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Dinky Doo trotted back and forth in front of Twist, like a military sergeant addressing a private.

"Alright, Twist, let's go over it one more time.  I know we can figure out what's going on."

Twist sighed and flipped back to the first page of the notebook yet again.  "Dinky, are you sure we're not just on a wild goose chase?"

"Yes, I'm sure!" Dinky replied, pounding her front hooves for emphasis.  "My mom's hiding something; that much is obvious.  You and I need to find out what it is."

Twist rubbed her chin with a hoof for a moment as she thought.  "You know, Dinky, usually parents have a good reason for doing what they do.  Even if you're right, and your mom really is keeping something from you, maybe it's for the best that it stays that way.  Did you consider that?"

Dinky's gaze fell.  "I… I did think that," she said softly.  "That's why I've been feigning ignorance, even though it's pretty obvious that something's up.  But in the last few weeks, it seems like there's been a change in mom's demeanor.  I'm worried that something is wrong; probably something about work again.  I know she's just keeping it a secret because she doesn't want me to worry too, but in truth, that's just making it worse."

Dinky looked up again, her expression determined.  "I just want to be able to help out!  Mom's got no one to help her support our family; after all, dad's been dead since I was less than a year old.  I know she sacrifices a lot for me; I want to try to return the favor.  And I can't do that if I don't know what's wrong."

Twist grinned.  "You're right.  I guess what we're doing really isn't so bad!"

"Exactly," Dinky agreed.  "Now, let's get back to work.  Read me those notes again."

Twist adjusted her spectacles and squinted at the first item on the page.

"Item one: Initial changes regarding subject Ditzy Doo began approximately seven months ago.  Signs point to the presence of a concealed occupational issue."

"Correct," Dinky affirmed.  "There was a period of time where mom was worried about losing her job.  At some point, she stopped discussing her job altogether, avoiding my questions or coming up with relatively lame excuses."

"Can we conclude anything from that?"  Twist asked.

"Not by itself," Dinky said.  "It's just suspicious.  What's the next item on the list?"

"Item two:" Twist continued.  "There seems to have been a positive financial change in your family since the onset of said suspicious activities.  The most notable occasion occurred a few weeks ago, when you observed the subject stashing a sack of money that couldn't possibly have contained less than seven or eight hundred bits."

"Yeah, that's right…" Dinky said, remembering the large bag of coins.  "Mom said something about getting a bonus for some special job at work, but that had to be a lie; no bonus is going to be that big at a mail delivery company.  If that was, say, a thousand bits, then that's several months of her original salary all at once."

"Maybe she won the lottery?"  Twist suggested.

"Can't be," Dinky replied.  "Why would she hide that from me?  I think she really did get it from work somehow, I just don't know how… or why…"

"It's pretty clear that she's making more money than she used too, though," Twist added.  "I mean, remember your birthday party?"

"Of course," Dinky said.  "We'd never have been able to afford something like that before this year.  Mom was only barely making enough money to keep us fed and housed."

"So how'd she do it this year?" the earth pony asked.

"Easy," said Dinky.  "She doesn't work at Cloudsdale Mail and Freight anymore.  I think she's secretly gotten a new job."

"But why wouldn't she tell you that?" Twist asked.  "I mean, if she lost her job, she probably wouldn't want to tell you, but once she got a new one, then everything would be all better, right?"

Dinky tapped her hoof repeatedly against her forehead as she struggled to make sense of the riddle.  Suddenly, a look of horror crossed over her features.

"Twist, you don't suppose my mom's doing something illegal for money now, do you?  What if she's selling forbidden plants from the Everfree, or smuggling contraband in from a neighboring country, or… or…"

A thousand horrific thoughts crossed Dinky's mind, most of which were too controversial for her to relay to Twist.  The earth pony seemed to guess what she was thinking, though.

"Hold on!"  said Twist nervously.  "Don't jump to conclusions!  Do you really think your mom would do something like that?"

"I don't think so," Dinky mumbled, not sounding very reassured.  "But desperation can change a pony.  I wish I knew just how economically unstable we were back when this started a few months ago, so I could have a sense of how important it was for us to get more money."

"Well, let's leave that possibility as a fallback," Twist said quickly, trying to lighten her friend's mood.  "Maybe there's another kind of job that she wouldn't want to tell you about…"  The redheaded pony's eyes widened suddenly.  "What if she works for the princess's Royal Intelligence Agency!  Maybe she can't tell you in order to keep you safe from all the international criminals she has to fight!"

"That would be so cool!"  Dinky squealed.  Both fillies imagined Ditzy facing off with ninjas, which, coincidentally, was something the mare actually had done recently, thanks to a certain pink earth pony and her wacky imagination.

"Alright, we've got a couple of possibilities now," Dinky said.  "Read the next item on our list."

Twist flipped the page in her notebook.  "Item three: A clue to finding out more may rest in subject Ditzy Doo's coworker, a pegasus named Autumn Breeze."

"That's an important one, right there," Dinky agreed.

"Who is Autumn Breeze again?"  Twist asked.  "That's what you told me to write, but I didn't meet the guy."

"He was a pegasus claiming to be mom's coworker that visited here quite a while ago," Dinky elaborated.  "In fact, now that I think about it, it was very shortly after mom's weird behavior started.  Write that down, that might be important later."

Twist nodded and added the new note beside the item on the list.

"Anyway," Dinky continued.  "Mr. Breeze seemed really friendly.  I asked mom if he could stay for dinner with us, but he didn't have time."

"So, Mr. Breeze might actually be your mom's coworker at a new company, rather than at the mail service?"  Twist asked, making sure she understood where Dinky was taking the thought.

"That's what I suspect," the little unicorn replied.  "Anything else on that list?"

"One more," Twist answered.  "Item 4: About three months ago, subject Ditzy Doo was spotted at the schoolyard during normal work hours.  She appeared to be talking with several different colts and fillies, all of whom are our classmates."

"That one just baffles me," Dinky muttered.  "It doesn't fit with the other observations at all.  But I know that was mom at school that day.  I guess I could assume she was delivering a letter to somepony, but I didn't see anything exchanged except a few bits, and mom didn't even have her mailbag with her."

Twist shrugged.  "Well, that's all the information we've collected.  So, can we conclude anything?"

Dinky shook her head.  "We can speculate, but nothing we have yet is definite proof.  If I want more information, I'm going to have to go looking for it."

"If only you could find that Breeze guy," Twist said absentmindedly as she doodled in the notebook.  "Maybe he could tell you something."

"Twist, that's it!"  Dinky responded excitedly.

"Really?" asked Twist.  "But you don't know where he lives.  Not to mention he's a pegasus; he probably spends all his time in Cloudsdale, and neither of us can go there."

"No, you're missing the point," Dinky continued.  "I can't find Mr. Breeze directly, but I can make him come to me."

"How?" Twist asked.

"When he visited us a long time ago…" the unicorn began.  "…I asked if he could stay for dinner, just because I thought it would be nice to have a guest.  Mom promised that we would have him over eventually, but he still hasn't visited since then."

Twist was catching on.  "So, you just have to pressure your mom to invite Mr. Breeze over for dinner…"

"…And I can try to use some subtle conversation tricks to get some answers at the same time!"  Dinky concluded.  

"And why stop there?"  Twist asked.  "Maybe we could get some foals from school to help us!  We could have a network of spies to keep an eye on him and your mom the entire time he's visiting.  Maybe we could, you know, poke through his saddlebags a bit, too…"

"Espionage!"  Dinky shrieked with excitement.  "Great idea, Twist.  An intelligence gathering mission, disguised as a dinner party!  It's the perfect plan."

"But you'll be the one at the dinner, distracting your mom and the guest and trying to get some information."  Twist pointed out.  "Who are you going to get to do the spying and snooping while you're doing that?"

"You, of course," said Dinky simply.

"No, no, no," Twist said.  "I'm terribly clumsy; I'd be caught for sure.  Maybe I could relay information to our spies from a remote location via walkie-talkie, though."

"Well then, who will do the actual infiltration?"  Dinky asked.

"Snips and Snails, maybe?"  Twist asked.

"No way," Dinky said with a snort.  "Those two are tactless goofballs.  They'd just mess everything up."

"How about… Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon?"  Twist suggested.

"Get real, Twist," Dinky groaned.  "You know there's no way those two would agree to help a couple of 'peasants' like us with anything."

"What about that new colt?"

Dinky blinked.  "Wait, what new colt?"

"You know, the one that moved here at the beginning of the year.  What's his name… Pipsqueak?"

Dinky's face flushed suddenly.  "I'm not sure that's such a good idea," she said quickly, snatching up the notebook and pretending to page through it in a poor attempt to hide her reaction.

Twist was far too perceptive to fall for such a ploy.  She smirked at Dinky, who buried her face deeper in the notebook.  "You have a crush on that Pipsqueak kid, don't you?"  the earth pony asked coyly.

Dinky's blush was quickly replaced with a somewhat miffed expression.  "I don't think such details are relevant to our operation."

Twist laughed.  "Excuses, excuses.  I'm guessing you don't want him to help with the spy operation, then."

"Preferably not," Dinky admitted.

"You realize that just leaves us with the Cutie Mark Crusaders," Twist pointed out.

"They'd probably be willing to help," Dinky said.  "But do you think we can rely on them?"

"I don't think we have much of a choice," Twist admitted.  "They're the only fillies in our class qualified for the job."

"Alright then," Dinky said.  "We'll talk to them in school tomorrow, and I'll ask mom if Mr. Breeze can come over for dinner."

"Good," Twist said.  "But be careful, Dinky.  You don't want your mom to figure out what you're up to."

"Mom always says I could outsmart her if I really wanted to," Dinky said.  "It's time to find out if she's right."

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"Good morning, Ditzy," said Breeze cheerfully as he trotted into the employee lounge.

"Hello, Breeze!" Ditzy greeted back with the same level of enthusiasm.  

Breeze was caught by surprise a bit, considering the mare had been rather sedate lately.  Ever since that morning in which Ditzy had found herself alone with Glow, the pegasus had never been quite the same.  Breeze was sure that the bad-natured unicorn had caused Ditzy's job-related stress to flare up again, and it was apparent that it was taking its toll on the poor mare.

Breeze wasn't sure what had Ditzy in high spirits this particular day, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.  He started up some light conversation as usual.

"It's Friday again.  Got any plans for the weekend?"  he asked.

"Actually," Ditzy responded.  "It kind of depends; are you free this weekend?"

"Well, I did promise Watt I would help him with some… home improvement plans of his," Breeze answered.  "But that's not 'till tomorrow; Watt's got another date with his new marefriend this evening."

"Watt's going out with Pinkie again?" Ditzy asked, glancing in Watt's direction and grinning.  "This is already, what, their fifth date or something, and they've only known each other for two weeks!"

"I guess those two are perfect for each other," Breeze said.  "Sort of sounds like it, considering what happened on that insane assignment you guys had."  The stallion chuckled to himself.  "I'm still laughing about that, you know.  I really wish I could have come along for that mission."

"No you don't," Ditzy said.  "I'm still trying to convince myself that wasn't all some bizarre dream I had…"

The grey mare shook her head.  "Never mind, I'm getting off topic.  Want I wanted to know is… are you busy this evening?"

"No, why?"  Breeze asked.

"Well," Ditzy began.  "Remember when you promised little Dinky you'd come over for dinner sometime?  She's been asking me about it over and over lately.  So I thought if you weren't busy, and it isn't a school night, maybe you'd like to come over and dine with us this evening?"

Breeze grinned widely.  "I'd love to.  When would you like me to swing by?"

"Maybe around seven?" Ditzy asked.

"Sure," the red pegasus responded with his usual charming smile.  "I'll see you this evening."

Ditzy was called off to her daily assignment, her mind buzzing with the details of her preparations for the impending visit.

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"Where are they?"  Dinky asked as she trotted in nervous circles around the backyard.  "The sun is going down.  If they aren't in place by the time Mr. Breeze gets here, our operation is a bust!"

"They'll be here," Twist mumbled as she adjusted the settings on the walkie-talkies she had procured.  "The Crusaders are way too excited about this to be late.  I'm sure they're on their way."

Twist had barely finished her sentence when the sound of voices was heard on the nearby lane.  Two fillies, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle, came trotting into the yard and up to Dinky and Twist.

"Howdy," Applebloom greeted.  "Scootaloo here yet?  She said she would prob'ly be here before us."

"Nope," said Dinky.  "I wonder what's keeping her?"

"Actually, I'm right here," came Scootaloo's voice.

The four fillies in the yard looked around in surprise, but aside from the disembodied voice, there was no indication of Scootaloo's presence.

A moment later, a large, round rock lying on the grass began to jiggle, before flipping over entirely, revealing that it was in fact a hollow papier-mâché shell made to look like a rock.  Concealed in the space beneath was the small orange pegasus that had previously eluded detection.

"Hi everypony," Scootaloo said calmly, relishing the shocked looks from her classmates.  "Do you like my eavesdropping rock?  I've been here for twenty minutes, and none of you knew it until I showed myself."

"Scootaloo is our spying expert," Sweetie Belle explained.  "She's had some… past experience with it."

"Yeah, and I've gotten pretty good at it, too," Scootaloo bragged.  "After all, Rainbow Dash doesn't like spies very much, so I really have to make sure she doesn't catch me."

"That reminds me," Applebloom cut in.  "Did you bring all the spy gear, Scootaloo?"

Scootaloo responded by reaching under her false rock again and retrieving a large, black backpack.  "Everything we need is in here," she said smugly.  "Well, except the walkie-talkies, since those are being supplied."

Twist took this as her cue to distribute the walkie-talkies to the waiting fillies, after which the four of them turned to Dinky.

"Alright boss," Sweetie Belle said.  "What's the plan?"

"We need to investigate the dinner guest that's visiting today," Dinky said.  "He and my mom are coworkers, and I'm trying to figure out if they're hiding some crucial detail of information from me.  I need you three to infiltrate the cottage during the dinner party and relay any information you may uncover directly to Twist via walkie-talkie, who will be taking notes on any findings from a concealed location up the road."

"Okay," said Scootaloo.  "What exactly do you need us to do?"

"Both mom and Breeze are suspicious in this situation," Dinky said.  "So Scootaloo, you need to make sure not to let Breeze out of your sight, while making sure he doesn't see you, and Applebloom, you need to do the same with my mom.  I'll be there too for most of it, but if either of them leaves the room for any reason, you need to follow them and see what they're up to."

"What about me?"  Sweetie Belle asked.

"Sweetie, I need you to sneak in and root through Breeze's saddlebags," Dinky continued.  "But you have to make sure that there's no evidence that you've done so.  Living with Rarity has probably given you an innate sense of organization, so I think I can trust you to put everything back exactly how you found it."

The crusaders nodded, and began chattering to each other about the epic spy plans they had already formulated.

"I'm counting on you three," Dinky said.  "This isn't a game; what we discover today could have an important effect on my future.  Please don't let me down."

The Cutie Mark Crusaders saluted their instructor.  A moment later, a knocking sound was heard from inside the house.

"He's at the front door!"  Dinky gasped.  "Twist, head to your station, now!  And you three, follow me, we only have a few moments!"

Dinky crept in the back door of the cottage, followed closely by the Crusaders, all of whom were now dressed in black spy gear outfits Scootaloo had provided.  There was the sound of Ditzy Doo opening the front door and proceeding into the front yard to greet Breeze, which meant there was less than a minute for the spies to take their positions.

"Sweetie Belle!  Hall closet!"  Dinky commanded, watching the unicorn scamper off.  "And you two, you're going to need to keep an eye on the kitchen area at first."

Applebloom jumped into a mostly empty cabinet under the kitchen sink, and Scootaloo quickly flew up to the ceiling, positioning herself on one of the horizontal beams, out of sight from those below.

Dinky just waited in the kitchen for her mother and guest to return, wondering what sort of consequences this night would bring.

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The door swung open, and the Ditzy found herself facing her crimson coworker, carrying a paper bag in his mouth.

"Hello, Breeze!" she said cheerfully.  "Glad you could make it!  And what's in the bag?"

"Dessert," Breeze managed to say despite the bag in his mouth.  He set the bag down on the step.  "I figured I should contribute something, so I got an apple pie and a carrot cake.  Both from the same stall by the way."  He winked at Ditzy.  "Looks like the Apples and the Carrots have consolidated their businesses since you ended the feud."

"Oh, that reminds me," Ditzy said in a hushed tone.  "Please remember not to bring up anything about shipping jobs around Dinky."

Breeze's jaw dropped.  "You… you still haven't told her?" he stammered.  "Ditzy, I could understand it after only a week or two, but it's been over half a year now since you've started working with us!"

"I know," Ditzy said.  "I definitely should have told her by now, but… Breeze, just keep off the topic tonight, okay?  I promise I'll tell her soon."

"That's probably a good idea," Breeze said.  "Or she's going to find out herself.  If she hasn't already."

"Well, anyway, please come in," Ditzy offered, pushing open the door.  The Crusaders had only just gotten into their hiding places in time, but the two ponies entered to see only Dinky out in the open.

"Well, hello Mr. Breeze," said Dinky in her sweetest 'innocent filly' voice.  "I'm glad you could finally come to visit!"

"Hi, Dinky," Breeze said.  "How are you today?"

"Super!" Dinky announced.  "Miss Cheerliee didn't give us any homework this weekend, so I have lots of time to play with my friends."

"That reminds me," Ditzy chimed in.  "Did Twist go home?  I know you two were hanging out in the backyard earlier."

"Yeah, she left."

"Great," said Ditzy.  "Then let's have dinner."

She motioned toward the table, and Breeze and Dinky took their seats.  Ditzy went to the kitchen to retrieve the platters.

Applebloom took this as her cue to follow Ditzy.  Luckily, Breeze was sitting with his back to the cupboard where the filly was hidden.  She snuck out, undetected by Breeze but still in full view of Dinky, who jerked her head toward the kitchen ever so slightly, motioning for the Applebloom to hurry along.

Applebloom slipped through the kitchen door and leapt into the nearest cabinet, being careful not to strike any of the kitchen utensils and cause a clatter.  The filly poked her head out and watched as Ditzy Doo carefully gathered up all the dishes to deliver to the next room.

"This would be so much easier if I was a unicorn…" the mare grumbled as she struggled to balance half a dozen large plates on herself.  "I need to get Dinky some quality magic education one of these days so she can help me."

Ditzy slipped and tottered dangerously, barely managing to keep all the plates balanced.  "But first I need to worry about getting through this dinner…" she continued.  "I sure hope Breeze doesn't let anything slip about our jobs."

The grey mare turned toward the cabinets suddenly to retrieve a knife for the loaf of fresh bread that was perched precariously on her head.  Applebloom realized in horror that she was about to be discovered.  The filly crouched down in the corner of the small space and waited for her mission's inevitable failure.

Ditzy reached into the cabinet, grabbed the utensil she needed, and left, leaving a dumbstruck Applebloom completely undiscovered.

Wow, the filly thought to herself.  I guess miss Ditzy's vision is even worse than I reckoned it was. Her blind spot's so big I can fit m'self inside it!"

Once the mare had disappeared, Applebloom clambered out of the cabinet and into a nearby closet, where she contacted Twist.

"Did you catch that comment?" the yellow earth pony asked.

"I did," Twist replied, scribbling in her notebook.  "The target has acknowledged that there is a secret being kept concerning work.  Dinky's suspicions are confirmed."

"What do I do now?" Applebloom asked.

"Keep spying!" Twist insisted.  "We still don't know anything about the nature of this secret.  We need more answers."

Applebloom agreed and trotted into another room to continue spying on Ditzy.

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Dinky sat quietly at the table, chewing her vegetable stew quietly as she stared thoughtfully at her mother and Breeze; the filly prepared to begin her attempts to get some information out of them.  The older ponies didn't notice her strangely quiet behavior; they were engaged in lively conversation about some recent goings-on in Cloudsdale.

"So Mr. Breeze," Dinky began in her sweetest voice.  "What department do you work for?  Do you deliver letters like mommy?"

"No, I, uh…" Breeze stammered.  "I'm a… letter sorter.  Yeah, I'm the guy who compiles all the stuff your mom needs to deliver into one place for her."

"I see," Dinky responded, secretly a little miffed that Breeze was able to come up with a lie so quickly.  "When did you join the company?  I don't think I ever heard my mom talk about you before you came over to visit last time."

"I joined not long before that," Breeze parried.  "Your mom's been working there a lot longer than me."

It was apparent in Breeze's voice that his heart wasn't in his excuses; even Ditzy could tell that.  But it was the best defense they had at the moment, and she had to hope Dinky was buying it.

Unfortunately for her, Dinky was not, but rather than ask another question, the filly simply took a large bite of her slice of honey oat bread.

"So!" said Ditzy loudly.  "Let's tell Mr. Breeze about school, Dinky.  What have you been up to in Miss Cheerliee's class lately?"

Her attempts to unveil the truth temporarily blocked, Dinky found herself with no choice but to follow her mother's bait and change the subject.  However, once the conversation turned to school, Dinky found herself relaxing a bit more.  She would have time to try to get more information out of Breeze later.  After all, Dinky's original reason for asking if Breeze could visit was simply to have a friendly dinner with her and her mother. Besides, if anything suspicious did eventually happen, the crusaders would be there to record it.  Hopefully.

By the time dessert was served, Dinky pushed her suspicions to the back of her mind, kept dimly aware only by the lingering knowledge that her hired spies were still lurking just out of sight.

Suddenly, the cheerful conversation was interrupted by a rapid knocking on the front door.  "Breeze!" a voice called from outside.  "Sorry to bother you when you're visiting somepony, but can you come here a second?"

Ditzy and Breeze glanced at each other in shock.  "Is that…Watt?"

"Who's Watt?" Dinky asked, making a move to hop down from her chair.

"Stay here Dinky," Ditzy said.  "It's just a friend of Breeze's that he needs to quickly address."  The nervous mare shot Breeze a 'go deal with him' sort of look.

Breeze quickly jumped up and proceeded to the front door.  Up above, Scootaloo scampered along the beams in pursuit.

Breeze opened the door, coming face to face with the interrupting visitor.

"Watt, what are you doing here?" he asked in a low voice.  "I thought you were on a date tonight."

"I was… I mean, I am," Watt said, pointing to Pinkie, who was waiting at the edge of the sidewalk.  "But we were in the area on our way back from dinner, and I needed to tell you that there's been a change of plans.  I actually don't have time for you to come over tomorrow after all; there's been a bit of an emergency."

Breeze raised his eyebrows.  "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah," Watt said.  "But Pinkie needs me to help her save Inanima again.  Apparently it's being attacked by an army of mutant lampshade warriors."

Breeze blinked.  "Well, whatever, but you need to get out of here.  Ditzy's daughter isn't supposed to know about you yet."

Watt, however, was not paying attention.  He was staring at the orange filly that had descended from the ceiling by a rope behind Breeze's back.

"Hey Pinkie," the yellow stallion asked as his marefriend approached.  "Is that a spy pony or am I seeing things?"

"Nope, that's a spy pony if I ever saw one!"  Pinkie chirped.

Panicking, Scootaloo hit the emergency retract switch and was reeled up to the ceiling again, slamming painfully against it before she managed to position herself on another beam and out of sight.  Breeze turned around, but saw nothing.

"Listen, Watt.  I have no time for games right now.  Get going.  I'll see you at work on Monday."

Watt nodded.  "Okay then.  Sorry to bother you Breeze.  Watch out for spy ponies."

Watt and Pinkie hopped away in unison.  Breeze just sighed and shut the door, returning to the dining room.

"Twist, come in," Scootaloo whispered over her walkie-talkie.  "I have information.  An earth pony just visited, and claimed to be Breeze's coworker.  That's not possible, is it?"

"Can't be," Twist said.  "If he's not a pegasus, he can't work at Cloudsdale Mail and Freight."

Scootaloo crept back to the kitchen, while Twist reviewed the information the spies had collected.

"This is very suspicious," the earth filly mumbled.  "I wonder if Sweetie Belle has uncovered anything…"

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Sweetie Belle stared at the locked door.  She knew Breeze's saddlebags were inside; she was just having trouble getting to them.  The whitish filly had tried everything to unlock the door, but nothing had worked.  She wasn't strong enough to break it down, and doing so would alert the others to her presence anyway.  She was left with only one option.

I'm going to have to try magic.

Sweetie Belle's magical skills were rudimentary at best; Rarity had only begun teaching her the basics in the last few weeks, and the results of Sweetie's attempts were often catastrophic.  She'd never even tried to unlock a door with magic; nevertheless, she would have to give it a shot.

Sweetie Belle closed her eyes and concentrated as hard as she could on the inner mechanisms of the lock.  She tried to direct her magic as carefully as possible into its depths, coaxing it to open.

A few moments later, the doorknob simply fell off entirely, startling Sweetie Belle as it clunked to the floor.  The now handle-less door swung open.

"I guess it's better than nothing," she grumbled to herself as she slunk inside.

The stallion's saddlebag sat silently in the corner.  Sweetie produced a beam of light with her horn (one trick she actually had learned in her studies with Rarity) and began to delicately dig through the bag's contents.

Some bits, bag of trail mix, weather schedules, tube of mane-gel… Sweetie neatly categorized each item as she removed it from the bag.  I don't know if I'm going to find any incriminating evidence in here.

Crumpled at the bottom of the bag was a piece of paper.  Sweetie flattened it out and quickly read it, scrunching up her muzzle in confusion.  She wasn't sure what the contents of the page meant, but they could be important, so she quickly copied them onto another paper, replaced everything as she found it in Breeze's bag, and snuck through the back door and out of the cottage.

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One lively dinner later, it at last came time for Breeze to leave.

"Thanks so much for the meal, Ditzy," Breeze said.  "You're a really good cook, by the way."

"Aw, it was nothing," Ditzy replied, waving away the compliment with a little giggle.  "Thank you for coming to visit.  We really should do this again soon."

"We should!" Dinky agreed.  Despite her espionage operation, the filly had managed to have quite a lovely evening with her mother and the other pegasus.

Breeze gave Dinky a pat on the head.  "Don't worry, kiddo, I'll be back.  And Ditzy, I'll see you on Monday."

With a last cool smile, Breeze launched himself into the air.  Ditzy and Dinky watched him disappear into the night sky.

"Mommy?" Dinky asked.  "Can I go play in the backyard for a bit?"

"Sure," said Ditzy absentmindedly, still watching Breeze's diminishing form.  "Don't go far though.  It's almost bedtime."

Dinky trotted to the backyard, where, as expected, Twist and the Crusaders had met to wait for her.

"So… did we find anything out?"  Dinky asked.

"Actually, yes," Twist said.  "Applebloom overheard your mom talking about not letting something slip about her job.  That proves your theory that she's hiding something."

"Not a big surprise, really," Dinky answered.  "Anything else?"

"Scootaloo got a look at the visiting pony that interrupted your dinner.  From what we gathered, he appears to work with your mom and Breeze, but he's an Earth pony.  Therefore, they can't be working at Cloudsdale Mail and Freight anymore."

Dinky stomped her front hooves down triumphantly.  "I knew it!  Now I just have to figure out where they do work!"

"Sweetie-Belle may have helped with that, actually," Twist said.  "What do you make of this note she found in Breeze's saddlebag?"

Dinky snatched the paper away from Twist and read it carefully.

Assignment Details
Employee: Autumn Breeze
Date: 29 October
Address: 2020 Sunshine Way, Canterlot

~From the desk of Dr. Candyfloss
C.E.O. Equestria Speedy Shipping Services


Dinky read the paper once more, hardly daring to believe her luck.

"Equestria Speedy Shipping Services, huh?" she turned to the Crusaders, grinning broadly.  "You girls have been a great help.  Thanks."

"No spyin' Cutie Marks, though," Applebloom said sadly.  "Well, thanks for giving us a chance to try at least."

The Crusaders trotted from the yard, already discussing their next crusade.

Dinky looked at Twist.  "Go home for now, Twist.  Tomorrow, you and I are going to start doing some special research."

Twist nodded.  "Can't wait!"

Dinky watched her best friend trot away.  "I'm finally going to get to the bottom of this," Dinky mumbled to herself.  "I just need to find out a little more about Equestria Speedy Shipping Services…"

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As always, another day of work brought another assignment for Ditzy Doo.  Today, the perky pegasus found herself trotting through the streets of Canterlot's dazzling entertainment district as she made her way to her destination.

Ditzy stepped into the dim interior of what appeared to be a nightclub, but since it was late morning, the place was deserted.  The mare wondered if she had gotten the wrong address.

"Hello!  I'm from Equestria Speedy Shipping Services!  Anypony here?"

A glow of magical light appeared, revealing a white unicorn with an electric blue mane and violet shades standing at the DJ stand.  "Up here!" the unicorn called, before turning back to whatever she was doing.

Ditzy trotted up the stairs to find the unicorn half wedged under the turntables.  She appeared to be repairing something.

"One sec…" the white mare mumbled.

Suddenly, there was a nearly deafening blare of sound; the unicorn had succeeded in fixing whatever was broken, and the club's bass-heavy music began blasting as a result.

"There we go!" she cried triumphantly, jumping to her hooves.  "All ready for my next show!"  The unicorn noticed Ditzy clutching her her ears in agony, and quickly turned down the music.

"Sorry about that," she chuckled.  "Anyway, you're the shipper, right?"

"Yeah," said Ditzy, shaking her head violently to try to stop the ringing.

"Cool," the unicorn replied.  "I'm Vinyl Scratch, the most wicked awesome DJ in Canterlot!"

"I'm Ditzy Doo," Ditzy replied.  "Nice to meet you, Vinyl Scratch."

"Just call me Vinyl," the unicorn responded.  "Full names are too formal."

"Right then, Vinyl," Ditzy started.  "Going by first impressions, you don't seem like the shy type.  Why do you need a shipper today?"

Vinyl's confident smile shrank a bit.  "Well, uh… normally, you'd be right." She responded.  "Usually, I can get my own date.  Heck, sometimes I've got to deal with ponies climbing over each other to ask me out.  Unfortunately, I happen to be interested in a certain mare… who I'm pretty sure doesn't know I even exist."

With a flash of magic, Vinyl pulled a poster from her saddlebag and rolled it open.  The image within showed four ponies playing musical instruments.  Vinyl slammed her hoof down right under the picture of a grey earth pony playing the cello.

"Right there!" the unicorn announced.  "That there is Octavia, cellist in the Royal Canterlot Orchestra!  You need to help me get a date with her!"

Ditzy looked at the picture, then back to Vinyl Scratch.  "Are you sure she's… y'know, your type?  I mean, you two seem kind of… different."

Vinyl glanced around the room nervously before leaning in closely and whispering to Ditzy.

"Don't tell anypony… but I'm secretly into classical almost as much as I am into mad bass beats.  I disguise myself sometimes and attend the orchestra's performances; it's a guilty pleasure.  But I went and did something stupid; I sent her an anonymous note asking her to join me for dinner at the Canterlot café' tonight."

"Why is that a problem?" Ditzy asked.  "As long as she shows up, you'll be getting the date you wanted.  Why do you need me?"

Vinyl lifted her shades for a moment so Ditzy could see the 'you've got to be kidding' look in her eyes.

"The problem is," Vinyl said with slight annoyance.  "Octavia is a high-societal mare; a wild, unkempt pony like me is nothing more than old rubbish to her."

"So what, you want me to teach you how to be sophisticated or something?" Ditzy asked skeptically.

Vinyl gasped.  "I hadn't thought of that!  Do you do that?  Is that a legitimate request for a shipping pony?!"

"I… guess?" said Ditzy uncertainly.  "I was forced to attend a few weeks of finishing school as a filly; I'm not perfect, but I could probably teach you basic proper mannerisms if you think that'll help."

Vinyl produced a huge grin.  "You will?  Aw, thanks!  That'll be awesome!  Octavia will be totally diggin' me in no time!"

"Then we better get started," Ditzy said.  "We've only got a few hours."
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The low hum of the cello mixed harmoniously with the melody played on the piano as two ponies filled the empty hall with music.  The sounds of the strings increased in tempo as the piano rose to a tumultuous crescendo of a finale, and both instruments fell silent.

Octavia lowered her bow from the large instrument next to her.  "Excellent as always, Frederic," she said, watching the pianist stallion take a small mock bow.

"Why thank you," Frederic replied.  "And, of course, the piece would be nothing without your beautiful accompaniment."

"Hopefully it still sounds as good once all four of us play it," the mare commented.  "I'm not sure the others are familiar with this piece yet."

"They still have a few days to practice," Frederic said.  "You and I, on the other hand, are basically ready for our next performance."

Octavia smiled.  "Yes, and I'm quite looking forward to a few nights off for once."

Frederic grinned knowingly.  "Perchance, is there something special going on, Octavia?"

Octavia's cheeks reddened ever so slightly.  "Actually, yes.  It seems one of my fans has offered to treat me to dinner this evening."

Frederic raised his eyebrows.  "Now isn't that lovely.  Assuming, of course, that your date isn't simply some desperate urchin or something."

"Frederic, we're in the Royal Canterlot Orchestra.  Hardly anypony below the upper echelons of society ever attends our performances.  I'm confident that whoever has invited me is a tasteful music appreciator and a proper gentlepony."

"You're probably right," Frederic commented.  "But you can't be sure.  Hopefully your evening will be as charming as you're expecting."

"Don't worry about me, Frederic," Octavia replied calmly as she packed away her cello.  "I'm sure everything will be fine."

The grey earth pony sauntered out of the empty hall, trying her best to ignore the tiny doubts Frederic had planted within her.

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Vinyl Scratch found herself seated at the kitchen table in her apartment, impatiently awaiting her tutoring session from Ditzy.  The unicorn sat as still as she could, her front hooves resting on the napkin neatly spread across her lap.

Ditzy peered around the corner from the adjacent room.  "Okay Vinyl, you need to pretend I'm your date so we can practice your manners."

Vinyl nodded, careful to maintain her posture as Ditzy had instructed earlier.  Ditzy trotted forward and seated herself in the other chair.

"Hello Vinyl Scratch," she said pleasantly, looking at Vinyl expectantly.

"Hey.  How ya' doin'?" Vinyl replied.

Ditzy placed her face in her hooves.  "We have a lot to do, I see."  The pegasus looked back up at Vinyl.  "Why don't we try a bit more… elegant of a greeting?"

Vinyl cleared her throat before trying again.  "Good evening, ma'am.  It's a lovely night, wouldn't you agree?"

"Much better," Ditzy replied.  "After the greeting, remember to keep conversation on light, but sophisticated, topics.  Make sure your choice of topics if appropriate for the dinner table."

"Gotcha'" Vinyl said.  "I'm not too worried about the talking part, though; as long as I remember to avoid most of my slang, I think I can pass as a classy pony."  The unicorn looked at the dishes spread in front of her.  "I'm actually more worried about table manners."

"That reminds me," Ditzy commented.  "Do you normally use magic to lift your utensils or food?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Don't do that tonight," Ditzy responded.

"What?!" Vinyl gasped.  "Why not?  I always eat like that!"

"It's a rather picky rule of fine dining," Ditzy responded.  "Since you are dining with an earth pony, it's impolite for you to use magic to eat when she can't.  In most cases, ponies don't care, but the rule is still followed in the highest levels of society.  Octavia might be offended if you don't observe it."

Vinyl snorted.  "Then how am I supposed to eat?"

"Hold the utensils with your hooves like everypony else," Ditzy answered.

Hesitantly, Vinyl lifted a fork.  The small metal implement felt so foreign; after all, she hadn't touched a dining utensil since… well, about when she learned to use magic.  Awkwardly, the unicorn attempted a few stabbing motions with it, before bending her arm at an odd angle to try to move it to her mouth.

"For Celestia's sake, Vinyl, it's not that hard," Ditzy said, demonstrating the proper movements with her own fork.

"Easy for you to say!  You're a pegasus!" Vinyl snapped as she adjusted her pose to more accurately mimic the grey mare.

Ditzy demonstrated every detail she could remember from finishing school, from arrangement of spoons and knives to the proper way to sip one's soup to the fundamentals of proper use of the napkin.  Vinyl soaked in every word; sure, it was boring, but better to be bored now than humiliated later.

"I think that just about covers table manners," Ditzy said finally.  "And remember the most important rule; ignore all of this unless you're at a particularly fancy restaurant or dining with a very fancy guest; the average pony would just think you're weird."

"Great," said Vinyl sarcastically.  "Nice to know I spent two hours learning all the details of something that's not applicable ninety-nine percent of the time."

"Why do you think I left finishing school," Ditzy said dryly.  "Well… actually, more like escaped from finishing school… whatever, that's a story for another time.  What else do we need to teach you before your date?"

"Uh… nothing?" said Vinyl hesitantly.  "We talked about greetings and speech patterns, we reviewed table manners, and I already know enough about music to keep an intelligent conversation going, I think.  I guess I'm ready to go."

"Not quite," said Ditzy.  "We have to fix you up a little first.  You can't go to a fancy dinner looking like you do now."

"What's wrong with how I look?" asked Vinyl defensively.

Ditzy sighed.  "Face facts, Vinyl.  You look fine for going to host a wild rave party, but I wouldn't say your look is appropriate for a classy evening out."

The grey pegasus ushered Vinyl into another room, arming herself with a hairbrush.

"What, you're a stylist now too?" Vinyl asked.

"You'd be surprised at the skills you pick up in this job," Ditzy answered simply.  "Now, let's get to work."

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Vinyl arrived on the posh outdoor terrace at the Canterlot café, pausing to glance at her reflection in the pool of a nearby fountain; she still couldn't believe such a simple change could make her look so different.  Ditzy had managed to tame the unicorn's usually unkempt mane into something that could rival even the surrounding high-status ponies.  Tangles of hair no longer dangled around her face; everything was neatly brushed back into a simple, but lovely, style.  Vinyl herself, who had long since given up on ever making her unruly mane presentable, was unable to believe the sudden change.

Ditzy had also smoothed out the spiky fur of Vinyl's tail, and tucked a flower behind her ear to complete the effect of her new style.

One thing Vinyl was much less thrilled about, however, was the removal of her signature shades.  Ditzy had insisted that the gaudy accessory was not befitting of Vinyl's new look; The unicorn removed them begrudgingly, being hesitant to expose her bright red eyes.

I wonder why she didn't comment on my eyes, Vinyl thought to herself.  Maybe it's because her eyes are as weird as mine.

Ditzy had flown ahead, promising to oversee the date from a hidden perch on a nearby rooftop.  This left Vinyl to walk alone to the café.  The unicorn couldn't help but notice the looks she was getting from the pompous townsfolk; for once, they seemed to be looks of approval rather than disdain.  That was a good sign.

Vinyl sighed and moved away from the fountain, proceeding to an open table.  There was nothing to do now but wait and hope Octavia actually showed up.  Her breath caught in her throat when she caught sight of the grey earth pony walking up to the host's counter.

"Excuse me, sir," Octavia said.  "I'm supposed to be meeting a date here; I'm a few minutes late, so I suspect they're already here."

The host nodded.  "The white mare at the table out on the terrace is waiting for you.  Enjoy your dinner."

"Thank you," Octavia said, proceeding out to the open patio.

Vinyl waved nervously as the earth pony cantered over to the table and seated herself.

"Good evening, miss," Octavia said.  "Thank you for your kind invitation.  May I have your name?"

"Uh… I'm Vinyl Scratch," the unicorn answered.  "I'm… I'm a big fan of the orchestra."

"Why thank you," said Octavia calmly.  "I always do enjoy meeting another appreciator of our ensemble.  I take it by your cutie mark that you are a music aficionado as well?"

"You could say that," Vinyl responded.

"How lovely."  Octavia produced a small smile.  "What sort of instrument do you play?"

"Uh, I don't actually… play," Vinyl stuttered.  "I'm just… in the music business, shall we say."

Octavia tensed suddenly.  "Are you a music critic?  Is this an interview, disguised as a date?  Why do they always try to do this to me!?"

"Whoa, relax!" Vinyl yelled over her panicking guest.  "I'm no critic.  Really.  I'm not here to interrogate you, I just want to have dinner!"

Octavia blinked.  "Yes.  Of course.  Sorry, I've been under a bit of stress lately."

"It's cool," said Vinyl.  "I mean… I understand," she corrected herself, catching Octavia's surprised look at the bit of 'commoner lingo' she'd let slip.

Luckily, the waiter came by at that moment and took the pair's orders, after which the two were left to continue the discussion.  Vinyl allowed Octavia to discuss the details of the latest pieces she had been practicing, a topic on which the earth pony was quick to go into great depth.  Vinyl listened intently, occasionally asking questions of her own, until dinner was served some time later.  The unicorn was careful to follow Ditzy's eating instructions as well, refraining from the use of her magic.

"I must say, Vinyl Scratch," Octavia commented over her salad.  "You are quite the charming mare.  Quite polite and friendly, and you know about music.  But… when I look at you… you remind me of somepony; I just can't put my hoof on who it is…"

Vinyl just shrugged.

"I suppose it doesn't matter," Octavia mumbled.  "I'll let you know if I think of it."

The mares finished their meal, and waited as the waiter approached with the bill.

"Your check," he said, setting the bill on the table.

"Allow me," Vinyl offered.  "You are my guest, after all."

Vinyl dug through her bag for the necessary funds.  She pulled out a hooffull of bits, but something else fell out of the bag as well: a pair of bright purple shades.

Octavia stared at the eyewear for a moment, and then looked back at Vinyl, who was blushing slightly.

"Wait…" Octavia said, her eyes widening.  "Wait just a second."

Suddenly, the earth pony leapt up from her seat, and more or less tackled Vinyl, knocking her from her chair.

"Ow!  What are you doing?" the unicorn asked.

Refusing to answer, Octavia proceeded to roughly tousle Vinyl's mane.  Once it was back to its usual disheveled state, she picked up the dropped shades and placed them on Vinyl's face.

"That's it!" she announced triumphantly, admiring her handiwork.  "I knew I recognized you!  You're the DJ from the club downtown!"

Vinyl struggled to her feet, glaring at Octavia.  "Yes.  Now are you done assaulting me?"

Octavia blushed.  "Sorry, I… I don't know where that came from."

"Whatever," said Vinyl.  "Guess any chance of a second date is gone now?"

"No no no, on the contrary!" Octavia replied, much to Vinyl's surprise.  "I, uh… kind of wanted to meet you, actually."

"Huh?" Vinyl asked.  "I thought you'd only be interested in associating with other upper-echelon like yourself."

Octavia groaned.  "Vinyl, you must understand; sometimes classy ponies can be rather… boring, to be honest.  I liked you immediately because quite frankly, you're more interesting than a lot of ponies I know.  And now that I know you're that DJ from downtown… well that's twice as nice.  A pony who fits in both with us gentleponies and with some of the more… exciting folk living nearby."

"So you… you do want to go out again sometime?"

Octavia nodded.  "Definitely."

Vinyl couldn't believe her luck; she hadn't expected this side of Octavia at all.  But one question was still left unanswered.

"That's all great," the white mare said.  "But… how did you know about me?  Have you seen me before?"

Octavia produced a guilty grin.  "Actually… on the rare occasion that I have a day off, I'll sometimes disguise myself and visit your club.  Call it a… guilty pleasure."

On a nearby rooftop, Ditzy Doo stifled a giggle.
Chapter 8

There is NO REASON that this chapter should have taken me over three weeks to write. But writer's block and my own quality standards caused me to rewrite major sections of this chapter multiple times. I really hope it's good enough now. Really.

Anyways, the piece of the overarching story in this chapter is actually LONGER than the ship this time. Don't know why that happened, it just did.

And the ship itself... I didn't want to step on any toes with this one, since it's a popular couple. I think my iteration is original enough.

EDIT: Listen up, this is important. Some people are wondering why Dinky and Twist seem so darn smart in this chapter.
It's because both of those characters are rather open for interpretation, so I built them how I wanted to.
Twist is just a nerd: she studies, she reads a lot, and as a result, she's pretty intelligent. Dinky, on the other hand, is a child prodigy: she's just way smarter than the average filly for whatever reason. That's just how I decided to do it.

Now, I thought I was going back to school today (Jan 17) but it's actually not till the 23rd. So I can get a head start on chapter 9.

Is that it? I guess so. Enjoy the new chapter!

MLP and all related characters are (C) Hasbro and Lauren Faust. I want to insert a witty remark about that, but my brain is fried.
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:iconfotland42:
fotland42 Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2013
Everybody knows Dinky is a clever little filly. The holy gospel of the DDDDDuology told us so.

I have to say, Tavi's secretly enjoying low-class music was kind of predictable from practically the moment we met Vinyl, and I don't think I merely mean that I predicted it by that.
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:icondeuxofspades:
deuxofspades Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
The mental image of "fussy" Octavia bodily tackling Vinyl Scratch in a fancy restaurant, messing up her mane, and shoving sunglasses onto her face, is just too funny. Thank you for that. Also, I'm glad to see the kids are as smart as I'd expect.
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:iconportaljumper339:
portaljumper339 Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2012  Student General Artist
Great job with the opener, and I am really getting excited to see how Dinky finds out about her mother's new occupation.

Also, I like your fresh take on the classic Octavia/Scratch pairing. Most people simply assume that they are good friends/dating despite their differences, so it is refreshing to see that they actually do respect each other's styles of music.
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:icon18273:
18273 Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2012
yaaay what a cute couple
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:icondolphinbuster:
DolphinBuster Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
That Dinky Doo is so mischievous. and YAY, Vinyl Scatch and Octavia! *GASP* Derpy forgot to set a price! eep.
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:iconsapphire475gs:
sapphire475gs Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2012
I'm frankly surprised that you didn't mention Stalker- I mean, Scootaloo was in a black sweater during this chapter...
Sweetie Belle failing magic as usual. Thank goodness nothing caught on fire.
Also, Dinky is a dictionary of a filly, I must say!
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:iconmushdoomx:
Mushdoomx Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2012
I like what you did with Twist and Dinky and also adding in the CMC...Scootaloo flew, though?
And I like how both Vinyl and Octavia had different sides to them. Nice (:
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:iconpegasusrescuebrigade:
PegasusRescueBrigade Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2012
Well Scoots can hover and stuff. You don't think she'd be able to propel herself up to a low beam in a pony-sized house if she really tried?

It's not like she was zipping off to Cloudsdale or anything.
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:iconfimvisible:
FiMvisible Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2012
>zipping off to Clousdale

Rainbow Factory reference? Just wondering. :D
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:iconpegasusrescuebrigade:
PegasusRescueBrigade Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2012
Nope. Not intentionally.

I've never read Rainbow Factory, but I have a basic idea of the storyline from other sources.
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