“And remember, there will be a test on our sexual education unit at the end of this week!” said Cheerilee with her trademark smile to her class. The studious foals jotted the date down into their notebooks. Apple Bloom scribbled the last of her notes into her notebook, giving a bored-looking Sweetie Belle a grin through the pencil clenched in her teeth. She flitted her eyes between her friend and the clock. Class was just about over for the day, and Apple Bloom had many plans as to how they would attempt to get their cutie marks for today. This time, they would be avoiding property damage, much to Scootaloo’s dismay, who was raising a hoof questioningly.
“Uh, Miss Cheerilee? I don’t get what you mean by making sure to ‘clean the barn’ with--”
“As you all know, aside from your individual essays on Equestrian wildlife, I’ve been talking about a new, mandatory program the Equestrian Board of Education hosts every year,” interrupted Cheerilee, stepping away from her desk and trotting before the board. “It’s a little something called ‘career-aptitude testing’, and today is the beginning of these tests!”
A hoof inevitably shot up in the back of the classroom, to which Cheerilee gave a patient nod.
“What’s ‘career-aptitude testing’?” asked the colt.
“It’s very simple! It’s a free-form exam given to fillies and colts just like you all around Equestria to find out how well they’re able to work and behave in the real world. And you do this,” she said, adding an excited flourish of her hoof towards the window, “by going out and working for the ponies of Ponyville!”
“Wait,” piped up Sweetie Belle from her seat in the front row, “you mean we do actual work? Like, a job?”
“That’s correct,” chirped their teacher with a smile.
“But isn’t that... well... foal labor?”
“Of course not, Sweetie Belle! The administration would never approve that sort of a thing. This is completely different. Because you don’t get paid and you fail the class if you don’t comply.”
“But--” started Sweetie Belle, before being cut off by her teacher.
“With that, you’re all dismissed! Remember, I expect a report on your lessons on real life by the end of the day!” Cheerilee had hardly finished her sentence before the eager colts and fillies had started leaving their seats, eagerly babbling as they packed their belongings. Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle looked at each other in confusion as they hopped out of their desks and walked towards the door.
“Oh, Featherweight!” called Cheerilee, and the anemic colt turned, sidling out of the way of the three fillies as they filed out of the classroom, “Why don’t you stay here? I have a... special job for you.” Sweetie Belle heard Featherweight swallow audibly before the door shut behind him, and Apple Bloom gave her a strange look.
“Ah don’t get it. What’s wrong with ‘foal labor’? Applejack always told me it builds character.”
Sweetie Belle looked prepared to launch an expositive explanation, but Scootaloo cut her off.
“Ethics, schmethics, Sweetie Belle,” puffed Scootaloo, “What we need to worry about right now is finding a job before the day is over!” The pegasus filly looked to Apple Bloom with wide eyes. “Couldn’t we go down and help out at Sweet Apple Acres? There’s always something to do there!”
“Oh no,” asserted Apple Bloom, with a shake of her head, “Remember what happened last time ya’ll tried ta help out on th’ farm?”
“Well to be fair, soil does look a lot like pig manure when you haven’t--”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” said Scootaloo with a gag. The three fillies stopped in the middle of the dirt path as their classmates passed them. “So what are we going to do then? I mean, it’s not like we can just pass up on this. We need to find something. Any ideas, Cutie Mark Crusaders?”
Sweetie Belle looked skyward with a contemplative hoof to her chin, and Applebloom hoofed at the dirt slightly. The earth pony filly was the first to speak. “Well what if we split up and asked around Ponyville for ponies who need help? That way we can find ourselves different jobs! And who knows? Maybe we’ll even get our cutie marks in the process!”
“I like that idea!” said Scootaloo with an enthusiastic buzz of her wings.
“So it’s settled then!” concluded Sweetie Belle with an excited smile, “Let’s do some work for Ponyville and get our cutie marks! We meet here in four hours.”
The three fillies struck forehooves and cheered in unison: “Cutie Mark Crusader: Foal Laborers, go!”
On that note, they split, each galloping in different directions. As Sweetie Belle bounced through the grass, she knew exactly where to go. Her sister Rarity would love for her to give a hand with her fashion work! She was sure to say --
“Absolutely not!” huffed Rarity without even looking around.
“Wait, what? Why not?” complained Sweetie Belle, sitting on the elegantly detailed floor of Carousel Boutique. Her sister was surrounded by an assortment of mannequins dressed in dresses ranging from homely to painfully gaudy. Her red-framed spectacles sitting loosely on her snout, the mare levitated needles and fabric onto the dress form before her, brow creased with concentration. With a heavy sigh, she finished her stitch and turned to face her sister.
“Because I’m very busy at the moment, and I simply can not afford to be distracted! Need I remind you how your attempts to help me have only been a hindrance in the past?”
“No buts! I’m sorry Sweetie Belle, but it’s time you learned to get out there and do something for yourself by yourself. You can not expect me to coddle you forever. That’s what career-aptitude day is for anyways. Now shoo, and let me work in peace!”
Pouting fiercely, the filly turned on her hoof and stomped out of the shop, grumbling hotly under her breath. Where was she supposed to find work now? Rarity had been her only option, and with her friends off on their own adventures, she found herself in quite a pickle: she had to decide something for herself. Sweetie Belle slumped against the side of the store with a frown on her face. Thinking for herself...
The filly was just about to give up when a rowdy voice yanked her from her thoughts.
“Woah, woah, woah, what do you mean, she cancelled!?” demanded a female voice, “Nopony just up n’ cancels on me!”
Sweetie Belle looked up to spot a peculiar mare with a streaked azure mane trotting down the boulevard with a cell phone glued to her ear with a magical glow. She barked into said phone, red eyes glowering furiously.
“Her ears hurt? That’s why she gave up? That lightweight, gutless featherbrain! I have a gig in less than an hour and she pulls this crap on me? You can tell her she’s friggin’ done working with me! If she’s got a problem with that, she can stick her whiny little mouth right up her own--”
She suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, and looked down to find Sweetie Belle staring up at her with emerald eyes wide with suspense. The mare frowned. “I’ll call you back,” she spat into her phone before pulling it from her ear. “Yeah? What do you want?”
“Sounds like you’re missing some staff,” chirped Sweetie Belle. Unimpressed, the mare with the strange mane blinked at her.
“Maybe I am,” she said vaguely.
“And maybe you’re looking for a replacement.”
“And maybe I could help.”
“Look kid,” sighed the mare with a roll of her eyes, “You’re a little young for me to be giving you a job. Go have some fun, play with your friends, or even--”
“It’s career-aptitude day.”
“Do ya know the fundamentals and codes of dee-jaying?”
Sweetie Belle blinked absently. “Uh...”
“Perfect, I made that up. You’re hired. Midnight Club, one hour. Tell ‘em Vinyl Scratch said you’re cool.” With that, Vinyl Scratch trotted off hastily, pulling out her cell phone, presumably to dial the number of another pony whose day was about to get a whole lot worse. Sweetie Belle waved her goodbye until she was out of sight, then began bouncing up and down with glee.
“I’ve got a job, I’ve got a job!” she sang giddily, skipping through the streets. She wondered if her friends were getting along any better.
Apple Bloom hung her head dejectedly as she meandered through the streets of Ponyville. Ponies chatting amongst themselves paid no second glance to the filly. She had hunted high and low for her sister Applejack, and couldn’t find her anywhere. After a bout of shouting into an ear horn, she had established from Granny Smith that she had wandered off to town for some unknown errand, and Big Macintosh hadn’t the slightest idea what that could be. It had been almost an hour of hunting for her sister, and yet she hadn’t seen either the blonde mane or jaunty Stetson of her sibling. Ambling past a local café, Apple Bloom was just about ready to call it quits when she heard a familiar southern drawl distinct from the rabble of voices.
“Ah told ya, it ain’t because I’m lazy! I want ta get this next batch done as much as you do, but my leavin’ the farm is suspicious as it is. I need ta get back to Sweet Apple Acres before--”
“Heya, sis!” called out Apple Bloom excitedly, breaking into a gallop. Applejack looked up from her table at the café with a surprised blink at her name being called. She was sitting on a simple chair opposite another mare that Apple Bloom had seen around town, with two drinks between them. The name of the mare with the light purple coat and bushy mane escaped her. With an eager bounce, Apple Bloom came to a stop at the hooves of her sister.
“Uh... Howdy, there Apple Bloom,” said Applejack with an awkward note in her voice, “What’re ya doin’ all the way out here in Ponyville all by yer lonesome? Where’re yer friends?”
“Off finding a job,” explained Apple Bloom, “Today’s career-aptitude day!”
“Well shoot,” spoke the mare opposite to Applejack, “that’s today? I swear, I keep losing track of time for some reason.”
Applejack shot the mare a snappish glance, before blinking as an idea came to her. With a sly grin, she looked down at her eager little sister. “Career-aptitude, huh? Guess that means yer looking for some sort of job?”
“Well, I think I might know somepony who might have some work for ya ta do. Isn’t that right, Berry Punch?”
Berry Punch looked confused for a moment, and then smiled as realization dawned on her face. “Oh, right! That job! Sure, that could work!” She looked down at Apple Bloom with a flashy smile. “Feel like doing some big-pony type work? It’s some real work, I’ll tell you that much.”
“Ah’ll do anything!” declared Apple Bloom, pushing out her chest pridefully, “Ain’t no job too big for this filly!” Berry Punch gave Applejack an approving nod, and then hopped off her chair.
“Right then, little missy. Follow me! Thanks for paying this one Applejack,” called Berry Punch over her shoulder. Applejack waved them goodbye, a pleased look on her face. There was a polite cough from beside her as a waiter tapped a receipt on the café table. Berry Punch’s words sunk in, and Applejack’s brow furrowed in frustration. How Berry Punch always managed to pull this was beyond her, she thought, looking for her bit-bag.
Fuming, Scootaloo zipped along the dirt path, her wings buzzing like those of an infuriated hornet. She rocketed along the trail, her scooter kicking up dust as she expertly navigated the undulating hills and sharp turns.
Scootaloo had gone to the one pony in Ponyville who would have the most awesome possible job of all time: Rainbow Dash. If there was anypony who could get her to do something awesome, it would have to be her idol.
“Hey, Rainbow Dash! I need a job! How can I help?”
“You bet! You’ve learned to fly, right?”
The conversation hadn’t gone as planned.
And so Scootaloo had hopped onto her scooter and headed for the next pony she knew she could talk to. Her house came into view as she rounded the bend with a fierce power slide. Fluttershy wasn’t one to talk much, which made it pretty easy talking to her. She was a good listener, and when she actually spoke, it was rarely to waste words. When it came to Scootaloo’s list of most awesome ponies, Fluttershy was a solid number two. Well, technically number three, but Scootaloo had some difficulty imagining Spitfire giving her a job.
With a screech of her tires, Scootaloo grinded to a halt in from of Fluttershy’s cottage. She hopped off her scooter, and pulled the helmet free from her head, giving her frazzled mane a light toss. Hanging it on the handlebar, she trotted over to the door and gave it a light knock. Within moments, it opened and a smiling face appeared.
“Oh, Scootaloo!” cooed Fluttershy pleasantly, “What a nice surprise. What brings you out here?”
Scootaloo sighed miserably, hoofing the dirt with a downwards glance. “Hi, Fluttershy... Well, you see, I...”
Fluttershy frowned slightly. “Oh my. Is something wrong?”
“It’s just that... today’s career aptitude day,” elaborated Scootaloo, “And nopony will give me a job. I tried asking Rainbow Dash, but that didn’t work out too well. I couldn’t think of anypony else to turn to, so I came here.” She looked up to Fluttershy with pleading purple-gray eyes. “If I don’t do something soon, I’ll fail the assignment and school. So can you help me? Pretty, pretty please?”
With a kindred smile, Fluttershy patted Scootaloo on her head. “Of course. It would be my pleasure. In fact, I’ve got just the thing for you.”
Scootaloo’s eyes flashed with anticipation. “Awesome! Thanks Fluttershy, I knew I could count on you! What do you need me to do? Feed the chickens? Help you heal mice?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that at all,” reassured Fluttershy, ducking into her cottage, and emerging with a piece of cardboard in her hooves and a marker in her teeth. “I’ve got all that handled, thank you. But what you can help me with is my day job!”
“Day job? Come to think of it, what is your job, anyways?”
“Yes, my point exactly,” said Fluttershy vaguely, scribbling on the sheet of cardboard with a concentrated look on her face, “You’re an orphan, right?”
The question hit Scootaloo like a brick. “I... I don’t...” she stammered, dumbfounded.
“I’ll take that as a yes, then...” Fluttershy mumbled, adding a final twist from the marker in her mouth. She spat it out, and admired her handiwork before flipping the piece of cardboard around and handing it to Scootaloo. “Here you go!”
Scootaloo took the sign and gave it an uncomfortable look-over.
“Orfan. Pleez give.”
Fluttershy shook a small, chipped mug before Scootaloo’s face. “You’ll need this, too. It’s very easy. Just sit somewhere where everypony can see you, and you’ll do just fine.”
“Oh, and do be sure to bring back the change, please.” Before Scootaloo could say another word, Fluttershy closed the door with a muted clap. She stared at the wood for a long time before looking down at the mug and cardboard sign.
There was a quiet rustle as Cheerilee flipped the page of her book. Not another sound broke the silence of the classroom aside from the ticking of the clock. With a passive glance, Cheerilee enjoyed the moment of peace, shifting her hind legs on her hoof-rest. It wasn’t long before the silence of the was broken by three fillies bursting through the door to the classroom. Cheerilee looked at them over the top of her book before smiling. As she tried to greet them, however, she was cut off by a scream.
“Miss Cheerilee!” hollered Sweetie Belle with ear-splitting force, “We got our jobs done, just like you said!”
Cheerilee cringed at the sudden shouting. “Sweetie Belle, what is the matter with you, shouting like that?”
“Don’t bother,” snorted Applebloom, “She’s been like that since she got done with her job at the club.”
“Club? Oh, my.”
“No, a club, not a pub. It was so much fun! All I had to do was move records around and everypony loved it!” The shouting filly looked around, remembering something. “That reminds me. What in Celestia’s name is dubstep anyways?”
Cheerilee laughed nervously and cleared her throat. “I’m glad to see you found something you enjoyed... What about you, Apple Bloom?”
The filly frowned, teetering slightly. “Mah job was boring. Just squishin’ grapes into some weird machine thingie to make juice. Didn’t taste like no juice I ever tasted neither,” she said, slurring her words a bit.
Cheerilee forced herself to smile, and turned her attention to Scootaloo. She didn’t have a chance to ask before the pegasus filly said bluntly: “Don’t even ask.”
Their teacher coughed again slightly, and did her best to look innocent. “So, what did you learn from all this, my little ponies?”
“The real world sucks!” said Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Featherweight in unison. Cheerilee looked down and shushed the colt.
“Hoof-rests can’t talk,” she said sternly.
“What was that?” shouted Sweetie Belle. There was an awkward silence in the classroom as the students and teacher stared at each other. Cheerilee sighed.
“Alright, you’ve passed the assignment. You can go now, and I’ll see you all in class tomorrow.” With another shout to express her confusion, Sweetie Belle along with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo trudged out of the classroom. Featherweight looked up at his teacher expectantly, legs quivering from effort.
“Can I go too, Miss Cheerilee?”
“Three more chapters,” said Cheerilee flatly, opening her book again.