"Y'all ready there?"
"What, did you forget who I am or something?" Applejack and Contrail Blue stood on a hill overlooking a section of the orchard at Sweet Apple Acres, the Apple family farm on the edge of Ponyville. Contrail had flown in the previous evening so he would be well-rested to participate in the harvest -- after all, if there was one thing he knew Applejack would appreciate, it was help from another pony, even if he wasn't from the area.
Contrail was a native of Las Pegasus in Western Equestria. In fact, he was a member of the Blue, a branch family of the fabled Azure Wing, which oversaw security in that region. Ordinarily, Contrail would be training with the other two Pegasi of his flight, but today was Hearts and Hooves Day, and that meant that Prism and Rook were having the day off to go on a date. The main reason Contrail didn't want to be the third wing was because he was still getting over his feelings for Prism, who was still the best flyer in all of Equestria, in Contrail's opinion.
Contrail had come to Applejack because, despite being a daredevil, a prankster, and a bit of a slacker when the situation allowed for it, growing up the Azure way and training with Prism Flight had given Contrail a deep appreciation for those who worked hard, putting in their best effort for the best results. To say the least, Applejack impressed him, not only because she worked harder than some stallions Contrail knew, but because she was the matron of Sweet Apple Acres, managing it well at a comparatively young age.
And when Contrail compared Applejack and Sweet Apple Acres, he used Verdant Fields, managed by Patriarch Verdant Redwood himself, as his benchmark -- yes, a massive family farm managed by a knowledgeable, adult stallion that had been around for millennia, against this little farm where a small family lived and worked.
"Just makin' sure, 'cause here comes the sun." On cue the sun rose, its light spreading rapidly over the trees and the apples they bore, ready for the picking.
"Contrail Blue, Prism-3. Heading out!" Contrail leaped from his ready position and flew at top speed right at the trees. He leaned into a counter-clockwise spiral, hitting the trunks exactly as Applejack had told him to, and the apples began to fountain down, into the baskets set all around the trunks. Grinning, Contrail straightened out and continued to bounce from tree to tree like a pinball for a few more seconds. Then, having lost most of his speed, he climbed and came about, using a dive to increase his speed for another pass.
"Let me show you how we do it," Applejack said. She set herself in front of a tree, lifted her hindquarters, and with a single solid kick, sent all the apples in the tree tumbling into their baskets. "It ain't fast, but it does the trick."
"Okay," Contrail said, hovering nearby after his second pass, "but have you considered how you might be able to do it faster?"
"Sorry, but we Earth Ponies don't have your speed, and it's different askin' Rainbow and the others to help. I normally don't like to impose either, but I'll ask if I actually need the help."
"I'm actually talking about something else: my ability, as a fact."
"Your ability? You mean your special talent? Isn't it only for flying and other Pegasi?"
"You'd think that, but the same way my little sis, Radar, can sense obstacles and critters other than Pegasi shows how a flight-related skill can extend to a non-flyer. All we've got to do is make sure you're in my slipstream, and you'll get my speed boost. That's what I do."
"But I gotta slow down to do any apple bucking,"
"Not if you do it with your forelegs, or if you're moving backwards, if you can handle that at speed."
"I think not,"
"Wanna try it? You could drop down form a branch right into the slipstream."
"I don't know. Isn't that a mite dangerous? I mean, if I timed it wrong..?"
"You'd probably just land on the ground. No harm, no foul."
"And if it works? How do I stop without hurting myself or punchin' a hole right through one of my trees?"
"I suppose you could just slam on the brakes normally, but nobody's ever done anything except ride it out before. If you wanted to, you could be first to try it."
"I think not,"
"But I will try the boost," Applejack said.
"Alright! Lets get you into position."
Applejack was relieved that she didn't have to climb into a tree herself, but she started to become nervous as she watched Contrail zip off to get up to speed. As she understood it, he usually used Contrail Booster with other flyers, like her wingmates Prism and Rook, or even Gearhead with his Alicorn Engine, which let him fly despite being an Earth Pony. The trailing flyer flew, also at speed, right behind Contrail, and then got sucked into the stream to shoot out over Contrail faster than she or he could fly normally. Now that Applejack thought of it, how could it possibly work with a falling Earth Pony?
But then she saw Contrail speeding toward the spot directly underneath her branch, a light reddish-brown and blue blur extending meters from his tail in one direction, and just a little bit going over his head. That was his slipstream. Applejack took a deep breath, and when she saw Contrail's grin, so much like Rainbow Dash when she was getting ready to try a new stunt, AJ decided to try anyway. She jumped out of the tree.
And in the following moment, could not believe that she'd just done that. She seemed to miss Contrail's head by the merest moment, and then her legs were going through the ribbon that he pulled behind him. It started to pull her, and not knowing what to do, her legs locked in place. She stumbled, and fell into a roll. It took a moment before she could pick herself back up, but now as Contrail came around, she wanted to try again. When Applejack saw Contrail's expression change from one of concern to a wide grin, she realized that he saw it on her face too.
So Contrail carried Applejack back into the tree. "This time, try to run in the air as you fall. If you can build your own momentum as you come through the slipstream, it should work. I felt it, but you didn't move."
"Lets just give this a go," Applejack said, but she knew that Contrail saw that she was too stubborn to just let this all go now. He nodded, and took off again.
As Contrail approached, Applejack made sure she was facing the same direction in which he was flying, and crouched to flex her legs. She chose a moment a little earlier than the last time, and then made her leap, legs wheeling in the air. She was startled when her hooves touched the slipstream and she felt a little resistance this time. She went a couple steps, speeding up moderately, but then a hoof fell through and caught on the ground below. Applejack went tumbling again, to end up lying face-down in the dirt.
"I almost had it," she said, getting up as Contrail approached.
"Aww, I think we should only try once more so you don't get too banged up to keep working, AJ."
"I can do this,"
"We can, but we have to use a little moderation here. You don't want to turn all this over to Big Mac, do you?"
"Not after Apple Bucking Season before. Good point," Applejack said, nodding. "Once more!"
This time Applejack jumped even earlier, and by bending her knees almost to the barrel of her chest, she was able to pass right over Contrail without hitting him. Then she ran like mad. Her hooves contacted the slipstream, and seemed to bounce against the surface. She struggled to keep her balance, then found that she slipped off to the left, onto normal ground. She was heading for a tree at two or three times her normal speed!
Applejack turned slightly to the right and jumped, putting out both forelegs. With the same satisfying sound as with normal apple bucking, her hooves contacted the trunk. Even as the apples fell to their baskets, Applejack landed and oriented on the next tree past the first one. Again she jumped, but this time when she returned to the ground she was moving at her normal speed. "That didn't last long," she complained.
"That's because you slipped off before you could get up to full speed, but you did great for your first time actually riding the slipstream. With practice, this could work. What did you think?"
"That I like apple bucking with speed, and I'd like to try again, only with a little bit of a change."
"This'll be worth it,"
"Okay then. One try with your change," Contrail said.
This time Applejack stood on the ground ten meters before her usual starting tree. When Contrail became visible behind her, she broke into a canter, and worked up to a full gallop. This was nowhere near Contrail's all-out flying speed, but it gave Applejack something to work with when he started to pass her, and he was able to leap right onto the slipstream and center herself without losing control again. Almost immediately she saw what he'd meant by 'not being at full speed,' since this time she was able to keep up by keeping her pace, only now she had it relaxed to a canter instead of a gallop: Contrail's magic was doing most of the work.
When Applejack leaped in order to buck a tree, her speed stayed the same as when she was on the slipstream, so she was able to continue keeping up, and when she landed she regained the small amount of speed she'd lost in hitting the tree. She leaped twice more to make sure she'd gotten it. "Okay, lets do this!" She shouted ahead to Contrail.
"Roger that," he said. "I'll split left, you go right!"
This time, as they approached a set of trees, Contrail started his series of ricocheting strikes to the left side, and Applejack jumped to the right. For a moment Applejack thought she would have to deal with landing on normal ground and her speed dropping rapidly (or tripping and falling) again. Luckily Contrail had judged his angle perfectly, and came flying back at the perfect timing to put the ribbon back under her hooves -- if only for long enough for her to land and leap again as she went left this time, and he went right.
Applejack and Contrail kept going like this for a good six minutes, but after that the Contrail Booster wore off, and they had to do their harvesting at normal speed again. "Not to complain," Applejack said, "but now this feels so slow."
"Yeah, ponies who've used the Booster seem to say that a lot."
"It's not a bad thing,"
"You can't exactly say that with all the progress we've already made, huh?"
Applejack looked back, at the rows of trees they had only just managed to clear of apples: Two whole rows, in a matter of minutes. "Yeah!"
It took several minutes before Contrail felt like he could use the Booster again, but this time they were able to get through two and a half rows before it wore off. They continued like this until lunch, when they took a well-deserved break. "You know, I could get used to this," Applejack said.
"In that case, I guess you wouldn't mind if I came to help out more often?"
"Mind? I appreciate the help, truly. And to tell ya the truth, that speed of yours is some kind of rush."
"I guess that means you've got a bit of the thrill-seeker in you, and that's not bad at all. For a farmer."
"And you've got a bit of the farmer in you. Not bad, for a flyer."
Applejack smiled at Contrail, who grinned right back.
"To future collaborations," Contrail said, raising his bottle of apple juice.
"Future collaborations," Applejack raised her own bottle so they could clink them together. She couldn't help thinking that the future would be fun, after all.