That last forlorn press of the button had made it painfully evident that steam power was insufficient to solve this problem. The look of utter despair in the Mare's eyes as Twilight pulled herself away from the Telescope was even worse.
A problem that couldn't be solved by steam power? Such a thought sent liquid nitrogen through her already miserable veins. Her faith in modern science remained as unshakable as her faith in the Mourning Princess.
So long as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, modern science would find a way. It was just becoming rapidly apparent that it was her definition of modern that was at fault in this situation.
She sat in the basement now – Pinkie being gracious enough to host their meetings in her room – a cup of fresh exotic coffee on the table in front of her frothed with steam. It was obvious that what was sufficient for the exotic coffee engine wasn't enough to drive the BEAM generator.
Their meeting was to figure out what was. Pinkie was attempting to be helpful.
"I mean, if you don't like radium, polonium is way more radioactive, so–"
"I'm going to stop you right there. Why would I be less concerned by more radioactivity?"
Pinkie's smile was excessive, but again, infectious. "Well, last time I only got a gram of it, and I got it up to five hundred degrees celsius before it started melting through the scale!"
"Five hundred degrees from a gram?" Twilight breathed. "If we got a kilogram of it, imagine... no. No, down that road lies danger and baldness. Do you really want both our manes to fall out?"
Pinkie contemplated that. "Well, wigs would suit me better..."
"A nuclear reactor is out of the question. I don't even think my house is zoned for it. I can't even imagine the paperwork I'd need to fill out to be zoned for it."
Pinkie hummed her disappointment. "Aww."
A stern, thoughtful nod from the unicorn. "So, what else do we have on the table?"
"Well, your exotic tea, and my hoof, and a white pigeon for some reason." Pinkie giggled.
Twilight looked down at the table. A pink hoof, a white porcelain mug of exotic tea and a pigeon notable only by its complete absence.
"Try poking it, Extra-Special Laser Artificer Pinkie," Twilight urged, watching carefully. She hoped the pony would be too focused on Twilight indulging in her new title to realize the oddness of the request. The pony had mentioned a 'poke' test...
The pink hoof lifted from its resting place and jabbed at the air at the center of the table with a swoosh. Pinkie's amused expression softened.
"Aw, it flew away before I could touch it. Why'd you have me scare it off, Twilight?"
"Maybe if we take some breadcrumbs to the park later, it'll come back," she smiled gently, lightly touching Pinkie's fetlock. The impossibly infectious smile returned. Somepony would have to catalogue it for the Collection Of Notable Diseases In The Empire.
"Alright, so steam is out. As is nuclear power. Wind isn't enough, and I don't have a hydroelectric dam just lying around. Even the ones that are quite literally lying around, I can't just borrow."
"Well, yeah, it'd probably be really difficult to move, at the very least. Think how many hansoms you'd need! It'd be so much easier to ask the Professor–"
Again, Twilight was forced to interrupt. "We're not asking anything of him. Even if he has every lightning capable pegasus working for him already. Alternatives?"
"Well... we could strap a whole bunch of cats to a whole bunch of balloons and use static power? Or uh... no, I think it's pretty much that or a bunch of uranium."
Twilight found herself standing outside Mellow Park Industries, the hub for all of Bright's industrial innovations. For dignity's sake she had taken a hansom here, rather than come crawling. Not literally.
’Power plants’ could produce vast amounts of power; from water sources like the Hoover Dam project, or from coal, or from the burning of natural gases. They could produce far more energy than anything Twilight's basement could hope to match. There was another power source, however, that triumphed over all others.
It was clean. It was renewable. It need not be mined or refined. It was even relatively abundant in the empire.
Pegasii, those who had mastered control of the weather, were capable of coaxing bolts of lightning from clouds. A single bolt of lightning carried about as much energy as five hundred pounds of coal in a burst, and a talented pegasus could generate several an hour. If Twilight could manage to get her grubby little hooves on said talented pegasus and some machinery blueprints, well... ten flashes in five days would become the paltry, ludicrously low number it should have been in the first place.
Twilight’s mane was pulled into a neat ponytail, and she had certainly dressed for the occasion: Her most respectable grey gown, accented by a single red rose pinned to the collar. Clean and tight around the breast, and only mildly ostentatious as it separated on the flank, parting into colourless and cascading waves of expensive – but not outrageously so – fabric.
If one were to pay attention to her, they would notice how sophisticated and refined it made her appear. It would not, however, catch their eye to begin with. In it, she could effortlessly blend into a larger crowd of clerks and solicitors and other suits.
It was a carefully considered choice of couture. It simultaneously allowed her to avoid a confrontation with Bright, to avoid being noticed at all, and allowed her to look her absolute best should that confrontation occur regardless.
As much as she loved her waistcoats and boilersuits and tweed jackets, they were all so unrepentantly masculine, which was not how she wished to approach this situation. Nor would it garner her the rightful respect she deserved. No, Twilight strove to conduct herself in this as a lady.
Admittedly, ladies did not engage in casual acts of industrial espionage, but that was probably only because they lacked ambition.
She sighed and approached the building from the street.
The building was typical of new industry in the Empire, much like the other factories that had been cropping up like fungus on a fetid corpse. Red brick, baked en masse, slathered with the cheapest cement, billowing black smoke from chimneys ten floors high and taller. Occasionally a little lightning bolt crackled out.
Double doors of cheap plywood painted in a nauseatingly pallid green stood between the Philosopher in Residence of the Empire and her quarry. In reality, the flimsy doors should have been far more intimidated of her and yet it was her hoof that hovered tentatively, hesitant, over the handle. A deep gulp, pushing the fear down her too-small throat, she forced the handle down, pushing the door open.
A dim and dirty incandescent bulb of Bright Spark's own design hung from the reception room's ceiling, swinging lazily back and forth on its frayed and corroded length of wire. A rather bored looking receptionist sat behind a gunmetal desk on a plywood folding chair that was somehow even cheaper than that of the door's construction. The only thing on the desk was a little bell, directly at its center. Hard benches squatted on either side of the doors, each flanked by wilting potted plants at either end.
Bright Spark may have stolen an awful lot from Pinkie Pie, but he certainly hadn’t stolen her good cheer.
Twilight approached the desk. The receptionist, a unicorn with a dirty blonde mane tied into a neat bun, wearing a stormy grey suit to complement the smattering of yellow, peered over her spectacles at Twilight.
"Yes," she drawled, "can I help you?"
Not once in her lifetime had Twilight heard a less sincere utterance of that question.
"I'd like to speak to a pegasus from the electrical production division?" Twilight asked, firmly, not letting this obstacle get to her in the slightest; no way, no how. The receptionist rolled her eyes, obviously bored, and Twilight had no idea how to react. Oh dear, it just got to her, didn't it? Why must this mare be so rude? "Preferably a manager."
"If you have enquiries or complaints about your bill," the receptionist sighed, speaking in a monotone like a recording from a wax cylinder, "the accounting department can be mailed at–"
"No!" Twilight interrupted, desperately, "No, I'm... I'm from the University. I'm trying to find a pony capable of giving a practical demonstration to a class on meteorology, and I've heard that your association only employs the best weather manipulators in the Empire!"
The receptionist pulled a stick of gum from the drawer in her desk and began chewing it loudly. A horrible fad imported from the zebra lands that would never catch on. "Alright. Go through those doors behind me and to the left, take a left, up the metal stairs – if you see the wooden ones you've gone too far – then follow the blue painted line."
"Oh. Where will that lead?"
The receptionist smiled, at last, and Twilight saw in that smile a filly who pulled the wings off of flies. "That's Rainbow Dash's office. That's who you should talk to."
"Excellent. Thank you very much! Your help was greatly appreciated," Twilight effortlessly lied.
As she pushed through the doors deeper into the bowels of the facility, she heard the receptionist snort derisively and cackle to herself.
Not exactly an auspicious start.
She had learned a little on her journey from reception to the end of the blue line. Following the green line would lead her to the lightbulb research and development labs. Heading down the red line would lead to fabrication. Back down the yellow line would lead her to the main electrical production floors, where all manner of helpful pegasii would be out and about to answer her questions.
All this she considered when she noticed the creeping, flowering tendrils growing out from the door at the end of the blue line.
Twilight approached the door. The vines did not shoot up her leg and strangle her, nor did they wrap around her ankle and drag her to an unforeseen doom. They merely lay on the factory floor, surprisingly green and lush. Their bright jungle flowers perfumed the air pleasantly, even if the smell was disconcertingly out of place. It was needless to say that it clearly was, and Twilight sincerely doubted telling it so would cause it to cease to be..
A wild jungle growing in the middle of a red brick factory was exceedingly disquieting for some reason. It was a thing that Should Not Be. Alarm bells went off in Twilight’s head.
She knocked on the door.
No answer! Wonderful, if nopony was there, then Twilight could leave without calling herself a coward, and all would be well. Entirely not her fault.
She knocked again, just to prove to herself she wasn't giving up so easily.
The door creaked open at her touch, far too ominously for polite company, unbidden.
"H-hello?" Twilight tried to ignore the nervous stammer in her own voice. "Is anypony in here?"
Alright, this was just getting utterly ridiculous. They were plants. It was a door. Logic and reason should hold fast and firm sway in her mind, and irrational fears should not take root.
Take root. Twilight chastised herself for the unintentional pun, giving her enough courage to push the door the rest of the way open.
The room was a jungle, captured in time and space. Creeping vines draped from the ceiling, a wall of green plant-flesh obscuring whatever the original material was. The jungle floor was mulch and leaves which crunched underhoof as she took her first, delicate step on it. The air was hot and humid, sticky, but not like how the center of the factory should feel. More like how the muggy tropical heartlands of the reclusive minotaurs feels.
The desk was a gleaming gold sacrificial altar – which wasn't even a metaphor for anything. It was literally a gold sacrificial altar – covered in pens and paperwork, with an in/out tray at one corner. The 'in' tray was towering dangerously, swaying under its own weight, and the 'out' tray had only one scrap of paper in it.
Twilight approached it cautiously, leaning in close. It appeared to be the receipt for the in/out trays. She looked back at the towering 'in' pile with a raised eyebrow.
A blade pressed to her throat. She went rigid, stone still, hoping that would protect her somewhat from the sharp edge being held to a very vulnerable spot. Her eyes darted around in their sockets, trying to identify her captor.
"Aha! A headhunter!" a raspy, masculine voice declared triumphantly. "Finally caught one, wot wot! Oh, this will be a fantastic haul for the colts back home, tally ho!"
Twilight dared not gulp nervously, as desperately as she wanted to. "I'm not a headhunter. I'm–" wait, a spy didn't sound much better, did it? "–a damsel in distress?"
The blade fell away instantly, and she was spun on the spot rather briskly, turned to face a blue pony dressed in safari gear. A tussled rainbow mane, not even an ambitious dye job so much as a naturally grown rainbow colouration, fell from beneath a tightly-fitted pith helmet. The mare seemed to be weighing her up.
"An adventurer always helps a damsel in need! It's the explorer's code of conduct!" the rather bombastic pony declared, speaking right from the gut and projecting her words with the force of an over-enthusiastic bellows. The knife, Twilight identified, appeared to be a rather sharp golden letter opener, curved wickedly to be reminiscent of a sacrificial blade, taped to the end of a cricket bat.
The pony noticed her noticing it. "I'm not much for paperwork and desk jockeying, quite right!" she declared, slinking around her altar and taking a seat on a plinth that seemed to be her chair. "My spear is my pen, and my Ooloo shield my clipboard! Of course, Mr Spark says he wants me to use an actual clipboard and pen – quite the joker he is, am I right? Ha! Ha ha! Ha!"
"So. You must be Rainbow Dash then?" Twilight hazarded. Was this the mare the receptionist had... ooh, wait 'til Twilight gave her a piece of her mind. "I was looking for the manager–"
"I be her, quite right!" Rainbow declared, proudly. Her eyes narrowed a moment, and she coughed, tapping her chest. "My apologies, what ho, I seem to have slipped back into Pirate Dash for a moment! That was a long time ago, all behind me now. Explorer Dash is where the mind needs to be focused, yes yes, quite right!"
"This is, uh... quite an impressive office," Twilight said, sincerely, looking around it again. Aside from the door she had entered, it really was like the jungle had just been plopped seamlessly right into the middle of the factory. The effect was uncanny. A bulb the size of Twilight's head hung from the center of the room, emanating heat like the noonday sun.
"I thank you, fair lady!" Rainbow grinned, pumping Twilight's hoof across the desk in a brisk shake. "The humidity is maintained from funnelling excess vapour from the cloud chambers! The sun I maintain myself with one bolt of lightning every three days, to keep it as hot as the heart of the jungle itself! The vegetation just takes care of itself after that! Every weekend I must make the perilous journey from doorway to desk with the use of my trusty machete!" Dash reached below the altar to grab it.
Twilight expected a bread knife, or perhaps a few butter knives taped together. What she did not expect was for the pegasus to grip firmly in her mouth a large, genuine, authentic kukri.
Alright, the letter opener she could forgive, but how the heck had she gotten that one in the office? How had no one taken it off her? Had anyone tried?
With a jerk of the pegasus' head, a vine fell toppling to the ground, leaking a noxious white sap. The knife fell back behind the desk, too. "Don't tell Mr Spark! That one's just between you and me, eh?!" she implored, smiling wide.“Now! What can this intrepid explorer help you with?!"
By the Princess, this mare was crazier than even Pinkie Pie.
Twilight pulled out her pocket watch. The hands glowed in the dimness of the jungle, causing Dash's own eyes to light up with it.
"Well, it's getting late, Ms Dash, I hate to interrupt your busy work–"
"The hands on that watch glow in the dark! That's amazing!"
"Well, yes, the radium–"
"What else have you got, Ms... I haven't caught your name! How dreadfully rude of me! Would you enjoy some rooibos and cocoa as an apology?"
The mare hacked away at some creeping flora with her kukri, making short work of it and revealing an electric stove, upon which she began boiling a kettle.
Chocolate tea, if she stayed in the company of this madmare? Only a weak, foolish pony would– oh dear, it smelled really good.
"My name is Twilight Sparkle. I was hoping you could spare a pegasus for a science project of mine."
"Science?! So you're a boffin then!" Rainbow exclaimed, pulling out a canteen from her desk. Of course she wasn't a hot beverage sort of pony, or else the vines wouldn't have grown over the kettle like they did. It probably meant she didn't have many guests either.
Twilight cringed. "I'm not a boffin..."
"Sure you are!" Rainbow declared, walking back around her altar and adventuring deep into the heart of Twilight's personal space, gripping one of her forelegs far too firmly for comfort, "Fetlocks don't lie, and yours are humming the boffins’ tune!"
"My fetlocks don't say anything!" Twilight took a step back, feeling deeply uncomfortable when a wildly smiling Rainbow took an even larger step forward.
"Ah, but they do! You may wear that dress like a lady, but you've got science-pony hooves! Lubricating oil caught around the hoof, tanlines where the boilersuit sits, coal dust ingrained no matter how hard the soap scrubs... The dress is too expensive, though, for a working pony! So, I figure you're a tinker!"
Twilight felt as if someone had told her that her fly was undone. From across a crowded room. "How... dreadfully perceptive," she lamented, a tad chagrin. This mare was wasted outside of Constable's Gardens. The Inspector would give a limb for a mare with this deductive ability. Possibly even one of her own.
"Naturally! An explorer needs to be perceptive, or a feral native might get the drop on her! Or a tiger! Or even a Nemean Lion! Or even a feral native riding a Nemean Lion with a pet tiger, for the scraps!"
"A real explorer adventures outside her office, occasionally," Twilight pointed out, slightly amused, largely annoyed.
Dash's wings fell to her sides. The kettle began whistling and she tried to disguise her reaction behind a desperate bid to make some exotic zebra tea for her guest. "Oh yeah? And what makes you think I don’t?"
"A real explorer wouldn't recreate the jungle in their office. They'd hang trophies and memories of their conquests. They wouldn't talk of what might have happened, future tense, but speak of hard-won lessons, past tense. You have no battle scars to speak of, your spear is a letter opener taped to a cricket bat, your cultist's altar still has the manufacturer's seal on it, and perhaps most tellingly of all, you've merely ignored your paperwork, as opposed to setting fire to it." She noticed Dash's body tense. "No, don't."
"It really is that obvious huh?" Dash sighed, proving something that Twilight had only theorized: apparently the mare did have an 'inside' voice. "Well, I want to be. I was just working here 'til I could work up the bits to fund my own expedition." Dash sighed, passing Twilight a cup of tea that she realized upon her first sip was too strong, too sweet and too milky. She drank greedily from it, anyway. Even bad chocolate tea was still chocolate tea. "Never wanted to be a manager."
Twilight eyed the 'in' tray with a faint smile bordering on conspiratorial.. "Really? I couldn't tell."
Dash smiled a little. "Yeah, I was really good at weather manipulation." Her chest puffed out, proving that her ego had greater regenerative properties than modern medicine thought possible. "The best! Nopony slings lightning like Rainbow 'Danger' Dash!"
Twilight's ears twitched at that, and her smile brightened. ‘Brightened’ is probably the wrong word, actually. It would be more accurate to say that Twilight's smile became distinctly mercantile.
"Oh yes?" Twilight hummed, almost as if she were bored. "Prove it."
Dash's eyes narrowed. Her voice lowered, certainly, but only grew in intensity. "You might want to back up a sec. Hide behind the altar. Hold on to your drink if you don't want to lose it."
Twilight shielded her precious exotic tea and did as was instructed. A pair of flight goggles slid down from under the brim of Dash’s pith helmet. Wings stood to attention and flexed.
Then? Then Rainbow launched herself.
A rainbow blur took up the center of the room as Rainbow pulled herself into a tight spin, a diameter of perhaps only a hula hoop. The humidity was ripped from the air and pulled inexorably into the center, forming a dark and angry cloud. After perhaps only fifteen seconds according to the pocket watch, and a tenth of that if Twilight were to go from feelings alone, Rainbow skidded to a halt, tangling herself in vines like bungie cords to slow her down.
A smirk at Twilight, smug and proud, lit up Dash's face as a rear leg shot out, stabbing at the cloud. It belched a bolt of lightning at the conductive metal of the altar. With another kick, it poofed back into the air, and the oppressive humidity of the room returned.
The pieces were starting to come together. She smelled opportunity here, even over the pungent jungle flowers.
"There's a principle in management theory," Twilight said, smiling as she walked back around to meet Dash at the center of the room, "that ponies are employed to their level of incompetence."
"Hey! Rude!" Dash flinched, eyeing Twilight's exotic tea as if she could take it back. Yeah, she could try.
"What I mean is, management isn't the job you want to be doing. You're here because you were too good at your old job, not because you're right for this one." Twilight pointedly looked at the potential avalanche that was Dash's 'in' pile. Not even the stormcloud in the room had shifted its sheer mass, somehow, and it stood defiant and resolute. If she wanted to scale a mountain, there was one right here.
Dash followed Twilight's eyes and gulped. "Yeah, I know you're right," she muttered, kicking a particularly thick vine idly with a hoof, "it's just that this pays a Princess's ransom. My old job couldn't even pay for a tramp steamer ticket after room and board, let alone a whole expedition!" Her nudging took a violent turn, frustration evident as her hoof came down hard on the vine. "Even if I was doing the work of ten ponies!"
"Well... what if I were to say that you could do your old job for me, and I'd pay you what your current job pays now. More, if you want it."
Rainbow smirked. "How much more?"
"Don't get greedy, now," Twilight warned, "I might just hire ten ponies instead to do your work."
"Hah! You could try!" Rainbow smirked. Her eyes glazed over for a moment, tongue sticking out of her mouth. Twilight would forever think of it as Dash's 'thinking' face. When she returned to lucidity, it was a pleading expression. "Actually, please don't try,” she didn't even try to hide the desperation in her voice, "I'll take the job."
"First you steal my assistant," a rather distinguished and erudite voice scolded from the doorway, with that perfect diction and enunciation that could only have come from very expensive private schooling, "and now you steal my admittedly horribly incompetent artificial weather manager? I dare say, Ms Sparkle, I took you for a lot of things –" That most of them were clearly rather unflattering was left unspoken. "–but a headhunter was not one of them."
"She told me she wasn't a headhunter! I think she’s a bit squeamish, myself!" Dash assured Bright Spark as the pony strode into the room, black tailcoats dragging on the muddy vines and too-tall tophat bouncing off the ones dangling from the ceiling. Only the glowing horn beneath kept it tightly affixed to his head.
Bright Spark rolled his eyes, and even Twilight smiled a little at that. "A headhunter, Ms Rash, is a pony who steals talented workers away from other companies. Lowly pondscum of the modern world incapable of attracting talent, otherwise." He looked at the would-be explorer with a steely glare. "Frankly, I'm rather certain I should let her. Be somepony else's problem, would you? You're fired."
Dash's wings bristled, her pupils dilated. She would have her confrontation in the jungles after all. "You can't fire me, I quit!"
"It's not like you'd do her any good. Our lightning-conductive generators are a closely guarded company secret. One that I know for certain is beyond her capacity to replicate." The accusation stung, but it was the truth, so Twilight bit the proverbial bullet.
There was another way to do this.
Twilight whisked a sheaf of paper from the middle of the pile of Dash's inbox, tapping it against the desk noisily. She started jotting notes on it, feeling the stallion's expansive glare on her as she did. So, it was a confrontation that Bright Spark wanted? She would have done her best to avoid this, but if it must happen, she was going to hurt him as much as she could, where it hurt him the most.
His wallet. His ego. The only things he truly felt mattered.
"Actually, Mr Spark," Twilight emphasized that she was not going to dignify his title, and was rewarded for it with the most satisfactory of eye twitches, "I can't help but notice that when you offered my new associate this position, there were certain legal guidelines that came with it."
She was just guessing, but the paperwork was likely boilerplate. She knew the terms of employment at this level like the back of her hoof.
"As such, termination without notice – as this certainly counts – is subject to a hefty severance package, as well as compensation for personal days accumulated." A wild shot in the dark, but the rage that sparked in Bright's eyes as she said it lit the way. "As my associate appears to have not taken a single day off on the reason that she was saving them all up to be used at once, on a most singular of holidays, this would be quite a large additional sum indeed." An educated guess, but Dash's grin was the one that confirmed this for her.
Bright Spark growled for a moment, shoulders hunching like he was about to leap at Twilight. She stood her ground, unmoving, save for a single, thoroughly unamused raise of an eyebrow. The entrepreneur, inventor, genius, scholar, and all-around insufferable jerk regained his composure with a chilling, restrained grin.
Twilight's eyebrow simply raised further, urging him to go on.
"Well, it's rather fortunate that she just quit, then, isn't it?"
"No I didn't." Rainbow nodded, once.
Bright Spark looked at her oddly. "Yes, you did. Just now. I heard you, Ms Rash. You said that I couldn't fire you, because you quit."
"Well, my legal boffin here will back me up on this," Dash said as she threw an affectionate arm around Twilight's withers, noogying her around the horn for reasons only the explorer-to-be understood, "but you can't prove nuffin'. Which means it didn't happen, what ho!"
Twilight whisked another sheaf of paper to be pored over. A form for all the safety checks that Rainbow didn't oversee. She truly was doing more damage here than good.
As the stack of papers settled, another one caught Twilight’s eye: a strange little azure number, laden with an intricate myriad of lines and laterals. Twilight gave it a cursory scan… and her eyes widened as she realized it could be of monumental importance later.
And hey, it was even blank on the back. How serendipitous.
Twilight yoinked it from the pile, flipped it over, pulled out a pen, and scrawled on it, 'Twilight Sparkle is my legal boffin (what ho, etcetera), to the tune of one (1) bit'.
She shoved it into Dash’s face, who hesitated for only a moment before she plucked the pen from the air and signed it. For some reason, her signature involved the drawing of an explosion with lightning bolts coming from it. For other reasons, this didn't surprise Twilight in the slightest.
"Onus of proof. My client, Ms Dash, says she didn't. As her legal representative, I cannot testify against her. You have no written testimony. I, meanwhile, have documented proof of your terminating her." Twilight's magic suddenly yanked at the tailcoat pockets of a very surprised Mr Spark, and out came a pink slip of paper that moments before had been barely exposed.
Dash's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You were going to fire me anyway!"
"Well, yes," Bright muttered, dry as butler's wit, "you are horribly incompetent. This really was just the last straw. In fact, your new... boffin here is only representing you to get back at me for an incident she doesn't truly understand."
Dash looked at Twilight. Twilight shrugged, but not unkindly. There was a kernel of truth to the notion she was just doing it to get back at this grandiose git. Well that and, for whatever reason, she couldn't help but like the mare. The work she had put into her office alone was a testament to just how passionate she was, and Twilight appreciated that in a pony. Dash was a bird trapped in a cage of her own making, singing about a day she might be able to soar.
A petty part of Twilight also approved of just how much damage Dash had done to Bright Spark's bottom line until now.
"You removed a severely ill pony from my care, Ms Sparkle. You removed her from her home, from her work, from her career. She's dangerous."
"She is," Bright Spark stated firmly, glaring hard and taking another step into the room. "She is incredibly dangerous, even if she doesn't know it, even if she doesn't seem it. She has bouts of psychosis. She lashes out. Some of the things she's doodled in the margins of a toaster’s blueprints, or hair dryer’s schematics... If she ever made them, they could end cities in the blink of an eye. Did you know that?"
Pinkie did seem that horrifying mix of “wonderfully enthusiastic about radioactive materials” and “blissfully unconcerned with the repercussions”.
Twilight was about to stammer something nervously, to verbally flail about in her own defense, but Bright Spark pressed on. "And do you know what they do to mad ponies in the Capital, Ms Sparkle?"
Tick. There it was again. "They throw them in the Asylum, for the amusement of foals with too many pennies and too little empathy."
Tick. Where was it coming from? "They treat them like circus animals, or worse, Ms Sparkle! They sell sticks to an audience, so that they may be poked until the desired reaction is achieved!"
Tick. Her dress. A pocket of her dress.
Rainbow Dash looked uncertain now, looking at Twilight with... hurt? No, that wasn't it. It was betrayal. She believed him.
Tick. She reached for that noise now, with her magic. It was too loud, ringing in her ears.
"You dare take one of my valued employees, now, out of spite?" Rainbow's betrayal seemed to be twisting into confusion. She paid closer attention to Bright Spark, now, to his words. Seeds of doubt had been sown. He should not have risked that lie. "I did not claim those inventions as my own because I am an evil pony, Ms Sparkle, I did it because they needed to be shared with the world! The things that pony has accomplished that she couldn't on her own!"
He was yelling now, screaming even, but Twilight paid him no mind. She was too preoccupied. She looked away from him, searching more intensely now.
"A mad pony could not navigate the patent office! A mad pony could not see an idea through to completion! A mad pony could not be taken seriously! It was the only way–"
Tick. There it was. She had found it.
Twilight shook her head, her magic clamping Bright Spark's jaw closed. Rainbow's eyes widened spectacularly, but Twilight didn't notice, didn't see. She was staring at the watch Pinkie had given her, floating serenely in her magic.
"No, Bright Spark. No, I cannot abide this. You have said your piece – now let me say mine."
She said it as if he had a choice, but considering her magic had moved to take a tight grip on his tongue, it really wasn't an option. If he tried to retreat from her baleful gaze, it would require him to leave the tongue behind.
"This watch was given to me, gifted out of kindness, by the mare you claim I have unjustly removed from your care.”
Tick. Tick. Tick. For sixteen hundred years that sound would not abate, because of Pinkie's contributions to its design.
“There are many things I can abide, Mr Spark, but not this."
She parroted his incessant use of her name, now, as she wasn't above spite. Not right now.
"I can abide you taking away her freedom in the name of her own safety, Mr Spark, as I have reason to believe she is exactly as dangerous as you say. I can abide you taking from her money that was rightfully hers, as she assures me she was not in danger of want under your – and I will be exceedingly generous with this word here, Mr Spark – care.”
The watch opened with a delicate click. It did not matter what time it was, what mattered was the makers' mark engraved on its shell.
“What I cannot abide, however, is that you have stolen even her very name."
Bright Spark looked like he had been physically slapped. Twilight didn't revel in it like she wanted. It wasn't enough. It only fed the growing ball of raw hatred brewing in her gut, because that expression meant that he knew exactly what she meant. That she was right.
Oh how she hated that she was right.
"You made her use her title on her inventions, so that even a hundred years from now nopony would remember her name."
She held up the mark, TESLA, and lifted it in front of his eyes like the damning evidence that it was. Rainbow plucked it from the air to see for herself, looking more indecisive than ever.
"Only your name is left, and a title that made her your own. What I can not abide, Mr Spark, is you taking away that mare's rightful existence in history, something that would only hurt you. Not her. A pain you would not feel now, in the present, but only in the annals of time. The idea that you would have to share your reputation with a madpony named Pinkie Pie; that's what you thought was truly dangerous, wasn't it?"
She released his tongue. She allowed him the chance to defend himself, now. She would offer him that.
Rainbow Dash hoofed the watch back to her, nodding in satisfaction to herself.
Bright Spark nursed his jaw with a hoof covered in a fine, white silk sock. "I–"
That was as far as he got before Rainbow Dash bucked him hard, flipping him head-over-teakettle. His rear legs acted as a fine pivot for all the momentum that kick delivered, around which he hinged upward and backward, hat flying off into the far corner of the room. Twilight watched in shock, and no small amount of satisfaction, as Rainbow grabbed the grey dress she wore and pulled, dragging her toward the exit.
"My legal boffin says there weren't no witnesses, and that you can't prove nuffin'!" Rainbow called over her shoulder, somewhat manically, dragging the stunned unicorn in her wake.
"What did you just do?!" Twilight hissed, as the two fled back down the blue line to the building's exit, Rainbow laughing uproariously the whole way.
"I'm rescuing the damsel in distress!" Rainbow declared grandly. "Besides, sounded like that foul villain had it coming. Any good explorer knows you're only good as what somepony puts in a history book!" Rainbow continued, ignoring the shocked look of a pegasus wandering to the cafeteria with his lunchbox as they bowled him over. "So stealing somepony's place in it is the worst thing you can do! Ever! It's like somepony's gone and blazed a trail, and then he's just gone and put it out! Trails need to blaze!"
"I'm glad you agree!" Twilight yelled over the panting of her breath, the hammering of her heart, the giddiness intermixed with panic. "You're fine working with a boffin holding you back, then?"
"Are you kidding?!" Dash grinned manically as they flew past the receptionist, Dash not bothering with the plywood doors, smashing them down before her as Twilight shielded her eyes from splinters. "I love boffins! Where do you think us explorers get all the best gadgets, what ho?! So, whatta ya need me to do?!"
They stopped now, half a block away, panting furiously. Neither of them could keep the smiles from their faces.
Twilight took back the form she had Dash sign the makeshift 'legal contract' on. Bright Spark would never notice the blueprint for the new lightning-based generator missing from Dash's work pile. Twilight herself wouldn't have noticed it if Pinkie hadn't made her familiar with the specific kind of paper he used for his blueprints.
"Oh," Twilight puffed, reading over the designs with a haughty smile, "I just need you to power the death ray we're aiming at the moon."
Rainbow's grin redoubled. "Awesome."