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Pop. Fsssch. The sound of sparkling white wine being poured generously into a fluted glass was a pleasing melody to Octavia’s ears. She nodded graciously to her host as she picked it up, the binding spells of its unicorn manufacturer taking purchase against her hoof; the tinkle of glass against glass as it met against that of her record label representative’s. Around them were a few dozen others, circumferencing a massive, oaken banquet table. Equestria Music Industry’s New Year’s Eve celebrations were glamorous affairs – a gathering of Manehatten celebrities and taste-makers.

It was a rare honor to be personally invited by EMI’s chief executive himself to this private affair, her agent had stressed to her. And there was a small glow of pride, aided only a little by the wine, that it was her talent that got her here. It was hard enough to be an earth pony musician in a field dominated by unicorn bloodlines – famous names and talents stretching all the way back to the days of Buch, of Tchaiklopsky. While a simple Grip charm on the bow was all that was needed to play the cello, not many had the patience to train their forelimb muscles for the delicacy and precision needed to elicit the nuances of the instrument. Compound that with the relative disfavor that classical music had amidst what currently seemed to be an endless sea of dubtrot and hip-clop, and her relative stardom and prestige was indeed something to be proud of.

And she was. As were her parents, ecstatic at their daughter’s success. As was her agent, gleefully reaping in the rewards of what the media was calling “the next Yo-Yo Ma.” She was showered in praise and adulation and admiration.

She was, in fact, without peer.

A singular, raven-maned mare dressed in simple, grey finery, unnoticed amongst a constellation of Technicolor stars.

A mask of serenity. Nobody noticed the speed in which wine flowed and ebbed from her glass – the music culture’s famous hedonism and debauchery would be hard to overstate, and who cared about a little wine? She made small talk to a handful of officials, whose attentions were quickly diverted by Sapphire Shore’s ebullient presence and window-rocking, throat-clearing laughter.

She excused herself; nobody noticed.

Pop. Fsssch. The sound of a spritz of cola being added to a highball glass. The “Long Island Iced Tea” should, if done right, taste like its namesake, even as it contained five-sixths hard liquor. Vinyl Scratch was deep into her third at this point, and it was the ratio that was of interest, tastes be damned. Her bedraggled electric-blue mane and white fur was sweat-stained – she had come off an all-night set, parched and exhausted, her signature purple shades hanging off her muzzle at an awkward angle.

“You sure ye’ll be alright, Scratch?” asked the bartender, his mane shaved around the sides to produce a neon-green Mohawk that was nearly blinding in the club’s blacklight glow. The similarly fluorescent shamrock imprinted on the side of the glass matched his cutie mark. “Maybe chase that with a beer?”

Vinyl scrunched her face. “Barley, you freeze-distill your ales. I’ve seen you light them on fire to amuse tourists.”


“So, hell no!

Barley Brew shrugged and went back to polishing glasses. He eyed around the club – it was a slow night, and the dance floor was abandoned, ringed by a mere dusting of clients. The New Year’s party was on its last legs, dead but for a few stragglers. Manehatten might never sleep, but it did have downtimes – three in the morning would be one of them.

He was surprised, then, to see a new customer step in, shivering against the cold as she brushed fresh snowfall off a heavy coat. He could just make out a hem of expensive black satin from underneath the coat, with matching, gem-accented shoes. Suddenly, the urge to have legitimately clean drinking glasses to offer overtook him.

Her features were shrouded by the dark lights of the club, even as she neared the bar, resting her haunches demurely. “Please tell me you have scotch.”

Barley nodded. “On the rocks?”

“And a touch of lime and sugar.” Vinyl snickered drunkedly. The hooded customer was quite possibly glaring at the white-coated mare. “Is there something amusing?”

“Ordering… ordering a Blimey cocktail in an Irish bar. Heh…”

“Tch. Drunkards.”

“’m not drunk!” protested Vinyl. “’m barely started! Oy, Barley – keep ‘em comin’!”

“I’m not givin’ ye a fourth tall one, Vinyl,” retorted Barley. “Sorry, ma’am. Here you go.”

“…Huh. Don’t I know you?” asked Vinyl as Octavia pulled her hood back. “Yeah, you’re that fancy pony, what’s her name… Octy… Tavi…”

“Octavia Tremolando,” bit out Octavia, irritated by her unwitting drinking companion. “And I would thank you to not act too familiar.”

“Sheesh. Fiiinnnee,” drawled out Vinyl. “Miss fancypants bigshot don’t want her colleagues gettin’ too close.” She eyed her glass blearily. “Hey, I thought I ordered another?”

“My ‘colleague?’ You are most definitely not a colleague,” said Octavia dismissively. She eyed her drink critically, and downed it in one straight shot.

“’m a musician! Same as you,” slurred Vinyl. “Probably… Probably better’n you.”

“Better than me?” exclaimed Octavia, scandalized. “You’re surely joking. Do you know who I am?

Vinyl waved a dismissive hoof in her face. “Yeah, yeah… some classical bigshot. What-ever. Thasshit puts people to sleep. Whassamusic’n worth if they don’ get the heart pumpin’? Amirite, Barley?”

“…I probably should’ve cut you off at the second drink, Vinyl,” said the barkeep critically. “I think you should get some water and let Miss Tremolando drink in peace.”

“Aw, quiet, ye faux-Irish bahstahd.”

“And what the hell is a musician worth if they can’t elevate the listener from the mundane?” retorted Octavia coldly and angrily. Both forelimbs were gripping the glass tightly; she hadn’t felt this affronted, this bothered in ages. “What does some ragged-maned gutter trash know about music anyhow?”

Vinyl gave out a sharp, sudden peal of laughter. “Yawanna see real music, swing by tomorrah. ‘m doin’ ‘nother set. Mebbe. …I think. Barley?”

He set down a heavy mug in front of her. It fizzled. “Drink,” he said ominously. “And you better be on time tomorrow. You owe me, Scratch.”

“Blech. Mineral water? Fine, fine…”

“Miss… ‘Scratch,’ was it? If you think I’m going to spend any of my precious time listening to that horrid noise you call ‘music,’ you have another thing coming!” snapped Octavia angrily, slamming a hoof on the bar. Barley winced.

“Another whassit? Pssch. It’s New Year’s and yer up late arguin’ withha drunk! You don’t got anythin’ better to do, Miss Fancy.” Vinyl leaned in and stared at Octavia, as if seeing her for the first time. A big, wide smile eclipsed her face. “You’re cute when yer mad.”

She fell forward, face-first into the floor. Barley sighed.

“Sorry about that, Miss. Drink’s on the house.”

“Is she…”

Barley shook his head. “Don’t mind Vinyl. She’ll be alright. Silly filly’s havin’ composer’s block and wants t’ take it out on the world.” He leaned over the bar. “Oy, Vinyl. Pick yer sorry-ass self up. I ain’t cartin’ ya home tonight.”


“…A little less forte, Octavia,” said her quartet’s pianist critically. He swept his gray mane out of his eyes and stretched his hooves. They started again- “Wait, wait. Stop. Octavia.” He turned from his seat and stared at the cellist. “Are you quite alright? You never play bruscamente, much less for this piece. To do so accidentally…”

Octavia shook her head fiercely, as if trying to clear her thoughts. “Apologies, Frederic. Let’s try again.”

Frederic hesitated, and then shrugged as he turned back to the piano. Personal business could be taken care of later – for now, the music called. “From the top, then…”

It was later. The last, melancholic glint of orange sunlight had dipped below the horizon, past the harbor a long distance down the ruler-straight street. Citylight, like stars suspended in concrete and steel, flickered on in stochastic sequence, and the streets lowered its frenetic pitch to the murmur of post-rush traffic. Off in an unseen direction, Octavia could just barely make out the rhythmic tremors of subwoofers as the night’s carousel claimed dominion.

Frederic snorted, wrinkling his muzzle as it reached his ears. “Plebians. There ought to be a law.” He carefully laid felt cloth over the keys of his piano and slid the covers shut over the keys. “Um. Octavia. Did something happen last-“

“I’m fine,” she said, cutting him off as she fastened the latches over her cello’s case. “I just had a little too much wine last night. It won’t happen again, Frederic.”

He sighed. What more could be said?

Octavia trotted home quickly, poised on two legs with the cello case on her back balancing her as she stuffed her shivering forelimbs into the warm confines of her coat sleeves. The roads had been salted against the mid-winter ice, and where there weren’t dirty-gray patches of snow, there was the sludge and the stains of an industrial city. She missed the carefully maintained, picaresque parks and walkways of Canterlot – here she had to maintain vigil against damage to her fore hooves.

She paused at an intersection. Down the left, towards the seedier warehouse district, were the clatter of wheels and hooves, the shouts and murmurs of night life, and the ubiquitous dominance of the bass, felt right in the bone.  A shuddering, all-body, wordless command.

“Gets the heart pumping, huh?” said Octavia. She huffed, and headed right. Onward towards home and respectability.

“Oh, great. Frat night,” muttered Vinyl as a scuffle broke out over the bar. Burly security guards, their cutie marks mostly in the form of boxing gloves, weights and – in one rather awkward case – a fuzzy pair of handcuffs, stepped in to separate the kids. She rubbed a hoof over strained eyes, pushing her shades up against her horn, her red irises glowing from both the backwash of her laptop monitor and the streaks of capillaries denoting her stress. The dance floor was listless – a couple grinding in the corner, coming dangerously close to flagrant abuse of decency laws were it not for their pleather clubwear, a few random ravers here and there, her coffee was getting cold…

She wasn’t feeling it. The tracks weren’t on fire, lately. The bass was feeling tinny. Vinyl angrily scratched at her mane with a frustrated hoof.

“FUCK IT!” she yelled. The club stared at her, bewildered, as the record screeched and the feedback snarled. Vinyl rammed sliders and dials up, grinning madly as the first ominous, bone-shaking boom echoed through a stunned club.

“Oh, god, no, Vinyl, don’t you dare-“ started Barley.


“What in the world-

The windows were rattling. Octavia was startled out of her couch by the noise, almost spilling her drink. Cats were yowling from neighboring complexes.  Dogs were barking. In the case of her neighbors, immigrant workers of the steel presses and mills, they were barking ear-scorching profanity, a searing mix of canine and equestrian that was quite possibly unique to Manehatten lingo.

Octavia angrily threw on a heavy coat. There was no doubt as to who was responsible for the disturbance to her rest. That blue-maned floozy was going to get a talking to. She slammed the front door shut, barely noticing the tinkling of small icicles that were dislodged onto her hood. It occurred to her that she might have had a little too much scotch, and that it was affecting her judgment, but such thoughts were driven out by the way her blood boiled with every raging beat of the distant bassline.

It seemed as if the sidewalk beneath her hooves were writhing in time with the tremors. She soldiered on against the cold. The club was easy enough to find – like his pint glasses, the owner had adorned his cutie mark in neon lines across the club’s streetward façade. The Clover was just far enough from her place, and the wintry air cold enough, that some of her senses were restored by the time she was at its doorsteps – or, rather, near enough to it to see club ponies stagger out, dazed by the sonic assault.

She pressed on through anyhow, the security at the door too busy manhandling a drunkedly aggressive college colt to bother with another dame, even if she wasn’t wearing what was usually considered clubwear. The transition into the shuddering night club was jarring – a jungle climate, sticky and warm by the exhalations and body heat of a few hundred ponies, frenzied by the boiling tempo. The crowd parted before her; Octavia was unaware of how she looked, the steamy wisps of rapidly evaporating snow and ice and chilled breath against the gray of her hide giving her a spectral, wraithlike vibe. An angry raven-maned apparition of wintry death stalking upward across the dance floor. She was fixated solely upon the satanic center of the hellish beat – Vinyl’s hide awash in the red haze of tinted lights, her mane a bright purple of crackling plasma and the lens of her shades an indecipherable pool of black.

The music calmed, and the lights faded white. A break between songs, thought Octavia, and she opened her mouth to berate the inconsiderate disc jockey, and-

She paused.

There was, behind the purple lenses, a pair of red-rimmed eyes, bloodshot eyes, looking beseechingly heavenward, focused across some vast distance. A white hoof was reaching, searching for some unfathomable purchase… and there, in a fleeting moment, Octavia thought she saw a flash of despair…

There was the Drop.

Down swung the hoof, timed to the blistering, explosive crash of percussion. A metallic and industrial roar that battered and deafened her, a full-body trauma and shock like she’s never felt before. She was drowning under a hammering wave of sound and bright, vicious, electric-blue lights; a choking sensory overload.

She had a fleeting vision - an old fable of a condemned stallion, sentenced to a cruel fate. He was to roll a boulder made as heavy as his sins up a hill as steep as his regrets. Fated to be forever tantalized, ever on the cusp of redemption and freedom, only to be crushed by the weight of his offenses.

To drop, like the bassline.

To go crashing into the darkness, as she did.

“Somebody collapsed! Holy shit, somebody call for an ambulance! Hey! HEY! Turn the fucking music down-“

She groaned. Daylight slashed a dozen razor cuts through the cheap blinds, photons clawing at her encrusted eyes.

“I’m sorry, Scratchy, but I can’t afford the damn fines anymore! Look, yer still me pal – we’ll bum around with a joint this weekend, just like back in high school, eh? But I can’t cover your flank anymore if you’re going to incite bloody riots-“

Right. Unemployed. Fuck. She grabbed a pillow and buried her head under it – trying to sleep on her side only increased the throbbing subwoofer hammering her just behind her eyes, and trying to turn around entirely got her blasted horn in the way. Hah, maybe it was better to sleep face-up, then, and let the weight of the pillow do the trick – no, never mind. Too damn light.

“In all actuality, I should levy charges, Miss Scratch.”

Was it that gray-flanked fancy bitch that said that? No… No, it was somebody else in the club. Ack, wait, hold on, memory floating up – it was after the club, after the sirens had faded, and the dirty looks disappeared into the night one by one. The haze of spiked coffee still didn’t quite disappear, but there was a lingering impression of blood-red latex and angular features. Hooves shoed in ruby and obsidian. Devilish.

“But I am in a good mood tonight, and was rather… Impressed. I’m good at seeing potential. I also bore very, very easily.”

Vinyl ineffectually punched her pillow. She was awake, hungry, and suffering a hangover.

“Take my card. Show up at the address I’ve provided you, at the time I’ve provided you. Don’t bore me, Vinyl Scratch. Or the drunk tank is the least of your concerns.”

She distinctly remembered that impression of a poisonous smile and hiss of the last syllable. Mouth made so that the red, glossy lipstick seemed to be a rivulet of blood down the center of the otherwise bone-white lower lip. Vinyl shuddered – whatever the lady might’ve actually had for dinner, she was otherwise definitely a freaking carnivore.

With some effort, she levitated the card over from atop her synthesizer and glanced at the alarm by the bed.

“2 PM? …Fuck,” she muttered.  She slid out of bed, trotting unsteadily for the shower. Her stomach writhed – she galloped instead. The excesses of the previous night expunged itself, rather against her will.

Oh, it was going to be a long, miserable day.

There weren’t enough bloody hours! Sheets littered Octavia’s suite, blotches and scratches of ink smeared across notes and lines. Frustrated, she had to replace the strings on her cello once already – a shopping list was casually tossed off the side, noting the need for more resin, more strings, more ink. And to get her bow restrung too – it was always a pain, clipping it from her own tail, but such were the necessary sacrifices of her craft.

She nearly screamed when the doorbell rang, but held her composure. She hastily swept a hoof through her mussed coiffure and pressed the intercom. “Who is it?” she asked with an edge in her voice.

 “Ah. Good afternoon, dear. You sound recovered from your incident last night.” It was her agent, Ruby Dreams. The orange-maned, pale-hided talent manager and pegasus had worked with her for the last half-decade now – a motherly figure that she owed much of her career’s success to. “I’m glad to see the hospital visit wasn’t necessary after all. May I come in?”

“Oh, Ruby. Yes, yes – of course,” said Octavia, deactivating the front lock. It would take Ruby a few minutes to make it up the elevators; Octavia hurriedly cleaned up the feverish mess of compositions that had possessed her since the morning, and trotted swiftly to the kitchen. She poured hot water from an electric boiler into a Neighpponese ceramic teapot, carefully sifting a few gunpowder grains of packed, roasted tea leaves from a glass jar into the vessel, her jaws aching a bit as she carefully took the loaded tea tray and settled it on the coffee table by the entryway’s couches.  

“There,” she said, self-satisfied as the apartment doorbell rang on cue.

She opened the door. She stared. Deep bags under red eyes half-hidden by a messy, electric-blue mane and shadowed by a heavy, hooded sweatshirt. Octavia blinked rapidly, confused by the sudden onset of cognitive dissonance.

“Hi,” grunted Vinyl.

“Uh,” said Octavia.

“Octavia, dear,” said Ruby, smiling widely from behind Vinyl. “This is your new collaboration partner. I do sincerely hope you two get along.”

A pause, and two synchronized voices.


“I must say, I never was quite able to understand that mare’s thinking,” said Frederic mildly, sipping at coffee during the quartet’s break. The late afternoon sun painted the practice room in vivid orange. “Though she is a rather good agent.”

“Who is she having us work with?” asked the teal-shaded brass player curiously. “This does sound interesting. Given Ruby, it’s gotta be somebody big – ooh, maybe Deadhaur5!”

“…Beauty Brass, don’t tell me you actually like that drivel,” said Frederic, raising an eyebrow.

“I- I have a niece that listens… to that kind of music,” said Beauty, flustered and looking askance. “And besides, what harm can it do?”

“What harm?! Our reputation is on the line here!” Frederic’s ears flattened back, irritated at the thought. “We’d be the laughingstock of the entire classical world if we-“

“Not we,” said Octavia quietly. “Ruby wants it focused on… me." An awkward silence floated over the quartet.

“Hmm. Congratulations,” said the harpist. He dusted muffin crumbs off his deep purple coat. “You were overdue for a solo album. Though perhaps this is better-considered a duet?”

“I-I’ll still be working with the quartet, Harpo!” protested Octavia. “It’s not like I’m going to just leave you guys behind-“ A teal hoof patted her gently on the shoulder.

“Sweetie, it’s alright! You deserve it!” Beauty Brass gave her bandmate a reassuring smile. “Ruby thinks you have the potential to be an even bigger star, and I think she’s right. You said you wouldn’t be starting for another month, right?” Octavia nodded glumly. “That’s perfect! We’ll be done with our current lineup of recitals by then, and we could all use a post-holiday vacation, don’t you think?”

“Think of it as a vacation of sorts,” said Ruby Dreams, insistently nudging her newest protégé into the dressing room. “A paid vacation, even. You have a reputation for being one of the hardest-working underground talents in Manehatten, Miss Scratch – doesn’t a couple months of relaxation and composition sound just grand?

“I haven’t produced in months!” protested Vinyl as a dozen garments were forced onto her forehooves, shoving her into the curtains. “And I haven’t agreed to anyth…” There was the faintest hint of flames behind the older agent’s yellow eyes.

“I realize that, Miss Scratch,” said Ruby calmly. “It’s why the word on the streets is that you’ve burned out. ‘Wasted your talents on Barley’s brews,’ I heard.”

A glum silence seeped from behind the dressing room curtains as they slid shut. “…Then why do you want me? Tremolando’s some big shot, yeah?” She grunted, teeth biting into a finicky strap. “’m just some drunk, burned out no-name DJ, right?”

Ruby laughed lightly. “Oh, to be young. Burned out? At your age? Please.” Vinyl yelped as the curtains were shoved forcefully aside. And now there was fire in Ruby’s eyes, and a tight, vicious smile that was more reminisce of the drunken memories of a devilish personage at the club – a world apart from the demure professional that made small talk in Octavia’s apartment the previous day. “The world is often wrong, Vinyl. Wrong about its expectations. Wrong about its preconceptions. Wrong about what it wants.” She glanced up and down critically. “Hm. This looks fine. Undress quickly – we’ve got more appointments to make.”

“What, but – what about the rest? And I can’t afford something this expensi-“

Quickly, Miss Scratch. I chose that one, and it is quite adequate. As for payment…” Her eyes narrowed as the curtains closed. “…You’ll just have to make that album for me, won’t you?”

Vinyl grumbled loudly at that. She kept grumbling through the checkout, the pedicure, the haircut, through lunch, stopped only long enough at her apartment to shower and change – Ruby wrinkled her muzzle at the smell of old pizza boxes – and resumed where she left off as they made their way to a private box at the Manehatten Metropolitan Opera.

Ruby had forced her to gel her hair back into something vaguely resembling a respectable form. Vinyl was absolutely loathe to admit that the shimmering, robin’s-egg blue ensemble she was forced into actually did make her look… ugh, “respectable.” It would take a hell of a lot more than the promise of not getting evicted out of her apartment to admit that it even made her look pretty. Her hide crawled at the thought – and now she was going to be stuck here for two hours, listening to bland, lifeless “classical” music. Not what she’d consider a good Friday evening.

Well, granted, she couldn’t remember a lot of Friday evenings. Maybe she could nap through this…?

The theater darkened, and the mutterings of the audience dimmed with it. Vinyl had to admit – there was a heck of a lot of hoity toity types around. Actually, wasn’t that Hoity Toity himself in the VIP seats at the front? The famous, exaggerated pompadour was hard to miss, even this high up. It occurred to her that this might be a very expensive chair she was awkwardly fidgeting in.

“Pay attention,” murmured Ruby as the spotlights centered on the quartet, taking them out of the shadows. “There will be a test…”

They played.

Over the course of ten minutes, Vinyl’s perpetually sleepy red eyes slowly widened.

She played like a mare possessed. Between tight, plucking triplets, evocating a rippling, electric-hot tension, and smoothly transitioning across stanzas and sequences into grand, sweeping arcs of the bow; between pizzicato like hail across the rooftop to wavering vibratos like the dashed waves against a shore.  

She lost herself to the sensation of sound, to the pitch and roll of elemental passion. The scratch and heat of grooved strings against the callused edge of her hoof had become a distant thing since the lights shone down upon her. The intense exertion of will against the unicorn’s enchantment of articulation and intent had become but an afterthought years ago. There was no room for doubt, for petty concerns, for past or future here on the roiling edge of melody.

Stormy-gray Octavia; her half-closed lavender eyes shimmered with the crackle of lightning, her bow drawing rumbling thunder and howling wind across the susurrus of the grasses of a distant, alien plain.

The music faded with the lights. She shivered, despite the sweat matting her hair against her neck, as if the music, like the wind, had stolen heat from her. The lights flared on again as they stood and took their bows to cheers and to a shower of flowers. Octavia glanced up at the starlike glimmer of sapphire and snowy white.


A yelp of surprise. She twisted, and then yelped again, turning away from Octavia’s inquisitive eyes, the small plastic bag in her mouth clattering to the floor. She hurried to pick it up again, resolutely not meeting the gray pony’s gaze.

“Vinyl, what are you doing here?” hissed Octavia, nudging her away from the CD kiosk, looking frantically around in case anybody was eyeing their way. She pushed Vinyl into a relatively sparse hallway, away from the crowd.

“Mmnf! Mm-“ Vinyl pulled the bag out of her mouth. “Your agent dragged me here! It wasn’t my idea!”

“Why in the world would Ruby – what are you carrying?” Octavia glared at Vinyl. “Don’t tell me you stole-“

“What? Stole?” Incensed, Vinyl pushed against Octavia with a hoof. “What kind of person do you take me for?! I bought this! I haven’t even paid rent yet, and I bought this, so don’t get on my case!”

Octavia gaped, shut her mouth, and gaped. “…I’m sorry, you’re right; that was uncalled for.” She glanced down at the bag. “…You do realize that’s my music?”

“…Y-yeah? So?” retorted Vinyl, flustered, turning away from Octavia. “…It was good, alright? I’ll admit, you’re really good.”

“…Thank you.” A still and awkward silence lengthened between them. “…Um, you look nice.”

Vinyl gave an exaggerated sigh. “Oh, Celestia, don’t get me started. Ruby’s dragged me up and down the entire town for this get-up. Heeled horseshoes! I never wear heeled horseshoes! I feel like I’m running downhill all the time!”

Octavia giggled, the tension between them suddenly falling apart. “Ruby can be a bit… forceful, when she’s set on something.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Next time, I ought to just-“

“Just what?” Vinyl stopped, an animated, gesturing hoof frozen in mid-air, her hide crawling at the new voice behind her. She turned around cautiously, fear on her face, to the innocent smile of Ruby Dreams. “Was there something, Miss Scratch?”

“…N-no,  nothing,” murmured Vinyl.

“Ah, never mind then. Anyhow, it is a good thing I caught up to both of you,” said Ruby. “That was a most excellent recital, Octavia. The New Yoke Times wants an interview soon. Expect a call tomorrow. Vinyl.” She patted the disc jockey on the shoulder. “What do you think? Is this something you think you can work with?”

“…Maybe,” muttered Vinyl, looking askance.

“Hmm?” She leaned in on the younger mare. “What was that?”

“Alright! Alright! I’ll do it!” exclaimed Vinyl, rearing up and waving Ruby off frantically. “I’ll do it! Just stop staring at me like that! I’m going home!”

“Hohoho…” laughed Ruby lowly as Vinyl ran off. “How entertaining. Now, dear Octavia… What do you think?”

“…I don’t think my quartet full approves,” said Octavia, bemused by the DJ’s sudden departure.

“You mean Frederic doesn’t approve, dear,” sighed Ruby. “But I wasn’t asking about them, dear. What do you think about working with this DJ?”

Octavia was silent, deep in thought. “…She’s passionate.” She shook her head. “I have no idea if this is going to work, Ruby. This is extremely different from what I’ve done before – what anybody’s done before, as far as I’m aware.”

“Yes, dear. That’s why it’s going to work,” said Ruby brightly. “Now, come, I’ve reserved seats at Les Hayles for dinner.”

Vinyl sat in the silence of her cramped living room, absentmindedly chewing on mushroom and lemongrass pizza.  It was dark but for a cheap lamp by the sofa, illuminating against the blank screen of a dusty old TV and a massive, worshipfully-invested sound system. She squinted, and a blue haze took over its controls – the whir of CDs spinning, the beep of feedback response, and the barely audible fuzz of tube amps slowly warming to life. A click, and a CD tray slid out.

She waited, and then made up her mind. The shrink wrap around the jewel case tore off, and the CD popped out, drifting into position on the tray. A soft whir of small gears, and it slid in.

She listened, ears straining for the chords of the cello. Dials twisting under invisible force to optimize the sound.

She listened; she turned it off.

It just wasn’t the same.