Trains, Carriages and Airships

by JohnPerry

Chapter 4: Chapter Four

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Chapter Four

BEEP,” the scanner in front of the three mares beeped loudly as an elderly pony ahead of them trotted through.

“Oh, for crying out loud…” Rainbow Dash groaned with her head in her hooves as the elderly pony retreated to examine herself before attempting to pass through the scanner again.

Following their long trip from Buffalo, the bus carrying them finally arrived in downtown Fillydelphia at about five in the morning. Fillydelphia was an impressive city with some tall buildings, though nothing as grand as the sights of Canterlot or Cloudsdale and certainly not nearly as breathtaking as the buildings of Manehattan promised to be. Nevertheless, Fillydelphia did strike them as a large city, though one that appeared somewhat deserted of life given the hideously early hour they had arrived.

The three travelers had entered the city utterly exhausted, Twilight having failed to get any sleep whatsoever and Applejack and Rainbow Dash not much better off. Still, the trip had given the unicorn amble time to rethink their plans given that they were arriving in Fillydelphia much later than anticipated. Now they only had two full days before WonderCon, one of which would almost entirely be taken up by the ride to Manehattan should they choose to take the train at this point. With this in mind, the unicorn decided that if they wanted to make the most of their remaining time to see the city, they should seek out a faster mode of transport. And there was only one vehicle faster than a train: an airship.

Their new plan decided upon, the three mares located a taxi to take them to the airport. The driver seemed friendly enough, although his offer to take them along the “scenic route” proved suspicious to Twilight given that it was still too dark to make out much of anything. The taxi ride lasted for a few hours, although how much of that was due to the airport’s location far outside of town or the supposed “scenic route” none of the three mares were in any position to say. They arrived at the airport just as the golden orb of the sun appeared over the eastern horizon, casting its light upon a large, misty and yet very developed field situated in the midst of a ring of rolling green hills. The main concourse was a magnificent structure of steel and glass that arced towards the heavens, its roof shaped like a piece of paper that had been caught in a stiff wind. Behind this building the three travelers could make out the distant forms of the many terminal buildings situated between large fields, the tops of the structures lined with masts to anchor the airships in place. Situated above the center of the complex was a massive tower-like cloud which provided a lookout for the pegasi who controlled the flight patterns of the surrounding area.

Even at this early hour there were already many ponies milling about the main concourse, all of them either staff at the airport or early bird travelers. The three mares proceeded to the ticket booth for Equestrian Airlines and Twilight quickly bought three tickets for the next flight to Manehattan, which was set to leave in an hour and a half. The three travelers handed over their wheeled suitcases so they could be placed in the luggage hold of the airship. Surely there would be plenty of time to make it to the gate, the unicorn had thought as she bought the tickets.

An hour later, Twilight was feeling considerably less confident. They had gotten in line for the security checkpoint behind a large group of aggravatingly slow elderly ponies. Following the recent and highly dramatic disaster of the Hüfenberg, the Equestrian Aviation Administration decided to implement new security measures to prohibit any flammable objects on large airships. Unfortunately for the three mares, the new set of regulations were enforced by a set of state-of-the-art but not very exact magically-powered scanners which picked up any potentially offending object on a pony’s body as they stepped through, even if it was perfectly harmless. The machine beeped each time one of the elderly ponies stepped through their first time, which would result each time in said pony doing a lengthy search for the object before placing it through the more reliable baggage scanner and trying again. Sometimes the same pony would pass through the scanner multiple times before finally making it through without it beeping.

BEEP,” the scanner went off again as the same elderly mare ahead of them trotted through again. This was the third time said mare had passed through the scanner. Dash groaned loudly again.

“Eh, hold on a minute,” the elderly mare said, slowly reaching into a pocket of her vest to see if she had left something there. Her friend, the pony immediately ahead of Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Applejack in line, began helping her.

“Um, excuse me,” Twilight nervously called to the security guards at the gate. “Would it be okay if we went through while they get ready?” she asked, indicating the elderly mares in front of her. “It’s just that we’re running late and-“

“Please hold your place, ma’am,” one of the security guards replied, cutting Twilight off. “You will have to wait your turn, just like everypony else in line.”

“But we’ve been waiting in this line forever!” Dash cried. “Come on, they’re going to take ages, why can’t we go?”

“Hold your place, ma’am,” the security guard said sternly. Dash made to respond, but Applejack shoved a hoof over the pegasus’ mouth. The earth pony frantically shook her head at her friend – this security guard was obviously not the pony to cross. Dash reluctantly backed down.

“Don’t worry, dearie,” the elderly mare said kindly. “I’ll be done lickety-split!” After a moment of searching she finally found the offending object, a coin, and proceeded through the scanner again.

It beeped. Dash threw her hooves over her head while Twilight’s left ear twitched violently.

The Fillydelphia International Airport (which had been granted the three-letter code FLY, either a brilliant stroke of luck or a sly marketing technique on behalf of the city) was the crown jewel of the dawning age of modern air travel. Until recently the sole domain of winged creatures and those wealthy enough to afford a flying yacht, air travel had now become widely accessible to the masses with the new giant airships that could carry multitudes of ponies at once. Though still more costly than trains or carriages, this mode of transportation held great promise and Fillydelphia sought to ensure it was on the cutting edge of this bold new era of travel. So as part of their successful bid to host the Equestrian Games, the city raised the money to construct a lavish and state-of-the-art airport that frankly was far larger than a city of Fillydelphia’s size warranted. Nevertheless, the city took great pride in their new airport, as reflected by the fact that the local professional hoofball team had renamed itself to the Fillydelphia Flyers.

However, it became terrifying clear to Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Applejack that the airport was built mainly for size and grandeur and that some functionality had been sacrificed in the pursuit of aesthetics. The three mares were standing in the massive great hall of the transit hub just past the security checkpoint, where they could take small trains to each of the terminal buildings. Twilight was examining a map of the airport while Dash frantically tried to get the unicorn to hurry.

“Come on, Twilight!” the pegasus yelled at her friend. “We’ve only got ten minutes until our flight takes off!”

“Okay, hang on,” Twilight replied, her eyes tired and bloodshot and a multitude of hairs sticking up out of her mane as she studied the perplexing and poorly-designed diagram in front of her. “If we take the train this way it’ll go to Terminal A and Terminal C. But if we take the one going this way it’ll take us to Terminal B. And if we want to get to Terminal D, we have to take the train to Terminal C and walk to the other side of the building. But our flight is in Terminal E…where’s Terminal E?” she yelled in frustration.

“There!” Applejack cried, pointing to a square on the far side of the map that was labeled ‘Satellite Terminal E,' which was apparently such a recent addition to the airport that it had been hastily added to the map.

“All right, let’s go then!” Rainbow Dash commanded, grabbing her two friends and dragging them over to the next waiting train carriage. Dash managed to pull her two friends inside just before the conductor passed by to close the doors. The train then proceeded out of the building and through the airport complex.

Despite their rush, Twilight and Applejack couldn’t help but be amazed at the sight of the massive airships that floated in mid-air above them, anchored in place by ropes tied to the masts that protruded out of the huge terminal buildings. A light mist covered the ground, accompanied by a brisk chill that the ponies could just barely feel even inside their train carriage. Uniformed pegasi were fluttering by everywhere, doing maintenance on the airships, carrying luggage or waving what looked like large orange paddles that were used to signal the pilots of airships that approached the airport and direct them to the proper gate. Dash, on the other hoof, spared little attention to her surroundings, staring straight ahead, wishing that the train would go faster and silently begging that they would make it on time.

Upon arriving in Terminal E the three mares clambered out of the carriage and raced into the large main hall of the building, which was lined with shops, restaurants, seating areas, lavatories and the gates for boarding the individual airships. Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Applejack frantically tried to locate their gate.

“Where is it? Where is it?!” the unicorn cried in disdain. “I can’t see Gate 16 anywhere!”

There!” Rainbow Dash yelled triumphantly, pointing down the hall, her excellent eyesight catching the small ‘GATE 16’ sign that looked puny from this distance. “And look, that must be our ride!” the pegasus continued in a relieved tone, pointing at the airship positioned next to the gate. The words ‘Equestrian Airlines’ were printed in large, fancy lettering on the side of the balloon envelope. “Look, they’re tossing the ropes down and pulling away the staircase…”

Their momentary relief that their flight was still sitting at the gate quickly evaporated when they realized that Dash had just described part of the procedure for a departing airship. And sure enough, the massive airship was slowly pulling away from the gate.

“WAIT! WAIT!!!” the three mares yelled, charging down the hall at top speed, drawing confused and annoyed looks from the other ponies sitting in the terminal as the three travelers sped past. Dash was the first to get to the gate, but the glass and metal door leading outside had apparently been locked and she was now struggling to open it.

“No no nonono, COME ON!!!” the pegasus screamed in a panic, grasping the handle and throwing her might against the door in a desperate attempt to force it open.

“Oh, just let me!” Twilight growled as her horn started glowing. Dash heard a loud click and the door swung open thanks to her friend's magic. The second the door was open the pegasus’ wings flew open and she threw her saddlebag onto the floor and sped outside into the air.

“I’ll stop them!” Dash called back to her friends, who raced outside to follow the pegasus. The airship was now hovering in mid-air a short distance from the terminal over a grassy field that surrounded the building. Dash flew faster, intending to race to the front of the ship and convince the pilot in the cockpit to land the airship so Twilight and Applejack could board.

And her plan might have worked, if it weren’t for Rainbow Dash’s incredibly unfortunate timing. For just as she was about to catch up with the airship, the massive propellers attached to the blimp thrust into overdrive for the speedy climb into the air, sending a powerful current of air behind them. Dash, caught up in this current, feebly tried to propel herself through it, but in the end it was far too powerful and sent the pegasus spinning out of control, hurtling towards the ground. She spun over and landed with a sharp smack on the grassy field, much to the horror of Twilight and Applejack, who were racing across the same field towards their fallen friend and the rapidly receding airship.

“Dash! Are you alrigh’?” Applejack cried out worriedly. The earth pony, being the faster of the two, was the first to catch up with her friend, who had landed on her side and was weakly trying to pick herself up off the ground. Her right wing was limply hanging off her body. Twilight, seeing that Applejack was tending to the pegasus, made the split-second decision to continue pursuing the airship and raced past her two friends.

“Dash, say somethin’!” the earth pony exclaimed fearfully, noticing that her friend seemed to be gagging. But after a moment the pegasus gasped and inhaled sharply before her features relaxed and she smiled at Applejack.

“Sorry AJ…just…got the wind…knocked out of me,” Dash panted between large gulps of air.

WAIT! WAIT! THAT’S OUR FLIGHT!!!” The two mares could hear Twilight in the distance, screaming in vain at the airship that was now well away from the terminal, approaching the edge of the airport complex.

“Your wing ain’t broken, is it?” Applejack asked, looking at the limply hanging wing with concern. Upon closer examination, several feathers had been bent out of place and the skin underneath where the wing touched the shoulder was now a bright red color. Several long red and green scrapes were visible along her barrel and side where she had slid along the grass.

“Ow,” Dash murmured, gingerly touching her injured wing. “No, I think I just sprained it is all. Give me a few hours, and I’ll be fine,” she smiled reassuringly at the earth pony before snickering. “Your hat fell off,” she said, pointing at the spot over the farmer’s head where the Stetson normally sat.

“Wha? Ah, horseapples,” Applejack groaned, reaching up to find that her hat was in fact missing and realizing that she hadn’t noticed when it blew off from the force of the airship's propellers. The earth pony turned around, examining the ground and spotting the Stetson lying back near the gate, where some airport crew members were giving the trio bemused looks.

COME BACK HERE! YOU FORGOT US!!!” Twilight’s distant scream echoed across the grassy field. Rainbow Dash and Applejack turned to see that their unicorn friend had finally stopped galloping as the airship passed over the fence on the edge of the airport complex and was now making its way over the forested hills beyond. Twilight stomped the ground furiously, her saddlebag sliding off as a result of the unicorn’s tantrum and falling on to the grass, where it became another target of Twilight’s fury. She kicked and flailed about as she screamed expletives which neither Rainbow Dash nor Applejack could clearly make out.

After a moment of venting her anger on either the ground or her unfortunate saddlebag, Twilight seemed to have had enough. She stood silently for a few seconds, head lowered, panting heavily and her mane in disarray, before slowly retying her saddlebag around herself and slowly trotting back to her two friends. She kept her head lowered as she retraced her steps back across the field.

“Are you alrigh’, Sugarcube?” Applejack gingerly asked Twilight as she came closer.

“I’m…” Twilight said in a low voice, her head still lowered, to the point that her mane obscured her face.

“Err…Yes?” Applejack asked hesitantly.

“I’m…” Suddenly Twilight’s head jerked upward. A crooked smile was plastered on her tense face and she had deep shadows under her eyes, which were now open alarmingly wide. Her mane was now completely frizzy, sticking out at odd angles. She looked not unlike the Twilight Sparkle who panicked over not having a friendship report ready for Princess Celestia.

“I’m…perfect. Just…perfect!” she said through gritted teeth, still with a massive and terrifying smile on her face. “Why wouldn’t I be alright?”

“Twilight…” Applejack said slowly.

“After all,” the unicorn continued. “We just missed our flight, Rainbow Dash hurt herself and we’re no closer to Manehattan than we were when we left Ponyville…” Her left ear twitched violently and her gaze seemed to drift upward, as if she wasn’t aware of the presence of the two ponies standing next to her.

“Twilight…” the earth pony repeated as she carefully reached out a hoof.

“But it’s okay! We’ll just take another flight! Yes, that’s what we’ll do!” ranted the apparently sanity-less unicorn, still seemingly unaware of her surroundings. “After all, are we not the best of friends? Whatever comes our way, we’ll overcome it together!”

“Twilight…” Applejack said once more as she gingerly placed a hoof on the unicorn’s shoulder.

WHAT, APPLEJACK?!” Twilight yelled angrily, suddenly taking notice of the earth pony and placing her face within inches of the farmer’s. Applejack gulped and backed away, but remained true to her intentions.

“Look Twilight, Ah know things haven’t been going as well as they could-“ Applejack began.

That’s one way to put it,” Rainbow Dash grumbled. The earth pony immediately threw her a vicious sideways glare that clearly said “Not helping.

“But we’ll make it through this!” Applejack continued. “Ya can’t blame yourself for what’s been happen-“

“Blame myself? Blame myself?” Twilight growled, cutting her friend off. “I’m not blaming myself! I’m blaming all the bucking idiots around me! Why, are you blaming me?!” she shrieked in a high voice, shoving a hoof at Applejack.

“…Wha-a?” the earth pony stammered, taken aback. “No, Ah didn’t mean it like that, Twi! Ah just thought that you…uh…” she was sweating profusely and had a fearful expression on her face.

“Hey, don’t yell at Applejack!” Rainbow Dash said, putting herself between the earth pony and the unicorn. “She didn’t do anything wrong!”

Yelling? Who’s yelling? I’M NOT YELLING!” Twilight screamed, glaring at the pegasus. “I’m just trying to get you to WonderCon! Isn’t that what you want?!

“Of course it’s what I want, but that doesn’t mean you get to yell at us!” Dash replied forcefully.

“Back in Salt Lick City, you asked if I had a plan!” Twilight shouted back. “Well, do you not like my plan? Maybe you’d be happier if you just flew to Manehattan yourself!

“WELL MAYBE I WOULD IF I COULD FLY RIGHT NOW!” Dash screamed at her friend’s face. She and Twilight spent a moment glowering at each other and for a moment it looked like it might come to blows. Then the unicorn happened to glance at Applejack, who was looking at her two friends with a pained expression. Perhaps it was the current absence of her cowpony hat, but Applejack looked almost vulnerable, watching the two ponies argue.

At that moment something melted in Twilight’s heart and her features softened before they drooped. She sat on the ground and gave a heavy sigh, her exhaustion finally catching up with her.

“Look, I’m sorry,” she said shortly, not looking her friends in the eye. “I didn’t mean…to go off like that.” Dash grumbled something incoherent, apparently not ready to accept Twilight’s apology so quickly, especially one that sounded so forced. But Applejack was apparently willing to take whatever she could get at the moment and offered a hoof to the unicorn, who gladly accepted.

“It’s alrigh’ Sugarcube, we understand,” the earth pony said, giving her friend a small but pained smile. “Now let’s get back inside, shall we?”

“Yeah, I think I left my bag back at the gate,” Dash muttered, trotting ahead in an attempt to put some distance between herself and Twilight as the unicorn and earth pony followed along behind her.

“Wait,” Twilight said shortly, stopping in her tracks. Applejack and Rainbow Dash turned back to look at the unicorn, who seemed to be slowly coming to some sort of realization.

“Your bag…” she said softly, looking at Dash. “Our bags…our checked bags…”

“What about them?” Dash said indifferently before she was hit with the same realization that had occurred to Twilight just before the unicorn could say it.

“We checked them in…which means…they were on that airship…” she trailed off, her face now devoid of any expression. But that would only last for a brief moment before she gritted her teeth and narrowed her eyes.

Our bags…” she growled through her teeth. “Were on that airship…and it took off…WITHOUT US!

Applejack, knowing what was about to happen, moved quickly to shove Rainbow Dash out of harm’s way before a fiery explosion engulfed the spot where Twilight Sparkle had been standing a moment before. Looking back, her two friends could see only flames where there should have been a mane and burning red eyes that matched the color of the inferno that had gripped the unicorn.

The Fillydelphia International Airport crews, being understandably paranoid about a large open flame in the vicinity of a number of massive and rather delicate gas-filled aircraft, immediately sounded the alarm and moved quickly to contain the sudden firestorm that had appeared in the midst of the field near Terminal E. But despite their speed, by the time the pegasi fire crews arrived on the scene there was no fire to contain – only a large patch of charred grass with a blackened unicorn standing in the middle of it. Nearby were two other ponies who remained crouched on the grass, gazing at the unicorn with no small degree of alarm in their eyes.

Next Chapter: Chapter Five Estimated time remaining: 59 Minutes
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