Conversations in a Canterlot Café

Frothy Brew is the barista in the Canterlot café owned by himself, his wife, and his daughter. Years of hard work had made the café a successful and modestly popular place to stop and get a drink or a snack. Nothing prepared him though for it to become a hub of interaction with the undisguised changelings that were being seen more often in the streets of Canterlot. Can he put aside his feelings for the species though after witnessing the most horrifying aspect of the invasion years ago?
This story runs concurrently with the latter part of my Change of Life story. While reading that and Prelude To Change is not necessary, they do give valuable background that is glossed over in "Conversations". Cover art and story illustrations are all done by Foxenawolf.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/192085/conversations-in-a-canterlot-caf

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10. Chapter 10: A Civil Chat

The True Brew Café used to employ two part-time waitresses, one each for the morning and afternoon shifts, overlapping for the lunchtime rush. One had quit in disgust at all the changelings, and she had been replaced by Mixitkl. However, Custard Tart had been happy to continue on in her morning shift position, especially since the growth in business had also meant an increase in the hours worked, and therefore her take-home pay. Of late though, her pay was not the only thing increasing. The earth pony mare was quite gravid, and not long due to give birth. Actually, only her sturdy nature had kept her on this long.

This morning, Frothy was a little surprised when Custard walked into the shop in the company of an Orange Changeling. Typical of its kind, the changeling was small and almost cute-looking. The carapace was slightly darker than average, but the smile was just as bright as ever for those from that hive.

Custard called out a greeting as she trotted over to him.

“Good morning, Custard. Who’s your friend?” Frothy asked, unsure if he had seen this particular changeling before due to their similar looks.

“This is Parva, a friend of mine who’s looking for a job. I’m ready to go on maternity leave, and I suggested that he might like to take over from me.”

Frothy noted the use of ‘he’ in reference to Parva, but he also knew that despite the gender preference, there was essentially no difference between him and Mixitkl – both being essentially sexless. Personality-wise though – that remained for him to find out.

“So, Parva, what makes you think that you’re suited to the job?” Frothy asked.

“I’ve been here before and seen Custard at work, so I have a fair idea of what is involved, and I believe my skills are up to the job.”

“Have you worked at any similar jobs before?”

“Not as a waiter, although I’ve done some customer service jobs. I’ve only had some temporary employment so far because I’m fairly new to being a harvester in Canterlot.”

“How did you get to know Custard then?”

“She was a customer at the shop where I was working. We got to talking when she mentioned that she worked at a café that was popular with changelings. It was her suggestion that I try for the position here.”

“Why leave your old job though?”

“Primarily because the opportunity to fulfill my task as a harvester would be better here, but I also do not like that job.”

Custard interrupted, “He’s being too polite. The store owner has been taking advantage of him. She’s figured out that the new undisguised changelings are rather desperate for jobs, and she’s been overworking and underpaying them. Parva is hardly the first, and probably won’t be the last to be used this way.”

Frothy grimaced in distaste. “I can’t stand business ponies like that. How can they expect to get the best out of their employees if they treat them so badly? I can see that eventually laws will be enacted to prevent this kind of thing, especially if the princesses get involved.” He snorted in annoyance, and then smirked. “Of course I do seem to have a fairly direct line to one princess in particular. It might pay to drop a word in her ear.”

“That would be appreciated, Mr Brew.”

“Seeing as Custard is recommending you, I’ll give you a trial. If it looks like you’re suited to the job and you like the work, then I’ll take you on permanently.” Frothy turned to Custard and continued, “He’s your responsibility. You know how I like to run things, so get him up to speed as soon as possible. When do you want to go on leave?”

“I was thinking of finishing the week. That should be enough time for Parva to get a handle on things.”

Frothy thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “That works for me. Who knows – if he’s good enough, he might do you out of a job.”

Custard snorted in amusement. “Fat chance! When the new section opens, you’re going to need to hire more staff, not less!”

Frothy chuckled. “You got me there, Custard. So when will you be starting, Parva?”

“I’m ready to start right now, sir.”

“Oh? What about your old job?”

“I already quit that.”

“Were you that confident of getting this job?” Frothy asked with an arch of an eyebrow.

“Fairly confident, but mostly I hated working for that tightwad mare.”

“Fair enough. Go grab an apron from over there and get Custard to show you where to start.” As the changeling started to move in the direction that Frothy had pointed out, he added, “And the name is Frothy; not ‘sir’; not ‘Mister Brew’. Understood?”

“Yes sir, Mister Brew!” Parva replied with a cheeky salute.

Frothy smirked. He was going to work out fine.

 

 

* * *

Parva had indeed worked out. In fact the Orange Changeling’s hive specialty was a major asset as he entertained the customers as much as he served them. Frothy had noted that Parva did tend to put extra effort into serving ponies over changelings though, which was not surprising considering that he was also passively harvesting their emotional energy, whereas the changelings could give him none. It amused Frothy when he realized that he could use that to tell which of his pony customers were actually disguised changelings because Parva unconsciously favored the real ones with his best efforts.

Despite the fact that they were from different hives, Parva and Mixitkl got along quite well when their shifts overlapped. Because the lunchtime period was so busy, there were always enough customers for both of them. Frothy did not realize how well they got along though until he found out that Mixitkl had shared her experiences with the traders’ meeting, and Parva requested to be part of the next.

Frothy looked at Parva in surprise. “Why do you want to come?” he asked bluntly.

“To give Mixitkl some support in dealing with them. Plus I might have something more to offer that hasn’t been suggested as yet.”

“You do realize that some of them are hostile to the presence of changelings, don’t you?”

Parva shrugged. “I have to play my part in this. It would be easier for us if we kept to the old ways, but our queens have decided that integration is the future of our kind, and so we all must do our best to bring it about. My feelings about this don’t matter.”

“Of course they matter!”

“That’s pony talk, Frothy. Despite our similarities, we still differ in some important respects, and my duty to the hive supersedes how I feel about it.”

Frothy scowled, but nodded reluctantly. “I suppose so, but I don’t have to like it. Anyway, you can come, but I can’t guarantee that you’ll be allowed to participate. Mixxy managed to get involved from the beginning, but I can’t say that they’ll let you get away with it also.”

“That’s all I ask.”

* * *

Parva’s presence definitely was not appreciated by some of the traders, but when it was moved to have him excluded, they were outvoted. Parva elected to sit quietly with Mixitkl, occasionally whispering something to her, allowing her to speak for them both so as not to rock the boat too much. Unfortunately, that wasn’t completely effective when it came to Blue Steel, the local smith who had just joined the trader group. The trouble was that although his business should not have been unduly affected due to the fact that changeling citizens needed his goods just as much as ponies did, he just plain hated them with a passion, and refused to deal with them.

“An’ why should I?” he demanded. “Sneaky, deceivin’ bugs! Ya think they’re really yer friends? Ha! They’re liars, every one of ‘em. They never woulda shown their faces if’n it weren’t fer that queen bitch tryin’ ta take over Canterlot. Now they’re makin’ nicey-nicey with us, pretendin’ ta be our friends after deceivin’ us for years. They’re still doin’ it! Ya know half of them are still pretendin’ ta be ponies. Fer all I know, some of yous are bugs too.”

Frothy had to admit that despite his bigoted rant, Blue Steel had one thing right – there was at least one disguised changeling in their midst. Mixitkl still refused to tell him who it was, and he had not figured it out for himself as yet. What disturbed him though was the point the smith had made about deceiving ponies. With all the good will in the world, he still had to concede that a changeling disguise was a deliberate attempt to deceive ponies in the long term. Even so, this would not have bothered him too much if it were not for how intimately changelings had gotten entwined with his family.

Efficacious Remedies sighed and said, “Please, Blue Steel, this group is supposed to be discussing business strategies in light of the changeling demographic, not an excuse to rant about them. Some of us have had modest success implementing suggestions put forth by Mixitkl, and regardless of other possible motives, that is why she is part of our group.”

Frothy’s opinion of Effy had gone up over the past few meetings. It was quite obvious that she still did not like changelings, and yet she did her best to be moderate and fair in dealing with them. This was good because she was a strong-willed pony, and she managed to push through otherwise unpopular ideas. Frankly, if she had not, Frothy would have stopped having these meetings at the café because they would not have been achieving anything.

Blue Steel just folded his forelegs over his chest, scowling but shutting up, and the meeting proceeded without further incident.

* * *

That evening as he prepared to go to bed, he abruptly asked, “Cherry, how do you feel about all those changelings who live here disguised as ponies?”

His wife gave him a quizzical look. “How should I feel about them? They’re a fact of life, and my opinion won’t change that.”

“It doesn’t bother you that there are probably hundreds of changelings in this city, deceiving us into thinking that they’re ponies?”

“You already know several like that; do they bother you?”

“All of those have proven themselves, but they’re only a hoofful in comparison to the number that must be out there. How do we know that they are all like that?”

Cherry sighed in exasperation. “What’s brought this on all of a sudden? I thought that you had gotten over your dislike of changelings once and for all?”

“It’s not a dislike,” Frothy replied in a defensive tone. “I mean, not all ponies are good, so why shouldn’t I suspect the motives of changelings when what they’re best known for is their ability to disguise themselves as ponies? They know we know now, so why do they continue deceiving us?”

“Yes, we know that now, and yet you haven’t thought about it in those terms until now. Why the change?”

“Cherry – our daughter goes out with one regularly, and usually he’s disguised as a unicorn. Aren’t you even a little bit concerned about that?”

“No, I’m not. I have faith in Peach’s judgement, and my impressions of Red Archer backs that up.”

“But that’s the point – changelings are adept at disguising their true nature. Isn’t it possible that we’re only seeing what they want us to see?”

Cherry rolled her blind eyes. “I think that you’re being overprotective of Peach, and letting Blue Steel’s rants fuel your fears. So I suggest you get it out of your system and talk to Guiding Hoof about it at your next counselling session. Or better yet, have a heart to heart talk with Red Archer. Perhaps he can give you both answers and reassurances.”

Frothy thought about that for a moment before nodding. “I think I’ll do just that. It’s about time that he and I had a good talk anyway.” He climbed into bed with Cherry and kissed her on the cheek. “It’s time we found out how serious their relationship is also.”

Cherry snuggled up to him and said, “You’re a good father, dear, but a horribly nosy one. Don’t be too hard on the poor colt.”

That’s the problem,’ Frothy thought to himself. ‘He’s not a colt.

* * *

The next afternoon when Sterling’s squad came in for their usual break, he pulled the sergeant aside.

“Could I ask you to have Red Archer stay behind for a few minutes? I need to have a talk with him.”

Sterling frowned a little. “Can’t it wait until after the patrol? He has duties to perform, and he comes here often enough in his own time to see Peach.”

“Peach is part of the reason that I want to talk to him, so I would rather not try to pull him aside when he comes over. It would be… awkward.”

Sterling considered it, then said, “As a favor to you, okay. However, try to keep it as brief as possible and have him re-join us immediately.”

“Thanks, Sterling. Your next coffee is on the house.”

“Corporal Archer, front and center!” Sterling barked.

The surprised changeling jumped up from the table and came over to the pair. “Yes, sir?”

“Frothy wants to have a word with you. Re-join the squad when he’s done,” Sterling commanded, and then left them to finish his break.

“What’s up, Frothy?” Archer asked in puzzlement.

“Grab your coffee and come with me, please. Mixxy, keep an eye on things. I’ll be with Archer next door for a while.”

“Okay, Frothy,” Mixitkl replied.

The bemused changeling followed Frothy next door into the partially renovated shop. While the major structural changes had been completed, it was still awaiting the fixtures to turn it into a functioning business, so for the moment it was mostly empty. Frothy gestured at one of the few tables that were there. “Have a seat, Archer.”

Red Archer put his coffee on the table and sat down, but then ignored the brew, preferring to wait for Frothy to tell him the reason for this oddly timed conversation.

Frothy sat opposite him and got straight to the point. “How many disguised changelings are there in Canterlot?”

The question surprised Archer, and he replied uneasily, “I… don’t think that I can answer that, Frothy.

“Can’t, or won’t?”

“A bit of both, actually. I’m not privy to every bit of information, but even if I did, it might not be my place to tell you.”

“Then give me your guess,” Frothy insisted.

“In a city this size, with harvesters from five hives, a couple of hundred probably,” Archer replied uncertainly. “Why do you need to know?”

“Why do they remain disguised if you want to be open with us and be a part of the community?”

“I can’t explain the motives for all of them, but I assume that it’s because it’s their identities, and they’re reluctant to let them go.”

“But isn’t that deceiving us? You’re asking us to accept you, but basically hundreds of your kind are lying to us on a daily basis.”

Archer frowned, getting irritated at Frothy’s accusations. “You talk about it as if it’s malicious, but changelings have always done this to blend in harmoniously with ponies.”

“But it’s still a deception,” Frothy insisted.

“Of course it’s a deception, but one that is of mutual benefit. You know this already, so why are you getting so heated up about it now?”

“Because now I can’t be sure of your motives with regards to my daughter!”

“Ah, I see.” Archer thoughtfully took a sip of his coffee before going on. “Have you thought to question your daughter’s motives with regards to me?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“What do you think she does when she goes with me?”

Frothy frowned. “I’ve been told that you go to concerts, dances, and other events. Are you telling me now that that this isn’t true?”

“Of course it’s true, but do you think we just do those things and never talk? Or we don’t stop by a restaurant and have dinner without leisurely conversation? Do you even realize why she agreed to go out with me in the first place? It wasn’t just my handsome good looks!”

Archer was still in his natural form, so his slightly smug smile made Frothy’s lips twitch with a hint of a smile before he said, “Okay, I’ll bite – what are her motives, and what do you talk about?”

“Anything and everything, just like most ponies do. However, what we most talk about is changelings. Peach has a nearly insatiable appetite for learning about us, and she uses our dates as opportunities to learn more. It just happens that we have many other interests in common, so we enjoy going out together. The point is though that she asks the questions that need answering instead of standing back and wailing about how little they know about us. Frothy, she wants to understand us better. How many other ponies can you say that of?”

 

 

Frothy mulled that over, then said, “So you talk about yourself a lot, but that still doesn’t cover the ones who stay permanently disguised as ponies. You have put yourself out there in public, but those others specifically don’t. What have they to hide? Why can’t they show that they aren’t really ponies?”

“Aren’t they? These are changelings who have made complete lives for themselves in the pony community. They have taken the forms of pegasi, earth ponies, and unicorns, and immersed themselves in pony culture to effectively become one. In a way, they are deceiving themselves as much as real ponies, because to be a harvester, you have to empathize with ponies, to work with them, relax with them, share your lives with them. To ask them to reveal themselves as changelings to everyone is to strip them of their identity. How would you feel if I demanded that you bare yourself to the world without a shred of privacy? That’s what you’re asking of the disguised changelings.”

“I’m not asking them to tell everypony everything about themselves; I only think that they should be honest enough to admit that they are changelings.”

“Seriously? You don’t think that that one little admission wouldn’t totally change their lives? Now you’re being unreasonable.”

“Am I? We’re not the ones who have been hiding for centuries.”

“No, we’re the ones who have been peacefully coexisting with ponies for centuries. The fact that our existence has been revealed to everypony doesn’t change who and what we are. It’s your ignorance of that though that drives your fears. The difference is that some ponies choose to learn about us and dispel their misconceptions, while others embrace their ignorance and let their fear rule them.”

Frothy mulled that over while Archer took the opportunity to drink more of his coffee. The silence stretched on for a minute before Frothy said, “I suppose this is where I should start asking you to tell me more about changelings; specifically how it relates to Peach though. What should I know about a changeling going out with a unicorn? What is she to you? And more to the point, do you have feelings for her?”

Archer put down his cup before replying. “Going out? Not much different from two ponies, really. What she is to me? So far, just a very close friend. As for my feelings – we changelings feel the same gamut of emotions that ponies do, and for mostly the same reasons. Just because we feed on emotional energy doesn’t mean that we can’t feel the same emotions. However, there is one thing that we can’t do – while we can love, we’re incapable of falling in love with somepony before they fall in love with us. We are in some ways a mirror to the emotions of our companions, so if they have no interest in us, neither do we have any interest in them. However, I admit that I would not mind it if Peach did fall in love with me. She’s a beautiful person, and I would feel privileged to be the object of her affection.”

“You can’t fall in love? That sounds like a cop-out to me.”

“No, it’s a fact. Let me give you an example. Do you remember Whirring Cogs, the Blue Changeling that Princess Twilight brought around?”

“How could I forget?!”

“Well, because I was intrigued, I found out a lot more about him afterwards. Did you know that he used to work at the Cloudsdale weather factory before the invasion? He and his best friend used to spend most evenings socializing with mares, but he never formed a relationship with any of them. However, after the invasion he met his future wife in a small village. They formed a relationship and she fell in love with him, but only then could he return that love. It took less than two weeks for him to go from an independent changeling, to a committed partner. Why? Because being able to experience love is one of the most powerful things that can happen to a changeling. That’s why we harvest love energy as a high priority. It gives us the most energy, and feels so good when we consume it. However, eating it pales before actually experiencing it, and I would very much like to do so. Thus, if Peach ever does fall in love with me, I would do my utmost to ensure that she never has reason to stop loving me. In the meantime, I will continue to be her good friend. Have I answered your question sufficiently?”

Frothy found it a bit hard to wrap his head around the concept of being unable to fall in love without being loved first. “I... think so,” he admitted. “But now I’m wondering what else about changelings is so different from us.”

Archer smiled. “Now you’re thinking like Peach, instead of like a close-minded pony. So many of you tend to think of us as weird-looking ponies, but we’re not, and we’re very different in several ways. Yes, we enjoy most of the things that you do, we feel the same emotions as you do, eat much the same foods, but we aren’t ponies. Let me ask you something – you hear me referring to ourselves as harvesters, but doesn’t that imply that there must be other types of changelings?”

“I thought that just meant that it’s your job.”

“It is, but it’s also what we are. Although all drones are capable of shape-changing, only harvesters are capable of making a sophisticated alter-ego and blending in with the pony population. Others in our hives are soldiers, or tunnel builders, or nursery attendants, or gatherers, and so forth. What we are defines our job, unlike ponies who choose their career.”

“But our cutie marks define us in a similar manner,” Frothy objected.

“Do they? Instead of a owning a café, could you not have been a coffee importer? Or perhaps a grower? You could have been working just as a barista instead of owning your own shop. Your cutie marks are a very broad guide, but for us, we’re bred to a task.”

“So you never really had a choice then? That’s awful.”

“Not really. Being bred to a task means that we are also very good at that task, and enjoy doing it. However, how we accomplish that task is still up to us to choose. Like many others from my hive, I chose the Royal Guard because that best fit my personality, but there are Reds in many other occupations. So while we’re very different from you in one way, we do have something in common there also.”

“I see. So where are these other… breeds? How many do you think there are in Canterlot?”

“None,” Archer said with finality.

“None whatsoever? Are you sure of that?”

“Almost certainly. Most other breeds either never leave the hive, or keep close nearby. Soldiers guard it and look out for possible dangers to the hive. Gatherers get food such as fruit, roots, fish, and umm… various sources of meat,” Archer said as delicately as possible. Even so, Frothy looked a little queasy at the thought. “However, even gatherers won’t stray too far from the hive. If they meet any ponies, it will be by accident, and they won’t hang around. Interacting with ponies is the job of the emotion harvesters.”

“I’m pretty sure that I’ve met some of those soldiers,” Frothy said sourly.

“During the invasion? Yeah, probably, but that was an aberration. I know that there aren’t any Red Changeling soldier types here, and I’m virtually certain that’s true of the other four hives also.”

“Peach was fortunate that she was visiting an aunt out of town when the invasion happened, so she never had to see what they were like. Hopefully she will never meet any.”

“Oh, she met some when she visited my hive.”

“She WHAT?!” Frothy shouted, jumping up and staring accusingly at Archer.

The changeling swallowed nervously and said, “She… didn’t tell you about that, did she?” When all he got was a furious glare from Frothy, he continued, “I don’t think I was supposed to mention that.”

“And why shouldn’t her father know what crazy ideas get in her head?” Frothy demanded.

“Hey now! It’s not crazy at all. If there was any danger, I would never have conveyed her request for an interview with Queen Carpacia.”

Why did she do that?” Frothy asked incredulously.

“I told you – she wants to learn all about us. Our queen agreed to the interview because she has heard about all the work that Peach has done to try to improve pony-changeling relations. It’s quite an honor for Peach. Veryfew ponies have ever gotten to visit the hive. Princess Twilight Sparkle is the only one to have been more than once.”

Frothy sank back to the floor with a groan, laying his head on the table and covering his eyes with one foreleg as if he could make it all go away by doing so. He realized though that it was pointless blaming Archer; his strong-willed daughter would probably have found another way eventually.

“Look at it this way, Frothy – you were concerned about changelings hiding things from you, but your own daughter is uncovering those very things, and far from causing any problems, she’s earning a great deal of respect in the changeling community.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Frothy mumbled.

“Yes, it should. We changelings excel at some things, and one is looking after our own. Peach has earned that honor, and whenever there’s a changeling nearby, she will always have a protector. She was not the first though. A few others have been declared honorary members of the hive.”

“Oh? Do I know them?” Frothy asked dully.

Archer grinned. “You should know at least one. You’ve seen him every time you’ve looked in a mirror.”

Frothy’s head shot up from the table. “Me? But why?”

“Don’t downplay your role, Frothy. While perhaps not a total success, your acceptance of changelings as normal citizens of the community at the True Brew Café made a big leap forward in our relations with the pony citizens. Certainly there’s a lot more work to be done, but it all had to start somewhere, and with someone. Some ordinary citizen rather than a Princess or ambassador, and that pony was you.”

“I only ever wanted to treat you with the same respect that I give all my customers,” Frothy protested.

“And that’s all we ever wanted from ponies – respect and acceptance for changelings, whether they be hidden or out in the open like myself. While we may differ in many ways, we are all citizens of Equestria, my friend, and proud to be so.” Archer finished the last of his coffee, and then got up and picked up his helmet telekinetically. “I really must get back to my squad now. If you wish to talk more about this later when I’m off-duty, let me know.”

Frothy wordlessly watched Archer leave, his mind awhirl with mixed emotions. He was still trying to sort out what he had learned and how he felt about it all when his wife came looking for him some time later.

Cherry’s horn glowed as it sent out magical feelers that touched on the various objects in the room, enabling her to unerringly navigate the room despite her blindness. She came to a stop by Frothy and asked, “Are you alright, dear? We were getting concerned when you didn’t return.”

Frothy snorted gently with wry humor and nuzzled Cherry reassuringly. “Darling, you’re never going to believe who is an honorary changeling…”

* * * * * * * *

Author's Note:

Unless you're completely mule-headed and refuse to change your opinions despite new information, you're always modifying your viewpoint on things that matter to you. Even when you think that things have been resolved, a stray comment can completely upset the status quo, and you go right back to questioning what you believe.

 
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