63w, 1dProject ACES
Stormriders: Luna's Own
Chapter 2: On the road and settling in
Near Ponyville Airspace
1430 Local time
Mostly clear skies, a few light puffy clouds, and a soft, gentle breeze. Objectively speaking, it was the perfect day to fly. Flare and Zephyr were making the most of the long flight from the EADF Academy to Canterlot AFB. It was their first day of unaugmented, unregimented flying in a long time. No flight helmet in your face, no cockpit glass and flight suit keeping the wind off you, no engine hurling you through the air; just you, your wings and good company.
Flare banked right, away from Zephyr, and let a soft thermal carry him up and back, to the left, rolling as he went so he dropped in on top of her inverted.
"Hey Zeph, got a question for you."
Zeph snorted, used to her old friend's aerial antics.
"Hey pony-feathers-for-brains, you were flying right next to me. Couldn't you have asked me from there?"
"I could’ve...but this is so much more fun!"
Zeph rolled her eyes.
"You're insufferable sometimes"
Flare started grinning like a maniac.
"It's part of my charm as you well know."
"Uh huh, you keep saying that, but you have to have charm for it to be part of your charm."
Flare rolled back to the right, settling back in to his original position at Zephs side.
"Ach my ego! What a grievous emotional wound from my dearest friend!"
Zeph tossed a mock kick at her flying partner.
"Alright, what was your question?"
"Well, I've been thinking it over, and I'm honored the Princess selected us for her squadron and everything, but why exactly does she have a personal fighter squadron anyway? She can fly, and if what ponies say about the magic the Princesses can do are true, she can teleport."
Zephyr sighed, "You really are a bird brain, aren't you? I guess those high academic marks you somehow managed to pull off were just a front."
Zephyr talked right over Flare's stammered attempts at a retort.
"She's royalty, for one, so her going anywhere with out an escort is extremely unlikely. So I'd guess most of the squadron's job is ceremonial in nature. From what the Princess said in the speech yesterday, the 368th has been her personal squadron for a long time, so I'd say there's a hefty dose of tradition involved too..."
Flare was staring off on the horizon to their left, obviously watching something intently.
"Care to listen to the answer to question you asked, or am I interrupting your contemplation of the world at large?"
The sarcasm dripping from Zephyr's voice was thick enough to count as a solid object. Flare shook his head a little.
"Sorry got distracted. There's a rainbow-colored contrail over there! And we're close to Ponyville! I bet it's Rainbow Dash!"
Zeph chortled in amusement.
"Flare you are such a fancolt!"
"She's one of the top fliers alive, Zeph! She shattered the sound barrier AND managed to do something to break known physics and distort the visible light spectrum!"
Zeph snorted, obviously holding back laughter.
"Uh huh, sure thing lover colt. Whatever you say. I think you just like the shape of her flank!"
Flare gave a half-laugh, half-outraged noise and took a swipe at Zeph in response; and the two friends dashed off through the clouds, alternately smacking at each other, play fighting as they flew.
A short flight later, the pair entered Canterlot airspace and received clearance to land at Canterlot Air Force Base. A ground crewpony ran out and directed them to a hangar off to the left of the main flight line, it's own compound really, over which Princess Luna's dark purple standard fluttered in the soft, mid-afternoon breeze. A large stallion with a dark blue beret marking him as a Royal Equestrian Marine quickly checked their orders and ID cards, then passed them off to a younger and smaller Royal Marine who escorted them to the Commanding Officer's office, which is where they were waiting now...
"Get in here!" The bark was crisp, sharp and powerful, biting the air like a sword striking a blow. The two ponies rushed in to the office.
"Sir, Flight Officers Flare and Zephyr, reporting for duty pending flight orders with the 368th Night Fighter Wing!"
The older stallion grunted as he took the orders from their outstretched hooves and inspected them briefly.
"Very well, everything looks to be in order. At ease flight officers, I am Major Windsheer, your new commanding officer. I want you to understand one thing very clearly coming here. Look out my window."
The Major gestured at his window overlooking the hangar bay of the 368th where rows of gleaming fighters and a large transport aircraft sat gleaming. They looked brand new. The Major snorted.
"I know what you're thinking, ‘pretty swank rides’ right?"
The flight officers nodded, obviously confused as to where the Major was going with this.
"That's because it's all brand new. For the last thousand years while, Her Highness Princess Luna was in exile, this unit was shit on. Nothing was official, nothing was in orders, but because we and the 13th Company, 5th Battalion of Royal Marines maintained our loyalty and designation to the Lady of the Night, we received horrible treatment and the bare minimum of equipment to survive as units. Until a month ago, we were stationed at an out of the way posthole of a base with barely enough fighters and equipment to maintain flight qualifications. Despite all that, I demand the absolute best from my ponies and I will demand the same from you; you will work harder and fly harder then you ever have in your entire lives. CAN YOU HANDLE THAT!?"
Only years of being screamed at and drilled at the academy saved the stunned ponies
"SIR! Yes sir!"
The Major leaned back on his haunches and grinned malevolently.
"Excellent." He pushed a button on his desk intercom, "Captain Cloud Dancer, if you'd join us please."
No sooner had the Major finished speaking than a very pissed off mare stormed in. She came to attention and saluted the Major
"Sir, reporting as ordered."
"Excellent, Captain. This is Flight Officer Zephyr and Flight Officer Flare. They’re all yours."
With that the mare with a dark blue coat and shocking white mane rounded on them, turning her molten gold eyes on the pair of flight officers.
"ALL RIGHT YOU RUNTS, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE MAJOR'S OFFICE, DOUBLE TIME! COME ON, SHAKE A FLANK!"
The Major waited until his office door slammed before he let himself start laughing. He always enjoyed this part of breaking in fresh boots.
The running torrent of abuse from Captain Cloud Dancer was impressive. Not just for its length and volume, but its sheer variety of insults as she lead them through the hangar. She insulted every fiber of their being: moral, emotional, physical and genetic, right down to the very last detail. She could have made the best of the Drill and Flight Instructors at the Academy look like amateurs. The Captain took them on a whirlwind tour, ending in the hangar where a young grey and blonde pegasus mare was getting a similar verbal tour de force from an older looking enlisted stallion. Seeing them distracted at the sight of someone else getting chewed out, Captain Cloud Dancer stopped short with an evil grin on her face.
"So I'm not good enough to pay attention to, eh? Well maybe Master Sergeant Ironheart will take time out of his busy schedule to handle you along with his favorite airpony over there."
Before either flight officer could say a word, the Captain jumped over to the large stallion and took him aside for a moment and then walked off, obviously pleased with her new arrangements. The large steel-colored stallion strode over to the pair; staring at them with so much rage the Captain's face would have been a welcome sight. He snorted at them with derision.
"You lot are what the academy is putting out as excuses for aviators these days? I am Master Sergeant Ironheart, the Chief Mechanic of the 368th. The Captain has placed you under my care for half the day, every day till she says otherwise. You will be training with Senior Airman Clanky Doo, the worst mechanic I've seen in twenty-five years of service. I suspect you lot will match up to her nicely- Celestia dammit DOO! Get over here and quit standing around with your horn polisher hanging open!"
The gray mare cantered towards the group and promptly tripped over her own hooves, ending up in a pile with Flare and Zephyr.
She whispered softly, "Sorry about this, it's my fault."
The big Master Sergeant eyed the pile of younger ponies on the floor in front of him.
"Yup, you three are definitely pegasi of a feather."
As the three ponies tried to pick themselves up, Zephyr couldn't help but notice Cloud Dancer walking away as if on a death march. Her head was down and she looked...depressed. The thought was quickly chased away, however, as the enraged Master Sergeant began to hand out toothbrushes for toilet cleaning detail.