News drones flew down a suburban street, tracking a bizarre procession. Six quadruped robots were pulling a cart. They were dressed up in horse-like manes and tails, and their cargo was hidden under an old-fashioned wagon top, giving the group the look of a nineteenth-century pioneer group. A lone human rode in front, holding an unnecessary set of reins and grinning like a fool.
The horses (such as they were) turned a corner onto a street of battered apartments, and took up a chant:
"Tribute ponies on the road
Carrying a heavy load
Well-hung monarch's in our space?
Pay him off or buck his face!"
Sky Diver's mind inhabited the left rear robot, turning him into a metal beast of burden with a view of little but the other circuitry Clydesdales. He set his body to keep up the chant, but meanwhile wrote a message in his mind to the Westwind Corporation employee who was their driver. "Any problems?"
The young man had volunteered when the horse-souls rented his company's robots, and had even bought himself a cowboy hat. He said aloud, "We're trending on the news feeds. Must be a slow day. My boss let the police know we're out here for a prank, so that's taken care of."
Diver sent back, "It's not a prank. It's deadly serious inter-universe royal diplomacy. =)"
At last the wagon reached apartment 942, and the human hopped down to ring the doorbell. Some people had come out of their own homes to see what was going on.
A man in a comic-book t-shirt answered the door even before the human reached it. Someone must've tipped him off. "What the hell?" he said, staring past the human employee to the cart.
The other horses tapped Diver with their necks and legs, urging him on. Diver disengaged his reins and trotted over, awkwardly. This body wasn't built to a true horse shape; it felt like he was trying to walk on his whole foot-bones instead of the tips like a normal person.
Diver said, "Hear ye! We have determined that this castle is the home of the dread Dictator Dong, ferociously potent warlord of the magical pony land of Hoofland!" He made sure the other horses' speakers relayed his words loud enough for all the onlookers to hear.
The man stammered and blushed. "Okay, what? How did you --"
"Because of your penetrating might and vigor, we representatives of Queen Harvest Moon" -- a chorus of "All hail!" from the others -- "have come to declare our offering of tribute. Behold!"
Their human hustled back to the wagon and whipped off the cover to reveal a keg of beer, labeled Dos Equis.
"We recognize the awful might of your empire and the overwhelming girth of your army. In return for this gift, we ponies of the Night Queen's domain seek peace with the Dong forces and recognition of our rule over our ancestral lands."
The human who was using his weekend to lead a horde of goons in harassing Hoofland's people, looked incredulous. They'd tracked him down to where he lived, in the real world, and manged to be as embarrassing as possible about it. "Hey, man, we're just having fun."
Diver's muzzle couldn't vary much from its stern expression, and he stamped the ground with one titanium foot. "Indeed, it is the royal perogative of the virile Dong to amuse himself as he pleases in our magical pony land. We seek only peace to prevent the annihilation or conquest of our land, which would force us to seek redress in some other way." The other horsebots stomped in unison. The driver waved to a news drone.
The dictator stood in the doorway, arms crossed and leaning back. "I'm not even in charge of this. It was another guy's idea, the one playing Queen Sunward Ho."
"Another team of tribute ponies will be dispatched immediately to make peace with the mighty Ho of the ferocious Dong, provided you tell us where Ho lives."
"I don't think he'd want me to... uh."
"But how else can we deliver tribute? Perhaps you can accept this tribute on behalf of our nation, and do what you can to use your deep and piercing might on your Ho to bring about peace between all our people."
Dong was sweating now, faced with this "royal treatment", the attention of his neighbors snickering at him, and the prospect of angry robots. "Look, uh, Hoofland people. The invasion is a thing we're doing for fun. But we were never trying to win, exactly."
"Indeed?" Sky Diver had guessed it. Key's attitude was the same: the point of fighting in Hoofland was to have fun, not to win, and that was doubly true for humans who had better things to do in their own world.
"Yeah. So." Dong glanced over at the wagon and the vaguely menacing horse guards. "A whole keg of beer, huh?"
Nimbus hung upside-down from a rafter, laughing as the diplomat group returned to the off-world tavern. "That nonsense actually worked?"
Diver grinned up at her, then spotted Golden Scale and hugged her for real this time.
Scale said, "Our human agent says the stunt is all over the forums. Ours and the goons'. The invaders are already working with it like it was their own idea for a plot twist. Instead of them griefing us, they're re-organizing as mercenaries, or going off to do other things, or making legitimate accounts to play without wrecking things."
Diver said, "How often do the characters of a game find out where you live and show up in person to make fun of you?"
The bat-pony flipped and landed on a table. "Okay, but now we're supposedly their vassals or something."
"So what, if it costs a keg of beer and it turns trolls into friends?"
"It's the principle. What if they try to extort more favors out of us? We came here to be free."
Harvest Moon stepped closer to put one hoof on Nimbus' wing. "Let any humiliation fall on the Nobles for arranging a deal. As for further demands from the outsiders, I think Diver's theory is right: we'll get more benefit than cost. Think of the bribe as an investment in good relations with some tech-savvy humans."
Nimbus still looked skeptical as she turned back to Diver. "How did you come up with the plan, anyway?"
Sky Diver said, "From Major Key. For someone playing Earthside, competing for power here is just a game, and they don't win anything. The invaders didn't care about taking over so much as messing with us, and if we were willing to be a little ridiculous and do something that was fun for them instead of only thinking of ourselves, we could convince them to change their narrative."
Nimbus whistled. "Maybe it's because you two messed with your heads, that you could come up with a stunt like that."
"Could be," said Diver. It was hard to tell how much of his thought process was artificial. He preened gently at one of his wings, which calmed him a little.
"What now?" asked Nimbus.
Harvest Moon leaped onto a table and stood tall. "My loyal subjects, we still have a land to conquer!"
I'm a writer with several books up on Amazon. Many of these are in a setting called "Thousand Tales", where a virtual game world offers immortality under the rule of a friendly AI whose ambitions extend far beyond the game.
See kschnee.deviantart.com for a larger gallery of stories, and check out novels such as "The Digital Coyote" or "Liberation Game" for my published fiction!