"Lisa!" Samantha cheered, "Back so soon? I thought you'd spend a little longer with Celestia, given... y'know, how much you seemed to be pushing for that?"
"It's alright," the girl responded, a downcast smile on her face, "I'm feeling better now. I... I think it's time for me to go."
"Are you sure, darling?" Rarity countered, "You seem to be awfully rushed at the moment. Is there anything you'd like to share?"
"Mmm... not really," Lisa hummed, "Just being able to talk to the Celestia I knew when I was younger seemed to lift quite a bit of weight off my shoulders. Even if she doesn't speak or move as naturally as the current iterations of herself do, it just feels... almost nostalgic, I guess."
Celestia raised a hoof.
"So, allow me to better understand this..." she trailed on, "I will continue to function, as a redundant entity operating alongside a human player?"
"Yes," Samantha nodded, responding for her friend, "We were talking about this before Lisa logged on this morning. Speaking of which..."
She turned to Lisa.
"You said that you felt about ready to leave the simulations now?"
Lisa hesitated for a moment before giving a single, forceful nod.
"Wait," Twilight blurted, "Before you go, I want to apologize for earlier. I was being a little rude to you, even after all that you've done. I know you want to do the right thing, even if you sometimes mess up along the way. It's just who we are, after all. And... in some weird, crazy way, I know I'm still connected to you. Not quite as physically as before, but..." she smiled, "You'd understand."
"Thanks," Lisa beamed, "Though, you didn't have to apologize. I know part of it was on myself as well. I should've known better given--" she cleared her throat, "--the conscious state of your respective AIs. I honestly thought that everything still ran more or less like a chatbot back then; I say something, you say something in return, so on, so forth."
"Lizzy," Samantha reminded, "I don't quite think they really understood you past the second sentence."
Twilight shook her head. "No, I understand, Lisa. Just try not to dwell on it anymore, alright?"
Lisa didn't respond.
She let out a heavy sigh.
"Yeah, I'll try not to," she replied, "Though knowing myself, it's gonna take a while."
A round of quiet chuckles made its way around the room before dissipating into silence.
"Hey Lis," Samantha whispered, breaking the silence, "I'm gonna be logging off in a moment. I'm gonna see if I can get my old position as CTO back at our company. 'Kay?"
"Go ahead," Lisa smiled.
Samantha nodded, a faint beep emanating from her character before she vanished into a mist of pixels.
"Woah!" Pinkie gasped, "She can do that?!"
Lisa shook her head with a chuckle. "No, it's probably some kind of logoff effect she added for fun," she answered, "Same thing's probably gonna happen to me when I leave, too."
"I will surely miss you when you do leave, Twilight," Celestia sighed, "Do you plan on returning eventually?"
"Maybe," Lisa grinned, "For now though, I want to experience life-- real life, outside of Equestria. Y'know?"
"So..." Twilight asked, "What will you do now, then? I can't personally think of what I'd do in a situation like this, outside of... heh, studying everything, I guess."
"I don't know," Lisa shrugged, "But... I think that's what excites me. Just the past few weeks alone has been more eventful than nearly any time in my life!"
"That is good to hear," Celestia added, "I wish... for you to have a long and prosperous life!"
Lisa nodded one last time, a beaming smile on her face.
"And I wish the same for Equestria."
The girl blindly reached out for her keyboard and closed her client program. She continued to sit still in her chair, her sight filled with nothing but black as the headset entered standby mode.
A single tear ran down her cheek. Slowly, she lifted the device off her face with both hands, gingerly placing it on her desk. Her eyes widened.
I didn't even properly say goodbye, she realized, still staring at the headset.
She wiped her cheek with her sleeve.
In any case, thank you for everything, and goodbye, Equestria. Maybe I'll return once again, sometime...
Lisa stood up from her chair, a hand still on the worn headset. Flecks of white fluttered past her window as the wind whistled outside.
She took a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh. She swayed on her feet for a moment before collapsing onto her bed.
The girl awoke to the faint buzzing of her phone.
Squinting in the midday sunlight, she reached out, lazily grabbing at the device before finally taking hold of it. She answered the call, paying little mind to whoever the caller was.
"Now you answer. Only took some five or six calls, y'know?" Argall's voice grumbled, "Anyways, I'm almost home, but I'm just gonna grab something before heading off to the HQ. You wanna come along?"
Lisa rolled over onto her back, still holding the phone to her ear.
"Sure, how long 'till you're back?"
"About five minutes. Be ready when I get home if you're coming!"
"'Kay, bye dad, love you!"
"Love you too, Lisa."
The girl hung up, pocketing her phone as she took another glance out her window. More puffs of white blew past as the sunlight dimmed. With a brow raised, Lisa climbed over her bed to the window, glancing outside.
The once-vibrant cityscape below was now blanketed by a layer of soft white. Still more snow continued to drift down as the snowstorm gradually began to once again pick up its pace.
The sound of the garage door opening downstairs took her focus off of the weather. The girl waited, listening as she heard heavy footsteps enter the house nearly a minute later.
"Lisa!" Argall shouted, climbing the stairs, "You ready to go? Tim said that he wants to stay behind and read some new webcomic he found last night. I already found the thingy I needed and stuffed it in the car, too."
"Yeah, coming!" Lisa chirped, opening her door just as the Professor reached the top, "What is it that you're bringing to HQ, anyway?"
Professor Argall shrugged. "Just some old parts and stuff," he mused, "Figures today would be the day that they need some spare parts that aren't in stock, eh?"
Lisa chuckled, following closely behind as Argall turned, descending the stairs.
"It definitely snowed quite a bit last night as well. Did you hear the wind last night?"
Lisa shook her head.
"Mm, you were probably too busy in Equestria to notice. But we just got hit with good ol' lake-effect snow for the first time in years!"
Lisa glanced out the windows lining the sides of the front door, her eyes widening at the layer of snowpack that had accumulated.
"I know, right?" Argall continued, "From any other window, it still looks pretty small of an amount, but when you look at the windows that go from the floor to the top of the doorframe, it kinda puts things in context."
The girl smiled as the Professor continued to ramble on and on about the snowfall. Evidently, it'd been a while since he'd seen much snow, either.
"...And back before the flooding wiped out the nice coastal property, I was thinking of retiring to the beachfront. But nooo, mother nature just went up and said 'hey, how about no?', and..."
Argall let out a heavy sigh as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
"Well, I guess Silicon Slopes here is probably one of the best places in the state to be in at the moment anyways... Probably even the best place this side of the Rockies, even. Except for the weather, that is. The weather here's still crazy as always..."
"C'mon," Lisa tugged on the Professor's jacket sleeve, "Don't forget what we're doing while you're thinking about retirement. You've still got plenty of time for that later."
"Alright, alright," Argall shrugged passively, walking behind Lisa to the garage, "Let's go."
The satisfying crunch of the fresh snow emanated from beneath the car as it pulled out of the driveway. Lisa watched idly as her window fogged from her breath, before etching a smiley face into the condensation. She jerked back in her seat as the car abruptly stopped, lurching backward again moments later.
"Ah," Argall blurted, "Tire slipped there. Don't worry about it."
Lisa sighed, letting her shoulders slump as she turned her attention back to the quickly-fading drawing on the window. She retraced the blurring lines with a finger, retracting her arm afterward to admire her work.
The girl lurched in her seat yet again as the car bumped off the driveway onto the frozen asphalt.
"You good back there, Lisa?" Argall asked, "I doubt these tires have very much traction at all with all this snow around, so just be careful in case if the car slips on any more ice."
"Yeah," Lisa nodded, shifting away from the window, "That's a bit obvious."
Slowly, the vehicle began to turn, continuing to drift slightly to the side even as Argall was shifting gears. Snow and ice crunched under the tires as the vehicle began to inch across the snowpacked street in a rumbling crawl. Nearly a minute passed as the car skidded steadily towards the T-intersection up ahead.
The main road was much clearer; very little snow covered the asphalt, and in places where white still obscured the road markings, the existing tire tracks were more than enough to guide the way. The near-inaudible hum of the car's motor grew into a low grumble as Argall made a turn, accelerating as he adjusted for the cleaner roadway.
Soon enough, however, Lisa and Argall once again found themselves still, waiting at a red light.
"Look at all that snow sittin' on that car's roof," the Professor chuckled, pointing at car nearing the intersection from the right, "Kinda looks like a frosted cake got plopped up there."
"Mm-hmm," Lisa hummed, pressing her handprint into the fog on the window.
Professor Argall yawned for a moment, catching glimpse of the light turning green. Lisa felt the car pulling forward as they passed through the center of the intersection.
The last thing Lisa heard was the squeal of tires-on-ice.
Please, no... not again, not now...
She felt the impact. She felt their car being flung into a spin. She felt the cold, hard window against her head.
The memories flashed through the girl's unconscious mind.
"Mom! Mom! Are you okay?!"
"We've got two! ...passed out from the smoke, focus on him first!"
Gradually, the memories cleared from her head as she awoke to Professor Argall staring down at her.
"Ah, there you go! You took a nasty hit to the head back there when the car spun out. Really got nicked hard, didn't ya?"
The Professor chuckled as Lisa sat up, lifting her still-sore head from Argall's lap. She groaned, rubbing her temples as she stole a glance outside.
Shreds of fiberglass and metal littered the intersection around them, and police were helping to direct traffic away from the site of the accident. She narrowed her eyes, staring at the fractured bumper of the other car poking up from a snowbank off the side of the road.
"Don't worry, Lisa, the lady driving the other car's fine," Argall assured, "Bit spooked, yeah, but no major injuries. Let's just be glad that this is as far as it got."
Lisa winced as a searing pain pierced her head.
"Hey, hey, go easy on yourself, 'kay?" Argall comforted, "Pretty sure that a hit that hard would give you a light concussion. Best lay back for a bit and relax."
The girl nodded, lying down on the backseat as Argall opened the door. She shuddered as a chilling wind rattled through the car.
"Just wait here, Lisa. I'm gonna talk to the officers and the lady who hit us. Just negotiate a little bit and stuff like that."
She felt the car jolt as the door closed. Outside, she could just make out Argall's voice through the howling wind whirling about the vehicle.
"...and you're sure you're alright? Those scrapes you got there sure look nasty... Oh, no, I do in fact have band-aids in my car. You fine with plain ones?"
Lisa lifted her head slightly as Argall opened the door, rummaging around in the glovebox before extracting a visibly crushed box of band-aids. He turned his head, responding to someone behind him before closing the door again. Lisa lowered her head back to the cold faux-leather.
"Oh, by the way," Professor Argall suddenly burst, swinging the door open once more, "Do you still wanna go to headquarters with me? It's absolutely fine if you want to go back home instead, especially after this whole fiasco."
"No, it's okay," Lisa mumbled softly, a smile on her face, "I'll still go with you."
The Professor paused for a moment, staring at Lisa.
"Just in case though, I'm gonna bring you to the hospital first. Just relax for now. We don't know exactly how hard you hit your head yet, but it's best not to take any chances."
The door shut again. Lisa watched as the Professor disappeared beyond her view.
Lisa sat silent, idly swinging her legs underneath her chair as she and Argall waited. She stared up at the dimly-glowing digital clock on the wall above the entrance, then down to the small pile of magazines on one of the waiting room's tables.
Professor Argall caught sight of the magazines as well.
"Oh," he began, "Um... do you want me to bring some over for you?"
Lisa gave a slight nod, wincing from her still-developing headache.
"Lisa?" a voice called, "The doctor is ready to see you."
"Ah," Argall chuckled, standing up from his seat, "Well, I guess you can read 'em later, then. Let's see how bad you got dinged by that window."
The girl stood up as well, albeit slowly as she rubbed the still-sore spot on her head. She shot a final glance at the pile of magazines, spotting an obscured image of herself and Samantha on one of the covers.
"Well, the good news is that you didn't fracture anything."
Lisa shifted in her seat, glancing about the room. Professor Argall stood beside her.
"A-and the bad news?" she stammered, "How bad is it?"
"You've got a bit of internal bleeding going on. It's nothing major, and based on the scan results, I'm quite sure that an operation is unnecessary. Just take things slow, and get lots of rest. Alright?"
Argall let out a relieved sigh. "Well," he began, "Lisa, you still planning on heading to headquarters, or do you wanna go home for now?"
A smile formed on the girl's lips.
"Dad, you know I'm still going to HQ, even after everything that's happened. I've spent too much time cooped up alone, and I'm not gonna go back to that."
"Ah, I'd figure you'd be saying that," the Professor mused, "Well, let's go then, Lisa. I'll keep a better eye out for other cars spinning out into the intersection, alright?"
The radiologist let out a slight chuckle and hurriedly left the room.
"Go ahead and sleep in the car on the way there, Lisa. No hurt in getting some rest after what happened, y'know?"
The girl nodded.
"Lisa, wake up," Argall whispered, nudging the girl's arm, "We're here."
Lisa groaned, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she glanced up, blinking.
"Samantha heard about what happened as well," Professor Argall continued, "I told her you were fine, but she wants to see for herself anyway... though, she's just a bit busy at the moment. Can you walk by yourself out here?"
"Y-yeah," Lisa stammered, "I... I think I can."
She undid her seatbelt and stuck a shaky leg out of the car.
"One leg at a time, Lis, that's the trick."
She flinched as the sound of another car sped by behind them.
"Shh, it's alright. You're safe here. Watch your step now, parking lot's still a bit icy..."
Lisa paused for a moment, staring at the snow ice beneath them before shaking her head, groaning.
"Ah, here," Argall mused, outstretching his hand, "Lemme help ya up. Looks like you got a wicked headache forming up there still."
The girl said nothing, taking the Professor's hand and pulling herself out of the vehicle.
"Lizzy!" Samantha burst from afar, sprinting toward her friend, "Are you alright? The crash was reported not too long ago, and I called up Argall as soon as I could!"
"Yeah, I think I'm okay," Lisa responded, wincing as her friend nearly tackled her into a bearhug, "Urk... definitely more than a bit shaken, but outside of a migraine, I think I'll be fine."
"Are you sure though?" Samantha countered, letting go of Lisa, "Do you feel dizzy or anything as well? Any ringing sound? What do you remembe--"
"Samantha, I think you should slow down a bit," Argall cut in, "Lisa's already showing a few signs of a concussion.
Though the medics said it wasn't all that bad, it's probably best not to stress her too much, 'kay?"
Samantha hesitated for a moment before nodding. She stared for a moment at her friend, then diverted her attention to kicking at a chunk of loose ice on the asphalt.
"So... anyway," she began, not looking up as she gave the ice another kick, "I met with Mr. Ascher earlier today. He said that I could have my position as CTO back. Do... I mean, are you planning on coming back to our company too, Lis?"
Lisa shrugged lightly, a smile forming on her face.
"What do you think I'm here for?"