

"Pip, I'm gonna' try to win this one!" Dinky announced, trotting over to the stand.

"Step right up, little filly!" The stand's operator announced.  "It's just one bit to try and win big!"

Dinky placed her coin on the counter.  "What do I have to do to win the Princess dress-up kit?" she asked.

"It's very simple," the other pony explained.  "You just have to use this little pop-gun to knock down all five pirate ships."

As the pony finished speaking, a number of cardboard ships appeared above a backdrop of painted waves, and began to move around quickly as the mechanism beneath switched their positions.  Dinky took aim and began to fire the corks from the popgun.

The little moving ships, however, were a little faster than she anticipated; the first few shots bounced harmlessly off the watery backdrop.

Dinky aimed more carefully and fired again, managing to knock over one of the targets.  But, to her dismay, the removal of one of the targets caused the others to begin to move even faster.  Dinky fired the toy weapon again and again in vain, and soon, she was all out of ammo.  The game stopped and the cardboard ships disappeared.

"This thing is rigged," Dinky mumbled.  "C'mon Pip, I guess we'll play something else."

"Wait," the colt insisted.  "Let me try it."

"What's the point?" Dinky asked.  "They get faster every time you hit one; nopony could hit the last few, I bet."

Pipsqueak didn't respond.  Instead, he placed a coin on the counter, which was swept up quickly by the grinning booth operator.  Pipsqueak picked up the toy gun, and once again, the five targets appeared and began to move.

The brown and white colt barely needed more than a second and a quick glance before his first shot was fired.  The first ship went down immediately.

"Nice shot," Dinky commented, somewhat impressed.

Pipsqueak mumbled a quick word of thanks as he concentrated on hitting the second target.  After a moment, he took a second shot, and the cork bounced off the side of a second moving target.  He had already gotten further than Dinky.

Now the cardboard boats began to move at impressive speed.  Dinky was sure Pipsqueak wouldn't be able to hit another, but he did, just barely.  Interestingly, this victory did not elicit another speed increase, and, after one missed shot, the colt managed to hit the fourth boat as well.

Suddenly, there was a loud whir from the game's mechanism, and the last remaining boat abruptly doubled in speed, zipping around the tiny stage almost too quickly to follow.

"Oh, come on!" Dinky groaned.  "That's just ridiculous."

Pipsqueak's head darted left and right, his eyes trained on the cardboard target that was now the only thing between him and victory.  He still had five more shots; just one of them had to hit the little ship.

The colt aimed carefully and let another cork fly, but the ship whizzed out of the way, and he missed by over a foot.  Making the proper estimation adjustments in his mind, he fired again, striking much closer, but still missing his target.

Dinky watched silently from behind, unwilling to let herself believe that Pipsqueak might actually manage to win this silly game.

Pipsqueak fired his eighth shot with perfect timing; it should have struck the boat dead on.  But at the very last second, the target sporadically changed direction.  A coincidence?

It's got some sort of sensor!  Pipsqueak suddenly realized.  It's programmed to turn around if it realizes it's moving into the path of the cork!  Which means…

The colt stared at the boat, watching its movements for another few seconds.  Slowly, he closed one eye and aimed the pop-gun, concentrating hard on his next maneuver.

Pop!  Pop!

Pipsqueak fired both the remaining corks, one right after the other.  The first flew directly toward the boat, which, exactly as he had anticipated, immediately changed direction…

…moving directly into the path of the second shot.

The booth's owner gasped as the last of the tiny targets fell down, and the bell rang, indicating a winner.  Muttering something of likely obscene content to himself, the owner begrudgingly lifted the prize from the top shelf and placed it on the counter.

Pipsqueak turned to the filly next to him, putting his hoof to her chin and gently closing her mouth, which had dropped open in shock at the result of the game.  "Well, go ahead, take it," he said.  "I don't want it."

An enormous smile washed over Dinky's features.  "Thank you Pipsqueak!" she cried delightedly.  "Thank you so much!"

Dinky embraced the colt briefly, before recalling her feelings for him and drawing back in embarrassment.  Both foals blushed slightly.

"Uh… hmm…" Dinky struggled to scramble out of the awkward situation she had created.  "Why don't I go take this prize to my mom; I think she's around here somewhere.  She can hold onto it until I go home."

"Uh, yeah, good idea," Pipsqueak agreed, also eager for a quick repose from the sudden, uncomfortable mood.  "I'll meet up with you in a bit."

Dinky nodded, and trotted away with her princess dress up set in tow.  She galloped across the fair and ducked under the stage again, where Ditzy was still hidden.

"I saw the whole thing," Ditzy whispered when her daughter approached.  "Looks like things are going really well so far."

"Yeah," Dinky agreed.  "I think that hug may have been overkill a little, but it shouldn't matter.  What should I do now?"

Ditzy attempted to respond, but was interrupted by the loud sound of hoofsteps overhead.  Somepony was now on the stage above their heads; some sort of show was about to start.  Already, a crowd was gathering around the stage's perimeter, making it impossible for Ditzy or Dinky to crawl out undetected.  The filly looked at her mother with concern.

"Uh… now what?"
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"You're doing a positively smashing job out there, kiddo!" Cloudcover insisted.  "Winning that prize for Dinky was a fantastic move on your part.  That filly's going to be head-over-hooves for you in no time!"

Pipsqueak grinned.  "I never would have been able to do that if you hadn't taught me how to play the shooting gallery at that arcade back in Trottingham." He responded.

Cloudcover nodded at the recollection.  "Now, Pipsqueak," he continued.  "It's time to move on to the next phase.  You should tell Dinky that you really like her, and that you want to be her very good friend from now on.  Then the two of you can take the relationship wherever you want in the future; after all, you two see each other almost every day in school."

"Okay, sounds easy," Pipsqueak said.

"Don't get ahead of yourself," Cloudcover warned.  "Admitting to somepony that you really like them isn't something to do lightly.  Since you two are just kids, the effect doesn't necessarily have to be that profound, but you don't want to overdo it and scare her off or anything.  It's all about the timing… and the circumstances.  I think I'll take a chance and sneak out of this booth, and see if there's anything I can do to help you out from out there."

The two ponies emerged from the ticket booth.  In the sea of tourists visiting the fair, it was easy for Cloudcover to appear to be nothing more than a nonchalant fairgoer.

"Now…" he mumbled under his breath to Pipsqueak.  "Where'd Dinky go?"

Suddenly, the air was filled with the sound of corny show tunes.  Pipsqueak and Cloudcover turned to the source of the sound; a show of some sort was beginning on the south stage.

"Now what's this all about?" Cloudcover asked as he watched two nearly identical tan unicorns stride out to center stage.

A few dozen feet away, a certain grey pegasus beneath the stage knew exactly what this was about.

"Oh great," the mare whined.  "It's the Flim Flam Brothers again.  I haven't seen them around Ponyville since last cider season.  I wonder what they're trying to sell this time?"

Indeed, the two infamous salesponies had not shown their faces in the vicinity of Ponyville for quite some time.  Even so, it was apparent that the town's residents hadn't quite forgotten the cider incident, and a few of the crowd members showed less-than-positive reactions to the reappearance of the twin unicorns.  However, the pair appeared completely undeterred, proceeding to begin their pitch.

"Good afternoon, Ponyville!" Flim announced cheerfully.  "And might I say how positively lovely it is to see you all again!"

"Indeed," agreed Flam.  "It's not every day my brother and I get to visit a town with such wonderfully smart, well-rounded folks as we see right here."

"Give me a break…" Ditzy mumbled from below.

"Now, many of you may remember us," Flim continued.  "We've swung by this charming village before, and unfortunately, there was a small issue with the quality control standards of our product during our last visit."

"And for that, we must apologize," Flam picked up.  "But anypony can make a mistake, and there's no sense getting worked up over a teensy production error."

"But even if you aren't particularly convinced," Flim said.  "It doesn't matter, because my brother and I have abandoned the cider business in favor of something even more exciting!"

"And now we're here to share the fruits of our newest invention with the residents of this fine town, and all the surrounding areas, from right here at Ponyville's own classic county fair!"  Flam finished.

Flim and Flam's charisma was managing to turn even a skeptical crowd to their favor.  Truly, if nothing else, these two were fantastic when it came to the delivery of a sales pitch.

"So now that we've got your attention," Flim said smoothly.  "I'd like you all to imagine a hypothetical situation with me.  I'm sure some of you here are young ponies, and given all of the fabulous and highly nutritional products available in todays market, you are all probably growing into healthy, strong and good looking adults."

"I think they're all those kinds of ponies, Flim," Flam agreed.  "Just look at this crowd.  Gorgeous."

"Yes, but certainly, Flam, you remember the downside that comes with growing into a strapping young stallion or lovely young mare."

"And what's that, Flim?"

"Why, you constantly need to buy new horseshoes!" Flim announced.  "Those little hooves get big quickly, and horseshoes become mighty uncomfortable once they get just the tiniest bit too small."

"Oh dear, you're right," Flam agreed.  "But I guess it's not that big of a deal, right?  I mean, once you're fully grown, your horseshoes should always fit."

"Ah, yes, Flam," Flim said.  "But what if you're a very hard working, active pony, as I'm sure many of the admirable ponies in this town are?"

Flam gasped in mock horror.  "Why, your horseshoes would wear out!  Probably very often, as a matter of fact."

Flim turned to the crowd.  "What do you think, folks?  Is this ever a problem for any of you?"

Quite a few ponies nodded.  A murmur broke out through the crowd.

"Well, then it's a good thing the two of us stopped by the fair today!" Flim cried.  "You see, my particularly pert partner and I have produced a product to parry this problematic pony predicament.  Fillies and Gentlecolts, may I present to you, The Flim Flam Brothers Do-it-yourself-in-thirty-seconds Horseshoe Tuner-Upper machine!"

Flam pulled the tarp of a large object that had been sitting on the stage behind the brothers, revealing a contraption about as tall as a pony, full of all sorts of buttons and lights and looking every bit as complicated as the twins' last invention with which they had almost overtaken Sweet Apple Acres.

"Feast your eyes, everypony!" Flam yelled triumphantly.  "This marvelous machine is capable of taking any horseshoe, and quickly modifying it to fit any hoof!  And while it's at it, it has the courtesy to tune up the shoe as well, so even the most dinged-up and rusty old horseshoe comes out looking good as new!  You'll never have to buy horseshoes again, so eventually it pays for itself!"

"But don't take our word for it," Flim said.  "Let's get a volunteer up here to show everypony how it works!"

Flim glanced down through a crack in the floorboards; he'd been perfectly aware that two ponies were tucked beneath the stage since the show had started.

"I think we have ourselves an eager beaver, Flam," Flim announced.  "I see you down there, under the stage.  Come on up and get a free horseshoe treatment!"

Dinky and Ditzy exchanged a glance.  At this point, their presence was known anyway; there was no point in continuing to hide.  Both ponies crawled out and Ditzy hopped onto the stage in response to Flim's request.

"Now, my dear, if you would be so kind," Flim began.  "Could you please place your hoof on the scanner on the Horseshoe Tuner-Upper?"

"Uh… okay," Ditzy agreed.  She walked up to the large machine and placed her hoof on the pad, while Flam chucked a dented, twisted old horseshoe into the machine's receptacle.

At the back of the crowd, Cloudcover squinted, not sure if he could believe his eyes.

"My word, could that actually be…"

"Haha, look!" Pipsqueak chuckled.  "Dinky's mom is the volunteer!"

"Dinky's what?!" Cloudcover cried.

"Everything is in place.  Time to give it some power!" Flam announced.  "Ready Flim?"

"Ready Flam."

"Let's Bing Bang ZAM!"

A burst of green magic erupted from the horns of both unicorns, causing the machine to spring to life.  Ditzy watched uneasily as the machine in front of her hummed and whirred, apparently modifying the input horseshoe to match her hoof.

"Yes, folks, it's actually happening!" Flim announced proudly.  "At this very moment, the machine is using its precise measurements of this mare's hoof to re-mould the rapidly-heated horseshoe into the proper shape and size.  In a few moments, it will be super-cooled back to room temperature before being placed onto the volunteer's hoof, perfectly good as new, fully shined, and looking like it was just purchased moments ago!"

Soon, a green light lit up on the panel, indicating the horseshoe's completion.  A small set of pincers on a flexible rod extended, lifting Ditzy's hoof into the air, and taking Ditzy with it.

"Hey! Ow! Stop it!" The mare said angrily.

"Just relax, madam," Flam said calmly.  "The machine merely wants to put on your brand new horseshoe."

"I can put on a horseshoe just fine by myself, thanks," Ditzy grumbled, still struggling against the device's grip.  Much to her surprise, another flexible claw shot out, grabbing and restraining another leg.

"Stop struggling!" Flim urged.  "The machine is programmed to hold you in place until it can complete its task."

"But this is uncomfortable," Ditzy complained.  She flapped her wings a bit to try to roll herself into a more favorable position in midair, but this action caused the machine to extend a larger claw and bind her wings.  Now very angry and somewhat panicked, the pegasus began to thrash about, causing more and more restraining arms to grab her, as Flim and Flam watched uncomfortably, unable to do anything to stop their contraption.

"Mom!" Dinky screamed.  "Oh no!"

"That's enough," Cloudcover growled, stamping his hoof.  "I've got to help Ditzy out."

Pipsqueak glanced up at his uncle in confusion.  "You know her?"

"I'll explain later!" Cloudcover replied, launching himself into the air.

In a flash, the white pegasus had darted over the heads of the stunned crowd, hovering in the air over Ditzy.

"Hang on, Ditzy old girl, I'll get you out of there," he announced.  He wrapped his front hooves around the middle of the mare's body and pulled against the strength of the flexible rods.  There was a snapping sound, and several of the mechanical arms came loose with a flurry of green sparks.  Many others hung on, however.  Flapping madly, Cloudcover pulled even harder, and soon the whole machine began to tip.

"Sir, please!" Flim cried.  "You're going to destroy our beautiful device!"

Cloudcover paid no heed, and with a final tug, sent the heavy machine toppling.  All the arms were crushed under its bulk, freeing Ditzy from the other end of their length.  The top of the whole machine also unlatched and popped open, spilling out a mountain of horseshoes of various sizes, including the ratty old one Flam had thrown in, which remained completely unmodified.

"Look at that!" cried an enraged bystander.  "That horseshoe hasn't changed a bit."

"This thing doesn't modify horseshoes at all!" somepony else announced.  "It just stores a whole bunch of different ones inside, and gives you a new one when you put in an old one.  Flim and Flam are trying to scam us!"

The unicorn brothers gulped.  "Well, Flam, it looks like some compromising new information has come to light." Flim said.

"Shall we run for it, Flim?"

"I think we should, Flam."

The twins turned tail and bolted, chased by a large and angry mob of Ponyville residents.

"I have an idea, Flim," Flam said, almost casually as the two ponies sprinted.

"What is it, Flam?"

"Maybe we should design more products that actually do what they're advertised to do one of these days."

There was a short silence, and then both unicorns burst out laughing as they disappeared into the distance, the angry mob still in pursuit.

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Dinky and Pipsqueak clambered onto the now nearly deserted stage, where Ditzy sat recovering.  Cloudcover floated overhead, looking back and forth between Ditzy and Dinky with dawning comprehension.

"Mom, are you alright?" Dinky asked.

"I'm gonna' be a little sore… but I'm fine," Ditzy said.  "Thanks, Cloudcover.  I didn't expect to see you here, but I'm sure glad you were around."

"Oh yeah, that reminds me," Pipsqueak chimed in.  "Uncle Cloudcover, how do you know Dinky's mom anyway?"

"Uncle Cloudcover?" Ditzy gasped.  "But wait, that means… Cloudcover, are you, you know, on assignment right now?"

Cloudcover nodded.  "Now you see what has happened, I take it?"

Ditzy's mouth hung open for a moment.  "That… but… really?"

"Assignment?" Pipsqueak asked.  "So Dinky, does that mean your mom works with my uncle at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services?"

"Your uncle works there too?" Dinky gasped.  "But we were here to… I mean…"

Dinky seemed to understand what had happened all at once.  She turned to Pipsqueak with a broad grin.

"…What?" asked Pipsqueak, somewhat weirded-out by his friend's expression.  "Am I missing something?"

"Don't you see what happened?" the filly asked.  "You asked your uncle to help you start a relationship… with me.  Right?"

Pipsqueak's face flushed.  "Uh… yeah…" he admitted.

"And…" announced Dinky proudly.  "I hired my mom to help me start a relationship with you!"

Pipsqueak gasped.  "Really?  So you like me too?"

"Of course!" Dinky squealed, grabbing up Pipsqueak in another (much less awkward) hug.  "Does this mean you'll be willing to hang out with me at school then?"

"Well, sure!" Pipsqueak answered.  

Ditzy and Cloudcover smiled from nearby as the foals new, stronger friendship blossomed.  "I think we should celebrate," Ditzy announced.  "Let's all go to my cottage and have some muffins!"

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Cloudcover sipped some tea and munched delightedly on Ditzy's fantastic homemade muffins as the mare trotted to the kitchen to get another batch from the oven.

"These are magnificent," Cloudcover complimented when she returned.  "An excellent way to calm down after a day like today, wouldn't you say?"

Ditzy had too much muffin in her mouth to answer, so she just nodded.

On the floor nearby, Dinky and Pipsqueak chatted eagerly about a variety of topics, now that all uncertainty between them had vanished.

"You know, Dinky," Pipsqueak said.  "You remind me a little of a unicorn friend I had back in Trottingham.  She was a bright little filly; she attended Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns."

"Ah, yes," Cloudcover called from the table.  "I'm rather surprised Dinky doesn't attend the Academy, given her level of knowledge."

"What's Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns?" Ditzy asked.

Cloudcover looked stunned.  "You've got a unicorn as a daughter, and you've never heard of Celestia's Academy?  Preposterous!"  

"It's an academy for magical study," Dinky piped up.  "I heard about it in school.  Students can stay in dormitories in Canterlot Castle and everything!  I've always wanted to attend."

"Well why didn't you tell me?" Ditzy asked.  "I think we'll send in an application so you can have an interview."

"Really?!" Dinky gasped.  "We can?  Oh mom, you're the best!"

Dinky hugged her mom; the mare patted her daughter's head softly.

"This has been the best day ever," the little unicorn sighed.

"And many more good days are coming," Ditzy whispered.  "I'm so glad everything is sorted out between us now."

Dinky just smiled affectionately and snuggled more deeply into her mother's embrace.
Chapter 9

The saga continues! Today, we have another very Dinky centric chapter, and not a half-bad one in my personal opinion.

If I'd released this a week ago, it would have been rather different in the final quarter of the chapter. I was searching desperately for the proper way to bring the shipping story within this chapter to a good finale...

And that inspiration arrived on Saturday in the form of the Flim Flam brothers.

I had SO MUCH FUN WRITING DIALOGUE FOR THE FLIM FLAM BROS! They are absolutely fantastic new characters, and they really put a burst of spice into the later part of this chapter.

If you haven't seen "Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" yet, go watch it, so you know who the Flim Flam brothers are!

So, as always, enjoy the latest chapter, production of chapter 10 will commence immediately.

Also QUICK SOMEBODY DRAW CANDYFLOSS PLAYING WITH MR. FEATHERS!

EDIT: There have been complaints about the fact that Flim and Flam are true con artists in this chapter. So I changed the last sentence they say a bit, so that it no longer directly contradicts canon, it just shows that Flim and Flam have a bit of a... different attitude then they displayed in the episode. Not making any further changes to this scene, so just enjoy it as is if possible. I try my best to make this story fit with canon, but now and then, I take a few creative liberties for purpose of increasing the entertainment value.

Ok, short rant over.

MLP and all related characters and themes are (c) Hasbro and Lauren Faust. Truly, they are cartoon makers nonpareil.
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:iconfotland42:
fotland42 Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2013
That's bold. Getting your mom to help you get a date. Few would

"At this very moment, the machine is using its precise measurements of this mare's hoof to re-mould the rapidly-heated horseshoe into the proper shape and size. In a few moments, it will be super-cooled back to room temperature"
I'm pretty sure that sort of heat shock is terrible for the metal.
If it were happening, of course.
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:icondeuxofspades:
deuxofspades Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Not gonna lie...when Pipsqueak went to talk to his Uncle, I made the squee noise with my face. Because it was so cute. It's nice to see Cloudcover get some screen time too. I also think the Flim Flam brothers added a nice bit of flavor to this episode (EDIT: chapter), though their inventions seem to be getting more off-color.
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:iconportaljumper339:
portaljumper339 Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2012  Student General Artist
Two things

1: As soon as Pip said "Uncle Cloudcover" I was literally chewing my knuckle to keep from crying out in astonishment (it's 1 AM here and I share a room with my bro).

2: As has been mentioned previously, I have a bad feeling that the logified human waste material is about to hit the four bladed whirling device so hard that the latter will be mistaken for the former's ungrateful redheaded stepchild.
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:icondeuxofspades:
deuxofspades Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I really, really like how you worded that.
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:iconportaljumper339:
portaljumper339 Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2013  Student General Artist
Thank you, I'll be here all week! Remember to tip your waiters and waitresses and try the veal (unless you're vegan/vegetarian, in which case you can partake of the baby carrots.)
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:iconpegasusrescuebrigade:
I really like how you worded that.

Heads up: Chapter 10 is the other chapter that did something kind of stupid. Just warning you now.
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:iconportaljumper339:
portaljumper339 Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2012  Student General Artist
Well, I will decide that for myself. If I could enjoy the pinkie pie chapter, I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy this!
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:iconformorian5:
formorian5 Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2012
"And many more good days are coming," Ditzy whispered.

Even If I hadn't already read this story in full, that alone tells you the sh*ts about to hit the fan.
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:iconfighterx345:
Fighterx345 Featured By Owner May 9, 2012
Ah sh*t. That was adorable, but the ending hit me like a brick. Please tell me I'm not the only one who noticed that if Dinky goes to Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns, she'd be completely separated from Pip before they graduate?
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:iconpegasusrescuebrigade:
PegasusRescueBrigade Featured By Owner May 9, 2012
Keep reading. It's addressed.
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