Sundays were quiet for CHS. While some staff and students would visit, for varying reasons, the school was usually abandoned on early Sunday mornings. With that in mind, the figures gathered in front of the statue were making no effort to be discreet.
Rainbow back flipped off the statue, even as it's head followed her motions. "I dunno, Discord. I think having it do a handstand would look pretty cool, but it was pretty awesome before." Pulling up and hovering, lines glowing across her skin even as her wings billowing behind her, she watched the statue reposition itself. "Maybe if it looked like it was boxing?"
Celestia stared at Bedlam, who was watching the proceedings with a massive grin. "Did you put your counterpart up to this, Ms. Bedlam?"
"Do you really think he needs my help?"
After a moment of thought, Celestia sighed. "No. Not really. But it would be nice to pretend things would calm down once you left."
Pinkie and Discord turned from where they were watching the statue, starting first at Celestia, then at one another. As one, the two burst out into demented laughter. Pinkie was the first to recover. "Oh man- it's never going to calm down, is it?"
Princess Twilight sighed as she approached, Sunset walking up beside her. "Unlikely. I've never gone more than a week or two without some problem popping up. I doubt it's going to be any easier over here, what with magic becoming common."
Sunset groaned. "Every Tuesday, right?"
"It might be Thursday here." Twilight mused, looking up at the gray skies. "Both Anon-A-Miss and Scootaloo's magic got started on a Thursday, so that pattern seems to be set. My arrival both times we had a joint disaster here happened on a Thursday." looking thoughtful, she frowned. "I wonder if magic has a thing for patterns..."
Bedlam shook her head. "No, Twilight. Not this magic, anyway." She spat to one side. "Equestian magic loves patterns and order- that's one of the reasons I was considered a demon in the first place."
Aria glared at Bedlam and growled "Yeah, and you embraced it."
"Never said I didn't, girlie."
Applejack approached the group, favoring her left leg. "I swear, Aria, you use a lotta cheap shots."
"You may be the paragon of honesty, but I figure it's better to be a live liar than a dead paragon." Aria responded. "You don't have to use my dirty tricks, but you need to know how to recognize them, and there's nothing like a little pain to remind you to watch my offhand."
"Yeah, yeah." Applejack grumbled. Turning to look over the rest of the group, she smiled. "Twilight, it was great of you to come by, even if it was for a round'a trouble. Sorry you haveta leave so soon, but Granny rules the roost at home, and Ah ain't gonna go against her decision."
Twilight smiled. "No, she's right. You all have school tomorrow, and having me around would be a big distraction." Looking at the woman waving cheekily from beside her counterpart, her smile dropped. "And I suspect that having Bedlam here any longer than necessary would result in far more shenanigans than would be healthy."
Sunset responded with a smile. "Still, it's always sad to see you go, Twilight. I wish the other Twilight was here to see you off, though. I know she wanted to see how the portal worked."
Rarity spoke up from nearby. "Do you know why she left, Sunset?"
Sunset frowned. "She mentioned wanting to visit her lab and get her data recorded." Her thoughts turned to their new friend. I'm not certain why she needed to do it today, though. Why did she seem so adamant about getting this done now?
Twilight glanced up from her notes as Shining Armor pulled up the drive of Crystal Prep. Packing away her paperwork, she pulled herself out of the car, glancing back and forth across the abandoned parking lot, the only signs of anyone present at the school evident in the few parked cars in the faculty positions.
As she looked up at the imposing edifice, Twilight felt a hand settle onto her shoulder. "Twilight, are you certain we should be here? I mean, I know you want to talk to get into your lab, but-"
"But nothing, Shining." Twilight adjusted her glasses, then paused. Sighing, she turned back to her brother. "Yes, I know you wanted to go home and talk to mom and dad, but I really want to get the record data from the long range scanners. Sunset was really curious about it, and I-" Twilight hesitated. "I'd like to pay her and the other girls back for what I put them through. Sunset's been a huge help with my research, after all."
Shining smiled softly, but it soon turned to a frown. "Twilight, I'm glad you're starting to make friends. But, it seems like publishing your findings like you've planned..."
"I know, Shining." Twilight looked back at the school, a bitter edge to her voice. "Revealing magic to the world as it is now would destroy any sense of privacy Sunset has, and likely cause all of them trouble." She shook her head. "I'm trying to figure out a way to get everyone what they want..." She hesitated, then continued. "I might need to do something drastic." She steadied herself. "Shining- I may need your support if things go wrong. Can I-"
Shining cut her off, drawing her into a tight hug. "Always, Twily." Letting her go, he grinned. "So long as you're my LSBFF, I'm with you."
His grin warped. "As long as you stop blackmailing me about dating Blueblood, that is."
Twilight grinned sheepishly. "Okay, okay..."
Turning, she walked towards the front of the school, then paused. Turning back, she noticed Shining simply leaning back against his car. "Wait- why aren't you leaving?"
"I'm not going until you get back, Twily."
Twilight's smile widened. "Really? Thank you." Turning, she trotted towards the front steps of the school.
As Twilight departed, Shining slumped back, then pulled out his phone. Browsing through the contacts, he quickly tapped a familiar name. "Hey, Cady? ...yeah, love you too. Sorry for missing Thursday night, but I've been helping my little sister. Hey, listen, Twilight just went to her lab. Could you keep an eye on her?" He paused. "No, I don't think she's doing anything wrong. But, remember about those... discrepancies you mentioned with other students? Turns out Twilight's been manipulated by Cinch as well." At a loud yell from the phone, Shining pulled it away from his ear."No, not as badly, but- please, I think she might clash with Cinch soon. Just- keep an eye on her, please?"
As he ended the call, Shining glanced up at the school. I've done what I can, Twilight. It's up to you and Cady, now. Thinking back to what he'd seen over the last few days, he closed his eyes. I know the Princess isn't you, but- I saw her strength. You could do that too, sis. Please, whatever you choose- don't lose sight of that strength.
Abacus Cinch glanced up from her desk, noting a small alarm going off. With a flick of the wrist, she deployed her monitor from below the desk and rolled her keyboard out. Accessing her monitors, she quickly looked over the school's electronic lock system. Front door access given to a student account- nothing wrong there. Access to the labs? She paused. Twilight Sparkle.
Looking over the monitor, Cinch frowned. Ms. Sparkle had not contacted Cinch after her school visit- which was not unusual as such. If the girl had made a significant discovery, then it would make sense for the child to lose herself in her research. But- if her star pupil had discovered something so interesting as to bring her to school on the weekends, she would have expected her to stop by on Friday, or perhaps Saturday, if she was worn out after her examinations at that third-rate institution.
Instead, she'd come in today, and while that in and of itself was not suspicious, it seemed odd that she could wait as long as she had, but could not wait until classes resumed Monday.
She might just be trying to conceal her research from the other students... but it pays to be certain.
Pulling up the data tap she'd planted, Cinch accessed Sparkle's computer. The first notice to pop up informed her that the file upload Twilight had begun once she'd gained access to her lab was complete. All of her monitoring data had been uploaded to an external hard drive, along with most of her blueprints and observations.
Cinch frowned, then noticed the other task Twilight had set to- updating her personal research journal.
Cinch raised an eyebrow, then switched to look at the new notes.
Observations inconclusive from a scientific standpoint, but input from colleagues at CHS have given a definitive "natural observation" edge to my research. All indicators show that there's something truly remarkable going on at that school, and through further collaboration with Sunset should-
Cinch froze on one of the words. "Twilight is collaborating with-"
Twilight bustled around her lab, having finished her personal notes- without any mention of magic. Downloading her findings hadn't taken long, and soon she'd have everything she needed to figure out the secrets of the new magic.
Well, some of them. It is magic, after all, and I'll be very surprised if I can figure all of it out.
As she finished her preparations for her next experiment, the intercom beeped above her. A terse voice echoed into the labs. "Ms. Sparkle, ,could you please report to my office, please? I would like to speak with you regarding your expedition on Friday."
Twilight looked up, frowning. Cinch's voice had sounded... strained, almost as though she was holding back anger. I know Ms. Celestia didn't send anything to Cinch, so why is she-
She grimaced. It didn't matter; she was absolutely certain that Cinch would not be happy to hear that she was slowing down her research. Far worse, she suspected that Cinch would be disapproving of much of Twilight's plans. And if she was right about how far Cinch was willing to go to bring fame to Crystal Prep...
Walking over to her desktop, she quickly loaded contingency I-9 onto her desktop. Let's hope it's not necessary.
Twilight opened the door to Cinch's office, slowly walking to stand before the principal's desk. Looking at the back of the tall chair before her, she paused, about to open her mouth- then stopped.
After a few long moments, Principal Cinch spun her chair. "Ms. Sparkle. It is good to see that you're resuming work on your project. Was the field trip to Canterlot High successful?"
Twilight caught the restrained note in Cinch's voice. She's upset. Very upset. Nodding, Twilight responded. "Yes ma'am. I was able to gather some crucial data on the energy phenomenon, including some esoteric errata regarding its effect on physical matter and individuals." Keep it oblique.
"I see." Cinch leaned back in her chair, with a carefully guarded expression. "And your observations of this data came from first-hand sources, or from your experiments?"
Twilight hesitated, starting to understand which way this conversation was going. "Neither, ma'am. Well, first hand for my observed errata, but my equipment failed and cost me the quantitative data on the energy itself."
Cinch looked triumphant for a brief moment, then continued. "I assume that the equipment failed due the interference of the students at CHS?" She shook her head. "That will reflect poorly on their-"
"Actually," Twilight cut her off "I caused the equipment failure, ma'am. I took the device used to record the data into an adverse environment, and nearly caused a catastrophic meltdown. " Of a person, not equipment, but she doesn't need to know that.
Cinch frowned, brow creasing. "Ms. Sparkle, it seems unlikely that anything you built would fail in such a way. Tell me exactly who destroyed your equipment, and I will ensure CHS stops their experiments."
"No one destroyed it but me." Twilight responded. "I- wait, are you trying to stop their research? What-"
"Ms. Sparkle." A note of annoyance crept into Cinch's voice. "CHS obviously is trying to sabotage our successes in research. I do not know why you are protecting whoever is hindering you, but we must pursue a means of countering their resistance."
"Sabotage?" Twilight spat. "You know, I said something similar to my guide when I arrived at Canterlot High. I assumed they were hiding something when she hadn't done any research." She scowled. "Turns out they weren't working with it because it was far more dangerous than I understood, and they were waiting on an expert to come observe. I was so obsessed with figuring out the truth that I blundered into something which nearly did a lot of damage." Twilight shook her head. "And once they fixed the problem, they shared what they knew."
"So you worked with them?" Cinch's voice grew hard. "Did you share any of your research?"
"No. Not yet, at least." Twilight tensed as she noticed Cinch grip the sides of her chair for a brief instance. "They've gone much farther than I ever have on this."
"And you received data from them regardless?" Cinch waited until Twilight nodded, then continued. "Then they have given us what we need. That should be sufficient to continue your research without further contact, I presume?"
Twilight blinked. "Without further contact? I'm planning on meeting them soon to share what I've discovered." Watching Cinch, she saw the tightness return to her principal's face.
"If CHS finishes their research first, then Crystal Prep loses face, Ms. Sparkle. Any help you give them will make it more difficult for you succeed. There will be no further contact with CHS." Spinning her chair around, Cinch waved at Twilight. "You may-"
Cinch turned. "I- what?"
"No." Twilight set her feet. "I received a lot of help from the students of CHS, even after I nearly caused-" She cut herself off, shaking her head. "They gave me all the information I could have asked for, and cooperating with them may be the only way for me to safely figure this out. I don't understand why you're against me working with them."
Cinch nearly snarled in response. "Ms. Sparkle, to succeed, to leave a legacy, requires making certain others do not share in your successes. Those who only assist the leaders of projects are forgotten, as Crystal Prep will be if CHS is the first to reveal their discoveries." She leaned forward. "Crystal Prep succeeds by being first in everything we do. That is a lesson every student knows."
"The lesson it teaches, maybe." Twilight said quietly. She held her head cocked for a moment, eyes sweeping the floor. "I assume that, if I fail to publish before CHS- or continue to work with them- my application to Everton or the advanced placement programs will continue to get... lost, correct?"
Cinch gave an almost-smile, then responded. "I am a very busy woman, Twilight. Staying within my good graces might be a good way to remind me to send them off a little sooner this year."
Twilight scowled at the floor. "You know... you told me once that you can;t get ahead without making certain no one can drag you down." She looked up, sharp eyes visible behind her heavy glasses. "But I'm starting to think that there's such a thing as doing too much to win." Twilight shook her head, then set her shoulders. "Principal Cinch- thank you for the use of Crystal Prep's resources. I will be certain to let the world know where I got my start on my research."
Cinch paused, eyes widening. "Where you got your start-"
"I believe, however, that the school environment is no longer conductive to my research. As such, I will be withdrawing from Crystal Prep, effective immediately." Her eyes narrowed. "Shining Armor seemed concerned when I described my experiences here, especially when I described my anxiety attack last year. I believe that my parents will listen to him, as well." She turned and began to walk from the room.
Cinch surged to her feet. "I will not allow this, Ms. Sparkle. Where do you think you will go? You will not be allowed to take any resources or credits from Crystal Prep. Your research will be stonewalled if you leave."
Twilight paused at the door, then spoke slowly. "Not if I go to the source." Without further conversation, she left the room, feeling lighter than she had in a long time.
As Twilight exited, Cinch felt her blood boil. The source. She's going to Celestia. Cinch immediately deployed her monitor, fixed on salvaging something from this disaster. First, lock Twilight out of the labs. That will prevent her from downloading any more data off the servers. Alright, that's done- now-
Cinch's focus on the task before her was absolute, tot he point where she failed to hear the opening and closing of the door before her. As she stopped in the middle of glancing over Ms. Sparkle's school transcripts, she heard a quiet cough sound from before her desk. Glancing up, she caught the violet gaze of her Dean of Students.
Cadence stood silently for a moment, then sighed. "I overheard your conversation with Twilight, ma'am." She gave a small frown. "Her transfer to CHS-"
"Will not happen." Cinch snarled, her composure broken. "I can't trust her with her research for now, but losing her to CHS will be devastating for our edge in academics. Her parents may be convinced that she is simply throwing a tantrum, and if that fails, I can make certain she is sent to another academy with a bit of work- not CHS."
"And how will you do that?" Cadence's voice was hard. "Use your connections to stop her applications from going to the right place?"
Cinch blinked, then forced her wrath down. "What connections are you talking about, Cadence?"
"The ones you get the off-the-books funding from." Cadence replied. "The ones whose contributions are dependent on keeping the criminal history and extracurricular activities of their students off the books. Mr. Sombra and Senator Penny Pincher would be very upset if they found out you did anything to make the authorities take a closer look at Crystal Prep's funding."
Cinch frowned. "Allowing Clipped Bit and Obsidian entrance despite their behavioral issue has proven beneficial to Crystal Prep. I don't think there's any laws against getting anonymous funding."
"True." Cadence's look grew viscous. "But the very fact you feel the need to keep those funding sources anonymous is indicative of just how disliked those individuals are. Add that to the fact that the bullying by their sons was one of the reasons Twilight Sparkle had her nervous breakdown last year-" she shrugged "well, PR nightmare hardly covers it, doesn't it?"
Cinch scowled. "Perhaps."
Cadence continued. "The only reason Twilight was talked into keeping quiet about her breakdown was because she didn't want her parents to know about her "failure." The sarcasm in Cadence's voice broke the affable tone she normally carried. "If you try to stop her from transferring, especially now that she's worked up the courage to leave, I don't think you'll be able to keep her quiet any longer. And, if her parents start demanding answers as to why her transfers have been stonewalled, there's a lot of dirty laundry for my cousin and brother to find." She gave a smile with a hard edge. "And of course, I would do anything in my power to help any student- even a former student."
Cinch froze, then took an appraising look at Cadence. "...I always considered you the soft one in your family, Ms. Amore. I should have known you had some steel in you."
"I have no idea what you mean." Cadence allowed her voice to slip back into her normal tones. "I'm simply pointing out the probable chain of events if you obstruct Twilight's transfer." She turned on her heel, and began to leave the office.
"You know, I'm surprised. If you're correct about the effect revealing this... information could have, why haven't you used it already?" Cinch mused out loud. "After all, you're the one who stands to take my place."
Cadence stopped, then swiveled to look at Cinch. "I don't want your job, Ms. Cinch. It seems too cold to me, too distant from the student body." she turned back to the door. "And just so you know- I'm nice. Not soft. There's a very key difference there."
Cadence allowed the door to clunk shut behind her. Cinch glanced down at the email she'd been composing, then moved over to her data tap. The words "Files Deleted" appeared on her screen.
Cinch frowned, then moved her cursor over to her downloads. Comparing the data she'd already gotten to the files missing, she couldn't help but feel impressed. Ms. Sparkle has learned something here- she covered her tracks and gathered allied without me noticing. Her frown morphing into a scowl, she deftly removed one file from what her data tap had kept. Unfortunately, there's nothing more I can do to her- for now. In the meantime- Selecting one incomplete blueprint from the list, she brought up the schematic, and carefully deleted the name. I'll need to steal a march on her. For all that she might be at the source of this phenomenon, Twilight will be working with far less resources, and far more oversight. Crystal Prep will beat CHS; there's not contest there.
I'll just need to find a replacement for Ms. Sparkle...