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Read Chapter 1 HERE.
Chapter 2: The Interview
Dr. Thomas Fairfax, a white unicorn stallion, checked the clock on the wall as he absentmindedly stroked the kitten he was holding. Sophie had that endearing quality of being the runt of the litter. Thomas’ mother would have nonsensically called her a mere kitten of a kitten, a phrase of unknown origin.
Sophie had been in Thomas’ care for the past week, since the local animal shelter had sent her over for special care. She was on her way to recovery and had taken up residence in Thomas’ office; he didn’t really care to part with her now, and the thought had crossed his mind that he should adopt her himself.
Sophie yawned and stretched.
This little furball was a good reminder of why Thomas had been drawn to the field of veterinary medicine in the first place. The youthful idealism he had possessed as a youth had since been clouded by the murky waters of adult responsibilities. Animals were comfortable, loyal, and safe, with considerably less drama than ponies.
Thomas’ recent move had been an adjustment, from the bustling metropolis of New Pony to here, the largely rural western coast. Maybe it had been a bit impetuous of him to jump at this opportunity like he had–but he had needed a change from fast-paced life in the city.
The clinic was in its soft opening phase. A media blitz, courtesy of his benefactors, would begin next week, and the grand opening would be soon after. For the moment, Thomas was just dealing with a hoof-full of walk-ins as he finalized some business-related loose ends…. like hiring an assistant.
If only he could find one he was happy with. The candidates so far were mostly recent graduates from the Hayton college (Hayton being the nearest large city, by local standards). The mares were pretty, charming, complimentary, and entirely too easy to flirt with–Thomas had gone down that path too many times as it wa s. The male candidates were insufferably self-assured; they reminded him of himself at that age, and it grated on his nerves.
Thomas wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but it had not been anyone he’d talked to yet.
His phone rang. It was Sugarberry.
“Tabby is here for the interview,” the receptionist relayed.
“Send her in,” Thomas said.
This was the last interview lined-up–an unorthodox candidate, but highly recommended by Sugarberry. She had tried to explain how Tabby’s last job had been assisting a hermit in the woods, providing medical care to wood sprites or some-such nonsense. It sounded ridiculous, but Sugarberry had pleaded her friend’s case eloquently. And he was looking for something different, wasn’t he?
The doorknob turned, and a pink unicorn peered in cautiously.
“Come in, have a seat,” Thomas invited, and studied her surreptitiously as she crept into the room. Her appearance was eclectic. Wisps of bright red hair escaped from under a maroon newsboy cap; a bronze alicorn fit neatly through a hole in the hat brim; bold rectangular frame glasses accentuated wide amethyst eyes; and a heavy chain necklace with oversize pendant hung around her neck.
She was definitely not the kind of put-together career mare he usually kept company with. Workplace romance was something he had fervently pledged to avoid. Best to avoid temptation… and that worked in her favor.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, stopping at the desk to slide a paper across to him before taking her seat. “I just got into a bit of a situation in my kitchen and I needed to stick around long enough to make sure I hadn’t summoned a demon again. I mean, it was just brownies this time; it’s not like it was a sauce; but since the last incident…” She shook her head vehemently.
Thomas blinked rapidly, not really prepared with a response to that. “Does that happen often?” he asked at long last.
“Well, you know, I only attempt brownies once or twice a year,” she said demurely.
“I meant,” he raised an eyebrow, “summoning a demon.”
“Oh!” She stopped to consider. “Well, it doesn’t happen as often as brownies.”
“I see,” Thomas murmured, skimming her resume. “Um… this is a letter to Chief Kekithar apologizing for unprofessional conduct.” He looked at her.
“Oops! Sorry, wrong one.” She appeared unphased at the slip-up, and pulled another sheet from a folder she had at hoof.
This paper looked more in the style of a resume. In this region of mononymous ponies, this mare claimed the unexpected name of Tabitha E. Fershund, as spelled out in the resume header. “So you’re interviewing for the position of veterinary assistant, Ms. Fershund.”
“It’s Tabby. Just Tabby,” she was quick to correct.
“You just handed me a paper saying your name is Tabitha E. Fershund,” Thomas said in consternation.
“Oh. Well,” Tabby conceded, “I suppose that’s true.” She did not elaborate, but concentrated on darting looks around the room, assiduously avoiding eye contact. Her glasses appeared to be lacking the nose pads, which meant she was continually nudging them up on her face.
Sophie ambled over to the newcomer and jumped on her lap, interested in batting at her necklace. The kitten had discerning tastes, and though all applicants had fawned over her, this was the first one that the feline had deigned to acknowledge.
“In any case…” Thomas drew his attention away from the kitten. “…the main responsibilities of the position are assisting me in exams and surgeries, caring for the animals on-site, maintaining files, ordering supplies… Sugarberry says you have some experience in the field, though you don’t have any accreditation?”
“Yes,” Tabby stated confidently without providing additional details.
Thomas was silent a moment as he perused her resume. It was hard to see any kind of cohesive plan to her life history as presented on this double-sided sheet of paper. “Your last job was assistant to…. Dr… uhh… ” He squinted at the line.
“Dr. Tini’kili’knit’nik,” Tabby rattled off quickly, “but everyone just calls him Tiny. He’s a Sasquatch medicine man and he’s been training me. He has a clinic in the Dark Forest and travels all around to non-pony settlements that don’t have access to proper medical care.”
That did sound interesting. “You’ve worked with a variety of species, then,” Thomas stated, intrigued.
“Oh, sure. Dakytins, Jellicles, Bushwoolies, hodags, humans, raccoons, all the usual,” she said confidently.
“Is Dr… Tiny–”
“Just Tiny. You only use the title with his proper name,” Tabby explained.
“–is he licensed by the Ponyland Medical Association?” Thomas asked.
“No,” she said curtly. “Not since last year’s sanctions.”
“So he can’t legally diagnose conditions, perform surgery, dispense medicine in this region… right?” Thomas looked at her inquiringly.
“You know the medical board certification process is weighed heavily against non-equines,” Tabby spat. “And there aren’t enough pony doctors willing to check on the welfare of isolated tribes.”
“Look, I know it’s an imperfect system,” Thomas admitted. “I’m not looking to get anyone in trouble. But, for understanding your qualifications, I would like to hear more about his methods,” he said, leaning forward and steepling his hooves on the desktop.
“Well…” Tabby hesitated, then leaned forward conspiratorially. “His bread-and-butter cure is magic injections that he makes himself from sphinx mushrooms and black blood of the earth and krulototite and all that.”
Thomas decided not to pursue exactly what was included in and all that. “Is that… effective?” He tried not to sound incredulous, but it was ludicrous-sounding folk medicine at best and outright poison at worst–and largely the reason behind legislation limiting the means of non-pony medical personnel.
“Yes,” Tabby said stiffly. “In the Sasquatch medical circle, he is highly regarded with numerous journal articles to his credit… not that those are admitted in this world.” She tilted her chin up and glared at him challengingly.
“Oh… I’m not really up on Sasquatch medicine,” Thomas hedged. “Why are you no longer with Tiny?”
“I still work with him. I’m just doing this interview to humor him. I told him I wouldn’t get the job, but he thinks it’s important for my personal development or whatever.” Tabby crossed her forelegs and stared at him, daring him to take her to task.
“And what would Tiny say are your strengths?”
“Oh, he would say that there’s no flies on me,” Tabby said without hesitation. She must have noted some confusion on his face, and quickly added, “That’s a Sasquatch expression–a compliment, really–because if you sit still, flies will settle on you, but if you’re moving around a lot, they won’t stay, so…”
“I see,” Thomas said, amused.
“He would also say that I’m the best flea picker he’s ever worked with,” she said with great pride. “That he meant literally… I think.”
“Hmm–well–that certainly is… something.” Thomas acknowledged, processing that information. “Let’s talk about your education. I see you went to New Pony… majoring in Genetics for… one semester?”
“Yes. I didn’t really adapt to city life,” she explained. “But you will note that, during that semester, I worked at the molecular biology lab.”
“What were your responsibilities?” he asked, interest piqued.
“Putting invoices in numerical order, taking cardboard to the dumpster, putting away shipments, that sort of thing. Once–” She paused for emphasis. “–I assisted with defrosting the freezer.”
“Interesting…” Thomas murmured. It wasn’t the kind of lab experience that would be particularly helpful. “Then you have an associate’s degree from Pony Pride University–” He forged through the rest of the education section, wrinkling his forehead. “–and then a culinary certificate from Greener Pastures Tech, and last year you graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Neoshokoro.”
“Yes, in Organizational Administration,” she added.
“Really?” Thomas’ impression so far was that she had very little grasp on organization. “Never mind… and your other work experience…” He moved to the next header on the resume. “At Pony-mart you have been a deli clerk, bakery manager, cashier, customer service, inventory management; and aside from your work with–Tiny–you are currently ‘self-employed’…. May I ask what you do?” He looked at her inquiringly.
“I sell collectibles on eCove!” she said enthusiastically.
“Is that lucrative?” Thomas asked.
“It can be,” Tabby said vaguely. “Though, I must say… that’s a fine-looking mid-century modern atomic starburst clock you have over there, if you are ever interested in selling…”
“It’s a keepsake from my parents,” Thomas said quickly. “I think I’ll hang on to it.” He tapped his hoof, reflecting on what he had learned. Her chaotic path was so different from his well-ordered road map through life. Always precocious, he had started college at sixteen, earned his bachelor’s degree in 3 years, then gone through graduate school and residency at a top clinic, all with high honors.
“Ms. Fershund… Tabby… “ Thomas stood and came around to the front of the desk. “You’re not really interested in this job, are you?” he challenged. “You would find this a very different environment from what you’re used to. This is modern medicine, not magical folk cures.”
“Oh, because science and magic can’t possibly co-exist,” she said scathingly.
“You must admit, the area of magic is overrun with quacks,” he pointed out, “and there is a distinct lack of quality research. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but it is difficult to screen for safe applications.”
“You’ve given up on magic, completely sold-out your heritage,” Tabby accused.
Of course she would notice that. Magic users could sense that sort of thing. Thomas had come to terms with the events that had led to his losing his magic, but to be judged by this mare–well, it was uncomfortable. “There’s more to life than magic,” he said defensively.
“Any unicorn worth the name ought to be prepared with at least the most basic skills to act in an emergency,” Tabby continued scathingly. “Especially one in the medical field.”
“There’s plenty of good to be done with manual means,” Thomas quickly pointed out. “Most magic healing is just superficial repair and wouldn’t change the balance between life and death, anyway.”
“Oh, is that all that can be done?” she smirked.
“And you know, there are strict sanctions governing magical healing,” Thomas said, trying to divert the focus, “and it doesn’t appear that you hold those credentials.”
She hated him, didn’t even want the job, and it was crazy that he was still even considering her, but…. Sophie liked her, and there was just something about her that Thomas couldn’t shake.
“I assume we’re done here,” Tabby said stiffly after a moment of silence, rising from her chair.
“Wait,” Thomas stalled her. All this talk was one thing, but there was really only one way to find out if she had the right qualities. “I have an Abyssinian waiting on surgery for a luxating patella. Are you familiar with that type of operation?” he finally asked.
“Well–yes,” Tabby said, pausing for just a moment. “It was a gytrash. Is this soft tissue alteration or just a trochleoplasty?”
“It’s a grade four case that will require a block recession,” Thomas said briskly. “Get prepped for surgery. You can consider it a try-out.”
“The patient hadn’t regained consciousness as soon as expected,” Tabby was explaining details of the gytrash case, apparently bearing no grudge against him despite their earlier heated words. “The villagers had decided to burn Tiny and me at the stake.”
Thomas waited for her to continue, but she simply hummed cheerfully, washing her hooves and putting on gloves.
“What happened?” he finally asked.
“What? Oh… well, we were tied to the stake, of course,” she said absentmindedly.
“Well, just in time the gytrash came to, and the chieftain ordered us released, and that was that,” she said matter-of-factly.
“I’m afraid this job may be a bit tame for your liking,” Thomas commented, adjusting a light over the operating table.
She laughed. “You haven’t lived here long, have you.”
They got down to business.
She performed with aplomb, catching on quickly, carrying out orders with minimal instruction, and keeping conversation to a minimum once the procedure began. If there was one thing that rattled his composure, it was a chatty assistant. Thomas performed the tissue incisions and bone shaping procedures, and Tabby ably handled the surgical scalpels, saws, and chisels; and the post-operative x-rays.
But even when she was serious and silent, there was a suggestion of an amused smile, and it was anyone’s guess what her internal observations were. Thomas was somewhat curious and a little afraid of the thoughts she kept to herself.
After the operation was complete and the feline patient was settled into a kennel, Thomas looked at the applicant thoughtfully as she hummed to herself, tucking a blanket closer around the cat. Tabby came from a very different background than the others; but she knew what she was doing, and that real-world experience was an asset.
As clean-up procedures were taken care of, Thomas said not a word about Tabby’s performance, and she didn’t ask. Afterwards, he invited her back into his office.
“I’m offering you the job.” Thomas watched her face carefully.
“Why?” she asked bluntly.
“I think you have a lot of potential and deserve a chance.”
“In spite of being woefully under-qualified, you mean?” Tabby said, laughing. “You’re crazy.” But then, quietly, almost to herself, she added, “Or maybe I’m the crazier one for considering it.”
Thomas looked at her expectantly.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” Tabby snapped. “But only because I know Tiny will take me back once you come to your senses.”
“I want you here at eight o’clock tomorrow,” Thomas instructed, walking with her to the door.
“I’ll be here by eight-thirty,” she countered, just before ducking outside.
Thomas watched her go, shaking his head. Would she be completely unmanageable? Did he know what he was doing?