A Ponygirl of Freehold

- written by Xaltatun of Acheron

PART 2.

Training continued.

The standard training regimen was two sessions of a couple of hours a day. The rest of the day was spent in the meadow relaxing. Dawn told me that this wouldn't continue. Once I was trained up to a certain point, they would begin endurance training, which would take most of the day, every day.

Well, anyway, after being trained in stable routine, things changed. One morning, my trainer took me over to a tack room, and made me stand up on my hind legs. I almost fell over. After days on four feet, two felt strange. My front legs were pulled behind me, and buckled across my back, with my pony hooves sticking out the sides. Then they put a harness belt on me, and lead me out into a practice ring.

I spent the next period learning gaits. How many days it took, I have no idea. By the time she was done, I had four work gaits, walking, trotting, cantering and galloping. I also had a walking show gait, where my knees came up to my waist. Each gait was exact, precise, and beautifully executed. She allowed no slack, any time, anywhere. I didn't need to think about any of it. She ordered, my body responded.

After that, training split into two. One part was spent learning how to pull a pony cart. The other, and longer part was spent in building up endurance.

Endurance training was hell. On a treadmill. They had this treadmill rigged up with all kinds of monitoring stuff, and what I would swear was a whipping machine. I would get locked into it, and off we would go. The monitors insured that I was putting out at the optimum required to build my body into the perfect pulling machine. The machinery wouldn't let me go faster than that optimum. The whip insured that I didn't go any slower. Whoever designed it must have been a sadist of the first water.

In contrast, the pony cart was fun. In preparation, she would put me into a harness that locked my waist belt into a single construction with my chest and shoulders. The waist belt had buckles at the sides that the pony cart attached to.

I had a working bridle and bit. The bridle was attached to the harness at four points, so that I couldn't turn my head in any direction. If the driver signaled me to turn by pulling on one rein or the other, the only thing I could do to relieve the pressure was turn my entire body. I suppose that was the point. In any case, it worked. Needless to say, the bridle had blinders so that I couldn't see to the sides or above me.

The cart was an exquisite piece of machinery. Just standing there, with her in the seat, it weighed less than a bag of groceries. Starting, stopping and turning several hundred pounds wasnít simple. And it was hard work, especially on any kind of slope.

Between the endurance training and the pony cart, I collapsed in my stall at night. Lights out went by while I was deep in slumber.

We started doing pair, threesome and foursome training with various carts. Each variety handled a bit differently, and coordinating with other ponies was always something to look forward to.

Again, I suppose I should explain a bit about how pony teams worked. There wasn't any discussion involved, as there is in human teamwork. The trainer had total responsibility for how we worked together. Just like solo work, she acted, we reacted, and the patterns built up so that we worked as a single unit.

This occasioned the first time that I actually talked to my trainer. Something was going wrong on a particular hill on one of our practice courses, and it hadn't been corrected in several attempts. I didn't know exactly what, but something didn't feel right about the balance several paces before. The last thing I wanted to do was try to correct it myself. I had seen what had happened to a couple of ponies that had attempted to get their heads into their training. It wasn't pretty. Even though they learned their lesson, their trainer was never quite able to correct the damage and bring them up to snuff. They wound up doing heavy hauling.

That morning, while she was harnessing me, I spoke up.

"Ma'am, begging your pardon for talking, but I've noticed something about that hill you might be interested in"

"Oh?" That syllable would have scared me shitless once. She was not pleased.

In for a penny, in for a pound. "I seem to be slightly off balance about four paces before then."

"Hummmph." She held up the bit and I took it in my mouth. She called another trainer over, and then finished harnessing me, and we were off.

Darned if we didn't head straight for that hill. Both sets of us. She switched places with the other trainer, stood on the side, and watched while I went over that part of the course several times.

We went back to the practice ring, and she had me working at the lunge for what seemed like hours, practicing certain motions over and over and over. Fast, slow, stop in the middle, even backwards. Eventually, she seemed satisfied. We went back over that part of the course, and darned if the problem wasn't there any more.

Afterwards, she unharnessed me, and then just stood there looking at me before taking my forelegs down and reverting me to being a quadruped again. Then she walked over, and said "look me in the eye, girl. Good. Now, there's discipline, and there's stupidity. I would have said that there was nothing I would ever want to talk to a pony about, but you changed my mind on that. If you ever notice something like that which I seem to be missing, tell me. Otherwise" she paused.

"KEEP YOUR GODDAM MOUTH SHUT".

"Understand?"

I'm afraid I cracked up. It was just too funny.

She looked at me real strange, and then she cracked up too. When we both had quit laughing, she said, "Ok, I'm going to finish harnessing you, and then I'll join you in the meadow for a few minutes. I think we really do need to talk."

I should mention that by now, the groom's flexibility exercises had gotten my shoulders so that I could put my elbows together behind my back, with my forelegs pointing up. This was the height of good form for a pony in two-legged mode. Anyway, she unfastened my forelegs, and got me steady on four feet.

Then she took me out to the meadow, and sat down with me. "Now, talk. Do you think you know how to train yourself?"

"Oh, lord. No, absolutely not. I saw what happened to those two fools." I named them. "They thought they knew what they were doing, and messed up what their trainer was working on for a fair thee well. Thatís why I felt I had to break discipline and tell you directly. There was a problem, you didn't seem to be seeing where it was, and I didn't dare interfere and try doing anything myself. Anyway, I never would have guessed that those exercises you had me doing would have had anything to do with it."

"Hum. You're certainly showing some wisdom that your background doesn't indicate. There may be hope for you yet. Tell me how you think your pony training is going".

"Well, I could say that itís not for me to evaluate. I really can't give you a lot of detail. But you seem to have me going over senior courses that most of the ponies that have been here for longer still can't manage. So I would have to say that I'm proud of what you have gotten me to accomplish. How that fits into the greater scheme of things? I simply don't know. It doesn't seem like most of that is really needed on taxi service."

"Well, that's true. You've certainly accomplished more, in less time, than most. Don't get a swelled head. There have been better. But not a huge number."

"Now, to the future. You have one more course before we put you on taxi service. Itís a bit below your level of training, but there are reasons why you need that experience. After that, I might consider sending you for circus duty. Now, there's a question you should be asking me."

I thought about that for a bit. Circus duty sounded, well, interesting. Certainly exciting and different. But what question. Then the conversation with Dawn that first day came back to me.

"Well, yes, there is. But first, by circus duty do you mean being part of a circus act? I think I'd like that. As far as why I need to be on taxi duty for a while, I'm not certain. It seems like it might help me fit into Freehold. So far, I've just been training. Taxi duty is more earning my keep, like."

"As to that question. How do I advance here? Right now, I'm quite happy being a pony. I don't know how long that is going to last. I understand there is a procedure, but I know nothing about it."

"Yes, that is the question you need to ask me. I am not allowed to start you on that until you ask. I'll pop in after you are in your stall tonight before lights out and show you how the training hookup works. Oh, yes, the circus duty is being the pony in a circus act."

With that, she got up and left.

Chapter 7. Introduction to the computer.

The rest of the day passed, and eventually, I wound up in my stall for the night. My trainer came in.

"Well, lets get you introduced to the computer. Its quite a trip."

It turned out there was a door in the front of the feeding tray. I should probably describe the feeding tray, since I seem to have missed it. Itís just a box in the front of the stall. On top there is a basin for water, and a tray for pony feed. The attendants kept both full. I fed myself whenever I was in the stall, and hungry. This place was very relaxed about that. Dinner, supper or a midnight snack, it was all the same to them. Not at all like the training regime.

The box was squared off. I had simply assumed that the bottom was a cabinet that opened from the other side, and that the attendants used it for something. Nothing to be concerned about. Boy, was I wrong.

I could unlatch the door with a front hoof. Clever design. Inside was something that looked like a helmet out of some mad scientistís laboratory. She had me stick my head into it, and pull it out. Then she had me put my head (and helmet) back in, and leave the helmet behind. Repeat. The same gentle and relentless training I was used to. By the time she was done, I could maneuver that helmet just as well as well. And all without hands.

Then she showed me how to turn it on. When I turned it on, a pair of screens came down over my eyes, and a pair of earphones came down over my ears. Then the screen lit up. It said, "Welcome to Freehold, Auburn Flame". Shit, a computer with a macabre sense of humor.

Then the screen changed to say something more sensible.

The first task is to learn how to input. Since you donít have functional hands, you will have to learn an alternate method. This computer helmet reads your brain waves and eye movements. Let's begin.

I had two hours every night between the time I was put into my stall, and lights out. It took a week before that damn pointer went where I wanted it to go, each and every time. Then we got to the keyboard. That was worse.

I had to operate the keyboard by visualizing where I wanted to push. The computer was reading my brain waves, all right. It put a pattern on the screen that showed what it was making out of my visualizations. Eventually, I learned how to make that pattern look like what I wanted. But that took another week. Except that it wasnít like any keyboard I had ever seen. The computer called it a "chord board". It was just a dozen spots in a straight line. I could visualize any combination I wanted to. I could press any four on the right, and any four on the left simultaneously.

The chord board was marvelous. Most of the combinations were whole words and phrases. I couldnít believe how fast it was compared to a standard keyboard. And the fact that it was running off of my brain waves instead of my hands made it that much faster.

I could type faster than I could talk. Gaaah.

I could talk to the computer. I havenít a clue as to whether it was an "artificial intelligence", whatever that means, and it refused to tell me. But when I asked it what I should do next, it said:

Repeat the orientation course you slept through in immigration.

Oops. Even the computer knew about that. Well, why not.

As it turned out, the teaching program was really good. It was almost impossible to fail. And it was impossible to avoid learning what it wanted to teach. I learned how Freehold was really set up. Boy, was I stupid to come here. Not stupid, just ignorant.

One interesting thing I learned was what the ponygirl program was all about. Or at least how it happened. Freehold had started as two different societies. One was the competence based one. The other was a group of perverts that wanted to be able to practice their master/slave and human livestock fantasies on real people who hadnít agreed to it. Eventually, the competence people won out, and the master/slave crew departed for friendlier climes. However, the winners kept the ponygirl taxi service as a really good way to provide a bottom layer to society. It cut down on gasoline imports and air pollution. And I suppose we looked cute.

Freehold is a massive experiment in competence. A person has to prove she is competent before she is allowed to do anything. I wondered what the test was for using the crapper. Then the question sort of turned around and looked back at me. I realized that I wasnít allowed to use one! Oh shit. Pardon the pun.

So I asked what the test was for sex.

Your life experience shows you will probably pass it when you are allowed to take it. I would advise reviewing the course first, however. A methodical study can fill in blanks and correct misconceptions.

I stared at that for a good five minutes. First in shock. Then I started getting this horrible suspicion that I wasnít short just a few bricks of a full load.

Finally, I asked a really relevant question.

"Do you have a course in how to get around Freehold for a taxi pony?"

Yes. Would you like to coordinate that with your trainer?

"That seems wise."

Good. Your trainer has left notes as to what you should look at first.

After that, things picked up. I was shocked at how much I was missing in only learning about the city by being driven around it.

Chapter 8. Taxi Training.

Taxi training was interestingly different. The first thing I learned was that as a taxi pony, I would be all over the city, in sort of a random motion. The basic thing taxi ponies did was stand at a rail at a taxi stand waiting for passengers. I know, that sounds backwards; a taxi pony should be spending her time taking people somewhere. But standing at that rail was what actually made the system work.

We werenít hitched to the rail. Our reins were either grounded, or left hooked over the cart. Which really didnít matter, because both were signals for "stand". My bridle had a small transceiver attached, just in front of the left ear. I used it to get orders from the dispatcher.

When a passenger wanted to go somewhere by pony cart, he simply walked up, got in the cart, picked up the reins, and we went. Actually, that is somewhat of an oversimplification. There were two types of passengers. One would give me an address and expect me to get him there; the other would drive me there using the reins and other signals. There was one other difference. If he wanted to drive, he would put my blinders on. If he wanted me to drive, then he would take my blinders off. Nice, efficient signaling system. Hey, it worked. It also told other people which one of us was driving, something that I found important to know.

If someone wanted a pony to pick him up, he called the dispatcher, and the dispatcher sent one over from the nearest pony stand. Thatís what the transceiver was for.

The rest of taxi training was learning the street routes and how to handle some of the curves. The computer was real helpful there, once I figured out that it was available.

One interesting thing I learned was that nobody mistreated taxi ponies. Back in the states, I would have expected that a naked girl in a bondage harness would have been raped five times in an hour. Here, nobody touched me. Ever.

The penalty was to spend a year as a pony. And it also called into questions the personís basic suitability for citizenship. . It almost made being a ponygirl an attractive career option. As I was to learn, some of the Ďgirls were career ponies. They had decided not to advance; they were happy exactly where they were. To each her own I guess.

Chapter 9. Taxi ponygirl

I spent a year on taxi duty. The daily routine never varied. The taxi stables were different from the training stables. There was activity around the clock. The taxi service didnít stop at nightfall. However, a pony got put on a schedule, and kept there. We were assigned a taxi stand at the start of our shift, and went to it under our own power. There were days I never saw my assigned stand. I would get flagged down before I got there, and then the entire day would go like that.

Other days I spent at the stand getting a tan and swatting flies with my tail. I got quite good at it. That tail was a lethal weapon all in itself. It took me a while to master it. Not surprisingly, there was actually a course in the computer: Using your tail. There was no exam, unlike going to the toilet.

The computer told me it was attached to my tailbone. It was powered by my bloodstream, and except for certain "instincts"; it was controlled by my nervous system. The reason it took so long to master is that my brain had to reassign circuitry to handle it. The computer wouldnít elaborate.

Weíd all come back in for our shift break, feeding and milking. Then back out.

When I got around to asking about the schedule, the computer said:

Your schedule is matched to your circadian rhythms. Highly irregular schedules cause sleep problems, and are bad for your health.

That was Freehold for you. I never saw a more relentlessly efficient place. I sometimes think that the reason we were treated well is that mistreatment would have been inefficient. Cut down on production.

For night duty, they had cute little goggles that made everything bright as day. The colors were off, but you got used to it.

Chapter 10. Decisions, decisions.

By the end of that first year, I knew that I didnít want to stay on taxi duty. It wasnít that I was bored with the job. Frankly, I loved it. Iíve always been more of a tomboy, and moving around is what keeps my head on straight. The people who used me were unfailingly polite, but they treated me as part of the machinery, which I was. There wasnít much time for socializing with the other ponies. Except for occasional chats on the midshift break, there was no time at all. We were either in our stalls, being harnessed, groomed and otherwise cared for, or out on duty.

I found out that there was e-mail and chat available through the VR helmets. The first thing I asked about was if I could e-mail or chat with family or friends on the mainland. Guess what. There was a course on it. Complete with exam. The course had prerequisites like: permission of trainer. Personal responsibility evaluation. Board review. I thought I recognized NO when I saw it. Then I reconsidered. The computer was nothing if not consistent. If it gave me course details and prerequisites, then it thought I could satisfy them without ten years of further study and an improbable number of status advances.

Chatting with people on the island was easier. There was a set procedure: If I wanted to make friends or contacts, I could sign up under topics or jobs. The computer wouldnít let me sign up for anything I wasnít prepared for, so initially my options were limited to other ponygirls. Almost. There was also a "streets and transportation discussion group" listed as available to me.

That turned out to be interesting. It really was a discussion group. There were quite a few ponygirls on it, but anyone who used the streets and transportation was welcome to join. I found out quite early on that the street maintenance department and the ponygirl taxi service monitored it closely. Thereíd be a discussion about a problem, and then youíd see a work item pop up on the street maintenance schedule, with the original discussion as a reference.

There was even one time when I got to take a trainer out to a particularly obnoxious street corner. We spent several hours with the street engineers going over that corner from every direction. They eventually decided that removing a newsstand, and changing the street level for a few yards would fix it. A couple of months later, there was a work crew out there, and it got fixed. I got a level two citation for that.

Level one citations were easy to come by. They were like tips. The customers passed them out all the time, and they meant nothing individually. The total did, however. It went into your efficiency rating, and determined if you had to be sent back for retraining. Level two citations werenít that big a deal for the citizens, but they were quite hard to come by for ponygirls. Less discretion meant less opportunity to show my stuff. Most of the Ďgirls never saw a level two citation.

The big break came when I got an assignment out in the country. It seems that a field ecologistís personal pony had broken a leg, and would be limping around her home stables for a while. Meanwhile, the ecologist desperately needed a replacement. The powers that be asked for volunteers. Nobody volunteered. It had a reputation as a rough job. Then they asked me personally.

"Why me?"

Well, it seemed that they thought I might be able to handle it without too much additional training. The advanced courses Iíd been going over back at the training stables werenít too different from the field requirements. And my dossier from the states listed hiking and camping as activities. They also said Iíd probably be in harness less of the time; the field ecologists had a habit of having their ponies make camp and do other parts of the fieldwork. That level two citation didnít hurt, either.

So I accepted. I had a sudden vision of the "personal responsibility evaluation" prerequisite in front of the ability to email and chat with friends in the states. Having more responsibility handed to me on a platter couldnít be bad in this place.

Chapter 11. Field Preparation.

There was a lot of additional training. Part of it was a quick check to find out how my hands were doing. You might have gotten the idea that my hands never left the pony boots. True, they were there most of the time, but rendering a ponyís hands permanently useless was anathema to these people. It would have crippled her chances to advance, and that was the primary bedrock of their society. That advancement clause was rigidly enforced. There was a big enough human livestock and slave class that there would have been problems otherwise.

So every few days, without fail, my hands would come out of the boots, and I would have to do a set of flexibility exercises. The first time, I screamed my head off. Returning circulation hurt. After a while, my arms and hands adapted, and circulation wasnít a problem.

There was also my own personal terminal, with a set of VR goggles and a physical chord board. The helmet stayed in the stables. I understand that the human livestock programs are the only place the brain wave input is used. Well, thatís not quite true. They are also used for cases of long-term paralysis, nerve damage or lost limbs. And there are some ex-ponies that prefer them to the physical boards.

There was a special set of quick release front hooves. I also got drilled in putting on my own harness, and taking it off. They were real serious about that. The field ecologist I was working with wasnít a groom. I wouldnít get the services I was used to unless we were somewhere there was a ponygirl stable. And they were few and far between except in the major towns. Which is exactly where field ecologists werenít.

I asked the computer if this experience would satisfy the "personal responsibility evaluation" part of the communication with the mainland course.

We wondered if you noticed that. Remember that personal responsibility is both personal and responsibility. Itís your job to find out what you can do to assist the team mission, without being ordered to do it, and also without interfering with the team mission, or your assigned overseer. The level of personal responsibility to be demonstrated is the ability to avoid doing anything terminally stupid. You can do a lot more in this assignment than is strictly needed for the prerequisite you are seeking.

On top of everything else, I was studying maps of my ecologistís assigned area. I wanted to know the towns and the major roads. Also larger farms and installations. I wanted to be at least minimally competent at my job when I got there. And my job was transport, which included knowing how to get from here to there without having to be told every step of the way.

As it turned out, my ecologist was in town. She dropped by a couple of times during the training sessions, and made some very specific comments about equipment.

Chapter 12. On the road.

One day, we were ready. I trotted out of the taxi stables for the first time, and trotted over to the ecologistís lodgings. She was waiting with the field cart. I almost lost it right there. That cart was huge. It was easily twice as big as the taxi carts. It wasnít heavily loaded by any means, but I could see a fair amount of equipment and supplies. I would guess it probably weighed twice what I was used to.

"Surprised you, didnít it. Itís not quite as bad as it looks. Itís only a little heavier than two adults and two kids, which I know you can handle."

If that was supposed to cheer me up, it did, slightly. Two adults and two kids was the legal limit on how many could cram into a taxi. They werenít easy loads, but they were possible, and I was finding them easier all the time.

So we got started. She hitched me to the cart, got in, and I headed out to the main road at a trot. She was right. Once I got it started; it wasnít that much different from a normally heavy taxi load.

The thing to remember about Freehold roads is that they were designed with ponygirls in mind, not with huge trucks with 500 horsepower engines. Most road segments were dead flat. They tried to keep inclines as easy as possible. And the long distance carts had a real interesting winching arrangement for intermediate inclines. Really steep inclines were handled by traction cables.

The way this worked is that there was a cable down the center of the lane. The pony was unhitched, and the cart was hitched to the cable. Then the pony went to a carousel that connected to the cable with some pretty hefty reduction gearing. These carousels came with some pretty hefty ponyboys. All they did was handle the traction. Those stallions were huge. They were also dumb. Traction duty was the bottom of the line for stupid. It was for ponies that couldnít handle the big wagons.

For one cart, it wasnít really necessary for me to have a go at the carousel. But it was expected, and it would have caused problems with the muscle if I didnít do my share.

Once we got on the main road, we found more freight, and fewer people. Four, six or eight pony teams, with a lot more stallions than mares, pulled freight wagons. It was a step down from taxi duty, but was above the traction mill ponies. Ponies that couldnít handle taxi work went to the freight teams. Taxi work, for all that the basic moves were drilled into you so that they were rote instinct, demanded constant attention. You had to manage your course, and you had to provide a reasonably smooth ride. Training could only do so much.

Freight work was different. The driver was always in control. You went when he said go, you stopped when he said stop. There were strain meters built into the shafts of the wagons. If you slacked off, you felt the whip. It was almost impossible for a freight pony to pick up even a level one citation. There simply was no opportunity. Freight duty was for the stupid, the ones who didnít care, and for occasional punishment for a taxi pony that screwed up.

Unlike the roads in the states, freight wagons went exactly at the same speed. They occupied one lane, we took the other. She tickled me with the whip, and I put some more effort into it. One of the things that I hadnít remembered about these long distance carts was that they had strain gauges, just like the freight wagons. The taxi carts didnít have strain gauges, and they didnít come with whips. The strain gauges would be useless on taxis, and most of the city dwellers simply didnít have the experience, or the certification for that matter, to use a whip correctly.

Thereís a real trick to using a whip with a ponygirl. I hadnít felt one since my original training, but the responses were still in place. There is a subtle difference between a stroke that meant, "youíre slacking off", and one that meant "up the pace". And in both cases, it shouldnít leave a mark. A stroke that meant, "you just screwed up, now pay attention and get it right this time" would definitely leave a mark. My ecologist was an expert. I wondered briefly about the previous girl. Well, maybe she just liked whip work.

A good steady pace was about ten miles per hour. We went about two hours, and then took a break. By then, I was ready for one. Fifteen minutes later, I had recovered, and we were on the road again. We made 80 miles by the time we pulled into an inn near her assigned area. The stable boy got me up on a table, and did a real deep muscle massage. Boy, that felt good. In fact, I felt way to good to have just finished pulling a cart for 80 miles, with only three fifteen minute breaks. So, when I got to my stall, I used the computer headset in the headboard to check in.

There were some physical modifications made when you became a ponygirl. There are subtle differences now in your hands, wrists, feet and ankles. Your entire cardio/pulmonary system has been tuned up to very high efficiency. Likewise, there have been improvements made in the systems for getting nutrients to your muscles, and in removing and eliminating waste products. The result of all this is that you are stronger and have much more stamina than you had before.

If you ever left Freehold, which I understand is not advisable in your case, you would either have to get the modifications reversed, or you would be bared from all athletic competition. The athletic associations know about this set of changes.

She put the headset back and curled up on the straw that covered the floor of the stall. Time to sleep. Tomorrow was a new day, and the beginning of a new chapter of her life. She smiled contentedly and drifted away.

Chapter 13. Interlude at the Ambassadors residence

The Ambassador checked his watch. It was just about time for the call from the South City police department to come through. He sighed. The biggest problem with being a diplomat was exercising so much diplomacy.

The phone rang.

"Ambassador Reitif here. How may I help you, Lieutenant?"

"You can help me by getting that goddamned cop-killer back here so we can hang her."

"Much as I understand your position, thatís not going to happen. We donít have an extradition treaty with Freehold. We never have, and given the current political situation, we never will."

"Well, what are you going to do?"

"Nothing. There is nothing I can do, and there is really nothing that needs to be done. The Freehold authorities have done what they think necessary. I can assure you that she is not sunning herself on a beach with a hunk to pop grapes in her mouth. Very much the opposite, in fact."

"How are they punishing her?"

"Punishing her? Freehold does not do long term punishment. They regard it as a grossly inefficient use of resources. Freehold regards her crime as a demonstration of a pathological lack of social responsibility. So they have placed her in a position where she can perform a socially useful function, while being unable to perform any socially damaging acts, and being constantly faced with the fact that she is not trusted to exercise any personal responsibility."

"Uh, ambassador, could you cut that down to something I can understand."

"Sheís spent the last year as a ponygirl in the municipal taxi service. What that means is that she is harnessed to a cart, and takes people from place to place on request."

Dead silence. "Did I hear you say ponygirl? Like in pornography?"

"Yes, just like in pornography. Except that the abuse common in pornography is absent."

"Youíve got me totally baffled. I donít understand."

"Lots of people donít understand Freehold. They like it that way. I can break it down a bit further. Freehold sees that killing a police officer in the course of armed robbery is a demonstration of very low social responsibility. So when she arrived, she was given a job consistent with that level of social responsibility, specifically, ponygirl."

"She was taken right out of immigration. She was originally tracked to freight service, which is a lower level of personal responsibility than taxi service. However, there was an incident during training where she demonstrated enough personal responsibility that they put her in taxi service. They probably would have anyway; her training records are too good to start her in freight. In fact, they are actually too good for taxi, but she didnít have the personal responsibility status for anything higher".

"Say what?"

"Lets see, I have it here. Subject Auburn Flame Ė they changed her name, ponygirls are always given pretty horse type names Ė identified a flaw in her performance that her trainer seemed unable to correct. She identified an earlier problem in the sequence, and brought it to her trainerís attention. This enabled her trainer to correct the flaw, as well as several other flaws that had not been noticed.

In subsequent interview, subject stated that she made no attempt to deal with the flaw herself. She did not think that she had the level of training and experience to deal successfully with it.

In this incident, she took the correct action for the correct reasons.

Recommended one level increase in personal responsibility rating.

Recommendation approved by board."

"For that?"

"How many people do you know who would have bitched, moaned, blamed the trainer, and screwed things up by attempting to deal with it themselves?"

"Gotcha. Now whatís she doing?"

"Well, she got a level two citation for helping to improve a street corner with a dangerous level of inefficiency. Thatís pretty rare for a ponygirl. They get level one citations all the time; the taxi service expects it. A level two is demonstrating social responsibility above and beyond expectations. Remember that that is relative. People at higher levels of demonstrated social responsibility collect these things like stamps."

"That got her an interesting opportunity. I was expecting her to get out of ponygirl status to personal slave status in another six months or so, but now she will be at that level for a couple of years. But sheís no longer in taxi service. Sheís the personal ponygirl of one of Freeholdís field ecologists. The ecologist will be expecting her to do a lot of personal slave type work Ė making camp, keeping her sample collections in order, and so forth. So when she graduates, it will probably be directly to household slave."

"Freehold certainly has some interesting job titles."

"Doesnít it just. Oh, by the way, do you have her down for identity fraud?"

"No, I donít. We didnít find that out."

"Ok, Iíll have Sandra send you the dossier. Then you can clean up your records."

"Thanks. But why are you bothering?"

"Social responsibility again. Freehold is relentless on that topic. Even though Iím the ambassador of a foreign power, and have diplomatic immunity and extraterritoriality, if I donít demonstrate a level of social responsibility commensurate with my position, theyíll ask that I be replaced. Since she isnít going back, not with a capital charge of killing a police officer, there are no interests to balance."

"I see. Thank you, Ambassador. Its not going to satisfy the district attorney, but some of the relatives will probably be able to put it behind them. At least, she isnít getting off free.

"Happy to be of service."

The ambassador hung up the phone. He turned to the young woman kneeling quietly by the side of his desk. "Sandra, write up the request to have an extract of the Auburn Flame dossier sent to Lieutenant Dahl."

She got up and went to a standup desk that stood against the wall. She briefly stroked the chord board. He looked at his monitor.

"Very good. You remembered to add the note about identity fraud."

She blushed. She walked back and resumed her place kneeling beside his desk. She was working out very well. She was the daughter of a senator, an old friend of his. She was currently serving five years for not stopping her sister from abusing a ponygirl, and in fact, lying about it and attempting to cover it up. Her sister was serving seven years. She was currently occupying a stall in the embassy stables. Sandra had come a long way from the spoiled brat who had either flunked out or been kicked out of the most exclusive prep schools in the country. The girl in the stables hadnít come quite as far, but she was making regular progress to becoming a credit to her parents.

He pushed the authorization button, smiled, and turned his attention to the next item on his agenda.

The end (for now).

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