Rainbow Dash smiled in spite of herself. “I want to thank you for coming. That was a really beautiful ceremony, and hardly anypony seemed to be crying, at least until the end.”
“Perhaps nopony was crying on the outside,” said the Princess. “Different ponies deal with their grief in different ways. But one way or another, you are mourned. They loved you, and they will miss you.”
“I’ll miss them too,” Dash said. “Uh … what happens now?”
“We are going to meet a train.”
“Surely you don’t think I’d turn my back on the former Element of Loyalty?” said Celestia. “I will be accompanying you to the station, and then you will board the train to your final destination.”
“I never did like that word ‘final’. It always makes me think that I’ve just crashed into something.” Dash looked up at the Princess. “I don’t get it. I spent half my life falling to the ground, I hit more often than I wanted to, and some crummy bacteria take me out?”
“Weather ponies, even retired weather ponies, are especially susceptible to pneumonia,” Celestia answered. “And it might not have been bacteria. The Royal Medical Office has not yet found a reliable method for identifying the source of any individual infection.”
“Doesn’t matter now, I guess,” said Dash. “Where is this ‘final destination,’ anyway?”
“That I cannot tell you. I can tell you that you will have friends there, and that more will be coming eventually.”
The pegasus pondered for a moment. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“It is always a comfort to be with friends,” said the Princess.
“How much time do we have?”
“About half an hour. Why do you ask?”
“I was, uh, wondering if I could ask one last favor.” Dash bowed her head. “I know I’m old and decrepit and everything, but I still feel like me inside, you know? If it’s okay with you and, well, whoever, I’d like to try one last Sonic Rainboom, just like old times.”
Celestia smiled. “My little pony, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Apart from, you know, being dead and such.” Dash laughed. “And I’m breathing a whole lot better now.”
“There is one minor detail,” said the Princess. “You no longer have your original body, and therefore the calculations you have to make to determine the optimum speed will not necessarily be correct. There’s a chance the Sonic Rainboom simply will not work.”
“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” Dash said. “It can’t hurt to try, can it?”
“Not at this point.” The Princess looked skyward for a moment. “Succeed or fail, however, you must be at the train station when it’s time to depart. I will meet you there.”
“What happens if I miss the train?”
The Princess glared at Dash for just a moment. “You will not miss the train.”
“You can count on me. You know that.”
“I do know that,” said the Princess, taking wing.
“Dead pony flying!” yelled Rainbow Dash, spiraling upward.
That’s funny. I always said I would fly as long as I live. Never thought I’d be flying afterwards, though. And it still feels great after all these years. “Mandatory retirement,” my flank. Not a day goes by that somepony doesn’t screw up the weather somewhere. I got to admit, though, this day looks pretty awesome, considering I had nothing to do with it. Maybe Celestia dropped a hint to the Weather Patrol about — nah. Not like her to interfere with the routine.
I can’t believe it was forty years ago the first time I tried this. I was shaking worse than a leaf during the Running. And everypony snickering with that Rainbow Crash stuff. It’s like they wanted to see me fail. At least my friends stuck by me all the way.
My friends. Heh. I never figured I’d be the last pony standing, but I didn’t expect to be the first one gone. Though I never really thought about it much, I guess. It happens, and off you go to wherever it is you go to. It’d be nice if somepony came back to tell us where we go, but I guess that’s not part of the plan. At least the Element of Loyalty is in good hooves. I’ll never forget Scootaloo’s face when they told her. “It’s the happiest day of my life,” she said. And then she looked at me and said “Oops.” I guess she was feeling sorry for me. Squirt, you did all right for yourself. Now you get to do all right for everypony everywhere.
Almost halfway up now. I wonder who’s next. I swear, Fluttershy hasn’t aged a bit, and she’s the oldest of the bunch. Must be all that clean living. I mean, if she’s got any bad habits — any of the fun bad habits, anyway — I’ve never seen them. Maybe I’d better not think about this. I might put the jinx on somepony. There is such a thing as a jinx, right? Too bad I can’t ask Twilight about that.
Twilight. Heh. She used to tease me about dating, like she knew anything about it, locked away in the library night after night. I mean, how do you know if you even have a heart unless you try to give it away once in a while? But maybe she was right after all. I get dumped, and where do I end up? Right outside Twilight’s window, crying, every stinking time. I’ll miss her, but I won’t miss crying.
So many things I never imagined. Like Applejack and Pinkie. That didn’t make any sense to me. But they’ve been together — what, twenty years now? — and they still look at each other like they’d only just met and fell in love right on the spot. Maybe they belonged together from the start. If there’s anything AJ loves to do, it’s cooking, and if there’s anything Pinkie loves to do, it’s eating.
I take that back. It wasn’t fair. I guess I’m just jealous because I never found anypony like that for myself. Doesn’t matter now. They’re happy. Rarity’s happy in Canterlot with that college professor she married, and he’s content to stay in the background while she’s in the fashion mags every single month. I knew that would work out. First time they came to Ponyville after the wedding, and he was all googly-eyed, like he couldn’t believe his good luck.
And I need to start my descent … right about … NOW.
Enough reminiscing. Got to concentrate. Every thought, every last unit of wing power, every breath has to be just right.
Steady … okay, a little faster now.
A little more. No shockwave yet.
A few more seconds.
Push … push … there we go. Shockwave in place. Now speed. More speed.
And … no more speed.
Damn. Celestia was right. She’s always right. I can’t do this anymore. Well, no harm done, and nopony saw me fail. Off to eternity, and —
WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?
Oh, no. No. I didn’t do that. That’s not my Rainboom. I wasn’t going anywhere close to fast enough.
But there it is, in the sky, right where it’s supposed to be.
No, wait. That’s not where it’s supposed to be. It’s a good thousand hooves off from where it’s supposed to be.
What in the hay is going on here?
The Princess was beaming. “Spectacular, as always.”
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “I didn’t do that. I went flat about ten seconds too early. The cone broke apart, and that was all.”
“And yet the Rainboom is there,” said the Princess. “There must be some explanation.”
“Beats me. Somepony doing some heavy magic, maybe?”
Celestia’s horn glowed for a second. “There are residual magic traces, but if this had been a flying spell, they would have been far greater in amplitude.”
“So it’s not a spell?” Dash asked.
“So far as I can tell,” said the Princess, “this Rainboom was done the old-fashioned way. Somepony flew.”
“Well, isn’t that a kick in the head. Any way to find out who it was?”
“I promise you, I will find out, and get word to you. Right now, you have a train to catch.”
“So we will meet again?” asked Dash, a quaver in her voice.
A black-suited pony emerged from the train. “Rainbow Dash? It’s time.”
Dash nodded, and climbed aboard. Her last adventure awaited.
The two mares came to a clearing near the edge of the Everfree, and there they found their friend struggling with a heavy load.
“What in the world is that contraption?” asked Apple Bloom.
“This contraption,” Scootaloo said, “is a nuclear-powered jetpack. Built it myself.” She shook herself again, but the apparatus refused to budge. “Somepony want to give me a hoof here? I can’t get it off of myself.”
Sweetie Belle whistled. “I know what ‘nuclear’ means, but what’s a jetpack?”
“Ah saw one of these in a movie,” Apple Bloom said. “An earth pony tryin’ to escape from a couple of wyverns down in the Badlands. Strapped on one of these, and he was gone.”
“Wyverns don’t live in the Badlands,” Scootaloo pointed out.
“Oh, come on. It’s just a movie. They always make up stuff for movies, don’t they, Sweetie Belle?”
“Well, sort of. Except radiation isn’t made up,” said the unicorn. “It’s real and it’s dangerous. Scoot, you could have killed yourself. What were you doing?”
“Doing? Didn’t you see it?”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud,” said Apple Bloom. “Take a look up there. Who’s gonna do a Sonic Rainboom with Rainbow Dash gone? Not me. Not you either.”
“That — that was Scoot?”
Scootaloo took a bow, sort of. “Thank you, thank you. Next show in … well, actually, I don’t think I’m ever going to do that again.”
“I don’t see how you did it at all,” Sweetie Belle said. “I mean, I’ve seen two or three of those flying machines, whatever they’re called, but they all seem to have these really huge wings, and —”
“Don’t even say it,” snapped Scootaloo.
“Anyway, after years and years of practice, I’m now a thoroughly mediocre flyer.” The pegasus grinned. “All it takes to get me up to speed is a little hunk of machinery that weighs every bit as much as I do.”
“Ah wanna know about that radiation,” said Apple Bloom. “Won’t it, like, cook you from the inside out?”
“Not if it’s properly shielded,” said Scootaloo. “Unfortunately, good shielding weighs more than bad shielding. So I talked Twilight Sparkle into coming up with a short-term spell to keep the radiation at background level.”
“How short is ‘short-term’ supposed to be?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Until I get this stuff home and buried in the back yard. I’ve taken enough chances for one day. For the next week, I don’t want to do anything more complicated than feeding Tank.”
Apple Bloom shook her head. “Ah still don’t get why you’d wanna do a Rainboom when poor Dash is dead an’ gone.”
Scootaloo stared up at the sky.
“I know she would have done it for me,” she said softly. “Just once, I wanted to do it for her. And I hope everypony enjoyed it, because we’re never going to see another one.”
“A darn shame she wasn’t around to see ya do it,” said Apple Bloom.
“But she knows,” Scootaloo declared. “There’s no doubt in my mind that she knows.”
“I bet you’re right,” said Sweetie Belle, and the three friends headed for home.
Of course, the usual I-don't-own-this-no-infringement-is-intended-or-implied boilerplate applies.
The artwork was done by a young pegasister visiting the office who gave me some Twilight Sparkle drawings for my, um, shrine. I asked her if she could do a sort of ghostly Rainbow Dash. She could. (She got paid for it too, which she wasn't expecting.) Thanks, Jada.