The A.R.R.R. Squad members were in Machspeed’s office, finishing the debriefing of the latest aircraft rescue which Amelia had captained for the first time, leaving Machspeed in the back-up role and dealing with the passengers. Every rescue was different and had its challenges and odd situations, but one particular passenger had stood out.
“…and not only did she demand a refund, but she also insisted on getting a free upgrade for the next leg of her travels because of her suffering and inconvenience!” Machspeed told them with his forelegs spread in incomprehension.
“Seriously?” Amelia replied. “The fact that she and everyone else had been transformed into a pony or something else didn’t enter into her consideration?”
Machspeed shook his head in disbelief. “It just goes to show that some people are so self-centered and have such a feeling of entitlement that they literally can’t see reality or deal with it.”
Flashpoint said, “I wish that I could say that that was the only mind-boggling thing that has happened on one of these rescues. Most of the squad has had a story to tell about passengers that they’ve dealt with.”
Featherdrop snorted and said, “You got that right, Flashpoint. Amelia – you pilots don’t have to deal with a fraction of the craziness that we do sometimes. One time I discovered a mare and a stallion jammed into one of the toilets. While the Mile High Club might work for bipeds in that cramped space, once they became quadruped ponies, suddenly there’s not enough floor space. Took us half an hour to get the door open and extricate them.”
Pounder guffawed. “At least they got to have a little fun. My favorite story is about one really messed-up person that had given the attendants hell before the Event. Apparently there was a raving feminist who objected loudly and strenuously to being seated next to a male. She demanded to have him removed, but the flight was full and they had a stressful time trying to move lots of people so that there weren’t any ‘male pigs’ around her. She refused to listen to any of the male attendants, and was browbeating the female attendants to rise up against the oppression of their male colleagues. This idiot was a living, breathing cliché of the worst of man-haters.”
“Usually that kind of person hates themselves too,” Amelia said. “So, what made that person your favorite? She had to have hated dealing with you, a stallion.”
“Karma,” Pounder replied.
Amelia’s eyes widened in realization. “You don’t mean…?”
Pounder nodded. “Male humans sometimes become mares, but it’s really rare for females to become stallions. It couldn’t have happened to a better victim.”
“She… I mean he must have gone out of his mind,” Amelia said gleefully.
“Eeyup! Like Machspeed’s passenger, he didn’t pay much attention to the fact that he was now a pony, only that he was now a pretty well-hung male. ‘What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?!’ he screamed at me while pointing at the offending member. I just grinned and told him, ‘What us stallions have been doing with it since time began, mate.’ Sometimes I wonder what happened to him later, but I know some flight attendants who were more than a little pleased that the fool got his comeuppance.”
“Anyone else got a gender-swap story?” Amelia asked eagerly.
Flashpoint raised a hoof. “One of the earliest rescues Machspeed and I did was of a private jet owned by some multi-millionaire. I later learned from his staff that this guy was the counterpart of Pounder’s passenger – a real misogynist. He had an all-female crew looking after his every whim, and pretty much treated them like property. The only reason that they stayed with the job for any time was the amount of money he threw around. Eventually disgust made most of them quit.”
“So he became a mare? Nice.”
“Nope,” Flashpoint said with a smirk.
“Huh? What then?” Amelia asked with one eyebrow cocked curiously.
“He became a diamond dog bitch.”
“What? Like the captain on the flight I was co-piloting during the Event?”
“Yes, except female. They’re smaller than the males and have half a dozen large dugs. They also have the heat-cycle from hell. It just doesn’t quit until they’ve been plowed several times. It’s a bit of a problem for the species, but a nice bit of karma for that pig.”
“Makes me glad I ended up as a normal mare,” Amelia said gratefully. “Anything a bit less drastic?”
“Oh, sure,” Sunshower replied. “You get to listen to a lot of stories on passenger-wrangling duty, especially if it’s a plane that had just taken off when the Event happened, and Machspeed is burning off excess fuel for a few hours.”
Machspeed grinned. “Hey, I’m not just dumping fuel if I can safely fly around for a while. Keeps me in practice!”
Amelia shared a knowing smile with him. Pilots had to fly!
Sunshower continued her tale. “The flight attendants frequently like to talk to us because we seem to be calm and in control, so you hear about some interesting things. There was this couple – a burly man and a small woman. The attendants saw right away that he was the domineering, controlling type, making all the decisions for his meek wife. When the food service came around and she asked for one thing, he even told her that she had to have something else instead.”
“So what happened to him?” Amelia asked eagerly.
“It was what happened to them. He became a small stallion, but she became a very large griffoness. She must have been twice his size, and the way she eyed him all through the rest of that flight, she knew who had the upper claw now. Her aggressive griffon instincts were already kicking in and he was quivering in his hooves. Makes me wonder if they stayed together afterwards.”
“I sometimes wonder if the mega-spell that changed us has a sense of humor,” Machspeed said.
“There’s not that much justice in the universe,” Amelia replied cynically.
“I suppose not. Too depressing to think about actually, so who else has something to offer for our newest recruit’s edification?”
Sunshower said, “I just want to point out that not every gender-change case is like that.” The pegasus mare smiled happily in recollection. “There was this earth pony mare, barely older than a filly. She was crying and I tried to comfort her. It turned out that she wasn’t crying because she was sad. She used to be male but strongly identified as female. She was so happy about the sex change that she didn’t care that she had to become a pony to be female. We had a long talk about what she would do with her new life. We keep in touch, writing letters occasionally. Last I heard, she was married with a foal on the way.”
“I wish I got a passenger like that sometime.” Sunbeam spread his wings. “Instead, I had one nutcase earth pony who grabbed me by the wings and demanded to be given a pair also. He refused to believe me that I had no control over that.”
“At least he believed that they were real,” Arclight said. The unicorn stallion snorted as he recollected an incident. “Remember that charter plane that was full of football fans that were drunk out of their skulls? They were so smashed that many of them thought that they were having hallucinations and many didn’t believe that they were really transformed. They tried petting me and calling me ‘darling girl’! Do I look like a mare to you?”
Amelia snickered but did not answer that question. He was the most effeminate-looking stallion she had ever met who was nevertheless straight as they come, and he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that he was a colt-cuddler.
“Aw, you shouldn’t mind the petting,” Sunshower said. “It’s a lot better than when they freak out when you try to talk to them or get them to do anything.”
Arclight replied, “There can be too much of a good thing though. I remember one flight that had a lot of young children on it. They almost always seem to adapt very quickly, and think it’s a great game. I got stampeded by a herd of them playing chasey in the aisles!”
Machspeed chuckled. “He had dozens of little hoof-sized bruises all over him before he got his act together and magically corralled them.”
Amelia giggled at the image of the unicorn reduced to a speedbump in the aisle. “Kids are so flexible. I think in some ways this world is a lot better off getting them as Returnees because they cope with the changes better than a lot of adults.”
“Some adults never adapt,” Flashpoint said. “I recall one hypochondriac lady who refused to believe that she had a totally healthy new body, and insisted on taking her bag of medicines with her. We found out later that she died when she took a drug that is deadly to ponies. That’s one reason why it’s now the squad’s policy not to let Returnees take anything with them when they are evacuated from the aircraft. Personal possessions are returned to them after being checked for dangerous materials and equipment.”
Amelia’s face fell. “Well, that’s a downer. Anyone got something happier to tell me?”
Machspeed grinned. “Ever watch the Twilight Zone?”
“There’s a famous episode called Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
“Ooh, I think I know where this is going,” Amelia said with a smile.
Machspeed pointed to the griffon member of the squad. Sky-scream was large even for one of his kind, and a very powerful flyer. “Screamer here carried me to a small plane that was one of the first we ever tried rescuing. They’re too cramped to safely teleport into, so we were trying a different approach. It was travelling slow enough for him to catch up to it even while carrying me, and I used telekinesis to get into the plane. He tried to take a rest on the wing though, which made the aircraft lurch. A passenger saw him out there and screamed that there was a monster on the wing. Of course by that time Sky-scream had realized his mistake, and dropped off.”
“And nobody else saw him!” Amelia concluded with a laugh. “Just like the episode.”
Sky-scream grumpily said, “How they could mistake a magnificent griffon for a monster, I cannot comprehend!”
The crew laughed as it was well-known how vain the cat-bird was about his appearance.
“Speaking of griffons, remember the time we rescued a Boeing that was coming into Schipol Airport in the Netherlands?” Arclight asked. Several of the other ponies shuddered.
“Yeah, that’s a bit hard to forget,” Fairwind replied. “Those Returnees were mostly griffons, and half of them were looking at us ponies rather hungrily.”
“Barbarians!” Sky-scream said emphatically.
There were chuckles at their colleagues outraged sensibilities.
“You think a flock of griffons is dangerous? Try unicorn foals!” Featherdrop stated emphatically.
“Oh? Why?” Amelia asked.
“Two words – magic surges.”
Arclight nodded. “He’s right. Very young unicorns are subject to random magic surges. One punched a hole in the fuselage and Machspeed had to make a very hasty descent. And that isn’t even the worst thing that can happen.”
“Remind me not to have foals,” Amelia said with a shudder.
“Of course they can simply puke up on you, and that’s pretty disgusting when it gets in your coat. Then again, foals can break your heart too,” Flashpoint said. “I remember one three-year-old who became a thestral…”
“A what?” Amelia asked.
“A bat-pony. Cute as cute can be. Her mother became an earth pony though, and rejected the child.”
“That’s just wrong,” Amelia said with a frown.
“It happens too often, actually. Humans have their self-image badly battered by the change, and they frequently can’t cope with some aspects of their new selves. They simply don’t recognize the child as being theirs.”
“Don’t worry too much, Amelia,” Machspeed reassured the unicorn. “There are people who are trained to deal with those situations. No one gets abandoned, least of all a foal.”
“Time for something a bit lighter,” Arclight suggested. “Have you any idea what a yak looks like crammed into an Economy Class seat? I do.”
You mean to tell me that yaks are an intelligent species now too?” Amelia asked, boggled at the thought.
“Yep. You tend to get them in the central Asia area. It took both Machspeed and myself to lift him out as Pounder broke off a couple of seats.”
Pounder said, “I had more sympathy for the poor mare jammed in the window seat next to him. She was nearly smothered by the big, hairy guy.”
“Was the mare his wife?” Amelia asked.
“Maybe. We never thought to ask at the time. If she was, things would be a whole lot different for them after that.”
“Yeah, no thanks. I can’t imagine snuggling up to someone that huge and hairy. Sheesh! His clothes must have been shredded.”
“Yeah,” Arclight replied. “Most come back in smaller bodies and their clothes are practically falling off them, but the bigger species always burst out of their clothes. Not that it’s a problem for us, but it freaks out the Returnees. Heck – even though we wear the squad jackets while on a job, we’re still mostly naked. I don’t understand it, but that bothers the newbies.”
“That’s because you’re a natural-born pony,” Amelia said. “Humans have a nudity fetish, and seeing genitals prominently displayed discomforts most of them. It took me a while to get used to the idea of walking around naked.”
Arclight snorted in amusement. “Glad I was never a human.”
Featherdrop said, “At least you never had to deal with this crazy lady who took offense at seeing my goods while I was hovering over the passengers. She practically grabbed me out of the air and started ranting about how I was an offence to common decency.” The stallion shuddered. “She was facing the challenge of a new life in a new body, and all she could think of was that she didn’t like seeing my balls!”
“She tongue-lashed us mares too,” Sunshower reminded him. “I made sure to flip my tail at her as she was evacuated from the plane. She was still raving when they took her inside.”
Machspeed smirked but said, “No more aggravating the Returnees, Sunshower, okay?”
“Not unless they provoke me first, Mach.”
There was a lot of chuckles all round before Pounder said, “How about that time we went to rescue a cargo plane and discovered that they were smugglers?”
“Oooh! What were they smuggling?” Amelia asked.
“Cocaine. They wanted to fight us instead of cooperate with us. It was amusing seeing them try to use their hand guns with hooves. Then they tried assaulting me.”
“What species had they been transformed into?”
“Deer – one of the smaller breeds too. The bucks didn’t even have decent racks to use as weapons.”
Amelia giggled at the image of little deer trying to attack the burly earth stallion. She had seen him casually push aside a crate that had to weigh over a ton that had been blocking his path, and he had only used one leg. Even when he wasn’t connected to the earth from which he drew extra strength, Pounder was one of the strongest stallions that she had ever met.
“Here’s one that only Amelia might get,” Machspeed said. “Do you know what furries are?”
“Umm, aren’t they the ones who like animal people?” she replied.
“Close enough. For the benefit of the others, furries was a general term for humans that liked anthropomorphic characters. That means animals or other things that possessed human-like qualities. That mostly meant various animal species that walked on two legs and thought and spoke like humans. Some of these people created characters for themselves, or even thought of themselves as these animals.”
“Sounds pretty weird to me,” Arclight said.
“They were mostly having harmless enjoyment, but I encountered one seriously obsessive type. He was absolutely pissed off, but not because he had been transformed. No – it was because he was a pony, and he had wanted to become a wolf! He was convinced that I had something to do with their change of species, and he demanded that I fix it! I swear, if he hadn’t been still trying to find his hooves, he would have had them grabbing my jacket and shaking me until I complied!”
There was a round of laughter before Sunbeam said, “We can be grateful that most Returnees are pretty helpless at first. Their whiny complaints are bad enough. Some foals are the worst. They moan incessantly because they can’t play their games with hooves.”
Fairwind snorted derisively. “I’ll take them anytime over the religious nutcases. I’ve had more than my fair share of them ranting and raving about how their transformation is the work of Satan. I didn’t even know who Satan was the first time this stallion started preaching at me. I made the mistake of asking. I wonder if he ever shut up? He was still trying to ‘save’ me and all the rest of us when we unloaded the plane.”
“Sometimes it can leave them speechless though,” Featherdrop pointed out. There was this guy who became a mare. His religion was… umm… what was it again? Mustang?”
“Do you mean Muslim?” Amelia asked.
“Yeah, that’s it. Apparently he was extremely orthodox, and now that he was a she, the mare just could not cope with the idea. Not sure if I’m sorry for them, or thankful for karma.”
“People like that make their own hells,” Flashpoint said. “Another way doesn’t even involve religion. For example, I talked to one Returnee who said she was a Vegan. We were currently serving up what food we could because it was one of those long waits while we burned up fuel and people were getting hungry. When I put the food tray in front of her, she told me that she could not eat it because it had meat in it. She had to explain to me that Vegans did not eat meat or dairy products. I had to break it to her that griffons are obligate carnivores. If she did not have meat in her diet, she would grow sick and die. She still refused. I gave her one of the meals without meat, but I wonder if she ever relented or died for her beliefs.”
That tale put a bit of a downer on the group, and Machspeed got up, opened a cupboard, and pulled out a full bottle of liquor.
“Anyone in the mood for some genuine 2,300 year-old Scotch whisky?” he asked.
There were several takers despite the fact that the whisky had cheated on the aging process by coming through the time-stream with some Returnees. They were contemplating a second round when the phone rang. Machspeed answered it and listened intently. As the others watched, one eyebrow rose and kept rising as his expression changed to utter disbelief. “Seriously?” was all he said. Apparently it was confirmed as Machspeed just hung up the phone. He turned to the crew and said, “Guys – you’re never going to believe this one….”
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