Part 20 - Pre-Flight Checks
Rarity's face froze somewhere between a winning smile and raw, spark spitting fury, and she turned this unnerving hybrid expression on Professor Destiny, who took a nervous step back in spite of himself and the precarious weight he balanced on his back. The alabaster hued fashionista's voice came out in a strangled trill. "Do excuse us for a moment, sir. I'd like to have a little word with my partner here."
The black clad unicorn stallion gave a halting bow. "Of... of course."
Twilight turned from staring down the interloping inventor with a quizzical look on her face. "Rarity? What ow ow ow ow ow."
Before she could finish her question a shimmer of blue white magic enveloped the tip of her ear and dragged her along in her partner's wake, digging furrows in the turf with her hooves as the elegant unicorn mare stomped off breathing little puffs of steam out of her nostrils. The lavender scholar found herself roughly spun around to meet a pair of simmering, sapphire blue eyes after they'd gone far enough away.
Rarity all but hissed in her face. "Have you completely and utterly flipped your book bucking gourd?"
Twilight blinked at her in shock, her ears laid tightly back against her head. "Wh-what? What's the matter?"
Her partner's pale features flushed red as her eyes flashed. "What's the matter? What's the matter? Did you or did you not just bet the fate of Harmony Aeronautics and all of our hard work on a stupid challenge from a crazed hobo in a cheap Nightmare Night costume with freaking fireworks strapped to his back?"
She jabbed a hoof towards the grandstands. "And to make matters worse you had to go and do it in front of a stadium full of potential backers, not to mention the Princesses themselves."
The lavender unicorn huffed, her indignation overcoming her initial shock at her friend's anger. "What, you don't think we can beat him?"
Rarity replied in a voice like an ice tray full of diamonds. "What I think is apparently inconsequential to the running of this company, since you didn't ask me, your friend and more importantly your partner, whether we should take this ridiculous wager."
Twilight's eyes widened incredulously as she jerked her horn towards Professor Destiny and his B.A.T. 19. "But... but... just look at that... that contraption. Our Harmony Harness clearly outperforms that monstrosity on all levels. It would be a sure thing."
The pale unicorn reached up a hoof to massage her temple. "Please spare me that sort of foalishness from a mare of your alleged intelligence. I've been in business long enough to know that there's no such thing as a sure thing, especially so when you consider I work in fashion. I should think I know a risky proposition when I see one."
She shook her head sadly as she met her partner's gaze. "Which I could have advised you about before you dove headlong into betting the company on the toss of the dice. Now I'm left with two distasteful options. Go along with this, against my better judgment, or invoke my executive privilege as joint CEO and refute your decision." The alabaster mare let out a sigh."Which will carry some sort of consequences for Harmony Aeronautics, I assure you."
Twilight's resolve started to wilt, and she pawed at the ground as her ears drooped. "C-consequences? What do you mean?"
Rarity gestured toward the stands. "Many of those ponies aren't here to just invest in a good idea. Good ideas are a bit a bushel. They're here to invest in a good company who can make that good idea profitable. If they see dissent in the boardroom, or the heads of the company making rash decisions and then hastily trying to walk them back, they'll take their money elsewhere."
She fixed her partner with a grave expression. "Some of them are a bit more old fashioned, and will take us backing down from this wager as a sign of weakness and decide we're not worth investing in. And what's worse, some of them will start gossiping that maybe there's a reason we're not so confident in our Harness. The royal charter will be just so much gold filigreed parchment if word of mouth says our wings don't work as advertised."
Twilight's lower lip began to quiver, and the corners of her eyes started to glisten. "But... R-rarity I didn't mean to... I just got so mad that that... so and so would disrupt our demonstration and scare ponies and insult the Princesses and... I... I'm...s-sorry... I..."
Rarity let out a tiny sigh and stepped forward, taking her partner into a brief, reassuring hug. "Darling, now's not the time. We need to keep our heads up, and you need to keep that awe inspiringly brilliant mind of yours clear and focused while we muddle our way through this, all right?"
The lavender scholar sniffled as she drew a hoof across her snout. "O-okay Rarity."
She cast an uncertain glance up at the royal box, where she saw Celestia seated among a furious bustle of activity as all around the sun princess ponies were chattering and discussing and coming and going. The immortal regent of the day paused and met her former student's gaze, giving her and her dear friend a gentle smile, before returning to the business that surrounded her.
Twilight drew herself up with a deep breath and gave her partner a nod. "All right, I'm with you. Harmony isn't just our name, it's what we do. So what happens now, Madame Chairpony?"
Rarity shrugged. "No idea, darling." She let out a chuckle as she hid a sly smile behind her hoof. " I guess we're just going to have to... wing it."
While Rarity was leading Twilight away by her ear, the princesses gave a wary nod to Shining Armor and his contingent of unicorns, signaling them that it was all right to drop their shield spell so that any pony who wished to vacate the premises could do so. Not a single mare or stallion left their seat, as all in attendance were riveted by the events unfolding on the field before them. A team of pegasi were already airborne dispersing the last tenuous wisps of the smoke bombs, offering everypony a clear view of the field.
Diamond Tiara was almost on the verge of gnawing on the railing in her rage, her infuriated gaze focused like a rainbow beam of hatred on the pair of contraption bedecked stallions and the young redheaded mare left standing on the parade field as the two unicorns retired to consult. Even though the pastel pink princess would set the light yellow handymare on fire with her glare if she could, the main focus of her ire was the tall, scrawny unicorn that she had hoped would be an ally in her broader goal of scuttling Harmony Aeronautics.
She gave vent to her disappointment in a voice dripping with bile and bitterness. "That JERK! That hare brained has been! That DOLT! He's blown the whole game. He's bucked all the fruit out of the failure tree! That horseapple head! That IDIOT!"
A thin, tremulous voice sounded from behind her. "Now... now just hold on there..."
Flim let out a rather mouse like squeak as she rounded on him, razor edged sparks flaring in her eyes. "Did I say you could talk, pencil neck? Everything I just called your screw up brother goes double for YOU. You're a regular matched set of morons! The only difference is you have the sense to stay on the shelf and not make waves."
She tossed her head scornfully toward the field. "While Ponicula out there is so cracked he's not even worth acquiring. That fruit loop is Tartarus bent on showing the world what a lamebrain he is, preferably with explosives strapped to his rump. Once they're done scraping him up after his final performance, all he'll be remembered as is a warning for foals to stick to their low paying service jobs."
Diamond Tiara paused. Something wasn't right here.
Flim Flim Flam was trembling, as expected, but it didn't seem like he was trembling with fear. His sallow complexion had gone from peach to orange to bright red as she'd spewed forth her tirade, and his green eyes glinted over the cold reflection in his spectacles.
Her lips contracted in a pout. "What?"
The skinny legged stallion's voice came out in an ominous growl. "That's enough. That... is... ENOUGH!"
His horn sparked to life, glowing a bright green as he whisked a bowl of ambrosia salad off of a nearby buffet table. With a flick of his head it hurtled through the air, catching Diamond Tiara right in the face with a splat.
A shocked hush fell over the box and several of the neighboring boxes as the bowl slowly peeled loose and dropped to the floor with a clatter, leaving a coating of whipped cream, mandarin orange slices, grapes, and mini marshmallows clinging to the stricken earth pony mare's face. A stunned beat later her eyes popped open with a bit of difficulty in the sticky mess and stared at her assailant.
Flim drew himself up, his lip curling in a snarl. "You can say whatever you like about me. I've been bought and paid for, lock, stock, and cider barrel." He jabbed a hoof toward the field. "But my brother never sold out. He never auctioned off his self respect for your witless husband's golden promises only to be put on ice for five long years. You don't get to talk about him that way, you stuck up, spoiled little snot."
Diamond Tiara's sole response was to cough up an orange slice, so he pressed on. "And now, after all these years, I understand the value of what I gave up. Well I'm returning the unused portion for a full refund. Consider this my two weeks notice!"
He stomped a hoof for emphasis as his soon to be former employer blinked a mini-marshmallow out of her eye. "And as my final act as an employee of Royal Blue Airship Lines, I'm going to go and help my brother win this wager of his. Consider it my parting gift to the both of you. I hope you choke on it."
Prince Blueblood was indeed choking, but mostly from trying with all his might to keep from exploding with laughter. He tipped a wobbling glass of wine at Flim. "Believe me, sirrah, you've been most generous today already."
The scrawny unicorn fixed him with a cold gaze that chilled the mirth bubbling up from the dissolute prince's chest. "You're right. The fact that I didn't borrow Otto's adze to really chisel that smug face of yours is testament to that. Now if your highnesses will pardon me."
He looked down at the dwarfish earth pony with an arched eyebrow. "Come along Otto, we're going."
The diminutive minion scowled up at him and lashed his bristly tail. "Hey, bub. Who you tink you're talkin' to here?" He let out a raspy squawk as his cloak's collar tightened suddenly around his throat in a shimmer of green magic.
Flim's eye had taken on a dangerous glaze. "Come... Along... Otto..."
The squat henchpony croaked out a reply. "H-hokay, bozz."
With that, Flim Flim Flam gave a sarcastic bow to Diamond Tiara and Blueblood, and brushed past the petrified form of the pastel pink princess, bounding over the rail and heading toward the parade ground with Otto scurrying to keep up.
Prince Blueblood watched the skinny yellow unicorn and the dirty green dwarf of an earth pony take the field with a slightly blurry gaze, then turned to appraise his wife, who still had yet to move or even acknowledge she was still in there somewhere. He knew that when she finally did come back on line he would probably need a few more glasses of wine to weather the shrieking.
For the time being, though, the relative silence was golden. He plucked a grape off of her forehead with his magic, popping it casually into his mouth with a weary sigh. "Well... 'rah for our side and all that, we suppose."
Professor Destiny's eyes narrowed suspiciously a commotion broke out at the foot of the grandstand. His brow furrowed as he realized it was Flim, awkwardly leaping the front rail and tumbling onto the field and then dragging Otto by his tail over the barrier and dropping him on the turf like a sack of potatoes. A burly earth pony security guard tried to stop them, but received the stunted henchpony's bag of tools in the face for his troubles.
Apple Bloom pawed at the ground and edged closer to Pip with a wary scowl on her face as the pair approached. "What now?"
The black mustachioed stallion gave her a sidelong glance, then focused his bloodshot eyes on Flim. "Indeed. What are you doing here?"
The scrawny, bespectacled unicorn planted his hooves and met his estranged brother's gaze. "Fla... Professor, we need to talk. Now!"
Destiny drew himself up haughtily. "Pah! I have nothing to say to y..."
He was cut off as Flim lashed out with a foreleg and rung his skull with a right cross. The clean shaven unicorn's face was hard and impassive, save for the slightly manic gleam in his eye. "Good, then you can listen while I do the talking."
His mustachioed sibling snarled as he shook his head to clear it . "How dare y..."
A second blow set his green eyes spinning in opposite directions. The red and white maned stallion reached up to disperse the little bat winged ponies in top hats that orbited his brother's head playing trombones and triangles, and then grabbed him by a lapel and pulled him close. "I'm here to keep you from making a any more of a foal of yourself, but you need to SHUT UP if I'm gonna do that for you."
After receiving a cowed nod in reply, Flim flicked his horn at Otto. "You! Help the Professor out of the B.A.T. Nineteen." He cast a baleful glance at Apple Bloom and Pip. "We need to talk in private."
The young handymare blinked at him, then her ears laid back as she squinted at the pair of unicorns. "Hang on a consarned second. I recognize you two owlhoots." She lashed her braided tail and spat on the ground in disgust. "Y'all're them no account, cider swindling Flim Flam brothers."
A sarcastic smile edging on a sneer spread across her muzzle. "What's yer game this time? Y'all get sick o' gettin' run outta Ponyville and decide t' get run outta Canterlot for a change?"
Flim wheeled to face her as Otto set about the ungainly task of unstrapping Professor Destiny from his flying machine. The bespectacled stallion reared his head imperiously. "The Flim Flam brothers are no more! I destroyed that name and that bond of family with my foalish treachery. Such is my shame at my actions, that I renounce the identity of the gullible, greedy stallion who chose promises of riches and regard over loyalty and self respect. I renounce the meek, quavering minion who I became under my deceiver's gilded heel."
Apple Bloom gave him a flat stare. "Yer who does what now?"
Professor Destiny staggered free of the B.A.T. 19, his pallid face slack with shock as he stared at his brother. "F-flim... What.... what are you saying?"
The scrawny yellow unicorn turned to face him with a lopsided smile on his face. "Not Flim. Not anymore. Your faithless sibling has left the stage, and a new pony stands in his place, one who I hope you can accept as your one and only brother."
He raised a hoof to his chest as his horn flared dramatically. "Exit Flim Flim Flam..."
The top hat on Professor Destiny's head began to glow green, as if floated off of his head and spun through the air to land on his sibling's brow. "... enter Mister... no... Doctor... Hmmm... Captain? No, Doctor... Doctor..."
Apple Bloom gave a snort as she eyed both rawboned stallions with incredulously. "Y'all're insane."
She and Pip flinched back as a truly frightening grin spread across the pony formerly known as Flim's face. "Yes! Doctor Insanity!"
Professor Destiny choked back a sob, as he reached up with a hoof and wiped a tiny tear from the corner of his eye. "That... that's a really stupid name. OW!" He let out a squawk of pain and annoyance as his brother back hoofed him.
Doctor Insanity grabbed him in a semi headlock and started to lead him away. "Enough! It'll do for now. Brother, we need to formulate a plan and we haven't much time. Otto, guard the B.A.T. Nineteen!"
With that, the two scrawny unicorns walked a short distance away under the bemuzed gaze of Pip, Apple Bloom, and Otto.
Pip cocked an eyebrow. "I say, rather a pair of odd ducks, what?"
The young handymare shook her head. "No doubt them two is brothers. Seems like being touched in th' head runs in the family."
The low slung henchpony let out a raspy sigh and nodded dolefully as he took up a watchful position beneath the black bat wings of his employer's contraption. "You kidz got no idea..."
The black mustached unicorn huffed. "What's all this nonsense about making a plan, Fli... Doctor? OW!" That earned him another blow under the chin. "And stop hitting me, confound you!"
His bespectacled sibling pursed his lips. "We've thrown down a challenge, and those mares have accepted." He gave a nod toward Rarity and Twilight as the two mares exchanged a brief hug. "But we need to set the terms of that challenge in a way that is advantageous for our device if we want to win this."
Destiny drew himself up indignantly. "The B.A.T. Nineteen has the advantage in any contOW. If you don't stop hitting me I am going to OW!"
Insanity cracked the knuckle of his fore hoof and scowled at his brother. "The B.A.T. Nineteen is ungainly to wear, has a limited power source, maneuvers like a brick, trails black smoke like a snoring dragon, is about as safe as strapping on a brace of cats and hopping into the tub, and is as ugly as the northbound end of a southbound pachyderm."
His face became thoughtful as he gently tapped his chin. "The only advantage we have is speed and power. So a race of some kind... but not just a sprint. Something where we can tilt the field in our favor every chance we get. Something..."
The scrawny unicorn's eyes flashed in triumph behind his spectacles as a smile stretched across his face. "That's it! It's perfect!" He let out a chuckle as he met his brother's wary gaze. "And not only will we prevail, but we'll get our names in the history books!"
The mustachioed stallion pawed the ground petulantly. "Like anypony would want a stupid name like "Doctor Insanity" in the history books. OW!"
He rubbed his aching jaw as Doctor Insanity flicked his horn toward the returning figures of Rarity and Twilight. "Come on, and let me do the talking."
The two unicorn mare's shared an uncertain glance as they approached Apple Bloom and Pip. Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity drew up beside the black, bat winged contraption guarded by their diminutive henchpony.
Twilight leaned in and murmured to Apple Bloom, a shock of recognition blossoming on her lavender features. "Are... are those two who I think they are?"
The young handymare nodded. "Eeyup. The same, although I guess somewhere along th' line they got into a bad barrel o' cider n' went all tangled in th' head."
Their whispered conversation trailed off as Rarity stepped forward with an imperious flick of her horn. "Well, I think you gentlecolts, and I use the term quite generously, have presumed enough upon the good graces of the princesses, ourselves, and the assembled ponies whose day you've nearly ruined. After consulting with my partner, I've decided to support her in our acceptance of your challenge. It now falls to you to dictate the terms."
Doctor Insanity met her attitude with one of his own, albeit tinged with a manic glaze in his eye rather than the icy cool that Rarity exuded. "Very well. We challenge you to a race, the greatest race known to Equestria. I speak, of course, of the Grand Pegathalon, which is fast approaching. The first flight harness across the line wins our wager."
Professor Destiny's jaw dropped. "The Pegathalon? Are you insaOW!" He slumped to his knees with a groan as his brother's hoof settled back onto the ground.
Twilight's brow furrowed. "But... the Pegathalon is obviously a pegasus only event. Would... would we even be allowed to compete?"
All heads turned as a clear, regal voice called out from above. "We think something can be arranged, my faithful subjects."
Both sides of the conflict took a reverent knee as Princess Celestia and Princess Luna touched down beside them with their honor guards in tow.
The regent of the sun's face was impassive as she spoke. "If this is the challenge that you are going to undertake, then a royal sponsorship can be arranged to enter two... unconventional teams into the Pegathalon."
She cast a pointed gaze at Professor Destiny as he painfully pulled himself up off the ground. "In the interest of impartiality, I shall consent to sponsor the B.A.T. device and its team."
Luna stepped forward with a cryptic smile on her dusky features. "And I'll take the cool team who's gonna win, a.k.a. Harmony Aeronautics." She gave them a wink. "How's that grab ya, kids?"
Rarity took a glance around her, seeing too many loosely hanging jaws to discreetly close, and merely gave a toss of her elegantly styled mane and bowed deeply to her sovereigns. "That is more than acceptable, your highnesses. On behalf of Harmony Aeronautics, I thank you for your patronage, Princess Luna."
Professor Destiny cold cocked his brother, sending Doctor Insanity's glasses flying as he spun to the ground in a daze. The black mustached stallion gave the rulers of Equestria a bow of his own with a grand flourish. "You honor me with your support, Princess Celestia. I take back everything I said with my humblest apologies, and thank you for hearing me out."
The sun princess gave him a slight nod with a regal smile. "Very well, my little pony."
She raised her long, tapering horn like a baton toward a flock of armored pegasi hovering nearby. "Now guards, if you'd be so kind as to seize these three stallions."
The unicorn brothers could only gape up at her as the winged guardians swooped down on them. Otto tried to make a break for it and was scooped up like a mouse being caught by a hawk, his stubby legs flailing in empty air as the guard bore him away. "Ey! Leggo! I wasn't doin' nothin'! I'm just a bystanda! I got my rights! Yez'll be hearing from my parole offisa!"
Celestia gave his employers a regal wave as they were carried off. "My office will be in touch about the sponsorship once you've been arraigned. Once more in the interest of fairness, I'll see that your sentences for today's incidents are commuted until after the race."
She turned to the owners and employees of Harmony Aeronautics. "Well, this wasn't quite what we were expecting, but it's certainly been an interesting morning, hasn't it?"
She gave them all a warm smile as she leaned in to speak softly enough that only Twilight, Rarity, Apple Bloom, and Pip could hear. "You all should be very proud of what you've created here."
Princess Luna gave her big sister a sidelong grin. "Yeah, which is why we're gonna beat the horseshoes off of your crummy Pegathalon team, sis."
She chuckled as she looked over at the abandoned B.A.T. 19, which was being lifted off the field by more pegasi to be taken into custody. "Although I can't fault 'em their sense of style."
Princess Celestia smiled back at her younger sibling. "Well, we'll have to see how it turns out."
She gazed skyward. "Now if you'll excuse us, I have a full day ahead of me..." She nodded toward her sister with a slightly chiding tone in her voice. "...and it's getting to be long past your bed time, Luna."
The dusky princess of the moon stifled a yawn as she shrugged. "Aw, I could stay up all day to watch stuff like this go down, but yeah, I suppose I oughta hit the hay if I don't want to spend all night untangling constellations."
She gave Harmony Aeronautics a casual wave of her wing. "I'll have my ponies call your ponies. Have a nice day, kids."
With that, she took wing with her bat winged guards fluttering after her, and vanished among the shadows of the towers of Canterlot.
As Celestia gave them a nod and turned to leave, Twilight stepped forward with a worried look on her face, biting back her urge to call out to her former mentor. The regent of the sun paused, and gave her an inquiring glance over her pristine white shoulder. "Something troubles you, my beloved student?"
The lavender mare sheepishly dug her hoof on the ground. "I... I just hope you don't think I acted too rashly when I accepted that challenge, your highness. It... it all just happened so fast and..."
She fell silent as the tip of a shining wing brushed the end of her horn. The ancient ruler of Equestria smiled warmly. "Twilight, if you think things can happen fast for you ponies of numbered years, think how fast things seem to happen when one measures one's time in centuries."
She let out a chuckle and gave them a wink. "It's the constant little surprises that make an eternity worth living. I always look forward to seeing what happens next."
With that she rose into the clear blue sky with a beat of her snowy wings. "Now I really must be going. My sister and I have some letters to write to our representatives in Cloudsdale. Best of luck!"
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.