• Published 20th May 2014
  • 1,085 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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12: Epilogue

Espresso sat at her desk, frowning.

Two scrolls had arrived with the mail. Getting one scroll was odd enough– the Frostmane had adopted the Gryphon system of envelopes, despite the extra effort it took to hoofstuff them, so most scrolls were either letters from Equestrian relatives or official documents. And now two of them sat on Espresso’s desk, both with thick ribbons and heavy wax seals.

Espresso didn’t like scrolls. The last time one had arrived, three weeks before, it came off the late train from White Harbor just before the arrival of Dr. Pasture. Espresso shivered a little as she tried to put aside the mix of feelings that lingered from that night. The scrolls were unwanted, but not unexpected. After Featherprop failed to deliver Pasture and his cargo to Fetlock Falls, she had been expecting a response from the REMMA.

Espresso frowned. This isn’t good. The mail usually takes a week to travel down. Even if Pasture had spent the bits to get a First Flight packet through, it’s not going to be good news if they’ve dealt with it this quickly. Years of keeping the books at her father’s rail office in Vanhoofer had taught her that only bad news travels fast; good news can wait for the local freight train.

Her suspicions were confirmed by the silvery wingseal on each: First Flight postage. First Flight wasn’t cheap, since the sender was bankrolling lodging and food for a relay flight of Pegasi, one strung out after the other, sprinting from post to post and then collapsing from exhaustion after handing over their pouch to the next Pony.

The first scroll, by far the heavier, was wrapped in a thick blue ribbon and the wax seal bore the proud cross-and-horn of the Royal Equestrian Magical Medical Academy. Let the contract-mangling begin, she thought with a groan. Well, if it comes to that I’ve got some pretty good questions to ask about their clauses.

The other one was even more enigmatic. Hesitantly, she hoofed it up and turned it over, examinining it. Like the scroll from weeks ago, the purple wax bore the Royal Seal of the Pony Sisters. But this time, the parchment itself seemed to sparkle as she looked at it. And the ribbon... Espresso marveled at how a pastel rainbow seemed to shimmer through the ribbon. While she had an inkling of what the other scroll would be about, this one was a complete mystery, which only fed her worries.

Espresso sighed and sat down, the took the first scroll and broke the seal. Let’s get the one I know is bad out of the way.

Royal Adjudicatory Bureau
Contracts and Commissions Division
Canterlot

In RE: Arbitration Case 001-AMF78-26
CY/LY 1001/001

The Royal Equestrian Magical Medical Academy (Plaintiff) has filed a claim of breach of contract by Frostmane Flying Service (Defendant) concerning a chartered flight operating under Parts 119 and 135 (Nonscheduled) of the Equestrian Common Carriage Law. The Royal Adjudicatory Bureau has conducted a preliminary review and determined that Factual Basis for the breach of contract claim exists.

The Bureau has determined that the Plaintiff has standing to recover carriage fees as well as further compensation for lost materiel, travel expenses, and salary for personnel. An Arbitration Hearing has been scheduled to depose primary witnesses and come to a Finding prior to a Final Determination. All evidentiary documents must be delivered to both the Bureau and the opposing Party no later than one week prior to the hearing.

Parties will note that the ETSB has indicated that it will be examining the Findings of this hearing to determine if an official review of the Defendant’s Operating Certificate is warranted, and may append any relevant evidence for their consideration.

In this matter the attendance of the Pilot In Command of Frostmane Flying Service flight “Snowpony 425” is required on the fourth day after Winter Wrap Up in Conference Room 221B, Baker Wing, Ministry of Civil Affairs, Canterlot. Failure to appear will be considered an affirmation of the case as presented by the Plaintiff. The Findings of the Board will be binding, as per Equestrian Common Carriage Law.

Espresso gasped. She had expected a demand for a refund, perhaps even papers for a civil suit, but not what was described in the scroll. Arbitration hearings were enough to give anypony an ulcer. Resentment flared in her chest as she scanned the compensation estimates that had been included. Even if the Board only approved half of them, the entire Division’s profits would be wiped out for several years to come.

That paled in comparison to the mention of the ETSB’s involvment, though. A review of our Certificate? Pinching Bits is going to have a stroke. Horseapples, I’m going to have a stroke! Espresso suppressed a shiver and re-read the paragraph in disbelief, all the while shaking her head and muttering to herself. An official review would mean that the Service’s Operating Certificate was at risk of modification, suspension... or revocation. Espresso sucked her breath in as the implications struck home: In simple terms, it would mean the end of Frostmane Flying Service. Even if no changes were recommended, their reputation would suffer, and that would mean lost business.

This is madness. Nopony gets brought before the Arbitration Board for a diverted flight. What did Pasture tell them? She had spoken with Featherprop about the entire flight; there had been nothing that warranted this level of scrutiny. In the Frostmane, in-flight diversions and unplanned landings were commonplace, and no local Court would have given the plaintiff the time of day.

She dropped the scroll and rubbed her temples with both hooves. This doesn’t just happen. The ETSB doesn’t just attend arbitration hearings. Somepony has made sure this is going to hurt. Espresso was certain that “somepony” was Pasture. Featherprop had fearfully recounted the veiled threats the Unicorn had made. At the time she’d reassured him that nothing would come of them, but now it seemed the doctor had made good on his threats. And then some.

Espresso tossed the scroll back into her inbasket and eyed the second one with an ever-deepening frown. She wondered if it were possible for it to contain news any worse than the first and imagined she’d felt her tail twitch. Today isn’t the day to tempt Fate, Espresso. Now you know it’s going to be bad. In hopeless resignation, she swept it up and slid a hoof under the wax of the seal.

“What.”

Royal Equestrian Diplomatic Corps
Sun Court Liaison Office
Royal Palace, Canterlot

Dear Madam or Sir,

Salutations from the Diplomatic Liaison of the Sun Court. We have recently learned that a contractual dispute with the REMMA will bring one or more of your representatives to Canterlot. While we regret the circumstances, we are pleased to inform you that this case has generated keen interest in the capabilities of your organization as they may apply to certain endeavors of the Diplomatic Corps.

To this end we would like to extend an invitation to provide a demonstration of your personnel and equipment at the earliest possible opportunity. Though we cannot go into detail, we assure you this matter is one of great importance to the Sun Court. Since this demonstration is at our request, a stipend has been included to offset at least some of the expenses involved.

In light of the above-referenced unpleasantness, this stipend comes unencumbered by any contractual clauses.

A cheque drawn upon the Equestrian Royal Bank fluttered to the desk. Espresso glanced at the upside-down slip, then looked again when the numbers didn’t seem right.

“What.”

Espresso briefly wondered if ‘stipend’ had a different meaning in Equestria. Then she dropped the scroll and snatched up the cheque, holding it nearly to her nose as she carefully counted the zeros.

“What!”

Not even Espresso’s brain, so used to juggling flight schedules, customer complaints, pilot tantrums, maintenance nightmares, and the bizarre equipment requisitions of a marginally-sane radiomare, could handle the one-two bucking that had been thrown at it. She carefully set the cheque down and stood up. She carefully walked out the door and down the hall on unsteady hooves. A trot in the cold, that’s what I need. I must not be awake yet, and a trot ‘round the yard will wake me up. This can’t be real.

But when she came back in, the scrolls and cheque were still there. Exasperated, Espresso threw her hooves up and shouted to nopony in particular, “Fine! I give up! This makes perfect sense! One branch of the Equestrian government is trying to bankrupt and put us out of business, and another is tossing bits at us and offering a contract! How could I ever doubt it was real? Ha ha!” She stood behind her desk, chest heaving. In the hall, she heard hoofsteps pick up from a walk to a brisk canter and realized she was making a spectacle of herself. The shaken mare poured a cup of coffee to compose herself, and sat back down. Her frown finally morphed into a full-on scowl as she looked back and forth between the scrolls and the cheque.

But soon the scowl softened, and then her ears perked as a thought occurred to her. She reached for the scheduling ledger and ran a hoof down the bookings, tapping at some empty blocks. Winter Wrap Up is in three weeks. And we’re light for next month. Without looking up, she pulled the pilot roster over. She already knew just what it would tell her, but she needed to see the columns and rows again, just to be sure. No vacation, not even any training events. “It could work, with a little luck. But why did they make the scheduling so tight?” Espresso blinked and looked startled as several thoughts fell into place. We’re not supposed to go, are we? They don’t expect us to be there. She sat back in a daze, ears drooping as it dawned on her that somepony could be that vindictive.

Slowly, an idea percolated up from the back of her brain. Her ears swung forward and her blank stare turned into one full of determination and fury, a look that had turned more than one pilot into a quivering lump. To nopony in particular she whispered, “So, that’s how you want to play it, huh?”

Espresso snatched up a sheet of parchment and began scribbling down a list, pausing to consult a variety of books and binders. As she pieced together a plan, she muttered to herself. “Putting the sleigh before the pony, aren’t we? Mm-hm, Vanhoover has rock oil... Neighbraska, they’ve got plenty of corn distillates. Canterlot... well, I suppose we can get some Unicorn to magic up whatever we need there, can’t we? Now, who did Dad have on retainer in Canterlot?” A grin spread across her muzzle, and she laid her quill down to rub her hooves together.

“It’s time to show you dryhoofs how we do it, Frostmane-style!”

Frostmane Flying Service
Trottinger Division
RE: Temporary Reassignment of Personnel and Equipment

Pilot Featherprop is being removed from the regular rotation for Temporary Duty and assigned Airframe FM1341. He will travel to Canterlot via White Harbor, Vanhoofer, Manetana, and Neighbraska to attend a mandatory Adjudicatory Hearing as well as providing a flight demonstration for the Diplomatic Corps.

As per ECCL 135.77 and OpSpec A006, Pilot Featherprop is being assigned temporary Dispatcher credentials in order to comply with Operational Control regulations. Such authorization shall be valid until his return from Temporary Duty or as determined by the Director of Operations.

Funds for operational expenses have been put in escrow with the Equestrian Royal Bank. Minor disbursements for incidentals are authorized, but all will be accounted for against Pilot salary.

As agreed, Pilot Featherprop is expressly prohibited from using the callsign “Air Horse One."

The brown Pegasus looked up from the memo, crestfallen. “Aw, Espresso! I was just kidding!

“Don’t you “Aw, Espresso” me! I saw your eyes light up when you mentioned it, you overgrown featherduster. Remember, I have hears in Canterlot. If I get wind of that, or any other ridiculous name you try to call yourself, you’ll be sitting reserve in Pone until the end. Of. Time.”

“Wh– geez, okay!”

“And keep your receipts. If you don’t, we’ll dock your– don’t you look at me like that! Hey! You flap your sorry flank back in here right now, mister!”

A blue mare snickered. “Aww, they grow up so fast, don’t they Espresso?”

“Ether, have you been here the whole time!? If you know what’s good for you...”

“Eep! Right, boss, I got some tubes to go polish!”

“All these ponies,” Espresso huffed, “are crazy!"

Comments ( 19 )

...This is complete, right?

Hmn, weeks on and no mention of a crash?

Espresso briefly wondered if ‘stipend’ had a different meaning in Equestria. Then she dropped the scroll and snatched up the cheque, holding it nearly to her nose as she carefully counted the zeros.
“What!”

Heh, so when somepony slams shut a door, Celestia opens a window? :derpytongue2:

As agreed, Pilot Featherprop is expressly prohibited from using the callsign “Air Horse One."

Aww.

Huh. I can't but help be confused about the crash. Did I miss an explanation for it?

4856457 Oops, yes, it is! Remarking now!

4856493 Here's a hint: Look at the ETSB number in the header for all the excerpts at the start of the chapters like here, here and here. Then look at the report Featherprop hands to Pasture in Chapter 10.

If that doesn't make sense, here's the spoiler: The report isn't about Featherprop, it's about his old friend and mentor. It was supposed to leave you in suspense about whether it really was Featherprop or not. Sorry if it was confusing!

4856633 Oh, well duh. In hindsight that should have been obvious, it is the other crash described in the story after all.

And a satisfying conclusion to the end of the story! Nice work! :pinkiehappy:

4858024
Thank you! After 60K of words, I have NO IDEA how you and others do that on a consistent basis, and do it well. No idea whatsoever.

Finishing this project has given me an even greater appreciation for well-done fiction than I ever would have had.

Thank you for the story!
It is very interesting and original :twilightsmile:
It left me with questions about Diplomatic Corps though - why were they interested in FSS services ? why did they issue huge stipend ? While I surely appreciated this ending (we have enough bad situations in real life to deal with, so I personally try to avoid sad-ended stories) - it still looks like deus ex machina a bit.

Excellent story, although I do kind of want to read about the hearing.
Thanks

4858904

While I surely appreciated this ending (we have enough bad situations in real life to deal with, so I personally try to avoid sad-ended stories) - it still looks like deus ex machina a bit.

I'm very glad you enjoyed the story! Now, usually a "Deus Ex Machina" is kinda ridiculous... but when the head of your government is, for all intents and purposes, a demi-god with a track record of setting plans in motion years, decades ahead of their fruition... it's not such a ridiculous thing, is it?

"Why sure, Apple clan, why don't you settle down near that crazy forest that surrounds the old castle?" "Twilight, why don't you go make some friends in that town I helped found near the crazy forest that surrounds the old castle?"

Anyway, I didn't really intend for it to be a "Deus Ex" as an excuse to write some more, if anyone were interested enough. :scootangel:

4868710 Well, for the hearing to happen, I need to write down a LOT of notes that are floating in my head

And figure out how to pound them into some semblance of a credible story arc. I've had ideas ranging from smuggling hooch to causing a ruckus in Cloudsdale to a night of trying (and probably failing) to one-up Rainbow Dash over mugs of cider.

Without a main plot to drive the story, though, it's hard to figure what works and what doesn't.

Ah a good end to a great story. Now that the world is set and the characters are fleshed out, it's time to get to work on the sequel, Props:

The Last Link Two: Aeronautic Boogaloo

4856633
*Whistle* I did say something like this was going to happen.

Wow! What an edge of the seat ride! For awhile there I was going to complain this needs a 'grimdark' tag! :twilightblush:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

A little light humor? Eh, okay. Like I said, a good character piece, needs a solid proofreading, but otherwise I didn't mind going through it.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5977727
No, no, you're definitely more competent than most. :D

5943023 But that would be kinda formulaic. I wrote from what I know- sometimes it's not a super-heroic end. Sometimes surviving with your career intact is an accomplishment.

Sometimes you still lose by winning, but don't lose everything. I wanted the end to reflect what I've learned in nearly a decade of flying freight.

And mostly, I didn't want to go grim and dark- I detest stories that revel in tragedy. I wrote in lighthearted stuff because that's true to the show, and if I'm not going to reflect the show, why write in the pony universe?

Well, jeez, this was quite a ride. I was glad that the unfolding ETSB investigation wasn't just a cyclical tie-in to the main story, even though at this point the formula for such is basically ground into my head (and consequently was quite a surprise). When Featherprop pulled out the ETSB report, I figured at that point it was unlikely his plane was the accident aircraft (I wasn't paying attention to the flight numbers so I didn't fully realize it before FP explained), but determined to see out the formula, I rebound-predicted that the story plunged into some Twilight Zone-esque scene where he shows the doc the report the ETSB published concerning the accident that would inevitably occur, as some kind of twisted "take that" to the doctor's pressuring. It would make an interesting story, but as you mentioned in the foreword, you didn't want to make the story go that way.

The only thing I felt picky enough to comment on is that FP overcoming his dangerous fear of displeasing customers is somewhat downplayed or not emphasized enough. It felt kinda like "He flew the plane and it was dangerous, and in-flight, a spine appears. On the ground, lets quickly celebrate this new spine before the story ends." Maybe it wasn't bookend-y enough for me to buy the short denouement; were the story to have started with the displeased customers, would it feel more complete? I'm not sure. It felt kinda like the ending to the Titfield Thunderbolt.

Regardless, stories about people and their machines have always had a soft spot in my heart for them, and this one fills it with the success of reading a good story. That sequel hook is mighty sharp, you could fill that soft spot twice.

One last thing, I love the art. The concentric rings in place of motion-blurred or stationary propellers really sells the "something here is not quite right" vibe that the flight evolves into.

GREAT story part of me wonders how it plays out with the demo and hearing.. Yes Pasture is being a plothole I too wonder what he told people. It might of been the truth but it was a truth colored by disappointment and absolutely no knowledge of the choices Featherprop had to make. Though dragging in ETSB to investigate could backfire. I imagine word about this whole adventure will get out and make it harder to get someone willing to fly them next time and I doubt there are bunch of companies competing up there
I do agree the demo and advance on expenses feels like Celestia re-balancing things without stomping on anypony.

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