Part 9 - Obsolescence
Big Macintosh bounced lightly on the tips of his hooves, his deep, gentle voice coming out in a singsong rhythm to the giggling accompaniment of his son Bud, who sat perched on the massive stallion's broad back fluttering his tiny apple green wings. "This the way the ladies trot, so do we, so do we..."
He shifted his tempo to a more strident hop, which in turn caused the little orange maned foal to escalate from giggling to cackling. "Here comes a country colt, hobbledy gee, hobbledy gee!" He finished the rhyme with an emphatic bounce on his hooves.
The huge red stallion stopped and looked over his shoulder, blinking in consternation as he suddenly realized that Bud was no longer sitting on his back. He cast his panicked gaze around the barnyard of Sweet Apple Acres, looking over to Fluttershy, who sat on a rocking chair on the porch with Bud's twin sister Blossom cradled in her forelegs contentedly drinking from a bottle. The butter colored pegasus gave her husband a fond smile and nodded skyward.
A sandy voice sounded out from overhead. "Hey squirt! Look at you work those little flappers! At this rate you'll be ready to try out for the Wonderbolts any day now."
Big Macintosh looked up to see his baby colt steadily working his way up into the air to meet a hovering, rainbow maned mare, buzzing his tiny wings like a determined little bumble bee.
A smile crossed the hulking stallion's freckled face as he raised a wide hoof in a wave. "Howdy, Miz Dash! What brings y'all out t' Sweet Apple Acres today?"
Rainbow Dash gave a casual shrug as Bud began to orbit her, his amber eyes wide in curiousity. "Well, I just wanted to hang out and maybe mooch a little dinner if that's okay."
The giant earth pony nodded cheerfully. "Y'all're always welcome at our table, Miz Dash. AJ's got a couple eggplant casseroles in th' oven along with some baked apples fer dessert. We got plenty o' company tonight anyhow, what with Doc Twilight and Miz Rarity workin' on their big project with Apple Bloom."
He waved a hoof toward a barn visible beyond a wide swath of orchards. "Them n' Spike are out at the northwest hay barn with that young feller they just hired on as a test pony."
The colorfully maned pegasus gave a nod in return and threw him a salute as she turned to fly away. "Cool! I've been wondering what they've all been up to. I'm gonna go and check it out, okay?"
He gave another amiable wave. "Sure thing. Y'all will hear the dinner bell a' ringin' when it's ready."
Dash called back over her shoulder. "I'll be listening for it. I'm hungry enough to eat a... uh..." She stopped with a braking beat of her wings as she realized that little Bud was following her.
Big Macintosh gave a small lash of his tail as he called up to his tiny son. "Bud! Y'all come on down now!"
The little pegasus colt ignored his father's call, catching hold of Rainbow Dash's tail and cramming it into his mouth, where he proceeded to happily gum it while a look of dismay washed across the chromatic stunt flyer's face. She gave her tail a tentative tug, but it wouldn't come loose from the little foal's surprisingly strong grip.
The huge red stallion's brow furrowed, and he stomped a hoof. "Bud! Come on down, y'hear? Let loose o' Auntie Dash's tail and come when your daddy calls ya!"
He turned and gave a helpless look to his wife, who cleared her throat softly and called upward. "Bud?"
At the sound of Fluttershy's voice, the tiny pegasus colt turned, his little ears laying back as he met his mother's gaze. She had closed one eye and flared the other in a pointed stare up at her wayward son. Dash's tail dropped out of his mouth, trailing a line of drool that drew taut and snapped as he fluttered down in a spiral flight path toward his father, who sat on his haunches with his fore hooves spread to receive him.
The big red earth pony gave an apologetic shrug to the hovering pegasus mare, who's lip curled in mild disgust as she wrung out the tip of her tail. "Sorry 'bout that, Miz Dash. Y'all know what they say 'bout youngun's. 'Out of reach, out of earshot.'"
Dash grinned down at him and gave a flick of her tail. "Don't worry about it. I just hope I didn't spoil the little guy's dinner. Speaking of which I'll see you guys when the bell rings. Later!"
With that she rocketed away, leaving a colorful contrail in her wake.
Big Macintosh gathered Bud up in his huge hooves as the hovering colt came into reach, a pouting look on his little face. The massive stallion cocked an eyebrow at his son. "Now ain't y'all just a naughty l'il balloon? Looks like somepony better let the air outta y'all before ya float away again."
Before Bud knew what was going on, his father had pulled him in and proceeded to blow a raspberry on his little round tummy, causing him to kick his tiny hooves and flutter his wings as he cackled with glee. Fluttershy smiled beatifically from the porch at her husband and son's antics, as she set aside the bottle and raised her tiny, daffodil colored daughter to her shoulder to burp her.
The gentle pegasus mare looked over as the door swung open and Applejack poked her head out, her usual cowpony hat replaced by a kerchief and an apron while she worked in the kitchen. She cocked a wary ear. "Was that Rainbow Dash I heard just now?"
Fluttershy nodded to her sister in law as she gently tapped her little daughter's back between her tiny wings. "Yes it was. She's going to be joining us for dinner. Big bunny just sent her to the hay barn to see what the girls are up to."
The blonde farm pony pursed her lips as a guarded expression washed across her freckled face. "She... uh... she didn't seem... uh... mad at all, did she?"
The pale yellow pegasus shook her head as a soft burp sounded at her shoulder. "Oh no, she was the same happy go lucky Dash she always is."
She let out a mellow chuckle. "Well, um... the tip of her tail was a little damp after Bud got done with it, but she didn't really seem to mind."
She cocked her ear curiously as she released Blossom to flutter over and join in the horseplay going on between Big Macintosh and her twin brother. "Why would she be mad? I thought you two talked things over last night and made up."
Applejack nodded hastily. "Oh yeah, that we did."
Fluttershy raised an eyebrow. "So why would she be mad today? Didn't you apologize to Mr. Soarin and..."
She fell silent as the blonde mare interrupted her. "Whoop! Better go check on the biscuits. Why don't y'all go upstairs and see if Windfall n' Granny Smith are awake from their naps yet." With that she made to hurry back inside.
The freckled earth pony stopped as the yellow pegasus' gentle voice called out to her, and she looked back to meet the gaze of a pair of suspiciously narrowing aquamarine eyes. "Applejack... There better not be any more yelling after I get the foals down for the night, or so help me I will buck both your backsides so hard you'll need a telescope to see your cutie marks. Okay?" The eldest of the Apple sisters could scarcely believe that such sweet, velvet soft tones could carry such implicit threat.
The farm mare only laughed nervously and gave her sister in law a weak smile, which the soft spoken pegasus returned cheerfully with a tiny squeaky toy noise. She vanished back inside the farmhouse as Fluttershy huffed and blew a strand of her pink mane out of her face, muttering to herself as she headed inside after Applejack and made for the stairs. "It's always something with those two..."
Twilight Sparkle adjusted her goggles with her telekinesis as she called out to Harmony Aeronautic's Chief Engineer with a slightly annoyed tone. "Apple Bloom, I think you've gotten the harness properly adjusted by now, don't you?"
The young earth pony gave a start, letting go of the strap she was tightening, and cast a sheepish look over her shoulder at the lavender unicorn. "Oh, uh... yeah... everythin's just dandy... we're go for haunch... I mean launch! Launch! Go for launch."
Rarity let out a soft chuckle and gave the hotly blushing handymare a sly grin as the redheaded pony stepped down from the platform. "I'm sure Pip appreciates your thoroughness, darling."
The spotted stallion gave a confident nod, reaching up a hoof to lower his goggles into place with an eager grin. "Indeed I do, Miss Apple Bloom." He turned to admire the harness, its wings hanging loosely down at his sides with newly applied Harmony Aeronautics logos on the canvas between the wooden spines, and gave an experimental shake of his withers. "Snug and tight and ready for flight, as the old sky skippers say."
Pip drew himself up with a toss of his head. "I daresay I'm ready when you are, ladies."
Twilight gave a nod to Spike, who stood poised with quill and parchment. "All right. Begin taking notes, Spike."
She cleared her throat, an avid grin appearing on her face. "Harmony Aeronautics Personal Flight Harness, Mark Three, Test Two."
Her horn began to glow with purple magic as she stepped up onto the platform and touched it to one of the wings. "Casting the spell."
As the sparkling aura suffused the harness and subsided, the lavender mare stepped back down and turned to face Spike with a bob of her horn. "Make a note that I will not be guiding, levitating, or otherwise influencing the motion of the harness in any way, save in the event of an emergency in which case I will use my telekinesis to assure the test subject's safety."
As the adolescent dragon complied with a scribbling of ink across the page in his clear, angular handwriting, she turned her attention back toward the pinto stallion with a businesslike expression on her face. "All right Pip, the harness is now enchanted to follow your subconscious commands. All you need to do is think about what you want it to do, and it will do it."
Pip lashed his tail in anticipation as he crouched to make a leap. "Jolly good! Lets see what these things can do, shall we?"
Twilight pursed her lips and pointedly cleared her throat. "Why don't you start out with a simple ascent, say twenty hooves or less?" She gave him an apologetic smile. "Lets learn to walk before we start galloping, eh?"
A slightly crestfallen look flitted across the young stallion's face as he stood to attention and gave a salute. "Right-o. Up I go."
The wings hanging at his sides shuddered, and moved slowly up and down, rising and falling in a faster and faster cycle until they began to beat in a steady rhythm. He let out a laugh as he began to rise up toward the rafters of the barn. "Oh, that's cracking that is! Absolutely top shelf!"
Twilight nodded in satisfaction. "Okay, now bring it back down."
Pip swished his tail with a pleading look on his face. "Must I?"
The lavender mare rolled her eyes. "Yes. I'd rather find out you can land now than find out you can crash later, okay?"
The young stallion gave a chuckle. "Quite so, I suppose what goes up must come down." He lowered gently to the platform and touched down with a soft tap of his hooves.
Twilight flicked an ear with a wry grin. "That's what Haystack Neighton said."
Her expression became serious again, although her eyes were gleaming with excitement. "Now go back up to about forty hooves, and try to fly in a clockwise circle."
Pip lifted off, hovering in midair for a few moments before turning and banking into a slow, circular flight pattern over their heads. He looked down with a broad smile on his face as a giddy, trilling laugh bubbled up from Rarity. She began to dance from hoof to hoof. "It's working! It's working!"
The lavender unicorn gave a slight nod. "We'll see... Pip, please stop circling, hover for a count of five, and then fly in the opposite direction."
A slightly nonplussed expression washed across the young stallion's face as he did a few more revolutions and finally drifted to a stop, losing a bit of altitude as his coltish face hardened in concentration. A few moments later, he rotated himself to face the other direction and started flying another circular path.
His voice was grave as he furrowed his brow. "Hmmm. Bit slow to react, I'm afraid. Took a few more laps than I intended there." He pursed his lips. "And I'm feeling a bit of resistance, like the wings are a bit on the heavy side."
At this Apple Bloom spoke up, her eyes riveted on the harness rather than it's occupant for a change. "Ya reckon maybe I built 'em a little too sturdy, gals? I could start lookin' at ways to decrease the weight..."
Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof. "Maybe. The original spell was calibrated for gossamer and morning dew, maybe I need to increase the motivating force a bit."
The red headed earth pony turned to glance over the blueprints and notes lying weighted down with stones on a nearby table. "I guess we're gonna need to do a l'il back n' forth with that, Twilight. Don't wanna crank up the force so much the wings can't stand up to it." She looked back to Rarity and Twilight. "And on the other hoof, we're definitely gonna want to see what we can do to lighten the whole rig up anyhow. Right now it's kinda like yer strappin' a gazebo onto yer back."
Rarity chimed in, settling down from her happy dance as her fashion designer's instincts took over and caused her to stare up at the harness with an appraising, sapphire gaze. "I quite agree. They could be much more elegant, although I'll let you girls work out magic versus mass before I start styling."
She smiled up at their circling test pony and batted her eyes. "That being said, you do cut quite a rugged figure in this set, Pip darling." The alabaster unicorn cast a sidelong glance and a wink at the red headed earth pony mare. "Don't you agree, Chief Engineer Apple Bloom?"
The young handymare blushed and opened her mouth to reply when a sandy voice called out from the barn's wide doorway. "Hey guys, what's... up?"
They all turned to see Rainbow Dash hovering just outside with her eyes wide and jaw hanging open.
Pip let out a chuckle and brought himself to a stop, rotating to face her as the artificial wings beat steadily, keeping him aloft. "I am, at the moment. Jolly good to see you Miz Rainbow Dash. Lovely day for flying is it not?" His raffish grin gleamed with a small spark as he cocked an eyebrow.
The chromatic maned pegasus didn't answer, flying slowly forward with the same stunned expression on her face.
Rarity broke the awkward silence that ensued with her silvery voice. "Rainbow Dash, allow me to present the Harmony Aeronautics Personal Flight Harness. It was all Twilight's idea, with Apple Bloom and I providing the wings and harness for her to enchant. Once its perfected, it will be an easy way for any pony to soar among the clouds."
Twilight stepped forward. "It uses the same spell I cast on Rarity when we came to cheer you on at the Young Flyers Competition. Only this time, the wings are much more durable, hopefully obviating the need for a pegasus rescue."
She cocked her head as Dash continued to stare with shrinking pupils and iris' at the hovering form of PIp, who's smile was beginning to fade into a look of mild discomfort at her continuing scrutiny. The scholarly unicorn flicked an ear as she looked up at her old friend. "Um... Dash? What... what do you think?"
The rainbow maned pegasus' head snapped toward her as her eyes flared and her lip curled back in a snarl. "What do I think? I think it's TERRIBLE!"
The stunned expression that Rainbow Dash had been wearing settled on the faces of all four ponies and their dragon stenographer as their ears laid back and their tails drooped in shock.
Twilight found her voice with considerable effort as the precise wheels in her mind simultaneously spun wildly and locked up. "Wh... what?"
Dash reared up, waving her hooves over her head. "What? WHAT? Can't you see what you're doing? You're ruining everything! You just took your little magical unicorn horn and stabbed the entire pegasi race in the back!" Tears began to pool at the corners of her eyes. "How... how could you?"
Before anypony could reply, she wheeled with a ragged sob and rocketed skyward, leaving her stunned friends staring at her rapidly fading rainbow contrail.
Soarin found himself being roughly shaken awake, and rolled over to see Rainbow Dash standing over him, the cyan hair on her cheeks streaked flat by tears. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and sat up with concern on his face. "What... what's th' matter, Dash?"
She turned away, lashing her tail behind her. "Pack your saddle bags, Soarin. We're leaving."
The sky blue stallion scrambled to his feet, nearly stumbling into the pegasus shaped intentation he'd left in the floor of his room as he followed her with his ears laid back on either side of his sleep tousled mane. "What? What do you mean? Where are we going? I can't leave, I have to report for work tomorrow."
Dash replied with a growl as she disappeared inside the door to her room. "That doesn't matter. We'll all be outta work soon anyway. Might as well get used to it."
Just as the puzzled stallion opened his mouth to further question his fuming host, a soft voice came from the doorway to the outer terrace. "Rainbow Dash? Are you here?"
He turned to see a pale yellow pegasus with a flowing mane of pink hair, which she instinctively ducked behind as she met his gaze. "Oh, M-mister Soarin. I'm sorry if I disturbed you with all my yelling. Is Rainbow Dash here?"
She was answered by a crash from the inside of Dash's room that caused both her and Soarin to flinch. A moment later the cyan pegasus mare came stomping out and gave the newcomer a hard glare. "What do you want, Fluttershy?"
The butter colored mare ruffled her wings and took a tentative step forward. "I wanted to talk to you." She paused for a moment, then drew herself up a bit. "Actually, we all want to talk to you. Rarity and Twilight are just beside themselves right now."
Dash scowled. "And you're beside them too, I bet." She huffed angrily, her lip curling with disdain. "Of course you are. I guess you of all ponies wouldn't have a problem with what they're up to."
Soarin raised an eyebrow. "What are they up to?"
The rainbow maned stunt flyer threw him a glare. "Only making you and me and every pegasus pony obsolete, that's all. Just taking away the only thing that sets us apart and makes us special."
At this Fluttershy's wings flared, and she softly stomped a hoof on the spongy cloud floor beneath her. "Rainbow Dash, if you think flying is the only thing that makes you, me, or any other pegasus special than I think you're doing us a bigger disservice than Twilight and Rarity ever could."
Dash bit her lip and angrily averted her eyes from the soft spoken pegasus' earnest gaze. "I don't expect you to understand, Fluttershy. You spend so much time on the ground you're practically an earth pony anyway."
The pink maned mare began to advance on her cyan colored friend, who quailed at the intensity suddenly radiating from her aquamarine eyes. "All right. Since you're the expert, maybe you can explain to my babies the difference between a pegasus and an earth pony. Maybe then they'll understand why their daddy can't go everywhere they can. Maybe you can explain to Pinkie Pie's daughters why their mommy can't play with them up in the clouds, and why she cries herself to sleep every night because of how badly she wants to."
Dash's voice cracked as she looked away, casting a pleading glance at the sky blue stallion who stood watching the confrontation with a furrowed brow. "Soarin, b-back me up here. You... you fly for a living just like I do."
The heavyset former stunt flyer slowly shook his head. "Sorry Dash, I'm with Mrs. Fluttershy on this one. If there were a way for earth ponies to fly then... then maybe my parents would never have given me up."
Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash both looked at him in shock, as he sniffled and dragged a foreleg across his snout, fighting to maintain a stoic expression. He looked back at his former team mate with glistening eyes. "Yeah, that's right. I was a balloon basket baby. I wasn't lucky enough to have parents like the Cakes or Pinkie Pie and her husband. My folks sent me off to an orphanage in Cloudsdale with no return address, and from there I spent most of my foalhood bouncing from foster home to foster home. The Wonderbolts were as close as I ever got to having a family."
Dash sat heavily down on her rump, her maroon iris' flicking rapidly back and forth as she took this in. Her voice came small and shaky. "You... you never told me you were a threebee, Soarin."
The stallion gave a halting shrug. "Not the kind of thing that comes up in casual conversation, Dash. The only reason I bring it up now is because if your friends are coming up with something that makes further editions of my life story less likely, then yeah, I'm all for it."
The rainbow maned pegasus turned back to Fluttershy with watery eyes as the soft spoken mare took a step toward her, holding out a wing. "Rainbow Dash, you said that these are what set us apart, but I think that being apart is no way for ponies to be."
She sat down in front of Dash and drew her into a hug, speaking gently into her laid back ear. "Do you remember how isolated you felt when you thought you were gonna make a foal of yourself at the Young Flyers Competition? Do you remember how it felt when the girls found a way to be there for you?"
Dash screwed her eyes tightly shut, trying to hold in the tears. "Y-yeah." She gave a halting shake of her head. "But... but I also remember how it felt to have Rarity showing me up with those fancy wings Twilight gave her."
At this Soarin chimed in, his voice even and earnest. "I was kinda bucked out during the exciting bits, but I seem to recall that you were the one that took the tiara that day, and the gal with the fancy fake wings was the one who needed rescued." He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck as a faint blush appeared on his cheeks. "Not counting the three professional flyers who needed you to pull their tails out of a terminal as well."
Fluttershy reached up with a wing tip and wiped away one of Rainbow's tears. "Mr. Soarin raises a good point there, Rainbow Dash. Do you really think a pony wearing a set of artificial wings would ever be able to replace one who was born and bred to fly? I'm a pretty good swimmer with a snorkel and flippers, but you'd never mistake me for a fish."
She gave her oldest friend a smile. "The important thing is the snorkel lets me visit my little friends in the lakes and rivers, just like Twilight and Rarity's wings will let earth ponies and unicorns spend more time with their pegasus friends." She cast a gentle gaze toward Soarin. "Or their families."
The rainbow maned pegasus returned Fluttershy's hug, and sat back with a fragile smile on her face. "When you put it that way, I guess it's the same as that whirly thingamajig I had rigged up for Tank so he could play with me, isn't it?"
The butter colored mare nodded, her smile widening. "That's right, and I know for a fact that none of the birds ever thought he was going to replace them."
She cocked an ear as a wry expression tweaked at the corner of her mouth. "Well, the poor falcon was disappointed that he didn't get to be your pet, but he was a gentlecolt about it, and I eventually found him a good home with Archer and his family."
Dash let out a sigh and looked at her two companions with a contrite expression on her face. "I think I better get back to Sweet Apple Acres and tell the girls I'm sorry."
Rarity and Twilight came tumbling out the front door of the farmhouse, their manes disheveled and their eyes red rimmed and wet with tears, and fell into Rainbow Dash's embrace as soon as her hooves touched the ground. All three of them babbled out heartfelt apologies and stammered explanations before subsiding to sobs and the wordless mutual warmth of forgiveness.
Soarin and Fluttershy touched down shortly after Dash, both a bit out of breath from trying to keep pace with her. The blue stallion stood watching the three old friends' reconciliation with a lopsided smile, while the butter colored mare quietly made her way around them up to the porch where her towering husband stood. She gave him a tender kiss on his freckled cheek and took her place at his side with a sweet smile on her face.
Three more earth ponies soon joined them, as the Apple sisters and Pip stepped out onto the porch. Applejack met Soarin's gaze and gave him a terse nod, which he returned with a guarded expression and a bob of his head, neither of them wanting to mar the tender scene with any issues they may have had with one another. Apple Bloom let out a fond sigh at the sight of the two unicorns and the rainbow maned pegasus sharing a group hug and leaned against Pip's side. The young stallion drew himself up, momentarily startled at this unexpected contact, before giving the red headed mare a genteel smile and turning his attention back to the scene that unfolded in the barnyard.
As Celestia's beaming sun crept toward the horizon and painted swaths of red and purple the vastness of the sky, all was right, for now, on the ground below.
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.