• Published 2nd Feb 2016
  • 4,532 Views, 259 Comments

Safe Landings - Goldfur

When airplanes full of humans transformed into ponies pop out of the timestream, who can they count on to save them? The Aeronautical Returnee Rescue Response Squad! (A Ponies after People story.)

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Mark Hayfield stepped into the control tower of Melbourne Airport a few minutes early before the start of his shift. Unlike when he did so over thirty-two hundred years earlier, he did so now on four hooves. He’d had several years getting used to being an earth pony, but he had been extremely grateful that he was able to get work at his vocation of air traffic controller once more. Of course, many other things had changed in the interim while he was in the limbo of the time spell that had sent him and most of the population forward in time to reappear at random times in the future, reincarnated as ponies of various types, or zebras, griffons, or even stranger species. Once he had been rehabilitated to deal with his new body, he had been eager to stop being a burden and make the most of his new life. However, air traffic control was nowhere near as sophisticated as it had been at the point when the human race ceased to exist on the planet.

Mark greeted the controller on duty before he went over to the window to look over the airfield. The tower was considerably smaller than the one that had originally stood at this airport, but that had long since crumbled into ruin. In fact, he learned that the entire airport had fallen into disuse due to the loss of technology and infrastructure to run it since the Event, and the moldering ruins could still be seen from his vantage point. However, the sturdy runways had survived better, and had been reclaimed centuries later when ponies at last restarted powered flight.

Looking at the modern equivalent of aircraft, Mark had to chuckle. Despite the firsthand (or was that firsthoof) accounts that Returnees like himself would give, few ponies would believe the descriptions of the behemoths that flew people around the world. As far as they were concerned, jumbo jets were just a product of his fevered imagination. Who could blame them though? Aircraft technology had scarcely progressed beyond the propeller driven single-winged vehicles that could carry a couple of dozen passengers. The need for air traffic controllers barely existed, and might not even be particularly vital except for one important fact – people were still returning out of the time-stream, and they were often doing so in bigger and bigger groups. And there were few larger groups than that of a plane full of passengers.

Gazing about the airfield, he watched a groundskeeper mowing the grass surrounding the runway. A few hundred meters to his right, the tiny airport terminal was showing signs of activity as an aircraft was prepared for departure – probably an urgent freight run up to Coolangatta if he identified the plane correctly without binoculars. There was not a passenger flight scheduled for this early in the morning, so he would not have much to do as yet. That thought was shattered when the radio suddenly interrupted it.

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Flight QF94 inbound to Melbourne requesting urgent assistance! Over.

The voice was female and shaky. Mark knew instantly what it meant, and he sympathized with her as he trotted over to his co-worker who pulled over a microphone and toggled its switch.

“This is Melbourne air traffic control tower – we hear you, QF94. Please state the nature of your emergency. Over.”

There was a hesitation before a reply came. “Melbourne tower – the entire crew has been… incapacitated. I am barely able to operate the radio. We… we can’t handle the controls because of… our current condition. Over.

The poor pilot was obviously trying to phrase things in a way that didn’t make her sound crazy, and Mark could hardly blame her. “Let her off the hook, Silver,” he told the other pony.

Silver Wings nodded and toggled the microphone again. “QF94, we believe you are victims of transformation and you are now ponies or some other creature. Please confirm. Over.”

The reply was prompt this time, and the voice was incredulous. “How did you know? Over.

“Let’s just say that you aren’t the first, QF94. Lucky for you, we have procedures in place for this eventuality. Over.”

Not the first? Procedures for this? How can there possibly be a procedure for this that I’ve never heard of before? It’s the kind of thing that’s a bit hard to cover up! Over.

“I hate to tell you this, but Flight QF94 lasted a wee bit longer than fifteen hours. Over.”

Longer? How much longer? Over.” The pilot was definitely suspicious.

“You’re over thirty-two centuries late, QF94. Fortunately for you, your pay won’t be docked. First of all though, we need to get you down safely. Over.”

There was a long silence before another reply came. “Melbourne Tower – if I wasn’t teal-colored pony right now, and the Captain some kind of dog-thing, I would think you were nuts. As it is, I’m inclined to believe anything that will help me deal with our current problem. What do you want me to do? Over.

Silver nodded in satisfaction. The pilot was keeping her cool, and that was going to make things a lot easier. “QF94 – I assume that your autopilot is still in control of the aircraft? Over.”

That’s affirmative, Melbourne Tower. That won’t help us much to land this bird safely though. Over.

“It won’t have to, QF94. As I said, we have a procedure for this. The Aeronautical Returnee Rescue Response Squad will deal with this situation. Just hang in there until they arrive. Over.”

Arrive? How the hell are they going to get on this airplane? Over.

“Magic. How else? Over.”

There was a long pause before the radio came to life once more. “You have got to be kidding….

Silver turned to Mark and said, “And it sounds like she’s just hit her credibility wall. Any word from the A.R.R.R. yet?”

Mark had hit the alarm as soon as Silver had confirmed that they had a returnee situation on their hooves. “Not yet–” He was interrupted by the phone ringing. “Speak of the devil, I bet you this is them.” He picked up the phone. “Melbourne Air Traffic Control, Mark speaking.” … “Yeah, we have a big one for you. It’s an A380 inbound from Los Angeles. The flight has finally arrived.” … “Okay, we’ll be expecting your team soon. Seeya.”

Mark hung up the phone onto the receiver and turned to Silver. “They reckon they’ll be here in about ten minutes. I’ll head down to the office to meet them. Are you going to be alright? I know your shift has ended.”

Silver grinned. “This is the most excitement this place has had in a while. I’m not leaving until this is over!”

Mark returned the grin. “Better get back to our poor pilot and keep her mind off her problem.”

“Yep.” Silver agreed. Toggling the microphone, he said, “QF94, the rescue squad is on its way. We anticipate help will be there in less than half an hour. Meanwhile, tell me a little about yourself. Have you got wings or a horn? Over.”

The last thing Mark heard before the door closed behind him was, “Holy shit! I’m a unicorn!

Mark chuckled a little and muttered, “Lucky bastard!”

He made his way down the stairs to the offices at the base. This early in the morning, not even the office assistant had arrived as yet, and he waited by himself in the operations office before the A.R.R.R. squad appeared. Literally appeared. One moment he was alone, and the next there was a soft bang with a rush of displaced air, and a crowd of mixed ponies plus a couple of griffons teleported in. They were all wearing a distinctive jacket with an emblem and A.R.R.R. sewn on the left. A green-coated unicorn stallion stepped up to Mark and gave him a hoofbump.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Hayfield?”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, Machspeed, but it’s a biggie, so that should make up for it.” He gave the rest of the crew a cheery wave. “Welcome back, guys.”

The orange unicorn mare that was beside Machspeed spoke up. “So it’s true – we’ve got one of the A380s this time?”

Mark could hear the excitement in her voice. “Yes, Flashpoint. You have an easy target this time.”

“Let’s get a bead on her then,” she replied.

“Come on up with me. We should have it on our radar by now, I hope. I wish we had the equipment that I used back before the Event, but we make do.”

Machspeed said, “You complain about the equipment every time we come.”

“And you bemoan the state of aircraft every time also,” Mark replied with a smirk.

“Heh! Yeah. Hopefully we’ll develop something better eventually,” Machspeed replied as he and Flashpoint followed Mark up to the tower.

“… so you can kiss goodbye to the Sunday roast lamb. Over.” Silver was saying as they entered the control room.

Aw, crap! Shoot me now! Over.

Mark said, “Sounds like you’ve gotten her in a much more positive state of mind, Silver.”

The pegasus nodded. “She’s responding better than most. Glad to see the squad has arrived though. Amelia said she didn’t like the sound of some of the things that she could hear outside of the cockpit.”

“First Class passengers panic just as bad as Economy Class in this situation,” Machspeed commented.

“Have you got the plane on radar yet?” Flashpoint asked.

“Yep, although barely. Have a look for yourself.” Silver shifted over to let Flashpoint get a good look at the screen.

The mare checked its position and compared it to a map that she had brought with her. She then closed her eyes and concentrated, her horn glowing light green. After half a minute, she said, “Got it!”

Machspeed said, “Right, let’s go then. Hayfield, warn them that we’re on our way.” The two unicorns then headed back downstairs.

Mark nodded to Silver who picked up the microphone. “Hey, Amelia, expect some visitors in a minute. Machspeed is the name of the squad’s boss, so please give him your cooperation. No need to do anything more; just let them do their jobs. Over.”

If they can get us out of this mess, Silver, I’ll give this Mach Speed guy a great big kiss! Over.

Silver chuckled and replied, “I would not advise that. His wife might object a little, and she’s there with him. Over.”

I’ll take that under advisement, Silver. Maybe save the kiss for you instead. Over.

“Best offer I’ve had all month, Amelia. Out for now.”

# # #

The key to the A.R.R.R.’s ability to pull off aerial rescues came down to Flashpoint. The unicorn mare’s special talent was teleportation, excelling in range, power and accuracy. While remarkably ordinary in other unicorn abilities, she was probably the best at what she could do. Machspeed had approached her when she was merely using her ability for a courier business, and presented her with the concept of a new career that would not only save lives, but could also prove very lucrative. Intrigued, she took a chance and they teamed up, performing their first airborne rescue just three weeks later. Since then, their successes had led to fame which let them deal with the authorities on an effective basis. Therefore they had all the time they needed to organize themselves for this rescue.

The rescue team teleported onto the lower deck of the A380, spread out from the First Class compartment which was just behind the cockpit, and down the corridor. Critical to Flashpoint’s uncanny ability was not materializing anywhere there was an obstruction, which usually consisted of panicky ponies and other species filling the walkways. The team obviously caused a further stir by their sudden appearance, and a couple of them immediately set to work sorting out the mess and calming people down, even as most of the others started to disperse throughout the rest of the airplane to do the same thing. Pegasi members flew over the heads of passengers, avoiding the blocked corridors, making the best speed to the more distant sections of the enormous aircraft, while unicorns levitated others into seats, or even restrained some whose sanity had been pushed a little too far. They also had two earth ponies on the team to provide muscle, but both of them had strong, loud, and confident voices which they used to great effect to impose a semblance of order amidst the chaos.

While the majority of the team went about their assigned tasks, Machspeed headed to the cockpit. The door was locked, of course, but a simple spell took care of that, and he entered the cockpit. The first thing he saw was a diamond dog in the captain’s seat. The unfortunate pilot had become one of the larger ham-fisted ones, and had burst out of his uniform. Worse still, he was jammed tightly into his chair, almost hopelessly restricted. Judging by the looks Machspeed got, he had not coped well with the situation, and seemed to be nearly catatonic. Looking to his right though, he saw an attractive teal-colored unicorn mare with a mauve mane staring back at him.

“How did you get in here?” she asked nervously.

“Relax, Ma’am, I’m part of the rescue team you’ve been expecting. Call me Machspeed, and I believe your name is Amelia?”

She nodded. “That’s me. The question still applies though. How on Earth did you get up here and through the locked door without breaking it down?”

“For the first – precision teleportation. For the second – a neat little magic spell that I learned especially for these situations.”

“That’s the second time that I’ve been told it’s magic, and I still find it hard to swallow.”

“You’re a unicorn, your captain is a diamond dog, and the year is 3234 A.E. – what do you find so hard to believe?”

Amelia deflated a little. “Good point. So, are all the rest of the passengers unicorns and dogs too?”

“Nope. Some are pegasi, earth ponies, griffons, and even stranger species. It’s a real menagerie up here!” Machspeed replied with a grin meant to put her at ease.

“Right….” Amelia took a moment to let that sink in. “What happens now? I’m not much use with these.” She waved her hooves helplessly in the air.

“You’d be surprised what they can do, but we don’t have time for lessons. I’d like to keep you here though, so the first step is to get the captain extricated from his chair and out of the way.” He turned to call back down the passage. “Flash! I could do with a helping horn here!”

Flashpoint quickly joined him. “What’s up, hon? Whoa! He’s really jammed in there, isn’t he?”

“Yep. I reckon it’ll take the two of us to worm him out. If you can try forcing the chair’s arms apart, I’ll lift him out.”

They got to work, and Amelia watched in fascination as their horns lit up – his with a violet glow and hers green, and matching glows surrounded the chair and the pilot. With a creak of stressed materials, the chair’s grip on the diamond dog eased, and he was lifted out of it. Machspeed floated him down the corridor and placed him in the care of one of the team members before returning. He then began to take the captain’s position at the controls.

Amelia looked at him worriedly. “Um… not meaning to look a gift horse in the mouth… oh God, I don’t believe I said that. Anyway, are you qualified to fly this airplane?”

Machspeed gave her his most confident grin. “I used to be a human too. I flew jet fighters in the Royal Australian Air Force, and when I retired from the military, I took a job as a commercial pilot. I’ve trained on practically every one of the big passenger aircraft, and that includes the A380. I’m one of the very few ponies in the world now who are qualified and experienced with many of the pre-Event aircraft, so you can relax – you’re in safe hooves.”

Machspeed put on the radio headset that fitted awkwardly about his pony ears. “Melbourne Tower, this is flight QF94. Come in, please. Over.”

The reply was prompt. “This is Melbourne Tower. Have you things under control, Machspeed? Over.

“That’s an affirmative, Melbourne Tower. Systems look okay, and the rest of the team is currently working their way through the passenger situation. Over.”

Good to hear, QF94. Ground crew has started preparing for your arrival. The one flight leaving here this morning is just taking off, so the airspace will be completely clear for you by the time that you get here. Standard approach on Runway 34. Over.

“Acknowledged, Melbourne Tower. Out.”

“That wasn’t exactly standard procedure,” Amelia commented.

“Standard procedure ceased to exist thirty two centuries ago. You’re lucky that we even have a runway suitable for landing this thing on. Fortunately, runways designed to support a fully loaded and fueled A380 weighing up to 575 tonnes are rather durable, and they were able to be salvaged and re-used even after all this time.”

Amelia shuddered. “I can’t wrap my head around that. What about my family and friends? Will I ever see them?”

“I’m sorry, but unless any of them are on this plane, you’re extremely unlikely to ever see them again. That’s true for everyone else on board this airplane.”

“You too?”

“Yeah. I missed my friends and my brother. Parents were already dead. No wife though, so when I met Flashpoint and we fell in love, at least I didn’t have a guilty conscience when we got married.”

“Was she a human once also?”

“Nope. She was born a pony in this time. Humans are practically a myth to ponies like her, but as long as Returnees keep popping out of thin air, our old species won’t be totally forgotten.”

Amelia considered that for a long moment. “So… you married a pony?”

“Yes, and we’ve had a foal too – a cute filly.” He grinned at her. “You get used to being a pony, or you go nuts. It might take a while, but you should get comfortable in your new body eventually. While I still miss my hands occasionally, this horn makes a mighty handy substitute. Yours will too when you learn how to use it. And as I said before, these hooves can do a lot more than you might credit.” Machspeed demonstrated their astounding agility.

“How’s that even possible?” Amelia asked even as she tried to imitate him.

“Don’t worry – you’ll learn.”

“Silver said that you would explain how this all happened.”

Machspeed nodded. “We will, but it’s a rather long story which I’ll save for later. Short version – real magic came into our universe, but it was incompatible with humans and killed them horribly. However, powerful beings from a nearby universe foresaw this and tried to help. They couldn’t find a solution in time, so instead they used a mega-spell that changed us into magic-compatible species as found on their world. However, Earth could not cope with the entire population being changed simultaneously, so the majority were shoved into the time stream and have been randomly popping out ever since. The bigger the number though, the later they arrive. That’s why it’s taken over three thousand years for this airplane to return.”

“If the short version makes my head hurt this much, I don’t think I’m going to enjoy the long version,” Amelia said with a sigh.

“Cheer up – you could have returned before any means to rescue you existed, or adequate infrastructure to deal with it. Believe me, there had been plenty of tragic plane crashes before I organized the A-Triple-R Squad. Now, thanks to Flashpoint’s amazing teleportation skills, we travel worldwide and rescue a lot of them.”

“A lot, but not all?”

Machspeed lost his confident grin and shook his head. “Sometimes we can’t react in time, and sometimes we’re just not welcome.”

Amelia looked aghast. “You mean, despite all this,” she said as she waved her hooves all-encompassingly, “People still can’t get along?”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same. Used to be a lot worse. Can’t say that it won’t go bad again either.”

In the quiet lull, Flashpoint returned to the cockpit. “How are things up here?” she asked.

“Everything is smooth here, Love. How about back there?”

“The usual – calmed down most; restrained a few. It took a while because this is one enormous airplane.”

“First time on an A380?” Amelia asked.

Flashpoint nodded. “Still amazes me how these things can fly.”

“This from a magic-using unicorn,” Amelia said drolly.

Flashpoint shared an understanding smile with her before turning back to Machspeed. “We had one hitch – we’ve got a changeling.”

Machspeed winced. “Did you isolate her in one of the toilets?”

“Of course.”

“Why did you need to do that?” Amelia asked.

Flashpoint replied, “Her species is rather frightening, and they’re very sensitive to hostile emotions. It’s best for both her and the other passengers.”

Amelia looked at Machspeed. “You said ‘her’ without being told. Why?”

“You’re observant. It’s because they’re always female, even if the human used to be male. Just what this world needs – another changeling queen.”

“I feel sorry for her, but it’s hardly her fault,” Flashpoint pointed out.

“It doesn’t make things any easier for anyone though, does it?”

“No. Well, I’m going to go make another lap of the plane. See you in a week.”

“Don’t forget the trail rations,” Machspeed said with a smile.

As Flashpoint left, Machspeed said to Amelia, “Okay, time for us to get busy.”

“What can I do?” she asked, waving her hooves again.

“You’ve remained remarkably calm and level-headed despite this extraordinary situation, so don’t think you’re helpless. You can still be a lot of help to me, especially reading off the checklists. We have enough safety margin that we don’t have to land this bird on the first try, but I reckon that we should be able to do it together. Are you game?”

Amelia smiled with a bit more confidence. “Yes, Captain.”

“Great! Let’s get to work.”

Amelia surprised herself with how much that she was able to do with only the occasional telekinetic help from Machspeed. It was not long before they had the runway in sight, but they were ready.

“Melbourne Tower, this is Flight QF94 on final approach. Over.”

QF94, you are cleared for landing. Good luck, Machspeed. Over.

“Thanks, Melbourne Tower. Out.”

Despite the reassurances, Amelia was more nervous upon landing than she had been for a very long time, but Machspeed managed a near-perfect landing despite the lack of sophisticated equipment on the ground to assist him. She let out the breath that she had not realized that she had been holding and started looking around as they turned off the runway and taxied towards a small building.

“Where’s the terminal?” she asked in puzzlement.

“Over there,” Machspeed replied, pointing with a hoof towards the building.

Amelia’s eyebrows rose is surprise. “That is the terminal? It’s scarcely bigger than this plane!”

“It’s a different world, Amelia. Regular air traffic refers to pegasi, not powered craft, at least not yet. This airport is scheduled to be expanded soon, but that small building has coped well enough up until now.”

“What happened to the old terminal?”

“Not much survives after three thousand years. Much of it has been salvaged for raw materials, especially the steel. The rest has just mouldered away for ages. You can see what remains over there.” He pointed once more before he slowed the plane and made a final slow turn in towards the terminal where a pony was waving red flags, and finally came to a stop.

The flag-waving pony dragged some wheel chocks under the plane out of sight. Moments later, she came back, spread her wings and fluttered up to the cockpit window and looked inside. Machspeed gave her a sign and she nodded in satisfaction before flying away.

Amelia gaped in awe. “That… that pony can fly! You weren’t kidding about pegasus ponies, were you? How can they fly with such small wings? How can they fly at all?”

Machspeed started to answer, but Amelia held up a hoof to forestall him.

“I know – magic, right? I think I might already be envious of them.”

Machspeed laughed. “I know exactly what you mean. I still occasionally wish I’d become a pegasus, but I think I wouldn’t be able to pilot one of these babies if I didn’t have telekinesis to help me. You don’t know how much I missed flying before I saw the need and formed this squad. Anyway, our job isn’t finished yet. We have passengers to unload, and some rather disturbing news to tell them. It’s going to take a while. There aren’t any airbridges here, and very few of these transformees are even going to be able to walk very well.”

“Why not?”

“Amelia, you’re a four-legged equine now. Only acrobatic ponies can walk on two legs with any competence. Get out of your chair, plant your hooves on the deck, and give it a try.”

Amelia poked ineffectually at her seat belt with her hooves before saying, "A little help here, please?"

A touch of telekinesis from Machspeed unlatched the seat belt, and Amelia awkwardly did as she was instructed, although her now ill-fitting uniform hindered her a lot. She wobbled on her legs as she took a couple of tentative steps.

“Pretend you’re crawling like a human. That’s about the best way to get used to being on four legs and then you’ll start to get the hang of walking properly. Don’t expect to be more competent than a toddler for a while though.”

“Let me practice a bit,” she replied.

“Okay,” Machspeed said before turning on the public address system. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Melbourne, Australia. As you have crossed over the International Date Line, you will need to set your watches forward 3,234 years, three months, and eight days. This will be your final destination. If you had connecting flights, unfortunately you have missed them and I'm afraid we can't re-book you. We will be letting you disembark as soon as possible, but we request your patience as we don’t have a airbridge, and the first step is a doozy. Please follow the instructions of the ground crew once you have disembarked. Qantas would like to thank you for flying with them, but they haven’t existed for over thirty-two centuries, so forget about your Frequent Flyer points.”

Amelia giggled. “Thanks. I needed a laugh.”

“Things aren’t going to be easy for you for a while, Amelia. My best advice to you is to keep a positive attitude and never forget that you’re only as limited as you let yourself be. It’s not a bad time to come back to this world, so make the most of it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” She leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks again.”

“You’re welcome, but don’t let my wife catch you doing that, or she might ‘accidentally’ teleport you to the moon,” he replied with a wink. “Besides, I believe there’s a pegasus in the control tower who would like to meet you.”

“You mean Silver Wings? Yeah, I’d like that. What’s with those funny names anyway? What’s your real name?”

“My real name is Machspeed. It’s a pretty good pony name, and I like it. But if you’re referring to when I was a human, it was Abraham Colburn. Abe ceased to exist when the human race disappeared though, and this pony that I am now is happy with his new life and his new name.”

“So am I expected to change my name also?”

“Only if you want to, but I like Amelia just fine, if you want my opinion.”

“Thanks – I’ve always liked it.”

“One more question…?”

“Only one?” Machspeed asked with a knowing grin. “Go ahead.”

“Do you always walk around without pants?”

The stallion burst out laughing. “Amelia, most ponies don’t wear anything at all most of the time. There are exceptions like uniforms, protective safety gear, and formal wear, but for the most part, you’ll find that you’ll be most comfortable in nothing but your lovely teal coat.”

“That’s going to take a little getting used to,” Amelia admitted.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want, but after you’ve been around naked ponies for a while, you’ll probably wonder what the big deal is about uncomfortable clothes.”

“Maybe I’ll settle for something that fits a bit better for now. I keep tripping on my pants!”

“Believe it or not, I have a solution for that.” Machspeed’s horn lit up and a wad of rubber bands lifted out of his jacket’s pocket. “Just let me roll up your cuffs and sleeves, and I’ll put on a rubber band to hold them in place for now.”

Amelia willingly cooperated, and soon she found herself badly dressed, but free to move without hindrance from her clothes. “Thanks. What happens now?”

“First I finish shutting down systems while you do the checklist, and then we disembark.”

Amelia was happy that she was not useless despite her transformation. When they were done, she followed him as best she could as he headed out of the cockpit. She was surprised to find the First Class section empty of passengers, but she could see more ponies queued up at the nearest exit. The line was moving quite slowly, so she could not see too many of them yet.

“How are people getting off if you don’t have a airbridge? Do you actually have steps suited to an A380?”

“Nope. Come and have a look.”

Amelia staggered over as close to the exit as she could and peered around the corner. Her eyes widened in surprise as she saw passengers floating to the ground, surrounded by a glow that was conspicuous even in the sunlight. Other passengers were being carried down by pegasi wearing the same type of jacket as Machspeed. There was a unicorn at the door with the same jacket.

Machspeed explained, “My squad is also responsible for the evacuation of the aircraft. Once on the tarmac, the ground staff takes over. By now, a special squad from the city that is responsible for dealing with Returnees should be here to help you, although I imagine that getting several hundred all at once is going to strain their resources a bit.”

“I’ll bet.” Amelia just watched the slowly passing parade. She saw ponies of every imaginable color and hue, some griffins, a zebra, and two deer. “Has the changeling been taken off yet? I’m curious to see what she looks like.”

“We’ll leave her for last. She’ll need special handling.”

The unloading of all the passengers took quite a long while despite several exits being opened on both decks. The penultimate one was finally brought safely to the ground, and the squad members moved back from the doorway. After a short wait as Amelia wondered what was happening, another squad member, an earth pony mare, made her way slowly down the passageway while supporting… something.

Machspeed said softly, “Amelia, many people find changelings disturbing to look at, but remember that she was once a human being also. Control your reactions, especially your emotions.”

Amelia glanced at Machspeed. “That’s an odd request. Why my emotions?”

“Changelings feed on the energy of positive emotions, especially love, but negative emotions are harsh and can weaken them. Daisy is our most empathetic member and she’s supporting the changeling with encouragement and positive feelings, as well as helping her to walk.”

“They feed on emotions? How does that work? No, wait, don’t tell me – weird creature magic.”

“Weird magic, yes, but that's still a person,” Machspeed reminded.

Amelia nodded in acknowledgement but did not say anything because she could now comprehend some of what she was looking at, and she was stunned. The changeling was a bizarre sight, and she barely managed to keep herself in check. She watched as they were levitated to the ground and moved off in a different direction from all the others.

“Okay,” Machspeed announced cheerfully. “Our job is done, and you’re officially off-duty, First Officer Amelia… what is your last name anyway?”

“Does it really matter now?” Amelia wondered.

“Probably not. Let’s disembark. If you’ll allow me, I’ll lift you down personally.”

“Why, thank you, Captain.”

Machspeed’s horn lit up, and Amelia felt a weird sensation of weightlessness as she floated out of the plane and down to the ground.

Flashpoint trotted up to Machspeed and said, “That pilot seems to be handling this all very well.”

The stallion nodded. “Yeah. I hope that carries forward into her new life. I quite like her.”

Flashpoint poked him in the chest with a hoof. “You are not starting a herd,” she said with a smirk.

Machspeed grinned and kissed her. “Yes, dear. Mind taking me down?”

Flashpoint nodded, and a moment later they popped out of thin air next to Amelia.

The mare jumped in surprise and nearly fell over before Machspeed steadied her. “So that’s teleportation? Handy!” She turned to gaze at the A380 for a long moment while the rest of the A.R.R.R. Squad also disembarked. “It looks even more out of place from this viewpoint. What happens to it now?”

“She’s flown her last. We haven’t got the resources or the infrastructure to utilize or maintain her. We’ll gut her for the valuable electronics and other equipment that can be repurposed, and sell whatever is left over for scrap. We should all make a lot of money out of this job.”

Amelia looked at Machspeed in dismay. “You mean you’re only in this for the money?”

Instead of answering her, the stallion started to gesticulate to his other crewmembers to come over and join him while saying, “Hey, guys! Let’s show Amelia our motto.”

The crew gathered with suspicious smiles on their faces. Some reared up to put their forelegs around the shoulders of the persons beside them, and they all leered at her and gave her fierce grins. Machspeed counted down when they seemed ready.

“Three, two, one …”

ARRRRRRRR!” they all chorused.

Amelia blinked as she recognized the parody. “You’re pirates?!” she exclaimed.

The group broke up laughing, and Machspeed came back over to rejoin her.

“No, not really. That’s just our little joke based on the initials of the squad. We’re a private operation not funded by any government, so we make money by salvaging the aircraft that we rescue. Lives get saved, and we get to make a good living. Everybody wins.”

Amelia nodded thoughtfully. “And you get to fly again.”

“And I get to fly,” Machspeed agreed happily.

“It can’t last forever, you know?”

“I know, but there are still thousands of flights not accounted for, so I don’t think we need to worry about that for a long while.”

“You got lucky, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “Yeah, but sometimes you make your own luck. Remember that over the coming months, Amelia. Now you had better join the others inside. As soon as everypony is gathered, they’ll begin your orientation. You’ve got a lot to learn about your new world.”

“Everypony?” Amelia repeated.

Machspeed grinned. “Just one of the things you’re going to get used to. Welcome to the future of humanity – it’s got ponies!”

# # #

Machspeed sat at his desk, reluctantly dealing with the inevitable paperwork. The entire Aeronautical Returnee Rescue Response Squad operated out of a very modest office located on the coast north of the former city of Brisbane. There were frequently long gaps between rescue operations, and this location had always been idyllic before the Event, and it still was now that ponies dominated the population, so many days were just spent either swimming, lazing in the sun, or indulging in the many varied forms of entertainment available in the area. However, as boss of the organization, he still had to occasionally sit down in his office and deal with the bureaucracy.

“Hey, Mach! Someone here to see you!” the office manager called out.

“Send them in,” he replied.

A moment later, a unicorn mare stepped into his office – one with a familiar teal-colored coat and mauve mane. She gave him a happy smile.

“Hello, Machspeed. It’s good to see you again at last.”

Machspeed’s memory was suddenly jolted back nearly two years. “Amelia! It’s still Amelia, I hope? What brings you here?”

Amelia trotted confidently over to his desk and made herself comfortable on the chair there, showing no signs whatsoever that she had not always possessed four legs.

“I hear that your business has been growing lately. Need another pilot? This unicorn wants to fly!”

Machspeed’s smile grew into a broad grin. “Maybe. Do you remember our motto?”

Amelia squinted and grimaced, and fiercely growled, “ARRRRRRRRR!”

The stallion laughed and said, “Welcome to the A-Triple-R Squad, Captain Amelia!”

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

I'm hardly an expert on air traffic control and communications procedures, so please don't rip me a new one if I have done something horribly wrong. I'm willing to look at modifying some of the speech if I feel it's necessary, but please bear in mind that this is a totally different time and situation. :rainbowhuh:

I've wanted to write something in Starscribe's Ponies After People universe for quite a while, but I wanted to touch on something that other authors had not done so as yet. I hope that you enjoyed my little tale, and please give me a thumbs-up and a fave if you have. :twilightsmile:

ART BY KAT MILLER a.k.a. Foxenawolf. Check her out for commissions!
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