by TheMajorTechie

3 ◈ But rise does the danger,

Twilight hummed idly as she pulled another book off the shelf. Days like today--when she had seemingly all the time in the world to herself--were becoming increasingly rare with how busy she'd become. It was nice to wind down every now and then to just... reshelve books.

In a way, it almost felt like she was decluttering her thoughts whenever she did this.

A smile formed at the edges of the mare's lips as she set the tome aside, though it didn't last long. "...Huh?" She raised a brow at the next book she'd been reaching for. The title on its spine flickered back to what it was before. Twilight shook her head. Just a figment of her imagination.

She pulled that book out, setting it atop the previous one on the table beside her. Her eyes lingered on its title for a few more seconds before she turned away. Just my imagination.

Twilight sucked in a breath. Maybe she was a little more tired than she thought she was. Still, leaving her books only partway reshelved was something she didn't exactly like doing. She scanned the remaining books on the shelf, reading over each title one by one. So far, so good. No weird flickering to be--

--seen. She cocked her head. This one was still flickering, even as she was looking at it. It was a little hard to tell what its title was through the mashed-together text on its spine.

"Spike?" she called. "Spike, you there? I... I think I might be feeling a little sick."

She peered at the books on the table, immediately raising a brow. The titles were different from what they were when she'd last looked at them. She picked up the most recent tome. Since when did she have a book titled 'Lisa'? Come to think of it, had she ever even seen a book with that title?

The next book underneath was the same, only its title read 'Timothy' instead.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard her assistant's footsteps approaching. He opened the door.

"Hey, Twi. You need something?" The dragon poked his head in. "I heard you say something about feeling sick. You feeling alright?"

"Kinda, I guess. Could you bring me something to drink, please? I'm beginning to feel that the hot temperatures we've been getting these past few days might be getting to my head."

Spike nodded and retreated from the doorway. He reappeared mere moments later with a small bottle in hand. "Found some yogurt in the kitchen. Will that do?"

Twilight ignored the logistics of how Spike could've traveled downstairs to the kitchen and back in only a matter of seconds. "Thanks, Spike." She lit her horn, taking the bottle. She gave it a good shake in case of anything settled.

And then she stopped. Something about the bottle. It seemed... familiar, somehow. She pushed the thought aside. Again, it must've been the heat getting to her. Of course it'd be familiar! It came from her own refrigerator!

She tore the foil lid off the top of the bottle and raised it to her lips, only to once again be stopped. This time, by a painful yank on her side. She yelped, dropping the bottle as her hoof instinctively flew to her side. Her eyes followed close behind, landing on a cluster of tubing running out of her body.

"Spike?" Twilight slowly turned her head. Spike was gone.

Lisa shot up in bed, panting. Were there any--she ran her hands over her body, breathing a sigh of relief. No tubes. She could still feel her heart pounding in her chest after that nightmare. She closed her eyes, thinking back to that breathing exercise that Cadance... or at least, whoever might've been playing as Cadance--had taught her.

In, out. In, out. In... out.

The room was quiet now, at least. No humming from the hulking machine in the room, no footsteps outside... though, she could hear some faint conversation from next door.

...Wait, wasn't that Timothy's apartment?

She hopped out of bed, making a beeline for the door. The fact that she could feel every little imperfection in the floorboards served as a reminder that her bare feet were far softer than the hooves she had as a pony.

Though, now that she was outside, maybe it wouldn't hurt to get a bit of fresh air before heading to her brother's place.

...The fact that her assistant and sort-of adopted brother was actually her biological brother all along still felt more than a little weird.


Timothy's apartment was the one right behind her own, if one were to count the sides with the doors as the fronts. She could see light pouring out into the night as she walked past the small side window. She stopped in front of the door, bringing a hand up to knock.

"Come in, Lis. We heard you outside already."


Lisa opened the door. Her eyes immediately shot to Samantha, who was currently sitting on Timothy's cot.

"Hey," Samantha waved, "you're up pretty late tonight. Something on your mind?"

Lisa shook her head. "No, not really. What were you two talking about?"

"Th--" Timothy began to speak, but was quickly cut off by Samantha.

"Someone's been trying to hack into the servers. I have no idea what they're after right now, but from what I've read in the report I got, there's reason to believe that they've already succeeded."


No response, save for the clicking of buttons on the young woman's gamepad.

"Rosanne, what are you doing? Why aren't you working?"

Rosanne's headset was lifted from her face. She scowled at the intrusion into her nature exploration game. "Hey, gimme some slack already, Selene. I did what you asked, and now I'm taking a break. What else am I supposed to be doing, Moonbutt?"

It was Selene's turn to frown now. She placed down the headset on Rosanne's desk. "First of all, don't call me Moonbutt. You were able to get in using your old company credentials, yes?"

Rosanne nodded.

"And you took advantage of the disconnection event as a distraction? Snagged yourself the files that we're after?"

Another nod.

"Then why are you slacking off?" Selene tightened her grip on the headset. "You have the perfect opportunity to strike them again right now. With their external network still down for the count, they've been acting like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. Tell me what's stopping you? Money?" She slipped her other hand into a pocket. "You want more money for the job, I can pay you that money. It's a whole lot cheaper than buying one of their private sims as it is anyway."

"No, no, it's not the money." Rosanne shook her head. "It's just... don'tcha think we're going a little overboard with this? That whole talk you had with me about bringing them to their knees made you sound like you were a bit in over your head. Wouldn't it make sense to step back now that we have what we wanted? Just kinda lay low for a while?"

"No, and you don't work for them anymore, anyway. You don't have to act nice to make your old boss happy anymore." Selene tossed the headset back into Rosanne's lap. "And, again, don't forget that you're being paid to do what I say. You made the choice to join me when you quit, and I expect for you to stand by that choice. What's the progress on the ransomware?"

Rosanne nearly choked. "Wh-what?" she sputtered. "I don't remember you ever asking about that! All you said was to nab some files off the company servers to build a private sim for yourself! You know how seriously they take stuff like this as it is--you used to work there yourself!"

"I know." Selene turned away. "I know. Hey, before I go, I've got something I'd like to know. Why did you quit? You had a well-paying position, basically all the freedom you wanted, so long as you did what you had to do... heck, with how much you make for your age, it'd only be a few years tops before you had enough to buy yourself a decent little house with a car to match. What gives? Why did you decide that I was a better choice than the job you left behind?"

Rosanne shrugged. "Just thought it'd be a little more interesting, I guess. I don't really worry much about money, since I don't need to make very much anyway, so I just go with what seems more exciting." She fidgeted with the strap on her headset. "And you? You're interesting. You and your hacker-for-hire position that you were looking to fill. My brother used to have the same boredom problem as me, but he chose to splurge some of our parents' money on a private sim for himself, but me?" She placed the headset back over her face with a grin. "I like my excitement real."

"Wait. you--your family can..." Selene balled her fists. "Your family can afford private sims? Why didn't you tell me? What’s the point of taking pay if you don’t need it?


Selene whirled around to face her employee. "Why even bother with the crap I put you and myself through? Don't you have some kind of reputation to protect or something, Miss 'My Family Has Money to Splurge'?"

Rosanne lifted her headset, staring into Selene's eyes. Save for the latter’s seething breaths, the room was silent. She placed the device back on her desk, turning away from her boss.

"I... don't know."

"Well, I’d like for you to take some time to think about it."

Selene left the room without another word.