Out of the House
When Fluttershy opened the door to Rainbow Manor at 10 a.m. the next morning, she was not expecting the visitor to be a police officer. She silently prayed that Rainbow Dash hadn't gone out during the night, and smiled politely at the orange mare filling the police uniform.
"What brings you here, officer?" she asked.
The cop shifted uncomfortably, then answered, "I need to speak with Rainbow Dash."
"I'm afraid Ms. Dash does not accept visitors these days. I'm so sorry." She turned to shut the door.
The mare stopped her. Looking back at the cop, Fluttershy was surprised to see the nervousness in her eyes gone, replaced with sheer determination. What the officer said next only shocked her more.
"What if I come back here in twenty minutes with a search warrant in the investigation of Soarin's murder?" Her eyes narrowed. "Will she still not accept me then?"
Fluttershy's face went beet red.
Three minutes later, Scootaloo was sitting in a puffy chair that felt like it cost at least a hundred bits, in a room that looked like it cost a hundred times more than that. She looked around the room while waiting for "Ms. Dash" to arrive. She felt confident, invigorated by her successful entrance into the Rainbow Manor.
Though, it looked like that butler would have stepped aside to anypony, she thought, and smirked.
The sound of hoofsteps and the occasional ringing of a cane on the floor made her turn. Her eyes widened the tiniest bit as the Rainbow Dash came trotting (or limping, it seemed) into the room. She looked old, from her gray-streaked rainbow mane to her baggy eyelids. She was a mess, and she didn't seem to care. Scootaloo took note of this, and opened her mouth to greet the billionaire. Rainbow Dash, turned toward the window, spoke first.
"What'cha here for, Officer?"
"Commissioner Sparkle's been shot."
"Really? Dang. Twilight's a pretty cool mare."
Oh, she's good, thought Scootaloo. Out loud, she continued, "She chased several guncolts down into the sewers. When I found her out near the sewer pipe later, she was mumbling about a mercenary. Some guy called Spike."
Rainbow Dash now turned toward the cop. "And you haven't told the police this why?"
"I did," said Scootaloo. "They asked me if he was assembling an army of sewer gators to rise up against their pony oppressors."
The tiniest hint of a smirk crossed Dash's face. She turned away from Scootaloo again, this time looking at an expensive piece of pottery nearby that she couldn't have cared less about. "Okay, I'll ask it a different way. Why tell me this?" she asked.
The humor in her voice angered Scootaloo. "Because she needs you," the cop answered, looking down at the ground. She waited a moment, then blurted, "She needs the Batmare."
The silence gave Scootaloo time to think There, I said it, bucking deal with it. Then Rainbow Dash turned to her again. Scootaloo was almost frightened to see that she was smiling.
"If Twilight Sparkle thinks I'm the Batmare, she musta got shot real-"
"She doesn't know or care who you are," interrupted Scootaloo. "But...we've met before. At the orphanage."
Dash briefly recalled coming down to the foals' home when she was still Rainbow Dash. She blinked at the cop as a gesture for her to continue.
"My mom died when I was young," Scootaloo recounted. "I didn't really remember it that much. But then, my pops passed a couple'a years later. That I remember. It was over a gambling debt." She looked up at Dash, straight into her eyes. "I know how it feels, Rainbow Dash. To be angry at the world. To be angry in your bones. Not many ponies can say that, can they? I mean, sure, they 'understand.' For a while. Then they expect you to just let it go. To let the anger out. To forget it."
The last sentence spilled from her lips with a pop, as though bursting a bubble filled with poison gas.
"So, when you don't so what they want, you get sent to a foal's home; in this case, St. Blueblood's. It used to be funded by Rainbow Enterprises." She paused, to let it sink in. "I figured it out too late. You gotta hide the anger. Take the angry little kid in you and push him aside, and say, 'I'll let you take control again when I feel like it.' Learn to smile in the mirror. Make everypony else think you're fine." She shut her eyes and smiled, reliving memories long past. "You showed one day, in a big fancy sports car, a stallion on your left, a mare on your right. Rainbow Dash, the Rainbow Dash, the billionaire orphan." She opened her eyes, meeting Dash's again. "We made up legends about you. Stories, that's all. Fantasies of how you'd gotten so rich and famous.
"But when I saw you, I knew that look. The fake smile. The mask. It fit so perfectly on you."
She stood up, impressed with the speech she'd just given. If Rainbow Dash was, then she didn't show it. She simply stared blankly at the cop, her chilled-out attitude gone completely.
"I don't know why you took the fall for Soarin's murder," she said, slowly and carefully, "but I still believe in the Batmare. And I think it's time to get out of the house."
She headed to the door. Rainbow called behind her:
"Why did you say the foals' home used to be funded by Rainbow Enterprises?"
The orange pegasus stopped. Gray-purple eyes met maroon ones one more time.
"You stopped funding them years ago. You should really get out of the house." Then she turned and exited, satisfied with her "pep talk." She passed the butler on the way out the front door, thanked her, and got to her car in a fit of worry.
What if she ignores me? What then?
Rainbow Dash watched the officer leave in her patrol car. Fluttershy came in a moment later. The pegusi turned to each other.
"Did you check the name?" Dashie was gone again; now Ms. Dash was in play.
"Spike? Yes." Fluttershy looked extremely uncomfortable. "But I didn't like what I found. You wouldn't either. He's a dragon, miss. Very dangerous, did a mining job in Western Zebrica with our own Filthy Rich. And his mask..." The butler shivered, her eyes heavy with worry. "...I don't want to look at it anymore."
"You said Filthy brought him here."
"With a bunch of scary, huge dragon henchmen, yes. I'll have to check on that, miss." She turned at this, and made to leave. Rainbow stopped her.
"When did we stop funding foals' homes, Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy looked down at the ground again. "I'm sorry to remind you, Mistress Dash, but the homes were funded by the profits of Rainbow Enterprises." She paused before continuing, her voice getting softer with each word. "And for that to happen, um, there, um,havetobesomesorry."
Rainbow Dash frowned. She'd forgotten about the recent problems with Rainbow Enterprises and its profiteering in the past few years. She considered her options for a moment, then said, "I guess I'll have to talk to dear Zecora, then."
Fluttershy nodded, smiling slightly. "I'll get her on the phone." Her smile disappeared when Dash raised a hoof in protest.
"No," she said, looking back out the window at her long, empty driveway. It had only been used for the occasional party (and, in this case, visitor), and it looked so sad, sitting there without a purpose. Something was missing...
"Do we have any cars left, Fluttershy?"
The yellow pegasus hadn't smiled so genuinely in years. "One or two, I think." She found herself floating off the ground, and flew towards the door to get one of said cars, when Dash stopped her again.
"Oh, and I'll need to get to a hospital, to see about my legs."
Fluttershy was feeling happier and happier. She turned to her employer, grinning. "Which hospital, miss?"
Dash began to hobble out of the room, her own wings fluttering a little with anticipation. "Whichever one Twilight Sparkle is in."
Rainbow Enterprises was easily the largest building in Ponyville. Fifty stories high, its gleaming glass-and-steel construct had been deemed the unofficial center of the city. The monorail system was routed through the building, and thus earned its title, being the center of the main mode of transportation for any Ponyville citizen without a car.
Inside the building, a board meeting had just broken up. Many of the executives looked worried as they left, mumbling amongst themselves about whether or not the company could survive another year with their infamous owner hibernating in her mansion.
Rarity lingered as the older stallions left, wanting to find the rainbow-maned mare in question and speak with her about her energy project. She trotted over to the CEO, hoping that she could shed some light on Rainbow Dash's whereabouts.
"Ms. Zecora," she said, "if Ms. Dash would simply give me an explanation, I would be happy to see what I could do to help."
Zecora frowned. "I will remember to give her your request when I see her again, if I am blessed."
The zebra's incredible ability to rhyme any-and-everything she said without any hesitation was a small factor in the overall charm she brought to Rainbow Enterprises. Her regular ensemble of golden earrings and matching bow tie (something she always wore, for whatever reason) coupled with her foreign look well, and though many poies mocked her for it, the board members of Rainbow Enterprises knew the zebra for who she really was: a damn good CEO, and perhaps an even finer engineer.
"She doesn't talk to you either?" Rarity asked.
"Ms. Dash is very eccentric, I must say," Zecora replied, waving a hoof in the air. "It is hard to get to her these days."
"Darling, you do know that our dear Filthy Rich is trying to snatch up Rainbow Enterprises' shares, don't you?"
"No, I was not aware of that. But it is not a problem to be looking at. Ms. Dash has majority hold over those shares, so, again, do not worry about Mr. Rich's affairs." At this, she fell silent, indicating the conversation was over.
Rarity huffed and left, clearly disappointed to not have gotten to speak with Rainbow Dash. Zecora was impressed by her determination, but she wished she could have made it clearer that Dash was not available for chats. She turned and returned to her office, where she found she would have to eat her own words.
"Rainbow Dash, as I live and breathe," she said upon seeing the cyan pegasus herself sitting in the chair in front of her desk. "I have not seen you in years. It's hard to believe."
"It's good to see you again, Zecora," replied Dash, smiling genuinely.
Zecora trotted around the room to her side of the desk and sat down. "So, Ms. Dash, it nags me deep; what brings you out of cryo-sleep?"
Rainbow Dash chuckled. "Glad to see you've still got a sense of humor. Even if you haven't got most of my money around anymore."
Zecora was still smiling, but the humor in it had disappeared. "Actually, I'm afraid to say, it is your fault for your funding being this way." The zebra stood up and continued, stepping over towards a wall of bookshelves, much like the one in Rainbow Manor. "You see, my friend, when a project is begun and worked upon for years, then money problems are bound to appear. And when this project is simply tossed aside, well..." She turned and grinned at the pegasus again. "...I am certain that the company will not thrive."
"Even with a CEO like this," Zecora finished, gesturing at herself. "I'm afraid you're time is short, miss. Filthy Rich is closing in, and I am not sure our company can win."
Rainbow Dash took the foreshadowing in stride. "Alright, give me some options, then. What can I do?"
"If you will not turn on your machine-"
"I can't, Zecora," Dash interrupted. "You know it."
"Then the best plan is to sit tight and stay out of the way," Zecora advised. "Your majority will keep Filthy Rich at bay. we can find a solution to the problem of Miss Rarity, who has supported your project with great charity. She's a brilliant mind, and looks very fine."
The cyan mare groaned. "Not you too, Zecora?"
The zebra smirked. "There is more than one pony who wants what's best for you." She abruptly changed subject. "You must show her the machine, too."
"I'll think it over." Rainbow Dash got up to leave, pulling herself up on a cane. Zecora coughed lightly, making her turn back to the CEO.
"Is that all you need?" Zecora asked. "You need me for no other deed?"
The zebra smiled nostalgically. "I remember, from so long ago, that when these conversations end, you give a strange request from your vigilante friend."
Dash frowned again. "I'm 'retired.'"
"Ah, I see," said Zecora, nodding in understanding. Dash turned to leave, then realized something.
She didn't rhyme that time. Which means...
"I think it would be nice to show you something anyway, if I may plea."
The Applied Sciences division had been tucked away for years and years, along with Zecora. The re-discovery of the area by Rainbow Dash herself had led to the Batmare's eventual arsenal (and the costume), along with Zecora's positioning as the CEO of Rainbow Enterprises. The enormous facility was filled with unapproved technology from the four corners of Equestria, and had slowly turned into a graveyard before Dash's "hobby" had come to light.
Then Soarin' happened. And everything went wrong.
Now the place was once again a graveyard, as Dash had found it. Each piece of equipment, though dusty, was fully functional, thanks to the brilliant engineering mind of Zecora. Large military "tumblers" sat in a line in one zone of the facility. Rainbow Dash had once used one of these vehicles to move around the city, but when it had been destroyed by the Joker, she'd never bothered to replace it. Now, looking at them, she wondered how the Bat-Pod was doing.
"So, it still isn't shut down," said Rainbow Dash. "I'm surprised."
"It was always officially shut down, Ms. Dash," answered Zecora, looking around what was technically her second home. "But that does not mean that the systems all crash."
"Then what's with all the new stuff?"
"There were fourteen different areas where these were all stored," Zecora explained. "I've spent the past few years assembling this hoard. To keep them safe from untrustworthy hands, and whatever might be those hands' plans."
Rainbow Dash spun around once, taking in everything she could, old and new. Some part of her felt like she was coming home.
Zecora spoke up again. "So, what would you like? I have everything you could wish for. Infrared contact lenses, or perhaps a weapon that could end a war? Something for that leg, perhaps, to help you walk a little more?"
"I'm fine as I am." She hated lying about that, but she knew that if she took even one thing from this place, it would get her to come back again...and again...and again...
"Well, perhaps walking isn't your thing. For somepony who wants to fly, now, I have something good, with wings."
Rainbow Dash made to point out that, one, duh, she loved flying (or, used to), and two, that she didn't need anything with wings, because she didn't need to hide them behind a black cape anymore. She saw that Zecora had already moved to an enormous metal door that hid something in an adjacent room. She typed something out on a keypad, and the door slid open to reveal what appeared o be a giant metal construct made entirely of folding panels and giant rotors.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" said Zecora, admiring the giant metal contraption. "A way of maneuvering through cities without having to worry about smashing into buildings, yet here it sits."
Rainbow Dash ran a hoof along one of the plates. "What's it called?" she asked.
Don't get excited.
"Oh it had boring military designation, ROM-4358, something like that," said Zecora stepping up nest to the cyan pegasus. "I, however, took to simply calling it the Bat."
They turned to face each other. Zecora smiled slyly. "And yes, before you ask me back; it does indeed come in black."
Rainbow Dash looked up at the hulking metal beast. She couldn't help but wonder how well it maneuvered in air.
Don't get sucked back in.
"It works fantastic, I must mention," said Zecora, as if reading her mind. "Though the autopilot needs some attention."
"What's the problem?" said Dash, a little too quickly.
The software is on the fritz," said Zecora. "It may take take a mind more brilliant than mine to fix."
Dash raised an eyebrow. "A more brilliant mind?"
Zecora laughed. "That was modesty, Ms. Dash. I meant a less busy mind. Perhaps you know somepony that I could find?"
Don't let her pull you in.
She didn't. With a determined look on her face, Rainbow Dash turned and headed toward the exit.
"I'm retired," she mumbled, not sure if Zecora heard her or not.
I've seen worse cartilage in knees," the doctor said, examining an X-ray.
Rainbow Dash smiled, shifting in her seat on the examination table in the room. She was at the Ponyville Hospital, hoping to have some light shed on the problems with her knees. She was thankful that Fluttershy had managed to get him an appointment after-hours. She was also happy to know that the name Rainbow Dash still opened doors for her, financial problems or not.
"Well, that sounds good," she answered, glancing at the window anxiously. There were other thing she needed to do.
"Not really," said the doctor. "That's because there is no cartilage in your knees. And not much of any use in your forelegs, either. Between that and the scar tissue on your kidneys, concussive damage to your brain tissue, the overall scarred quality of your body, and the fact that you have no muscle in your wings anymore, I don't recommend you go stunt-flying." He noticed something on the X-ray, and his eyebrows seemed to shrug. "Your liver looks healthy, though, so if you're really that bored, you could always take up drinking, Ms. Dash."
"I'll think about it, doctor."
The physician left to attend to the rounds, leaving his patient in the examination room alone.
Rainbow Dash sighed, dressed quickly, and donned a wool ski mask before heading over to the window she'd been glancing at occasionally during her diagnosis. Taking up her cane, she twisted the ends, and pulled out an unbreakable wire and clipped one end to her belt. Then, she wedged the cane in the window frame, opened the window, and stepped out into the open air.
She'd rehearsed the moment in her head over and over again, but the actual process made her nervous. She dropped past floor after floor, and it seemed that the four seconds she had to count off were taking hours to pass.
"...four." She hit the breaking mechanism.
She stopped at the eleventh floor. Smiling, she flapped her apparently muscle-less wings and pushed herself towards the window sill. Opening it and sliding in stealthily, she had a flashback to another time when she'd had to sneak into a hospital, though for a much less important reason. Recalling the tactics she'd used then, Dash made her way silently to the bed at the other end of the room, where she found Twilight Sparkle lying.
Rainbow Dash's relationship with Twilight Sparkle was one that spanned decades. They'd first met the night Dash's parents were killed, when the then-only a student of Celestia's offered her her coat. Her first words to the pegasus had been, "I know it seems like it, but trust me, it isn't the end of the world." Later, once Batmare began, Twilight became a sort-of informant for the Caped Crusader, giving her information on what baddies were where.
And now, she was dying on a hospital bed.
Well, perhaps she wasn't dying. But the way she simply lay on the bed with a dozen machines hooked into her, complete with a gas mask hissing on her muzzle made it seem as though she were close to death. She looked old and ragged, like somepony who simply couldn't take living anymore. Rainbow Dash felt something red and fearful boiling inside her.
Twilight was her friend. And somepony did this to her.
She growled, almost unconsciously, and Twilight stirred. Her eyes fluttered open, and for a moment, Dash wondered if she would panic and get the hospital attendants to take her away. But the unicorn was calm, and seemed to recognize the figure before her (though, not as Rainbow Dash; she'd remembered to hide any trace of cyan or rainbow on her body). She tried to speak, but the oxygen mask muffled her speech. Her horn glowed weakly, and the mask lifted off her face.
"We were in this together," she said hoarsely. "Then you went-"
"The Batmare wasn't needed anymore," said Dash, disguising her voice as necessary. "We won."
"A lie. Our lie." Twilight coughed. "Something evil is rising up, now, from where we buried our lie. And nopony will listen." She was pleading with her eyes. "The Batmare has to come back."
Rainbow Dash stared at the weak unicorn. She was considering her options, weighing them in her mind. But she didn't have time. Still indecisive, she asked, "What if she doesn't exist anymore?"
"She must," Twilight croaked, gasping for breath. "She must."