• Published 15th Oct 2011
  • 4,440 Views, 44 Comments

Airborne - Fernin

A misnamed colt and a misplaced human Soldier find friendship despite the barriers between them.

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Chapter 5: Flight and Fight

“All right, class, that’s enough. Take your seats, please.” Miss Periwinkle clicked her front hooves together, and with a muted babble of voices the milling mass of fillies and colts returned to their desks. The schoolteacher waited for the little ones to focus on her and favored them with her usual happy smile. Time to give them some good news.

“As I’m sure all of you know, it’s near the end of the school term.” This met with the expected level of enthusiasm. If there was one thing that being a teacher had taught Periwinkle, it was that students love to hear about when they don’t have to be students for a while. She couldn’t see it, herself. What was life for if not for learning?

Now it was time for the bad news. “…And so that means it’s time to remind you about your end-of-semester project!”

Miss Periwinkle kept her cheery expression despite the sudden anguish on the face of everypony else in the room. A project? Why hadn’t they been told? Well yes, it was on the school calendar, but no one had said the calendar had meant it… “Yes, yes, I know. But even if you haven’t started it yet you’ll have the entire weekend to finish it!”

This good news did not meet with much approval among an audience that had been planning all sorts of exciting adventures for the next two days of freedom from academia. “Oh, come on. It’ll be fun! Plus, you’ll get to show everypony how much you learned! Remember, you can do your project on anything we’ve covered this past month, and your parents are allowed to help. You can use any of the supplies I have here at the front of the room, and of course anything you can come up with at home.”

Unpleasant memories of a previous year’s project suddenly surfaced in Miss Periwinkle’s mind. Ooh, right. She’d promised the principal that wouldn’t happen again. She made haste to add, “Uh, that does not include your siblings, by the way. And ask your parents first.”

Massed ranks of students stared nervously up at the blue and yellow mare. The end of term project was being as hard a sell as usual. While the thought of a diorama on how the Princesses raised the sun and moon might have brought a glow to Miss Periwinkle’s face, it was patently obvious that she was in the minority. She sighed. “...You could do a diorama, or a science project, or… All right, all right. You’ve talked me into it. And as an added bonus, to make sure you have plenty of time, the school board has allowed me to give you the rest of the day off!”

Periwinkle dove behind her desk just in time as the student body made a dash for the boxes at the front of the room. She waited for the clattering of little hooves to die away and counted to ten. One couldn’t be too cautious. Orange Glaze over in Hoovesbaden, a dear friend from teaching college, had been in traction for a month when she came out from behind a desk too soon. All right… it should be safe now.

Much to the teacher’s surprise, one student remained in the room. In fact, the little colt quite obviously hadn’t even left his desk until the rest of his classmates had rushed out to embrace the beginning of their slightly extended weekend. Now he was quietly nosing through what remained of the nearly disintegrated boxes. “…Skydancer? What are you still doing here?”

“Just… trying to think of what to do for my project,” Skydancer replied. Maybe if he’d been a little faster, he could have gotten some of the good stuff. Unfortunately he’d been thinking of other things—how did one tell a mountain monster that a bunch of big, strong ponies might be looking for him?

Periwinkle’s heart nearly broke as she saw what her student had managed to salvage. It wasn’t much—just some tissue paper, a few light wooden dowels that had seen better days, some glue, and a ball of string. Even the ever-positive teacher couldn’t imagine what could be done with all that. “I’m sorry, Skydancer… your friends didn’t leave you with much, did they?”

The colt shrugged distractedly and started loading the assorted items into his saddlebags. Skydancer knew he should concentrate on picking out the materials for his project, but warning ‘Green’ seemed kind of important. Maybe he could draw out a warning to ‘Green’ on some paper. What about picture of an unhappy-looking bipedal stick figure surrounded by angry pony stick figures in miner helmets? And what—oh! There was an idea.

Thinking of drawings had sparked a memory; suddenly Skydancer recalled ‘Green’s map in the sand and the mysterious ‘Bag-ram.’ “Uh, Miss Periwinkle? Have you ever heard of a place called ‘Bag-ram?’”

“‘Bag-ram?’ Hmm. Not that I can think of, but… Why, are you planning on doing a project on that?” Geography had never been Miss Periwinkle’s strong suit. She struggled with the age-old dilemma of teachers everywhere: admit ignorance, or assign extra homework?

Hah, not exactly. Skydancer shook his head. “No, ma’am… I just heard the name. Somewhere southwest of here?”

Extra homework it was, then. “Tell you what, Skydancer. Check chapter eleven. We weren’t going to cover that section until next semester, but it has maps of all of Equestria in it. If you can find it on the map you can let me know all about it!”

That… actually sounded useful. Skydancer nodded happily. Maybe maps could help ‘Green’ figure out where he was going. “Sure!”

Much to Skydancer’s annoyance, Cirrus was lying in wait for him as he exited the schoolhouse. “Hey, earth pony. Getting some extra help from the teacher? What kind of project could you do, anyway? Mud pies?”

Why wouldn’t the stupid pegasus just leave Skydancer alone? He rolled his eyes and trotted resolutely towards his home. “It’ll be cooler than yours, chicken wings.”

Cirrus made a rude noise and rolled her eyes. She was getting better at flying now and obviously enjoying showing it off as she made another short, fluttering hop to land in front of her intended victim. “Is that the only insult you’ve got, dirt clod?”

“Only ‘cos it’s true!” Shouldering the gray pegasus aside, Skydancer left Cirrus spluttering in impotent rage as he stepped quickly into his house. All right, new objective. Whatever it was going to be, his project was going to beat the heck out of whatever Cirrus was planning.

Quartz was putting the finishing touches on some daisy sandwiches. She smiled and spit out the knife onto the counter. “Hello, Skydancer. You’re home early!”

“Hi there, Mom.” Giving his mother an affectionate nuzzle, Skydancer sidled up to the counter and started to nibble on one of the sandwiches.

Ever the watchful mom, Quartz swatted her son’s questing muzzle away. “No! You’ll spoil your appetite; those are for lunch.”

Time to execute ‘Operation Warn the Mountain Monster.’ “Uh, actually Mom could you pack me a few sandwiches? I want to go work on this project for school. I’ll be down the valley for the rest of the day. For the project.”

“Well, all right… Are you sure you don’t need some help?” Quartz fretted as she wrapped up a few sandwiches in the waxed paper and, as an afterthought, a bag of hay fries. Skydancer always liked those… and at least he was telling her where he was going this time.

Smelling delicious even through their wrappings, the daisy sandwiches went into Skydancer’s bags. He favored his mother with an innocent smile. “No thanks, Mom. Don’t worry; I’ll be back before dinner!”

Thankfully, Cirrus didn’t seem to be around when Skydancer peeked his head out the door and started his trek down the valley. He was still mulling over the problem of communicating with ‘Green,’ but he could hardly call himself a colt if the problem of the annoying pegasus didn’t intrude on his thoughts now and again. Which was to say, constantly.

How best to beat Cirrus? Could Skydancer make some wings out of the meager materials he’d managed to salvage? He giggled a bit at the mental image of himself flapping two enormous tissue paper and wooden wings, swooping in lazy, triumphant circles over her white-maned head. Hah! …But no, even if it would work he couldn’t imagine that his saddlebags held that much material. What else, then?

Faced with a seemingly impossible problem, Skydancer found himself drifting back to one central question. What would Bucephalus do? Well, he’d probably just order his pegasus cavalry to swat the offending filly out of the sky. But… Something sparked in Skydancer’s memory… a particular painting in the textbook.

Skydancer halted and the path and pulled out his schoolbook, flipping eagerly through page after dog-eared page until he found the one he wanted. No… No… No—Ah! There. Planting a hoof to keep the page from turning in the slight breeze, the little blue pony grinned down at his find.

The painting was a smaller one than some of the others, but it had one important feature—something that had led Skydancer to mark the page in the first place despite Miss Periwinkle’s dim view of what she called ‘book abuse.’ In the small reproduction of the painting, some of Bucephalus’ earth pony engineers were busily engaged in a fight to the death with some pegasus tribe’s militia. In the wide valley with nowhere for anypony to hide, the flying attackers should have had it all their own way. But they had lost—all thanks to the clever new weapon devised by one of the great general’s weapon smiths.

One of the strange weapons was in action in the very middle of the image. Near the top of the painting a pegasus struggled, caught in the grip of an entangling rope and some sort of flimsy construction. The text barely mentioned it, but here was a way that an earth pony could beat a pegasus, hooves down. Skydancer leered down at the image. “Gotcha, chicken wings.”

* * *

“Ugh… is it stand-to already?” Lieutenant Green rolled over and pushed himself up as his roommate nudged him insistently once again. His eyes snapped open. The confused officer sat up abruptly as his mind reoriented himself. This wasn’t his cot on FOB Viper! More to the point, that wasn’t his roommate!

The muzzle of the little blue horse was mere inches from the end of Lieutenant Green’s nose. Human and hallucination stared at each other in surprise for a moment before the lieutenant edged backwards and coughed apologetically. “Oh, it’s you. Sorry, ‘Sky.’”

Still groaning and trying to work some stiffness out of his joints, Lieutenant Green started gathering his things. He’d overslept. How the heck could a Soldier in mortal danger in the middle of Afghanistan manage to oversleep, Mike didn’t know, but somehow he’d managed it. It wasn’t too late, though. It was about 1100 hours. He had plenty of time to get through the pass before… urgh.

Apparently the beef jerky from yesterday had not had much staying power. Lieutenant Green’s stomach growled loud enough to make ‘Sky’ jump. The lieutenant was quick to assuage the local’s fears. He rubbed his stomach and frowned. “Sorry little guy, just hungry.”

‘Sky’ titled his head inquisitively. After a moment he nosed into the little packs hanging at his sides. Heh, that was cute, it was like someone had made him little saddlebags or something. Lieutenant Green was about to comment when the blue colt fished out some sandwiches neatly wrapped in waxed paper. The creature babbled something—a little less intelligible than usual since it was coming out around the edge of a sandwich—and offered it to his surprised companion.

“It’s a sandwich,” Skydancer explained to the puzzled mountain monster. “Sand… wich. Actually I don’t know why they call it that; it doesn’t have any sand in it. But anyway, here you go. I had Mom pack a few. Ooh! I have some hay fries too but they’re cold so they may not be very good.”

‘Green’ regarded the sandwich with a sort of mute befuddlement, staring at it as though it was about to explode in his face or grow wings and fly away. Maybe he didn’t realize it was food? Clearing his throat to catch the creature’s attention, Skydancer unwrapped the second sandwich and bit off a mouthful, chewing with a happy expression. “Mmmm… Daisy. Yum.”

Yeah, yeah. The little guy acted like Lieutenant Green had never seen a sandwich before. Well truth to be told, he hadn’t—in Afghanistan. This was… well ‘unexpected’ didn’t really seem to go far enough. Oh well; don’t look a gift horse in—whatever. Bad choice of words. With a shrug, the lieutenant unwrapped the sandwich and picked up a half. It was cut diagonally and, he noticed with amusement, all the crust was gone.

Mike’s stomach growled again, reminding him that he was delaying in eating the first real food he’d seen in over a day. Welp. Here went nothing. The bread was about what one would expect… a little dense, perhaps, and with some extra grit that really shouldn’t be there. The lieutenant had had worse, but at least it was definitely bread. The sandwich’s filling, on the other hand was unexpectedly tangy and certainly more fibrous than a sandwich filling should be. Cautiously, the puzzled Soldier raised the corner of the bread and peered inside. “…Is this grass? And a daisy?”

Despite the unusual choice in sandwich stuffers, Lieutenant Green wasn’t going to turn down free and mostly edible food—not at this juncture. ‘Sky’ smiled happily and offered some sort of browned mass of something, but a quick experiment with one told Mike to stick with his sandwich. As he polished it off, he bowed slightly and tried to convey his thanks to the little blue horse. “Thank you, ‘Sky.’ I wish I had something to give you in return.”

Aha! With a flash of inspiration the lieutenant realized that he did! He held up one finger in a ‘wait-and-see’ gesture that ‘Sky’ may or may not have understood. Crawling to his body armor, Lieutenant Green opened his ammunition pouch and pulled out the Hershey’s bar. Mike opened the wrapper carefully and broke off half of the bar, then put the rest away for safe keeping. He could have that for dinner, he decided. But for the rest…

Skydancer watched with interest as the mountain monster took the dark brown rectangle and broke it in half. The creature reached out, holding it carefully in one of his floppy not-hooves as he offered the object to Skydancer. What was it?

When the colt hesitated, ‘Green’ shrugged. Waving it under his flat, nearly non-existent pink muzzle, the creature grinned and took a bite from one half, mimicking the same gestures Skydancer had made a few minutes earlier. So it was food, then? Taking it from the mountain monster’s grasp, Skydancer took a cautious bite and broke out into a delighted grin. Chocolate! The happy colt quickly finished his portion of the treat and nodded his thanks. “Thanks, ‘Green!’ Wow, where did you get chocolate out here? My dad only ever…”

‘Green’ returned the nod and started gearing up. Skydancer sat quietly, licking missed bits of chocolate bar off his muzzle. He watched ‘Green’ tighten straps and sling the long, black stick over his back. What was that thing, anyway..? But that wasn’t important at the moment. The colt bit his lip in thought. He’d come up here to warn ‘Green,’ yes… but if he did that successfully, the fascinating creature would probably leave, never to be seen again.

Skydancer… didn’t have to tell ‘Green’ just yet, right? He hesitated. His saddlebags felt heavy with the drawing he’d prepared especially for the warning—no need to hike all the way down to the riverbank this time. And surely the miners wouldn’t search all the way up here for the mountain monster, right? He was safe for the afternoon at least, right? But…

Lieutenant Green tightened his helmet onto his head. It was nearly 1230; time to get going if he wanted to make his sun-imposed deadline and be past that mine by dusk. How to tell his little blue friend goodbye? He looked down to see a guilty looking ‘Sky’ emptying his bags on the rocky floor of the shelter. The colt picked up a book and opened it awkwardly, flipping page after page with his hoof. Finally he looked up. “‘Bag-ram?’”

It took the lieutenant a minute to realize what he was seeing. The pages depicted a large, circular splotch of green with various browns patches and blue lines, and… it was a map! He turned the page. Another map. He turned the page. Another. ‘Sky’ had understood his drawings at the river after all!

Lieutenant Green flipped urgently through the pages before returning to the page that the little blue horse had showed him. He scrutinized it. He turned it carefully, trying to line up the terrain and the path of the sun with the ornate compass on the map. He couldn’t read any of the writing, obviously, but it seemed to be about what he’d been looking for. “I don’t know how to thank you… but, thank you.”

Pausing in his scrutiny of the map, Mike looked around the cramped shelter. There must be something he could do for ‘Sky.’ His gaze alighted on the little pile of dowels, strings, and tissue paper. Hey, kids in Afghanistan loved kites, didn’t they? Yeah… Setting the book down, he crouch-walked over to the little pile. “Mind if I use this? I think you’ll like it.”

Skydancer could hear the question in ‘Green’s voice as the latter indicated his project supplies. What did the mountain monster want? Whatever it was, it probably couldn’t hurt. The colt found himself nodding to whatever it was ‘Green’ had said. “Just… careful with that stuff; I need to figure out how to make some sort of string… flying… thingy out of it.”

Gathering up the supplies—hey neat, there was even some fast-drying glue here!—Lieutenant Green climbed out from under the rocks and into the fresh air. He stretched luxuriously and scaled the slope to a relatively flat spot. Ah, that was so much better. Now, how to begin…

By the time Skydancer reached ‘Green’ again, the creature was on his knees, working carefully. Pulling out some kind of metal tool from his seemingly endless supply of pockets, the mountain monster sliced off a bit of string and tied two of the thin wooden dowels together, adding a few drops of glue. More string joined the points of the dowels. The blue colt took a seat and watched, still wondering where this was going.

Next, ‘Green’ laid out some of the colorful paper. He squeezed it a bit between his little… what were those things called, anyway? Hooflets? Claws? Obviously satisfied, the mountain creature started to glue it to the wood-and-string construction. In a matter of minutes what had been a disorganized pile was a large and colorful diamond shape.

Hah, and that was the main body. Now it just needed a tail. Lieutenant Green/ glanced down at his foul-smelling clothing. Well… it wasn’t like he needed all of his undershirt… Some undressing— and a few deft cuts of the multitool and he was done. He knotted the somewhat unsightly tail onto the kite and tied on the remaining string. Thankfully, the glue seemed to be of a fast-drying kind. “And there you go.”

Skydancer stared at the strange green contraption. What… was this exactly? He looked at ‘Green’ with the question in his eyes and shrugged. “It looks nice, but… what is it?”

There was an awkward pause as ‘Sky’ gazed confusedly at Lieutenant Green’s improvised gift. Surely he hadn’t encountered the one kind in Afghanistan who didn’t know how to fly a kite. Maybe he just didn’t like kites? No… he didn’t seem annoyed or disgusted, just… puzzled, somehow. “Huh, you’ve been deprived, ‘Sky.’ This is perfect weather for it too.”

“‘Kite..?’” So it was a… ‘kite?’ Skydancer nodded. Great, but what did it do?

Raising a finger to the heavens, Lieutenant Green tested the air. There was a nice up-valley wind. He wouldn’t even have to get a run up. Holding the kite aloft, he adjusted its angle until the breeze took it and started letting it fly. When Mike heard an astonished cry behind him, he grinned. Oh, good. ‘Sky’ liked it after all.

Skydancer practically leaped into the air after the ‘kite.’ He finally recognized the strange shape from the book, and this was it! How had ‘Green’ known? How could the big mountain monster possibly have known about this? The young earth pony’s eyes followed the colorful paper as it rose higher, flitting to and fro in the wind as ably as any bird—or pegasus. Gaping excitedly upward, Skydancer nudged his friend’s leg. “Can… can you teach me?”

Lieutenant Green retrieved the kite, chuckling at the little blue creature’s excited grin. He didn’t need the local language to tell what that question had been. “Sure, ‘Sky,’ I’ll let you fly this one. But first you’re going to make one of your own.”

The kid’s efforts at making the kite were a bit clumsy, to be sure. Still, with a bit of guidance and several failed attempts, there was soon a second kite to challenge the skies. Lieutenant Green looked on in satisfaction as the new kite took to the air—and quickly took a nosedive into the mountain. Mike winced. “Ooh. Not like that. Here… Try it this way.”

Several more tries and a few rebuilds later, the second kite was aloft. Skydancer giggled excitedly and let out a bit more line through his teeth and shifting the bright green kite’s path to the right. It responded to his commands, soaring higher and swinging out further into the up-valley breeze. He grinned and swung the kite left, letting it dive and pick up speed until it buzzed under ‘Green’s placidly-flying kite and stole its wind. The mountain creature’s kite dropped like a rock.

“Oho, so it’s like that, huh?” Lieutenant Green had never done any kite fighting himself, but he’d seen the Afghan linguists do it a few times on days like this. Heh… time to see if he’d picked up any tricks.

The twin kites danced across the sky, ducking and weaving past each other. Lieutenant Green was the more experienced of the two fliers, but ‘Sky’ was holding his own with a mixture of enthusiasm and near-maniacal aggressiveness. On balance, they were evenly matched.

Mike squinted into the sun and let the kite string slip through his fingers in a moment of realization. The sun had dipped low, hanging only a few hands above the mountains. Shoot, was it really that late? He checked his watch. It was. There was no way he’d be able to make it through the path behind the mine before nightfall now. Crap.

Reeling his kite in, Lieutenant Green shrugged helplessly to ‘Sky’ and pointed meaningfully at the sun. “Well, I think it’s time for me to get to bed. You too, probably.”

Skydancer was looking at the sun too. And he’d promised his mom he’d be home for dinner. “I… I guess this is goodbye for today? Will I see you tomorrow?”

Lieutenant Green took a knee and patted the little colt on the head, mussing ‘Sky’s mane. Hair. Whatever. The two of them looked out over the valley in silence for a few moments. “Well, I suppose this is goodbye, kid. Thanks for all your help. And the sandwiches. You take care of yourself.”

The mismatched pair wordlessly collected up Skydancer’s things and slid the saddlebag back on his back. ‘Green’ offered up both ‘kites’ and the textbook, but Skydancer shook his head. “I only need mine, and I can get the book back tomorrow. Thanks though! See you later!”

Holding the kite carefully between his teeth, Skydancer began his long trek home. He glanced back to see ‘Green’ waving and returned the cheerful gesture. This was going to be great! If he could just practice ‘kite’ flying with the mountain monster a few more times this weekend, he’d be more than ready! He couldn’t wait to see the look on everypony’s face. The happy colt looked back again to wave a final goodbye, but ‘Green’ was already gone.