• Published 15th Dec 2011
  • 5,167 Views, 295 Comments

Wild Sky Yonder - Mysecsha

Basic training turns into a harrowing adventure for Spitfire and Soarin'.

  • ...

Chapter 02: Downtime

Chapter 2: Downtime


Spitfire paced around her little room.


Her nerves were fried.


Her self-confidence was evaporating.


That damned clock wasn’t helping. It mocked her, waving its little legs around in jaunty, jerky circles, cheerily reminding her that it’d been over an hour since she’d been told to wait here for B Flight.


An hour ago she’d been excited: a fresh start, new friends, a second chance at being normal. Since then the clock’s malicious magic had turned excitement to anxiety. She wasn’t normal. She never would be.

You’re going to drive them away, the little clock said, just like the others. Tick... tick... tick.

Sooner or later she would get in another fight.


She’d hurt somepony. Again.


It was bound to happen.


They’d see what a dangerous freak she was. They’d shun her, or leave, or send her away. Just like the others.


Gah!! She scrambled onto Soarin’s desk, yanked the clock off of the wall and threw it across the room. It landed on her pillow, which muffled the ticking. She sagged in relief. Then she realized where she was standing.

What was Sergeant Thunderhead laughing about?

She frowned at the desk beneath her. What could possibly make the phrase “she’s a real sweetheart” funny? She’d considered a few possibilities in her head. None of them were appealing. What sort of pony would she be living with for the next twelve weeks? Would they get along? It was enough to inspire an entirely new round of worry.

Maybe just a peak.

In her head, curiosity and fear were locked in a knock-down, drag-out brawl with respect and loyalty. Respect and loyalty got their clocks cleaned. She started rummaging around in the drawers. There wasn’t much: pens and an inkwell, a few pulp novels and a stash of pistachios. At the bottom of the deepest drawer was a flat wedge wrapped in wax paper. It smelled like cherries.

Is that... a slice of pie?

Beneath the pie was a small brown book with a strap securing the cover. Her eyes flickered back toward her own desk; it was nearly identical to the journal she’d brought from home. She paused and the melee in her head threatened to begin again. On one hoof, here was everything she was looking for: if it was Soarin’s journal she’d surely be able to glean something about her wingmate’s personality. On the other, this would be a serious breach of trust. She stood there, chewing her lower lip. Long ago she’d caught a friend reading her journal. They’d stopped being friends. She closed the drawers.

The door burst open and an ice-blue stallion with a ragged navy mane skidded into the room. His chest heaved; he looked like he’d run up the stairs.

“Hey Seven! Red packed a picnic, and the others are gonna come back from their ‘trice hunt soon, and I thought it’d be fun to head up to the roof and watch! C’mon!”

If he thought it was at all strange that she was standing on a desk, he didn’t show it. Spitfire climbed down and headed for the door.

“Sounds like... fun?”

“Yeah!” The excitable blue stallion held the door for her, then followed her to the stairwell. She turned to go upstairs.

“No, Seven, the stairs don’t go to the roof. We gotta go down and then... fly...”

He looked at her immobile wings, then wilted and studied his hooves.

“Oh... right. Sorry, Seven.”

She forced a reassuring smile.

“It’s fine, really. Is there another way up?”

He thought about it, tapping his hooves while the wheels turned in his head.

“I’ll carry you!”

That took her off guard. Still, he looked so earnest and she was desperate to get along with her teammates. She swallowed her pride and followed him down.

“Okay, just this once...”

Spitfire froze. There was a red 8 on the flank of the big blue stallion’s uniform.

“... Soarin’.”

Spitfire’s mind raced, icy panic welled up inside her. Was this a joke? Was it a mistake? Should she have known to expect this? After the accident and the fights she hadn’t had the luxury of a normal adolescence. The only stallions she’d ever spent any time alone with were family members.

She didn’t know much about life in the Corps, but she’d always been a fan of the Wonderbolts. She remembered a show she’d seen as a filly, during the duet sequence the announcer said a piece about a flier needing complete trust in her wingmate. They needed to know each other’s abilities, limitations, thoughts, fears... “better than a married couple,” the announcer said. In fact, those two performers had been married.

Suddenly life had dropped this stallion into her path. She needed to live with him. Trust him. Open up to him. Know the ins and outs of Soarin’ as well as she knew herself, and he needed the same from her, for the next twelve weeks and possibly even for years beyond that. It was a tall order for a young mare who’d grown so used to being alone, who’d never even dated. Deep inside, a tiny part of her found the idea of being that close to him -- to anypony -- seductive. The rest of her was thoroughly terrified.

As Soarin’ alighted on the rooftop Spitfire shoved those thoughts aside. She couldn’t deal with them right now, not with two more comrades to meet.

On the bright side, I know what the sergeant was laughing about. Heck, maybe he is a real sweetheart.

That thought was worth a weak smile.

Two other ponies waited on the roof, their uniforms marked with a 5 and a 6. Six’s coat was bright red, her mane a soft peach that darkened with length, like Spitfire’s mane in pastel. Five was a midnight blue stallion with a pale blue mane. Both ponies hopped up to greet them. There was a mischievous gleam in Six’s eyes, though when she got a good look at Spitfire the mischief fled, replaced by concern. Spitfire could almost feel the pity in her stare, starting at the split ear, drifting down to the bloodied eye, over the cuts, bare patches and bruises, and finally to the ugly, awful harness that bound her wings.

“Oh, honey, you’re red as a beet! Are you sure you should be up? Soarin’! You shouldn’t have dragged her out of bed.”

Spitfire tried desperately to keep the anxiety out of her voice. “Oh no, I’ll be fine. It looks a lot worse than it is. I’m glad to be outside.” She turned toward her wingmate. “Thanks for the lift, Soarin’.”

The stallion beamed. Six persisted. “Are you sure, hon? You look flushed.” She touched Spiftire’s forehead, checking for a fever. When she didn’t feel one, her green eyes twinkled with mirth. Her mouth turned up in a lascivious grin and she flicked her eyes at Soarin’ in an unspoken question. Spitfire’s eyes widened. She bit her lip and flushed a deeper shade of red.

“Oh, I see. Lucky Seven didn’t realize she was going to be sharing a room with such a big, beautiful stallion. I have terrible news for you, Seven: camp rules say you can look but you can’t touch.”

Spitfire stammered, “No! it’s... I mean, I knew that already. The sergeant, he said -- but...”

“I know just what you’re thinking: but did he mean don’t do it or don’t get caught?” She batted her eyes at her wingmate and heaved an exaggerated sigh. “I’ve been pondering that one myself”

“No, it’s not anything like that!”

Six flashed her a knowing smile. “Really, hon, there’s no sense denying it. I watched you nuzzle his mane all the way back to base yesterday.”

Spitfire shrank and looked up at her wingmate, forcing a nervous grin. “Sorry about that. I thought you were a cloud.”

The dark blue stallion joined the conversation. “Oh, no need to apologize. Soarin’ enjoyed it. I could tell.”

Red giggled. Soarin’ blushed and turned away.

“Not cool, bro.”

Red gave an unhappy tsk. “Where are my manners? Seven, this is Stargazer, and I suppose I don’t need to introduce you to his brother Soarin’. My name’s Scarlet Sunrise, but please call me Red.”

Spitfire pushed down her embarrassment long enough to introduce herself, then B Flight gathered around the picnic basket.

She took a moment to appreciate the scenery. The dormitory was one of the tallest buildings in the camp, and the view from the roof was spectacular. The base sat atop a small rise in a wide mountain valley, surrounded on three sides by rocky, snow capped peaks extending thousands of feet above the carpet of evergreens that covered the lower slopes and the rest of the valley. To the north a blue-white glacier flowed between two mountains. From the toe of the glacier melting ice mixed with silt to form a slender ribbon of milky blue-green water that twisted and wound its way down a too-wide riverbed and emptied into a placid turquoise lake. On the shore of the lake lay the hamlet of Glimmervale: one of the only pegasus settlements on solid ground and one of the only pony settlements outside of the Bounded Lands, where Harmony’s influence gave ponies complete control over the weather. The bulk of Camp Solar lay to the immediate south, an orderly orchard of blocky stone buildings. Further to the south lay the valley’s entrance, where she’d made her rough landing yesterday.

She took a seat and accepted a sandwich from Red.

“So what is a ‘trice hunt’? And if it’s a training exercise, why aren’t you on it? I mean, I’m glad I’m up here and not having a staring contest with the clock anymore, but shouldn’t you be with the others?”

Stargazer grinned. “Right after the captain finishes her welcome speech, an officer rushes in and announces that somepony’s been turned to stone right here in camp. The sergeants scramble the new recruits to hunt down the cockatrice. It’s an impromptu exercise to evaluate the newbies. In any other recruit class B-Flight would participate in the hunt under the captain’s supervision, but we’re kind of a special case.”

Soarin’ nodded. Around a mouthful of bread and daisies he added, “We were at the dinner table years ago when T-Bone invented this gag. We even saved up our allowance to help him buy the statue.”

Spitfire looked at the statue, tipped onto its side in the middle of the parade ground. She couldn’t make out much detail from here. She frowned in confusion.

“What’s a T-Bone?”

Stargazer chuckled, “Sergeant Thunderhead. When we were little, we called him Thunder-Bonehead. It, ah, seemed a lot funnier when we were kids. Anyway, since we know that lump of stone isn’t our brother, and he doesn’t need the exercise to evaluate our skills, we were allowed to stay behind. Red didn’t really have a good reason to skip, she just got lucky.”

Red nudged her wingmate. “Did not. Camp rules, remember?”

Soarin’ stood and pointed off to the northeast. “Hey, here they come!”

The other three stood and walked to the roof’s edge. A disorganized mass of several dozen pegasi crested a hill and soared low over the village. Soarin’ gingerly tapped Spitfire on the shoulder and pointed behind the armory. Sergeant Thunderhead was there, out of uniform. Another pegasus was helping him coat himself with a fine white powder.

A small green and white creature flew out from the pack of pegasi, stopping abruptly and coming to rest on the head of the statue. Spitfire yelped and hit the deck.

“I didn’t think there’d be a real cockatrice!!”

The rest of B Flight chuckled.

“There isn’t,” said Red.

“That one’s a stuffed animal,” said Soarin’.

Stargazer helped her back to her feet. “It’s something new this year. Our sister‘s quite the little magician: she cast a ‘Come to Life’ spell on it.”

Spitfire wrinkled her brow. “She cast a... Oh, your sister’s a unicorn?”

“Yeah. So’s Dad.”

“And Soarin’s your brother, and so is the sergeant? Big family.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” He pointed back toward the flock of cadets. They were over the camp now. “Shhh.”

The mass of fliers landed at the periphery of the parade ground. Dozens of cadets in their beige uniforms, each with trim and a number in red, green, blue, or gold, crept toward the dreaded cockatrice. None of them dared to open their eyes any wider than a crack --and as a result none of them noticed the training officers breaking off from the group to gather at the other end of the grounds.

Two cadets, fellow members of Northwing by the red numerals 1 and 2 on their flanks, surged ahead, loping off to either side of the statue. When they had the beast successfully flanked, Red Two yelled out, “GET ‘IM, ONE!”

Red One pounced, snatching the stuffed toy off of the statue’s head and pinning it to the ground, his eyes still securely closed. When he felt the give of its soft and squishy body, he opened his eyes. Cocky satisfaction turned to confusion, and then irritation. Around the yard, other cadets cracked an eye and saw the big white stallion astride a child’s toy. A nervous titter spread around the crowd.

At that moment, a ghost-white Thunderhead zoomed in, riding a small black cloud. He circled the pack of cadets at high speed, stomping on the cloud now and then to release a lightning bolt which would discharge harmlessly into a rod atop one of the buildings. When the little cloud’s lightning was spent, he leapt down and landed beside the statue, glaring at the assembled pegasi.

“Cadets! Thy laxity and foolishness have allowed the real cockatrice to escape! I am doomed to an eternity of suffering while my body crumbles in the wind and the rain! KNOW MY VENGEANCE!”

The cadets froze, their faces a group portrait of fear and confusion. A few of the sharper ones wore wry smiles. For a long, frozen moment nopony moved, then the officers started laughing. One of them grabbed the little cloud and made it rain over Thunderhead, washing him clean. He doubled over and began to laugh.

“All right, recruits, exercise over. Break down by flights for a debriefing.” He raised his voice, “And maybe the three active members of B Flight should come explain to me why they were standing on a roof in a lightning storm!” Two of the bolts had discharged into the dormitory's lightning rod during the display, too close for comfort.

Red and Stargazer offered apologetic looks and took off for the parade ground. Soarin’ hesitated. “I should get you down first.”

Spitfire shook her head. “Go on, duty calls. You know where to find me when you’re done -- I promise not to go anywhere.”

He nodded and followed the others.

Spitfire watched from the roof as eleven flights of four cadets, plus her three friends, each met separately with an instructor. Each group was in animated conversation as the instructors deconstructed their students’ actions in the impromptu exercise. Now and then a cadet swelled with pride. Twice as often a cadet withered under criticism. B Flight was getting a dressing-down for putting themselves in harm’s way to watch the show. Things were particularly animated at A Flight, which included the two beast-slaying heroes. Red One was irate, and traded heated words with his training officer.

“Northwing Seven! Who is responsible for stranding you up here?”

Spitfire jumped. She’d been so focused on the goings-on below that she hadn’t noticed anyone approaching. Turning, she saw an iridescent white mare in a captain’s uniform. She snapped to attention.

“C-- Captain Aurora?”

The old mare nodded, waiting expectantly for an answer.

“I suppose... I stranded myself, ma’am.”

Aurora strode up to her, pointedly examining her immobilized wings. She stopped with her scowling face just inches from Spitfire’s. “Do not lie to me, cadet.”

Spitfire shrank, her voice grew frantic. “No, ma’am! It’s true: Soarin’, Eight, he offered to take me down. I told him not to keep the sergeant waiting. That means it’s my fault I’m stuck up here.”

The captain’s scowl softened. She backed up and gave a small sigh of relief. “I worry about those boys, always charging off, never stopping to think...”

Spitfire stared blankly at the captain. That comment was awfully personal for an officer discussing raw recruits. “Begging your pardon, ma’am, I’m really glad they charged in after me yesterday.”

The captain offered the barest hint of a smile. “So am I, cadet. So am I.” She straightened up and her face grew stern once again.

“At any rate, make sure they don’t forget about you.”

Spitfire nodded.

“Follow the doctor’s orders. I want you back in the air posthaste.”

Spitfire nodded again, “So do I, ma’am.”

“Tell my sons not to leave any more pretty girls stranded on rooftops.”

Spitfire’s mouth dropped open. The captain spread her wings and took flight. Stargazer’s earlier comment echoed in her head: You don’t know the half of it.

Soarin’ returned before long and carried her back down to the ground. Other recruits whistled and cat-called. Red had a familiar look on her face.

“Seven! What’s that, your third flight on the Soarin’ Express in two days!? I usually make ‘em wait ‘til at least the third date. Well, second... usually. But still! Scandalous.

Spitfire clambered down and laughed nervously. Her face turned almost as red as Red’s. She scrambled to find a response. Stargazer saved her the trouble.

“Red, she was sitting on his back. If that could possibly be something intimate, I’d like to see how.” By the look in his eyes, he realized as he was speaking that it had come out wrong.

Red turned to him in mock disgust. “Stargazer! You’d like to watch your own brother rut his wingmate? For shame!”

Soarin’ grinned, relieved that the attention had shifted away from him. “Yeah, bro. That’s gross.”

Spitfire faced a decision: she could keep on being mortified, possibly for the rest of training if Red was like this all the time, or she could turn around and fly with the current.

When in Roam, do as the Buffalo do.

She tried to calm her shaky nerves. In a small voice, she said, “What he really wants to do is join in. Sorry, boys: look but don’t touch. Camp rules.”

As one the other three turned to look at her, mouths hanging open. For a moment she thought she’d made a terrible mistake -- then they all burst into laughter. Red actually fell over. The laughter soothed away some of her anxiety. Not all of it, but enough.

The cadets were ordered back into the dormitory, where they assembled in the first floor classrooms for instruction. Monday’s session was an introduction to surviving in an unbound environment: how to find safe water to drink, how to harvest the inner bark of a pine tree for food, how to identify and avoid the nests of dangerous predators.

Spitfire had never been a particularly good student, but she was delighted to find herself engaged and interested. Her mother had loved to take her camping in Whitetail Wood and they had always enjoyed spotting animal dens together. The instructor was talking about manticore lairs and cockatrice nests rather than beaver dams, but it was the same in principle.

When class ended the cadets in the other eleven flights dashed off to the mess for dinner. Red took one look at Spitfire and sent her to bed, promising that she and Stargazer would bring dinner and they’d repeat their picnic in her room. Soarin’ accompanied her upstairs.

In the room, Spitfire flopped onto her bed. She landed on the clock and winced. She sheepishly picked it up, clambered up onto Soarin’s desk, and put it back on the wall where it belonged. As before, if Soarin’ found any of this strange he didn’t let on. He stood by his bed and peeled off his uniform.

Thunderhead’s face appeared in the doorway. He held a letter in his teeth.

“Feven. ‘Nfirmry firf fing t’mrrow. Dctr’s rdrs.”

Spitfire took the paper from him and set it on her desk. She looked it over.

“Got it. Infirmary every morning ‘til I’m not grounded anymore.”

The sergeant loitered in the doorway, an impish smirk creeping onto his face. He nodded at his little brother.

“Getting along with your wingmate, Seven?”

Spitfire tensed, remembering the anxiety, shock, and embarrassment she’d suffered as a result of his little joke. She glared at him. She tried to think of a biting comeback.

She couldn’t come up with anything. “Yes... sir.”

“Told you she was nice.” He laughed and turned to leave.

Soarin’ joined her by the door. “I know that smile.” There was a sympathetic, long-suffering tone in his voice. “What’d he do?”

Spitfire slumped. “Oh... the doctor mentioned your name. I assumed room assignments would be by gender.” She turned her face aside to hide her embarrassment. “When the sergeant said I’d be sharing this room with Eight I asked, ‘is she nice?’”

He chuckled. “Bet he had fun with that.”

“His exact words were ‘she’s a real sweetheart.’ Then he took off, laughing all the way down the stairs... I spent the next hour trying to figure out why that was funny. And arguing with the clock.”

“I wondered about that. Didn’t want to say anything. ‘Sides, looked like you won the argument.”

She chuckled.

“Soarin’... it is weird, right? To mix up the sexes like this? It’s not just me with a goofy hang-up?”

He shrugged. “T-bone says there’s a rule from all the way back when the Corps started allowing stallions that we can’t get any special treatment: we have to pass the same fitness tests, and we had to live, train, and fight alongside our sisters. Separate rooms would be special treatment or something.”

Put that way it almost made sense. She relaxed just a bit. She turned back toward him. What she saw startled her: Soarin’s legs and chest were almost as badly bruised as her own. She paled.

“I’m so sorry, that’s all my fault.”

He examined himself in the mirror. “Nah. I chose to dive in after you, then I steered us into the trees. These are my fault.”

An awkward silence ensued. Spitfire’s mind was abuzz with questions, thoughts, ways to say thank you. None of them seemed sufficient. She trudged back to her bed. In a soft voice she asked, “Why’d you do it?”

He shrugged. “Because I had to. You needed help. Nopony else was there, and I’m stronger than Red or Stargazer.”

“That’s it? ‘She needs help, so here I go? Even if it kills me?’”

“Well... yeah. Guess I didn’t think of it that way at the time. Didn’t think much at all, really”

She hung her head and her eyes filled with tears.

Always charging off, never stopping to think...


Every one of those bruises should be on me, not you. I should be dead, alone in the forest, nopony knowing whether I ran off or chickened out or didn’t make it...


Before Soarin’ could respond Red blew in like a whirlwind, talking and laughing and handing out plates. Sptifire wrinkled her nose. She’d always hated dandelion salad. Red laughed until she couldn’t breathe when Spitfire passed Aurora’s message along to the boys. Soarin’ and Stargazer told stories about growing up with Thunderhead and Red talked about her family back in Bitsburgh. Spitfire mainly listened. Lonely though she was, she wasn’t ready to open up and risk being hurt again.

The four ponies talked and laughed until lights out. Soarin’ was asleep the instant his head hit his pillow, and Spitfire felt a little bit silly for worrying about sharing his room. She still felt that knot of panic, deep down, but it was getting easier to ignore by the hour. She laid down, cursing the uncomfortable harness on her back, and fell asleep.

The next morning Spitfire arrived at the infirmary in a foul mood. Forty-seven recruits flipped, hovered, and darted across the sky above her and she longed to join them. When she arrived in the examination room she headed straight to the window and sulked, trying to spot B Flight in the aerial chaos.

“Onto the examination table if you please Miss Spitfire.”

Firelight entered, his eyes projecting irritation and impatience. When she had done as directed he approached and examined her wings. He prodded at some of her bruises and at her grafted feathers. She let out a wince or a gasp each time. Through it all she continued to give her attention to the window.

“You were instructed not to remove or adjust this harness Why did you do so?”

“I didn’t.”

“Excuse me?”

“I did not remove it, sir.” Her frown deepened. She hadn’t touched it. What was this about?

“I am quite certain that it is loose right now. I am equally confident that my assistant put it on correctly yesterday. I can only conclude that you removed or loosened it. Do not do so again.” He pulled the straps tighter. She bit back a cry.

“But I-” she stopped herself. She’d snapped at him yesterday, and Sergeant Thunderhead had described him as not lenient. She couldn’t let it happen again. “Yes sir.”

“Hmph. You remain grounded. Return tomorrow.”

With that, the sum total of her duties for Tuesday morning were over. She returned to the parade ground. When she could no longer stand to watch her comrades carry on without her, she retreated to her room. She borrowed a pen from Soarin’s desk to write in her journal.

Things didn’t get any better when morning exercises ended. The trainers had run the cadets ragged, and B Flight was too tired for merriment. Even the afternoon’s classroom session seemed less interesting, though Spitfire admitted to herself that her own attitude was probably to blame. A late dinner followed by an early turn-in ended a boring, dreary day.

If anything, Wednesday was worse. It was an exact repeat of Tuesday except the harness was already tight when Firelight yanked it tighter, she had nothing new to write about, and she was already bored. As she watched the recruits practice, she realized that they were already working on basic formation flying. When she finally rejoined them she’d be significantly behind.

That night after lights out she laid awake in bed; too much downtime and not enough exercise left her plenty of energy for worrying. She was falling behind the other cadets. She decided there must be a point where she was too far behind and they’d wash her out. Each day grounded took her closer to that point and if she got there she’d have to go home, or find somewhere else. Her fate was in the doctor’s hooves and he was suddenly hostile. Sleep did not come easily that night, and in the darkness and silence she imagined herself stripped of her uniform and marched off the base, again and again and again.

Thursday brought yet another unjust accusation and rough handling at the infirmary. Spitfire had no idea how or when she’d so offended Firelight, but the mercurial doctor had made it clear that he did not like her. Her wings felt fine, apart from the aching and stiffness of being locked into the harness. She feared that he was intentionally keeping her grounded to be rid of her.

As she returned across the parade ground, she made a decision: if she returned to her room she’d worry herself sick. She couldn’t go back there just yet. She looked around. The mess was closed outside of meal times. The dormitory and infirmary were enemy territory. Staying on the parade ground meant watching the other cadets train without her. Technically the armory wasn’t off-limits to her. It might just be a boring, empty building but at least it was something new.

It was dim inside the armory. She fumbled around for a light switch. The one she found didn’t work. The doors on the first floor were all closed and locked. In the stairwell a gate blocked access to the basement. It was sealed shut with a massive padlock. Up she went.

What she found on the second floor took her off guard.

Most of the floor was a single, open space filled with rows of display cases holding ancient weapons and armor, portraits of leaders and heroes long dead, dioramas of ancient battles, books on display stands opened to significant passages, all accompanied by placards describing their significance. She’d stumbled into a museum.

She wandered the aisles, puzzling over the artifacts, gawking at the battle scenes, occasionally even glancing at the histories. The early battles pitted armored pegasi against other ponies, later ones involved griffons, hordes of beasts, once or twice pegasus had fought pegasus. Invariably the pegasi wore dark armor and carried a straight blade strapped to each front hoof.

One diorama in particular drew her attention, though she couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It seemed to be upside down: the bottom of the display was lined with clouds in a variety of strange colors. At the top floated a small chunk of grass-covered land. Amidst it all, armored pegasi floated at odd angles, few facing in the same direction as those around them. Some had extra wings. One appeared to be wearing lobsters instead of armor. In the center floated a giant pie, upon which a strange creature lounged on a sofa surrounded by dancing buffalo. The placard read “REIGN OF CHAOS”.

From the museum’s entrance a song began to play on a scratchy phonograph. Spitfire turned. Doctor Firelight stood near the machine’s horn, eyes closed, listening to the music -- an old-timey instrumental march of some kind.

“Stirring, isn’t it?”

Spitfire tensed and looked around. Unfortunately there wasn’t anyone else he could be talking to. Her only chance was to appease the old goat. She paid attention to the music for a moment; it wasn’t bad for a stuffy old march.

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s the old battle march of the Corps. I’ve not been able to find a recording with lyrics intact, and even if I had one I’m afraid the words are simply too... brutal for these enlightened times. Still, a shame that it is lost. So much is lost.”


The old stallion chuckled. “Best not to let me go down that road, we’d be here for weeks. Tell me, cadet. Are you a student of history?”

Spitfire squirmed under the attention of the prissy, short-tempered officer. “Not especially, sir. I - I recognize that name from the Hearth’s Warming legend.” She pointed to a portrait at the end of the aisle.

“Yes, don’t we all. Commander Hurricane, last of the Weather Lords of Pegasoniki. Last duly appointed Supreme Commander of the Corps before our present sovereign. You surprise me, cadet. You seem to be enjoying my little museum. You claim only a modest knowledge of history? Perhaps this is so, but you show an appreciation for it that few young ponies can muster. Lack of knowledge is often easily remedied. Lack of respect rarely so.”

“Your museum, sir?”

“Indeed. Not long ago these texts and artifacts were below ground, in the armory vaults. Some of them were beginning to decay quite badly. Note the rust on the suit of armor to your left -- Hurricane’s own armor, if the old records are accurate. I asked, and received, permission to remove items of historical significance to this space, which was vacant at the time. Everything you see here was arranged by these hooves.” He preened a bit. Spitfire thought he sort of deserved to.

“It’s very impressive, sir. Is it the whole history of the Corps?”

The smile she received was patronizing rather than warm. “Not entirely, my dear. I believe I was just saying that everything here was retrieved quite recently from the vaults. This means of course that all of it dates to the time Strike and Reconnaissance was dismantled and Search and Rescue was born. I’ve not yet attempted to cover the six centuries since that time. No, this museum is dedicated to the days when we were soldiers. From the time we began as little better than thugs and enforcers for the Weather Lords, through the Interregnum at the founding of Equestria, the Reign of Chaos, when the Corps re-formed as an insurgent group -- perhaps our finest hour, that -- to the day when the princess declared that peace and Harmony were eternal, and soldiers were... obsolete.”

Spitfire turned back to the REIGN OF CHAOS display. “This? This was our ‘finest hour?’”

“Believe it or not, yes. Perhaps that is a story for another time. For now, come here.”

She approached, trying to keep the nervousness out of her eyes. He grasped one of her grafted feathers and wiggled it a bit. She did her best not to flinch. A thoughtful look crossed his face. He removed her wing restraints.

“You are not to attempt even short flights until tomorrow. Saturday would be better. You are still unfit for strenuous flight: no training exercises for another week, I’m afraid. Stretch every few hours or so, meal times will do nicely. As you have no duties to attend to tomorrow, you may assist me here if you wish. I presume this would be preferable to wasting away in your quarters. You may report here tomorrow morning at seven. That will be all, cadet.”

Stunned, Spitfire tried to piece together what had just happened. “Th-thank you, sir.”

She turned to leave. Firelight made an exasperated noise. She cringed.

“Miss Spitfire, do take this back to the infirmary. It is not an artifact of this museum and I am not your valet.”

“Of course, sir. Sorry, sir.”

As she lugged the hated device back to the infirmary her thoughts turned bleak. She was out of the harness but still grounded. She’d fall behind another week. She’d miss all of basic and intermediate formations and introductory weather. There was no way she’d be able to catch up.

She was about to wash out, and she hadn’t even tried on her uniform.