“But what do you mean there are no openings available?” demanded the light gray mare with more desperate whining underscoring her words than she had intended. “There are always openings! I am—“
“Octavia Philharmonica,” the beige stallion interrupted curtly, eying the mare across the wooden expanse of his desk. “Currently known through all of Canterlot as the pony who aided and abetted the ruination of the Grand Galloping Gala by participating in the rendition of, of all things, the 'pony pokey'.”
“But that wasn't my fault,” Octavia objected, her lilting and cultured voice overshadowed by an element of pleading. “I was just doing my job and playing ponies' requests. I can't possibly be held responsible.”
The stallion sighed, massaging the furrow between his brows with a hoof. “Miss Philharmonica, it is true you cannot be blamed in any litigious sense. However, you know these upper-class Canterlot types as well as I do. I'm afraid you are very much persona non grata amongst those who form your usual clientele. There is simply no one interested in reserving your abilities as a cellist at the moment.” He forestalled her interruption by continuing without pause. “Of course, this will pass soon enough. It's simply a matter of patience.”
“Patience is all well and good Mr. Bookings, but I believe my landlord is in short supply. I have bills to pay! Surely there is something I could do in the meantime? Some smaller commissions I could take on?”
Elite Bookings shook his head. “I'm really quite sorry, but there's nothing even remotely in your field that I have available at the moment. I'm afraid all I've got is an opening at a new nightclub that's opened up, looking for an assistant for their DJ.”
Octavia gently snorted, shaking her head in denial. “No, I can't say that sounds like something suited for me. Could you imagine me in some nightclub?” An image briefly took shape in the recesses of her mind of herself, glowing plastic jewelry gracing neck and forelegs as she tried to blend in with a frantic crowd moving erratically to an unheard beat, signature pink bow tie and elegantly styled mane clashing with the spiked and dyed styles around her. She chortled slightly at the ridiculous idea.
“Well, if anything comes my way I'll be sure to let you know, Miss Philharmonica,” the stallion said.
Octavia knew a dismissal when she heard one. “I'd appreciate it. Thank you very much.” Rising, she excused herself from the room, head held high. She was a disciplined and professional musician whose skill made her valued through all of Canterlot. She would endure this challenge with dignity.
Octavia lay on her couch, tail hanging listlessly and ears flat, wondering where her dignity had gone.
Wherever it went, I believe it took my pride and self-worth with it.
Her light purple eyes tracked wearily over several letters from her landlord that were strewn across the floor; she didn't particularly want to find out what homelessness was like firsthoof. Her stomach rumbled loudly; the last bit of food she owned or could afford had gone into her mouth several days ago. Her daily phone calls to her agent had increased to thrice-daily frequencies over the course of the last month. No work had been forthcoming. She sighed resignedly. That opening at the nightclub had hovered in front of her after every phone call, offering her salvation for the low price of her painstakingly constructed image as a refined and sober cellist. The possibility of a paycheck had been increasingly hard to resist, but she had marshaled every ounce of stubbornness she commanded to fight back against the impulse to give in to something so alien and lowbrow. Still, the very real prospect of eviction and hunger are great equalizers amongst ponykind. Sighing, she reached out for the phone; the number she sought was ingrained habit by now. She listened keenly as the number dialed and steeled herself to her task as her agent answered. “Mr. Bookings, if that position at the nightclub is still available, I'm interested in it.”
Octavia stood uncertainly outside an unfamiliar building in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Even from here she could hear, or rather feel, the pounding of bass and the muted cacophony that apparently constituted “music” to some ponies but to her was more akin to the sounds of the damned in Tartarus. She shied from hoof to hoof, trying to work up the courage to brave this alien environment in pursuit of the pony she was supposed to talk to about this job, one Vinyl Scratch.
A glance to the sky confirmed that it was still early evening; far too early for “nightlife”, or so the cultured mare presumed. There certainly didn't seem to be a queue of ponies trying to get inside. She swallowed a sudden lump that formed in her throat.
Come on, Octavia. It’s a job interview, not a criminal endeavor. There's nothing to be so worried about.
Being so advised she trotted forward and nudged the door open, considerably relieved when it swung inward at her touch. Immediately she was paralyzed, overcome by a petrifying onslaught of rhythm and bass that reverberated in the marrow of her bones. Her eyes were dazzled by hypnotic pulses of neon color that surged and throbbed through the near-darkness. She simply stood, slack-jawed, struggling to process the sudden sensory overload. Slowly, though, her eyes began to take in something more than a spasmodic artist's creation in a medium of light and color. Her eyes were inexorably drawn to the far side of the room where a blindingly white unicorn towered over an array of consoles and audio equipment that stood on an elevated dais in the midst of the expansive dance floor. Opaque purple lenses obscured her eyes from sight but a translucent blue aura enveloped her horn, the same light infusing her equipment. Octavia watched, enthralled, as the whirling colors cast themselves over her pristine coat, lending it a kaleidoscopic and pearlescent quality. A two-toned tousled blue mane bobbed with her head according to the noise currently filling the room. Octavia refused to dignify it as actual music.
After a few more moments of entranced staring Octavia finally shook her head clear and advanced several more steps into the club. The DJ noticed her then; the head-bobbing stopped and those purple glasses swung to regard her. Sound and light died away, leaving Octavia and the other mare staring at each other. She cocked her head to the side, a small smile taking shape. She was obviously waiting for Octavia to say something. “I'm looking for Vinyl Scratch. I'm supposed to speak with her regarding a job opening here,” the cellist said, trying to sound as confident as possible as she approached the unknown pony.
The unicorn's grin broke into a wide smile and she hopped easily down to land beside Octavia. “Well, you found me; Vinyl Scratch, also known as DJ Pon-3. What can I do for ya, Treble Clef?”
Octavia's eyes narrowed. She wasn't thrilled about being assigned a nickname by a pony she had just met, let alone one based on something as personal as her cutie mark. Still, her voice was controlled and polite as she answered. “I heard from my agent that you need some help at this, erm, establishment. I was hoping you would take me on.”
Vinyl’s eyebrows rose quizzically. “Oh really? What's your deal?”
Octavia stared blankly. “Um, come again?”
“What do you do that makes you want to come and work here? Are you a DJ like me, a composer, an audio engineer, what? What makes a club somewhere you wanna work?” Vinyl asked.
“Oh! Um, actually, I'm a . . . well, I'm a cellist,” Octavia admitted with an uncertain scuff of her hoof.
For a beat there was no response then Vinyl Scratch broke into gales of laughter. The hysterical unicorn tried to get a word in edgewise around her own mirth and failed miserably. She thumped solidly down onto her haunches, sides heaving.
Octavia herself was torn between indignation and shock at this uncivilized outburst. As if she needed further proof she was no longer amongst her familiar peers, this uncouth and plebian behavior was it. Her voice was icy and precise as she spoke, struggling to make herself heard to the histrionic mare. “I fail to see what is so funny about my profession,” she observed sparsely.
Waving a hoof as if to stave off her words, Vinyl finally brought herself back under control. “No, no, it's not funny that you're a cellist,” she said with a tremor of laughter still underscoring her words. “It's just funny that a cellist is applying for a job in a nightclub. Most raves don't feature a string section, you know. Are you sure you didn't get lost looking for the concert hall, sweetie?”
“Don't patronize me! And no, I didn't get lost. I am precisely where I wanted to be,” Octavia replied, a hint of annoyance entering her tone.
Above the impenetrable lenses that concealed her eyes, Vinyl's eyebrows quirked inquisitively. “Oh yeah? Tell me this, Treble Clef; what's the difference between techno style music and house style music?”
“Oh, um, I don't actually know.”
“What's the difference between mixing and scratching?”
“I don't -”
“What's an upfader?”
'I don't see how I should -”
“What does an equalizer do?”
'I have no idea!” an exasperated Octavia finally exclaimed.
“Then what are you doing here? What does a classical musician like you think you're gonna do at a club like this? Ponies who come here wanna get drunk and dance like maniacs, not appreciate the subtle grace of a cello,” Vinyl retorted.
“I need a job, thank you very much. This is the only opening my agent knew of, so here I am. I'm aware I'm out of my depth here, but I assure you I can manage whatever you need done.”
“Yeah, I'm sure you think so. How about you just go find somewhere your talents will be better appreciated, Treble Clef.”
Octavia stood in stunned horror.
But this was my last hope. I never thought I wouldn't be able to get this job; I just didn't want to stoop so low.
She opened her mouth to protest this callous mare's judgment then clamped it shut.
No; I won't degrade myself further by begging.
“Thank you very much for your time, Ms. Scratch. I'll show myself out.” She turned to go quickly, but not before the crushing weight of her imminent homelessness and ruination forced a misty quality to enter her eyes.
I wonder if all my possessions could fit into a cardboard box in an alley?
She could only take consolation in the fact that she was fairly certain her display of weakness had gone unnoticed.
Vinyl watched her out-of-place interviewee go. Her shades concealed her face, leaving it an impassive mask. She had noticed the tears just before the discomposed musician had turned to leave. With every one of the grey mare's receding hoofsteps Vinyl cursed her growing sense of altruistic imperative.
I don't even know this filly. Why the hay should it matter to me if she's upset that I told her to get lost? She said herself she only came down here 'cause she needs a job. Some snobby, upper-class classical musician who probably never set foot in a place like this before. Probably thinks she's better than me and my music.
She grimaced then, as the aggravating filly in question had already reached the door. One perfectly white hoof whipped up to lie across her face in frustration before she resigned herself to being a nice pony to someone who likely regarded her as a stain on the fabric of society. “Hey, Treble Clef, wait a sec,” she called out across the empty club.
A clipped “What?” was all the reply she got back.
“I noticed the waterworks, so come back over here and tell me about it,” Vinyl demanded.
“Why do you care?” the obstinate Octavia retorted.
Vinyl Scratch rolled her eyes, though nopony could possibly see. “I'm not freaking Discord over here. I don't make it a daily goal to make somepony cry, especially when I don't even know why. Now get back over here and tell me why a cellist is so hung up on working in a nightclub that she starts crying when I tell her to get lost.”
Octavia couldn't help the small grin that imposed itself on her at this mare's carefree forthrightness. “ 'Get lost,' you say? Not very subtle in your word choice are you, Ms. Scratch?”
Vinyl snorted in derision. “Filly, I'm about as subtle as a lunar eclipse.”
The out-of-place cellist trotted hesitantly back over to where Vinyl still sat on the floor as a product of her earlier fit of laughter.
The DJ rose to her hooves and nodded to a bank of tables situated next to what was obviously the bar. “C'mon, Treble Clef. Let's go discuss this like the grown mares we are.”