• Published 5th Feb 2018
  • 1,116 Views, 23 Comments

After Action - BlazzingInferno



Soarin has known thrilling victories and crushing defeats, some of them in front of thousands of spectators, and others in the company of only his closest friend. Sometimes it's the quiet moments that make all the difference.

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Perspective

“I’ll have the spinach salad with no dressing, and a small slice of blueberry pie, please.”

The waitress gave Soarin a nod before bustling off to the packed diner’s next booth. “Comin’ right up.”

He watched her go, wondering if she’d stop, turn back, and stare at him in sudden recognition. He’d heard so many variations of “hey, you’re that Wonderbolt!” that these quiet moments of anonymity felt like strange yet welcome gifts. Here he was, daring to go out in public but not being badgered for autographs or explanations about why he wasn’t in the last air show. It got easier as time went on; once a few splashy Wonderbolts events came and went without him, his face seemed to leave the public consciousness just as quickly and quietly as it left hoofbills and posters.

He cracked a smile, a genuine one for nopony but himself. He’d been smiling a lot lately, and had given up trying to understand why. It wasn’t just the change of scenery, the transition from always-crowded barracks to a single-room cloud apartment. It wasn’t just the change of pace, sleeping, eating, and flying strictly on his own terms. It wasn’t even the change of company, the long hours of quiet contemplation intermixed with visiting family members and old friends. Everything around him had changed, and he couldn’t help changing with it.

The Wonderbolts had never seemed further away, just like his foalhood dreams of joining them in the skies. He’d done that already. He’d experienced the elation that came with a crowd’s roaring approval, and he’d paid the daily toll that the team exacted from each of its members.

A plate loaded down with greens landed in front of him, and he shared his glowing smile with the waitress. “Thanks!”

She smiled back. “Enjoy your lunch, honey. I’ll get your pie in a sec.”

Once again she didn’t recognize him, and once again he loved it.

“An hour to get a table? Seriously? I have to be back by then, and this is the only place open for miles!”

He glanced to the waiting area at the front, where a hooffull of ponies were reclining on chairs and casting slightly impatient looks at the customers already eating. His eyes locked onto the mare speaking with the hostess, or rather on the blue, lightning-streaked uniform covering her light turquoise coat. Except she wasn’t a Wonderbolt; the uniform came to a stop around her middle, leaving her cutie mark exposed. She was a cadet then, probably spending some downtime away from the academy. He couldn’t blame her, considering what he remembered choking down in the academy mess hall.

“H-hey,” he said. Instantly he regretted it. What was he thinking, giving up his blissful solitude?

Her eyes flicked over to him, her indignation about the wait time still fully intact. “What?”

Too late now. “You’re a Wonderbolts cadet, right? I’ll buy you a coffee.”

She stared at him, her bright orange eyes grilling him just like a certain captain’s used to. After a moment she glided over to his booth and dropped into its other seat. “Thanks. Coffee’s all it’s going to be, though. Got it?”

He nodded. “Got it. I’m just trying to be nice.”

She’d recognize him any second now. He was sure of it.

Instead she glanced to the menu sitting on the table. ”Well… maybe it’ll just be coffee and a sampler platter or something… but I’ll pay for that.”

“Sure. I ordered some pie, so the waitress should be back soon.”

“Thanks.”

The booth became silent again, save for her fidgeting with the menu and occasionally giving him a look and a sigh.

Had they taken his picture off the wall of Wonderbolts in the academy, or something? Had Spitfire thrown everything with his likeness on it in some back closet, or set it on fire? “So… how long have you been at the academy?”

He didn’t like how his voice sounded, so quiet and unsure. Her piercing gaze made it clear she didn’t care for it either. “Tomorrow’s my last day.”

That brought a smile to his face. “Wow, congratulations!”

“I mean I’m leaving.”

And then his smile was gone. “Oh… Sorry.”

She kept her gaze on the menu. “It’s not your fault the Wonderbolts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”

If only he was in a sharing mood. He could tell her stories until sundown.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard I trained just to get there, how hard I pushed myself,” she murmured. “Turns out, being the fastest pony in the sky isn’t good enough for them!”

Nothing short of being Princess Celestia would be good enough. “You were the fastest, huh?”

“By a mile. I broke an academy record the first day! But then… ugh. It’s so messed up. If the Wonderbolts aren’t the limit-pushing ponies I thought they were—”

The waitress returned with Soarin’s pie. “Here you go, honey. And who’s your friend?”

The cadet rolled her eyes. “Lightning Dust. Could I get an extra strong coffee, and a hayburger with no cheese?”

“You got it.”

Soarin stared down at his two plates: a healthy salad and a modestly sized pie slice. In between the two he saw his reflection in the countertop. The pony staring up at him didn’t look like the one Lightning Dust would’ve seen in academy photographs anyway; that other pony smiled too much, thought too little, and was never seen out of uniform. That other pony was also notably heavier. “From what I’ve heard… from friends who knew Wonderbolts I mean… they don’t don’t even follow their own rules. The team’s a total mess on the inside.”

Lightning Dust grunted. “Then somepony needs to fix it.”

“Huh?”

She leaned across the table, her voice low and grating. “When something’s broken, you either fix it or get a new one!”

“We’re not talking about a busted table leg or something. This is a team of ponies.”

“Doesn’t matter! I met the Wonderbolts captain, and she’s totally forgotten what makes her team awesome! Nopony ever goes to a Wonderbolts show because they’re ‘respectful’ or ‘think before they act’… You ever been to one of their shows?”

Soarin fixed his eyes on his pie. ”Yeah… A while ago.”

“I went to this show once where Misty Fly dove so low her tail brushed the ground. If she’d pulled up a tenth of a second later, she would’ve been a pancake. That’s the kind of stuff that makes the Wonderbolts cool. That’s what I tried to show Spitfire at the academy and… ugh.”

“Do you know why Misty Fly did that?”

“Because she got it! She got what the Wonderbolts are about, and she wanted to show everypony how—”

Soarin stared at her, his eyes hard and his jaw set. “Her goggles were fogged over, from the double cloud barrel roll she did just before. She was only supposed to dive until she rejoined the team’s formation, but the clouds made it too hard to see and…”

Misty didn’t leave the ground for two days after that, and still didn’t like doing stunts on cloudy days.

“Well it looked cool,” Lightning Dust muttered. “That’s what convinced me to sign up.”

His stomach rumbled, and he leaned down and took a bite of salad. It wasn’t half bad without dressing, now that he’d gotten used to the taste. No salad dressing was a small price to pay for keeping his lap times in check while still getting to have pie once in a while.

“Who’s your friend in the Wonderbolts, anyway?”

He stopped chewing, but only briefly. It used to be Spitfire. “I can't say.”

“Heh, well if you get a chance, tell them to start changing stuff. Make the Wonderbolts awesome from the inside out.”

Spinach caught in his throat. He coughed a couple times and wiped tears from his eyes. “From the inside out?”

She nodded, grinning slyly. “Beg, bargain, kick some tail… Whatever it takes to make things better.”

“Whatever it takes,” he repeated. Perseverance was what it would take.

Maybe he could go back after all, at least long enough to convince Spitfire to try helping ponies live the team’s ideals in and out of the sky. If she wouldn't listen, he could leave. If he caught himself becoming less of a pony again, he could leave. If there wasn't anything in the Wonderbolts left to salvage, he could leave. The only true failure would be to keep going on like he was now, undecided and uncommitted. “Deal.”

Lightning Dust gave him an approving nod. “I knew you'd see things my way.”