• 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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Dropping In

Amelia felt her tension rising as she waited in the back of the airplane. Used primarily to carry cargo, it had very little in the way of amenities for passengers, namely a cushion to sit on until the aircraft got into position. It was not a very comfortable cushion either, but still better than sitting on the cold floor. She eyed the sky through the window, noting the almost total lack of clouds, which matched what the weather pegasi had predicted. That would make her task a lot easier; the really tricky bit was about to happen.

The pilot of the aircraft leaned over in his seat and looked back to Amelia. “We’re almost in position. Better get ready!”

Amelia nodded, relieved to actually be able to do something soon. She turned to her companion and said, “Wish me luck, Beamer.”

Sunbeam raised his leg and hoof-bumped her. “You got it, Amy. Not that you need it.”

Amelia grinned at him. “Hey, I’m good, I know, but I’ll take all the good fortune that I can get.” She got up and moved over to the rear hatch. She made sure that her jacket was zipped up tightly before slipping goggles over her eyes. She then unfastened the hatch and opened it, letting a blast of wind inside, but a firm grip on the handle at the side of the door kept her steady.

After several tense seconds of waiting, a buzzer sounded and a green light flashed. “Geronimo!” she shouted and leaped out of the airplane. “Wahoooooo!” she yelled as she plummeted from the plane several kilometers above the ground. The wind whipped through her mane and forced itself up her nostrils as she grinned in delight at her free-fall. Below her was nothing but countryside dotted with small lakes. A field with several small dots that she recognized were cows was the only sign of civilization… except for the airplane whose course she was rapidly intersecting at a dangerous rate. She angled herself to change direction slightly, and soon she could confirm that it was the Mooney M20 that she was here to rendezvous with. When she judged that the moment was right, she spread her forelegs to the side.

The legs of another pony hooked under hers and slowed down their rate of descent, swinging her back legs down into position for the next maneuver. “Perfect timing, Beamer!” Amelia yelled above the wind noise.

“Practice makes perfect, Amy” the pegasus replied.

Having been saved the effort of carrying his companion all the way to the Mooney, Sunbeam was able to put all his energy into matching the aircraft’s considerable speed while carrying Amelia. She reached out a hind leg to the right wing, but it lurched under the weight.

“We’re too far out. Get me closer to the fuselage,” Amelia directed.

Sunbeam obliged, and although the Mooney wobbled a bit, it steadied quickly. Amelia’s horn lit up and unlatched the cabin door. Holding it firmly in the grip of her magical telekinesis, she opened it enough to peer inside at the shocked face of the pilot. With Sunbeam’s assistance, she scrambled inside and closed the door before giving him the OK sign. He waved in acknowledgement before veering off and disappearing from view. Amelia then pulled off her goggles and turned her attention to the pilot.

“G’day! I was just passing by and I thought I’d drop in. Great day for flying, right?” she said cheerfully.

The earth pony stallion stared at her in confusion. “Who…? How…?”

Amelia smacked herself in the head with a hoof. “Silly me – I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Amelia, and I’m from the Aeronautical Returnee Rescue Response Squad. Saw you were in a bit of a pickle, so I thought I’d see if I could help.”

“But… you’re… what are you? What happened to me?”

“I’m a unicorn. Yeah, I’m a magical mythological creature who was just carried here by a pegasus. Mind-blowing, right? It was for me too. As for you, you look like a fairly typical earth pony, and right now I guess you’re kind of freaking out. Well, I’m here to tell you that as ludicrous as this situation is right now, it’s not as bad as you think. You’re not going crazy, and you’re not going to die because you can’t control this aircraft with hooves. Leave the flying to me, and we’ll have a nice conversation while we head for the airport.”

Amelia checked out the instruments with an experienced eye. The autopilot which had done an excellent job of keeping the plane flying straight and level was also taking them away from the airfield, so she switched it off and took full control at the co-pilot position. The GPS was useless without the satellites it needed to operate, but she already knew what course to set to get the plane where she needed.

“What are you doing?” the stallion asked with a touch of panic.

“Please don’t be concerned, sir – I have the plane completely in my control. See the glow around my horn? Magic! No fooling! I am steering us towards the nearest airport so that we can deal with your situation. What’s your name, by the way?”

“Brad Lawson,” he replied reflexively. “And what do you mean by magic?”

“It’s a real thing now, Brad. Unfortunately it’s also why you and I are ponies. Short version: mana – that’s the energy behind magic – burst into our universe. Unfortunately mana is lethal to humans. It’s kind of like being hit by radiation. Anyway, beings from another universe saw our plight coming and used their power to change us all into various species that could survive in a mana-rich environment. However, if all the humans in the world were changed simultaneously, there would be no way we could have coped, and the vast proportion of the population would have died. So they shoved most of us into the time stream and we’ve been popping out of it into the future at various times ever since. Welcome to the 54th Century, Brad.”

Brad stared at her for a very long moment before sighing deeply. “Either I’ve gone completely crazy, or that’s the most unbelievable truth I’ve ever heard.”

Amelia grinned back at him. “Isn’t it, though? Let’s face it – you know that absolutely everything looks normal to you except us, so why would we be an exception in a normal world? No, I’m quite real, and you’re a pony too now. How old are you, Brad?”

“I’m sixty-three; does that matter?”

“Only that you’re now a young stallion again. Every adult human comes back in a healthy, just barely fully-adult body. You’re about twenty-one now. You have a full life ahead of you to enjoy.”

“How am I supposed to enjoy it like this?” he asked bitterly as he waved his hooves.

“I wondered that myself when it happened to me. Know what I was doing? I was the co-pilot of an A380 with a planeload of passengers in my care. The captain freaked out and left it all to me. I wanted to freak out too, but I managed to call for help, and the A-Triple-R Squad got us all down safely. Now I work for them. Do you get that, Brad? I rescue planes for a living! Do I look like a helpless pony to you? No, I’m not, and you won’t be either. Sure, it’ll be difficult at first, and your life is going to change a lot, but it’s nothing that millions of people haven’t done before. Just have a little confidence in yourself, and you’ll do just fine.”

Brad seemed to quietly absorb that information, and he sat in his seat silently for several minutes.

“Are you okay, Brad?” Amelia asked.

He snorted derisively. “No, I’m not, but I’ve stopped freaking out, as you said. I’ve started noticing things though. I can’t see roads or other signs of civilization around here.”

Amelia shook her head. “You won’t see much because civilization collapsed and rose and collapsed and rose again over thirty-two centuries. Almost everything human-made has long since decayed and nature has retaken the land. Sure, we’re slowly rebuilding yet again, but not around here yet. There are lots of places that humans tamed that have remained untouched for centuries and reverted to wilderness. If we don’t have another stupid conflict that makes civilization collapse again, we might build some of those roads once more.”

“So you’re telling me that you still have wars?”

“Yeah. Just because humans were turned into other species didn’t mean that we got any smarter. Still the same ideological differences, and now we can argue over which species are superior too!” Amelia answered with some exasperation.

Surprisingly, Brad laughed. “Now I know that things are virtually normal. Humans are humans no matter what we look like. So – what species are we talking about?”

“Oh, zebras, griffins, minotaurs, yaks, changelings….”

“Yaks? Seriously?”

“Yep. In fact many hoofed species seem to have a sapient equivalent now. You’ll find it a bit weird if you like milk and you buy it from your neighborhood, professional dairy cow.”

“Consider me boggled.”

“Oh, I’ve barely begun to boggle you, Brad. Let me tell you….”

For the rest of the journey, Amelia kept up a steady patter of conversation that both informed and amused the Returnee so much that he hardly noticed when they came in for a landing at the airfield. He saw the group of ponies waiting for them there, alongside a couple of the locals who happened to be deer-folk. He turned back to Amelia with a bit of a smile.

“Thanks for the rescue, Amelia. I suppose I have to go find out what my new life is going to be like now.”

“You’re welcome, Brad. I’m confident that you’ll do okay. There’s always a place for ponies who try.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Good luck.”

Machspeed had approached the pilot’s side and opened the door. He assisted Brad out with his telekinesis, and then passed him into the care of the deer.

Meanwhile, Sunbeam flapped over to Amelia’s side of the plane and waited until Amelia let herself out of the Mooney. “I saw that kiss,” he said reprovingly.

“Are you jealous, Beamer?” Amelia replied coyly.

“Bitterly!” he said before sweeping her up in his wings and giving her a passionate kiss.

Amelia returned it willingly and with equal fervor. More and more often lately, she had been thinking of asking him if he wanted to be her mate. It amused and dismayed her that it was she who was getting cold feet… or hooves… over that decision, because she was almost certain that Sunbeam was only waiting for her to ask. Silly business this modern custom that mares were supposed to do the proposing!

“Well, if you’re done celebrating a successful mission, it’s time to get back to base,” Mach speed’s voice came from beside them.

Amelia broke apart from Sunbeam with her usual happy smile on her face. “Oh, we’re far from finished celebrating, Mach.”

The unicorn stallion laughed. “Okay, but save it until we’re back home. Flashpoint won’t wait for you to stop snogging.”

They all shared a good-humored chuckle before Flashpoint teleported them back to base.

# # #

Amelia’s early days at the Aeronautical Returnee Rescue Response Squad had been a little uncertain. Learning how to use her new body properly had taken about average for a Returnee, but that had not been enough for her. She had come back as a unicorn, and it was her intention to be as proficient with the magic that came with that species as was possible. While she had not been granted the wings of a pegasus, she still dreamed of flying, and the best way to fulfill that dream was to be proficient with telekinesis. Therefore she had practiced long and hard before she tracked down the office of the A-Triple-R and boldly asked for a job. She had been made to feel welcome, and seeing that she was the only fully qualified pilot besides Machspeed, also a valuable asset. Nobody had warned her about the long intervals that sometimes happened between rescues though, and sitting around doing nothing preyed on her insecurities because she felt that she was being a dead weight while not engaged in real work.

Sunbeam saw her moping around one day and he decided to do something about it. Stepping up to Amelia, he clucked his tongue in mock dismay. “Is there anything more pathetic than a pilot out of her natural element?”

Amelia barely glanced at him. “At least you can fly whenever you want to,” she grumped.

“Yep. Nothing like the open sky with the wind in your wings, sun on your back, and clouds beneath your hooves,” he said enthusiastically. “Only one thing could make it better.”

“Isn’t that enough for you?” she replied with a hint of envy. She sighed. “Okay, I’ll bite – what would make it better?”

He gave her a dazzling grin. “Doing it in the company of a gorgeous mare, of course.”

Amelia’s right eyebrow rose and she gave him a deadpan look. “If you’re trying to hit on me, you’re hardly making a case for yourself. Last I looked, I hadn’t grown any wings yet.”

Sunbeam’s smile never faltered. “One reason I’m on the team is that I’m a heavy lifter. If you’re game, I could give you the ride of a lifetime.”

“You’ll carry me?” Amelia was a little shocked at the proposal. As much as she loved flying, the thought of being supported by nothing but a magically-powered winged pony was enough to make her a little nervous.

“It’s my specialty,” he replied confidently. “So, as I just asked, are you game?”

Amelia’s self-confidence reasserted itself, and she returned his grin. “Okay, Beamer, you’re on. But if you drop me, I’m coming back to haunt you!”

“Fair enough, but what’s this ‘Beamer’ bit?”

“A hangover from my past. Get used to it. Now – less talk, more action!”

Sunbeam fetched his goggles and gave Amelia a spare pair before they went outside. The stallion settled down on the grass and instructed Amelia to make herself as comfortable on his back as she could without obstructing his wings. He then stood back up, spread those wings, and with a powerful flap, took off.

“Wahooooo!” Amelia yelled in excitement, nearly deafening Sunbeam as she practically shouted in his ear.

Sunbeam winced and his ear folded down to soften the abuse, but he continued his climb up to the clouds.

It was a mostly clear day, and only a few fluffy cumulus clouds dotted the sky, so Amelia had a great view, one that was better than any she had while confined to a cockpit. She quickly forgot about being supported solely by an aerodynamically impossible mythical species, and she relaxed her grip on the pony as she enjoyed the ride.

Sunbeam took her for an extended tour of the area before lifting them up above a cloud and lowering himself to its tenuous surface. Amelia had heard that pegasi could walk on clouds, but had never actually witnessed it, and her pre-Event logic told her that it was impossible. Nevertheless he came to a springy halt just like he had stepped onto a trampoline.

Amelia laughed with the absurdity of it. “I know that it’s because of magic that you can do this, but it still boggles my mind. I suppose I can’t do that also?”

Sunbeam angled his head so he could look at her over his shoulder. “Nope. Your first step would be your last, so please don’t try. Aside from not getting the cloud-walking experience, have you been enjoying the ride?”

“Very much so. I really needed this.”

“Want to do it more often?”

“You are hitting on me, aren’t you?” Amelia said with a smirk.

“I suppose I am. The question still stands,” Sunbeam replied unabashed.

Amelia thought about it for a bit. When she had started her rehabilitation, she had been uncomfortable with the thought of any kind of relationship with ponies who had never known what it was like to have been a human. She had still thought of herself as one who had been put into a foreign body. It had taken her a while to get over her prejudices and stop the sensation of alien-ness that she got whenever a pony tried to get friendly with her. Her buoyant nature eventually overcame those feelings for the most part, but nevertheless it was a big step from a friend to a boyfriend. Still – a boyfriend who could fly!

“Okay, Beamer, I’m game.”

“Awesome! Hang on, Amelia – I feel like a little celebration is in order.”

Sunbeam dived off the edge of the cloud, and Amelia hugged the pegasus tightly. They hurtled towards the ground until he pulled up hard like a roller-coaster. Amelia squealed in delighted terror before yelling, “Again!”

A few loops and rolls later, they came down for a landing in the yard of the A.R.R.R.S. headquarters. Sunbeam was panting hard from the exertion, but still grinning, and Amelia’s smile matched his. She was buzzing from the adrenaline rush as she climbed off his back. She then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Thanks, Beamer. I feel a lot better.”

“You’re welcome, Amelia.”

“Wanna go out for dinner? My treat?”

“I’ve worked up quite an appetite; can you afford to feed me?”

Amelia laughed. “I think I’ll manage.”

That dinner date was the first of many since then. Amelia had at last met someone who was not only interested in her as a person, but also shared her passion for flying. Together they perfected the techniques for light aircraft interception and rescue, and Machspeed was happy to pass on the responsibility for those to them. Between the light aircraft, the occasional passenger jet, and her relationship with Sunbeam, Amelia was more than happy with her new life.

# # #

Amelia hung on grimly as the aircraft bounced in the turbulence. Unlike the last time, the weather was not cooperating. High winds and low clouds were going to make this operation a lot more difficult. She had confidence in the pilot’s ability to get her and Sunbeam to the right location, but spotting their target was not going to be easy under these conditions. It had been a fluke that it had been spotted at all in the first place.

At last the pilot indicated that they were in the right area, and Amelia and Sunbeam got up to take position at the door, putting their goggles on before grabbing a support once more. The airplane was a different model from last time, and not really well suited to this sort of operation, but in their business, they took what they could get locally. Another one of the crew held open the door for Amelia as she braced herself in the doorway in preparation to jumping.

“Anyone spot our target?” she asked.

The crew pony shook her head. “Sorry, no. The pilot is circling around for another pass.”

That was worrying as the rogue airplane could easily slip away unnoticed. Amelia stared out of the open doorway, hoping to spot their target against the backdrop of the unbroken jungle below.

Suddenly the pilot shouted, “Portside! I caught a glimpse. Go! Go!”

Amelia jumped without hesitation, and she assumed her normal skydive position. She looked about for the airplane, but failed to spot it. Far sooner than normal, she felt Sunbeam catch her, slowing her fall.

“I can’t let you go further until we spot the Returnee,” he shouted above the wind. “You look left, and I’ll look right.”

For several long, tense moments, neither found anything until Amelia spotted a brief reflection of sunlight. “There!” she shouted, pointing with her left hoof.

“Oh, crud,” Sunbeam said when he spotted what Amelia was pointing at. “This ain’t gonna be easy.”

The aircraft was flying almost directly away from them, and Sunbeam had to pour his maximum effort into catching up to it before Amelia could begin boarding. The airplane was a Cessna 182, and significantly more awkward to board than the Mooney had been. Nevertheless, with due care, Amelia eventually scrambled into the empty co-pilot’s seat. At least it was empty, unlike some previous rescues. This job had been hard enough already without that added complication. She signaled to Sunbeam that she was okay, and he nodded in acknowledgement before veering off to tiredly return to the airfield where he would await her.

Amelia immediately turned to the pilot to begin her usual reassuring patter. “Hi there! Not the best weather for flying today, so I thought I’d pop in for a chat instead.”

The pilot did not respond, and Amelia’s heart sank a little as she looked him over closely. Just like the day she had been Returned, the pilot looked to be near catatonic just like the A380 captain had been. Unlike that captain, this pilot had turned into a stag rather than a diamond dog, and one with quite an impressive rack also. Inside the cramped quarters of the Cessna, those antlers were a major liability, jamming up against the upper fuselage. She noticed that he was sweating profusely, and foaming a little at the muzzle. Worst were the eyes, with the pupils fully dilated and staring straight ahead.

“Sir, are you alright? I’m here to help, okay? I’m a pilot with a rescue squad for people in your predicament, and I assure you that we’re going to get you down safely, and sort out things for you.”

There was still no response, and Amelia sighed. “Sir, I’m going to take control now. I’ll be taking us back to the nearest airport.” She could not afford any more time trying to get the pilot calmed down. One of the reasons that finding the airplane had been a matter of urgency was that the autopilot was taking it into the mountains, and she had to start circling back immediately. She put her hooves on the steering, flicked off the autopilot, and began a course change.

Suddenly the stag started yelling and thrashing around in panic, knocking Amelia and causing the plane to veer dangerously. She regained control even as she desperately pleaded with him to calm down, but he seemed deaf to her. The thrashing only got worse, and he hit her again with a hoof to the cheek. She cried out in pain and felt a trickle of blood start dripping off her fur. She reached out with her telekinesis to restrain the flailing limbs, and was momentarily successful until his head came around and his antler smashed into her face. Blackness claimed her.

. . .

She regained consciousness just soon enough to see a tree-covered mountaintop in front of her. The airplane was diving out of control, and she grabbed desperately for the controls, trying to change direction and regain height, but it was far too late. The Cessna brushed through the first of the treetops before getting tangled and flipping. It crashed through the branches while slamming the occupants around the cabin. Amelia lost consciousness for a second time.

# # #

A very weary Sunbeam joined Machspeed and Flashpoint at the airfield, coming to a heavy landing beside the unicorns.

“That was not fun,” he declared as he folded his wings.

“The wind has picked up a lot since you left,” Machspeed commented.

“Yeah, and I was battling it most of the way. I actually expected Amelia to pass me on the way back.” Sunbeam turned to look back the way he had come. “That’s odd – I don’t see her at all.”

Flashpoint lowered the binoculars that she had been using. “Neither can I. Are you sure everything went okay?”

Sunbeam frowned in thought. “It wasn’t an easy job finding and getting to the aircraft, but Amelia got inside without too much trouble and gave me the sign that I could go. Nothing unusual really.”

“She may have had a bit of trouble with getting cooperation from the pilot,” Machspeed suggested. “It’s not as if we haven’t run into that before.”

Flashpoint shook her head. “Amelia has dealt with those before. Besides, she knows she doesn’t have the luxury of time. That windstorm is getting very close.” She pointed to the squall line of clouds on the horizon.

Sunbeam shuddered. “No need to remind me; my weather sense has been bugging me since we got here.” He scanned the skies again, his pegasus far-sight picking out distant birds and wind-blown debris, but nary a sign of the Cessna. “I don’t like this. Maybe Amelia has radioed in a message?” He looked hopefully at Machspeed.

Machspeed levitated a walkie-talkie to his muzzle. “A-Triple-R Squad to Coldstream Tower.”

Coldstream Tower. What’s up, Machspeed? Over.

“Have you received any communications from Amelia? Over.”

That’s a negative. Over.

“Thanks, Coldstream Tower. Out.” Machspeed looked at Sunbeam with real concern on his face.

“That’s it – I’m going back to look for her!” Sunbeam spread his wings to take off.

“You’re too tired, and that storm is coming soon!” Flashpoint protested.

“You think that matters now?” Sunbeam snarled and took off.

Machspeed groaned. “I hope we haven’t just had our problems doubled. Flashpoint, I think you had better go back to base and get some of the back-up crew. I’m hoping for the best, but I want to be prepared for the worst.”

With a nod of agreement, Flashpoint passed the binoculars to Machspeed and then teleported out.

Machspeed raised the binoculars to his eyes and watched Sunbeam making good speed back to where he had left Amelia. He silently cursed himself for not insisting that the drop-plane hang around to observe despite the crew’s concerns about the weather. There was only so much a lone pegasus could do, even one as dedicated as Sunbeam.

# # #

Amelia was almost surprised to regain consciousness a second time, even if it was accompanied by a killer headache. She tried to get her bearings, but it took a long time for it to get through her muzzy head that she seemed to be upside down, with all sorts of objects strewn over her. Some she recognized as parts belonging to the aircraft, but there was also a tree branch pinning her to the seat. She tried to push it aside with her forelegs, only to scream in agony as her right leg sent a stab of acute pain through her. Tears flooded her eyes as she tried to push back the pain. With a shuddering breath, she tried another tack, this time using her horn, only to have agony flare in her head. Her head swam and she nearly blacked out again. She gave herself a longer break to try to recover before reaching up with her left leg and gingerly touch her horn with her hoof. She slid it along the length of the magic organ before sighing in relief.

“At least it isn’t broken,” she murmured. “Might be cracked, but it’ll heal. No magic though for now. Can’t concentrate on telekinesis with that sort of pain.”

Talking made her cough, and suddenly she realized that something was irritating her throat. She sniffed and her eyes widened in alarm. Smoke! If the wreck caught fire, she could be killed within minutes. She started pushing frantically at the branch with her good leg, managing to wriggle loose. She managed to get into position where she could see the pilot and poked him to see if he would respond.

“Sir! Are you alri…?” Her voice died as she got a good look at his face. She looked away in a hurry, aware that the death stare was nevertheless burned into her memory. She shuddered. She had never had to look at a dead person before; even her parents had still been alive pre-Event. This was not the best of times to try to have to cope with it, but if she did not act quickly, she might soon join him.

One look at the door told her that it was never going to open, and small as she was, she was not going to squeeze through the shattered and crushed window either. How in hell had she survived this so far? Ponies had to be a lot tougher than humans. Ponies could also do one other thing well, she realized. She maneuvered herself as best that she could without the use of her right leg, braced herself, and bucked with all her strength. The warped door moved a little, and a second buck was accompanied by the shriek of tortured metal as it came free of the rest of the wrecked aircraft. By now, the smoke had thickened and she broke into a fit of coughing as she tried to extricate herself from the Cessna. There was a ‘whump’ as she heard fuel suddenly ignite, and she frantically hastened her efforts, trying to ignore the pain in her right leg. Pain was good because it meant she was still alive, and that was something that she intended to keep being. She felt jagged metal tear her hide down her left side as she squeezed out into the open, and she fell onto open ground at last, jarring her injured leg. She screamed in agony, but did not pause any longer than it took her to pull herself up onto her three remaining good legs and start hobbling away from the Cessna.

When she judged that she could afford to stop, she looked back at the wreckage. Both wings had been torn off, and she could only see one of them back through the gap they had torn through the trees. Other pieces were strewn about the area, some lying on the surrounding vegetation. Smoke was pouring from the engine compartment, and she could even see flames now. As she watched, she saw the surrounding bushes catch alight, and she recognized a new danger. The blustery wind that she had been ignoring up until now was fanning the flames, and she was now in peril of being caught up in a forest fire. She turned away from the destroyed aircraft and started limping away as fast as she could, hopefully in the upwind direction. The fickle nature of the wind made it difficult to discern, and unspoiled forest terrain limited her choices. She accidentally set her injured leg down on the ground several times while trying to negotiate the difficult path, making her stumble and cry out with the pain before forcing herself to continue. Eventually she collapsed in near exhaustion onto a soft mound of moldering leaves, panting heavily from the exertion.

Amelia knew that if she hoped for a search party to find her easily, she should stick close to the wreck, but she could not afford to hang around the area while the fire burned. She knew that a windstorm was due to pass through soon, and the wind direction could change at any moment. The blustery breeze that whipped through the canopy was just a foretaste of what was to come. She was still in great danger, and she could not afford to rest for long. She did take the opportunity to look at her bad leg though. Gingerly touching it with her left hoof, she tried to determine how bad it was. The pain was awful, but she didn’t think it was completely snapped. She was not going to be able to use it anytime soon though. She then looked over the rest of herself after that, noting the bloody gash down her side that was still weeping in places, but did not seem life-threatening. A grand collection of scrapes and bruises seemed to be the worst of the rest, although she had a hoof-sized chunk of fur scraped or ripped out of one spot on her flank. She ached all over, but she had to ignore that. She struggled to three hooves again, and resumed her trek towards safety.

Twice she changed her mind as to the direction that she needed to head when smoke started carrying to her. Once she had to retrace her steps when she realized that she had entered a gully that was too steep to exit. She carried on with grim determination, aware that fire could travel frighteningly fast, and at the speed that she could currently move, no amount of distance that she could travel in her current condition would be enough to assure her safety. Progress was beginning to get harder though because the light was fading. The rescue had started in the late afternoon, and the sun was already setting. The thick forest canopy blocked much of the available light, and soon she would have to find some form of shelter because she would not be able to see where she was going.

The gloom was her undoing. Suddenly her left hoof did not encounter a solid surface as she had expected, and she pitched forward into the crevasse that had been hidden in shadow. She bounced off the side of the gully, a rock slamming painfully into her ribs along the way. Pain flared in her right leg as she tumbled helplessly, before she reached the bottom and slammed her head into the stony floor, abusing her horn once more. Amelia groaned as her vision went black and she lost consciousness again.

# # #

Sunbeam did not need to fight the wind as he returned to the area where they had encountered the Cessna, but because he was still tired, he allowed the breeze to do some of the work for him. Nevertheless he made good time and immediately started looking for clues. The worsening weather had brought the cloud ceiling down which meant that he could not get as high as he wished to look over the area, but it was still better than what the oncoming squalls promised. For many frustrating minutes, even his keen sight was unable to detect a clue as to the whereabouts of Amelia and the Cessna. It was with a mixture of relief and fear that he eventually spotted a plume of smoke coming from a distant mountainside.

“Didn’t Amelia get to turn at all?” Sunbeam muttered as he pumped his wings hard to check it out.

The pegasus did not even get halfway to the site before a change made him go cold with fear. Fire! With the dry conditions lately, the forest would burn easily. If Amelia was still alive in a plane wreck, that could kill her. He redoubled his efforts to get there, but by the time he arrived, the flames had taken a strong hold on the vegetation, and he could not get close enough. He was able to confirm that it was indeed the missing Cessna though, so he diced with danger to search the proximity of the crash site. He ignored the possibility of Amelia still being in the wreckage because if she had survived the impact, the fire would have killed her by now. He shuddered at that thought and pushed it aside. No! She had to be alive still, and he would find her. But where would she be?

Amelia is smart – she would know to go upwind of the fire. But what if she had gotten out of the wreck before the fire started and she got trapped on the downwind side? I can’t afford to ignore that possibility.

Sunbeam started orbits of the crash site, staying just ahead of the fire front, hoping that Amelia was on the upwind side, but prepared to make a risky rescue if she was on the downwind side. The thick canopy was making that job exceedingly difficult though, and he had to keep low not only to try to see through it, but also in the hope that she would hear him yelling her name at the top of his voice. Occasionally he would get a lungful of smoke which sent him into a coughing fit, hampering his flying, but he persisted. He neither heard nor saw anything though, and the fire grew so bad that he had to abandon searching in that direction. Instead he concentrated on crisscrossing the downwind side with ever-widening arcs, straining to see in the growing darkness. By this time, more light was coming from the firelight that was being reflected off the clouds than the sun which had just set. He was getting extremely tired too, but he refused to give up.

“AMELIA! I WILL FIND YOU!” he screamed at the forest.

It would have broken his heart to realize that he had passed over Amelia’s unconscious form mere moments before.

Sunbeam was still trying to search by firelight when two teammates found the exhausted pegasus staggering through the air, barely clearing the treetops. Fairwind was carrying Flashpoint on her back, the unicorn hanging on grimly to the pegasus mare who clearly had been pushing herself hard to carry her boss there. Sunbeam was the one who was supposed to do the heavy lifting, but every team member had to be adaptable. Her keener sight enabled her to pick up Sunbeam first, and she swerved to bring them close.

Flashpoint called out, “Did you find anything, Sunbeam?”

Sunbeam shook his head. “I found the crash site, but no sign of Amelia.”

“I’m calling off the search. It’s too dark and dangerous. The squall front is here, and that will change the direction of the fire.”

“I can’t go without Amelia!”

“I’m ordering you to come back to base with us, Sunbeam.”

“No, I can’t give up yet!” the stallion protested.

“Sorry, but I insist.” Flashpoint nudged Fairwind who brought them close enough for the unicorn to reach out and touch Sunbeam. Her horn flared, and they teleported away from the scene.

# # #

Opening her eyes barely relieved the blackness for Amelia. Very little light penetrated the trees and down into the gully where she had fallen. She considered herself lucky that she had regained consciousness at all considering the abuse that her head had been getting lately. The headache was terrible, but she was aware of some extra aches and pains now. A very cautious attempt at trying to use magic quickly told her that it still was not an option. Her injured leg throbbed, but because she was on her back, at least it was not getting any more aggravation for the moment. The same could not be said for the ribs on her left side because they felt as if they had been punched in. Merely breathing was painful, but at least not agonizing. She shivered violently from a cold chill that was seeping into her left flank and hind leg, and she realized that there was a small stream of water flowing past them, robbing her of body heat.

Amelia struggled to reposition herself, succeeding only in causing herself more pain. She stopped to let the pain subside before she more cautiously tried to ascertain her situation. She seemed to be stuck between two rocks, and it would take some effort to get out. It would have helped a lot if she could only see! Still, if she pushed there…

“Aarrrgh!” she screamed. Amidst all the aches and pains, she had forgotten that her right foreleg might be broken. She had very quickly been reminded. She tried with the other leg, but it did not have the leverage needed. She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the pain as she attempted to wriggle out of the trap, but moaned as tears of pain quickly made her cheeks sodden. She slumped back, defeated.

“What a stupid way to die,” she told the uncaring darkness. “At least death by fire would have been over quickly, but no, you had to have the last laugh on me. I can see the newspapers now – ‘Daredevil Pilot Found Dead in a Ditch’. So ends the short career of a human turned unicorn.” She chuckled humorlessly before bursting into self-pitying tears. Helplessness had finally shredded her self-confident demeanor, and she wailed piteously into night.

The worst part was the waiting as her body slowly succumbed to the hypothermia. She endured some more pain trying to generate some warmth by moving her limbs, but it was a battle that she was losing by inches. Slowly, the darkness was relieved as dawn approached, and she got her first dim look at the boulder strewn gully that had trapped her. She was pretty well concealed between a couple of the larger ones, and she realized that she might be hidden from the sight of any searchers.

“Heh! Add ‘Body never found’ to my obituary. Well, if they can’t see me, they can bloody well hear me instead!” She took a deep breath, ignoring the stab of pain in her ribs, and then let it all out in one loud, “HELP!

Amelia did not know when the searchers would come, but she was certain that they would. It might be too soon to start yelling, but it was a whole lot better than not doing anything at all. She waited a while before yelling again. And again. And again. And again….

It started raining, adding to her misery, but she kept yelling. As long as there was breath in her body, she was determined to call for help. She soon realized that might be less time than she had initially thought because the small stream was starting to swell with the run-off from the rain. She could see how water had eroded the gully, and that was easily above the level of her head. She wondered if drowning was a better way to go than burning to a crisp. At least the searchers would be able to stop worrying about the fire. She kept screaming for help as the water crept higher.

“I’m coming!”

For a moment, Amelia thought that she was imagining things, but she screamed for help again.

“I hear you! I’m on my way!” came the faint voice again.

The voice was distant but it was real! “Over here!” she yelled.

“Keep calling so I can find you!” the voice replied, sounding a little nearer.

She kept calling out, and the male (judging solely by the voice) closed the gap. Suddenly a shadow cut the meager light as a pony form eclipsed the sky. For the first time she had a face to match with the voice, but it was not one that she was familiar with. She nearly burst into tears again when she realized that apparently she was not going to die after all…. Why was he hesitating?

The earth pony stallion seemed to be staring in shock at her. Eventually he said, “My God, it’s happened to you too?”

“What are you talking about?” Amelia asked a tad shrilly. “Get me out of here, please!”

The stallion shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “Right. Hang in there. I just have to figure out how.” He very gingerly stretched out a foreleg down to a boulder, testing its purchase on its surface before daring to bring the other to join it. He pushed off from the bank of the gully to shakily stand on the rock before making his way further down in the same manner. He then reach down with one leg and attempted to grab Amelia’s right foreleg.

Amelia screamed in agony and yelled, “Other leg! Other leg!”

That leg was a bit harder for the stallion to reach, but he managed to awkwardly hook his hoof about hers and hauled upwards. He might have looked clumsy, but there was no mistaking the earth pony strength behind that pull. Pain jabbed at Amelia from many sides, but she was lifted out of the cold water and into a position where she could get her hind legs underneath her again. She used all her remaining strength to jump up onto the boulder beside her rescuer. She very nearly toppled back into the crevice, but he grabbed her around her barrel and steadied her.

“Careful! You don’t want to fall back into that again,” the stallion said.

“I’ve b-been stuck in th-there f-f-for hours – b-believe m-me, I have n-no intention of g-going back.”

“Can you get back onto the bank by yourself?”

Amelia shivered harder now that her wet fur was exposed to the chill morning air. “L-let m-me g-get a b-bit of m-my strength b-back f-f-first.”

The stallion brought his body close against hers, and she felt his warmth slowly penetrate her hide. “I haven’t got a blanket or anything, but you can warm up next to me as much as you need.”

“Th-thanks,” she replied through chattering teeth. “Wh-where’s th-the r-rest of th-the s-s-searchers?”

“What searchers? I’ve been stuck in this forest for days since this craziness happened to us. I just came to the stream to have a drink when I heard you calling for help.”

Amelia stared at him in puzzlement. “Y-you w-were l-lost in th-the f-f-forest?”

The stallion snorted and replied, “More like magically appeared in it. One moment I’m working in the west paddock, and the next moment I’m in this forest and I look like this.” His right hoof gestured towards the rest of his body. “I guess the same happened to you.”

Amelia’s eyes widened in sudden realization. “Y-you’re a R-returnee!”

“A what?”

Amelia gritted her teeth to try to stop the stuttering. “A Returnee,” she repeated. “How… many… days?”

It was the earth pony’s turn to be puzzled. “Same as you, I suppose – four days. Five if you count this morning.”

Amelia knew that he was in for a big shock, but she was not quite ready to ease him into his new world while she was in this condition. “I th-think I c-can make it n-now,” she said.

She took a deep breath, and the stallion steadied her as she sized up the gap. It was not a big one, but with one leg out of action and the rest of her body feeling abused, she had no intention of being overconfident. She leaped and staggered upon landing, but remained on her three good hooves without falling back into the gully. She watched as the earth pony hesitantly copied her actions. Now she knew why he was so clumsy – he’d barely had enough time to learn how to walk in his new body, let alone do anything athletic.

“Now what?” he asked.

“F-first n-names. I’m Am-melia. Wh-what’s y-yours?”

“My name’s Kurt – Kurt Jorgensson. Good to meet you, Amelia. It’s been pretty lonely out here by myself. My wife must be worried sick about me by now.”

Amelia sighed. Telling a Returnee that they were never going to see their loved ones again was always the hardest part of the job. She decided to put it off just a bit longer. “L-let’s w-walk, K-kurt. I n-need to w-warm up.”

“Good idea – it’s pretty chilly this morning. Strange weather we’ve been having since this weirdness happened. Which way should we go?”

Amelia suddenly was struck by uncertainty. Ideally she should try to get back to the plane wreck, but she did not have a clue which direction it was after last night’s events. She could not even see the sun through the canopy to tell what direction was which! She had to get warm though, and there was only one choice – follow the stream. “Th-this w-way,” she said, limping in her chosen direction.

Kurt followed quietly for a while. Amelia was grateful that she did not have to talk while she was still shivering. Eventually her exertions brought her body temperature back up and the shivering stopped. She continued onwards until she called a stop because she was tiring quickly due to her injuries.

“How are you holding up?” Kurt asked.

“It seems I’ll live, thanks to you. I really need to see a doctor, especially about this leg, but I suspect that there’s no permanent damage, although I’m a bit concerned about my horn. Does it look damaged to you?”

Kurt stared at her horn for a moment before replying, “It looks a bit chipped, but otherwise okay. What’s with that anyway? I don’t have a horn on my forehead.”

“That’s because you’re an earth pony and I’m a unicorn.”

“A unicorn? Pull the other one!”

Amelia sighed again. It was time to tell Kurt the strangest of truths. She wondered how he was going to react. “Tell me, Kurt – do you believe in magic?”

# # #

Sunbeam had been making a nuisance of himself, insisting that they get back to the crash site as soon as possible in spite of the fact that it was still dark. Machspeed and Flashpoint were tolerant of his urgings, understanding his relationship with Amelia, but they had the safety of the rest of the team to worry about. Sunbeam had no way of getting to the site without Flashpoint teleporting him there, so he forced himself to be patient for several minutes before bugging them again.

“Now?” he asked for the twentieth time.

Flashpoint nodded. “Yes, now,” she replied to his immense relief. “Everyone gather around for the ’port.”

Every pegasus in the squad was present, which was only five, but they had made arrangements for some of the local pegasi to join the search when the squad got there. Flashpoint climbed onto Sunbeam’s back and the others stretched out a wing to make contact with her.

“Okay, I’ll be bringing us in high over the crash site, so be ready to start flying the moment we arrive,” Flashpoint reminded them. Her horn lit up and they disappeared from the A.R.R.R.S headquarters.

They reappeared above the forest just as the sun peeked over the horizon. Of course the forest itself was still deep in shadow, but the burn scar left a vast area laid bare. It had been hoped that Amelia might be easily found there, but they could see no sign of the mare. The fire had apparently been extinguished by the heavy rain, so Flashpoint considered it safe to investigate the wreckage, and she had Sunbeam set her down next to it. Machspeed joined her, climbing off his pegasus steed. They each went over to one side of the plane and looked inside the tangled burnt-out mess.

“That’s a body,” Machspeed pointed out.

Flashpoint queasily agreed.

“But it looks like it’s on the pilot’s side, not the passenger side that Amelia would have taken.”

“That’s a bit reassuring at least.” Flashpoint turned to the waiting pegasi. “It looks like Amelia made it out alive, so we’re not wasting our time. Go!”

Sunbeam needed no urging. His one fear had been that Amelia had been in the burning wreck all along. Now his hopes soared again. He headed in the direction that his instincts told him that Amelia would have fled the fire. The rest of the pegasi could cover the other areas, but he intended to be the one to find his marefriend.

# # #

Every Returnee reacted differently, and Amelia watched Kurt carefully for his. He had been skeptical as she had begun her explanation, but he had grown quieter and quieter until he became like he was now – silently staring at nothing, numbed by the reality. Eventually he spoke with his voice barely more than a whisper.

“So, I’m never going to see Anna or my two sons again?”

“I’m so sorry, but as I said, it’s almost certain that they either Returned decades or even centuries ago, or won’t Return for the same amount of time. In all the time I’ve been here, I have only heard of one case of a Returnee finding a relative, and that was a young mother finding a daughter who had returned sixty-four years earlier, and as another species. That was a little disturbing to both parties.”

Kurt lapsed into silence again, and Amelia felt a bit helpless. She only ever had to introduce the new Returnees to the reality of their new lives; it was the responsibility of specialists to deal with their problems and ease them into a society that comprised many species, none of them human. She felt the need to try to keep him from sinking into despair though, so she tried the only thing that she could think of.

“What was she like?”

For a long moment, Amelia did not think he was going to reply, but eventually he sighed and said, “Farming is not the easiest of careers. There are so many things that can and do go wrong. Weather is a huge factor, but there are others, and it means that you’re spending a lot of your waking hours just trying to keep your head above water. Socializing comes in a poor second, and it’s rare that you meet a girl who can live with that reality. Anna though – she came from a farm family too, and she knew what it was like. She knew what to do that could lighten the load for both of us, and we found the time to make a life between us. She filled the void in me that I hadn’t realized was there. In the bad times, we supported each other and we muddled through, until things became good again. She gave me two fine sons, and we hoped that one day she might have a daughter also. I can’t imagine how I’m going to live without her.”

Kurt lapsed into silence and Amelia moved up to him and put her head against his neck in what she hoped was a comforting fashion. “Believe me, Kurt, life goes on and it won’t be all that bad in the long run. The pain will fade.”

“I don’t want it to fade. I want to remember the best thing in my life – the good times and the bad.”

Amelia did not know how to respond to that, so she remained silent.

“Did you have a husband or partner when this happened?” Kurt asked.

Amelia shook her head. “No, I was too focused on my career, and in my spare time I just enjoyed my freedom.”

Kurt snorted. “Freedom? You don’t know what you’re talking about. I was ‘free’ before I met Anna, but I was never happier until she became my wife.” He turned to glare at her. “What about now? You say you’ve been here for a couple of years; are you still enjoying your so-called freedom?”

“I have a boyfriend,” she said defensively.

“That’s it? A boyfriend? Don’t fool yourself that your life is perfect because of that. A true relationship is one of commitment. Anna and I devoted our lives to each other, and because of that we had a stable and loving relationship in which we made a family. That was what made my life perfect.”

Amelia realized that the pain of his loss was making him preachy, but he did raise some valid points, especially with regard to her non-commitment to Sunbeam. She had a lot to think about.

The sun had risen sufficiently enough by then to illuminate the forest adequately, but Amelia still could not determine where she was. A flicker of shadow caught her attention though, and she searched the canopy overhead. She saw nothing, but she did not quit trying. She had hopes that there would be a search party, even though visibility was poor through the trees. Then she realized that there was the slightest of gaps in the trees where the stream cut through the forest, and she looked for a place to safely get into it.

“What are you doing?” Kurt asked.

“Looking for a suitable place to get into the stream so that I can look up at the sky.”

“I think we passed a good spot a couple of minutes walking back.”

“Okay, let’s try there.” She started limping in that direction.

“Are you looking for a search plane? I haven’t heard anything.”

“Maybe, but more likely pegasi. Keep your ears open.”

“Flying horses are something that I will need to see to believe.”

Amelia had to hide her grin. She doubted he would be impressed by her amusement.

They came to a spot where the stream briefly widened and grew shallow. They had no trouble wading out into it safely, and as she had hoped, Amelia could now see a small patch of open sky.

“So, what now?” Kurt asked.

“I reckon that this is about our best bet for being spotted short of open ground which we don’t know about, so keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked.”

“They seem to be doing that well enough by themselves,” he grumbled as said ears flicked.

They stood there for a long time, watching and listening assiduously. The water was cold about their legs, but it was nowhere near as bad for Amelia as when she had been half-submerged by it. She could tolerate this. Still, they spotted nothing for about three quarters of an hour.

“What’s that?” Kurt asked.

Amelia swung her head to catch a glimpse of something. It could have been an eagle, but she chose to believe that it was a pegasus. “HELP!” she shouted.

Kurt joined in with the shouting, and their calls for help redoubled. However, they got no response. A few minutes later, Amelia glimpsed another flying form, but it was more distant than the first. She needed another way to attract attention. She tentatively tried her horn again, and she winced at the stab of pain. Nevertheless it was not as bad as it had been before, and she decided to give it a go.

“Kurt – I’m going to try something, and it’s likely to hurt a lot and I might collapse.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Brace yourself for some screaming on my part, but mostly don’t let me fall in the stream, please.”

“I can do that,” he promised.

Amelia braced herself as best as she could. “Okay, you can do this, Amelia,” she murmured to herself. She decided to do it as quickly as possible in the hopes of the pain being brief and not failing in her intentions because of it. She threw a lot of magic into her horn and it glowed brightly. The pain was like a bullet through her brain and she screamed in agony, but she held up against it long enough to form a mana ball and fire it up through the gap in the trees. It rose above the treetops about thirty meters before it exploded. Amelia swayed on her hooves, but Kurt steadied her, even as he marveled at the display.

Tears poured from Amelia’s eyes as the pain eased to a pounding throb, but despite that, she swore she heard voices.

# # #

The noise of what sounded like a firework exploding caused Sunbeam to whip his head around in the direction whence it came. He spotted the sparkles of magic dissipating after the explosion, and he pumped his wings to accelerate to that position as fast as possible. He was not the only pegasus to notice, but he was determined to be the first to get there. The mana burst left no residue except a slight tingle in the air which told him that he was in the right general area, and he began a careful scan of the forest. His eyes caught the glitter of sunlight off water which drew his attention, and then he spotted not one but two figures standing in the midst of it. “Down here!” he screamed to the other searchers even as he dived. He slipped through the gap in the trees and came to a splashy landing a couple of meters away from two ponies. One was a stallion who was staring at him with wide-open eyes and slack jaw, but the other was the mare that he had prayed to find. She looked up at him with bleary and tear-soaked eyes.

“Hi, Beamer.”

Sunbeam leaped over to her and embraced her fiercely. “Thank heavens I found you, Amelia.”

“Ow! Broken leg! Pain!” she shouted.

Sunbeam hurriedly released her and looked solicitously at the upraised foreleg. “Don’t worry, Amelia, we’ll get you back to a doctor and get that fixed soon. You look a mess.”

“I survived a plane crash, a fire, a fall into a gully, and nearly drowning – I think I have the right to look a mess.”

Sunbeam laughed in relief. “You sure do. Who’s your friend? Another passenger on the plane? We found the dead pilot in the wreckage.”

Kurt was still staring as more pegasi joined them. One of them was talking on a walkie-talkie, informing Machspeed that they had found Amelia.

“No, he isn’t. Would you believe he’s a Returnee that just arrived a few days ago? This whole area used to be his farmland.”

“So you managed to save someone after all?”

“Actually, he’s the one who saved me. I’ll tell you all about it later. I just want to get out of here for now.”

“Of course!” Sunbeam turned to one of the other pegasi. “Fairwind, can you carry the earth pony?”

“I thought you were the heavy-lifter?” she grumbled. Sunbeam gave her a pointed look and she continued, “Alright! You carry your marefriend, and I’ll carry this guy.”

Kurt managed to tear his eyes from the impossible flying ponies and said to Amelia, “So he’s the boyfriend, I take it?”

Amelia blushed and nodded.

Kurt looked at Sunbeam appraisingly and then turned back to Amelia. “Yeah, I think he’s got what it takes. Remember what I said.”

“I will,” Amelia assured him even as she carefully climbed onto Sunbeam’s back

Fairwind lowered herself to the ground to let Kurt do the same. The earth pony looked a little wary but imitated Amelia. “Is this safe?”

“I trust Sunbeam with my life, so I think you’ll do okay with Windy,” she replied with a grin.

A moment later, both pegasi spread their wings and took off with their passengers. Kurt later denied whinnying in terror.

# # #

A first-aid medic on the Search & Rescue team set and splinted Amelia’s broken leg, but told her that she would have to go to the hospital to have it thoroughly checked and a cast put on it. She also had the worst of her other cuts and scrapes treated and her fur cleaned up.

She found Sunbeam impatiently waiting for her. He opened up his mouth to say something but she just trotted over and nuzzled him under the chin and rubbed against his neck, humming happily.

“This is nice,” Sunbeam said with his eyes closed as he enjoyed the gentle intimacy.

“No, this is perfect,” Amelia replied. “Beamer, will you do something for me?”

“Anything.”

“Marry me.”

Sunbeam drew back his head to look at her hopeful face. “What brought this on?”

“I could say it was the near-death experience, but really it was mostly Kurt who pointed out what I could be missing. I’m not certain he’s right, but I really think it’s worth it to make the commitment. So what’s your answer?”

He smiled happily. “I did say anything, didn’t I? Yes, Amelia, I will marry you.”

Amelia squealed with joy, flung her good hoof around his neck and pulled him into a long kiss. When she finally drew back and gazed at his blissful face, she said, “Best second life ever!”

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

If you can't save 'em, crash 'em! Now to figure out what to write next!

The illustrations are by Foxena and Baron Engel.