• Published 26th Jun 2012
  • 17,140 Views, 2,502 Comments

Earth & Sky - Warren Hutch

Sequel to Windfall, set three years after. Twilight & Rarity invent artificial wings!

  • ...

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Part 8 - Contact

Mayor Mare took a moment to throw open the windows in her office and breathe in the fragrant morning breeze that always blew through Ponyville this time of year. It was subtle, compared to the sweetness that pervaded the air when the apple orchards were in full blossom, but to longtime residents it was at once ever present and comfortingly in the background, the smells of grass being cut, of attics being aired out, of mist being brushed off of the cloud homes of the local pegasi.

For a town known for more than its share of tomfoolery and shenanigans, sitting so close to the unpredictable wilderness of the Everfree forest, very little actually changed in Ponyville from year to year, and that was just how the aging public official liked it. The Mayor's heart beat in time with the slower beat of days, weeks, months, and years, her love for her home town unchanging as she'd gone from dyeing her mane grey to hide the pink to dyeing it a pale pink to brighten up the grey. Of course, there were marriages, births and deaths, new ponies coming to town and old friends leaving town, the odd monster rampage or out of control baked goods incident, but even those were pretty much part of the rhythm when you looked at the big picture.

She adjusted her spectacles with a hoof and raised an eyebrow as she noted something different on the cobblestone streets below. A long, winding line of ponies was waiting patiently outside, many of them a fair bit younger than the usual daily visitors to the seat of Ponyville's civic life. She noticed a high percentage of them were sporting hats or tee shirts or waving pennants of blue and yellow with a distinctive lightning bolt motif. Why was there a line of Wonderbolts fans at city hall?

A knock on the door put that train of inquiry temporarily on hold, and she turned towards it with an ear cocked. "Yes?"

Her secretary's voice came from the other side with unaccustomed loudness. "Doctor Twilight Sparkle and Ms. Rarity Belle here to see you, Ms. Mayor!"

The grey haired earth pony crossed the carpeted floor with an expression of piqued interest on her face. "By all means, Paper Clip, let them in. Why are you shouting?"

The thick oaken door swung open ahead of a tumult of excited chatter echoing in the vaulted atrium beyond that swept into the Mayor's office like a wave of water pouring through a floodgate. Her secretary stood outside with a slightly strained look on his face, in contrast to the eager smiles of the two unicorn mares who accompanied him.

Twilight Sparkle stepped forward and proffered a hoof. "Hello, Mayor Mare. It's been too long. You're looking well."

Rarity stepped up beside her, a frilly cravat and suit collar accenting her alabaster coat with deep indigo and silver pinstripes. A briefcase emblazoned with her trademark cursive R hovered in close orbit, surrounded by a cloud of pale blue magic. She extended her manicured hoof to shake as well. "We're ever so grateful that you could spare us a moment of your time."

The Mayor nodded absently to their greetings as the cacophony from below filled the air, making it hard for her to focus. "Yes yes, always a pleasure to speak to you, Rarity. It has indeed been too long Twil... er... Doctor Sparkle." She walked past them with an apologetic nod. "If you ladies would pardon me for a moment."

With that she stepped out onto the gallery that overlooked the town hall's atrium, rearing up to hook her forehooves over the railing and craning her neck for a better look. There below she saw the usual queue of ponies waiting their turn at the various bureaucratic offices housed on the first floor. The anomalous line wound parallel to this, and terminated halfway along the usual waiting line at a pair of blue pegasi who stood chatting, signing anything presented to them, and posing for photos. The mayor's brow furrowed as she noted the distinctive rainbow colored mane and tail of the female member of the duo.

She pushed back from the rail and made her way toward the stairs, huffing with annoyance. "Of course... Some things really don't ever change..."

She called back to Twilight and Rarity over her shoulder as she stalked away. "Please go in and make yourselves comfortable! I'll be back with you shortly!"


Down in the atrium, Rainbow Dash signed a Wonderbolts pennant with practiced ease, speaking out of the side of her mouth as she deftly worked the quill between her lips. "...stay awesome, stay cool, stay in school, your pal, Rainbow Dash."

The teenaged pegasus colt rose into the air with a giddy grin on his face as he examined the freshly signed autograph, complete with a simplified version of his heroine's tricolor lightning bolt cutie mark. "Oh wow! You're the best pegasus ever! Thanks so much!" He glanced over at the pudgy blue stallion standing at Dash's side. "Oh, and thanks for your autograph too, Mister Soarin."

The older pegasus gave the younger one a weak smile. "Just call me Soarin, kid. I don't warrant a 'Mister'."

Before the teenager could respond, a trio of school fillies behind him with autograph books at the ready pointedly cleared their throats. With a grateful bow the happy young lad took his leave.

The chromatic maned pegasus chuckled and nudged Soarin as the colt fluttered away on a cloud of excitement. "Heh. Cute kid. A lot more polite than some of the colts we run into out on tour. That's what I'm talkin' about when I say Ponyville's a friendly..."

Her expression changed to one of wariness and alarm as she caught sight of the Mayor marching across the atrium in their direction. "Uh oh, crosswind alert, incoming at seven o' clock low. Just let me do the talking."

The grey haired mare lashed her tail imperiously as she approached. "Rainbow Dash! Just what do you think you're doing here?"

The brightly colored stunt flyer dug a fore hoof on the ground. "Well, I'm just here with my team mate Soarin..."

The sky blue stallion muttered despondently. "Former team mate."

Dash cast him a glare and continued. "I'm here with my team mate Soarin to help him fill out an application for the Weather Patrol."

The Mayor gave the gloomy pegasus stallion the barest of glances before turning her attention back toward his chromatic companion. "That's all well and good, but you're disrupting business here in the town hall. Please do something about this crowd or I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

Soarin laid a hoof on Dash's shoulder. "These fans are really here to see you, Dash. I can wait in line by myself. Why don't you take this crowd someplace outside where they won't bother anypony?"

The cyan mare glanced between him and the frowning Mayor uncertainly. "But... I don't wanna leave you hangin', Soarin."

The stallion shook his head with a sad smile. "I'm in line at the Bureau of Weather Scheduling. Hangin' is what you do here... I'll be fine. Go."

Rainbow Dash gave Soarin a reluctant nod before turning toward the line of waiting fans and lifting a short distance into the air with a beat of her wings. She raised her hooves wide for attention. "Hey kids! I'm thinkin' it's kinda stuffy here in town hall." At this she threw a pointed glare at the Mayor. "So how about you all follow me to Ponyville Park. I feel like doin' a few quick stunts before I sign the rest of your autographs, okay?"

An exuberant cheer went up from the line of Wonderbolts fans that reverberated in the normally quiet office complex. They followed the rainbow maned pegasus out the front door in a thunderous drumming of hooves and beating of wings.

As the dust settled, the Mayor gave a strained cough, straightened her cravat, and spun on her heel to return to her office with a brief nod to Soarin. The noise level in the atrium had dropped back to its usual staid calm, with only the scattered hoofbeats of stragglers fading out through the doors.

The sky blue stallion gave a small sigh and settled back into his place in line. He gave a start as he looked toward the space recently vacated by the line of fans and saw a lone blonde earth pony mare standing there looking at him expectantly. A small, round basket with a red and white checkered cloth covering its contents sat perched on her back, and she held her battered cowpony hat cocked in the crook of a foreleg.

When his green eyes met hers she took a step forward. "I reckon it's finally my turn. Howdy, Mister Soarin."

The pegasus forced his wings back down into a neutral folded position with effort as he took a moment to gather his wits. "Oh! Uh... Miss... Miss Applejack. H-hello." He cleared his throat self consciously. "Uh... What... what brings you to the town hall this morning?"

The orange farm pony took another step forward, pawing at the ground with a hoof. "I just wanted to apologize to ya fer bein' so ornery with y'all last night. T'weren't no call fer me t' be so harsh with a fella who's goin' down a rough patch o' road right now."

Soarin' gave a halting shrug. "N-no, that's okay. You uh... you gave me a lot to think about."

Applejack craned her neck to pluck the basket off of her back, unaware that the brief smile she gave him before she did so sent a shiver down the hapless stallion's spine that split at the base of his tail and shot down his flanks to his knees, causing them to liquify. He sat heavily down on his rump as she turned back and set her cargo down in front of him.

He blinked out of his stupor as he studied the basket. "Uh... What's this?"

The blonde mare gave him another smile, which this time safely grounded itself in the atrium floor with the barest twitch of Soarin's tail. "Aw, just a l'il somethin' t' say I'm sorry and t' welcome y'all t' Ponyville." She reached down and caught the checked napkin up in her teeth, pulling it back to reveal the golden, flaky crust of an apple pie.

Soarin's eyes went wide, and he felt his forelegs go loose as well, collapsing him onto his belly and bringing him down to nose level with the pastry. He inhaled a deep whiff of the pie's scent, reaching forward with shaking hooves. "Sweet Celestia's pinfeathers! It's the pie. It's the pie."

Applejack drew herself up proudly and casually crossed a foreleg in her trademark pose of satisfaction. "Eeyup! That there pie is the pride o' Sweet Apple Acres, made with my Granny Smith's special recipe from genu-wine Sweet Apple... Acres... apples?" She trailed off and looked nonplussed down at the prostrate stallion as he grabbed the basket in both hooves and unceremoniously shoved his face into the pie, chomping and slurping it down with gusto.

The blonde mare reared back in dismay, tearing her gaze away from the flakey, syrupy carnage at her feet to glance with reddening cheeks at the other ponies in line who stood stunned and staring at the spectacle of a heavyset blue pegasus demolishing the contents of the basket like it was a condemned house and his face was the wrecking ball.

She shuffled her feet as the pin drop silence of the hall echoed with his grunting and smacking lips, and tentatively cleared her throat. "Uh... Mister Soarin. Y'might wanna... I didn't think y'all would just dig in right here."

She reached out and nudged at the basket. "Could ya maybe, uh... maybe slow down a tad there..."

Her green eyes flashed as she set her legs, raising a fore hoof to bring it down sharply with a loud klonk on the top of his head. "Cut that out before ya choke on the flippin' pie tin, ya goldurned, slackjawed slob!"

Soarin reared back, startled and then abject as he met the blonde earth pony's sharp gaze. She lashed her braided tail behind her. "What th' hay is wrong with y'all? Were ya raised by timberwolves or somethin'?"

The pegasus stallion looked down at the splattering of pie filling and crust that dribbled down his chest, and his lower lip began to quiver. "I... I'm s-sorry. I didn't mean to..." He halfheartedly reached up and wiped his hotly blushing face off with a hoof. "This is... I'm.. I'm sorry. I..." He was cut off as the checkered napkin flew into his face, momentarily filling his vision with red and white squares.

He could hear Applejack's voice, brimming with disapproval. "Sorry is right. I ain't one t' stand on social graces, but it's clear t'me that yer mama never taught ya any manners at all, or self control fer that matter."

By the time he'd pulled the cloth down from his eyes, he saw the earth pony mare trotting away from him with the basket handle in her teeth and her nose upraised, her ears laid back beneath her hat and her tail hiked disdainfully behind her.

Soarin launched himself into the air with a grunt, momentarily dithering between following after her and holding on to his spot in line. He hurriedly wiped the rest of the pie wreckage off of his face and chest and cast the checkered cloth aside, launching into an arcing trajectory that carried him over the farm mare's head and spun him around so that he landed facing her with a heavy thud of his hooves. His green eyes were lit with a glare of determination. "Will you at least let me explain?"

Applejack rolled her own leaf colored eyes and made to move past him, speaking snidely out of the side of her mouth as her teeth clenched tighter on the basket handle. "What's to explain? I've slopped enough hogs t'know one when I see one."

Soarin threw out a wing to stop her. "Hang on there, lady. Nopony talks that way to me withou... ow ow ow ow."

The sky blue pegasus stallion found himself forced face down to the floor, as the blonde mare dropped the basket and lunged forward to grasp the shank of his extended wing in her teeth, then proceeded to twist the feathery limb into an uncomfortable angle against his back. After a moment of squirming uncomfortably on the floor he felt the tension release, and his wing sprung back to it's full extension with its feathers splayed across the polished stone surface.

He felt a hoof pushing down on his withers as a simmering voice sounded in his ear. "Y'all better shape up mister, or else y'can get used to hearin' folks talk to ya like that."

With that, she gave a final downward shove and released him, scooping the basket back up as she trotted away. "Except for me. I ain't got nothin' else t' say t' y'all."

Soarin struggled back to his hooves, his eyes blazing and his teeth grinding. He flared his wings angrily, wincing as the one that Applejack had placed in a half lock cramped up, and shouted after her. "Thank you VERY much for the loopty loopin' PIE!"

The freckled earth pony flicked her tail dismissively and was out the door without another word. The fuming pegasus snorted twin jets of steam from his nostrils, and turned away with a growl. His face fell as he saw that his place in line had been filled in, the ponies in the queue making a pronounced show of minding their own business with averted eyes and softly cleared throats.

Soarin's ears levered back and his tail and wings drooped, as he shuffled to the back of the line. A tiny black cloud coalesced over his head as he slouched his shoulders and braced for the wait.


A tiny black cloud floated over Applejack's head as she sat tapping a fore hoof on the ground out front of the Carousel Boutique. Apple Bloom sat at her side with a look of growing irritation on her face.

Eventually, she turned to her sister with a huff. "So just what is eatin' y'all today?"

The elder sibling gave a snort and muttered under her breath. "Hmph. Eatin' is right..." She scowled petulantly and avoided her sister's gaze with a scrunched up nose. "Nothin'."

The red headed mare rolled her eyes and changed the subject, well aware of the impenetrability of that particular inflection of "nothin'" coming from her sister. "Y'know we don't gotta sit out here on th' doorstep. Snips said we could wait inside for Rarity n' Twilight t' show up."

Applejack sat up straight with her nose in the air. "I'm fine right here. Y'all can go right ahead if'n ya want."

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes back the other direction and slouched into a sigh. Her gaze fell on the empty basket at her sister's side. "So did y'all give Mister Soarin his apology pie?"

The blonde farm pony scrunched her nose up even further into a grimace. "Yeah. He got th' pie all right. He got it good. Poor thing never stood a chance."

The young handymare cocked an eyebrow and flicked an ear as a wry smirk crept onto her face. "Now why do I get the feelin' yer gonna be bakin' another one real soon."

Applejack gave her own roll of the eyes to that. "Yeah, 'cos that's just what that overgrown foal needs is t' cram more pie down his gullet." She stuck out her lower lip as the little cloud over her head darkened. "That and a durn fire hose t' wash off afterward."

Before Apple Bloom could press her sister for any more details a silvery voice called out to them from a pair of approaching unicorns. "Yoo hoo! Hello there, my lovelies!"

The Apple sisters stood as a beaming Rarity and a pensively smiling Twilight Sparkle walked up to greet them. The pale fashion designer's sapphire eyes were sparkling with excitement as the briefcase hovering at her side flipped open and disgorged a sheaf of parchments in a cloud of shimmering blue magic.

She rustled them in the air with a flourish."You two are currently basking in the glorious presence of the brand new owners and operators of Harmony Aeronautics, Ltd." A business charter hovered before the two earth ponies' eyes, adorned with a red wax seal bearing the town crest of Ponyville and signed and stamped with Rarity and Twilight's cutie marks.

The lavender unicorn let out a chuckle and gave her partner a sidelong grin. "I thought I was the one who got excited over paperwork, Rarity."

The alabaster coated fashionista replaced the papers in her briefcase and returned her fellow unicorn's smile. "When that paperwork is going to let me fill the very skies of Equestria with my designs, as well as help my dearest friends be closer to their families and potentially make us a fortune, you bet your star spangled derriere I'm excited."

She turned her attention to the Apple sisters, looking them over with a suddenly analytical eye. "Now, my dears, on the subject of my designs, lets get the two of you kitted out for our soiree at the Royal Opera, shall we?"

Apple Bloom came forward with a bright smile on her face and fell into step beside Twilight as the door to the boutique glittered with more pale blue sparkles and swung open to let them inside. Applejack grimaced and flicked her tail in irritation, her whole body heaving with a weary sigh as she worked up the will to follow them.

A knowing look washed across Rarity's pristine face, and she stepped up to her old friend and pulled her into a gentle hug. "Darling, this means so much to Twilight, your sister, and I, and it will mean ever so much more to Pinkie and your dear brother as well if we play our cards right. You do know we appreciate it, don't you?" She blew away the little black cloud hovering over Applejack's head with a gentle puff of breath.

The blonde mare gave her a squeeze in return before the two disengaged, a resigned smile flitting across her face. "Yeah yeah, I know it."

Her dour expression returned a moment later. "And I hope y'all know that aside from my family there ain't nopony else on who's account I'd go thru spendin' a night trussed up in a fancy, frou-frou dress listenin' t' fat ponies caterwaulin' in Neightalian."

Rarity huffed and rolled her eyes. "Someday I'd like to find the pony who taught you the term "frou-frou" and give them a piece of my mind. What do I always say when we inevitably come to this point in the conversation?"

Applejack sighed and hung her head in exasperation. "That what y'all do with fancy duds and hairdos is just the same as when I take a cloth n' a li'l spit t' polish up an apple real shiny. Y'all're just takin' a little bit o' extra time n' care t' bring out the natural beauty that everypony has, even me."

The alabaster unicorn shuddered a bit at the mention of saliva, but pressed her case. "Especially you, darling. Someday I'll get it drilled through that thick skull of yours how attractive you can be if you gave a little more thought to your appearance. And don't even get me started on your wild misconceptions about opera. For one thing, the opera is in Germane, not Neightalian. For another opera music is exquisite and full of beauty and emotion even if you don't understand the lyrics, and to call it caterwauling is frankly an insult to the composers, musicians, and singers who devote their lives to it."

Her attitude became a bit more confrontational as she stamped a hoof for emphasis. "And on that subject, while my sister may not be as toned as Apple Bloom she is most definitely not fat!"

Applejack recoiled a bit from Rarity's tirade and held up a conciliatory hoof. "Okay, okay. Ease up, sugarcube. I didn't mean no slights, to Sweetie Belle or anypony else. I'll try t' keep an open mind."

The pale fashion designer let out a breath and reengaged her charm. "That's all I ask from the Element of Honesty, darling. Now come inside so I can start polishing some Apples."

Applejack gave her a wry grin as she passed. "As long as y'all ain't gonna spit on me..."

Rarity made a face eloquent of disgust as she followed her farm pony friend inside. "Eeeugh. Perish the thought, darling."


A couple of hours later the earth pony sisters had been measured from stem to stern and Applejack had departed, eager to catch up on the daily tasks that awaited back at Sweet Apple Acres. She gave her old friends and younger sibling a terse nod of farewell and was gone.

This left Apple Bloom, Twilight and Rarity together in the alabaster unicorn's "inspiration room". The pale fashionista sat eagerly at her drawing board, horn rimmed glasses perched on her snout, as markers danced a waltz of creativity across her sketch pad to the tune of her dulcet humming. The lavender scholar had her tomes and papers laid out on a cleared off section of workbench, poring over the runes and figures while beside her the young earth pony engineer sat scribbling notes with a pencil on a copy of the flight harness' blueprints. The three mares spoke not a word, but deep down were glad of one another's company in a genial atmosphere of productivity.

The busy hush was broken by a soft knock on the door, and a round faced unicorn stallion with a neatly parted orange mane appeared with a genteel dip of his horn. "Pardon me for interrupting your design session, Ms. Rarity, but you have a caller."

Rarity turned, levitating a marker to push up her glasses. "Who is it, Snips?"

The blue green tailor gave his employer a smile. "Mister Pip Squeak, ma'am. He says he's here about employment."

The elegant alabaster mare shared an expectant look with her companions, and then floated a cap onto her marker as she glanced at an ornate clock hanging on the wall. "Excellent! Right on time! Tell him we'll be down shortly."

Snips gave a nod and shimmered away as the three mares disengaged from their work. Twilight and Apple Bloom rolled their eyes and shared a wry glance as Rarity produced brushes and combs and proceeded to primp all three of them simultaneously.

The pale unicorn mare caught their exchange and tsked. "You two may not be used to the idea, but we're all executives now. It never hurts to make a suitable impression on our employees."

With that, she set aside her implements, tightened her cravat, and beckoned for them to follow her with a flick of her horn.

As the three mares descended the stairs, Pip Squeak drew himself up and gave a jaunty salute, grinning from ear to ear. "Pip Squeak the pilot, at your service!"

He cut quite a dashing figure, clad in a sharply tailored uniform jacket in white with deep blue piping. A buff canvas flight helmet with its chin strap unbuckled sat on his head, a shock of his rich brown mane poking out from beneath the curve of a set of highly polished brass goggles that ran across his forehead. His pinto coat had been brushed to a high gloss, and his hooves gleamed in the light.

Rarity stopped short with a smile of her own spreading across her face, totally oblivious to Apple Bloom stumbling and nearly pitching headlong down the stairs past her save for some quick magic from Twilight. The pale unicorn's voice came out in a giddy trill. "Celestia have mercy! Could you be any more adorable?"

She traipsed the rest of the way down and began to circle the young stallion, stopping to call up to Twilight as the lavender unicorn helped Apple Bloom regain her footing. "And here you thought I'd been a bit hasty in hiring him. Just look at him!"

The young earth pony mare did just that, nearly missing the bottom step as her pale yellow face became almost as red as her mane.

Pip blushed modestly and pawed at the ground. "This is just my old steward's togs from the Royal Blue Line. Seemed like the appropriate thing to wear on my first day." He nodded toward one of his shoulders, where the faint outline of a missing shield shaped patch could be seen. "I had me mum take off the patches, of course, seeing as I work for you lovely ladies now rather than that bunch of bit pinchers."

At this Rarity stopped short in her orbit of the handsome young stallion, a dawning look of elation on her face. "Ooh! Ideeea! I'll be right back!"

Twilight stepped forward as her partner galloped from the room, her violet eyes looking over the earth pony with a much more analytical air. "Well, I suppose it falls to me to give you an official welcome to the company, Pip."

After the two exchanged a brief hoofshake, the lavender mare started pacing back and forth as the pinto stallion settled into a parade rest stance. "I'll start by explaining that your job will be to test a succession of experimental, and very possibly dangerous devices. Every effort will be made to ensure your safety, but there is still the very non-trivial possibility that you might suffer grievous bodily harm in the course of your duties."

Pip gave her a raffish grin. "Well, ma'am, danger would be my middle name if me uncle Algy hadn't taken precedence." Another glint of light sparked briefly across the whiteness of his teeth.

The scholarly unicorn gave him a curt nod. "Fair enough. Now, I trust you're in good health, no pre-existing medical conditions we should know about?"

In response the young stallion shook his head. "No ma'am. Fit as a fiddle with all strings in tune. I can readily provide my release papers from Ponyville General, or my health records from Royal Blue if you can wait for the post." He turned a bit to give them a better view of his side and flank. "Or if you like I'd be happy to submit to a full physical examination by..."

Pip trailed off as a soft thud sounded on the carpeted floor behind Twilight Sparkle. Both the earth pony stallion and the unicorn mare turned to see Apple Bloom shakily pulling herself to her hooves. "I... I'm okay... just missed that last step..."

Twilight cocked an eyebrow at her. "Weren't you already all the way down?"

The young mare only scrunched up her face and averted her amber eyes in response, her face almost glowing bright red.

The lavender unicorn shook her head and continued her questions to her new employee. "Further medical examination won't be necessary, Pip. If you're fit for service on an airship you're fit for our purposes."

She flicked her ear as Apple Bloom's slightly husky voice sounded behind her. "I'll say..."

Twilight's horn glimmered as she met Pip's eyes. "There are a couple of magical tests I'd like to perform with your permission."

He gave a slight bow of his head. "At your pleasure, ma'am."

A cone of coruscating light shot out from the unicorn mare's horn and washed across his face. "What color are you tasting right now?"

Pip smacked his lips curiously. "Um... blue?"

Twilight nodded thoughtfully. "Good." Her magic narrowed into a pulsing beam. "Now turn your head and say your name."

The young earth pony complied. "Pip."

The scholarly mare pursed her lips. "Hmm. Say it backwards."

He raised an eyebrow. "Er... Pip?"

She nodded in satisfaction as the beam winked out. "Excellent!" She gave the young pony an earnest smile. "Well, I think Rarity was right about you, Pip. I'd be willing to say you're an ideal candidate for the job of test pony."

All three ponies turned to the sound of cantering hooves as the alabaster unicorn returned, a pair of flat circular objects trailing behind her in a glow of magic. "Of course I was right. And look here, I have just the thing to make it all official. I'll make some more of these and put them on windbreakers for the rest of us."

She floated the hoof sized shapes over to where Pip was standing, laying them against each shoulder of his uniform where they affixed themselves in a flash of magic. The young stallion turned his head to look, as Twilight and Apple Bloom stepped forward to see as well. Each patch was a vibrant purple, with the words "Harmony Aeronautics" in white encircling the outline of an ascending gold pony with white butterfly wings over a pink six pointed star flanked by a blue diamond and a red apple.

Pip let out an appreciative whistle. "I say, that's just smashing!"

Twilight took the young stallion's hoof in a firm hoofshake while her partner preened. "I think you're right again Rarity. This does make it official."

The pale unicorn let out an urbane chuckle. "It's about time we made it official that I'm right, darling."

Twilight gave a roll of her eyes and met Pip's gaze with a confident smile. "Welcome to Harmony Aeronautics, Testing Officer Pip Squeak!"


The sun was rolling toward the western horizon, glinting off of Rainbow Dash's cyan wings as she touched down on the terrace of her decrepit cloud manor, a tinge of weariness about her face as she schlepped across the fluffy clouds toward her doorway and went inside.

She perked up an ear at the sound of intermittent grunts and gasps coming from one of the doorways off of her living room. Following the noises, she craned her neck to peer through the ornate, swirl festooned arch. There before her, his sky blue hide slicked down with sweat, was Soarin, alternating between doing pushups with his forelegs and his wings.

The rainbow maned mare lashed her tail and called out to him with an edge of indignation on her voice. "There you are! I've been looking all over Ponyville for you!"

The sudden intrusion on his concentration caused the heavyset pegasus to lose traction with his hooves and belly flop onto the spongy cloud floor beneath him, embedding him slightly in the fluff. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, dragging a hoof across his forehead to get his sodden forelock out of his eyes as he turned to face her. "I've been here since I left the Weather Bureau."

Dash flicked her tail and cocked her head. "Oh yeah? How'd that go?"

He gave a shrug. "Had a long wait in line, but otherwise it went fine. I got the job. Orientation's at nine o' clock tomorrow."

The cyan mare flared her wings with a wide grin. "That's great! Good goin'!"

She cocked an eyebrow as the smile faded from her face. "You seem kinda mad about something, tho."

Soarin gave a brief shake of his head. "I'm fine."

She looked at him with searching maroon eyes. "You uh... you sure."

The sky blue stallion's lips formed a tight line as he avoided her gaze. "No. I'm fine."

Dash rustled her wings. "Oookay. So you want to maybe get cleaned up and go get some chow?"

Soarin gave another terse shake of his head. "I already ate."

The chromatic maned mare shuffled her feet, kicking loose a couple wisps of white fluff. "Oh... Okay, I was thinking I was gonna go by Sweet Apple Acres and see what Applejack is cookin' up." Her voice took on a singsong quality as she rocked back and forth on her hooves. "Maaaybe there'll be some of her totally awesome apple pieeee."

Soarin winced, his wings flinching slightly, before his face settled into a grim smile. "That is good pie. The best I ever had."

His team mate's face fell as he turned away from her and settled back down onto his belly. "I'll pass. I've got a few more reps to do, then a quick shower and bed for me. Got my work cut out for me tomorrow."

Rainbow Dash blinked in shock, staring at him in confusion as he started alternating wing and fore hoof pushups again. She hesitantly turned away from the archway. "O- okay, Soarin. Don't... uh... don't strain yourself too hard or anything. I'll... I'll send your regards to Applejack."

He grunted a reply as he switched to pushing up with his wings. "Yeah, you do that."

She dragged her hooves as she walked away, her cyan face eloquent of confusion. "Okay. Have a good night, buddy."

Soarin puffed as he pushed up with his hooves. "G'night".

Dash shook her head and headed back out to the terrace, launching into the late afternoon sky with a powerful beat of her wings. She looked over her shoulder at her receding manor with a furrowed brow as she flew toward the sweeping groves of apple trees in the distance.

Back in his room, Soarin's forelegs shook as he heaved himself up off the spongy cloud floor one more time. He let out a yelp of surprise as the fluffy white surface suddenly gave way beneath his hooves, causing him to sink in up to his withers. He spat out a mouthful of mist and strained to free his engulfed limbs.

After a moment he went limp in weary defeat, slumping back into the floor's pillowy embrace with an exasperated growl. "Aw sleet and hailstones..."

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