Say What? Part II
written by Sugarberry and Tabby

In April of 2001, Tabby and Sugarberry wrote an April Fool's story which cast some of their favorite pony characters in an alternate life experience. Several months ago, Barnacle suggested that it might be fun to find out how these characters' lives had progressed over the intervening three years. So here it is, from both of our characters' points-of-view:

Say What? - Part II
by Tabby

Tabby crumpled the paper angrily in her hoof. So much for her hopes that her newest single- her newest single, which she'd poured all her energy and emotion and heart into!- would make her an attraction on the music scene once again. If You Knew How I Feel hadn't even had a mention on the hot-off-the-press "Top 100" chart she held in her hoof right now.

Her glance lit on a nearby magazine cover which had Vanguard's handsome mug smiling off of it. Tabby gave that a good crumpling, too, and launched it across the room. "The JERK!" she shouted angrily.

The door opened then to reveal her corporate manager, Wigwam. He stooped down and picked up the offending magazine where it had landed in front of the door, and he proceeded to chuckle. "Well, well. Still bitter over your fall from grace, are you?"

Tabby snarled. "This is all his fault, him and his overbearing ego! My new single didn't even make last place on the charts! It's just gone!"

"You can't place the blame entirely on Vanguard, can you?"

"I don't see why not," Tabby snapped.

"If your act was that great, your blow-up with Vanguard wouldn't have affected your image," Wigwam smirked. "It's obviously something with you that's the problem."

"Some manager you are," Tabby huffed. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Hey, all I'm saying is that you need to do something new. We can completely remake your image, your style, your music... something that will make ponies sit up and take notice."

"Oh?" Tabby's curiosity was piqued. "What do you have in mind?"

"Sure, the nice-girl image gained you some notice at the beginning, but nice girls don't get very far. Interest fades, and your fans forget you. I'm envisioning something wild, radical... the music and your image."

A slow grin spread over Tabby's face. "A new look... no more nice girl... I like your thinking, Wigwam." Standing up and tapping her hoof violently against the tabletop, Tabby came to a decision. "All right. Call a conference. We've got some planning to do."

* * *

"Here are some preliminary sketches I have of ideas for your new look," Fern said, holding up some pages.

Tabby nodded her approval at the spiky hair, bizarre make-up, and shocking clothes. "How about the Bushwoolies?"

"We have plans for them, too," Fern promised. The Bushwoolies, across the table, started cheering at this, and the mare showcased some radical new Bushwoolies on her design board.

"New look, wild, yeah! Makin' it big! Stars, yeah, yeah. Awesome, man!" the furry band members chattered.

"We're going to blow everyone away with a giant wave of merchandising. First off, fashion dolls. Pasbro made some years back, but we'll design a new series, one playing up your new image. Each doll will come with a CD containing a sample-length song from your next album. Then, of course, the other staple items- posters, school supplies, fashions and accessories, make-up; you name it, you're going to be on it," affirmed Thaddeus.

"This is excellent. You all have my permission to go ahead and finalize any deals you have to make," Wigwam said, content at the progress. "Remember, the big debut concert is only two months from now. So everything needs to move fast from this point forward."

"You set a date? Where is it going to be?" Tabby asked, finding she had very little to do in developing her new image.

"June nineteenth at the Happy Hollow Amphitheater."

"Oooooh... the Happy Hollow Amphitheater!" Tabby echoed in awe. It was the premier concert location in the premier city of Ponyland!

"And naturally, you'll want to start practicing your new repertoire," Wigwam continued, shuffling folders around. "I think you'll find these to your satisfaction." He handed over some music sheets.

"You don't have to be so managing about everything," Tabby huffed as the others started to exit the room. "I am capable of performing some tasks myself."

"But we don't want to take any chances, now, do we?" Wigwam brushed it off. "Get together with the Bushwoolies and try these out. Bolivia's lyrics are just the style we're looking for."

"I can write my own music, too," Tabby snapped, grabbing the sheets from him.

"And look where that's gotten you," Wigwam said softly, departing the room so Tabby could simmer in isolation. "You'll see it my way soon..."

* * *

Gradually, Tabby admitted that this Bolivia, whoever she was, had some talent. The rebellious lyrics were completely different from the warm, fuzzy work she had done in the past; but they attracted a certain chord in her heart that had been blackened ever since her blunt dismissal by Vanguard. The Bushwoolies were playing their instruments along with her vocalizing, but in Tabby's mind they faded out of existence as she lost herself in the words she was singing:

Thought you could get away with it, huh?

Thought you'd got me down forever, huh?

Well, I've got news for you, babe-

I'm comin' back and there's nothin' you can do

I'm comin' back and when I'm all through

The world could care less about you, you arrogant fool

Yes, that was precisely what she felt in regards to that egotistical, arrogant stallion! Her mind wandered back to that fateful concert, the last time she had enjoyed Vanguard's so-called "friendship"...

~ ~ ~

At the end of the concert, Tabby had taken her cue to leave the stage. When she got out into the hallway and saw that she wasn't being besieged by hordes of fans, she realized that Vanguard had remained on stage. Why? She trotted back and peered around the curtain.

"...your loyalty," Vanguard was in the middle of saying to the gathered herd of ponies. "It is to my sorrow to inform you that this will be the last of my shows in which Tabby will appear. I find that my association with her is cramping my style and it's time to move on to bigger and better things."

What? After all the interest he had taken in her? Could Tabby really have been taken in that badly by the arrogant star? Wanting answers, she stormed back onto the stage beside her erstwhile partner. "Your shows?! Hello! I'm the one that drew everyone! Now you're taking credit for it all and casting me off like an unwanted... like an unwanted... oooh!" So furious, Tabby was unable to complete the sentence.

Vanguard smirked as he gestured out towards the crowd, who had started booing at Tabby's outburst. "See... or rather, hear... for yourself whom they prefer. You were amusing for a time, Tabby, but I'm not sharing my spotlight any longer. Au revoir, sweetheart."

Tabby, to her intense humiliation, proceeded to be booed off the stage.

~ ~ ~

Vanguard thought he had put her down for good, but for the first time in years Tabby had hope that she could finally prove him wrong. And she would. She would be the hottest thing to hit the entertainment scene since... since... well, since ever.

* * *

Tabby was ecstatic! Her life was busy again! Every minute of her days in the following weeks were spent modeling new fashion ideas and approving or scrapping them, becoming familiar with the lyrics Bolivia was writing, jamming with the Bushwoolies, and meeting with Wigwam to find out what new merchandising he had gotten her involved in.

The concert was scheduled for the middle of the summer to be held in Happy Hollow, the huge metropolitan center of Ponyland. Wigwam was sparing no expense on advertising the "new" Tabby and the Bushwoolies- and curiosity among ponies, whether they had loved or hated Tabby's music in the past, was running high at what promised to be the hottest concert of the year!

Tabby entered Wigwam's office, wearing a stylin' zebra print dress with magenta trim. "Well?" she demanded, placing her hooves on his desk. "What did you want? You pulled me from a very important dressing session!"

Just then, Mitzi, Wigwam's personal secretary, entered. "Sir, the head of Literacy Now was in again to see if any donations from the company are forthcoming. What response should I give him?"

Tabby answered for the stallion. "I don't do that anymore," she retorted, tossing her mane. "If they call in the future, tell them to buzz off."

Wigwam grinned in approval. "What she said, Mitzi," he dismissed the secretary.

* * *

"Cliff!" Sundance, lead singer of the Screaming Ninnies, stuck a poster in the grey stallion's face. "Look at this! She's slotted to be the hottest act of the year!"

"Tabby?" Cliff grabbed the paper from Sundance and stared at it. "What's up with this? She's a nobody now."

"Well, obviously not any longer," Sundance glared at him.

"Hey, why are you getting mad at me?"

"Because you haven't done a darn thing to improve our act like you said you would!" Niobe snarled, entering the room along with several of her fellow band-members.

"Yeah! We're wasting all that money on your food and board, and what has it got us?" Kyrene chimed in. "We were doing better before you came along!"

"Hey!" Cliff protested. "Before I came along, your show was a flat bore. It's my expertise that's gotten you those laser light effects you wanted so badly, or have you forgotten?"

"Yeah, the laser lights that break down half the time!" Solstice snorted. "Face it, Cliff. You're inefficient."

"And," Sundance added, getting back to her original gripe, "you said you could guarantee us taking Tabby's place in the music world. Remember that? Well, now she's making this big comeback and we're still nobodies!"

"Hey, you're not without notice. The charts picked up Get Over It last month."

"Yeah, in seventy-ninth place! That's not the sort of notice we wanted, and you know it. The way this hype is going, Tabby's going to be number one."

Cliff scowled. "Not if I can help it. Not after the humiliation she made me suffer..."

"What are you babbling about now?" Niobe said impatiently.

"I have a personal score to settle with Tabby, so I'm not going to let her get her popularity back," Cliff said solemnly.

Kyrene laughed. "Still smarting because she dumped you for Vanguard?"

"That's none of your business," Cliff muttered.

"All right, all right," Sundance came to a decision. "We'll give you one more chance, Cliff, to crash Tabby's concert. But if you fail at that, you're out. Got it?"

"I've got it," Cliff said sullenly.

"Okay, let's go and jam, girls," Solstice said, smirking at Cliff's discomfiture. "We'll leave Mr. Ineffectual here to his plotting." The foursome broke into laughter as they strode off.

Tabby's comeback is going to blow up in her face, Cliff promised himself. And I'm not going to fail. It's time to enlist some help...

* * *

Tabby was on the built-in stage in the basement of the music company headquarters, busy rehearsing for the concert. The Bushwoolies, energetic as ever, were going wild on their instruments. Tabby was oblivious to anything going on around her.

Suddenly, as Tabby was prancing across the stage, an equipment box- Tabby didn't know what it's purpose was, but purportedly it had something to do with effects- standing in her direction started throwing out sparks! A panel fell off, nearly grazing Tabby's legs. Crazy electric beams were reaching out to grab her!

"Help!" she screamed, struggling with the monster. "It's going to electrocute me!"

The Bushwoolies became aware of what was going on and ran around the stage frantically. Earnest bumped into a fire extinguisher by accident and got the idea that that might help. He trained it on Tabby and started spraying.

"Ahhh!" screamed Tabby, as the electric arms holding her in their grasp just got stronger!

Meanwhile, Rosy had frantically dashed upstairs in search of someone more competent to help them. Wigwam appeared shortly thereafter, took stock of the situation, and went to the wall where he proceeded to pull out the plug. Gradually, the electric arms subsided, leaving a trembling Tabby.

"It tried to kill me, Wigwam!" she said accusingly to her manager.

"Hmm," said Wigwam. "Call a technician down here," he instructed Funny. "Machines do not come to life to kill ponies, Tabby. Most likely it was just a malfunction." Still, he seemed a little perturbed himself and waited around for the technician's report.

"There's no sign of any internal break-down or tampering," Derrick shook his head. "This situation must have been caused by remote control interference."

"Remote control interference? What does that mean?" Tabby demanded.

"Nothing that concerns you," Wigwam said, pushing her towards the door. "Now, go and keep your appointment with Fern for a clothing fitting."

Tabby frowned. Something was going on, she knew that. Somehow, her old stage manager Cliff came to mind... but surely he wasn't ingenious enough to cause the machine to develop killer instincts...

* * *

"Neil, glad you could make it on such short notice," Wigwam said with his typical sadistic grin. "I have a job for you."

"Yeah? What's that?" the white stallion in black leather jacket settled comfortably back into the chair.

"I need a bodyguard for Tabby," Wigwam said bluntly.

"Why now, all of a sudden?" Neil leaned forward, suspecting a juicy story behind this.

"I suspect that someone sabotaged the stage Tabby was practicing on this morning. I don't want a repeat of that incident. I want you to keep an eye on her, watch out for suspicious characters, and be there if anything else of the nature happens."

Neil smirked. "So what's it to you if something happens to this chick, huh? I've never known you to take much interest in the well-being of others."

"My concern is strictly for the financial ramifications," Wigwam said stiffly.

"All right, so what's the pay?"

"Very generous, I assure you. Just keep her in sight at all times... within reason."

"Sure, boss," Neil chortled.

* * *

"Well? How did it go this morning?" Cliff said impatiently, entering Philippe's shack and stepping over all sorts of mechanical parts on his way to the crazy inventor's desk.

"It was just a warm-up, you understand," Philippe said. "But I think it served to shake her up a bit." He inserted a tape into his VCR. "Here, see for yourself. I cleverly planted a mini camera in there last night."

"Hmm, sufficient for a warm-up," Cliff said, narrowing his eyes, "but I want the next attempt to be bigger. Got it?"

"Got it, boss. Leave it to me."

* * *

Wigwam got off the phone and called Mitzi to get Tabby for him. Tabby arrived shortly thereafter, looking irritated. "Wigwam," she demanded, furtively glancing behind her, "there is this stallion that keeps following me! Would you call the police or something?"

"That's your bodyguard," Wigwam said calmly. "It's his job to follow you."

"Well, why wasn't I informed?"

"You are now."

"So, why do I need a bodyguard?"

"Oh, one can never know what might happen to an unprotected celebrity like you. It's better to be safe than sorry, don't you think?"

"It's still annoying," Tabby muttered.

"In any case," Wigwam changed the subject, "the reason I called you here was to inform you to get ready for a television interview on Marina's show this afternoon."

"Marina's show, Music Scene?" Tabby echoed, impressed. "She's going to interview me? Cool!"

"Yes. Now, go to Fern to get properly outfitted. Remember not to say much, but drop some tantalizing, vague rumors to get ponies' curiosity up."

"All right," Tabby said cheerfully, prancing off.

* * *

The stage-hands indicated that filming had begun. Tabby waited a few moments to keep the television audience in suspense before striding onto the stage in a black and zebra print skin-tight body-suit with fringe around the neck. Her eye-make up turned up into menacing spikes at her eyebrows. Heavy gold bracelets clanked on all four legs. This was her first public appearance since adopting her new look. She mustered an arrogant smile at the camera before taking her seat next to Marina, the music show host.

"Well, this is certainly a new look for you, Tabby," Marina commented, appraising her guest. "Is this going to be a consistent style for you from now on?"

"Oh, it was time for a change," Tabby said airily. "So yeah, I'm dressing a bit more wild now."

"But most importantly, what about your music?" Marina pressed.

"I'm trying something new there, too," Tabby revealed. "It's going to be very different, but very cool."

"Tell us more," Marina prodded. "What is it going to be like?"

"Well, for that you'll just have to be at my concert in June," Tabby winked (not unicorn winking, just a regular wink). "But everyone is going to be very impressed, I assure you. If you didn't like my music before, you're going to like it now. So everybody, be sure to check on my concert in Happy Hollow this June nineteenth at the Happy Hollow Amphitheater! You don't want to miss it!"

"Well, folks, there you have a tantalizing glimpse of what is to come in Tabby's future," Marina took over the microphone. "We'll be back with more after these messages." She signaled the stage-hands to go into commercials.

Suddenly, a beam above the platform Marina's show took place on started to fall! It was headed straight for Tabby! No one had any time to react except for Neil, who ran and pushed Tabby aside at the last second! But that didn't stop the wires that had broken loose from sputtering angrily and pointing themselves at Tabby.

"Ahhhhh!!! Not again!!!" Tabby shrieked. "Save me, Neil! Isn't that your job?"

Neil singlehoofedly wrestled with the pony-eating wires, giving Tabby time to slip out of the vicinity. But then more equipment started falling towards her by forces unknown to physics! "Ahhhhhhh!!!" she screamed again.

Marina had sent her stage-hands to join the fight as well, but the equipment would not give up on Tabby. Small fires began to start in the carpeting from the excessive sparking going around, and soon Tabby was surrounded in a ring of fire!

Neil leaped on an extending platform and maneuvered it to where Tabby was trapped. "Quick! Grab my hoof!" Tabby did so and was pulled out of the inferno just seconds before another piece of roof came crashing down on the area!

"Oh, Neil! You saved me! What would have happened without you! You're my hero!" Tabby sobbed, clutching him tightly.

"Oh, brother," was Neil's only comment, trying to extricate himself from her.

* * *

Tabby hung on to Neil protectively all the way back to headquarters. "Why are machines trying to kill me?" she asked petulantly. "Other music stars don't have this happen to them!"

"Well, thanks to you, I wasn't able to find out. The trail was already cold by the way I got outside to investigate," Neil scowled.

"Investigate what?"

"Wigwam says the accidents are triggered by remote control. It's probably some guy out on the street doing it."

"Oooooooh," said Tabby.

"Do you know who would be after you?"

"Oh, someone as beautiful as me has so many enemies. They're jealous, you know," Tabby said knowingly. "But I can't think that any of them would do this. Oh, and there is my old stagehand, Cliff. He was my romantic interest for awhile, but then he got mad and sulked off when I started hanging out with Vanguard, who is another creep. I just got a splendid idea! You can be my new romantic interest!"

"Errr," Neil mumbled noncommittally.

* * *

"Wigwam!" Tabby cried upon entering his office. "Here's my idea. I'm going to make Neil my new romantic interest, but he needs an exotic background trumped-up about him. If word gets around that I'm hanging out with this visiting prince or millionaire or whatever, that would be more publicity for me, no?"

"Sure, sure, whatever you wish," Wigwam waved her off, not really having heard what she said but wanting her to go away. He was in the middle of Something Important.

"Great! I'll go tell him!" Tabby skipped off into the hallway.

* * *

Tabby sat sipping iced tea at the open pavilion at the mall. "This is exciting," she confided to her date, otherwise known as Neil. "I phoned in an 'anonymous' tip to the newspaper that Tabby was going to be seen out at the mall. They should be sending reporters any time now. You remember your part, don't you?"

"Sit here in brooding silence," Neil said sullenly, disliking the bowtie Tabby had forced him to put on.

"Oh, you're good at this! Yes, you stay there in brooding silence and I'll do all the talking. The more mystery generated about you, the more mystery generated about me! Isn't that great? Oooh, somebody's coming!"

"Are you Tabby, of Tabby and the Bushwoolies?" the rather bored reporter said upon approaching the pink unicorn in black miniskirt and pink claw-lined top.

"Oh! Word of my public appearance must have leaked out!" Tabby said in mock dismay. "And I had so hoped to enjoy a quiet tete-a-tete with my dear friend Prince... oops, no, forget I said that. It's supposed to be secret..."

Now the reporter was curious and snapped her hooves for her photographer to come forward. "My name is Posey from The Dream Valley Gazette. Would you mind answering a few questions for me?"

"Oh... well, I suppose there's no helping it now," Tabby pouted. "What do you want to know? Make it quick, if you please."

"You had practically dropped off the charts until this June concert was announced and you're billed to be the hottest act of the season. Do you really think you can recoup your prior fame?"

"Well, duh. Of course I can," Tabby said, flipping her mane. "My act just needed some improvements done on it. Come this June I'm going to rock the world! Or Happy Hollow, at least."

"Did your association with Vanguard have an effect on your down-fall?"

"He had nothing to do with it," Tabby smiled sweetly. "It was entirely my fault. I let my image grow stale which was a big mistake. I was boring! But not anymore."

Posey wrote hurriedly on her notepad as Macarius snapped pictures. "And your friend is Prince..."

"Prince Nelson of the Kingdom of Prance," Tabby affirmed. "Oh... but the 'prince' part is entirely confidential. He's trying to keep a low profile, you know. Avoid publicity and all." She nodded repeatedly.

"Ah, yes. Of course." Posey scribbled furiously.

"My dear Nelson here has truly been instrumental in getting me back on my hooves in my career," Tabby chattered on cheerfully. "Without his dedication and support of me, I would never have made it this far." She moved her chair closer to Neil's and batted her eyelashes. Neil scowled.

"Is this a romantic attachment I'm sensing?" Posey prodded.

Tabby giggled. "Oh, however did you guess! Well, yes, I can't lie about it." She put her foreleg through Neil's. "There may be news in the near future of a closer alliance between us. Completely off the record, you understand."

"Oh, completely," Posey nodded vigorously.

"See how fun that was?" Tabby chattered to Neil after Posey and Macarius had finally left after a barrage of questions and photographs. "You played your part to perfection. Everyone will be wondering about my mysterious foreign escort!"

"Isn't that great," Neil muttered. "Can I take this stupid bowtie off now?"

* * *

Time passed, and Tabby's comeback came closer to fruition. There continued to be minor difficulties in the various accidents that sprang up around Tabby, but fortunately Neil was around to keep the star from harm. Tabby became accustomed to the various machines that made attempts on her life.

"Cliff!" Sundance shrieked, coming upon the stallion. "Tabby's concert is only a week away, and the gossip reports are still coming in strong. Your plan to get rid of her isn't working!"

"It would be working, if only she didn't have that stupid bodyguard hanging around," Cliff scowled.

"Well then, get rid of him!"

"Listen, Sundance, I've been thinking."

"Oh, that's new!"

Cliff glared at her. "Philippe has a fool-proof plan to take Tabby out once-and-for-all, live and on-stage at her concert! Wouldn't you love to see her get brought down publicly in front of millions?"

"Hmm... maybe," Sundance said with reserve. "But what's to keep this plan failing like all the others?"

"It'll work, as long as there isn't the bodyguard to contend with," Cliff confided. "So here's where we're going to need you girls' help..."

* * *

The day of her big debut had finally arrived! Tabby sighed rapturously as she lounged in her backstage dressing room attended by Bushwoolie make-up artists and seamstresses while they added the finishing touches to her ensemble.

There was a commotion at the door. Tabby stood up irritably, sending Bushwoolies flying. "What is going on out here?" she snapped, flinging wide the door.

Neil and his assistant (Wigwam had insisted on some extra security for the big night) were holding back another stallion. "It's just some fanboy," Neil scowled. "Get lost."

"But I'm your biggest fan!" the fanboy- or was it?- pleaded. "Won't you please autograph your dolls for me?"

"Oh, let him go," Tabby instructed Neil and Perry. "He's harmless enough. Just don't let anybody else in."

The fanboy smiled deviously as Tabby took a pen and started signing her name across the boxes of the brand new "Tabby and the Bushwoolies" dolls. "What is your name?" Tabby asked, holding the pen poised and ready.

"Just 'Tom' will do."

"All right, Tom." Tabby paused. "Say, didn't I do this once before?"

"Er... maybe... I can't remember," Thomas said absentmindedly.

"Well, there you go!" Tabby said brightly, handing back the dolls. "Enjoy the concert."

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Thomas smirked to himself as he turned to go. Lucky for him that Pasbro employee had been easy to bribe to swipe some dolls off the assembly line before they had been released.

Tabby suddenly stalled his exit, though, and struck a melodramatic pose with her hoof to her throat. "You know, in another time, another place, another reality, I think we would have been lovers."

"Crazy nutcase," the toy scalper muttered as he scurried off. "At least these dolls will bring in some serious cash for me on eBay. Hah, hah, hah!"

* * *

Stagehands were all over the place at the amphitheater, doing last-minute checks on all the lights and equipment that would be used for the totally rockin' concert! No one seemed to pay any notice to the inconspicuous stallion in a grey trench coat loitering around the premises. At most, he was unceremoniously jostled aside by busy stage-hands and forgotten about.

Outside the theater, masses of eager ticket-holders had already amassed, waiting to be let in. "Ugh! It makes me sick seeing how crazy all these ponies are to see Tabby," Sundance grimaced to her fellow band-members.

"Her music is probably going to stink, anyway, despite all the hype of a 'new image'," Kyrene added.

"We won't have to worry about any of this after tonight is over," Cliff reminded them.

"Yeah, whatever. We're just supposed to keep this one guy occupied and everything else will go as planned?"

"Naturally. I'll point the bodyguard out when we get inside. I'm sure he's going to be out front somewhere to keep an eye on the star."

"Tabby, a star? Please! Don't make us any more sick than we already are," Solstice complained.

Cliff grinned deviously. "Don't worry, girls. We're going to blow this show right out of the water."

* * *

Bright laser light effects flashed around the stage. Tabby pranced to the music, having the time of her life! The Bushwoolies were pounding wildly away on their instruments, and Tabby was singing with everything she had. And the crowd loved it! The current song came to an end, and Tabby grinned. "This next song," she announced facetiously, "I dedicate to a certain stallion I once knew. It's called, I'm Comin' Back."

"Hey, she dedicated a song to me!" Cliff preened, even if it was uncomplimentary, never thinking she could dedicate a song to any stallion but him.

Meanwhile, Neil was eyeing Philippe suspiciously. The mysterious trench-coated stallion that was lurking around in the shadows just reeked of sabotage. Neil was about to go beat him up a bit when the Screaming Ninnies swooped down on him.

"Ooooooh, what a great song!" Sundance gushed. "Dance with me, handsome." Without waiting for an acceptance, she started whirling him around the limited free area behind the barricades in front of the stage.

"I don't dance," Neil muttered, quickly putting an end to that. "Now scram."

Solstice pouted. "We just thought that you looked like you needed to have some fun. You look so somber! You've got to lighten up!"

"Oh," Niobe purred, "but it adds to his charm, girls, being so distant and gruff."

"If you'll excuse me," Neil said through clenched teeth as he extricated himself from their hold so he could go after Mr. Trenchcoat.

"Oh no, not so fast!" Kyrene intercepted him before he could get very far. "You're going to hang with us. We'll show you how to have a good time."

"I have a job to do," Neil snapped, shoving Kyrene aside and pursuing his course.

"Well, he's not being easy to charm," Niobe complained.

"We can't let him get Philippe," Sundance stomped her hoof. "Otherwise everything will be ruined. After him, girls!"

They're doing well, Cliff thought complacently as he saw the Screaming Ninnies give chase to Neil. Then he turned his attention back to the music and Tabby. Had she really been that bad working for? It couldn't have been any worse than what he was putting up with now. At least Tabby had never gone on the warpath to destroy another band. He lost himself in the heavenly (to his ears) music and forgot all about Philippe and the Screaming Ninnies.

Suddenly, the laser effects grew more intense. A giant slash was left in the stage where one beam had passed through. Tabby didn't notice anything until Rosy started shrieking. Tabby turned around to see the Bushwoolie at the drums and was horrified to see a laser swoop down and slice off the Bushwoolie's luxurious pink ponytail! "Rosy! Your hair!" Tabby gasped, running forward and completely forgetting the song she had been in the middle of. The other Bushwoolies all dropped their instruments to run to their distressed friend.

"What's happening?" Tabby demanded of whoever was listening.

"Get off the stage! Everybody, off the stage!" Neil came running, waving his forelegs in the air frantically. 'The lasers are real! Evacuate!"

The Bushwoolies promptly hopped off the stage and rolled off into the beginning-to-panic crowd. Tabby was a little slower. As she was stooping down to crawl off down the stage, one of the renegade lasers came towards her. Neil ran forward to help her, but he was too late. Tabby shrieked as the laser hit her, pushing her forwards. She fell backwards off the stage and landed melodramatically with a profusion of red mane spread on the floor. Cameras were flashing as intrepid reporters arrived on the scene.

Tabby opened her eyes wide enough to see that Neil was here. She whispered to him, "Oh, this is going to be good. Kiss me."

"Kiss you?" Neil repeated.

"Well, no need to make it sound so unpleasant. It'll look great on all the front pages tomorrow. Nee, hee, hee!" Tabby giggled to herself in glee.

"Wigwam's paying me extra for this," Neil said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.

At that moment, the stallion in question came running up. "Neil! You were supposed to be on guard for things like this!" Wigwam snapped.

"I would have had him, but these girls- "

"So you let your attention be swayed from your job by some girls, is that it?" Wigwam snapped, his voice rising. "That's it, you're fired!"

"No... don't... he did his best," Tabby spoke-up feebly from her position on the floor.

"And would somebody call an ambulance!" Wigwam shouted impatiently.

"Don't... leave... Neil," Tabby said, pathetically weak. Somehow, Neil doubted her sincerity.

"Yeah, I'm here," Neil scowled, turning his attention back to her.

"Oh, that's good... I wanted to tell you..." Tabby trailed off, and then appeared to faint. Neil thought she might be faking, but repeated shakings did nothing to arouse her.

"Tabby! Stop playing around! This is nothing to joke about!" Neil persisted, eyes widening in alarm. "Tabby!!"

Ambulance sirens pierced the air and paramedics came rushing on the scene. Neil stayed mutely by Tabby's side and could not be persuaded to leave.

Wigwam stood nearby, tapping his hoof irritably. If that oaf had allowed anything to happen to Tabby-! Just then, his gaze swung around to a group of hippies still standing around, exclaiming over the psychedelic effects.... and one of them in particular caught his attention...

Say What? - Part II
by Sugarberry

Sniffing a pristine daisy, the white pony sighed. The flower was beautiful, the day was perfect... then why was she so agitated? The mare looked around her. The meadowland between the poorly-kept farmhouse and the meandering river was scattered with somnolent bodies due to the unexpectedly warm spring day that had zapped everyone of their energy... everyone, that is, except the mare. That was the cause of her sigh.

Having once thrived on the numerous decisions and constant activity of running her fashion magazine, Distinction, the mare had found it difficult to release the reins of command that she had handled so well. She grimaced wryly. Well, maybe not so well, or she would be sitting behind the impressive desk on the top floor of her- oops, not hers any longer- new office building rather than stagnating in this... this... hippy commune!

The mare made a distressed motion of her hoof to shield her eyes as if to stop the images that she was seeing, but she only succeeding in knocking her reddish-brown hat off her head, releasing a cascade of yellow curls that fell around her shoulders like a royal cape. The leather headband that circled her forehead was also knocked askew, and the dangling silver disk that usually nested just between her eyes had swung to the side revealing a distinctly original feature of the blue-eyed mare- a ripe, red strawberry at the center of her forehead, the only vestige of how she had originally appeared before she had transformed her hair color and hidden her revealing pattern beneath a once modish vest that was now showing signs of wear and tear.

With a cautious glance around the compound grounds, the mare quickly straightened the headband and medal and scooped up the hat; coiling the curly mane into a compact knot on top of her head, she replaced the well-worn chapeau.

Checking once more for the absence of prying eyes, she breathed a sigh of relief as she saw that the rest of the ponies were too caught up in daydreams to bother about the real world around them. She tweaked her vest into place, tightened the strap of one of her sandals, ran a hoof over the colorful beads she wore around her neck, picked up a coarse satchel, and, with a toss of her tail, moved toward a shady maple where she could imitate her friends by enjoying the mild taste of a new season.

* * *

Gauntlet stared at the calendar as he swallowed the last of the amber liquid in his glass. Three years... it had been three years since Sugarberry had walked out of his life... three years in which he had searched the length and breadth of Ponyland looking for the elusive love of his life! How could she have disappeared so thoroughly?

The stallion punched his hoof into the calendar with such force that the pages ripped from the nail that had supported them and the record of days dropped to the floor. Gauntlet picked it up and threw it across the room, sending pages flying in all directions. "Three years!" he shouted to the empty room. "Three beastly years!" He ran a shaking hoof through his mane and collapsed onto the sofa, his hoof now sheltering his eyes. "Three lonely years," he groaned in utter despair.

It all came back to him in a torrent of painful memories - the knocking on the door of Sugarberry's apartment which had heralded the arrival of Butch and Tex with a search warrant to uncover the nefariously-gained Native Pony artifact of which Sugarberry had been so proud- and of which the scheming Tabby had learned... the steep fine thrown at Sugarberry for possessing such a treasure- and no means with which to pay it, which led to an investigation of her accounts and the knowledge that some records did not match... the subsequent research that pointed at Wigwam as the source of the unauthorized loan that was born of illicit use of bank funds... Sugarberry's ultimate betrayal of Wigwam when she handed over to Barnacle the note that both she and Wigwam had signed which had been intended as a countermand to either of them ever ratting on the other- but the collapse of the financial structure that had kept Distinction and the rest of Sugarberry's fashion empire running necessitated her turning over what she could so that she would be granted leniency from criminal charges which kept her out of jail but bankrupt with no resources left to save Distinction.

Gauntlet remembered distinctly the day that the dignified mare had removed her personal items from her office at the Distinction headquarters and the somber yet brave look she had given the unfinished office building across the street that was to have been her ultimate success as distinctive new quarters for her magazine. He had accompanied her back to her upscale apartment to help her pack suitcases and boxes and transport what few possessions she still had to her sister's apartment; Raspberry- whose job at Distinction was still intact- was willing to give her sister shelter even amidst the bad publicity that the entire fiasco had garnered, and she had urged Sugarberry to take her time to sort out her life and explore the possibilities open to her.

If only he had not pushed her so! The stallion groaned from sheer misery. He had wanted to marry Sugarberry so that he could protect her from some of the adversities that had hounded her; but she had kept putting him off, saying that she needed time to think- with no complications- and plan for the future. He had not been able to accept that answer, so had asked again and again, until she had finally acknowledged her true feelings- she loved him, but she was afraid that her dishonorable situation would affect his career and reputation; and she would not bring him down with her.

She would not listen to his declaration that their love would combat any amount of gossip and blacklisting that the world could throw at them. A sad smile and a light kiss was all it earned him, but he was not so crushed that he quit trying; the last time he again asked her to marry him occurred just before he left town for a week long business trip to Happy Hollow. Once more, the mare had simply smiled tenderly at him and repeated her need to find her own answers; and he had left to take care of his own obligations.

Never would he forget the immense feeling of loss that had besieged him when he returned home and found Raspberry on his doorstep. He knew right away that the news was bad when Raspberry gave him a letter from Sugarberry; Raspberry had wanted to decamp immediately, but he had forced her to accompany him into his apartment where he blocked the door with his body while he read the note.

Dearest Gauntlet,

I want you to know that I appreciate your standing by me

throughout this mess into which I got myself. No one else except

Raspberry has given me such unconditional support; the two of

you are very special ponies to overlook my flaws and see only

that tiny part of me that is good. Above all, I will always

treasure the sacrifice you were willing to make by offering

to take my hoof in marriage. You can do far better than

burdening yourself with a Jonah like me.

And to prevent you from clinging to an impossible dream,

I am removing myself from town, separating the two of us

so that you will have no choice but to continue with your rising

career in the financial field in which I bungled so badly. I

expect you to find a kind, gentle helpmate- one who will be a

benefit to you, not a detriment.

For my part, I will continue to search for a niche where

I may yet find some satisfaction in a job well done.



"Where is she?" Gauntlet growled at Raspberry, his eyes still on the note.

"I don't know."

"You wouldn't have let your sister go without knowing where." He lifted his head, his words rumbling out of his throat in ominous anger, but Raspberry stood her ground.

"She wanted to make sure no one would be able to locate her," she explained slowly, as if to a toddler.

Stormy eyes burned into her, but Gauntlet seemed to accept her answer... for now. "Why did she do this when she could have been my wife?"

"She wanted you to go on with your life with no encumbrances; she felt that she would bring you nothing but trouble."

"Shouldn't I be the judge of that? I love her, Raspberry. I want to share my life with her."

"She knew that. It was her decision to go because she didn't want to hurt you."

"As if her leaving me doesn't hurt?" he roared.

"I'm sorry." The mare stepped toward the door, but Gauntlet refused to move.

"One more time, Raspberry. Where did she go?"

A tear slipping down her cheek, Raspberry could only whisper, "I don't know. I honestly don't know. Her note to me gave no more indication as to where she was headed than yours did."

Unable to deny the honesty in her voice and the sadness in her expression, Gauntlet finally stepped aside, allowing her access to the door. Reaching it, she turned back to the stallion. "She really did love you, you know."

"Did? You make it sound like it's all over. I'll find her if it takes the rest of my life."

He had been so sure of himself; and now, here it was, three years later, and he still had no clue as to where she had disappeared... gone without a trace. He had scoured the town looking for a clue as to where she would head, but without any luck. The private investigator he had hired also was stumped.

It was as if she had vanished.

* * *

A soft breeze playing about her caused Sugarberry to relax under the spreading maple tree where she had chosen to situate herself. For a long moment, she sat quietly, simply enjoying the peaceful surroundings. From somewhere across the meadow came the sounds of a haunting melody being played on a guitar and a plaintive voice intoning, "Someone's singing Lord, kumbaya, Oh Lord, kumbaya," and overhead several robins bickered over a nesting spot. Opening her satchel, Sugarberry took out some beads and cord and began stringing the colorful glass orbs. This project kept her hooves occupied but did little to still her mind.

Three years had gone by since she had quietly slipped out of her past life and donned a new persona in which to become invisible to those who would be searching for her... not that she had anything to hide anymore. Barnacle had been thorough in his prosecution of her illegal dealings with Wigwam, and he had flaunted her unscrupulous purchase of a protected artifact to bend her will to meet his judicial requirements- she had turned over evidence that had doomed Wigwam to a jail sentence for embezzling bank funds for private gain.

And Wigwam... Sugarberry ground her teeth as she jabbed another bead on the cord... that stallion had blamed her for his incarceration!!! As if she had a choice in the matter! She had lost her home, her magazine, and her new business complex- and would have gone to jail, too, if she had not buckled under Barnacle's relentless questioning about Wigwam's involvement in her financial troubles. What else could she do but turn state's evidence on the devious bank president who had hounded her over their business dealings and had tried to ingratiate himself into her personal life as well. It was only fair that he suffer some payback- and all he lost was his job and a few months of freedom. Nothing, compared to what Sugarberry had been forced to concede.

An involuntary shudder caused the mare to drop a bead, and she stared blankly into the distance as she remembered the day only six months after Wigwam had been found guilty and confined that she had learned that he was once again a free stallion. She had come across a two-week old newspaper while selling her beads at a flea market and had read in horror that Wigwam had weaseled his way around the law- and with Sugarberry's own lawyer, Dreamcatcher, helping him. She had been so angry that she had contemplated returning to Dream Valley just to give Wigwam a piece of her mind, but had- fortunately- thought better of it before she destroyed the tentative plans she was forming to regain at least a portion of her earlier success.

"Taffy," a voice called, and Sugarberry slowly came out of her reverie, responding to the name she had claimed among her new friends when she had first wandered into the hippy commune. Staring down at her was one of the other commune inhabitants, a white pegasus named Tiffany. The sparkly-maned mare wore a multi-colored headband and a simple strand of beads over a tie-dyed tee. She looked totally offended as her gaze swept across the handiwork that Sugarberry was involved with. "This is no time for your capitalistic ventures. Take some time to smell the flowers." She handed Sugarberry a clump of violets.

Sugarberry set aside her pastime and accepted the peace offering, not because she liked this mare but because she was in no mood to spar with her. "Thanks, Tiff." Bringing the flowers to her nose, she sniffed their gentle fragrance, then closed her eyes and leaned back against the tree. If she was silent long enough, Tiffany might leave her alone... but she was not to be so fortunate.

She heard a rustle as Tiffany sat on the grassy ground next to the mare. Sugarberry maintained her sleepy attitude, but Tiffany was not stymied. "Do you know what these beads remind me of?" Tiffany said lazily. Sugarberry felt a fanning of air as the mare reached over her to help herself to the string of beads that Sugarberry had been working on, but she said nothing. She suspected, however, that Tiffany was swinging the beads back and forth in front of her face as if tempting a kitten to pounce. Sugarberry braced herself as Tiffany prosed on.

"They remind me of the time the fashion magazine came here to photograph some of us in our beads and bands and duds and things. We never saw the article that appeared some months later, but we heard talk about it."

Sugarberry caught the barely audible sound of the beads swaying back and forth in the still air and noted that it could almost have been mistaken for the hissing of a snake. It set her on edge.

"Taffy, did you ever read fashion magazines?"

Sugarberry mentally calculated how to respond to this prattle, for it surely was an innocent question... or was it more serious than idle conversation? As head of Distinction, she had authorized a piece on the hippy style of dress and had been amused by the colorful, eccentric, and sometimes quirky fashions the members of the commune had adopted. She had treated them with whimsical condensation... until she had needed a cover for herself and had realized that she could easily lose herself in this crowd of peace-loving ponies. Now it was imperative that she remain hidden here until she had her plan completely formulated.

Lazily, she opened her blue eyes to mark the passage of the beads still oscillating through the air. "A time or two, Tiff."

"Distinction, I think the name of it was."

Acutely aware of Tiffany's eyes piercing her, Sugarberry shrugged. "I preferred Raves." Her ears twitched at the blatant lie she told.

"Distinction... Distinction..." Tiffany tapped her hoof against her chin thoughtfully, then suddenly came to attention. "Sugarberry. The owner's name was Sugarberry."

Fortunately, Sugarberry's face was naturally white or it would have been a dead give-away of her angst at hearing her name from Tiffany's lips. As it was, Sugarberry was the only one who knew her blood had turned to ice in her veins. As cold as she felt, the silver orb that dangled on her forehead felt as if it was on fire against the strawberry hidden beneath it.

Her years of experience at controlling her emotions while she sat before a hostile board of directors came to her aid. She simply stared back at the mare facing her and stated, "I wouldn't know."

"Your ear's twitching, Taffy," the mare replied. "It does that occasionally, you know." Like when you're lying, she might as well have added. Tiffany smugly dropped the beads in front of Sugarberry and stood up. "We'll talk again."

As if truly in a trance, Sugarberry watched the mare disappear into the farmhouse that served as a home to those involved with the commune. She realized that she could not have moved a muscle if she had tried. Her body was frozen as her mind churned through thoughts that tumbled over one another.

Shortly after she had read of Wigwam's release from his jail sentence, two strangers had come into the commune asking questions. She vividly remembered sitting amidst a group of her cohorts on a balmy summer day, listening to the strumming of a guitar and some rather pathetic spontaneous lyrics. The two alien stallions were at first ignored by everyone present, but they were not to be overlooked for long.

Stepping into the circle of sedentary ponies, the larger of the two had grabbed the guitar from Brandon, effectively stifling the music. After one blaze of anger from Brandon's eyes at the hostile action, the hippy had assumed a lethargic pose of non-concern and the others had followed suit. "Peace, man," Brandon had drawled.

The second visitor, who had been searchingly regarding each of the ponies before him, had given Brandon a withering look. "We're looking for a friend of ours that disappeared about six months ago."

"Cool, man," Isaac said.

"This mare has a distinctive twice-as-fancy strawberry pattern," the first visitor expanded.

"Only strawberries here are out in the garden," Brandon had replied with a toss of his head in the direction of their food source where Quince leaned on her hoe, watching the newcomers.

"Does the name Sugarberry mean anything to any of you?"

The question was met with a sea of blank looks; it was an unspoken trust that no one would ever question the identity of a new member of the commune nor would anyone ever knowingly betray the identity of any of their members to snooping strangers. At that moment, Sugarberry had been very glad that this troupe of ponies was so very stalwart in their determination to preserve anonymity, even though she had fastidiously kept her true identity a secret. These two strangers were effectively stymied.

"What's a sugarberry?" Nightingale asked, a naive pout to her tone.

"It's a tree," Dawn responded. "My folks have one in their backyard."

"We're not discussing a tree!" the first stranger barked. "Sugarberry is a pony with a strawberry pattern and a single red strawberry on her forehead."

"You're comparing apples to oranges," Rubicon chuckled. "A strawberry is a creeping plant; a sugarberry is a tree in the hackberry family."

"This in not a horticultural class," fumed the second stranger. "We are looking for a mare..."

He was interrupted by Isaac. "If you were looking for birds or butterflies, man, you might find them on a sugarberry; birds like the tree's juicy fruit and butterflies like the sap... groovy, huh?"

"The mare's name is Sugarberry; she's white with a red strawberry pattern. And her hair is a bright red, too."

The thirteen or so hippies looked at one another. Two of them had red hair... both of them stallions and certainly with no strawberry pattern.

"Sorry. No one here by that description," stated Brandon, retrieving his guitar from the stallion who had confiscated it. He strummed his hoof over the strings of his instrument. "Sugarberry..." he crooned experimentally. His face lighted up as he found the chords and the melody that worked. "Swinging in the sugarberry tree... you and me... peaceful as a honey bee... Your touch as soft as butterflies' wings, your kiss as sweet as love-berries... my favorite things, my favorite things..."

On the refrain, the other hippy ponies joined in, leaving the two strangers glaring at them in disgust and shaking their heads. With a muttered oath, the two had charged off, leaving the group grinning over their success in routing the unwanted company.

Everyone, that is, except Tiffany, Sugarberry remembered with a jolt. Tiffany had been staring at her rather oddly while the other ponies cracked jokes about the two outsiders who had dared enter their territory. Sugarberry had written it off at the time to Tiffany's jealousy of Rubicon who happened to be sitting next to Sugarberry- Sugarberry as Taffy, with yellow tail and a hat covering the yellow curls she had adopted, a silver medallion covering the give-away facial design, and a vest hiding the twice-as-fancy pattern. And as Tiffany had never delved any further into Sugarberry's background, Sugarberry had completely forgotten the incident, concentrating instead on a way to climb the ladder of success once more.

But was it possible that Tiffany had been biding her time and had seen the accidental uncovering of the strawberry motif on her forehead this afternoon, verifying her suspicions and causing her to pick away at Sugarberry's identity? What could she do with the information?

Sugarberry groaned. Tiffany could turn it over to those two clods who had shown up at the commune! Sugarberry had recognized them easily enough... Tawny and Strider, both of whom had served time themselves and now sold themselves out as private investigators. Tiffany was probably aware of their identities as well.

Sugarberry stared at the purple violets in her hoof. The only patch of violets on the compound was under the east window of the house in the shelter of a spreading yew. If Tiffany had been picking them when Sugarberry had accidentally exposed the symbol on her forehead, Tiffany might have seen it and hidden herself behind the yew by the time Sugarberry surveyed the area. "Oh, great," Sugarberry moaned out loud.

If Tiffany was going to alert Sugarberry's former cohorts as to her whereabouts before she had time to put her plan into action, Sugarberry was lost.

* * *

"Raspberry's here," the svelte Bluebonnet said, escorting the mare into the modern office where Spike sat behind a gleaming desk.

"I'll be with you in a moment," the well-dressed dragon mumbled, his attention focused on the facts and figures on the papers before him. Bluebonnet waved Raspberry into a chair, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Tapping her hoof on the arm of the chair, Raspberry gave up on Spike's immediate attention and turned her gaze to the window of what had once been her sister's office.

Out that window, she could see the tower that Sugarberry had been so looking forward to completing. At twelve stories, it was the tallest building in Dream Valley; it stood on the block that had originally held the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, amidst other small, outdated establishments. Sugarberry had succeeded in buying up the lot of them and having them demolished for her dream of a commanding home for her fashion magazine, Distinction. And she had come so close...

Raspberry's gaze swung back to Spike, her eyes smouldering in anger. It had never been officially released, but Raspberry and Sugarberry both knew that Spike had his grubby... claw... in the downfall of Sugarberry's empire. No one else could have pulled it off so effectively. The little weasel had been involved in every aspect of the business and had recorded every tidbit of information on all those electronic gadgets he so depended on. She was sure he had slipped hints to the authorities to help strengthen their case against Sugarberry and Wigwam. And then the rat had come forward once Sugarberry was ousted, and he bought the business... his money coming from wise investments in stocks, he claimed. It made her blood boil!

As if feeling fire and brimstone being directed in his direction, the purple dragon looked up. "You don't stand a chance against me," he growled, releasing a puff of his dragon fire. Then he grinned. "Let's get down to business."

"Y... yes, sir," Raspberry acquiesced. It had been a lapse on her part to let the dragon see her animosity. She would have to be more circumspect in the future. Sugarberry was depending on her.

* * *

"Hey, dudes, look what I have," Rubicon grinned as he came into the old farmhouse at dusk one evening in June. Clutched in his hoof were several small, stiff pieces of paper.

Becca, who had been serving up portions of soup from a cast-iron kettle, squinted at the stallion. "Some bread, I hope."

"Better than that," teased Rubicon, waving the slips of paper in the air.

"Tickets!" Dawn squealed, grabbing the airborne hoof and forcing it down. "... to..." she gasped, "Tabby and the Bushwoolies!"

Those ponies who had not previously been interested in Rubicon's entrance now came crowding forward. "You mean that comeback concert that everyone's talking about?" queried Isaac.

"Ohhh!" bubbled Dawn. "I've been hearing some cool things about that show. "Are there tickets for all of us?"

"Enough for everyone," Rubicon stated, pulling another pile of them from his backpack.

"How'd you get your hooves on those?" asked Brandon, crowding forward to get one of the tickets for himself.

"My parents were so glad to hear from me after all these years that they offered me a roll of money... and I couldn't turn it down." He gave his braided ponytail a toss. "Figured I'd put it to good use for the benefit of us all." He tossed the remaining tickets casually onto the table.

Sugarberry, standing amidst the chattering ponies, stared at the tickets as they fanned out on the worn and sticky surface, the name Tabby searing her brain with memories. Schoolmates, she and the music star had never experienced any friendly feelings for one another. And after the collapse of Sugarberry's fashion empire, it had been Tabby who had ended up with the office tower that had been designed as the new home for Sugarberry's magazine, Distinction. Not that Tabby could afford to buy it, but her father could... and did. Hubert had taken possession of the structure and presented it to his daughter as a gift while Sugarberry sat embroiled in her financial and legal problems. The unfairness of the situation still rankled, and Sugarberry would gladly have torn the concert tickets to shreds to alleviate some of her rancor.

It was Tiffany who brought Sugarberry out of her dark thoughts. "Here, Taffy; you don't have a ticket yet," the mare's honey-coated voice purred. "You wouldn't want to miss Tabby's performance, now, would you?" The smile in the mare's voice was not repeated in her eyes- in those orbs glinted a hint of mischief.

"I prefer Mo..." Sugarberry stuttered. She had been about to say Mozart, but that would only fuel Tiffany's imagination. "... Moho Madness," she thought quickly.

"Groovy," agreed Nightingale.

"Oh, come now, Taffy," Tiffany continued. "Tabby is where it's at. No one who's anybody will miss her concert."

"Yeah. Come with us," Isaac coaxed. "It'll be so cool."

"I'd rather stay here." This was the truth, as she had missed her privacy since coming to the hippy commune. It would be rather comforting to be able to ramble about the place without stepping on someone else; it would also allow her some time to think.

"Afraid you might meet someone from your past?" goaded Tiffany, thrusting the ticket in front of Sugarberry's face.

One word on the ticket seemed to loom out at Sugarberry: Tabby. She did not want to see her enemy flaunting her success on stage, not while Sugarberry's own future was so uncertain. Later, when she had regained control of Distinction, she would face Tabby with pleasure. For now, it was better not to take the chance at discovery; if everyone thought she had disappeared for good, they would let their defenses down. It would not be long before Raspberry had everything in place. Then, ponies would find that Sugarberry was not so easily dismissed.

Shaking her head, Sugarberry repeated her answer. "No, Tiff. I'm not going."

Rubicon, sensing an altercation between the two mares, came to intervene. "Come on, Taffy. Peace, love, harmony.... that's what it's all about. We're all going to the concert." He took the ticket from Tiffany and pushed it into Sugarberry's stiff hoof.

"Yeah, man. You're the man, man," Xavier said, thumping Rubicon on the back. "Peace is where it's at."

Sugarberry had no choice. Peace, man.

* * *

The noise, the lights, and the press of bodies was wearing on Sugarberry as she watched the activity on stage. Tabby was in prime form tonight, no doubt about it. Her music was wild, and it grated on Sugarberry's already raw nerves.

Tiffany had seemed to proclaim herself Sugarberry's protector for the evening, dogging her hoofsteps as a mother would a helpless child. That meant that Rubicon was always nearby as well, as he stuck to Tiffany like glue. Sugarberry could not relax her guard for a moment. She was sure that Tiffany was waiting for something to happen that would reveal her true identity to the world at large, here in a setting that would guarantee that any number of ponies involved with Tabby's troupe could recognize her as the former fashion authority. She did not want to be uncovered looking like a peacenik.

The one thing that bothered the mare more than anything else was the news she had gleaned from a newspaper that Lemon Treats had brought home to the commune. A splashy article on Tabby's comeback printed in the Dream Valley Gazette had revealed to Sugarberry what Wigwam was up to since his incarceration was concluded. She could not prevent grinding her teeth just thinking about it. He had finagled himself into Tabby's good graces and was now acting as her corporate manager. The miscreant had come out on top and carried Tabby with him! Was there no justice?

Well, if Sugarberry had her way, there would be some day. The only threat now was that Tiffany suspected her true identity and seemed anxious to expose her. Tiffany had always resented Rubicon's interest in Sugarberry, and she was selfish enough to throw Sugarberry's life into turmoil just to get rid of the rival mare's presence. That plan would have to be thwarted.

When Isaac pushed near to deliver a soda, Sugarberry made the most of the opportunity. "Let's move closer to the stage," she whispered to the stallion, hoping to get even more deeply lost in the crowd.

Pleased to have been singled out by Sugarberry, Isaac happily agreed, shoving a path through the surrounding ponies. Others in their group followed, but Tiffany and Rubicon ended up shuffled to the back, which gave Sugarberry some mental breathing room even as she herself became pressed into the swelling push of the crowd. At least, this way, she was completely camouflaged, just one more fan in a sea of nondescript faces. There was safety in numbers, after all. The mare smiled smugly.

* * *

The bizarre play of laser lights that flashed across the stage like the bombardment of a spaceship's weapons frightened Sugarberry; she attempted to pull back farther from the stage, but Isaac had put a protective foreleg around her and held her at his side while he craned to get a better look at the explosive ending to Tabby's concert. As the truth dawned that this was not a planned extravaganza- and as the authorities began swarming into the area- the hippies clustered together, moving back only as far as the police ponies forced them.

Sugarberry watched the scenario play out before her startled eyes. Tabby had plunged off the stage- surely it was only a dramatic staging on the singer's part. Hadn't she witnessed the unicorn's blatant flirting with the stallion who had rushed to her side? Tabby could not possibly be hurt... could she? The arrival of the paramedics turned Sugarberry's blood cold. Tabby may be her enemy, but she certainly did not wish the vivacious mare any physical harm.

One of the patrolling officers made another pass by the congregated hippies and obviously found their presence unsettling. "The show's over. Go on your way," he barked, reaching out to prod the nearest ponies toward the exit.

"Get your hooves off, fuzz!" Rubicon snapped; the hippy's hoof came up as if to shove the cop back; but the deputy responded quickly, capturing Rubicon's foreleg in a vise-like grip.

"I said, out!" the officer growled, propelling Rubicon away from him.

The hippy fell against Brandon who knocked against Becca who fell against Sugarberry's side with a hard thump, knocking Sugarberry's hat ajar, pulling the headband to the side. As Sugarberry struggled to regain her balance, nearly taking Isaac down with her in the process, she realized that a scuffle was developing between her hippy friends and the officer who now had backup from several of his cronies.

With a strong grip on the mare, Isaac was able to save the two of them from falling while simultaneously putting himself in front of the mare to not only protect her but also to aid his comrades. Sugarberry stumbled back and found herself facing Tiffany.

"So my suspicions were right... Sugarberry," the mare sniggered. "And now, what's it worth to you for me to keep my mouth shut?"

Sugarberry's hoof snapped up to touch the medallion on her forehead and found it dangling out of place at the side of her head. Swiftly, she moved it to cover the revealing strawberry motif and straightened her hat, her icy glare never leaving Tiffany's face. Her disguise back like a protective mask, Sugarberry grated, "Not a single jangle."

Neither mare had a chance to consider their options any further as the scuffling around them intensified and a howl of outrage from Rubicon garnered Tiffany's attention. Taking advantage of the situation, Sugarberry backed away from her group, seeking anonymity by distancing herself from the commotion around her, when suddenly she was stopped abruptly with a strong hoof wrapping itself around her foreleg. With a gasp of surprise, Sugarberry's head shot around to face the aggressor, and a fission of fear jettisoned down her back.

With the look of diablo in his eyes, Wigwam held her captive.


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