This work is copyright 2001 by Xaltatun of Acheron (A Pseudonym). It may be posted on the Internet to any free forum, provided it is not modified in any way, and provided that this notice is included in its entirety. It may not be sold, or included in any compilation that is sold, or posted on any forum that requires a fee for access, without my written permission. My permission will require payment, terms to be negotiated. For purposes of this notice, sites guarded by Adult Check or similar packages are considered pay sites. Posting on any site must include this copyright notice.
Adult Content Warning - this story contains adult themes, including non-consensual bondage/slavery. It could also prove highly disturbing if you think our current socio/political worldview is the only one that exists. If you are under the lawful age for such materials (18 in most jurisdictions) or if you would find such material offensive, please go elsewhere.
There are currently four stories in the Freehold series:
1. A Slave Girl of Freehold
2. A Ponygirl of Freehold
3. The Field Ecologists Ponygirl (sequel to A Ponygirl of Freehold)
4. Delivery Ponyboy
5. Carriage Team of Freehold
The Field Ecologists Ponygirl is a direct sequel to A Ponygirl of Freehold. The other three are related in the sense that each one introduces the major characters of the next one at the end, but there isnt any direct plot flow. They can be read independently.
Some additional background on Freehold, in particular, how it happened, is in the story The Curtain Falls, The Curtain Rises, the end of the Ponygirl Transformation series.
The name Freehold has no relationship to any other use of the term by any other author. No connection should be assumed, either derivative or as a base for parody.
Safety Warning. This story may contain descriptions of practices that are decidedly unsafe, either in general, or if performed by someone without adequate training. There are a number of good books available on safety in the BDSM scene. Most large cities, and some not so large ones, have organized BDSM groups that will usually welcome a newcomer. Im not going to point out which practices are safe, and which arent. Any practice is unsafe if performed by someone with inadequate training and experience, or if performed when not paying attention. Please think before you act. Dont make yourself a candidate for a Darwin award.
OK - now on to the story -------
Ive had assignments blow up in my face. In fact, I even had one literally blow up. I spent a month in the burn unit and another three recovering from the plastic surgery to reconstruct my mug on that one. The department is very good about treating its agents injuries, at least if they were incurred in the line of duty.
This was the first time Id ever had one blow up when an old associate walked up, said Hi, Fred. Long time no see, and waved his hand. When he did, everything kind of twisted around me and went black. I mean; it was literally black. Then I lost consciousness and came to lying flat on my back.
Well, old reflexes die hard. I lay still, waiting to see if I could pick up any information from people talking, or whatever I could hear. What I heard was nothing. Well, not quite absolutely nothing, but close enough for me. It was so quiet that I could hear myself breathing, the blood in my head and the hiss of the air against my eardrums. Its a distinctive sound that I couldnt mistake. Id heard it the first time during my training, when theyd shown me what the quiet treatment was like. Theyd tried to train me in how to take it, but frankly, anyone who can take that for more than a couple of days has to be well on his way to sainthood. Either that, or so nuts that it wouldnt make a noticeable difference.
The one thing that told me is that there wasnt anyone else in the room. Nothing human can breathe that quietly. Whoever it was could have me under observation, but it didnt matter. I wasnt going to pick up anything by pretending to be still asleep, so I opened my eyes, and saw absolutely nothing. It was so black that I had to check if my eyelids were working. They were.
After some exploration, I seemed to be in a fairly small cell. Four walls, floor, ceiling, floor toilet and washstand. There didnt seem to be any lights, or, for that matter, any door, air ducts or windows. At this point, a little voice inside told me, panic would be appropriate. I told it what to do with its advice.
So, I lay back down and tried to think. Either Id been teleported out or I hadnt. If I had, it had to be the Dodecahedron, which didnt seem too likely, given their reputation for just making people fall over dead if they were displeased. If I hadnt been teleported, Id probably been drugged or stunned, but nothing Id been trained on quite matched that set of symptoms.
That left a great, big void for explanations. Hymie, that was my old associate, had called Sandra by another name before he waved his hand. That led me to think a bit more. If my Sandra wasnt, then my superiors were playing a more than usually involved gambit. My briefing had been that someone had somehow replaced the real Sandra Stone with a ringer, and my job was to bodyguard the real one while someone else took out the fake. If there were problems, just keep on rolling.
That still didnt explain the level of opposition. Maybe Id been demoted from Bureau 14 to Bureau 13? Now Id started raving. I hoped. Time for some sleep.
Eventually, the light came on, and I woke up. The light came on with a dawn sequence, from very dim, through marvelous reds and yellows, to standard room light. Besides being a great way to wake up, it told me something else. I wasnt in any third world country any more. Whoever did that for a wakeup sequence in a maximum security cell wasnt interested in a me got club, me pound you into ground if you dont talk quick type show of force. Actually, it was even scarier in a subtle way. It said that they thought they had me so solid, that they could treat me with reasonable courtesy, and I couldnt do a thing to them.
A voice cleared its throat. I jumped; I just couldnt help it. In that silence, it sounded like the finale of Armageddon IV, with real cannon. If you will go lean against the back wall, hands out, an attendant will be in with breakfast and some clothes. And if I didnt, I could just starve? Didnt seem like much of a choice. I went back and leaned.
A door opened behind me and someone pushed a cart in. The corridor noise and smell of breakfast assaulted me simultaneously. I should have been interested in analyzing the corridor noise, but the breakfast overwhelmed me. Whoever it was wheeled the cart out, and the door shut soundlessly. The only reason I could tell is that the corridor noises cut off.
The voice said, You can get up and have breakfast now.
I did. Real plates, real utensils, and real food. If this wasnt just some bizarre variation of good cop, bad cop, I wanted to retire here.
Food helped. Well, next standard step. I want to see the Ambassador.
He will see you this afternoon, before your appointment with the adjudicator. He didnt sound like he wanted to talk any more. Now that I had some time, I looked around. There was a small stack of paperbacks on the table. I looked through them. Id never heard of any of the characters: Modesty Blaze, Evan Michael Tanner, Shell Scott, and Matt Helm. I decided to pick up Tanner on Ice.
Id gotten through Murderers Row and was enjoying The Silver Mistress when the voice spoke again. Its time for your appointment with the Ambassador. Please behave yourself.
The door opened and I found myself looking at a walking mountain. He had to be at least 68 and around 350 pounds, all of it muscle and bone. He was also some kind of a martial arts master. It was nothing obvious, like a tunic and black belt; its just that most people are chronically off balance. Its subtle, but a trained fighter stands out simply by the way he holds himself. Behave yourself seemed awfully redundant.
The Ambassador was waiting in a small conference room. The movable mountain escorted me in and stood behind my chair. He looked at his display, and said: Good afternoon, Mr. Stevens. Im Ambassador Reteif. I expect you have some questions about what happened to you.
The usual ones, I guess, I said. Where am I, how did I get here, what am I charged with, and how do I get out.
That seems to cover it, he told me. Where you are is the Ministry of Justice building in Freehold City on Freehold.
I stared at him. How does Freehold come into this? I thought I was dealing with a Middle Eastern terrorist plot.
My briefing didnt cover any terrorist plot. Youre charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder. You were teleported here directly from Countess Sandras apartment, where you discussed the plan with your partner. Do you want to review the evidence before the adjudication?
What evidence. We did no such thing!
Lets look at it. He didnt seem to even hear my denial. He showed me the surveillance record. It showed us getting off the airplane, entering the hotel, entering the apartment, and discussing our next steps, including assassinating the fake Sandra.
To say I was shook is putting it mildly. If someone could do that, I could see a sharp dip in the secret agent business. How did they do that?
I suspect it was Dodecahedron Security. The quality is a bit high for Freeholds usual system.
The Dodecahedron is involved? That shook me again.
Only peripherally. I gather Steel Rivers found some problems, so Freeholds hierarchy asked for their assistance. Im fairly certain youre not in any trouble with them. Whew. That was a relief.
Steel Rivers? I dont believe Ive heard the name before.
That was the man who confronted you in the apartment. He did seem to know you.
I thought that was Hymie. Actually, Hironemous Fogcutter, although he prefers Hymie.
The Ambassador did a query. Yes. That was his name before they named him Steel Rivers in the livestock program. He seems to have kept it afterward; some people do.
What I dont understand is why he waited. If my parents had loaded me up with a name like that, Id have changed it at the first opportunity.
The Ambassador cleared his throat. If Im going to be able to help you at all, I have to know what you thought you were doing.
I looked at him. Well, it didnt seem that it could get much worse, so I told him.
Well, I can tell you one thing right off. Your Sandra is the fake. Shes actually a very accomplished undercover agent named Lucy Smyth that specializes in impersonating people. Usually after theyve been assassinated, so she can lay a false trail for the hounds to follow.
How do you know?
Well, two different things, really. First, Justice dug out her dossier. The Dodecahedron had it first, they tagged her right off the plane, but Justice did the research independently. The second thing is that Sandra is my assistant. I know her father, the Senator, and Ive seen them together. Theres no possibility of a mix-up there.
He paused a moment. All the judges know Sandra as well. She does most of the representations here for our citizens that get into trouble.
So much for fond hope. So, whats likely to happen?
First, the conspiracy charge will stick. Theres no question there, and no mitigation. There is a question of jurisdiction since you didnt know that your target was a Freehold resident, and you didnt know that the apartment was legally part of Freehold. I cant guess what the court will do with that.
Justice, Freehold style, was certainly streamlined. We trooped into the courtroom to find the judge sitting behind a variety of readouts. His clerk sat beside him, with more equipment. The judge looked startled when he saw Lucy.
Good Afternoon, Ambassador. Im a bit surprised to see you here; usually Sandra does your representations.
Shes off on a diplomatic assignment. In any case, its about time I trained someone else to do it, shes getting a bit too high rank to be spending her time on this.
I was thinking that too. Maybe her double, here?
I doubt it. Too much chance of confusion.
True. Well, lets get on with it.
The clerk called the case. Then they ran the surveillance record, just so there wasnt any doubt about what we were talking about.
The two ambulatory mountains positioned themselves behind Lucys chair.
The judge said: Lucy Smyth, you are charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder for hire, impersonating a resident of Freehold, and attempting to interfere in the operation of the government of Freehold. Do you have any comment on either the evidence or the charges?
Lucy said, Youre going to hang me anyway. Get on with it.
My, a bit of temper. Im going to take that as no. Mr. Stevens?
I was going to get a chance to comment on Lucys case? No, your honor. I dont know enough about your system to comment. The judge made a note.
I dont believe that Ms. Smyth knew that the apartment was legally part of Freehold when she had that conversation.
The judge looked startled and then thought a moment. So youre arguing for lack of jurisdiction and entrapment?
Let me think about that for a moment. He paused.
Mr. Stevens. Youre charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder for hire and conspiracy to interfere with the operations of the government of Freehold. Do you have any comments?
I didnt know that our target was a resident of Freehold, and my instructions certainly didnt contain anything about Freehold at all, let alone interfering with the operation of the government.
I see. They certainly dont seem to, so the conspiracy to interfere with the government charge doesnt apply. I will drop it.
Mine didnt either.
However, the dossier shows that you knew that she held fairly high rank in the Freehold government.
Yes, it did.
Then those charges stand.
I dont have any further comment.
The judge thought a moment.
Ambassador, Im going to reject both of your arguments. Ms. Smyth and Mr. Stevens are both highly skilled and determined professionals with a very good track record. I very much doubt that they would have stopped unless their superiors pulled them off of their assignment. Since Countess Sandra is a resident of Freehold, I dont see how we can avoid claiming jurisdiction, even though the events did not occur on Freehold. Most nations retain residual jurisdiction in this kind of case. Therefore the entrapment claim becomes more a matter of form than substance.
The Ambassador said, I see.
Ms. Smyth, please rise and face the bench. She stood up. The two walking mountains stood behind her.
You are found guilty of the listed charges. Murder for hire is evidence of very low social responsibility. You will be placed in a position commensurate with that level of responsibility, namely ponygirl. You have seven years to raise your responsibility levels to the equivalent of citizen. Should you do so before then, your sentence will be discharged. Should you fail to do so, you will be removed from this island, and will not be allowed to return. Do you understand?
She seemed to be shocked. She barely managed to mutter, Yes.
Before I execute sentence, there is one more thing. You currently look very like Countess Sandra. This could cause unnecessary confusion. Your dossier indicates that the appearance change was purchased from the Dodecahedron. Is this correct?
If anything, she was even more shook by that question.
Yes, your honor.
Very well. We will restore your original appearance before we execute your sentence. You will be kept in confinement until your appearance is sufficiently unlike Countess Sandra to avoid confusion, at which point you will be sent to the training stables. Do you have any questions?
Dont I get any say in how Im going to look?
I dont see why we should. On the other hand… he paused and checked something. It doesnt seem to be significantly more effort to allow you to choose a new appearance than restore your old one. Very well, I will authorize it. Any other questions?
Yes. You mentioned something about raising my responsibility level. Is there any way I can find out how to do it?
Very good, Ms. Smyth. Everything you need will be provided once you are settled into your cell.
Lucy sat down. Mr. Stevens. I got up.
You are found guilty of the listed charges. Murder for hire is evidence of very low social responsibility. You will be placed in a position commensurate with that level of responsibility, namely ponyboy. You have seven years to raise your responsibility levels to the equivalent of citizen. Should you do so before then, your sentence will be discharged. Should you fail to do so, you will be removed from this island, and will not be allowed to return. Do you understand?
I noticed the walking mountains behind me.
Um, yes, your Honor.
Do you have any questions before I execute sentence?
I guess the same one Lucy had, your Honor. How do I learn more about this social responsibility thing?
There is a certain point in pony training where you begin to have free time. Up to then, you tend to collapse in your stall at night from the strain of the conditioning regimen. When that point comes, ask a trainer or groom, and they will show you the system. Any more questions?
No, your honor.
He nodded to the muscle standing behind me. One of them grabbed me around the chest, and the other put his hands inside my pants, front and back. The first one pulled up, the second one pulled down, and I parted company with my pants, shorts, shoes and socks. Then they reversed direction and removed my shirt, almost removing my head with it. Next, my flailing arms got twisted behind me and fastened somehow that felt like theyd been welded. My open mouth got stuffed with a gag that had lots of straps that they buckled. Then they added a posture collar and a leash. One of them walked toward the door in back and tugged. I had an instant picture of being dragged along the ground. I followed.
The remaining hunk jerked me out of my bemusement at watching Fred taken away.
Coming, girl? He voice was very low, kind of a furry basso. Oh, right. Back to my cell. I followed him out the door.
He led me to a different cell. This one was a bit larger, with two tables. The second one was in front of a wall screen, and contained a standard keyboard and a mouse. It also had the oddest keyboard I had ever seen, and a helmet out of a mad scientists dreams.
I sat down and held my head in my hands. Oh, God. I was going to be a ponygirl. On Freehold. I cant even say Id had nightmares about it. The thought had never even entered my head.
I pulled the keyboard over and hit the on switch. A menu popped up with four entries. They said: Advisor, Citizen Training, Makeover and Freehold General Information. I clicked on Advisor.
Good Afternoon, Lucy. What can I do for you this afternoon?
Oh, my. A chat screen? Probably not, possibly an AI. If so, it would do exactly what it was programmed for. Well, ask.
Who are you? What can you do?
Im the training advisor. My function is to make a human advisor unnecessary. I can answer questions and do everything needed to support advancement courses.
Well, then. What should I do first?
There are several things you can do in the next week before you go to the training stable. First, you have two days to decide what you want to be made over into. If you dont decide by then, your genetics will be restored to what you were born with, and your body reshaped to match.
Then, you can familiarize yourself with the other keyboard. Its called a chord board, and its the standard keyboard used on Freehold. Its much more efficient than other keyboards, and is much less likely to cause repetitive strain injury. You dont need to do that now, however, since you wont need it again until you graduate from livestock to personal slave.
The helmet is for the livestock program. Since ponies dont have functional hands, it reads brain waves and simulates the mouse and chord board. Youd normally be introduced to it about three months into the training program. Before then, youll be too tired to do anything except sleep in your stall.
General Information is just that. Its a compendium of everything about Freehold that we normally make available to outsiders.
Citizen training is where all your courses start.
I studied that for a while, and then decided to look at Citizen Training. There was one course, named Visitor Orientation. It was marked required. I clicked on the overview.
This is a training course version of the overview and examination that is given to visitors to Freehold upon their arrival on the Island.
I switched back to the advisor. Why do I need to take this?
Its the required first course for visitors. There is a different course for immigrants. Advancement is by examination, and coursework and examinations are given on the computer as much as possible.
Do I need to take it now?
Not really, but it will still be waiting there when you reenter the training system in the pony stables.
Oh, well. At least now didnt mean right now, it meant any time this week. I shifted to the Makeover menu item. That turned out to be fascinating. It started out with a full body picture of me as I was now, in full 3-D. It also had one of my projected look from my original genetics. There were a huge number of things I could do, ranging from changing my hair color permanently to changing my bone structure and skin tone. It would also let me dress my image in various ways, and let me see it at various activities.
There was also a special features palette that was completely empty except for one item: tail. Tail? Why would I want a tail? I asked the advisor.
A tail is part of your equipment as a ponygirl. Many people keep theirs after they graduate from the livestock class. City dwellers and people who expect to rise in the hierarchy usually dont, but people who plan to live in farming country, or out in the wilds frequently keep them. Its prehensile, and, with practice, can substitute for a third hand.
Sheesh. When they said pony, they meant pony. If I was going to get one, I wanted to make it match. As the advisor said, I didnt have to keep it.
When I woke up on the morning of the third day, the Makeover item showed the last image Id saved as do it this way. There were four images: one nude, one dressed in a current style, one as a ponygirl in harness and one as a ponygirl on four hooves. That was going to be me. Id like to have been able to keep tweaking it, but this would do.
I spent the rest of the week in either Citizen Training, working with the helmet or playing games. I found that it had an amazing variety of computer games, some of which had to stretch back to the very beginning of computers.
The hair on my head fell out, except for an inch wide strip from the hairline down my neck. I watched my body reshape itself. Id seen it before, of course. It felt very like the Dodecahedron changes, except that then, somebody else had specified them.
A week later, one of the walking mountains showed up after breakfast, carrying chains and leather straps over his shoulders. Ponygirl time, girl. Well, I didnt really want him to strip me first. Actually, I did, but I didnt think hed take enough time to make it interesting. I shrugged out of my tunic, kicked off my slippers, turned around and put my hands behind me.
He twisted them up and bound them so the arms were crosswise. It felt like there was a rod or chain that held my upper arms together, and other cuffs just below the elbows that attached to cuffs on my wrists. He wrapped a posture collar around my neck, and then he drew a bridle over my head and fastened it. When he held a bit in front of me, I almost froze. I had to force my mouth open by main willpower. He slipped it in and fastened it somehow to the sides of the bridle, where it pulled the corners of my mouth back a little. Then he attached reins to the bit. As a final indignity, he pulled up each of my legs and put sandals on my feet. Then he picked up the reins and pulled. I jogged after him down the corridor.
We went for a ways, and then he stopped and tied my reins to a ring in the wall and walked away. Between the posture collar and the blinders on my bridle, I couldnt see anything except the wall. And that wasnt that interesting. The wall was, after all, just a wall.
In a while, more footsteps came up, and I felt something on the back of my collar. I fidgeted a bit, and a hand came over and stroked me, calming me down. The footsteps walked away. There was now another pony tied behind me.
More time passed. More ponies got added to the coffle. Eventually, someone reached in front of me and unhitched my reins from the ring. Take it slow, ponies, he said, and then led me out the door.
He walked up to a ponygirl harnessed to a chariot, and looped my reins to the rod in back of the chair. He got in, twitched the reins, and the ponygirl leaned into her harness and began pulling. Whoever was behind me didnt get the cue. I heard a muffled grunt as the reins on the back of my collar snapped taut. Then whoever it was started moving. More muffled grunts as the rest of them caught on. Im not sure how far we went. My world narrowed to paying attention to the chariot in front of me, and trying to avoid jerking the next pony in the coffle too badly.
Eventually, we arrived at a large, dirt covered yard. The man in the chariot pulled his girl up next to a post, and tied my reins to it. Then he drove off. A guy wearing sandals, a tunic and a collar with a nameplate came up and pulled me off the front of the line and led me over to a tub of water. I looked at it, so he shoved me over. When I pulled my head out, I realized that I was thirsty, so I tried to suck up as much water as I could around the bit. When I came up, he led me over to a room in a long, low building. The men there shoved me down on a table so that my legs hung down, and my face and breasts were sitting in cutouts in the surface. Then they put a couple of straps over my back so I couldnt move, and took my arms out of their restraints. I tried to move my shoulders, but then they attacked in a swarm. One took each arm and leg and started stuffing it into something. Another one sprayed something onto my tailbone, numbing it. My collar came off and was replaced with another one. Then they finished whatever they were doing, and the table dropped out from under me.
That left me on all fours. I looked down, curiously. I now had some kind of hoof boots on my hands! Right front hoof forward, Running Flame, thats a good girl. I put my right front hoof forward, and he tugged on my reins. My body moved, and one of my back feet moved to compensate. Then the other front foot moved, and the other back foot, and I was walking on all fours! It obviously had to be possible from the pictures. Id just never thought it would be this easy!
Not that it was that easy. I staggered as I followed him down the path, gradually getting the feel of walking on four feet. The biggest problem was that my hands seemed to be in the air; the hoof boots were more like stilts. And my back legs wanted to bend at the knee more than they should. And my front and back legs seemed to be too close together.
The groom who was leading me on seemed to be patience personified. I found that, like the caterpillar of legend, the best thing I could do was to keep my mind out of it. My body knew what it was doing; it was just having trouble adjusting for several million years of evolution that hadnt involved the walk on four legs program. I decided to look at him instead.
Id already noticed his tail and the white mini-dress, or more properly a tunic. Now I got a good look at his feet. He seemed to be wearing high-heeled boots with horseshoes on the bottom! After a moment, I managed to work it out. Hed been a ponyboy, and decided to keep his tail. As I was to find out, the combination wasnt that strange. The pony boots gave him an extra five inches of height, and the extra traction was useful. Most of the people who worked in the training stable wore them.
Eventually, my walk smoothed out, so he told me stop. I stopped, and almost fell over. It was a bit of a scramble to get my feet properly under me. Then he started me again. Lets go, Running Flame. Right hoof, thats a good girl, move into it, good pony, And on and on. I dont know how long he took. Eventually, four feet felt fairly natural, and he led me to a fence with a gate. He took my bit out, and took off the bridle. Now, look at me, Running Flame.
I bent my head up to look.
This is the meadow. You can do anything you want here. Talk to other ponies; get laid if you find a stallion you like, run, sleep, play, whatever. Dont try to jump the fence, dont cause trouble, and come when someone calls you. Dont try to stand. Youll really regret it. Dont try to leave the meadow unless someone is leading you with a bridle. He opened the gate, and I walked in like a good little pony. I was halfway up the hill before I noticed that I was walking as if it was natural!
I headed up toward a group of ponies that seemed to be relaxing on the hillside. One of them got to her feet, Hi, you look kind of bewildered. Im Rolling Hill. This your first day?
It sure is. I guess Im Running Flame; at least thats what the guy kept calling me. I hate to be short, but how do you take a leak around here?
One of the stallions snickered. Anywhere you want to. Of course, if you want to keep the rest of us happy, do it over the hill where everyone else does it.
Rolling Hill tossed her head. Come on, Ill show you. Ive got to go anyway. She headed up the hill, and I followed. It was easy to tell where it was; there were blobs of shit all over the place. Just find a likely looking place and squat. Not in the brook, please. She squatted and flicked her tail up over her back, and then let loose. Ick! Well, when in Rome. I squatted and felt a mop land on my back. That must be my tail. I looked between my legs; yes, it had vanished. My bladder fought for a moment, and then let go. I must have turned beet red with embarrassment. Then I felt my bowels let go. I tried to tighten up and then relaxed. Part of me wanted a nice, deep hole to crawl into. Rolling Hills laugh didnt help matters any.
Once I got over my embarrassment enough to look around, I saw she had walked over to a little fountain, and squatted over it, letting it clean off her ass. My ears almost felt like they were going to burn off. Well, at least it made sense. When she moved away, I walked over to it and let it play with me. It tickled.
Dont feel too embarrassed. The first time I did it, with a real stallion looking at me, I could have just died and melted into the ground. So far, it hasnt killed anyone.
They clean it up regularly? I wanted to talk about anything but taking a crap in full view of the audience.
They dont need to. Theres some kind of a beetle that disposes of it.
What about in your stall, or outside?
Do it in the back of your stall. Theres a trough in the concrete under the straw. Outside? Use your judgment. Pissing on a passengers leg is guaranteed to get you a reprimand. Do that too many times, and youll wind up in freight, or on a farm.
I gather I dont want to do that.
Too right. Freight is deadly dull. Some ponies like farm work, but most dont. You see the same people, most of them dont get regular days off, and they treat you like the rest of their livestock. Its supposed to be the pits. At least, thats what they tell me.
I heard a whistle. Hey, Rolling Hill. Get your lazy ass down here!
Duty calls. Talk to you sometime, maybe. She trotted off. I found a spot and lay down, letting the grass tickle my breasts and belly. More whistles and names. Eventually, someone called Running Flame, get down here. Time to work! My call. I struggled back up to four hooves and walked down. There was a guy in the ubiquitous white tunic holding a bundle of ropes in one hand, and something in the other.
He held his hand out, palm up. There was something in it. I looked closer. It was a piece of candy. Candy? Oh, right. Im supposed to be a pony. I reached my head over and took it between my tongue and upper lip. Yum. I could get to like him. I supposed that was the point. I felt his hand on my head, scratching behind my ears. My head went back toward him a bit. Just keep doing that, ummm, right there.
Then he draped the ropes over my head and tightened them under my chin. A tug, and I followed him out the gate and down the path.
Stop. I stopped. I had no idea where I was. This is your trainer. I looked up. She was wearing the ubiquitous pony boots, but there the resemblance ended. The motif was leather. Leather skirt. Leather bodice. Leather whip.
So, youre Running Flame. It does look like its going to be real red hair once it grows in. Now, girl, there are only two rules. Do what I tell you when I tell you, and dont talk. Understand?
Dont talk? How am I going to say yes? I nodded my head.
Good. Im going to take you to your stall, and back out to the meadow until you know how to get back and forth. She picked up my halter rope and led me down a path into one of the low buildings. Then she led me further down a corridor and then turned off into another corridor. Part way down, she stopped, opened a door and said one word: in. I turned to go in. She stripped off the halter as I went.
So this was my stall. It was a bit less than a meter wide, about three meters deep and maybe two and a half meters tall. The walls were floor to ceiling wood. The front was a table that was high enough for me to stick my head over. There seemed to be a built-in bowl of water, and another one of food. When I looked out, all I could see was a two meter wide corridor with a row of stalls on the other side.
Enough looking. Back out, girl. I backed out. She held out the bridle, and I stuck my head into it. She tightened it, and lead me off back the way we had come. This time, she led me up a series of paths to the meadow. Then she led me back. Then she led me to the meadow. Then back. Repeat several more times. The next time we were at the meadow, she took the halter off. Back to your stall, girl.
Huh? Well, if she wanted me to. She walked down the path behind me. Somehow, at each of the turnings, my feet headed the right way. Eventually, I wound up in front of a stall. Good pony! She scratched me behind the ears, and held out her hand. Candy! I snarfed it up.
To the meadow. My feet headed out, and I eventually wound up there.
Back to your stall. I trotted off, and somehow wound up in front of a stall. I had no idea if it was mine, but she seemed to think so. Good pony. We did it again. And then again.
Now were going to do the washing machine. You do this in the morning on the way to the meadow, and in the evening on the way back to your stall. She put me back into the halter and led me away from my stall. This time, we turned the other way in the corridor, and went out another path to another building. This one seemed to have several lanes.
When you go through here, there are several stations. Plant your front hooves on the marks and wait until the light tells you to go to the next area. The first area is for you to relieve yourself. The second is a wash. The third is a drier. The fourth is a milking machine.
Wash? Dry? Milking machine? What was this? Rube Goldberg junior? I trotted up one of the lanes. There was a big red and green light, and two black spots on the floor. Right. I planted my front hooves and waited. The light turned green, and I went in. There was a bar across the front, and a big red light. Plant my hooves on the black marks. She did say relieve myself, didnt she? I squatted and pissed.
The light turned green, and the bar rose. I trotted ahead. It looked like the same drill: bar, red light, and two black spots on the floor. I stopped. Suddenly, I got hit with water from all sides. Oh, my. She did say wash, didnt she? The water went back and forth a couple of times, and then stopped. I opened my eyes. The light turned green, the gate went up, and I went forward. Same drill. Plant my feet on the black horseshoes. This time a draft of hot air hit me. It went on and on until I felt totally dried out.
I walked into the next station and planted my front hooves on the marks. What had she said this was? An arm with two cups came out of the wall and went under my torso. I felt it rise and suck my breasts into the cups. Then it began a slow massaging suction, and I felt something squirt out my nipples. I looked down, eyes wide. Something white was flowing through a tube into the wall. I was in a milking machine! Not only that, but I had been turned on; that was my milk! Talk about embarrassed!
The cups dropped away and the light turned green. I walked out to see my trainer standing by a gate, holding my halter in her hand. I walked up and she scratched me behind the ears, Good girl. Now, that wasnt so bad, was it? Frankly, I felt like mooing, but I decided on a whinny instead.
She laughed. Youre getting into the spirit, pony. Now, back to the meadow. She tightened the halter and led me down the path. We started doing figure eights, from the meadow, to the ponygirl laundry, to my stall, and then from my stall, to the ponygirl laundry and to the meadow.
Then she quit following me. She stayed by the meadow, and a groom met me at my stall. Shed tell me which way to go, and then hed tell me which way to go. I trotted back and forth, the perfectly programmed ponygirl. The last time, she sent me into the meadow to rest. After that day, I was quite content to sit there, legs gathered under me, and relax in the sun, watching it go down.
End of day, empty out the meadow! I must have fallen asleep. There were several grooms walking from the far end of the meadow, and all the ponies were flowing out the gate and down the path. I struggled to my feet and followed. They headed toward the laundry, so I just went with the flow. We lined up, and eventually I took a piss, got washed, dried and milked. When I got out, I found the path to the meadow blocked by a gate; I had to go by the path to the stables.
I headed in with the rest of the herd and found my stall without any trouble. Dinner time! Drinking wasnt that easy, but I managed to suck up enough water to fill me up. My food bowl was filled with veggies. I shoved them around with my nose, and managed to get my mouth and teeth around them. In between bites, I listened to the clip, clop of other ponies arriving, and the crunch of other ponys teeth as they got into their dinner. About then, one of the grooms came by and closed the back gate of my stall with a thud followed by a definite thunk as he shot the latch home. I went after another carrot.
When I finished, I decided to go after the VR helmet. Id practiced for a week, and while I hadnt gotten good, I could make myself understood. The latch was where the course said, and the helmet went on over my head ok. It took a moment to find the exact twist that got it off of its hook.
Well, Running Flame, I see youre back tonight.
Yes. Whats next on the agenda?
Practice with the helmet. You can explore facilities and background, but there wont be any more formal course work until youre farther through ponygirl training.
When will that be?
Youll have to drop out during conditioning. When youve got enough energy to get back on, then well talk further.
Oh, well. At least the history of Freehold and the way it ran was interesting. I could get at a fair amount of general information.
The next day, my trainer worked me at the lunge. This was just a rope tied to one side of my bridle. She walked me around in a circle, giving me voice commands. I got worked on starts, stops and gates. She started showing me a real trot, and a dressage position. She was utterly patient, and totally inevitable. As she worked me, I felt the patterns take shape in my muscles, almost without my volition.
By the end of the week, I had four gaits: walk, trot, canter and gallop. I also had a collection of dressage behaviors. Also, one of the grooms worked me on the massage table daily. He went over my hands, feet, hips, shoulders and neck. The first day, I almost screamed with returning circulation in my hands and feet when he took them out of the hoof boots. By the end of the week, I didnt have a problem; somehow the boots werent cutting off the circulation any more. My four legged gaits were becoming easier and much more fluid; in fact, walking and trotting wasnt something I thought about at all any more. I just did them.
The hardest thing I had to learn that first week was just standing there. One day, instead of releasing me to the meadow after lunge, she took me to a hitching rack and looped my reins over it. Stand there and stay still. Then she walked off. I found I couldnt do it. After a few minutes, I started fidgeting. Then I started getting cramps. My mind skittered all over the place.
Then she came back, and started working me again. This time, it was on small muscle movements that kept the blood flowing, and on keeping my head clear. They both took a while to sink in. I spent all of the next week tied to that damn rail, until finally it no longer mattered. Whatever shed done, I could just stand there, swishing my tail, and watching whatever was happening, without caring in the slightest what came next.
Stand up, girl. Huh? I hadnt stood up in I dont know how long. I expected my muscles and bones to creak. They didnt. She pulled my front feet behind me, and put them in some kind of harness that made my shoulders ache. It felt like shed managed to pull my elbows halfway across my back, and had my front feet pointing over my shoulders.
Then she put a belt around my waist. The front hooked together, and the back laced tight. When she finished tightening it, my waist was so tight that I had to breathe in my chest. It rode over my hips and under my ribs. Next she attached a triangular piece of leather to the front of the belt, drew it between my legs and pulled it through my ass cheeks. I felt her buckle it to the belt on either side of my tail.
The final part was a network of straps that draped over my shoulders and came down my front and back. She fiddled with them until she was satisfied; then she tightened it down. The whole thing was so tight that if I shrugged my shoulders, I could feel it in my crotch.
When she put the bridle on, I thought she was done. It turned out she wasnt. She added four short straps that attached my bridle to the shoulders of the harness. I could no longer turn my head. Then she ran the reins through rings on top of the harness.
She spent the next hour walking me around the exercise area, training me to react to pulls on my reins. When she was satisfied, she walked me over to a rail and looped my reins over it. Then she walked away. Youd think that just standing there would be simple, especially since I already knew how to do it in four footed mode. I twitched and shifted myself from one foot to the other like I was crazy. She came back and worked with me until I found my balance properly. Then standing became easy.
The next day, she started on cart. Cart was different. Up until now, Id just been moving myself. The cart felt like it weighed a ton. Actually, thats not quite correct. It didnt feel like it weighed very much at all, just standing there. When I tried to move it, or tried to stop it, it felt like it weighed a ton. She worked me on cart until I had the feel of dragging a weight behind me, and could start and stop it on command.
Maybe a week later, she introduced me to the treadmill. This thing was just the belt on the floor and two shafts that came out of the wall. She hitched me up to them, just like it was a cart, and hitched my reins to the back of the machine. There was nothing in front, unlike a normal treadmill, where the controls are in front and the back is free. When she walked away, I heard a voice say Giddyup from behind me, and my reins twitched. My body leaned into it and got started.
It didnt act like any treadmill Id ever been on. It felt exactly like the cart and the road. The voice said Faster or Slow down whenever it wanted me to shift speed, and Thats good when I was at the speed it wanted. It felt doable until the first time I slowed down without it telling me.
Crack! YEOWWW! It felt like someone hit me with a whip! I speeded up. It pulled on the reins a bit until it had me back where it wanted me. Then the humiliation hit me. Id had a human being as a trainer, and shed turned me over to a machine! A mindless, stupid machine. And it whipped me. What did that make me?
Crack! YEOWWW! I came back down to earth and sped up. I didnt have the time and energy right now to feel sorry for myself.
Swish! Tickle. Speed up. I sped up and then wondered. It had just touched me, gently, with the whip. I didnt understand. Well, things seemed to be going all right.
I think I was in that treadmill for two hours. When she came to let me out, I staggered and almost fell on my face. She watered me, fed me and hitched me to the rail, all without saying a word. The session with the groom was enjoyable, but then it was back to the treadmill. I barely made it through the washing machine at the end of the day, and staggered into my stall. I managed to drink some water and eat a few carrots, and then fell asleep.
That was the next month or so. Washing machine, stand, cart, stand, treadmill, stand, massage, stand, treadmill, stand, washing machine, collapse in my stall. I just staggered from one to the next, and let my body carry me through. After a while, though, I started to wake up clearheaded and energized, and the stands seemed to be long enough to let my body recover from the treadmill. Then I found that I stayed awake in my stall. The first time that happened, I ate and then stared at the stall door across the corridor.
Then it occurred to me. Wasnt there something to do? Yes! There was. I unlatched the cabinet with my hoof, and the helmet was still there. Poke head in, twist, and turn it on.
I see you are back with us, Running Flame.
Yes, I am, I managed to poke into the chord board without too much fumbling. Whats next?
Besides chord board practice? Ive put the courses for taxi on your curriculum.
I think I need the practice first.
Definitely. It brought up the practice screens for me.
The training regime made no sense whatever. Actually, the pieces made sense individually, but there wasnt any kind of an overview. As time went on, my body and mind learned ways of reacting. The taxi training course kept pace with my trainer. Shed train me to do something, and then the course would review it with a complete VR simulation. The next day, Id be expected to do whatever it was automatically, without stopping to think. If I didnt, she simply went back and retrained until I could.
The lack of an overview kept bugging me. Finally, I asked the advisor.
Whats the meaning of all this?
Oh, God. Whoever programmed that thing had a warped sense of humor. What I mean is, why is this here? What are they trying to train me to do? Im climbing the walls without an overview.
You havent been given an overview because you arent supposed to have one.
Huh? Thats … warped. Why not?
I suppose I can give you a bit of perspective. Youre not being given an overview to prevent interference. At your provisional personal responsibility rating, we could probably trust you not to take personally counterproductive action if you had it. However, we cannot trust you not to take socially counterproductive action.
Snarl. I suppose Im just going to deal with it, then.
Precisely. Is there anything else?
The rest of the taxi course was the street map of Freehold City, with all of the common names for places. The computer was rigorous in drilling that map into my head. The practical part of the course was done on the streets. That was supposed to be my first real look at Freehold City, but frankly, I couldnt appreciate it. Most of the time, we were going somewhere, and my entire attention was tied up either with keeping the cart moving properly, or with checking a way through the traffic with minimum hassle for my passengers.
The first few days of that were rough. After that, things seemed to settle down to where I simply knew whether a particular maneuver was possible, and how much hassle it would be for either my passengers or me. And that was when she started giving me my head in getting her wherever she told me. Youd think it would be easier when she drove. Actually, it was harder. Reins simply dont have the bandwidth to control every aspect of what I should be doing. Since I didnt have a clue where she wanted me to go, I just had to move out and watch for possible problems ahead of me. Eventually, that settled in. I figured I was probably ready for duty.
I should have been. The scuttlebutt in the meadow certainly indicated that, but she seemed to have several other things on her mind.
The next two things hit simultaneously. She started training me on fancy show steps. I knew that wasnt normal, although there were a couple of girls being trained that way, possibly for the circus.
The other thing was team training. As usual, I had absolutely no warning. One morning, instead of hitching me to the standard taxi cart, they took me out and hitched me to a four-pony rig. What startled me almost as much was seeing Fred next to me. He clearly had no clue about me, however. The thing I did learn was his name, which was Fast Fox. The put him to the right of me in the first row. The two girls behind us were twin blondes named Rippling Stream and Sparkling Brook.
Team training was quite different from taxi. It was also different from the usual team training. Id seen some of that while I was standing around learning how to stand. Those trainers didnt seem to be concerned about their footwork, as long as the members were each pulling their share.
For us, it was different. The first thing they drilled us on was footwork. They started out with standard walk, trot and pull steps; and then spiffed it up with a real high stepping walk and trot. They tried for a high step on the initial pull, but then settled for just keeping us in synchronization.
The hard part was keeping the pace correctly. We didnt have anything like a drum or music, so they trained us to keep up with whichever of us was in the front left position. This wasnt too hard for the girls in the back row, but whoever was in the front right had to concentrate. Eventually, it sank in, but it took time. Im still not exactly certain how I do it; it seems to be more a matter of feeling subtle shifts in the tension of my harness as my teammates shift their pace.
The last step they taught us was a four stroke walk and trot. Each diagonal pair was supposed to keep exact synchronization, except that first our outside hooves hit the ground, and then our inside hooves. Exactly the opposite of how you were supposed to march in step.
The other pair was supposed to be doing the same thing, but exactly half way out of phase. It took a while to get it right. We finally managed it. The pony on the front left set the pace, the pony on the front right matched it out of phase. The two ponies in the second row matched their leader, and all went well. When I got a chance to listen to a recording, it sounded like we were doing a gallop.
Rippling Stream and Sparkling Brook never did get the halfway synchronization down. If one of them was on the front right, the whole thing fell apart. They also couldnt keep a steady pace without a leader, so eventually the trainers gave up and put them in back, permanently.
They were clearly training us for something, and I didnt know what! It almost got frustrating enough to make me forget that I was horny. So I asked the supervisor if I could talk to Fred, oops, I mean Fast Fox.
Of course. Ive put the introductory course for the chat system on your course list.
The damn thing was like that. Oh, well. The chat system was like every other text chat system I had ever used. The index showed he was available, but neither Rippling Stream nor Sparkling Brook were. That surprised me enough to ask.
Neither one of them is using the advancement system.
Um. I was supposed to know this? Im surprised you told me that. It seems like it would be private information.
Normally it is. Since youre going to be working with them regularly, youd find out anyway.
Which brings up another question. If theyre not using the advancement system, how are they accessing the city map?
They arent. That disqualifies them for taxi. They were both going to be assigned to either freight or farm work before they were put on your team.
So I called Fast Fox.
Hey, Fred. You available for a chat?
Fred? Howd you know my name?
Im your partner in crime, Fox. Lucy Smyth, in a redesigned package.
A very nice package. You designed it? Yum.
You do say the nicest things, Fox.
They put the two of us together? Do I smell a rat here somewhere?
A very large one. I think someone has plans, and the system isnt telling me.
I think so too. One real interesting thing is that I got trained on taxi as well as package. I understand thats unusual.
Unheard of, Id say.
So, what do we do about it?
Not much we can do. Just roll with it.
Snicker. Id rather roll with you.
Ummm… How do we manage it? I just service whatever stallion the grooms stick in here with me.
Check with the advisor, hot stuff.
I checked and found out I could rate any of the stallions or mares as desirable, ok or undesirable. I shoved Fast Fox onto my most wanted list, and put a couple of the less interesting stallions that had been showing up recently on my undesirable list. I also marked off that I was open to fillies.
The next night, they shoved the Fox in with me. Having sex in a ponygirl stall is an interesting experience, since theres no room to turn around, and you cant stand up. Its simply not permitted, and the punishment for even trying is painful enough that you dont want to repeat the experience. There are three reasonably feasible positions: pony style from the back, horizontal, and female sitting in the males lap, legs around his waist. I prefer the third. It lets me face him, and I dont get crushed.
So we negotiated. By the time he agreed, he had a raging hard-on, and I was well lubricated. I slid onto his shaft as if it was greased and locked my hooves around him. Then we started playing with our tails. He started with that cat-soft end of the tail on my breasts, hair hanging down. AHHH! The things you can do with a tail. He just went totally rigid when I started tickling his balls. Im not certain how he held on so long; most of the stallions I serviced didnt. Hold on he did, until finally he came, and I went through the roof.
Afterwards, we managed to get ourselves crammed together in that narrow stall sideways, cuddling and petting each other with our tails. Eventually, one of the grooms came around to lead him back to his stall for the night. Damn! That night, I dreamed about our pulling the bridal carriage; except that we were riding in it at the same time. Well, dreams didnt have to make sense, but this one more or less did. One ride, and I wanted him as my stallion.
A couple of days later, Fast Fox opened our nightly chat with: Well, hot stuff, the plot thickens.
Oh, how so?
You know the guy they started training today on how to drive us?
Steel Rivers? The name is familiar, but I dont remember seeing him before.
Hes the one that got us here by waving his hand.
I didnt recognize him! I thought they were just using us to teach him how to drive a team.
Exactly. But why use us to train him? You know were being trained for something unique.
Hadnt thought about that. So hes working for one of the aristocracy that needs both a carriage team and a taxi ponyboy?
The aristocracy makes sense of all the fancy stuff theyve been teaching us. But why a taxi ponyboy?
I suspect someone high up has us in his or her crosshairs, guy.
Yeah. And nobody is talking.
Well, I dont know what we can do besides roll with it.
Probably nothing, but theres one other thing Ive noticed.
Theyre training us to maintain a steady pace. That probably means highway, not city.
Oh, goodie. I always liked to travel.
When we disconnected, I braced the advisor about it.
Since youve figured most of it out, there really isnt much point in keeping you in the dark any longer. The four of you are to be assigned to Prince Andy as his carriage team. He does a large amount of travel among the various enclaves. Steel Rivers is his valet, and will be driving. When youre not assigned to coach, you, and sometimes Fast Fox, will be doing taxi duty for them. The other two members of your team will normally be doing hauling for maintenance crews.
That makes sense of whats been going on. Where does Steel Rivers come in? Fast Fox seems to know him?
Hes a former member of Fast Foxs former department. He ran into trouble trying to do some industrial espionage around here.
That still doesnt explain why were being kept together. I dont believe in coincidence.
Youre being kept together because the Princess in charge of Foreign Affairs wants all three of you where she can keep her eye on what youre doing. Justice overruled some of her plans, but youre not going to be allowed to dissolve into the woodwork, at least until you satisfy Justice that youre safe.
And how do I do that?
You need to deal with your basic motivation for becoming an undercover assassin.
People seldom become good at something without liking it. Freehold has no place either for an impersonator or an assassin. You wont be allowed out of the livestock program until you deal with it.
What happens if I dont deal with it? Fortunately, emotional context doesnt come across on the virtual chord board, although I suspect that it knew exactly what I was feeling.
At the end of seven years, youll be delivered, naked, to a cell on the ship. At the end of the voyage, youll be kicked off the ship naked, where youll be arrested for indecent exposure.
Shit. Im not that much of an exhibitionist. Is there a third option?
Yes. You could always immigrate.
How does that deal with it?
The seven year time limit on your sentence would no longer apply.
I had to think about that one a moment before I found the catch. That means I would stay a ponygirl forever?
At least until you reached the end of your useful lifetime.
Then what happens?
You get put down.
Oh shit. Talk about ruining a girls day. So, how do I deal with it?
Weve put the course on your curriculum.
When I looked, there were two new courses listed: Immigration and Personal Use Psychotherapy. Immigration said it was optional. Do tell. Personal Use Psychotherapy had a list of prerequisites a mile long. It also had a checkbox labeled Waiver of Prerequisites Requested.
I clicked on the course overview. It seemed the course consisted mostly of guided mental exercises. It had its own advisor. Id heard of attempts to automate psychotherapy; it seemed like Freehold might just be ahead of everyone else here, as well. From what I knew of Freehold, I doubted that I had any deep, dark secrets that they couldnt wring out of me if they wanted to; I also suspected that even if I did, they didnt care.
CLICK! Now my mind was providing sound effects. The CLICK of doom? The response came promptly: Prerequisite Override Approved: Prince Boris.
I asked the advisor. Prince Boris?
Hes the head of Justice. He has a somewhat personal interest in not having an assassin running around loose.
Um. That did make sense.
So I entered the course.
What can I do for you tonight?
It was a different voice, all right. You know why Im here?
I presume that you want to work on something that is keeping you from doing something you want to do.
What is it you want to do that you cant?
I want to get off of Freehold, idiot.
Whats stopping you?
They wont let me go.
Have they told you what you need to do for them to let you go?
I had to think for a moment. I need to make citizen or serve seven years.
People seldom need my assistance for either of those tasks. What else have they told you?
I thought you knew.
I do. You, however, need to tell me in your own words before we can go farther.
Sizzle. Take a deep breath, girl. I need to deal with why I want to impersonate people.
Thats half of it.
I found my teeth clenched. Kill them and impersonate them.
Good. Describe what you are feeling now.
It went on from there. By the time it was done with me, I was wringing wet. It led me through a calming exercise, and then it was lights out. No stallion for the flickering Flame tonight, not that Id have been able to perform if theyd supplied one.
Carriage training kept on. Now they had us pulling this enormous thing that must have weighed a ton. Literally. Getting that thing moving took real work. I could hear the leather of my harness creak as I leaned into it. Stopping it was also hard work, although in the other direction. Human bodies, even ponygirls, are not really designed to exert force backwards while doing fancy steps.
On the other hand, keeping it moving was a cakewalk in comparison. I suspect that it had an incredibly good suspension. As long as we were on a level, I could have kept it going myself, even at the 15 kph or so they used in taxi, let alone the 12 kph they used in freight. Trotting around Freehold City in taxi had already told me it was mostly as flat as a pancake. At least, as flat as mothers pancakes, mine usually had lumps.
That was the first, and I devoutly hope the last, time I got a real whipping. Id been whipped a few times before in training, but they were love taps in comparison.
One morning, I decided to slack off a bit, just to see what would happen. SWISH! YEOWWWW! The lash across my back felt like Id been branded. I lurched forward, pulling the entire carriage out of alignment.
Steel Rivers pulled on my reins. Steady, girl, steady. I steadied down. God, that still hurt. The muffled giggle from behind me didnt help, either. I got myself back into synchronization with the rest of the team, and we trotted on.
That night, I asked the advisor about it.
How did he know I was slacking off? The automated therapist had gotten me to the point of learning that trying to evade wasnt going to get me anywhere.
There are strain gauges built into the shafts. He knows exactly how much effort each of you is putting out.
Oh, damn. I did wonder. So theres no way of slacking off without him noticing.
Quite true. Id suggest you think about that in the context of personal responsibility.
Huh? You mean that doing my job without having someone standing over me with a whip is more responsible?
Exactly. Freight is for ponygirls that need a drover to keep them motivated. Neither Steel Rivers nor Prince Andy is precisely enamored of the notion of standing over you with a whip to get you to do your job.
In other words, if I dont shape up, I could wind up in freight?
Or on a farm.
Oh, damn. And I suppose you never get promoted to the next level from freight.
Exactly. You can get promoted directly from farm work, but youd have to come back to taxi before they will promote you from freight.
So, Im in freight?
You and Fast Fox are in taxi. Youre being trained to pull the carriage because youll be going right along with Prince Andy, and its much more efficient for you to be pulling the carriage while hes traveling than to be trotting along behind on a lead. Rippling Stream and Sparkling Brook are in farm. The difference is that when youre not pulling the carriage, youll be pulling either Prince Andy or Steel Rivers in a taxi; theyll be with some kind of grounds crew or agricultural party.
I thought about that a moment. The efficiency I could see, but something was still nibbling the back of my mind. Finally, I said: If were going to be all over this island, shouldnt I be studying maps or something?
You can see the island map. We dont maintain maps of the enclaves at the same level of detail we use for the rest of Freehold. Ill put what weve got for Prince Andys next destination on your curriculum.
When I checked, there it was, Freehold Map and Procedures for Long Haul Taxi and Delivery. There was a second one, Accessing Restricted Data, with a list of files to review for the American Old South Enclave. Oh, boy. Id heard of that one. It was supposed to be pretty spiffy if you liked playing master or slave. I had this funny feeling I might not like it as well from the ponygirls perspective.
The island map and procedures showed me what wed be doing. The major highway system was built in four strips; two one way, two the other. The outer strip was for freight; the inner strip was for long haul taxi, express package and carriages. The taxi ponygirls usually, and delivery ponyboys always, handled their own maneuvering. Carriage teams were usually under a drovers control, but not always. The strip was wide enough to allow one carriage to pass another if both of them were real careful. The singletons, of course, passed whenever they felt like it.
That doesnt mean that traffic was a free-for-all. Not on Freehold. If your passenger or freight didnt have a real need for speed, you went at a measured 15 kph, and that was it. You had to make do with the satisfaction of passing the freight wagons on the right hand strip, which were doing a measured 12 kph.
Three days later, Steel Rivers guided us out of the training area onto the streets of Freehold. This was the first time Id been on them since taxi training, but I still remembered the route maps, and Id memorized Prince Andys address. Steel Rivers guided us down the greenery-lined streets, taking the shortest route marked for heavy traffic. As advertised, the rest of the traffic gave way politely, which was real nice of it. I didnt think we could do a panic stop if we had to; the shortest wed ever been able to stop the thing was about ten paces. Fortunately, it did have brakes. I hated the damn things; if he put them on without pulling on our reins, it felt like wed suddenly run into a brick wall. The first few times were rough, until we got the signals down. After he learned to go easy on the brake, and we learned to let the drag on our harnesses slow us down, it got easier, or at least possible.
We pulled up in the side lane next to Government House. It looked like a palace, and in fact it was: an integrated office and residential structure for the aristocracy. As an edifice, it was certainly imposing. It gave that feeling of solidity, like Freehold was here to stay, and you werent, so deal with it.
Backing the carriage into a loading bay was one of the trickier maneuvers we had to deal with. It wasnt hard for a taxi; but that was just one pony, and I usually had discretion to control the maneuver. With four ponies in a team, it took very precise control on our drivers part. He got us in, but his voice said he would have liked to swear at us a few times if it wouldnt have been out of character.
After that, there was some clatter and banging from behind us. I didnt pay very much attention, because the grooms came around just then with water and some carrots. I drank and munched my way through the carrot. My groom put my bit back in, and then I just stood there, watching the traffic and the tourists.
Eventually, the banging ended with the thud of the door closing. SWISH! CRACK! The whip popped just over my head. Steel Rivers tugged on the reins lightly. Ease out there, get moving! I twitched my tail, and then leaned into it. Id found out some time ago that when I was on the left, a tail flip was useful to get Sparkling Brook clued in. If I didnt do it, she sometimes didnt get off on the step at all.
Training was over. To say I had mixed feelings would be understating it. I knew we made an imposing sight; synchronized steps, gilded harness and gaily waving plumes, and that gave me a sense of pride. On the other hand, Id have given almost anything to be somewhere else.
For better or worse, we trotted into the next phase of our lives.