• Published 20th May 2014
  • 921 Views, 110 Comments

The Last Link - Featherprop



When a pilot finds himself trapped with no good choices left, what will he do? Good intentions conflict with harsh realith, and he has to balance saving lives against losing his own before he can help.

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8: Can You Hear Me Now?

“Can’t you do anything about that blasted noise?”

Featherprop frowned at Pasture’s outburst and took a deep breath. “No, Doc, I can’t. The range gets really narrow as we close in, and the winds up here are kicking my flank.”

As the Trotter approached Fetlock Falls, Featherprop had found it harder and harder to stay centered on the navigational range. He found himself twisting the Trotter back and forth as he fought to keep the range’s tone steady in his earphones.

He’d already explained that to Pasture, several times, in fact. Now the doctor’s unwillingness to listen grated on his nerves; Featherprop stifled a dirisive snort when he realized he was treated like a junior crewmember. And in my own aircraft! He tried to push the feeling aside and focus on flying; was no time to dwell on irony or outrage.

As he glanced at the center console, he noticed Pasture was slouching in his seat, his restraints loosened. “And Doc, you’d better tighten up that harness. It’s going to get bumpy on the way in, and if you smack that horn on the overhead, it’s gonna hurt.”

When he saw Pasture’s head snap up, he cut off any response by hoofing the microphone switch and announcing, “Fetlock Radio, Snowpony is inbound on the range, anypony up? … Fetlock Radio, Snowpony inbound, looking for advisories.” When there was no reply, he looked over at Pasture and shook his head. “Not good.”

Pasture grunted and turned away. He had briefly felt sorry for snapping at the pilot earlier, but at the same time he suspected that Featherprop’s resolve was weakening; to his ears,the Pegasus’s warnings about the weather sounded like excuses, and this latest performance only increased his suspicions. With a wave of the hoof, he said, “Yes, well, you have to remember this is a new experience for me.”

Featherprop grunted as he watched the instruments. “There’s a first time for all of us, Doc, but let me tell you, I don’t like this.”

Pasture considered his next words carefully. It would be easy to antagonize the Pegasus needlessly, but he had to press his case. “I must say, I don’t either. Regardless, I... Featherprop, we cannot give up. This is too important.”

Featherprop’s muzzle flushed as he heard the rebuke in the doctor’s words. In exasperation he said, “Give up? Doc, there’s giving up and then there’s trying to buck apples from a pine tree. Sometimes what you want just isn’t possible.”

The Unicorn thought he heard a note of defensiveness in the pilot’s words, and nodded to himself. I thought so. Waving a hoof towards the windscreen he continued, “You tell me it’s not possible, but all night I’ve watched you flying without looking outside,” Pasture then gestured towards radios, “and I see you navigating by sound. Are you going to tell me that we’ve come all this way, but going a little further is impossible?”

Featherprop frowned to himself, trying to divide his attention between arguing with Pasture and keeping the aircraft on course. Luna, it’s more complicated than that. The doctor’s words were feeding his doubts, and he found his conviction wavering. “But... no one’s there, Doc. If I can’t tell what the conditions are, I can’t–”

Pasture spoke quickly, feeling a slight thrill as he caught the pilot trying to use regulations as a shield. “Yes, you told me that no answer may mean the field is... closed, down, whatever, but is that the only reason nopony would respond?” He tapped the panel next to the radios, causing a small burst of static in the ‘phones. “Do these devices never fail?”

Featherprop looked away. There really was no way to decisively argue against what Pasture was suggesting; he well knew that there could be half-a-dozen reasons that nopony would answer, but he didn’t want to acknowledge them. With his own resolve weakening, he sullenly protested, “There are rules and procedures...”

Pasture pounced on Featherprop’s equivocation. “Rules and procedures? There are ponies at risk here. Lives, Featherprop, not rules. Just think for a moment– whoever is supposed to be at the radio down there, what if they’ve just stepped away briefly to check on a family member? Would you want to deny the entire village treatment because somepony cared about a loved one enough to temporarily leave, perhaps after hours and hours of hearing nothing but this blasted noise?

Featherprop knew he was being baited, but he felt Pasture’s argument tugging at his heart. The tones grew sharp in his ears, and he took a moment to hoof in a correction. “It’s not that simple, Doc. It’s... there’s more to it than that.” The frustration of trying to fight Pasture’s insistence and keep the aircraft on course was wearing him down. With his attention spread thin, the feeling that he ought to be agreeing with Pasture, rather than resisting, was growing stronger.

“I think it really is that simple. Isn’t it your job to get me there? Beyond that, think of the consequences of leaving this task undone.” Pasture fixed the Pegasus with a stare and steeled himself; the words that had come to him were harsh and cutting, but in his fervor he felt justified in using them. It’s for the greater good. Not just this village, but all of the territory. Equestria.

“When you come back here, do you want to have to count the missing muzzles? Do you want to have to explain that a few rules cost somepony their spouse? Or their colt?”

Featherprop felt like he had been kicked in the chest, and when he tried to glare at the doctor, his vision was blurred from tears. Faces flashed through his mind, and he looked back at the panel, more to avoid Pasture’s level gaze than anything else. His voice caught as he said, “We... we’ll see. I can’t say right now. But there’s one thing you’ll need to do.” He lifted his head and looked at Pasture with bitterness.

Pasture warily asked, “What’s that?” The look from the Pegasus caused his mane to twitch.

“Next time, find another pilot, Doc. You’re never flying with me again.”

The doctor’s eyes turned cold as he said, “Do your job, and it won’t be an issue.”

The two ponies stared at each other, and several seconds passed before Featherprop realized the silence went deeper than just the glares between them– the tones of the range were swiftly fading, and he quickly glanced at the radio and his chart.

Pasture instantly grasped what the sudden activity meant. “What, are we there?” He forgot the animosity between them as the reality of finishing the journey seemed within grasp.

Featherprop frowned and looked down at the charts, then out at the glazed wings, and sucked his cheeks in as he tried to make a decision. And as for the past hour, the answer eluded him– there were simply too many unknowns; too many maybes and not enough for certains. His eye flicked from gauge to gauge, searching for an answer that couldn’t be found outside of himself. Okay, any reason NOT to try? Any? He weighed assumptions and expectations in his mind, hoping that the scales would tip towards diverting to Kathia before they were committed.

But his mind couldn’t latch onto a good reason to call it off, though. He could sense the doctor’s agitation growing as he sat silently, and that reminded him of everything that rode on this one decision. He glanced at Pasture, and was startled to see that Pasture was watching him back with a thoughtful look. A thought suddenly struck Featherprop: He’s measuring me. He’s sitting there like he knows what in Tartarus is going on. He sighed. But damn it, he’s right. I can’t face them if I don’t try. Luna help us, I hope this isn’t a mistake. He took a deep breath and reached up for the power levers.

“Okay, Doc. Here we go.”

Under his breath, Featherprop began to recite the Aviator’s Prayer. Someone had scrawled it on a board at the Flight Academy, as a joke, but before long the instructors and students had adopted it, an odd little ritual that wasn’t quite a plea to the Princesses or a joke. Many a student had uttered it during a particularly feathercurling evaluation, and many a pilot had mulled it over during a long flight. On any other night, he would have felt foolish reciting it, but tonight the words gave him a tiny bit of comfort.

Oh Ternoulli, Blessed Patron of Skybound Wings,
watch over us as we begin our descent.
Let not the critical angle be exceeded,
nor our flow of air suffer disruption.
In summer, shield us from stones of hail,
and in winter strip the ice from our wings.
Let us not descend below our minima,
and keep us from unusual attitudes.
And when we reach the Decision Point, if it please thee,
grant us a view of the runway environment, or at least the lights leading in.
In the name of the Moon, and the Sun, and the Elements,
Allons-y

As the Pegasus pulled the levers back and eased the nose down, a false quiet settled over the cockpit. Though the sound from the engines was still there, their roar was muted and the sound of air rushing past the cabin dominated, except for the occasional pop or squeak from the radio. Featherprop squinted at the compass, thought about the winds, and swung the nose a little more to the right. Despite knowing they were almost right above the antenna, the lack of guidance was nerve-wracking, and his ears flushed as it reminded him of his shameful failure to catch the silence earlier in the evening. As the altimeter swept down past five thousand, he advanced the power and began to level off, checking the timer out of the corner of his eye. Three minutes to go...

The air had become increasingly unsettled during the descent, Featherprop noticed. The alulas on his wings twitched, unconsciously feeling for changing air currents. The jolts were small, like a cart rolling over a pebble, but each one sent a tingle up his spine.

Despite adding power, the Trotter continued to descend, and Featherprop frowned as he pulled back on the yoke. The ice, ‘Prop, this thing’s a Pony-sicle tonight. He reached for the throttles again, worried about sinking below the intermediate altitude, when his wings began to ruffle and twitch. His eyes shot open as the sensations came together. ROTOR!! “Doc, brace yourself!”

The tightness in the Pegasus’ voice alarmed Pasture. Just as he turned to look at Featherprop, the aircraft dropped out from under him.

Pasture yelped as his loose harness allowed him to float out of his seat, then bit into his hips and yanked him downward with the rest of the aircraft. His forelegs flailed up as he was stopped short, causing Featherprop to duck and then reach to protect the throttles. Pasture started to cry out, but his throat snapped shut as his guts were thrust upwards against his ribcage. All that managed to escape his muzzle was a weak gurgle. Around him, a blizzard of papers, dirt, screws, pens and other cockpit refuse floated up in a repulsive cloud. He sputtered and reared his head back, his horn painfully bouncing off the cockpit overhead.

Next to him, Featherprop braced against the seatback as the Trotter fell into the downrushing torrent of air. Instead of the usual jolt through an opposing updraft, this time it felt as if they were falling out of the sky. The urge to pull back on the yoke and halt their descent was overwhelming, but the Pegasus knew he had to resist. Control, ‘Prop! Pitch plus Power equals Performance. Unbidden, the words ran through his head and he shot a hoof up to shove the throttles forward, watching as the airspeed wound down towards a thick red line. Gotta ride it out! The rate of descent slowed a little, but they continued to lose altitude at an alarming rate. Any moment, we’ll punch through. We gotta!

Of all the things the weather could throw at them tonight, Featherprop feared rotors the most. The swirling vortexes of air changed with every valley and every wind, and now they were were caught in one. He glanced sideways at the poor Unicorn, and briefly shook his head, unable to do more than sit rigidly and try to keep the aircraft from being tossed on it’s back. “This is why...” he paused to grunt as the Trotter shook roughly, “This is why I told you to tighten that harness!”

Unable to even swallow, Pasture glared at the pilot. The rebuke only made his discomfort worse. The moment seemed to stretch on for minutes as he dangled above his seatpad. Pasture fought to deny what his senses were telling him, that he was falling up, and his eyes bulged a little as he felt an uncomfortable squeeze in his stomach. Celestia, I didn’t think there was anything in there to come up...

Featherprop didn’t have time to worry about the Unicorn– he was too busy worrying about what the rotor was trying to do to the Trotter. This thing is HUGE! He couldn’t recall ever having been in one so powerful. Most were short and rough, but the seemingly unending descent had his wings straining against the seatback. Featherprop’s nerves were fraying, and he swept his eyes back and forth over the gages, trying to keep his alarm from growing into full-blown panic. It can’t keep going, can it?

Featherprop’s gut turned a somersault as they suddenly flew out of the downdraft, and the Pegasus found himself scrambling to react as the Trotter juddered it’s way into the turbulent center of the vortex. The Trotter shook and seemed to audibly groan as it left the broken air and flew into the rapidly rising air on the other side of the rotor, a deep thrum vibrating up through the deck as the aircraft flexed and twisted. The Trotter’s nose tilted skywards as the powerful updraft gripped it, and Featherprop was forced to use both hooves to push the yoke forward to try and keep the wings level.

Focused as he was on the regaining control, Featherprop was caught completely by surprise when the floating Unicorn’s hoof crashed down on his head.

Featherprop’s eyes watered from Pasture’s hoofblow, but that was nothing compared to the pain he felt when the hoof ripped the earphones from his head. He flinched, his ears assaulted by the screaming, thundering sound of the Trotter’s engines at full power. The banshee wail of wind rushing past the airframe stabbed deep into his skull. His ears flattened against his head, but that did nothing to block out the noise. The noise was overpowering, drowning out his other senses.

A chilling thought pushed through the fog of confusion in his mind: The range! Without his earphones, there was no way to track the course, no way to tell if he was in safe air or heading for a rocky outcropping. Even more than turbulence or ice, the thought of jagged mountains lurking in the grey fog made his heart spasm. Frantically, he looked for the headset.

Pasture was stunned as he flopped down into his seat, his spine compressing painfully as the seatpad slammed into his rump. His first thought was to feel for a broken tail, and he gave a silent sigh of relief when twitching it was free of pain. He sat in stunned relief for a moment, glad that down was once again down and he was firmly planted on the dingy cushion. It wasn’t until he felt a punch to his shoulder that he realized Featherprop was shouting at him. He tried to blink the pain away and looked at the grimacing Pegasus.

“DOC! My ‘phones! Hoof me the damn earphones!!” Featherprop shouted at the top of his lungs, but the noise in the cockpit was so intense, he couldn’t even hear his own voice. Desperately, he pointed at his head and then stabbed a hoof at the floor near Pasture’s hooves: The earphones had come to rest up in Pasture’s footwell, far out of his reach. “I need them, Doc! Grab the damn ‘phones!!”

Following the pilot’s hoof, Pasture stared at the earphones for a second before realizing what Featherprop was trying to say. Unsteadily, he hoofed them up, but they were yanked from his grip when the cable went taut. He scowled with frustration as he saw it had gotten looped behind one of the rudder pedals, which swung forwards and back as Featherprop danced on the other set in his efforts to control the aircraft. Swearing, Pasture strained to gather enough magic to unloop the cord.

Featherprop split his attention between the instruments and Pasture, desperate to get his ears covered. With the turbulence he dare not let go of the controls, but the pain was making it hard to concentrate. “Come on, hoof ‘em over, Doc!” Focused on Pasture, Featherprop was completely unprepared when the Trotter lurched to the left as it punched into a swirling pocket of turbulence.

Distracted, Featherprop twisted the yoke to the right to counteract the roll, asking for just a little more lift out of the air arching over the left wing. Nothing happened– despite the twisting of the aileron, there was no more lift to be gathered. Featherprop's gut clenched with dread as, for a moment, he felt the wing balance on a knife edge between flying and falling. A piercing tone stuttered, louder even than the sound of the engines and the wind, signaling the imminent loss of lift. Featherprop braced himself and prayed, caught between avoiding a stall and letting the aircraft roll upside down.

The Trotter slammed into a twisting updraft, and the uneven chirping of the stall horn became a steady wail. The uniform flow of air over the left wing disintegrated and the Trotter fell to the side. No! Nononononono Luna NO! With panic arcing through him, Featherprop slammed the yoke forward and left to break the stall, but it was too late: The aircraft began a vicious roll, flinging cargo and loose objects across the cabin.

Including one unsecured passenger.

Pasture had just gotten the tangled cable free when he felt as if he were being picked up by a spot somewhere behind his stomach. He gritted his teeth, preparing for the belt to bite into his haunches. Oh no, not agai– His thoughts were interrupted by an explosion of pain as his head slammed into the side of the Trotter.

“DOC!”

Horrified, Featherprop watched as Pasture was flung against the cabin wall. Though partly deafened, he could hear a muffled crunch as the doctor’s head struck the paneling, and then the Unicorn slumped forward against his loose restraints. Featherprop stared in disbelief until the Trotter was wracked by another violent shudder, accentuated by a thumping from the floorboards as boxes crashed about in the cargo bay behind them. A ferocious knot of swirling air twisted the Trotter in three directions at once, and the Pegasus fought a wave of vertigo. Withering under the assault of sound and shaking, Featherprop’s world shrunk to the panel ahead of him, but the violent shaking was turning it into a blur.

He locked his eyes on the artificial horizon, where a tiny smudge of brown in the lower corner showed that the Trotter’s nose was pointing towards the sky, though that seemed impossible. His wingsense screamed that they were flying straight down, diving towards the ground. He felt paralyzed as the ingrained sensations from his wings fought with what his eyes told him: they were going up. It wasn't until the wail of the stall warning horn cut through the noise again that he could bring himself to shove the yoke forward, gaining precious airspeed and avoiding a total loss of control. I can’t tell... Oh Luna, Pasture, he's not dead, he can't be dead, he can't be... Where the hay are we? It’s my fault, it’s my fault... Like the air over the wing, Featherprop’s mind fractured into a half-dozen thoughts, each demanding his attention at the same time. His free hoof twitched back and forth, undecided, as he jumped from one thought to the next. Discord, what... what am I doing?, What am I doing?

Pasture moaned and brought a hoof up to his pounding head. His entire side ached, and the savage convulsions of the Twin Trotter made it feel as if he were trapped in a barrel, tumbling down a mountainside. “Wh– what happened?” When nopony answered, he tried sitting up straight, but the motion made the world around him spin violently. “Urgh...” He slumped forward again and cradled his head in his hooves, praying to Celestia for the shaking to stop. Just for a moment, let me get my bearings. He tried to remember where he was, but the noise and harsh jostling kept him from gathering his wits. He felt an overwhelming weariness building at the back of his head and vainly fought to stay awake. As he passed out, his forelegs fell limply into his lap and his head flopped about as the Trotter slammed through the rough air.

Featherprop caught Pasture’s motion out of the corner of his eye. Doc! He swallowed a rising tide of bile and tried to stop the flood of worries racing through his mind. We have to get down, this is going to kill us. That realization swept the discordant thoughts aside, giving him the clarity needed to make a decision. We have to get down. Dismissing everything else, he latched onto that thought and tried to convince himself that it was the most important thing in the world. I'll deal with the hills when I get down there- we'll come apart if we hit much more of this!

Feeling the rumbling and shaking subside, Featherprop risked a sideways lunge. He put a foreleg to Pasture's chest and roughly shoved him upright. Grabbing the loose barrel restraint, he yanked hard and pulled it tight, locking Pasture against his seatback. He thought he saw Pasture flinch, and a brief burst of relief flared in his chest. It takes more than that to... It has to, he didn't hit that hard. "Sorry, Doc, but we gotta get out of here, 'fore we get haybucked!" His own voice sounded distant and muffled, and he suddenly realized that all the sounds were muted- the deafening noise was taking it's toll on his hearing. Discord, if I can't hear... we're dead. Featherprop angrily dismissed the thought and yanked the power levers back. He jammed the yoke forward, shoving the nose over.

Distance was the enemy now- Featherprop knew that if they overran the valley, this maneuver would end in disaster. Death, 'Prop. No point sugarcoating that. Nopony walked away from running into a mountain. The sudden absence of engine roar sounded like silence to his aching ears, and he swallowed as he felt his stomach rise up. Like a sled running downhill, they picked up speed, and soon the shaking and jolting became dangerously harsh. Hesitantly, Featherprop pulled down on the power levers and hoofed them over a stop. The word "BETA" flared to life on the panel in brilliant amber, and he and the doctor were thrown against their restraints as the nose fell further earthward.

Featherprop glanced out the side window and tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he watched the arc of the propeller blades change. Pushing the air no longer, the broad blades turned flat against the wind and the Trotter fell from the sky. Crazy, crazy, Luna, I know this is in the book, but this is crazy! He had always been too afraid to use the aerobraking technique inflight, for the drag created was so tremendous that any imbalance between the engines could tumble the aircraft. An ominous thumping jolted through his seat, and he winced as he felt boxes tumbling forward against the netting. He could see he had been wrong: He should have been terrified to try this.

The thought of hitting terrain outweighed that worry, though. As long as they were flying, he knew he had a chance. Featherprop held his breath, pushing the nose over further and further as the airspeed continued to drop. He could not believe it when the attitude indicator showed the nose pointed nearly halfway to vertical. Across the cabin, Pasture’s hooves dangled limply away from his body, his head flopped forward. At the lower speed, the formerly painful shaking was reduced to a series of vigorous jolts, and Featherprop watched the unwinding altimeter with growing unease. Come on, come on, it has to end!

Finally, as the needles spun past seventeen hundred feet, the turbulence abruptly ended. Featherprop gingerly advanced the power levers and brought the Trotter level at fifteen hundred feet. In the still air, he let go of the yoke and lunged for the earphones. After several seconds of straining and grunting, he managed to drag them over, and greedily hoofed them up and clapped them over his ears.

Featherprop had thought that getting the earphones back on his head would be a relief, but the moment they sealed out the sound of wind and motor, the worries he had set aside came rushing back. Though the long exposure had left his hearing dulled, the DIT-DAH was unmistakable. Hoofrot, the range! The lack of a solid tone told him they were off-course, not how much.

For the second time that evening, Pasture found himself waking to the droning of the engines. This time, however, when he lifted his head a bolt of pain lanced through it, and he grimaced, lifting a hoof to touch his sore temple and horn. "What... what happened to me?" he croaked. With relief, he realized that the Trotter was only suffering the occasional minor jolt. Through the fog in his head, he could only pull up a jumbled impression of crashing sounds and disturbing physical sensations.

As the haziness in his head began to fade, other pains made themselves known, including a dull ache from his side where his barrel restraint bit into it deeply. Shakily, Pasture probed his barrel with a hoof. Did that fool crack my rib? No, thank Celestia, but I’ll be bruised for a week. He had lost track of where they were and even what they were doing, but the vague memory of a crisis poked through the fog in his head. He pulled the headset's microphone to his muzzle and wearily asked, "What... where are we? What in Tartarus is going on? Are we almost there?" He winced at the shaky sound of his voice, and felt a measure of impatience returning as his head cleared. It was comforting, in a way– being passive had been like a burr in his coat all evening long.

“Doc!” Featherprop only half-heard Pasture’s quiet words, but they brought him a little hope, even as fear brought a sour taste to his mouth. His voice was full of worry as he said, “No. We...” he let the sentence trail off. The Unicorn would have no idea just how bad the situation was, and the time for arguing was long gone. Frantically, he looked around the cockpit.

The turbulence had made it a mess, with papers, manuals, and the usual debris of a working pony scattered about, but he spied the approach charts near his hooves and snatched them up. The muted "A" tone in his ears was both a relief and a worry- it meant they had drifted left of course, towards the center of the glacial valley, but he had no clue how far the winds had blown them to the east.

All of Featherprop’s worries had become a terrifying reality: They were trapped in a small valley, blown off course, and unable to outclimb the surrounding mountains. He blanched as he reviewed the chart. In escaping the turbulence, he had taken them far below the “safe” altitude, and they had to turn now. The only escape route was to turn back towards a steep valley wall, find the range, and follow it northward. Without warning, he heeled the Twin Trotter over into a steeply banked turn, pulling hard and adding power, only easing off when the accusing chirp of the stall horn flickered through the cabin. Both Ponies were pressed down in their seats, the force of the turn making their limbs and heads feel heavy. He thought he heard Pasture say something, though his hearing was still cottony and dulled. “What?” he barked.

Pasture groaned and repeated, “I asked, what in the Seven Spells are you doing, you maniac?”

Featherprop wrinkled his muzzle in frustration, guilt and annoyance battling within him. If he had paid more attention, been more insistent, Pasture might have been strapped in tightly to begin with. While Pasture’s recovery brought a tremendous sense of relief, his hooves were full at the moment and he didn’t need a combative passenger. Your fault, ‘Prop. Can’t blame the dryhoof, can you? He bit his tongue and curtly answered, “Keeping our flanks from plowing into a mountain. Good enough for you, Doc?”

Pasture bristled at the tone in the Pegasus’s voice, and he snapped his head over to reply. The sudden motion scrambled his sense of balance and he found himself suddenly swallowing, trying to keep his throat closed as an uncomfortable knot grew in his gut. “That’s... all well and good, but could you... please, could you straighten out... soon?” He breathed as heavily as his tight restraints would allow, trying to settle his stomach, and his voice was thick and doughy.

Featherprop had heard that particular tone before, and looked over with a mixture of worry and annoyance. “No. Oh no, Doc, no way. Don’t do this to me now. You gotta hold it in.”

Pasture did his best to look indignant, but found the churning in his gut made it come across as a pinched frown. “Do what? What can I do? I’m not the one trying to... to...” he paused, swallowing hard, “to audition for the Wonderbolts!”

Featherprop rolled his eyes. “Oh for Luna’s... fine, hold on.” He reached around under his seat, and pulled out a wrinkled paper bag. Looking inside briefly, he passed it over. “Okay, breathe in and out of that thing.”

Pasture eyed it distastefully. “Breathe... in and out? Why?”

“It inhi– I don’t have time for this. It’ll help with the nausea. Or if you end up tossing your hay, make sure you keep it in here.”

Featherprop glanced upwards at the compass, his wings ruffling nervously as the needle swung further and further westward, where the range ought to be. And a nice, tall ridgeline behind it. A lance of fear shivered his spine, and he checked the chart again to reassure himself that he hadn’t made a horrible mistake and turned in the wrong direction. Looks like 290 will do... damn! He cursed under his breath, for the Trotter’s nose had already turned past that heading, and he twisted the yoke over to bring it back around.

“You’re... you’re serious, aren’t you? What is this, some kind of frontier folk-tale remedy?” Pasture’s words fairly dripped with sarcasm. Despite his words, the sudden motion of the aircraft being racked back around caused him to eye the bag with a haunted look.

“Based on a few years’ worth of flying sick Ponies around, yes, it’s a frontier folk-tale remedy, but it works. Take it or leave it.” Featherprop pointedly cut the conversation off by turning to his instruments. As they flew on, his mane began itching in worry– every thirty seconds was a mile closer to the range, and to the wall of rock behind it. The Trotter shuddered as it passed through a patch of turbulence. Deuces, so much for grabbing a little altitude back.

Pasture opened his mouth to retort, then suddenly thrust his muzzle into the bag and took several deep breaths. It helped, a little, and his cheeks burned with embarrassment. “Tell me what happened. What did you do to my ribs?”

Featherprop ground his teeth in frustration and took a deep breath. “We hit a rotor, a bad one. You hit my head, then you hit the wall. Now we’re low, lost, and I’m half deaf. Look, can you keep quiet? I need to listen for the range before we find some really big rocks.” He tried to force a calmness into his voice, but underneath he was desperately listening for the range, waiting for the sharp gaps in the tone to fill in, letting him know they were close.

Luna, this is going to be tight. I don’t like this. What do I do if this doesn’t work out? He realized he didn’t know what he would do. In his desperation, he’d abandoned procedure, and now there was no safety margin.

Pasture glowered at the Pegasus. “When we land, you and I will have a discussion about all of this. And if I’m not satisfied, I’m going to bring this to your employ– ”

Shut up, just stuff it already! I don’t care, okay?” Featherprop cut off Pasture’s threat with a venomous explosion. “Talk all you want later, write a stupid letter, I don’t care! Right now I need to listen for the range, so put a hoo– wait, do you hear that?” He cocked his head, straining to hear. Yes, the range!

The sharp tones had begun to bleed into the silences as the Trotter flew into the overlap zone. Exultant and fearful at the same time, Featherprop banked sharply, determined not to overfly the range. Got it!! He felt the urge to laugh and yell, and with a whoop he said, “Aces! Back on track, Doc!” A silly grin broke out on his muzzle as a manic excitement gripped him. I know where we are! I’m alive, we’re okay, this is going to really work out!

Pasture found it necessary to jam his muzzle in the bag again, but when Featherprop had righted the plane he yanked his microphone back in place and said, “Are you completely mad? Stop flinging me about! What in Tartarus has possessed you?!” He watched as the Pegasus nearly bounced in his seat, the sudden lightness souring his own mood even more.

Featherprop tried to compose himself, but the lifting of his fear left him feeling giddy and confident. We’re not there yet, ‘Prop, come on, calm down. “Sorry. It’s the range, Doc, we’re on course again. We’re almost there!”

With a start, Pasture realized that the bleating tones in his earphones had indeed merged together. In a hope-tinged voice he asked, “How long?” Celestia, to get on the ground again! The prospect of having solid ground under his hooves was tantalizing, but Featherprop’s sudden glee made him perversely suspicious. “And what makes you so sure? You’ve spent this entire time moaning that this was a fools’ errand. Not that you’ve convinced me, but what makes you so sure now?” Pasture thought of the many Ponies he had watched stumble due to their own hubris, but in his world failure had meant departmental disgrace, not disaster. And none of them held my career in their hooves. Pasture shivered as a new thought occurred to him, that his very existence relied upon the Pony next to him, and he took several deep breaths from his bag to calm his nerves. Or my life.

Featherprop’s giddiness cooled as Pasture’s skepticism sunk in, eating away at the camaraderie he suddenly felt towards the Unicorn. Wrinkling his muzzle, he said, “Fine, Doc, you’re right. Sorry for being happy to be alive.” Embarrassment ate at his new-found confidence, paired with a sadness that he couldn’t share the joy of being alive with somepony who understood just how precarious their situation was. Espresso would have understood. She’d have bucked me through a wall after all of this, but she’d have understood.

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