Escaped Ponygirl

By Xaltatun of Acheron

Originally posted on SirJeff's Ponygirls, with the author's permission

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 six stories in the Freehold series:

1. A Slave Girl of Freehold

2. A Ponygirl of Freehold

3. The Field Ecologist’s Ponygirl (sequel to A Ponygirl of Freehold)

4. Delivery Ponyboy

5. Carriage Team of Freehold

6. Escaped Ponygirl

Stories 2 and 3: Ponygirl and Field Ecologist form one story and should be read in that order. The other three stories form a loosely related series; there are some common characters from one story to the other. You need not read them in order, but it helps a bit.

Carriage Team of Freehold and Escaped Ponygirl form a sequence, to some extent based on events at the end of Delivery Ponyboy. You do not need to read them in sequence, but it may help fill in gaps.

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. I’m not going to point out which practices are safe, and which aren’t. 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. Don’t make yourself a candidate for a Darwin award.

OK - now on to the story -------


I really hate it when I start a story in the middle, so I suppose I should mention that my story really begins in “Carriage Team of Freehold.” Or maybe a bit earlier, at the end of “Slave Girl of Freehold.” If you’ve read them, just trot on down to chapter 1, and we’ll get this story on the road. If you haven’t, here’s a quick briefing.

I am, or was, Lucy Smyth. I had a great job as a combination assassin and impersonator for one of those government departments that isn’t ever mentioned, even in the scandal sheets or the worst of the paranoid press. My usual assignment would be to get a complete body makeover, courtesy of the Dodecahedron, which specializes in such impossibilities, and then take out my target and replace her for long enough to lay a false trail before she either mysteriously vanished or otherwise met her well deserved demise under circumstances too mundane to merit investigation.

My last assignment had been to do in one Sandra Stone, whose existence had been irritating certain influences. I’d been briefed, and had my impersonation down pat. The cover story was supposed to be that someone else was impersonating her, and I would arrive on the scene just as the apartment building she was staying at was reduced to rubble, courtesy of a terrorist plot we had dug out.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen that way. Something happened to the terrorists, to this day I have no idea what. We got to the apartment reserved for the envoy and discussed our next steps. Then one of Fred’s old associates walked out of one of the rooms in the apartment; said “Hi, Fred, long time no see”, and waved his hand. Next thing I knew, I was in a cell on Freehold. They gave me another full body makeover, this time to my specifications, and then turned me into a ponygirl.

The ponygirl program is what Freehold uses instead of prison for people who can’t be trusted to behave in a socially responsible manner. They obviously thought that trying to assassinate one of their officials was not socially responsible. I couldn’t argue the point very well at the trial. I not only hadn’t been briefed on what Sandra was supposed to have done, I didn’t have any grasp of their legal structure. In any case, they would have looked at it from their viewpoint.

Freehold uses us for transportation. Why, I have no idea, and the training advisor, an AI who you will meet later, blandly refuses to tell me. There are no powered vehicles on the island. They seem to get along quite well without them.

I got trained for taxi, and then I got trained for pulling a carriage. The guy who owned the carriage was one of the aristocracy, his driver and valet was the person who’d sent us here with a wave of his hand. I haven’t found out yet why he was there with Countess Sandra.

I’m now Running Flame, my partner is Fast Fox, and we also have two prototypical dumb blondes, twin sisters named Rippling Stream and Sparkling Brook. How dumb are they? Well, if you asked them to screw in a light bulb, they’d probably look at it a while and then say they thought it looked awfully small. The rule for ponygirls is simple: if you haven’t been trained in it to the point where it’s automatic, then it’s forbidden. They could handle that. Barely.

Chapter 1. On the Road to the Old South Plantations

I suppose we made an imposing sight, standing there in harness before the Palace in Freehold City. We had ostrich and peacock feathers rising from our bridles, ribbons on our harnesses and reins, and another set of decorations tied into our tails. The tinkling bells on our ears and nipples added a nice sound dimension to the effect. Except for Fast Fox – he didn’t have nipple rings to put bells on. If I had to be a ponygirl, I kind of liked the way they had decorated us, except for the bit, checkreins and blinders. There was nothing I could do about the bit, it came with the territory, but the checkreins and blinders were there because of Sparkling Brook and Rippling Stream. They tended to be easily distracted if they didn’t have their heads held rigid and their sight limited to just what was in front of them. Since they were in back, I thought they might be better off with hoods; they didn’t actually need to see where they were going, and it would let Fast Fox and I off the hook. I didn’t actually suggest that, however. I had no idea if there was anything worse than ponygirl and I had no desire to find out. Besides which, I’ve got to live with them, more or less.

The carriage behind me shifted this way and that as they loaded things onto it. It’s easy enough to tell when you’re bonded to the thing by unyielding leather straps; you feel every shift. Eventually, it seemed to settle down, and then my reins tugged. “Easy there, ease on out.” I leaned into my harness, giving my tail a flip to clue in the not so dynamic duo behind me. If I didn’t, they had a tendency to miss their cue.

Getting that sucker moving took real work. We took it nice and slow, and eased into the traffic pattern on our way out of Freehold City. Once we got into the freight ways, it got easier. Freight moves at a fixed 12 kph, and it’s real easy to maintain the rhythm. You just stay exactly the same distance from the wagon in front of you, and all’s well, at least if you keep pulling your share. If you try slacking off, your driver starts marking up your back with his whip. How does he know? They’ve got strain gauges built into the shafts. He knows. I found out the hard way. Once.

Eventually we got out of the city and merged onto the long distance road. Steel Rivers pulled us over onto the left hand strip, and we upped the pace to 15 kph., which is standard for long haul taxis, express delivery and small carriages. It got a lot easier on the road; these things are either flat or have a real gentle grade. Mostly.

So, what does a ponygirl look like? Like a girl, mostly. They did something to my hair so it grows in a single narrow strip from the brow line down to the middle of my shoulder blades, and stays just about six inches long. The rest of the hair on my head looks like a horse’s coat: short and thick. The most obvious difference is the tail. It’s kind of like a monkey’s tail, which makes sense in a way. They’re the closest relatives with tails. Horses are much farther away on the evolutionary tree. It’s actually slightly longer than my legs, and is covered with fine fur most of the way. At the top, it has much longer hair, kind of like a horse’s. The other thing to know about it is that it is prehensile. I’m told that it can be used for a third hand, and I believe it. A fair number of the grooms, and some of the trainers, have tails, and I’ve seen them do strange things with it.

We wear high-heeled boots with horseshoes on the soles, and some kind of boot with stilt arrangement on the hands, likewise with horseshoes. We’re quite capable of going about on all four hooves, which we do when we’re not actually harnessed to something that needs moving. While I’m in harness, my front hooves are arranged behind me, elbows together, and arms pointed up. It put a strain on my shoulders at the beginning, let me tell you! My shoulders seem to have adjusted; the grooms switch the bondage from one position to the other, and everything works.

What’s pulling a cart like? As far as the carriage is concerned, it’s mostly monotonous. Since they’ve got me arranged with check reins and blinders, all I know about the road is that it’s a road, and there’s a carriage in front of me that I have to stay in pace with. They trained us on the proper state of mind to take it; I just let the feel of my muscles working, and the breeze of our passage flow through my mind, and time passes without leaving any ripples. I can feel more than see the grade changes, and my body adjusts accordingly.

The standard pattern on the road is to go two hours and then take a break. They’ve got break areas between the strips. Steel Rivers just guides us into one with our reins, and then we stand there while grooms make sure we get fed and watered. Then he pulls us out, and we continue with the next stretch of mindless trot as the road unwinds.

Chapter 2. We Arrive.


Eventually, we got where we’re going, which is the Old South Plantations enclave. Freehold has a number of these enclaves, each with a different theme. Old South is generic plantation agriculture; Freehold does not allow some of the more egregious abuses, so it isn’t possible to do a historically accurate recreation. I’m told it’s good enough for all but the most exacting aficionado of that milieu. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. We’re here because that’s where our reins guided us.

The Old South is the largest of the enclaves, with several towns and wide stretches of plantations. It goes from the coast all the way to the internal plateau; the highway around Freehold proper cuts right across it, with the towns on the outside and nothing but plantations on the inside. Its even got its own seaport.

We pulled off of the main passenger strip onto one of the access roads, and right away, I could tell we weren’t in Freehold proper any more. Most of the traffic was horses. The only ponygirls and ponyboys we saw were on freight wagons. We had to slow down. Strange as it seems, that’s really true. Horses simply can’t take the pace. I’d kind of known that, as one of those oddball facts you pick up here and there, but now it sunk in. Horses are really too big to go very fast for long They’d die of heat prostration, especially here in the tropics. And they leave horseshit all over the place. Technically, we’re not expected to maintain control either, we’re at too low a level of personal responsibility. In practice, any pony that takes advantage of the freedom to shit in the roadway is exiled to farm work.

There are other difficulties with horses. The bottom line is that Freehold doesn’t use horses. The Old South enclave doesn’t use ponygirls for other reasons, not least of which is that it would cross the line between an acceptable simulation of that era of plantation agriculture, and something else. They use horses because, back then, everyone used horses.

Anyway, we wound up on this packed dirt road following a horse-drawn freight wagon. I sneezed. They were kicking up quite a bit of dust. I guess Steel Rivers was just as irritated at the crawl as we were, so he gave us the passing signal. Believe me, we leaned into those harnesses and got around the freight wagon. With an open road, he tried to keep us at 15 kph, but then gave up and dropped down to 12 kph except when we got stuck behind another horse. I was just as happy; even on the flat, the carriage seemed to be heavier on dirt than on concrete.

Dirt eventually gave way to cobblestones, which was even worse. At least the dirt was mostly flat. On cobblestones, we had to keep up speed to let the suspension handle the bumps; otherwise we had to do it. I could see myself developing a healthy aversion to the place.

The governor’s mansion looked like it could have come right out of an early 20th century Old South film. We pulled up, and porters swarmed out to unload the carriage. I managed to miss most of the welcoming ceremony; they had me pointed the wrong way to see it. Darn, I do like the fancy stuff.

Then we got moving again to the stables. It turned out they were on the other end of town, mostly used by the pony freight and the occasional passenger tram that came from other parts of Freehold. That didn’t seem real efficient; if the Prince wanted a ponygirl, he shouldn’t have to wait for someone to run to the stable, get me harnessed up and driven all the way back. Shows how much I knew, but then, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The stables were a bit of a shock. I’d been looking forward to a nice comfy stall. Well, I had a stall, but it was anything but. The front was solid wood rather than the low table I could look out over. The back was a gate, but they didn’t have the top part to shut us in at night. They also didn’t have the automated ponygirl wash, and lots of other things I’d gotten used to. We got washed down with a hose, of all things. I saw a couple of ponies that objected. The grooms simply strung them up, suspended from their front hooves, and washed them that way. I thought briefly of making a fuss, but then I noticed that they weren’t making it very pleasant for the pony. Oh, well.

I found out what they did for security. The stalls came equipped with a light chain that had a hinged collar on one end, and that ran to a ringbolt in the floor on the other. When they put me into the stall, they locked it around my neck. With everything else that had happened to me, I’d never suffered that indignity!

At least, it did look like there was a cabinet in the front. I pawed at it with my front hoof, and it opened just like it should. A quick twist of my head, and the VR helmet came out.

The advisor’s words came out on the screen: What can I do for you tonight, Running Flame?

I punched in my answer by visualizing a chord board, and then making the keys blink on and off. “Besides course work? How did we manage to get here so fast?  I know that humans can outrun just about anything on the long stretch, but the pace we set just seems, well, inhuman.”

I was wondering why you never asked. To answer the question, your body has been modified so you have much more stamina. The process of cleaning out wastes runs slightly ahead of the delivery of nutrients to your muscles, so you should never get tired. There are other modifications as well. You’re substantially stronger, for one thing. Your skeleton and muscles have also been modified to pull carts more efficiently. The structural modifications are actually quite subtle. You either need to be a specialist in body structure, or know exactly what you are looking for to spot them.

“I take it that’s similar to the way you did the makeover?”

Of course.

I spent some time doing course work, studying the maps of the plantation towns and playing games, and then put the helmet back and thought a bit. I’d been making the assumption that I was stuck here for the seven years of my sentence; I’d never caught the slightest hint that escape would have been possible from Freehold. This place, however, was different. One of the standard instructions they drill into you is that your mission is worthless unless you get the data back. Escape seemed indicated, if possible. It should be real easy to escape from this excuse for a faux 18th century colonial plantation.

For lights out, they extinguished most of the lanterns. It wasn’t as dark as I was used to; starlight, moonlight and the street lanterns intruded. It was still dark enough. I tried standing up. For the first time in most of a year, I found I could stand when it wasn’t permitted without being punished instantly. Things were looking up. I fell asleep on the straw, smiling to myself.

The next few days fell into a pattern. The grooms woke us up, unlocked the collars, and led us out to the feed trough. I found out quickly enough that there was a hierarchy as to who went first, and it wasn’t me. That actually didn’t matter too much, as the grooms worked on whichever of us wasn’t feeding. Once the mob scene was done, the grooms hitched both Fast Fox and me to large chariots, and we headed to Government House, where the Prince and Steel Rivers were staying. When we got there, one of the servants looped our reins over the hitching rail in front, and there we stood. I hadn’t done taxi in months, but the training came back; I just stood there and practiced executing flies with my tail. When you actually hit one, there’s this little thunk that runs up the tail, kind of like being hit by a small pebble, except that it’s your tail that’s doing the hitting.

That may be one of the spookiest things about watching a ponygirl standing at a hitching rack. She’ll just be standing there, and then her tail will go flick, and if you’re fast enough, you’ll see a fly sailing on a lazy arc to oblivion. Killing flies is one of the suggested exercises in the Using Your Tail course. There are a couple of others that are more fun, but killing flies is useful. I’ve had plenty of time to practice it. I have no idea how it works; I just know where all of the pesky things are buzzing their little wings. I suspect they may have done something to my hearing.

At various times, Prince Andy would come out, unhitch me and tell me where to go. Usually he gave me my head in the towns; I’d made certain I knew the street maps cold. For outlying installations, he’d tell me to head down a certain road, and then use the reins when he wanted me to make a turn. I tended to collect lots of stares at first, until people got used to seeing a naked girl in a harness pulling a chariot. It doesn’t matter how much you’re told about it, the first time you see one of us is supposed to be somewhat of a shock. It certainly was for me.

The contrast was actually more here than on Freehold proper. Here, everyone, natives and tourists alike, affected the overdressed styles common in the 17th through 19th centuries. That is, except for the male field slaves. They tended to wear long cotton pants, and nothing else. In Freehold proper, styles changed regularly, and nobody was silly enough to overdress in the heat.

When Prince Andy returned to Government House for the last time for the day, someone drove me back to the stables; I got washed down, fed and then chained in my stall for the night.

My escape plan came along by fits and starts. I studied my front hoof boots until I figured out how the grooms put them on and took them off. The zipper was kind of obvious, but there was a twist lock on the end that a ponygirl shouldn’t be able to handle with her teeth. The lock they used on my collar looked like one of those real ancient types with wards you see in medieval pictures. I was taught lock picking, and was fairly good at it given the right tools. We’d studied this kind of lock more as a historical curiosity than anything else; Slippery Jim would have picked it faster than he could pick his teeth. He liked to show off by going through locked doors without breaking stride. Sometimes he even managed it. The problem was to find the tools.

There, I got a bit of a break. These people were sloppy. They were locals, not Freeholders proper, or the level of sloppiness simply wouldn’t have been tolerated. As it was, there were several protruding nails in the stall walls. Eventually, I got the proper angle on one of them to pop the lock on one of my hoof boots. Then I pulled the zipper down with my teeth. It wasn’t easy. Once I had one hand free, the other hoof boot came off without a problem.

I worked one of the nails out and used that to pick the lock on my collar. It was easier than the boots, even though I couldn’t see it. We’d been drilled in working on locks in tight confines.

The other thing that made it possible was that the night watchman was in the habit of sleeping on duty. Again, that wouldn’t have been tolerated in Freehold proper, but here… The truth is that slaves have no incentive to do well. Any motivation is either internal, or applied with a whip. The workers here were doing just enough to get by. It more or less worked, because the usual run of pony here was in freight, and probably wasn’t going to go anywhere anyway.

The system on Freehold was different enough to provide incentive. If you screwed up, you got to pull a taxi. If you screwed that up, you got to pull a plow. The way out was always open, you just had to apply yourself to the tasks in front of you, and the promotions were supposed to be automatic. I wouldn’t have believed it for a minute, except that the scuttlebutt in the meadow confirmed it.

The rest of the time I spent memorizing every map of the enclave I could call up on the comp, and checking out what things looked like when Prince Andy drove me past something. While that didn’t cover a whole lot, it did give me some general pointers. A lot of my spy training was coming back in chunks; assassination and impersonation hadn’t given me much practice in the data collection department.

I also added my own notes to the map. They knew I had been trained as a spy; there was absolutely no point in not contributing observations on road conditions. That was, after all, my job. As the days went by, I saw notes being added by Fast Fox as well, with occasional comments by Steel Rivers. There was even the very occasional comment by Prince Andy, usually with a note for something he’d like more detail on.

Eventually, the big night arrived. I’d picked one with a new moon to minimize the possibility of being seen. I’d plotted what I thought was a good way out of town, then I was simply going to head for the tall timber and plan my next move.

The hoof boots came off as practiced, and so did the lock. The night watchman snored away as I cautiously opened the gate to my stall, padded out silently, and then closed and latched it behind me. His snoring faded in the distance as I moved silently across the yard to the road, keeping to the shadows. I kept to the deeper shadows cast by the flickering night lanterns on my way out of town. Eventually I got to a dirt road, put my pony boots back on, and turned on the speed. I tried to make it sound like a horse doing a fast trot, but that isn’t real easy, the timing is off. It took about an hour to reach the Island roadway, and another hour to get past the last of the plantations to the wilderness beyond.

Chapter 3. The Flame in the Wilderness

I’m a city girl, I’ve always been a city girl, and after this is over, I intend to remain a city girl. My idea of the wilderness was somewhere between a park and one of the nature preserves that the more tiresome teachers insisted on hauling us out to see. A real wilderness was different. Nettles stung, vines scratched, insects were everywhere and lots of them were drawn to the Flame. The first time I saw a tiger padding by, I almost panicked. I froze instead, which was exactly the right thing to do.

I had no idea what to eat, so I just tried whatever I noticed that looked like a root, berry, nut or grain. As I found out later, I should have died about six times. The reason I didn’t is that the package of biological modifications they had given me included a huge array of immunities, and the ability to either neutralize common plant toxins, or recognize them by smell. I found this out later, of course. I also found out that the reason they gave us the package is that it was easier to do it wholesale: they had no idea which ponygirls would go to farming or wilderness country, and it was simply more efficient to make certain they didn’t get sick in the first place than to cure them when they did.

I lasted three days. I’ve got them nicely cataloged as some of the most miserable days of my life.

I was cautiously walking down a path when I suddenly wound up in midair, bouncing up and down. I felt a prick, and then everything got woozy for a few minutes, although I don’t think I blacked out totally. When I got reoriented, I found I was in a net!

I spent a lot of time squirming around, trying to figure out how to get out of the damn thing. Getting myself right side up took a great deal of work. The mesh was big enough so my arms, legs and tail would go right through. Whenever I tried to right myself, one of my limbs would be sticking out, and the mesh would keep me from moving. For some reason, I kept remembering an old film with some gladiators in a Roman arena, where one had a sword and shield, and the other one had a net and trident. I thought the net and trident man was a sure goner. That net taught me differently.

I was still trying to get myself upright enough to work on the opening that had to be there when I heard voices.

“Looks like it triggered. Hope we caught something salable this time.”

“Yeah, nobody wants antelope any more.”

I stopped struggling as they walked into view. It was two men, dressed in faded denim. One of them was carrying a nasty looking weapon. I recognized the make, of course, but it didn’t matter. That kind of detail was for reports, the exact model of weapon that pumps fifty rounds into your body is really quite irrelevant. You’re just as dead no matter who manufactured it.

“Damn,” the taller of the two said. “It looks like a naked girl. What the hell is a naked girl doing out here?”

“Escaped slave?” hazarded the other one.

“Doesn’t make any sense. You know they can opt out any time they want.”

“That’s what they tell you, anyway. I’m not certain I believe it.”

“Those bastards down there might not want to let them go, but they’ve got to live with Freehold.”

“Yeah, don’t remind me.”

They started walking around me. “Hey, she’s got a tail!”

“A tail. Crap, that makes her a Freeholder.”

“Since when do they have tails?”

“Their ponygirls do. Look at that hair.”

“See what you mean. Damn. Now what do we do?”

“Think for a moment.” They walked off so I couldn’t hear them. I got back to work on the net.

After a while, they came back. I still hadn’t gotten anywhere with the net, although I’d finally figured out one of the problems. That damn thing had some kind of a one-way slipknot. I was studying it kind of disconsolately when I heard them come back up the path.

“She’s still there,” one said. The epitome of obviousness.

“So?” the other one shrugged his shoulders. “You get to break her in.” I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that.

The first one looked up at me. “Just be a good girl, and you’ll survive. Otherwise…” He waved his machine pistol for emphasis.

The other one fished a rope out of the tangle on one side of the path, attached it to a winch in the clutter on the other side of the path, and cranked away. The netted Flame descended toward solid earth.

“Here’s the drill,” the tall one said. “Frank is going to release the catch. You’re going to get out of that bag, and stand against those two trees, one hand on each, leaning at a 30 degree angle, feet a half meter apart. Try to do anything funny, and you won’t live long enough to regret it.”

I shrugged.

The shorter guy came up on the other side of the bag and did something to the knot. The rope unwound itself lazily, like a snake uncoiling in the heat. The bag fell around my feet. I walked over to the two trees and fell against them, propped in the regulation manner.

Frank came up behind me, making very certain to stay out of the line of fire, and tied my legs together so I had just 18 inches or so of slack.

“Now, lean over that log over there, arms behind you.” I levered myself up and hobbled over. 18 inches was shorter than my usual stride; this was going to take some getting used to. Frank came up behind me and stepped on the hobble. Then he proceeded to tie my arms together, just above the elbows. He used quite a few coils of rope, and left maybe six inches of slack.

“Back up, nice and easy.” I struggled to my feet. “Hands out in front of you.”

Huh? I tried, but all I managed with my elbows tied together was to get them up by my waist. It turned out that was exactly what he had in mind. He wrapped one of my wrists, then took the rope across my belly and wrapped the other wrist. A couple more times across, and my arms weren’t going anywhere.

“So,” the tall one addressed me again, “you’re a ponygirl. Do you talk?”

“When there’s anything to say,” I replied.

“I’m Bill, he’s Frank, and you’re?”

“Running Flame.”

“Just obey orders, and we’ll get along fine.” I didn’t bother replying to that. The situation was too obvious. He took some of that ubiquitous rope, tied a loop around my neck, and tugged. I followed him down the path. Frank stayed behind, presumably resetting his animal catcher.

He led me down a few trails, and then we turned off into a little clearing. It was stocked with a makeshift shack and a fire pit. He tossed my lead over a branch and cinched it, and walked into the shack. He came out carrying a pail with a dipper.

“Let’s hear you whinny, girl,” he said, holding the dipper.

Whinny? Me? Well, I tried.

“That was awful. I thought they taught ponygirls to whinny.”

“Not us. I’ve heard that Lady Chase does at the Hungry Tiger, but that’s as close as I’ve ever gotten.”

“What good is a ponygirl that can’t whinny?” he asked, kind of miffed.

This guy must have some real strange stuff in his head. “You’d have to ask the powers that be. They don’t tell me these things. I’m trained to pull things.” Like carts and wagons. Also escape attempts and other stuff, but let’s not go into that.

He ladled some water into me. Then he got down to cases. “Guess what’s next on the agenda,” he said, with a rather obvious leer.

“You going to rape me?”

“Got it in one.” He unhitched my rope from the tree, and led me over to a fallen branch. “Bend over there and grab the branch.”

I bent over and settled in. It turned out my hands were in just the right place. Now that it looked like some action, I felt myself getting hot. If I hadn’t known it before, being a ponygirl certainly taught me what “If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it” was all about.

“Get your tail up in the air, slut.” For that crack, I stuck my tail up and then had it draw a lazy circle in the air. He snorted. “Not that tail.” I twisted my ass a bit higher. I heard a rustle of cloth behind me, and then two large male hands grabbed my ass cheeks. A moment later, I felt his dick probe gently and ease in, sending pulses of sensation before it. I brought my tail back down, around my waist and between my legs and up to where I could tickle his balls. He let out a bellow of surprise, and rammed me so hard I almost lost my grip on the tree branch. Then he settled down to a nice, steady ramming while I let my tail do its thing. Sensation built up to where I could feel my breasts pulse in time to the steady in and out thrust. Then he came with a yell, and everything dissolved into one sunburst of ecstasy. I did remember to hang onto the tree. Barely. I don’t think he remembered to stand. At least, I think I heard a thump from behind me, but it’s hard to be sure when everything else is maxed out.

“You’re good,” was all he said after he’d gotten his pants back on.

“Well, what did you think a tail was for?” I retorted.

Chapter 4. The Flame Escapes again.

Being the captive of two sex-crazed poachers was borrrrriiinnggg. It wasn’t the sex. They were good at that, once they got it though their heads that the Flame wouldn’t do those sensuous little extras with her tail unless they made sure she got at least as good as she gave. The problem was, they had no idea what to do with a ponygirl, especially a captive ponygirl. They kept me tied up all the time, and occasionally found something for me to pull. The only real workouts I got were when they decided to clear some trails that had been blocked by fallen trees. Exciting? Not hardly, but at least it satisfied the part of my mind that had been trained into being a ponygirl.

How boring? I’d actually gotten interested in watching the wildlife. Me. An inveterate city girl was watching wildlife? The only wildlife I usually watched inhabited nightclubs, not jungles. There was a troupe of monkeys that showed up every once in a while that put on a show. Of course, there were birds all over the place, and all kinds of small animals. Not to mention the insects.

The trouble was, I couldn’t do much about them except watch. They usually left me to one side of the clearing, the rope on my bridle cinched to a tree branch. They’d left me in the original bondage, hobbled feet and arms tied in to my waist. I’d decided early on that I didn’t want to share the cabin with them. That may not have been the world’s wisest decision, now that I think back on it; sleeping in the open in a jungle isn’t really recommended as a way to prolong one’s life.

However, I’d preempted my options by shitting on Frank’s leg the first day. He was not, to put it mildly, pleased. In fact, that was the first and only time he actually punished me. He put me over the same tree branch they used to rape me, and then proceeded to whale the tar out of my bottom with a flexible tree branch.

Well, it was a calculated risk, but it worked out. They kept me at night tied in a shed they used to keep their smellier acquisitions.

In between sex, watching the wildlife and being fed by hand I had lots of time to think. I started out by trying to plan the next phase of my escape. Once I cut out the delicious fantasies, I realized I had no idea of how to accomplish it. No clothing, no resources, no contacts. Reality sucks.

What would happen if I stayed here? Eventually my captors would have to leave, right? Then what? As you may have guessed, planning isn’t one of my specialties. However, they weren’t doing anything toward getting to know me, so I couldn’t see them taking me with them. Either they would let me go, or they’d have to kill me. I didn’t see a third option. I also wouldn’t have given any odds on their letting me go.

If they did let me go, then what? Either I stayed in the jungle or what? The more I looked at it, there only seemed to be one goal that led to anything reasonable: go back, turn myself in, and take my lumps. At least, it was the goal with the fewest number of miracles.

One night, I was trying to get comfortable on the bed of foliage when the light from the full moon showed me something that I’d never noticed before. It looked like a sheathed knife, sitting in easy reach. There was a black handle with a small guard to keep the fingers from slipping onto the knife. The sheath wasn’t fancy, but it looked like serviceable leather, with leather thongs trailing from the top and bottom. There was a small strap to keep the knife from falling out. What was that doing here? I knew my two captors well enough by now to know that if it was theirs, they would have turned the clearing upside down to find it.

Mine not to reason why. I made certain that I knew where they were, and then crawled over to where I could get my pinioned hands on it. It took a bit of work to get the blade out, since I could only use one hand at a time, but I managed it. I looked at it curiously. The knife was about 30 centimeters long, and it had that pattern on the blade that’s only natural to real Damascus. That was very odd. Since they rediscovered the process for making it in the last few years of the 20th century, Damascus steel has been available. It’s very expensive, and not that common except with aficionados and hobbyists, mostly because it has to be hand made. There are much better specialty steels for knives and swords.

Finding that it was Damascus answered one question. It certainly didn’t belong to my captors. They wouldn’t have lost it; this kind of thing was simply too valuable. I also didn’t think they’d have had it in the first place. Neither one seemed to be the kind of person who collected interesting weapons. I kept looking it over, and eventually I found another clue. There was a small label stamped on the guard. I managed to puzzle it out in the moonlight. It said: “Product of Freehold.” The puzzle just kept getting more complicated. Why on earth would Freehold make Damascus steel knives?

A quick test showed the other important thing. It was sharp. I managed to get it back into the sheath, and then got the handle propped into a crevasse in the side of the shack. I pulled the sheath off, and then turned around and sawed on the ropes that bound my arms together in back. It went right through. Saying that it was like a hot knife through butter would have been an exaggeration. Damascus steel will take a real good edge, but it isn’t any better than any other steel. Legends tend to exaggerate. The real hard part was making certain I didn’t press too hard. I didn’t want to cut myself.

Eventually, the ropes parted. With my arms back in use, I untied the rest of the knots. I didn’t cut them off because I thought I might have some use for rope.

I was free, it was night, and there was a full moon. What to do about my captors?

I rejected killing them in their sleep. I considered it; after all, I am an assassin by training. I didn’t want to do it because I might want to go back to Freehold and finish out my sentence, and they not only knew I was an assassin, they had told me, through the AI, that I would have to deal with my desire to kill people before I would be promoted to the next step beyond ponygirl.

A second reason was that they might have booby-trapped the cabin door. I didn’t have the time to check; if they had, and if one of them was a light sleeper, any attempt to get in there would be met by a hail of bullets. This Flame wasn’t ready to be snuffed.

The final reason was even simpler. I still didn’t know where that knife had come from, but I had my suspicions. If I was right, even trying to kill them would fail, and would land me in even more trouble.

A moment’s thought yielded the solution. The cabin door opened outwards. I found a block of wood and propped it against the door, and then made my cautious way down the path, knife strapped to my thigh and pieces of rope coiled over my shoulder.

I found a troop of monkeys sleeping, climbed a nearby tree and settled in the crotch where a branch met the trunk. The troop’s lookouts eventually settled back down, and so did I. The Flame went out like a light.

I woke up the next morning, moderately surprised to still be here, with no pieces missing. I had no idea if surviving for four nights in the wild was expected or was pushing my luck, and I had no intention of trying for five. The forest wasn’t so dense that I couldn’t see the sun and a mountain in the distance. They were where I thought they should be from the maps I had studied, so I headed toward the sun.

After an hour or so of careful progress, I took a break and decided to look at the knife strapped to my thigh. The leather sheath, while rather plain and unornamented, turned out to have a pair of pouches on the inside. One held a whetstone; the other held a soft cloth. Someone had put a good deal of work into designing it; the pouches and whetstone hadn’t dug into my leg in the slightest.

As I had thought, the knife was Damascus. I hefted it by the hilt, then whirled and let it fly at an innocent tree that just happened to be standing there. It went in, point first, with a satisfying thunk. Not only perfectly balanced, but the transformation to ponygirl didn’t seem to have affected my coordination.

I still wasn’t at all certain of the situation. Unlikely as it seemed, the knife could belong to my erstwhile captors. It was much more likely that the Freehold authorities had planted it. If they had, then turning myself in seemed to be the best course of action. If they hadn’t, then turning myself in still seemed to be the best course.

The Flame steadied, and trotted down the path, looking for the edge of the forest.

Eventually, the edge of the forest occurred. I got up a convenient tree and looked out over the farms, roads and plantations. There seemed to be horses everywhere, and no ponygirls in sight. I was back at the Old South Plantations. I thought a while. How should I turn myself in? I’d love to see the expressions if I just showed up back at the stable and demanded a stall for the night.

I turned that over in my mind. Well, why not? There shouldn’t be anything on these roads that could outrun me. Daytime traffic would certainly be startled, but if I looked like I was headed somewhere, I’d probably make it with no trouble. Serve them right; I needed something going my way. Hesitation breeds doubt.

I studied the pattern of roads until I though I knew where I was, and then climbed down the tree. I trotted onto the nearest road with an anticipatory grin, and cranked up to a gallop.

I’d like to say I ran through the enclave like the wind, but actually, I outpaced the wind. It helped that there wasn’t that much to outpace, of course. I also managed to outrun two men on horseback. I really hoped they’d had the sense to stop before they hurt their animals. As I ran, I considered that I really knew very little about the Old South Plantations. It seemed that if they really did try to keep it as close to the middle of the eighteenth century as possible, then I might be well ahead of any messengers. Then again, I might not. Freehold might or might not know. Oh well, I shrugged mentally. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. Forward momentum frequently carried even the most insane plan through.

Eventually, I got to Center City and pounded down the main thoroughfare, right past Prince Andy driving Fast Fox! I didn’t stop to check his expression; I just headed on toward the stables.

The stables looked just like they had the last time I’d been here. There was the big yard in front, the actual stable building against the back of the lot, and various carriages and wagons pulled up on the side. After that run, the first thing I was interested in was water. I headed for the trough and plunged my head in. Ahhh! That felt good.

When I pulled out, I had everyone’s attention.

The head groom walked up to me and stood, hands on hips. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Coming back, obviously.” I shot back.

“Coming back?” It seemed he didn’t recognize me. Oh, well. Such is fame.

“You don’t recognize me? I’m Running Flame, one of Prince Andy’s ponygirls. I’ve been gone two weeks.”

That left him flatfooted. He recovered nicely. “How did you escape? What are we supposed to do with you?”

I answered the second question. “Give me a stall, and let Freehold figure it out.”

“You going to try to escape again?”

“I’m not planning on it, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?”

“Too true.” He shrugged and stepped back.

“What happened to your boots? And you’re carrying a knife?”

“I left the front hoof boots here, they should be wherever your people left them. The knife?” I reached down to unstrap it. “I don’t know where it came from. I think it belongs to some Freehold security department or other, but I wouldn’t care to guarantee it.” I made to give it to him.

He waved it away. “I’m not supposed to have weapons. Against the rules.”

Even to keep one safe until the proper authorities could deal with it? Strange set of rules. “OK, I’ll just hang it in my stall, and let whoever deals with it deal with it. It had better not vanish first.”

He shook his head. “Now, how did you escape?”

“Picked the lock.” I didn’t think I wanted to tell him much more.

“Could the rest of your team escape?”

“Those two?” I carefully didn’t mention Fast Fox. “They couldn’t pick an open lock with the key.” Unless they’re the best character actresses I’ve ever heard of, I mentioned to myself.

He snorted. “I know what you mean. Let’s find you a stall and your hoof boots.” He walked toward the stable, and I followed.

I got a different stall, not that it mattered. I trotted in like a good big ponygirl, laid down on the floor and put on the VR helmet.

I see you’re back with us, Running Flame.

That was too obvious to comment on. “So what comes next?” By now, visualizing the chord board was so automatic that I hardly noticed the process.

You need to write out a report on why you escaped, what you did while you were free, and why you came back. Make certain you include motivations, including all alternatives you considered.

“What’s likely to happen to me?”

That depends on what the review board decides.

“Can you give me an idea?”

Not really. Advancement review is not part of my function. They are not likely to advance you to the next level, nor are they likely to send you to farm work.

I shrugged mentally. You accepted the consequences when you decided to come back, girl. Write a report? I snorted. Assignments always ended with a report. Why should this be any different?

Writing the report wasn’t that difficult. I’d had lots of practice. The next step had me sweating blood. We went through that report forwards, backwards, sideways, upside down and other directions. Whoever, or whatever was interrogating me was not the advisor, nor was it the therapist. I recognized both of their styles, and this was different. By the time he was done, I was literally wrung out. Escaping the helmet to my routine as a ponygirl was a blessed relief.

The next morning, they harnessed me to one of the chariots, and I headed over to Government House with Fast Fox. After a while, Prince Andy walked out, gave me an address, and we were off like the last two weeks had never happened.

When I got back to the stable, I was gratified to see that my knife was still hanging inside the stall. I headed for the helmet like I was magnetized.

“The last thing I expected was for things to just pick up without a break. What happened?”

The evaluation board expected you to make an escape attempt if an opportunity was offered. They weren’t planning on offering an opportunity until much later, however.

“So how does that affect my ratings?”

Not very much. You handled the escape quite well, taking advantage of opportunities that happened to come your way. On the other hand, your strategic planning was close to non-existent.

“Close to non-existent? After that interrogation, I’m not even sure I know how to spell strategic.”

We don’t think it’s quite that bad. In fact, if those two poachers had taken the time to get to know you other than as a convenient sex toy, you might have managed to organize an escape from the island with them.


Almost certainly. What they are doing is illegal in most jurisdictions; helping you would have enabled them to either reduce their punishment or avoid it altogether.

 “I suspect it wouldn’t have worked. You knew where I was all the time.”

That’s true. Justice would have picked you up before you could complete the escape.

“So, what happened to those two poachers?”

Nothing. When you escaped from them, they decided that it would be better for their health to go into another line of work somewhere else. They are currently trying to arrange passage out of one of the Old South Plantations ports. As far as I am aware, Justice is inclined to let them go.

“I’m surprised. They must have broken any number of Freehold’s laws.”

They certainly did. Not to mention the UN treaties on the sale of pelts from protected species. However, the Old South Plantations are not, technically, under Freehold law. While they also broke the Old South Plantation’s laws, it is up to the Plantations to enforce their own laws, within rather broad limits.

I thought for a moment. “That knife certainly showed up at an opportune time. Did you plant it?”

Justice planted it, at the suggestion of the review board.

“I never knew you made Damascus steel. That’s an incredible knife.”

Damascus steel has a reputation out of proportion to its usefulness, given modern alloys. However, since it is serviceable, and since people want it, our factories are programmed to create them.

“I like that knife. I really don’t want to give it up.”

It’s yours.

Huh? “How does a ponygirl rate a knife? Especially one like that?”

As a ponygirl, you don’t. You won’t be allowed to use it until you go to the next level. However, you’ve passed your practical exam on using a knife, although you still have to take the formal course. I’ve put that on your curriculum. Having passed the practical, you get one if you want one.

I don’t understand.

You’re not expected to at this point.

Huh. “That still doesn’t explain why I’ve been allowed to pick up where I left off.”

The interrogation revealed that your motives for coming back included a decision to take your correction rather than try to run away from it. You also didn’t kill those two poachers when you could have done so easily, and you handled the reentry responsibly. You are well within parameters for the position.

Huh. I guess I really didn’t understand these people.

It continued. I’ve added some courses for the next step to your curriculum.

I didn’t think you’d let me go to the next step.

Princess Jeanette does not run Freehold. The fact that she was personally irritated with you does not affect your advancement status.

Who was Princess Jeanette, and what did she have to do with it? “What about Prince Andy? I thought this was a long term position.”

We’ve found several career ponygirls that would like the opportunity to travel, and want the additional responsibility of operating in different environments.

Career ponygirls?

About half of our ponygirls are career. The proportion is greater in farming and freight, and less in taxi and package delivery.

Half? That’s a lot.

Not really. The average time in grade for a ponygirl who advances is about two years. The physical enhancements should allow career ponygirls to function effectively for close to a century, although that is an estimate since we haven’t been in operation that long. It only takes a few percent to eventually make the career ponygirls outnumber the transient ones.

Was there anything else? As a matter of fact, while it seemed to want to talk

“Are Rippling Stream and Sparkling Brook really as dumb as they act?”

I could swear I heard it chuckle.

No. They’re actually quite intelligent. They’ve just decided to find out how much irresponsibility they can get away with.

“That’s … odd. Why would they do that? And that’s enough to make them ponygirls?”

Why anybody does anything, in the last analysis, is unknowable. The reason they are ponygirls is that there are certain things that everyone on Freehold at the Personal Slave level right up to Prince Gregory is expected to be able to do. They refused to learn. Therefore, they are ponygirls. They knew at the time exactly what the consequences would be. If they ever decide to use the advancement system, the courses will be waiting for them.

“So, how much can they get away with?”

They are not vicious, nor are they interested in interfering with the efficient workings of society. As long as they are willing to perform acceptably as ponygirls, they will be allowed to do so.

“I’m still curious about why anyone would do that?”

As I said previously, in the last analysis, motivations are not analyzable. However, we have a system for describing personality that may give you some insights. It’s normally not taken at your level, but it is available.

“Add it to my curriculum.”

A course named ‘Personality Description System’ popped up under electives.

The last thought that occurred to me before I fell asleep was: why had it told me all this?

Chapter 5. Next steps

When I woke up, the thought was still rattling around in my head. It had been joined by another one. The advisor did nothing without a purpose, and its purpose was to administer the advancement system. Therefore, what it told me had something to do with my advancement.

I looked that one over a bit. Either I was supposed to do something about the two dumb blondes on our team, or they had been used as a lead into getting me to take the personality description course. The latter seemed a bit too involved for the advisor. It usually seemed to be very direct, without being heavy handed.

So, what was I supposed to do about them? Even more important, why was I supposed to do it? And was I supposed to do anything? Maybe it had told me that as a cautionary tale: look what irresponsibility can buy you.

I checked into the system briefly. I didn’t expect to have time for any real course work, but I did want to check road conditions and the weather forecast. The system normally didn’t have much on road conditions in the enclave, but the weather forecast covered the entire island so it was useful. I found a note from Prince Andy about one of the notes I’d left on the road conditions. Something I’d noticed had caught his eye, too, and he wanted any more detail I could remember. I spent a few minutes pulling up the memories, writing it up and sending it off.

Then I put the helmet back, just as the groom came up and unlatched the gate to my stall. He reached around and used the big, ornate key to unlock my collar, and I obediently walked out to the yard, on all fours, of course.

The rest of the day was spent hauling the Prince around, or standing at various hitching racks. The flies weren’t that bad today, so rather than executing them, I practiced curling my tail around the rail, and anything else reasonably close. I was beginning to get fairly good at that, and it was always good for a bit of attention.

By the time I got back to my stall that night, I’d managed to work out the next steps. I’d filed my sexual preferences on the system long since: I liked both the stallions and the fillies. Since Fast Fox and I had put each other at the top of our preference lists, the grooms put us together for sex much of the time, however, they did vary the menu. I’d had both of our problematic blondes a couple of times. They weren’t so good I was tempted to put them on my preference list, nor were they so bad that they got added to my dislike list, either. Now that they’d become something more than annoyances, I added them to my wanted list. They weren’t on the system, so we couldn’t talk on one of the chat circuits, and they weren’t on taxi, so there wasn’t any chance we’d wind up hitched next to each other, even if we could talk with a bit in our mouths. Sex seemed to be the only time we could have a nice girl to girl chat, and I knew just the subject for an opener.

A couple of nights later, I was still working on something, helmet on head, when the groom opened my stall door. In walked Sparkling Brook, hot to trot. At least, I think it was her. It could have been Rippling Stream. Identical twins can be hard to tell apart, and I hadn’t had too much chance to get to know them that well. They were almost always behind me in training.

I signed off quickly, and got the helmet stowed.

“What is that thing?” she asked. “Tell me later,” she continued as I let my tail trace a line between her breasts. She came up and nuzzled one ear while letting her tail caress my breasts on the way to my other ear. She was definitely ready, and so was I. We kept playing for a while until she shoved me over. I let myself stretch out on the straw as she reversed and stuck her head between my legs, leaving her pussy positioned for my attentions. Mmmmm…. Ah! I whinnied as the sensation built up. Her tail seemed to know exactly where to go to send more streaks of delight through my body.

Her tail flicked here and there as the sensation built up and built up and continued on up until suddenly, I was suspended in a wash of fiery color sweeping through my body. I felt her stiffen on top of me, and then I came back down in a long, languorous slide. She rolled off and righted herself, and then we snuggled up to a long, satiated kiss, tongues fondling each other.

She kissed me one last time, and then levered herself up onto her elbows. “Give. What is that helmet you were wearing?”

“It’s the advancement system, sugar,” I answered.

“The advancement system?” she said. “Nobody ever told me there was one!”

“Humm? The judge at our trial mentioned that there was one, so I asked him about it.”

“Trial? I want to hear all about it.” She licked her lips. “But tell me later. How do I use the system?”

“The cabinet door opens like this.” I reached out a front hoof and unlatched it. The latch is cleverly hidden; you have to hit it just right and then the door pops open.

“Then you have to get the helmet on your head and off the hook.” I stuck my head in and got the helmet.

I see you’re back again, ‘said’ the advisor.

“Just showing Sparkling Brook how to use the system,” I chorded. “Or maybe Rippling Stream. I didn’t stop to check.”

Good job. We’ll talk tomorrow.

I chorded the signoff, and then stuck my head back in, found the hook by feel, and pulled my head out.

She reached out a hoof and closed the cabinet door.

“I can use this to get off of farm work onto taxi?” she asked.

“It’s the only way. You need to know the city map, and that’s where it is.”

She looked at the cabinet and shook her head. “What happens when I put it on?”

“The parts that cover your eyes are a screen. The advisor writes whatever it wants to. Then it reads your brain waves or something to move the cursor and a keyboard. It took me about a week to make the cursor move where I wanted it to go, and another couple before I could visualize the keyboard adequately.”

She wrinkled her nose. “That sounds like work.”

“And having some guy with a shovel telling you where to haul a load of shit isn’t?”

She giggled. “That does sound kind of strange, doesn’t it?”

Then she rubbed against me and brought her tail between my legs to where she tickled my breasts. “Again?” I was more than willing.

Eventually, the stable hands came by and led her back to her stall. I still hadn’t figured out whether that had been Sparkling Brook or Rippling Stream. I wasn’t sure it mattered, either. “Tomorrow?” I asked myself just before I fell asleep.

The next morning there was a note from Prince Andy on the comp. All it said was: “Ancient Egypt will be next.” Ancient Egypt? I’d never heard of an Ancient Egypt enclave; maybe I didn’t run in the right circles.

“What is the Ancient Egypt enclave?” I asked the advisor. “Or maybe Freehold has time travel?”

The Ancient Egypt enclave is a group of people who wanted to recreate the Ancient Egyptian religion and way of life to see if they could understand the mysteries from the inside, so to speak. They’re not a tourist destination for the most part; watching someone build a pyramid seems to be about as interesting as watching grass grow. They do get a fair number of academics, however. I’ve organized the material we have for you.

I took a quick look. They’d managed to find a river that did annual floods. That, in itself, was a major mystery; the top of the mountain range to the sea was only about 80 kilometers. The road map didn’t show much of a problem; the terrain was flat, and there were only two towns.

Today it seemed like neither Prince Andy nor Steel Rivers needed a ponygirl, so we got assigned to a work squad. I’d been introduced to field work briefly during training. It’s different from taxi. Taxi looks simple, and it is, but there’s enough going on so that you have to pay attention, and that keeps the extraneous thoughts that spell boredom away. Pulling the Prince’s carriage was enough like freight for me to know I’d go stir crazy if I ever got sent down. Either that, or retreat into a shell that I might never come out of. Field work was different. We got led out to where they were clearing some new fields; it seemed our job was to help move the timber. I picked up enough conversation to know there was a bit of a competition on. One of the drovers had gotten into an argument in a bar about how ponygirls were better than horses. He’d been just drunk enough to not shut up when someone told him to put up or else. Once he sobered up, he realized he’d put his foot in it; the poor guy had never actually done any farm or logging work; all he knew was freight.

Once they got out there, the work team realized the drover would be worse than useless, but they were curious about how we would work out, so they paired me with Fast Fox so they could put our two blondes together, and we started hauling timber.

They kept to what people could do three centuries ago; no power tools or anything else remotely useful. I got an eyeful watching two loggers going after one of the big trees, chopping out a narrow slice on one side, and then a big slice on the other. When they were done, everyone got out of the way. They rigged a rope around the tree above the cut, pulled it around another tree, and hitched us up to it.

“Pull.” We dug our hooves in and pulled. For a moment, it seemed that nothing gave, then there was a huge crack behind us and the rope gave as the tree fell. Thankfully, they’d covered a bit on the history of logging in training. We didn’t actually do it, but it was fairly clear that all we had to do was get it started. Gravity would do the rest of the work.

By the time we got turned around, the loggers were already at work trimming branches off the trunk and piling them on carts to be hauled away. We got our share of that work too. The long timber got loaded onto two little carts, one on each end. The front cart had a wagon tongue, and we got hitched to that. The teamster sat back on the top log. Pulling that load was work! It was easily two or three times the weight of the carriage, and there were only two of us rather than four. I thought, “weight limit exceeded,” but we dug in and got the thing moving. Once it got started, inertia took over. I don’t think we could have gotten it over any kind of a hill, but fortunately there wasn’t one between us and the lumberyard where we were transporting it.

The guy doing the driving figured out pretty quick that two ponies didn’t have the raw muscle of two horses, and took it real easy around turns, and stopping at the end. The way back was a snap by comparison, even though part of it was uphill.

Once they got the tree out, the next problem was the roots. The lumbermen chopped as many of the roots as possible, put a rope around the stump, and we pulled some more. Like the tree, the stump resisted at first, and then came out kind of jerky, as one root and then the next either broke or pulled loose from the soil. At the end, it came out with an almost audible pop.

By the end of the day, we had it down to a routine. We were getting used to each other.

I never did find whether the guy won or lost his bet. If I had to render an opinion, I’d have guessed it was pretty close – the horses were more powerful, but they could get us into tighter spaces, and we had more stamina. Also, the last couple of logs, they just sent us out by ourselves, without a driver. You can’t do that with a horse.

After trying our two blondes out on various tasks, they settled for short hauling, with lots of supervision. I would guess they flunked.

After that, I ached. I hadn’t done that since the conditioning regimen during training. I didn’t feel tired, just achey all over.

The trot back to the stables helped a bit. The grooms took a look at the way we were moving, and decided to give all four of us a massage. That helped even more.

What did you think of today’s assignment?

“Too much weight, and I’d have liked some training first. I don’t think they knew what they were doing, either.”

We agree, and it’s being recorded. You need to take it easy for the next couple of days while your muscles recover.

“What about that drover?”

He’s being dealt with. Either he deals with being argumentative when he’s drunk, or he won’t be allowed to come to the enclaves again.

I had to think about that a bit.

“Would you tell me why that particular restriction?”

No. You don’t need to know the reasoning behind it.

“When can I find out?”

If you decide to immigrate, you will need to know to make a supervisor rating. You can study it when you make supervised citizen, but not before.

Taking it easy turned out to mean that Fast Fox and I alternated days on taxi. Having two whole days of stable time meant I could really get to work on my courses.

The personality description system was totally different from anything I’d encountered before. I’d learned a lot as part of my profiling courses, but this was at once simpler and more thorough. It also went after it from a very different angle; it wasn’t so much concerned with the specific patterns we looked for in police or intelligence work, as for more pervasive patterns. I learned that I was an Artisan with a sixth level achievement perspective, and Fast Fox was a Warrior also with a sixth level achievement perspective. Our two blondes were both Scholars with survival perspectives.

The difference was that a survival perspective meant that they simply didn’t have that much common sense. The course said that people with that perspective seldom rose above household slave, although some did fairly well as supervised citizens. Scholars studied things. That made sense, although I was completely baffled by why anybody would study irresponsibility if it resulted in becoming a career ponygirl.

A survival perspective does not allow for the levels of responsibility required to rise higher. This is a safe environment to study irresponsibility. There isn’t much learning, but there isn’t much opportunity to make a fatal error either. People with survival perspectives are prone to do so.

“And an achievement perspective would?”

An achievement perspective would allow you to rise to professional, and possibly one level higher if you really worked at it.

“You’re telling me I couldn’t make Princess if I immigrated.”

That’s correct. The Prince or Princess rating requires either an unusually precocious Relationship perspective, or a Wisdom perspective. The Achievement perspective is essentially selfish. It is your achievement. The Prince or Princess title requires working for the good of Freehold, without necessarily drawing any attention or accolades to oneself.

“So Prince Andy has a Wisdom perspective?”

Correct. He is a Scholar in Observation Mode, with a Wisdom perspective. He is perfectly suited for being a liaison between Freehold and the Enclaves. He understands the basis for each culture, and can negotiate differences without being drawn into taking sides.

“Why are you telling me this?” I was genuinely puzzled.

Princess Jeanette wants you to immigrate. So does Justice. They would both feel a good deal more comfortable if an assassin of your proven ability was under their authority.

“I would think they would want me as far away as possible.”

I know you would. They, on the other hand, do not see assassination as a useful tool to settle international grievances.

“What would happen to me if I immigrated?”

Not that much immediately. Assuming you resolved the personality problem causing you to want to assassinate people, you still have to work your way up the ladder. Then you need to choose a career. Artisans usually choose something creative. Your past history suggests you could be a successful character actress, possibly doing improvisation rather than following a script. However, that is simply an observation. Your career is up to you.

“How am I doing on the personality problem?”

You would not have that knife if we thought you were likely to misuse it.

I thought a moment. What else did I want to know? Oh, right. “How are our blonde airheads doing?”

Rippling Stream has decided to learn to use the advancement system. Sparkling Brook has not caught on, but she will the next time she has sex with Rippling Stream. That is the only time they can talk to each other.

“That surprises me. I thought they were twins.”

They are. What surprises you about it?

“That’s incest. It’s wrong.”

The incest taboo has very deep cultural and biological roots, and there are good reasons for it in societies which cannot control their own genetics, and where marriages have profound social and economic consequences. Neither is true in this society. Most people are not sexually attracted to anyone who they grew up with because of pheromonal imprinting. That biological subsystem is imperfect, and the twins lack the imprinting. Since they are bisexual, and more than somewhat narcissistic, they are drawn to each other as sexual partners.

“If you don’t control incest, how do you control cheating?”

You mean cheating on your marriage partner? First, Freehold doesn’t worry about such things. The only commitment we are concerned with is the commitment required to raise children. Otherwise, full citizens can arrange their lives to suit themselves. If one person in a committed relationship wants to have an affair, that is acceptable if the partner agrees.

“If the partner agrees? I don’t understand.”

It’s a matter of personal responsibility, in this case, the responsibility to follow through on a commitment, terminate it cleanly, or negotiate an exception. Most people will agree to allow their partners to have an affair, and will usually become acquainted with the third person. People learn fairly rapidly that maintaining a close relationship with too many people is draining. Monogamous relationships are the rule for this simple reason.

My head was spinning. I decided to get some sleep. Tomorrow was another day. Soon, I would learn how the pyramids were built.