After their last competition, the Extreme Ponies, along with the rest of the ESL, found themselves on the road to their next destination. This time, however, they were not on their way to another competition, but instead back to North Vancashtierville, where the headquarters for the ESL were being established. After experiencing a profit from the games, the corporation that founded and owned the entire ESL now saw fit to invest in a new complex from which to run things. An entirely new set of buildings had been constructed in record time, and the various departments that had previously been scattered in various locations were now all moving into this one central facility.
Since it would be nearly an entire week before the next ESL competition, everyone was diverted to North Vancashtierville for a few days while Mr. Yanus sorted things out there. Though it wasn’t home to any of the athletes, the city still offered a chance to relax and a few nights in hotel rooms instead of in bunk beds tucked into the small spaces of their coaches.
As the western sky was just beginning to take on a reddish hue, the Extreme Team’s coach was pulling into the new parking garage facility across the street from the ESL Headquarters. In a flurry of activity, its occupants disembarked.
“Dude!” Jet cried as he bounded out of the door and into the garage. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do first, but just so long as I don’t have a camera stuck in my face, I’ll be happy!”
From the top of the stairs, Mogul added, “Yeah, that schedule was nonstop. At least we get a little R-and-R now. Here, you forgot this.” Mogul tossed Jet his duffle bag, but the hyperactive pony wasn’t watching and caught it right in his gut. Mogul just chuckled as Jet collapsed in a heap on the pavement.
“What are you gonna do now that we have a little free time?” Mogul asked Luge as she joined them outside.
“I don’t care, as long as I can spend at least one night in a real bed without you snoring in the bunk right above me, “ Luge replied.
“Even if it is just a hotel room,” Bungee added.
“What are you talking about?” Mogul asked. “I don’t snore.”
Cliff joined all the others outside just in time to join their chorus, “Yes you do!”
“No I don’t,” Mogul replied vehemently.
Noticing that their driver, a young pony about the same age as them, was climbing down from the cab, Mogul engaged him in the debate. “Hey Keefe, you’ve driven for us at night; do I snore?”
“Yeap,” Keefe said matter-of-factly as he locked the door.
The first time I drove for you guys, I thought someone was using a chainsaw in the back.”
Mogul, though proven wrong, wasn’t going to back down just yet. “Well, I bet the rest of you guys snore just as loud.”
“Sorry,” Keefe replied. “You’re the only one. I gotta run. See ya’ll later.”
“See you around, and thanks,” Cliff said as Keefe walked off. Turning his attention back to the group, he said, “Come on, ponies, let’s get our gear and see if we can find this hotel before it gets dark.”
As they began to walk away, Mogul was still muttering to no one in particular “Snore? I don’t snore. I bet they’re the ones that snore.”
“Just drop it already!” Luge exclaimed. “I don’t care if you snore or not, I just want to go to bed!”
“Before you do, you might want to hear what I have to tell you.”
Everyone stopped short and stared at the stranger who just stepped out in front of them from behind one of the other trucks in the garage.
“Who’s this?” Mogul asked.
“Shard,” Cliff said as an introduction and greeting, both with equal malice.
“At least you still remember me,” the pony said with a tip of his hat.
The others had heard of Shard and how he had told Cliff about the trap on the first course they ever ran with the ESL, but only Cliff and Luge had ever met him before. Any descriptions failed to describe Shard. In person, he exuded a dark sort of menace that was almost tangible. Cliff took a step forward while all the others stayed back, not uttering a word.
“So what do you want this time?” Cliff asked. “What kind of game are you playing? You told us about that first trap, but when you never showed up again, we started seeing conspiracies everywhere.”
“Good,” Shard replied. “Now you know what’s it like. If I had told you everything I know, you never would have realized just how serious this whole thing is.”
“And just how serious is the X-Crew cheating?”
Shard tipped his hat so that his eyes were just covered in shadow and said, “The X-Crew aren’t the ones you should be worried about.”
“Than who should we be worried about?” Cliff asked.
Luge finally spoke up, “Are you saying-?”
“Exactly,” Shard nodded. “Yanus is the one who’s had the tracks rigged and then told only the X-Crew about it.”
At that point everyone suddenly broke out.
“No way, Yanus is a jerk but he wouldn’t do that.”
“And even if he did, why?”
“What would he have to gain?”
“I knew it all along! We shoulda never trusted him!”
Cliff suddenly spoke up over all the others, “Why should we even trust you? Who are you?”
“Are you a detective or something?” Blade asked. She had wanted to say lawyer, but that simply seemed too out of character for this rough and tumble pony.
A thin smile creased Shard’s lips but it did nothing to soften his grim visage. If anything, it made him look more menacing. “Yeah,” Shard replied. “Something like that. I’m just someone looking for answers.”
“And those answers would be..?”
Leaning towards Mogul, Jet whispered, “Dude, do we even know what the questions are?”
“I may know more than you about what’s going on, but I don’t know everything. However, I do know how we all can find out.”
“There are files in Yanus’ office that detail everything. I managed to get a look at one of them some months back, which is how I found out about the first track, but I haven’t been able to get anything else since. If we get this information, it will be a big start in nailing him for what he’s done. I’m working on some other things, but we need this first.”
“So you’re suggesting that we break into Mr. Yanus’ office and steal these files?” Cliff said. The very notion was more than a little distasteful to him.
“It would have to be done in complete secret. With everyone moving into the new building, security is light at best. I would have gone already, but I’m not as young as I used to be. However, with your unique talents, I’m sure you could do it completely undetected.
“Cliff, I don’t know about this…” Luge said from behind.
Cliff shared her misgivings, but something in the back of his mind was telling him otherwise. Shard stood back and let the young ponies discuss the situation by themselves.
“We can’t just break into his office, that’s like against the law and stuff,” Bungee said.
“But what about what he’s doing to us?” Blade asked her. “Isn’t that even worse?”
“Dude, why don’t we just call the cops?” Jet inquired.
“We don’t have any proof of anything,” Cliff countered in frustration.
And Mogul added, “Besides, if cops came looking, he’d just destroy the files.”
“It wouldn’t be wise to involve the authorities just yet,” Shard said at that point. “You’re right that he’d be able to destroy the files. If he catches wind of this before I’m ready, it will ruin everything and he will be able to walk away scot free.”
“No way,” Luge said, trying to convince herself more than anyone else. “We can’t do this.”
At that, Mogul scoffed. “If the rest of you aren’t willing to go, I’ll do it alone.”
Cliff quickly silenced them with a wave of his hoof. “Hold up, either all of us are onboard with this or none of us are. We have to make this decision as a group.”
“I’m in this all the way,” Mogul quickly said, but Cliff hushed him again.
“Look, Yanus has been sharing this information with the X-Crew. I think we can be positive of that. If we have it, it levels the playing field and makes everything the way it’s supposed to be.”
“In addition,” Shard said, “you won’t actually be stealing anything. The files need to look like they’ve been untouched. All you’ll be taking out of his office is photocopies.”
“So we get you these files and then we’ll get all the information on the trapped race courses?” Luge asked tentatively.
“It’s just that simple,” Shard replied. “But, in addition to the race information, there’s one more file that relates to some of Sa-Yanus’s earlier activities. I need that one, as well.”
“What sort of file?” Cliff asked.
Shard handed Cliff a slip of paper. “This has the information.”
Cautiously, Cliff took the paper but did not unfold it. Turning to his teammates once more, he said, “Let’s put it to a vote. What does everyone say?”
Mogul was the first to speak up enthusiastically, “Heck yeah, let’s do it.”
Blade was next, “Yeah, we need those files.”
“It does sound like fun,” was Bungee’s reply.
Jet said, “Yeah dude, I’m in.”
After a pause, Cliff asked, “Luge?”
With a sigh she finally said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Cliff turned and presented their decision to Shard. “All right Shard, we’ll get the files. But not just for you, but because we need them, too.”
“Good,” Shard nodded. “The sun’s starting to go down. You’ll have plenty of time to act. I’ll meet you back here when you’re done.”
“Then let’s get started; we need a plan and quick.”
* * *
Two hours later, in the moonlit night, the six Extreme Ponies found themselves on top of the ESL Headquarters building. Mogul was busy rigging a winch above the sky light into Yanus’s office while Luge helped. She was still not enthusiastic about the entire operation, but she was at least convinced that it was the best way to go. Meanwhile, Bungee and Cliff, with the aid of Jet and Blade, were getting strapped into their harnesses which would be critical for the next stage of the plan.
“We’re all set here,” Mogul said with a thumbs-up. He, like all the others, was keeping his voice down, but every time one of them said anything, it seemed much too loud.
“Good,” Cliff replied. Doing one final check of his gear he added, “And we’re ready, too. Let’s get on with this.”
“Now all we have to do is open this…” Mogul gingerly lifted the skylight a fraction of an inch to ensure that their were no alarms and then proceeded to open it all the way. Bungee stepped right up to the edge and locked her harness into the cable leading from the winch.
“We’ll have to be careful,” she said. “The floor is probably rigged with pressure sensitive plates that will respond to the slightest touch.” With that, she jumped through the opening and let the winch take over as it slowly lowered her down.
Puzzled, Jet turned towards Cliff and asked, “Dude…what’s she taking about?”
Cliff just shrugged his shoulders and stepped up to the edge himself. By this point, Bungee had descended all the way to the bottom of the triangular-shaped skylight shaft and was now passing through the spacious void that was Mr. Yanus’s office. Slowly, she came closer and closer to the floor; but as she neared it, the winch did not stop. With trained skill, she managed to spread her legs out so as not to come in contact with the tiles. Finally, the cable froze mere inches from the button, which left Bungee suspended in a rather difficult situation.
She was just about to ask for Mogul to raise her back up a few feet when she noticed a bead of sweat rolling down her brow. She tilted her head so as to prevent it from striking the floor, but it managed to slip down her nose. There it hung on the very tip for what seemed like an eternity. As the drop of perspiration fell, her hoof flashed out and caught it less than an inch from the floor.
With Bungee still reeling from that, Cliff suddenly dropped down on a second line and his hooves hit the floor quite heavily. Bungee looked up in desperation but Cliff just shook his head saying, “Pressure sensitive plates? We’re not in some crazy spy movie.”
Before she could respond, they both looked up as the door to the office suddenly swung open. A guard brandishing a flashlight leaned inside and swung the beam across the room. As he scanned the section of floor where Cliff and Bungee had descended, the guard saw nothing. Above, Mogul was furiously cranking on the winch to raise his two comrades out of the line of sight.
The guard, who was obviously not going to give up so easily, continued to move the beam of light back and forth across the room several times. Finally, to the dread of the two ponies hanging in the skylight shaft, he began to work the light up towards them. Just as he was about to reveal their presence, a loud squawking racket came from the window behind Yanus’s desk. The flashlight beam swivelled down to illuminate a rather large bird which took flight upon being shined by the light.
Satisfied that everything was sound, the guard walked out of the room and closed the door behind him. The six Extreme Ponies all breathed a collective sigh of relief and took a few seconds to compose themselves before going on. Looking down into the room, Cliff could just barely make out Jet’s face smiling up at him from outside the window where the bird had been a few moments earlier.
Turning to Bungee, Cliff said, “Remind me to give him a raise when we’re done with this.”
Bungee, however, was not in a mood for jokes and looked rather irked with Cliff. “I told you not to touch the floor,” she whispered as loud as she dared, and then descended back down into the office.
Cliff rolled his eyes before his line began to drop him, as well.
This time he was more quiet about it, but he still dropped to the floor and no harm came as a result of it.
“Look,” he said walking around in a small circle, “it’s perfectly safe.”
Bungee, who was still hanging from the wire but had now rotated herself around into a standing position, merely crossed her forelegs and glared at him.
Dropping his forelegs to his sides, he said, “Let’s just find those files.”
Quickly the two of them began shuffling through the boxes of papers stacked around the room. In short order, they discovered that most of them were nothing more than perfectly legitimate files pertaining to the operation of the ESL.
“Wait, check this out!” Bungee exclaimed.
Cliff hurried over and looked down at the papers she was holding. “X-Crew Action figures?”
“Yeah, it looks like each one of them gets their own. X even has a second figure with an-” she added in a dramatic tone, “ ‘EXTREME SKATEBOARDING ACTION’!!!!”
“What about the rest of us?” Cliff asked.
“It looks like you and Nikita each have one... in the second assortment which also ships with another Smiley and Dragon figure and two more X figures,” Bungee said as she flipped through the papers.
“But why just the X-Crew?” Cliff wondered out loud.
“Dude, that’s like, the way toy companies work,” Jet whispered from the now half open window. “They make, like, a gazillion of the good guys and only one or two of the bad guys.
“But the X-Crew aren’t the good guys…OH,” Bungee said, suddenly realizing that Yanus was again playing favorites.
“He’s even going to cut us out of the merchandising!” Mogul muttered from above.
“Calm down and keep on that winch in case we need to get them out of there again,” Luge scolded.
“We’re not going to find any incriminating evidence in this stuff,” Cliff said, waving a hoof at the stacked boxes. “There has to be something else…”
Moving to Mr. Yanus’s massive desk, Cliff quickly looked inside the drawers, all of which were empty. “He hasn’t even had a chance to move in yet. Those files could be anywhere.”
“What about down here?” Jet asked. Cliff jumped, not realizing that Jet had not only entered the room but had squeezed in right next to him and was ducked down under the desk.
“How did you climb down the side of the building, anyway?” Cliff asked. “That’s, like, a shear wall.”
Jet paused in his search and looked up at Cliff with a completely serous expression saying, “Dude, just a little of this,” he held up his right hoof, empty, “and little of that.” He held up his left hoof, also empty. “But take a look at this,” he added and lifted a small metal case onto the desk.
“Where did you find that?” Cliff asked.
“In the secret panel in the front of the desk,” Jet replied matter-of-factly.
“Cool,” Bungee exclaimed as she swung across the room and came to rest on the other side of the desk.
Fiddling with the latch, Jet muttered, “Now how do you open it…?”
“Here,” Cliff said, taking the case from Jet and popping it open in no time at all.
“Looks like we hit the mother load,” Bungee cooed with wide eyes.
“Yeap, this is definitely what we came for,” Cliff added. Flipping through the papers, he saw the plans for all of the tracks that the ESL had used and was going to use in the future. On every one of them, several pit falls were marked in red with notes detailing how exactly to make them look natural and how to hide them from sight. Glancing at the first in the stack sent a shiver down Cliff’s spine. It was their first race with the ESL, the one he had lost only a few feet from the finish line. The only bright part of that defeat was that he prevented X from winning as well.
As Cliff had been going through that file, Bungee and Jet had located others to look through.
“What is this?” Bungee asked. “It’s like a bunch of gibberish.”
“Pony Pride,” Jet read off the title to the file. “Isn’t that a school or something?”
“Yeah, a university,” Cliff replied, pulling himself away from the track plans and looking at Bungee’s find. “They look like answer keys… I don’t know why, but that’s the other file Shard wants.”
“And what Shard wants, Shard gets,” Jet said. He meant it as a joke, but Cliff looked at him with intense eyes.
“We don’t work for him and we don’t owe him anything after tonight,” Cliff said with strong conviction. “I don’t trust that guy at all, but for the moment, it’s in our best interests to work together.”
“Dude, chill,” Jet replied. “I was just having a little fun.”
“Sorry, let’s just make those copies and get out of here.”
“Way ahead of you, boss-man.” Bungee had swung across the room again and had now started up the copier.
“Remind me to give both of you raises when this is done,” Cliff said.
“Dude, I’m gonna hold you to that.”
In no time at all, the Extreme Ponies had made copies of everything in the metal case and returned it to its original hiding place. They wasted no time in extracting themselves from the office and getting off the building. Soon, all six of them were back in the parking garage and Mr. Yanus’ office looked exactly as it had before they had made their entrance. No one would ever suspect a thing.
As they entered the darkened garage, Mogul asked, “So, where’s Shard? He said he’d meet us back here.”
“I’m right here.” Silently stepping out of one of the shadows behind them, Shard seemed to materialize out of thin air. “Did you get everything?” he asked.
“Yeap,” Cliff replied in a reserved tone. Handing Shard his set of copies, Cliff added, “But in the future, if you want our help with anything again, you better have some more answers about who you are and what it is you’re up to.”
Shard barely acknowledged Cliff’s statement as he flipped through the papers. “You kids did good tonight. With this information, I think you’ll be able to hold your own against the X-Crew.”
“And what about you?” Blade asked. “What are you going to do?”
“Me?” Shard flashed another one of his smiles. “I think we’ll be seeing each other again.”
With that, he turned and walked out of the garage, leaving the Extreme Ponies cloaked in the shadows of the night.