A dozen pegasi, the main roster of Equestria’s most prestigious flying team, waited with varying degrees of anticipation and resignation in one of the few locker rooms in the nation where waiting wasn’t actually that bad. Friday after practice was when their weekly newsflash was scheduled, when the head of the Wonderbolts PR team came to catch them up on any rumors and conspiracy theories that the Equestrian media had tried to spread about them, so as to prepare them for potential questions from reporters and fans. It usually made for an amusing start of the weekend, and at least one of them was always twitching with excitement by the time it started.
 Despite earth pony and unicorn efforts, no solid building could match the air-cleansing power of cloud construction. As such the Wonderbolts HQ was one of few locations in the multiverse where ponies could actually look forward to a meeting held in the locker rooms after training.
 Publicity Stunt, daughter of a rather ambitious couple who were running for mayor and superintendent of the school district respectively at the time of her birth. While they both swore that they would have loved her dearly no matter what, she was still glad that they had each won their election. (The voters respected a pony who was honest about their intentions, perhaps to a fault.)
 Although Rainbow Dash thought that one could never be completely sure what exactly Surprise Party was excited about. For all anypony knew, Pinkie’s not-twin might have thought of a new joke, invented a new recipe for cupcakes or caught some rare cloud fleas and was just waiting for the meeting to be over so she could share whichever it was with the rest of the team.
“Alright ‘Bolts, time for the newsflash.” A white-coated, black-maned pegasus mare with the cutie mark of a rag polishing a statue stepped into the room, looking over the clipboard held in her wing as she waited for the team to turn their attention to her. “Looks like it’s been a rather slow week for actual news, and you know what that means.”
“Yay, story time!” Surprise bounced up and down, wings buzzing like those of a hummingbird.
Publicity rolled her eyes, but didn’t quite keep down a smile. “Yes yes, I’ve got a whole book’s worth of breezie tales this week. They should be good for a laugh or two, Celestia knows it’s the only way I can bear reading some of these.” She looked through the notes on her clipboard. “Let’s start with something light then… Oh, how about this one? The Spur is warming up an old classic.”
Silver Lining snorted, giving her a flat look. "What, are they saying I'm using witchweed to boost my wingpower again?"
“Tried to.” Publicity smirked. “According to them the supplier gave you switchweed instead. Turned you from a mare into a stallion, and you never looked for a remedy because it did boost your wing power in a way."
Soarin let out a short laugh, grinning as Silver Lining just groaned in exasperation. "Well, I'll give them points for creativity. You sure that one wasn't from the Turnip, Pub?"
“No, but the Turnip did either take it as inspiration or an attack on their position as Equestria’s first gag paper. They're saying that every pony on the team is actually a stallion. Except Soarin."
Misty Fly giggled, the thinnest and most streamlined pony in the room leaning in close to Soarin to flutter her eyelashes at him. “Don’t worry, filly, you got us big and strong stallions here protect you.”
Soarin huffed, glaring down at her. “Aren’t you the one who laid out Bulk Biceps with a shoulder throw last week?”
Misty shrugged, backing away again with a shameless grin. “So? He startled me. Seriously, if that stallion has an indoor voice I haven’t heard it yet.”
“Moving on…” Publicity Stunt tapped her hoof on the floor a few times to get their attention again. “Flankfurter General News says that we’re a couple Bits away from bankruptcy.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the Flankfurter one of the more economy-focused papers?” Blaze scrunched up slightly in confusion. “The Wonderbolts are still a branch of the military. We can get reduced funding but we can’t actually go bankrupt unless Equestria is. You’d think they know about that.”
Publicity shrugged. “They should, but it’s kind of a moot point anyway since we have Surprise working as our part-time accountant.”
Rainbow nodded. “Oooh, yeah… that would make the whole story look kinda silly. Well, sillier.”
Blaze frowned, looking over at the sugar rush in pony form. “...I feel like I’m missing something here.”
“She’s a party pony.” Rainbow paused to think, then shrugged. “I mean, I only personally know three others beside her, but from what I’ve seen… give a party pony a couple pieces of string and a rubber band and they’ll turn it into a full-blown fiesta in less than two hours.”
“You're kidding.” Blaze blinked. "...right?”
“I'm only mostly joking when I keep saying Surprise and Pinkie shouldn't meet.” Rainbow got a faraway look in her eyes, a soft shudder running over her body. “The last time two party ponies met I was shot point blank with heavy partillery and nearly flattened by an eight story tall piñata.”
 Meeting Party Favor didn’t count, though only because it took him a few days to recover from being without his cutie mark for so long. Hearing that constructing a structurally sound bridge out of balloons apparently counts as an ‘off day’ to him, Twilight Sparkle, Starlight Glimmer and Mayor Mare have already outlined several emergency plans should he ever visit Ponyville. Theories of what might happen if the two party ponies with balloon cutie marks ever properly meet include:
Surprise stopped bouncing to shuffle her hooves with a light blush as everypony turned to look at her. “Well, I consider myself a Wonderbolt first and a party pony second... but I am pretty good with numbers. It helps that merchandise sales alone usually cover our expenses.”
“We appreciate it, Surprise.” Publicity gave her a quick smile and a nod, then turned to her clipboard again. “Only two more that ponies might expect a comment on. The first one is… oh right, that.” She cleared her throat, glancing to the side as the tips of her ears turned a faint red. “A two page spread in Playcolt about the secret relationship between Rainbow Dash and, aheh… Daring Do. Complete with a rather detailed and explicit example of their love life.”
“Daring Do? Oh, that I have to see.” Fleetfoot grinned and stepped forward and reached out for the clipboard, only to jump back as it suddenly disappeared in a blue blur.
“Which one is it?” Rainbow was hanging in the air just below the ceiling, flapping her wings agitatedly as she looked through the cut-out articles. “Daring Do and… What the-? Did one of those guys break into my house?! This is copied word by word from my Daring Do fan-” her eyes widened and she looked up at her team with growing realization of her mistake “-fiiiiic that I didn't write and you can't prove I did. Shut up.” She slowly settled back down on the cloud floor, blushing and refusing to meet anypony’s eyes as she hoofed the clipboard back to Publicity.
Misty Fly snorted as she tried to hold back a laugh, raising an eyebrow at Rainbow. “I don’t know why I’m even surprised about you writing Daring Do fanfiction. But a steamy self-insert romance? Really, Crash?”
Rainbow just groaned.
Fleetfoot tilted her head slightly. “Honestly, I was wondering about that, too. If you wanted to write a self-insert, why didn’t you just use Prism Flash from Daring Do and the Rings of Scorchero or Daring Do and the Amulet of Culiacan? I mean, she’s so similar to you it’s almost uncanny.” She blinked and looked around, seeing the attention of everypony in the room suddenly shifted to her. “...what? I’m allowed to have hobbies, too.”
“As fascinating as this probably is, can you two geek out after we’re done here?” Spitfire rolled her eyes, taking a step forward. “As silly and… extensive the article might be, it’s still just some magazine shipping one of us with a random celebrity, and a fictional one at that. It's not like Daring Do is even a real– Rainbow, please stop making your 'this really dumb concept is actually real' face." She scrunched up as if she’d just bitten into a lemon, one eye twitching slightly.
 Soarin, Surprise and Misty Fly had at some point started to keep a list, including but not limited to
Fleetfoot whipped her head back around to stare at Rainbow. “No way.”
“We’re practically pen pals.” Rainbow fluffed her wings with a smug grin.
“Mare, you gotta-”
“If we could please focus.” Spitfire pushed herself between them, giving each a quick glare. “The ‘geek out later’ thing still stands, and I really don’t want to think about this any more than I have to.” She took a slow breath, then turned her attention to Publicity Stunt again. “You said there was only one more, right?”
The mare winced, frowning down at her clipboard. “Well… yes. This one might take a little longer though.” She glanced up at Rainbow Dash.
Rainbow blinked, then groaned and facehoofed. “Oh for… don’t tell me they’re running the nepotism gig again.”
“I’m afraid so, yes.” Publicity nodded solemnly.
“Seriously? Ever since I got the vice-captain spot they’ve been running this every other week!” Rainbow’s eye twitched once and she whipped her head around, fixing Soarin with a glare. “Can’t you get your fanclub in line, Clipper?”
Soarin snorted. “Yeah sure, I’ll get right on that.” He shook his head. “Maybe the first few times they had something to do with it, but at this point I’m pretty sure it’s just tabloids looking for easy news.”
Misty Fly leaned in against his neck with an impish grin. “Naaaah, that’s totally all your fancolts. Comes with being the only mare on the team, don’t you know? Better get used to it.”
Soarin froze, adopting a thousand yard stare. “This is your thing now, isn’t it? You’re not going to let me live this down for weeks?” He blinked, then shook off the thought and his teammate. “Seriously though, if it was that easy I’d do it. The couple years as vice-captain were fun, but more than enough for me. I don’t want that responsibility heaped on me again.”
Publicity Stunt cleared her throat. “Anyway, if it was just that it wouldn’t be much of a problem. The real problem is where the story is coming from. It’s run by both the Sun and the Cloudsdale Courier. Same story, down to the details.” She looked around the room as everypony grew serious again. “That’s one of the biggest tabloids in Equestria, and the biggest pegasus paper. I don’t need to explain why that’s bad.”
Silver Lining let out a slow whistle, turning to Rainbow. “Whose wing did you step on to warrant that kind of reaction, Crash?”
“How am I supposed to know? I don’t think I…” Rainbow paused, then blushed and rubbed her neck. “Ah, on second thought I might have a theory. Now, I’m not saying that’s the reason, but it might possibly have something to do with Pinkie and me booby-trapping my house against paparazzi. Maybe.”
Everypony in the room stared at her, waiting for the other horseshoe to drop until Spitfire finally broke the silence. “And when you say booby-trapped, you mean…?”
Rainbow fidgeted slightly. “You know, the usual stuff… just some harmless pranks to keep paparazzi out of my home. I’d been wondering how Playcolt got its hooves on my fanfiction, I guess… well, maybe the ones from The Sun and the Courier had already triggered most of them.”
Spitfire took a deep breath in an attempt to brace herself for the answer to her next question. “...how many?”
Rainbow perked up slightly, raising her right wing to count on her primaries. “Oh, uhm, let’s see. There was the paint bomb, the glitterbomb, the small thunderheads installed around the windows, the one with the streamers, the cotton candy cloud behind the front door…” She turned to her left wing. “The cupcake launcher, the party cannon, uhm…” She stared at her feathers for a moment, mumbling quietly before looking up. “…can one of you spot me a wing or three?”
Surprise let out a slow whistle, nodding with a look of deep respect for her fellow pranksters. “Yeah, I can see how that would spark a vendetta…”
Spitfire simply slapped a wing over her face. “Alright, fine. What’s done is done, I suppose all we can do now is run damage control. Pub, how bad is it?”
Pub frowned, looking down at her clipboard again. “Hard to say, to be honest. Only Rainbow Dash would know for sure how much of it is actually based on facts. According to the Cloudsdale Courier the Princesses did it as a favor for saving Equestria from one Gro... gar... Personally, to me it sounds like their informant choked on his food during the interview and they didn't notice. Again."
 A common hazard of the journalistic occupation, and always tragic when it happens… mostly because for every deceased paparazzo two new ones appear.
Rainbow let out an amused snort, moving up to get a look at the article. "Seriously? Grogar? That doesn't sound like a villain, that sounds like some grumpy old goat or something, complaining about them young alicorn whippersnappers on the throne."
Blaze scrunched up his muzzle, moving over to look as well. "Why would they even... You've literally saved Equestria or the Princesses more times than I can count on my primaries. Why would they try to make up a new one for their little mudsling?"
“Don’t ask me.” Publicity shrugged. “The point is, we’ll have to do something to address this. Two big papers like this, we can’t just wait it out and hope for the best. Running damage control for stuff like this is my job, but lots of ponies will likely ask you about it so we’ll have to at least try and coordinate this. I’d like you to-”
Publicity blinked, staring at Rainbow in confusion along with every other ‘Bolt in the room. “What do you mean, no?”
Rainbow glared back, ruffling her wings in irritation. “I mean that I’m done with these horseapples. A favor for saving Equestria, for saving the Princesses, for saving you guys, sleeping my way in and up… every other week they try to sell some variation of the same story and I’m sick and tired of it. And honestly more than a little insulted that ponies still think I’d need any of that to become a Wonderbolt. So no, I’m done playing their game.” She turned around, stomping up to her locker and starting to look through her bags.
Surprise stepped forward with a nervous and slightly worried expression. “Uhm… Crash? Rainbow, I know that you’re upset, but maybe you should try to calm down before you-”
“Before I do something I’ll regret?” Rainbow deflated a bit, then straightened up again and pulled a scroll from her bag. “I know I don’t always think straight when I’m upset. That’s why I prepared this in advance. Had Twilight look over it and everything.”
She took a moment to settle her wings and roll her shoulders, then walked over to Publicity and held out the missive. “Look, Pub… this is your job and all, and you don’t have to do this if you think it’s a bad idea. But Twilight thinks it should work, and I want to actually do something instead of always just reacting to these guys. And I’d owe you big time, if you do this.”
“What the hay are you talking about, Crash?” Spitfire frowned, looking over their PR manager’s shoulder as she unrolled the scroll.
Publicity’s eyes flew over the paper once, then again before she lowered the paper to stare at Rainbow with an unreadable expression. “Rainbow… do you have any idea what this is? That’s-”
Publicity froze, slowly looking down at her empty hoof before turning her head even slower, her face an emotionless mask as she stared at the Wonderbolts Captain hovering in the air behind her and holding the scroll out of her reach. “Miss Spitfire. I would like you to know that I have the utmost respect for you, and as such I am giving you exactly five seconds to return that scroll before I will regrettably have to rip you a new one.”
Spitfire smirked down at her, tossing the scroll up and down on her hoof. “Pub, I’m the Captain of the Wonderbolts. I’m pretty sure I could outfly, outfight and even outrun you if it came down to it.” She tensed and fumbled as the general temperature in the room suddenly dropped several degrees, backing away a flap and clutching the scroll to her chest. “S-so, ah… why don’t you just-”
“TIME’S UP!” Publicity roared, shooting towards her fast enough that Spitfire just barely managed to dodge and kicking off the wall to go right back into another tackle.
Soarin carefully shuffled closer to Rainbow, never once looking away from the two mares flying around the room in a mixture of high-speed chase and three-dimensional catfight. “Crash… what the hay was on that scroll?”
“I WILL PRY IT FROM YOUR DEAD HOOVES! I’VE DEALT WITH THE PRESS FOR YEARS, DON’T THINK I CAN’T GET AWAY WITH A MURDER OR TWO!”
“Thank you all for coming to this press release.” Publicity Stunt looked over the room full of journalists, several dozen ponies all somehow wearing variations of the same hat and holding the same little noteblocks at the ready. “This is just intended to be a short announcement, so if you could save your questions until afterwards–”
“Ma'am, what do you have to say about the rumors of Captain Spitfire suffering from domestic abuse?”
“Or getting into barfights after training?”
“Or running into a door! Bear with us, we're still figuring out which one to start.”
She glowered down at the first two interrupters before shooting a barely perceptible smile at the Turnip's delegate, revelling at the dirty looks some of her colleagues were shooting the grinning pegasus mare.
 A comparison both the ‘honest, reputable’ journalists and Quick Wit herself vehemently argued against at any opportunity.
“If you are asking about the, ahem, 'shiner’ the esteemed Captain is sporting today,” Publicity started in her professional voice, taking a glance back at where Spitfire, Rainbow Dash and Soarin were standing at attention towards the back of the stage but still in view. Somehow all three of them managed to keep up a neutral expression, despite the rather impressive black eye big enough to be easily identifiable even behind the shades Spitfire was wearing.
She turned her attention back to the reporters. “Those rumors are unfounded. Captain Spitfire simply had a small altercation with one of the staff at the Wonderbolts HQ over the extent of their duties, specifically taking over one of said duties. I am sure that she only wanted to be helpful, and that she will remember not to get between an employee and their special talent again.” She ignored the barely audible snicker from behind her and waited for the muttering in front of her to settle down again.
“Now then, if we could get to the actual reason for this press release?” She looked over the gathered ponies, daring them to interrupt her again. “Very well. As I'm sure you're aware, there have once again been rumors about nepotism in the Wonderbolts, centered around Vice-Captain Rainbow Dash's induction and promotion.”
She paused as several reporters started to shout questions again, including, she noticed, the ones working for the Sun and the Courier respectively. A few slow hoof gestures managed to calm the crowd down again, allowing her to continue.
“Regardless of the details, Miss Dash has been rather upset by the sheer number of accusations of this kind leveled against her by both the press and the public over the last years.” She made a short pause for effect before continuing. “As such, she has offered to resign from her position as Vice-Captain and her spot in the main roster as soon as a suitable replacement is found.”
Her ears folded back against her head a second before the noise started, reporters shouting questions over one another and more than a few taking to the air in excitement, presumably only the presence of the security detail in front of the stage keeping some of them from flying in her face. Neither they nor Publicity made any further attempt to calm down the crowd, however, simply waiting until even the last ones had realized that they wouldn't get any further answers until they'd settled down.
“Now, I'm sure you have some questions about this turn of events…” Publicity calmly shuffled her notes as the shouting started up again, though it lasted only for a few moments this time. “So I will start with the most important one, namely who exactly will be filling in for Miss Dash's position. I have already stated that she will keep her current position on the team until such a time that we have found a suitable replacement for her. As such, the Wonderbolts will soon begin to hold auditions for anypony who feels that they can meet the standards set to replace Miss Dash. Everypony is allowed to apply, both Wonderbolts and non-Wonderbolts.”
She leaned forward slightly, completely letting her professional mask fall in public for the first time in many years and showing a predatory smirk that choked off any new questions before they could start. “As such, and after talking to Miss Dash and her teammates, the Wonderbolts hereby state that we will give her position to the first applicant who can prove to us that they can perform a triple corkscrew leading into an upside-down backwards loop and five-hundred-hoof ascent before finishing with a Sonic Rainboom."
“What?! You can't honestly expect–”
Publicity whipped her head around to glare at the Cloudsdale Courier reporter, narrowing her eyes. “What I expect is for the team to get the respect they deserve. According to your articles, you seem to be under the impression that Miss Dash doesn't deserve to be on the team. As such I find it fair to assume that any stunt she can perform shouldn't be too hard for a suitably skilled flyer to repeat. The combination I named is one she can and repeatedly has performed flawlessly.”
She took a step back again, looking over the gathered reporters. “Let me be perfectly clear. With your articles you didn't just spread rumors for a few more sold papers. You questioned Miss Dash's skills as a flyer, leader and team player, despite repeated proof of said skills. It's one of the greatest insults you can make against a Wonderbolt or any other performer, and this is our reply. So the next time you think that she or anypony else on the team hasn't earned their spot, you're free to try out for yourself. That is all.”
She turned around and walked off without waiting for any further questions, grinning as she met the three 'Bolts behind the stage. “Rainbow Dash, you were wrong. After this stunt I think I owe you one.” She shook her head and deflated slightly. “This is probably going to come back to bite me eventually… but right now? Totally worth it. Please tell me one of you made pictures.”
“Waaaay ahead of ya.” Surprise bounded in from the side, waving several polaroids, camera hanging from her neck. “I'm going to make a mint selling copies of these.” She held a wing to her mouth to breathe into it, sniffing it before turning to the others. “Which is a good thing, because I had garlic bread for lunch. One of you got a mint?”
Misty Fly chuckled as she joined them from the other side, carrying a camera as well. “I got some good shots in too, I think. Probably won't hold a candle to the ones Surprise made, but it's good enough for the scrapbook.”
“Scrapbook nothing, I'm going to frame at least one of those. Now, who wants to go and get drunk to celebrate before I start thinking about the potential fallout from this?” Publicity gave a wry grin, walking past them towards the back entrance. “First round's on me, second round's on Rainbow, third round's on whoever is the first one to ask me a dumb question.”
“Dumb questions like this one?” Surprise giggled, pulling a Bit bag from her mane as she bounced along.
“Well, I'm in.” Misty Fly grinned, pushing Spitfire and Soarin along. “Come on, Clipper, last one there buys the fourth round.”
“Just because I'm not vice-captain anymore doesn't mean I can't still fly laps around you any day of the week, Dizzy.” Soarin snorted, bumping her to the side to trot out ahead of her and taking to the air with a leaping start.
“And don't worry about letting your mane down at the bar, you got all us big strong stallions around to make sure nopony tries something untoward.”
“CELESTIA DAMN IT, MISTY!”