9 to 5

by TheDriderPony

Chapter 1: What a Way To Make a Living

What a Way To Make a Living

This was not where Skipper thought his life was going to end up. Filling out paperwork for minimum wage in another dimension.

One good thing he had to say about the humans: they weren't too picky when it came to hiring. Back home, you either had the right cutie mark for the job, or you went looking elsewhere while they hired somepony who did. It was a system that didn't work so well if you had a special talent for something like, as a random example, skipping stones really well.

The humans were different. As long as you could type and were willing to learn Excel, you could get a job anywhere. Not necessarily a good job; for those you needed a diploma, which he reasoned were something like the human equivalent of a cutie mark only a lot less helpful outside of the workplace.

He took a sip of his cold coffee and grimaced. It was terrible. Instant brew, they called it. More like instant regret. Even after three years, that was one of the things he never understood about humans. How they always seemed more than willing to trade quality for speed. That is, until you try to turn in a hastily completed report one time and get reprimanded because, suddenly, quality of work is of 'utmost importance'.

His ears perked up at the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. Time to look busy again. He glanced at the sheaf of papers pinned to the wall by an overtasked pushpin. Numbers swam before his eyes like black fish in a sea of cream before he shook his head and they focused back into proper lines and columns. Like a well-oiled machine, his hooves set to work typing them into his keyboard.

'Keyboard' was a generous term, as it was less a board of keys and more of a board with two wide, flat discs set onto it.

Each disc could be slid about a quarter hoof from the center in any direction. By using very specific pairings of directions, the computer knew what he wanted to type. Up and Up was 'Space'. Up and Slightly-left-of-Up was 'A'. Up and Slightly-more-left-of-Up was 'E'. So on and so forth it continued for the whole span of the unnecessarily expansive English alphabet.

The method was awkward, had a steep learning curve, and was undeniably slower than his human coworkers. But it was still faster than trying to type on a normal keyboard with hooves or even with those chopstick hoof mitts.

He worked steadily for a few minutes, the soft clicking of his discs mingling into the quiet chorus of keyboards, default telephone ringers, and hushed conversation that made up the office symphony. It was easy for him to lose himself in the work and just let his mind wander as the hours trickled away. It wasn't fulfilling, but it also wasn't difficult. New work came via a dedicated printer by his side and completed work was either uploaded to the cloud or emailed to the relevant departments. Easy as pie.

A new page pried itself from the printer's crispy grasp. An inventory report. Simple enough. Read. Transcribe. Check the math. Forward it to Accounting and CC the warehouse manager.

Another page crawled its way to freedom as soon as he finished. Read. Transcribe. Forward.

Another page. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Every page. Every hour, every day. Week after week.

Others might have called it a torture of monotony, but Skipper didn't really mind. So long as he had a house by a lake where he could skip stones on the weekend, he could care less what the work-week entailed. Although, at present, that situation was closer to an apartment near a bus stop whose route stopped near the reservoir. But it was a good job, he reminded himself. A very stable job, at least.

"Heya Skip."

Skipper winced as a balding head peered over the edge of his cubicle like the looming presence of Death itself. Monotony aside, there were few things which made him wonder if this job was really worth it. This grinning specter was one of them.

"Hello, Bob."

Skipper liked to think that if Bob was a pony, his cutie mark would be a pair of lips. That, or a pair of those wind-up teeth that chatter and clatter along on their own far past the point of interest or amusement. Bob would have thought that was funny and completely miss the implication.

"It's Kathy's birthday. Did you sign the card yet?"

Skipper blinked. "Who?"

"Kathy. You know, old bird? Works in..." He scratched his eternally scrubby chin. "Marketing. I think."

"I don't know her." Skipper turned back to his desktop, hoping the dismissal would signal an end to the conversation.

It did not. Bob was not the kind of guy to pick up on that sort of thing.

"Sure you do. You met at that site-wide meeting a few months back. She works with... wotshername, Twilight. She was..."

Skipper tuned out the man's ramblings. Twilight? Another pony? Or had enough time passed that the children who were born just after the two worlds first made contact were finally old enough to get jobs? Not that he'd ever find out. Marketing was in the adjacent building. Outside of his first-day orientation and tour, he'd never been inside it.

Had it really been that long already? His thoughts drifted back through the past few years. Three spent at the company. Two learning English before he crossed over. Another five when he had been too young for a passport. How long had the portal been stable before they started letting people through? Either way, it was at least ten years. Could humans get a job at ten years old? He knew ponies could—at least, an introductory, apprentice-level job.

He noticed that Bob had transitioned from talking about work to something else. He tuned back in just in time to catch a question.

"Hey, the guys and I are going out for drinks after. You in?"

“The Guys" were what Bob called his small circle of buddies which, by some strange, transitive property that Skipper had never been able to figure out, had made them his friends as well. He knew how drinks with the guys would go. A loud bar, probably themed after one of the many human sports, with thirty types of beer all too strong for him and only one case of pony-safe cider in the back. Bob would talk constantly until food arrived, at which point we would continue to talk but also manage to eat at the same time. Roger would ignore the group and complain about whatever game was on, no matter who was playing. Charlie would also ignore the group, but with his phone instead. Andrew was the most tolerable one among them, for a variety of reasons, but four times out of five he would "forget" he left his wallet in his other pants.

Skipper sucked through his teeth, a tough skill for a pony but very handy when talking with humans. "Oh, sorry, can't. Got plans already."

Bob nodded knowingly. He was amiable at least, if not incessant. "I get it. Got a hot date tonight?"

"Something like that." Skipper nodded and flicked his ears back to add to the facade, though odds were the gesture would be lost on old Brick-Wall Bob.

The thought though reminded him of something important and he glanced at the clock. The tiny LCD digits said it was a few minutes after eleven. A little late, but not if he hurried. He locked out his computer and stood up.

"I'm going on break."

Bob nodded again. "Ah, that time again is it? Right. See you in twenty. I gotta finish these projections by quitting time or Frank is gonna have my badge."

Bob’s farewell faded rapidly into the background noise as Skipper beat a path to the breakroom at a steady trot. His steps were thankfully near-silent on the carpeted floor as he navigated the maze of cubicles.

As mediocre as the job was with its long hours and ceaseless toil, there was something that made it all worthwhile.

Or rather, someone.


Sami was a reason to get up in the morning. A reason to slog through another day of bad coffee and endless paperwork, even if the only reward was the promise of a few minutes in her company.

She was beautiful, for a human. Or maybe it was just that she had a pony-like face. It came with an infectious smile, hair the color of strained pears, and the biggest, brightest, blue eyes he'd ever seen; ponies included.

One thing he knew for sure: if she was a pony, she'd be an alicorn.

On top of all that, she was also the only human he knew who'd bothered to learn Equestrian.

<Good morning, Sami>, he greeted in his native tongue as he entered the break room. She was there, of course. She always took a mid-morning coffee break about this time.

She glanced up from her sudoku and smiled. <God Morring to you as vell, Skipping!> Her accent was atrocious, as usual, but she'd been getting better. And he'd finally almost broke her of the overly formal dialect she'd been taught. <How is your day being?>

<Going.> He corrected. <And it is going well.>

<That is good!>

<Your pronunciation is getting better,> he complimented. He could listen to her all day. She and he were almost a match made in Elysium. Almost.

<Thank yoo. You are good friend for teaching me.>

And there it was. Good friend. In English, it was a simple enough phrase with a decently clear cut meaning. In Equestrian, without proper context, it could mean "You're someone who's done me a favor" or "I consider you my herdmate in all but name" or anything in the wide spectrum in between.

He was mostly confident her feelings tended towards the former end of the scale, but without better clarity of language, there was no way to know her true feelings. He could ask her, sure. Be clear and direct, but that came with its own host of problems. She didn't have the vocabulary to respond, let alone understand the question. He'd have to do it in English.

He could watch the scenario play out in vivid detail in his nightmares. Him, having spoken with her only in Equestrian for months now, breaking tradition and using her native language just to question her about her feelings for him in more detail. In some dreams, she reciprocated his feelings but was disappointed (in some dreams even disgusted) by his inability to pick up on her hints and signals and minute body language. In other dreams, she did not feel the same, and his question made her uncomfortable and shattered whatever chance he may have had. No, the question was too deep, too dangerous. Better to stay safe in the shallows of workplace conversation.

He could always wait for a better time to ask.

And until then he could enjoy this peaceful time they shared. For a moment, the grey office walls faded away, and he could imagine it was only him and Sami in the world, talking quietly on a soft summer’s day like the ones back home.

But like a storm cloud cresting the horizon, trouble came to his paradise far too soon.

"Ah good, Skip, there you are. I thought I heard whickering." This particular storm cloud's name was Tony and he fit the comparison to a T. From his girthy, heavy-set body, to his predilection towards grey suits, to his bristling moustache, he was like a storm shaped into a person. Today's suit was a deep charcoal, like a thunderhead ready to burst. As usual, he let his authority as the floor manager override whatever conversation was already going on when he arrived.

<Good mor...> “Good morning, Sir." Skipper greeted, quickly shifting back to English. He had to be as direct and polite as possible to bring this interaction to a hopefully quick end. His break only lasted so long, and a personal visit from Tony was never a good thing, especially if he was actively looking for you.

Tony shifted his bulk into the break room fully, blocking the door and effectively sealing off the entire room. “You weren’t at your desk.”

Among his many other qualities, Tony was a master at stating the obvious, no matter how unnecessary. “Yes. It’s my morning break.”

“Good. This shouldn’t take long. Skip, I'd like to introduce you to someone.” He half-turned and seemed to finally notice just how much of a barricade he’d become. With some grunting and shifting, he managed to maneuver his legs far enough to one side to allow a small brown figure to enter the room.

The first thing that struck Skipper was just how young the pony looked. A colt for sure, not even an adolescent. Where were his parents? With his ears splayed back and his tail tucked, he looked exactly as nervous as one would expect a lost foal to be.

"This Button Mash," Tony gestured to the pony by his side. "He'll be starting here as an intern soon.”

How old even was this colt? He looked too young for a work visa.

“His mother,” Tony continued on in a low voice, "Is very good friends with the brother of Mr. Beauregard."

That would do it. Close ties with the regional manager could grease a lot of wheels.

“His duties are going to be... basically similar to yours, Skip, so I'd like you to show him the ropes. Teach him the lay of the land, so to speak."

Great. Another responsibility. He could already see the colt's eyes wandering as his attention waned. He wasn't going to learn a thing. "Of course sir. I'll do my best."

“Good lad.” Tony turned awkwardly to waddle back into the halls, leaving his charge behind. Just before he was clear, he ducked his head back in. “Oh, and keep that horsetalk to yourself. Someone filed a complaint to Management about it.”

Skipper sighed as the door finally closed, leaving him alone with Sami and the unexpected third wheel. The colt --Button Mash, was it?-- looked at the two of them expectantly.

“So, does this office have, like, a fantasy Fortnite team or anything?”

There were a lot of things he wanted to say to the little monkey wrench at that moment. Things which he chose to stay particularly quiet about since the colt practically had a direct line to his boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. So much for the remainder of his free time with Sami. Still, more work meant that the company was relying on him more and that his prospects looked good. In any event, he was better off than the foal. At least he was getting paid to do the same job!

He sighed and stood up. The kid wasn’t going to train himself. It was going to take time. Time to teach the colt. Time to work up the nerve to confess to Sami. Time to make actual office friends. Time to get recognized and promoted. Time to save up for a real house by a real lake.

Just a few more hours. A few more weeks. A few more years.

So long as he held the job, he had all the time he needed to wait for things to work out.

At least, that’s how things usually worked back home.

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