Trainer Anon (Marble/Redheart; Slave Pony)(Hiatus)

Feb 28th, 2016
Not a member of Pastebin yet? Sign Up, it unlocks many cool features!
  1. >Be Anon
  2. >Be heading home with some groceries in tow.
  3. >Thankfully not a lot, since, well, you live alone and you’re poor as shit.
  4. >Unemployment has that effect.
  5. >You used to work training K9 unit dogs, but the latest and greatest of Uncle Sam's crusades quote, “reallocated necessary resources.”
  6. >You were nonessential after that since you weren’t an officer.
  8. >You find your thoughts drifting back.
  9. >It’d been about a year since the original portal to Equestria opened.
  10. >A mix of the public's fear of the unknown and government greed were the starting ingredients.
  11. >Mix in two major international incidents, and you have a war cake.
  12. >Now things are in a tug of war battle with the portal, humanity trying to get in while Equestria’s best were dedicated to keeping it closed.
  13. >Maybe once a month, the government would take some of its requisitioned unicorns and rip the thing open again for an hour or so.
  14. >They’d use that to send in new batches of tanks and munitions to help the front before they’d be on their own for another few months.
  16. >In the meantime, the war had been straining the civilian sector, so every business had to tighten its belt.
  17. >Some of the Horse-things trapped on this side had been enslaved.
  18. >They classified it as a labor program for alien residents but you know what the fuck leash laws and ownership licenses mean.
  19. >The result was that labor from slaves was cheap, and labor from a human, with no applicable skills other than some basic survivalism and a talent for pavlovian science, was not, thus sealing the deal for you this last month.
  22. >You shiver.
  23. “Damn, it’s chilly,” you say as you pull your hoodie up and pick up your pace under the dull street lights.
  24. >Just one more block.
  25. >A tin can dinks off the concrete to your right.
  26. >You stop and turn to face a dark alley, eyes scanning back and forth.
  27. >You can only see some trash, and some discarded boxes among the litter.
  28. >Nobody there, but then again, plenty of things to hide behind...
  29. >Pictures of you being held at knifepoint by alley toughs for your instant ramen cups flashes through your head.
  30. >...
  31. >Probably a stray, you muse before heading on.
  32. >”—lp”
  33. >You jerk to a stop.
  34. >A girl’s voice?
  36. >Before you think about it, you turn back and head into the alley.
  37. >Your eyes strain in the dark but all you see is the streetlight and a house on the other side of the stretch.
  38. ”I could've sworn.”
  39. >Something shifts in the garbage to your right and you jump, moving to the other side of the narrow corridor.
  40. >Your eyes slowly adjust to barely make out a small shape on the garbage bags and rotten foodstuffs.
  41. >A half lidded purple eye, bigger than any humans, reflected in the moonlight at you.
  42. >”A… pony,” you say slowly.
  43. >She was a mess, with her fur caked in dried grime, blood, and what you imagine was probably old semen.
  44. >You could make out scars and yellowed blotches across her back and flanks, as well as a nasty discolored gash that ran down her ear.
  45. >Several used condoms have been tossed across her, particularly near her face.
  49. >You sigh to yourself as you stare at the body.
  50. >Pony or not, what a nasty thing to do.
  51. >You can’t imagine what she’d been through, but at least the poor thing couldn’t suffer anymore.
  52. >You turn and begin trudging back past the pony, heading home.
  53. >There was at least one upside to this… you weren’t hungry anymore so you could save a few cents on ramen tonight.
  54. >Yay...
  55. >Something grabs your ankle and you use all your manly action points to not squeal before you look down.
  56. >The moon had moved out from behind the clouds, and you could see her better now.
  57. >The pony was looking straight up at you, one eye nearly swollen shut, her chest barely rising with shallow breaths.
  59. >You stare wide eyed and drop your things before kneeling down.
  60. “You’re… Oh my God…”
  61. >You reach out and ease her out of the pile of refuse, cradling her by your chest.
  62. >She just lay limp in your arms, muscles trembling and weak, but her eyes looked up at you.
  63. >Those beautiful purple eyes...
  64. >It was something you couldn't explain, but in that moment you felt your eyes start to water as you held her there and she stared up at you.
  65. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
  66. >She opened her mouth to speak, straining to sound above a whisper.
  67. >You leaned in, and she spoke it once more.
  68. >”...”
  70. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  74. >Your eyes blink open as the sound of humming meets your ears.
  75. >the alarm clock on your dresser reads 9:23am and you stifle a yawn.
  76. >Glancing to your window your eyes meet… plot.
  77. >A grey plot, wearing a maid uniform and attached to a little earth pony humming a wordless tune to herself.
  78. >She’s busy dusting around your windowsill, facing away from you about a foot from your bed.
  79. >Looks like she hasn’t noticed you’re awake yet.
  80. >You smile and reach out an arm, coiling your finger into an ‘o.k.’ behind her exposed rear.
  81. >Captain, we are ready for launch.
  82. >Fire away
  83. >*flick*
  84. >She lets out a yelp and spins on her heels, a huge blush on her face.
  85. >The mare gives you a look like a deer in the headlights, her face turning redder by the moment.
  86. >You smile.
  87. “Morning, Marble.”
  88. >”ANON, you ass! T-That was mean!” she says, throwing the duster.
  89. >You duck as it sails over.
  90. “But it was cute,” you say with chuckle.
  91. >Her lips move into a slight pout and she looks at the floor. “I’m not cute…”
  92. >Oh contraire, rock horse.
  93. >”Oh, I’m um, I’m sorry. Did I wake you you, ma- Anon.”
  94. >Yes
  95. “Nah, I was laying in bed for a bit. Don’t worry, Marble.”
  96. >Your joints pop as you sit up and stretch.
  97. “What’s with the new outfit?”
  98. >”Oh um… N-Nothing really,” she says, shifting her weight. “I just thought since I clean the apartment sometimes, I should have something to not get my coat dirty. You spend your time helping me wash it and— well I also thought a maid uniform would look nice.”
  99. >She looks up at you, watching your expression.
  100. >Marble did actually look pretty adorable in that uniform.
  101. >It must have been sewn by her changeling friend down the hall.
  102. >There was no way Marble would have used any of your money without your say so, and you wouldn’t have told her to wear anything like this.
  107. >You notice Marble is still glancing at you, shifting her weight.
  108. “It looks good.”
  109. >She looks up at you, her lips tugging up in a smile.
  110. >”You like it?”
  111. “Yeah, it’s cute. D2 down the hall make it?”
  112. >Marble nodded, tugging on the edges of the skirt
  113. “We’ll have to thank her sometime then. Maybe invite her for lunch,” you say, climbing out of bed and giving her a head pat.
  114. >”R-Right, um… do you want me to make some breakfast?”
  115. >”Sure. We have this week to do whatever, so go ahead and make those pancakes you wanted to try.”
  116. >She mumbles something which you figure is ‘thank you’ as she hides a bit behind her mane, but you can clearly see she’s beaming as she heads out.
  117. >Kinda odd that Marble is that happy about breakfast pancakes but she’s a mysterious little mare
  118. >Oh well
  120. >Morning routine goes by like any other day, but you do your best to skip the morning smoke.
  121. >Down to a cig every other day now, which is good.
  122. >You start thinking of what you’d like to do with Marble while you have a few days off.
  123. >Maybe you could just take her to a movie?
  124. >She saw some romance trailer for a guy with cancer who undergoes a special treatment for his love interest and gets special powers.
  125. >Why was it rated R though…
  126. >Your thoughts are interrupted by the phone ringing.
  127. >Probably D2 and Jacob down the hall wanting to hang out.
  128. >Hm, well if Marble is okay, you’re game.
  129. >Jacob pretty cool and Marble got some female companionship from D2, which was important.
  130. >They were more or less her family while you were out at work for weeks at a time.
  131. >You kinda wanted to spend time just the two of you today though.
  132. >Last night you pretty much just crashed after getting back from work and you fell asleep without really talking to Marble too much.
  133. >She took the time to tuck you in though.
  134. >Poor little worried horse sat by your side till you fell asleep.
  139. >You pick up.
  140. “Anonymous residence.”
  141. >”Eyyy, my man, how are you doing?”
  142. >One of your eyes twitches.
  143. “Kaine?”
  144. >”Totes, the one and only. How’s my favorite trainer?”
  145. “I’m on my day off. If you’re going to ask me to ship back out the rig again, you are in for disappointment. You can handle shit yourself; There’s two of us for a reason.”
  146. >“... sure, but—”
  147. “Then get Redheart, to deal with it. She works with me while I’m out there, and she knows how take care of the ponies while we’re on shipment rotation.”
  148. >”Y’see, that’s the thing…”
  149. >Fuck… no, don’t even say it.
  150. >You can smell a call in from a mile away in that tone.
  151. >Just put down the phone and say the connection dropped.
  152. >For like a week.
  153. >...
  154. >...
  155. >It could happen.
  157. >”We have an emergency shipment of ponies tomorrow.”
  158. >You pinch the bridge of your nose.
  159. >You lost your chance, nigga.
  160. >”The company says you need to come in and work with these ponies. Several are returns and they need you to try to turn the product around so it doesn’t happen again, and there’s a good number of new arrivals which means fresh conditioning work which we need you for. Redheart and I can only monitor the easy ones that are already bought.”
  161. >You sigh.
  162. “How many?”
  163. >Maybe if there’s only a few, you can tell Kaine to go screw off.
  164. >You do decent enough work that they can’t just fire you for that when it’s your hard earned off time anyhow.
  165. >You hear rustling of papers on the other line.
  166. >”10.”
  167. >You smile.
  168. >”Well that’s nice but you can go ahead handle it yourself, Kaine. You’re on the rig—Deal with it for a week before I get back there.”
  169. >“Yeah, but you’re not listening to me here. It’s not my choice because we have a particular problem asset that the company wants you to look at specifically.”
  170. “Pff, what, did they somehow get ahold of one of the four princesses?”
  171. >“...”
  172. “... Kaine…?”
  175. >”Uh…”
  176. “Kaine!”
  177. >”Look, just... It’s Luna. They need you to condition Luna.”
  178. >You stand there, dumbstruck
  179. >What in all the friendship hell…
  180. >Not only did your employer, Hub Group, see fit to bring in one of the most dangerous possible friendship WMDs in, they also think you’re going to take their leader, who fought tooth and nail, and turn her into an obedient lapdog.
  181. >You don’t know mind control for christ sake!
  183. “...I see our employers at Hub Group have finally gone completely insane.”
  184. >”They have a client lined up who’s willing to pay big if you can somehow get her to act like a proper slave.”
  185. “...what?”
  186. >”Uh, look I know it sounds bad, and let me tell you, I’d like to get off this rig ASAP, but she is sedated and has plenty of antimagic drugs in her.”
  187. >You breath out slowly.
  188. >There’s no way you’re getting out of this, no matter how stupid it is.
  189. >You couldn’t even guess how much Luna was possibly worth.
  190. >A couple million to the right bidder alone, but as a slave?
  191. >Hub wouldn’t just fire your ass if you fucked this up for them.
  193. >You grumble.
  194. >Marble’s going to be sad…
  195. >”Master?”
  196. >You turn to see Marble standing in the doorway giving you a worried look.
  197. >”You sounded upset. Is everything alright?”
  198. >Not even remembering the ‘master’ rule huh…
  199. >You give her a nod and turn back to the conversation.
  200. “Yeah, Kaine, I get it. I’ll take care of it—Just give me at least today to take care of some things.”
  201. >”Phew, alrighty. Brass would’ve probably canned me too if you didn’t show, haha. Welp, I’ll leave everything to Redheart and get out today. No need to wait when that thing gets onboard. Adios amigo.”
  203. >The line goes cold and you place the phone back before turning to Marble.
  204. >You don’t really know where to start right now.
  205. “Uh, the office called,” you say, with a shrug.
  206. >She just stares up at you. “The shipping company? What did they want? You said the season for that just ended.”
  207. >Funny thing is the “shipping” season DID end.
  208. >Your employers are just greedy imbeciles is all.
  209. “Thing is…” you trail off as you meet those big adorable eyes.
  210. >Fack, you can’t do this now.
  211. “Look, let’s just have breakfast first. I’m starved.”
  212. >”But what was—”
  213. >You bend down and scratch behind her ears, getting rewarded with a mewl and her leaning in harder.
  214. >One of her back legs kicked back a little just as you started to move your hand across down to her withers.
  215. >”Mmmnn, Anawwn,” she whines.
  216. >Heh, scritches too stronk.
  217. >You stand and head to the breakfast table, and she sighs and follows after you.
  218. >She can tell something’s up. Marble knows you too well.
  219. >The cute little rock-horse won’t ask though.
  220. >You could at least enjoy breakfast with her before breaking the news.
  233. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  235. >”Mr. Anonymous, thank you for your time but we’re looking for someone with more applicable skills and work experience.”
  236. >The interview lady gave you one of those customer service smiles and handed your resume folder back.
  237. >You purse your lips and give a nod before collecting your things and heading down the hall.
  238. >Entry level job your-fucking-ass.
  239. >”Thank you for your time and interest in the Lawson co, Anonymous,” she yells as you head out.
  240. >You don’t even bother to turn around.
  242. >A short subway ride later and you’re back at your apartment and heading over to your bedroom.
  243. >Normally you’d just faceplant right into your sheets after an all day shitfest like today, but it’s been occupied of late.
  244. >You knock lightly and open the door to see the pony you found a week ago
  245. >She’s wrapped in your blankets, fast asleep.
  246. >You check by your dresser and shake the bottle of pain relievers you saved when you broke your leg a year or so back.
  247. “Almost empty…” you mumble and look through the bottom to note maybe five more doses.
  248. >You carefully raise the sheets and check on the splint you fashioned with wood.
  249. >It’s starting to crack in places but it’ll hold for a while.
  250. >A few of her bandages had a dark maroon discoloration and her ear split still had plenty of red swelling and yellow infection around the edges.
  251. >You brush a hand across her coat, feeling for bumps.
  252. ”It seems her bruises are mostly healed…”
  254. >”Sir…?”
  255. >You nearly jump at the sound and notice the pony looking up at you, moving to get out of bed.
  256. You gently press her back down. “Hey, shhh, just hold on, you have to be careful with your ribs. They won’t heal if you move around a lot.”
  257. >She stares for a moment before looking down and settling back into bed.
  258. “How are you feeling?”
  259. >”Fine, sir.”
  260. “Really? No pain at all right about now?”
  261. She nods.
  262. >You watch as her tail starts to give a nervous wag and she grips the sheets with her forehooves.
  263. >She won’t meet your eyes.
  264. >You pick up the bottle and hold it up to the light.
  265. “There were seven when I left this morning and you were due for two to get through the day. There’s six still.”
  266. >She moves the sheets up to her snout.
  267. “You lied to me?”
  269. >Be Marble Pie and you can feel the blood drain from your face.
  270. >You scoot away from him, doing your best to ignore the pain roaring in your chest and leg.
  271. ”I-I’m sorry, I just thought you wouldn’t want me to use them all up… and I just thought I could—”
  272. >He sighs and raises a hand. “Stop.”
  273. >You flinch and snap her mouth shut.
  274. “Come over here.”
  275. >Nonono, you don’t want to get hit again. You were already hurting so much and you just wanted to help him.
  276. ”Pl-Please, sir, I didn’t mean to make you mad. I just—I know you’re not doing well right now and I—I thought you might not want me eating all your food and using all your medicine and and...please, I just don’t want you to put me on the street,” you say, your voice cracking as tears start streaming down your face.
  277. >”I said come here.”
  278. >Celestia, you should have known better than to make excuses.
  279. >Now it’s going to be worse.
  280. >You shudder, duck your head, and scoot back over, not looking him in the face as you wait for whatever he has in store for you.
  281. “Open your mouth.”
  282. >He.... he’s going to have you service him?
  283. >Memories start surging up and you start to hear the jeering voices before forcing your thoughts to focus.
  284. >You could do this. He might not hurt you or want anymore if you do a good job.
  285. >Just don’t resist and keep your teeth back.
  286. >You bite your lip then slowly crane forward, clenching your eyes shut and shaking the entire time.
  287. >Just don’t think about it and it’ll be over quickly, you repeat to yourself.
  288. >You feel him place a pill on your tongue, and before you can move, he tips your chin up and puts a water glass to your lips.
  289. >Your eyes open as you start to drink, and after a moment he places the water back on your bedside.
  290. >He… what…?
  292. >Be Anon
  293. >She’s just staring at you, mouth slightly open.
  294. >Maybe she expected you to hurt her or something.
  295. >What did this pony go through?
  296. >You remove a new pill bottle from your bag, shake it for her to see.
  297. “This is for your ear. Take it before you go to bed tonight, then once in the morning. Rinse repeat,” you say and place it next to the pain pills.
  298. “I’m going to go lie down on the couch in the room over. Just yell if you get hungry in an hour or if you need something—I sleep light.”
  299. >You turn without another word and head to the door, eager to rest after running around all day.
  300. >”Um…”
  301. >You stop and turn halfway.
  302. >”Th-Thank you, Master.”
  303. >You pause.
  304. >Poor girl was so broken she thought you wanted to make her your slave.
  305. “I’m not your Master,” you say as gently as you could.
  306. >”O-Oh… right. You wouldn’t want… I understand.”
  307. >She lays her ears flat and brings her hooves to her chest.
  308. >”Sorry I said anything.”
  309. >Dammit, you didn’t ask for this.
  310. >How do you even help this pony…?
  311. >The girl thought she was going to be abandoned.
  312. >She has no concept of her value and just doesn't want to be tossed aside again.
  313. >You clench your jaw.
  314. >Broken in body and spirit...
  315. >If you could only find the people who did this to her.
  316. >But you can’t, and there’s no use getting angry about it now.
  317. >You have to do what you can with what you have.
  318. >And right now there’s one more thing.
  319. “Do you have a name?”
  320. >She perks up.
  321. “I know I’m busy and we don’t talk much but I mean…”
  322. >God, you’re really doing this.
  323. “... Well your Master would need to address you correctly, right? I mean, I’m not saying you’re mine from here on, but… well it’s a start and I’ll think about it.”
  324. >Her eyes light up and she beams at you.
  325. >”M-My birth name is Marble Pie. Please call me Marble, but you can name me anything you wish.”
  326. “Marble huh…” you say, “that’s a nice name. It’s pretty. Suits you.”
  327. >You see a light blush spread across her face. “T-Thank you, Master.”
  328. >Master? God, you feel like a piece of crap already.
  329. >“Marble, first rule I guess, just—call me Anon.”
  330. >”B-But, that’d be too disrespectful. It’s not right for me to call you by your first name.”
  331. “Yep, well,” you say running a hand through your hair, “it’s a rule, so I guess you’ll have to get used to it. I won’t punish you if you slip up though, just keep that in mind.”
  332. >”Oh…”
  333. >”I’m going to get some shut-eye before dinner. Remember to call if you need anything.”
  334. >”Yes, Master,” she says, then eeps and snaps her forehooves to her mouth.
  335. >You shake your head
  336. >It’s the thought that counts.
  338. --
  340. Present
  341. >”And after that, the boulder rolled down into the quarry.”
  342. “Haha, damn, so you guys were screwed.”
  343. >Both of you walk in through your front door and you put a few shopping bags down by the couch.
  344. >You had decided to just check out a restaurant Marble was interested in.
  345. >Mostly just screwed around the city and did some shopping together really.
  346. >Not the most amazing thing in the world, but this little pony made it enjoyable.
  347. >The way she lights up when you say she’s allowed to get something never ceases to make you smile.
  348. >Though you wonder why she always asks you what you think.
  349. >It’s not like you have any fashion sense.
  350. >You don’t mind letting her model a few outfits though.
  351. >She gets nervous when you stare, but Marble gets a little more confident every time which told you that you might be making progress still.
  353. >”Well the Apple family came back to help with Holder’s Boulder, so we were able to push it back up.”
  354. “Huh… What a crazy holiday. Your family sounds like a wild bunch.”
  355. >You see her posture sag a bit and she looks off.
  356. >”Yeah…”
  357. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
  358. >“Oh, nonono, please don’t feel bad,” she says, hiding in her mane. “I just—I miss them sometimes and I just hope they’re doing okay.”
  359. >She doesn’t have to say it fully for the weight of her statement to hit you.
  360. >Marble’s experience wasn’t atypical for ponies.
  361. >Hell, you’d know—You’re going to be dealing with returns this week.
  362. >A pit settles in your stomach.
  363. >You don’t want to think about work yet.
  364. >Not while you and Marble can enjoy the time you have left.
  365. >It was easy to ignore your job’s duties when you get to see her happy like today.
  366. >You look over and see her milling through some of the new clothes you bought her.
  367. >She’s checking out the swimsuit you got her and doing a little happy sway.
  368. >It’s a navy blue one piece.
  369. >Marble lit up like a tomato when you asked if she wanted to try some of the two pieces.
  370. >“Anon, D2 told me about human beaches. Can you take me? I want to learn how to swim, and she said you could teach me.”
  371. “Uh...
  372. >Fuck, you still have to tell her you’re leaving.
  373. >...screw it, you’ll do it in a minute.
  374. “Hey, Marble.”
  375. >”Mm?”
  376. “You want to try something cool?”
  377. >A blush spreads across her face.
  378. >”H-Here?”
  379. “Yeah. You ever had Dragonfruit Rum before?”
  380. >“...oh.”
  381. “Here, I’ll mix you something you’ll love.”
  383. >She watches you head to the nearby kitchen, before deciding to plop down on your couch, swinging her legs off the edge.
  384. >You mix up two drinks, with only a bit of alcohol for her.
  385. >An inch or two is left in the large bottle.
  386. >Might as well finish it off and get some fridge space.
  387. >After a quick stir and taste, you realize you made a stupidly strong drink.
  388. >Rum filled like 75% of the glass.
  389. >We Pirate mode tonight I guess.
  390. >You return to the living room and hand Marble her drink which she takes a sip from.
  391. >She coughs.
  392. “Strong? I’ll get you some juice if you want.”
  393. >”No, you made this one for me. I can drink it.”
  394. >If she says so...
  395. >You shrug and sip your own beverage.
  396. >Strangely doesn’t taste like much more than spiked punch.
  397. >Maybe it didn't mix right and is at the bottom or something.
  398. >“You’d like my sisters I think,” she says as you sit down on the couch next to her.
  399. >She scoots in and lays on your side.
  400. “Oh?”
  401. She giggles. “Well maybe. They’d like you probably. Maud is kinda dry sometimes but she’s super smart. OH, and then there’s Limestone. She’s a little protective of the farm and of me sometimes because, well, I mean I’m kinda shy I guess.”
  402. >You chuckle.
  403. >Shy? Never would have guessed—what with the way she asked you to order for her at a restaurant, and only relaxed when the waiter left.
  404. >“Then there’s Pinkie.”
  405. >Oh boy.
  406. >You have heard stories already about this one.
  407. >Stories you can’t unhear.
  408. >“She’s super fun and is always trying to make people happy. I… I kinda wish I was a little more like her sometimes. I mean I’m just me...”
  409. You start to stroke the back of her mane.
  410. >”I find it hard to imagine a pony who’s more charming and cute than you, but I’ll take your word for it.”
  411. >Her muzzle scrunches and she fidgets with her hooves.
  412. >Marble mumbles something about not being cute under her breath and you pretend not to hear as you keep petting.
  413. >”Uhm, Anon… can ask you something?”
  414. “Yeah, Marble?”
  415. >Her eyes meet yours.
  416. >”N-Nevermind.” She says and snaps her view away from you.
  417. >You boop her nose and she lets out a small eep.
  418. “C’mon. Just say it. I won’t be mad.”
  419. >She looks back up to you and pounds the last of her drink, slamming the cup back on the table.
  420. >“A-Anon, what do you honestly think of me?”
  421. >Well that came out of left field.
  422. “Marble, where is this coming from exactly? Is it about the socks you bought? I swear, I didn’t know that meant for ponies when I asked if you’d to try them on.”
  423. >She still did it though, for whatever reason.
  424. >Marble blushes bright red. “N-no it’s not about socks or anything. I’m talking about today. You buy me a lot of nice things and w-well you’ve never wanted to…”
  425. >She took a breath.
  426. >”You’ve never asked me to, um…”
  427. “Marble…?”
  428. >“I just...I don’t know why you do some of the things you do and sometimes I wonder, okay? You’re not like the other masters I’ve had.”
  429. >Huh…
  430. >Truth be told, you couldn’t really put into words what Marble really meant to you.
  431. >She had started out just being someone you wanted to help get back on their feet, but… somewhere things changed.
  432. >She saw you in a light like no other.
  433. >A girl like Marble let you forget.
  434. >You open your mouth to speak, looking at her beautiful violet eyes, and close it.
  435. >How do you even put something like that into words?
  436. >”Anon, sit still.”
  437. >You shake yourself from your thoughts to see Marble leaning back and forth.
  438. “I am still. You’re swaying around a lot.”
  439. >”N-No you!.”
  440. “What? Marble are you feeling okay?”
  441. >”I... feel funny,” she says, twisting her lips. “Like all hot and dizzy an’ stuff.”
  442. >Marble head lolls over and her muzzle falls into your lap.
  443. >”Heehee, I’m gonna take your jacket.”
  444. >Marble starts to worm around and flips herself under your jacket.
  445. “Marble, haha, that’s tickles, what on earth are you do—”
  446. >You’re cut off as her head bops your chin, and you feel a warm pony snuggling up under the jacket.
  447. “Anawwwwn… you smell good.”
  448. >What on earth…?
  449. >Wait, did you…?
  450. >You taste your drink again and down the last of it.
  451. >No alcohol at the bottom.
  452. >Nothing but cranberry juice and barely a buzz to speak of still.
  453. >...
  454. >You reach forward and grab Marble’s drained cup, the mare giggling a bit and latching her hooves around your midsection.
  455. >One whiff and you can smell an overpowering amount of rum.
  456. >Oh… oops.
  457. ”Marble?”
  458. >”Hee, yeah?”
  459. ”You’re super drunk aren’t you?”
  460. >”I’m not _that_ drunk, Anon. You just feel soft, nnnnnn.”
  461. >She cuts off leaning her head into your chest.
  462. >You sigh.
  463. >At least she’s a cuddly drunk.
  464. >D2 got angry… and horny.
  465. >You shiver.
  466. “Okay, Marble. Time for little quarry ponies to head to bed.”
  467. >You feel her grip tighten around you.
  468. >“Nnn! Don’t, I’m comfy.”
  469. “Fine, have it your way,” you say, and head into the bedroom.
  470. >You flop back first onto the bed, eliciting a grumpy drunken moan from inside your jacket.
  471. >A quick pull of the zipper and Marble appears, worming into you still.
  472. >She gives a small burp before her breathing slows and she starts to slip away.
  473. >You sigh and turn the light by your bedside out.
  474. >Maybe you can get your things ready and leave before she got up.
  475. >Jacob and D2 would be over and they could break the news to her.
  476. >Marble would be mad but… you just didn’t want to see her when you told her.
  477. >Never let it be said you weren’t a coward.
  480. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  483. >Be Anon.
  484. >You’re jolted awake by your phone vibrating in your pocket.
  485. >You groan and reach into your pocket, shutting your silent alarm off.
  486. >Marble is still asleep, cuddled up on top of you.
  487. >There’s a bit of drool stuck to the front of your shirt, but such was the price of sharing a sleeping space.
  488. >You gently roll Marble onto the bed.
  489. >She gives a grumpy moan and reaches out her hooves, only to grab a pillow that you substitute in as you get up.
  490. >Yeah… Marble was definitely a drunk cuddler.
  492. >A short while later, and the travel bags for work were packed and ready to go.
  493. >Just one last thing.
  494. >Marble was still sleeping soundly, hugging the pillow to her chest when you walked in.
  495. “I never did tell you yesterday, did I?” you whisper, more to yourself than anything. “You’ll have to forgive me this time, Marble.”
  496. >You take piece of paper, scribble down a note for her then put two gatorades and an ibuprofen on the dresser.
  497. >Hopefully her first hangover wasn’t bad.
  498. >She had earth pony constitution on her side, but you can remember how horrible your first was.
  499. >Ignorance is not always bliss.
  501. >With one last look back at the pony you met on that cold december night six months ago, you sigh and head out.
  502. >There was a job to do.
  503. >One you may hate sometimes, but an important one.
  504. >You lock your door and turn to head towards the port.
  505. >There you’d catch a small, Hub barge headed to the rig off the coast.
  506. >You reach into your pocket and take out your phone.
  507. >A flick of your thumb across the screen brings it to life and you hit speed dial number 2.
  508. >Your friend and neighbors image pops up as the call starts.
  511. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  514. >Be Jacob.
  515. >Be surfing through the pay per view shows on your friend Anon’s cable box.
  516. >If you were going to keep an eye on the place, getting some nice pay per view was the least he could offer, right?
  517. >Oh sick, they had back door sluts 8!
  518. >”So… you like buttstuff?” a voice says from behind you.
  519. >You lower your upper eyelids.
  520. ”D2?” you say without turning
  521. >”Yeah, faggot?”
  522. “Didn’t I ask you to watch our apartment?”
  523. >”And do what, twiddle my hooves? I locked up. Nobody is going to bust in and steal our shitty TV.”
  524. “Hey, our tv is! ...you know what? Fair enough.”
  525. >“Ha! Though so.”
  526. >Your resident changeling roommate pops up over the couch and touches down in your lap, making you grimace.
  527. >D2 grabs the remote from you and starts scrolling, humming along with the names.
  528. >”SO, how ‘bout we get things rolling? I bet Anon has some booze we can crack open too.”
  529. >She wiggles her butt back and forth on your crotch then smirks.
  530. >“Is that a banana in your pants or are you just—”
  531. >You flip her off onto the floor and she lands hard, eliciting a grunt.
  532. “That’s a diamond hard pillar of truth to you.”
  533. >”Pfff, pillar of salt maybe.”
  534. >A pillow hits her in the face as you get up.
  535. >She smirks and sticks out her tongue.
  536. >You kinda love this bug horse.
  537. “Alright, I’m on booze patrol. Find something to watch but keep it low. Anon said Marble was sleeping in.”
  538. >”Eh?” D2 says, quirking a brow at you. “She—didn’t see him off? Boy that’s… not like her at all.”
  539. “Well Anon said she’s been out hard since last night. She got pretty drunk apparently.”
  540. >She cocks her head.
  541. >“AND she drank…?” D2 furrowed her brow. “Marble never drinks with us.”
  542. “Whatever, ask her when she wakes up,” you say as you head into the kitchen
  543. >Who knows or cares.
  544. >All you know is you had a date with some of Anon’s liquid fun box.
  545. >After a turn around the corner, you see it. The freezer and all it’s intoxicating, gold plated glory.
  546. >It of course wasn’t gold plated, but Anon was rich compared to you by far.
  547. >In your mind’s eye, it shined like the smile of the great lord Gaben on sale day, and was filled with just as much in liquid riches.
  548. >You open the door and deflate when you see only a bottle of vodka and a note.
  549. >Picking up the paper, you read it out loud.
  550. “Dear Jacob. Stop drinking all my shit when I’m gone. D2 is a lightweight and we both know it so it’s not her. Get your own stuff if you want to be idiots in my apartment. PS. you’re a faggot.”
  551. >”Hey!” D2 yells from the couch.
  552. “I know this sucks.”
  553. >”No, I mean I’m not a lightweight. You’re totally a faggot.”
  554. “Cunt.”
  555. >She gives you a big smile from the living room before going back to scrolling.
  556. >Well, you at least have vodka… let’s see what else we can find.
  557. >You start looking around for something else to snack on in Anon’s slightly more silver plated pantry.
  558. >What a little shit.
  559. >He eats healthy!
  560. >You start to hear moaning from the living room.
  561. >It grows louder and more insistent as you search, demanding your attention.
  562. >You swing around the corner to see D2 with a shit eating grin.
  563. >On the screen you notice a busty teacher being bent over her desk on a fake looking classroom set, by what is clearly a thirty-something, prep-school uniformed male.
  564. “Really?”
  565. >”Ya really, what are you gonna do about it?”
  566. >You smile and lean against the wall.
  567. “For my slave, you’re an ass.”
  568. >”And for my master, you’re a big pussy bitch. Now c’mon. Only a true man can watch hardcore porn with his female roommate and not give a shit.”
  570. >>”Uhm, excuse me…”
  571. >Both you and D2 freeze.
  572. >D2 scrambles for the remote and the screen goes black, silencing the erotic moaning just as the couple were getting sped up.
  573. >Marble shifts her weight back and forth in the doorway to the left of D2.
  574. >The grey pony hides a bit behind her mane, the rest of her covered by the pillow she’s gripping to her chest like a teddy bear.
  575. >>“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you two were coming over today.”
  576. >A hand comes to rub the back of your head.
  577. “Kinda short notice.”
  578. >Lord, this is actually kinda awkward now.
  579. >>”Where is Anon?”
  580. >What does she mean, where is Anon?
  581. >You glance over to D2, who returns your questioning look.
  582. >”What do you mean, Marble?” D2 says, furrowing her brow. “He left a little while ago.”
  583. >Marble looks between the two of you, her mouth slightly open.
  584. >>”Like to the store?”
  585. >It takes a second, but D2’s “Oh…” tells you she realized it too.
  586. >Anon wasn’t a mean spirited guy but…
  587. >Sometimes you have to wonder if he even thinks things through fully.
  588. “No, Marble. He headed off to work. He’s going to be gone for a while.”
  589. >She just stares at you blankly, her mouth working to speak but nothing coming out.
  590. >>”I… but he just…”
  591. >You wait, stuck in your spot as she sits down, her head hanging low.
  592. >>”I thought… we were going to go to the beach today. He bought me a swimsuit. He said I looked cute in it and… I thought I’d learn to swim with him.”
  593. >D2, gets up, moving toward the mare but stops short.
  594. >Honestly what could she even say?
  595. >Marbles ears go back.
  596. >>”I’m such an idiot,” Marble whispers.
  597. >Marble sniffs and hugs the pillow tight.
  598. >She buries her face in it and you see her body heave slightly.
  599. >Without another word, the mare turns tail and heads back to the bedroom, shutting the door with a light click.
  600. >You sigh and make your way over to your own slave.
  601. >D2 just stares at the floor boards.
  602. >You sit behind her and pull her to your lap.
  603. >The silence is deafening.
  604. >You reach for the remote but D2’s hoof reaches out to stop your hand.
  605. >”I, uh. I don’t want to watch anything right now. Not really feelin’ it.”
  606. >You nod and let air out of your nose before leaning back against the couch.
  607. >D2 curls up in your lap, propping her head on the couch arm.
  608. >”Hey, Jacob?”
  609. “Yeah?”
  610. >”Me messing with you. That never uh. That never makes you actually mad does it?”
  611. “No, of course not. Why?”
  612. >”I… I don’t know. I was just wondering.”
  613. >You pause then move a hand down by her belly.
  614. >In a flash of green she’s a bright red maned pony with off-white, soft fur, and rose cutie mark.
  615. >You begin to idly pet along her side and soon feel her muscles relax.
  616. “D2.”
  617. >”Mm?”
  618. “I’m not going to leave you.”
  619. >You feel her stiffen for a split second.
  620. >”W-Where’s that coming from, dummy? I didn’t ask.”
  621. “I know.”
  623. --
  625. >The smell of salt water and the muffled lash of waves on steel substitute as companions tonight as you walk the deck of the Hub Group freighter ship.
  626. >Cargo containers line the deck, stacked high in neat columns.
  627. >They’re filled with everything the rig needs every so often—food and cooking supplies, uniforms, tools, mechanical parts and so forth.
  628. >Even ponies.
  629. >They had a special container for transporting them of course.
  630. >Mostly just some high traffic carpet and some cheap beds with a temporary bathroom unit and a sink.
  631. >Your company had laws to abide by at ports, after all.
  632. >Not that shipping living things in windowless portable units was particularly kind in the first place.
  633. >You shrug and reach for a cigarette.
  634. >It wasn’t your fault anyhow.
  635. >That was just the way the industry worked.
  636. >If you stare at anything long enough you’ll find flaws and it’ll dig under your skin forever.
  637. >There were only two people who made it in this industry—those who learned to look at the few good things and appreciate them while shrugging off the bad, and those who honestly thought ponies deserved everything that came to them.
  638. >With interest.
  639. >Your mind goes back to where you had been when the news came on.
  640. >Tidal waves and floods across several chinese and russian coasts as the moon’s orbit shifted....
  641. >Northeast American cities being glassed by solar heat at the exact same time...
  642. “A second shot heard ‘round the world,” you say under your breath.
  643. >God knows what humanity did on the other side of the portal to deserve that.
  644. >You light your cigarette and take a deep drag.
  645. >There was no point thinking about this.
  646. >Your mind wanders back to Marble, wondering how she dealt with the day.
  647. >I mean, you’d been gone for a while before…
  648. >You just usually said something.
  649. >Your hand combs through your hair and you sigh.
  650. “Probably could have done more than a note but I mean… agh, why do I keep thinking about this! What could I do? Tell my boss to go fuck off?”
  651. >A horn blows dull and constant on deck, and within a few moments, crew appear from below and start making checks on the containers.
  652. >About at this time they’d be passing out the rubber bullet arms to the security members out of lockers.
  653. >Shouts of orders you’ve routinely heard echo off the bow yards away.
  654. >”...and remember that you are now in unsanctioned waters. The laws regarding trade and treatment of equines do not apply here and you are permitted to handle the cargo inhabitants with any force you deem sufficient. Keep in mind, it is also your job to ensure the product is unharmed for the customer.”
  655. >>”So break it you buy it?”
  656. >You hear some laughs and playful jeers yelled out from the security crew at that.
  657. >You snort as you flick your cigarette overboard.
  658. >As long as they looked fine for the customer, it didn’t matter.
  659. >Small bone can heal in about three to six weeks.
  660. >The worst bruises heal in about five days.
  661. >The new ponies were here for the usual month.
  662. >They weren’t yours until security put them in a hold for a day and sorted them for you.
  663. “Always putting the customers first,” you mumble to yourself as you do a mock clap out of earshot. “Outstanding work, boys.”
  664. >You sigh and run a palm over your face.
  665. >When did you get so bitter and cynical?
  666. >You didn’t have to LIKE it.
  667. “I must be tired…”
  668. >You roll your shoulder and start towards the bow.
  669. >In the distance, a hulking mass of steel loomed over the cargo ship.
  670. >The soft red light of flight beacons pulsed all cross it, perfectly in tune.
  671. >Sometimes it seemed like the slowly beating heart of a titan.
  672. >Hunger never sated—always needing more and more...
  673. >How many ponies had even been through that place?
  674. >You weren’t the first trainer here.
  675. >You’d not be the last.
  676. >The thump of heavy bass music reaches your ears as the ship closes in on the dock.
  677. >A nasty grimace worms it’s way onto your face…
  678. “It’s one of those nights.”
  679. >You groan and light up another smoke.
  680. >So much for quitting.
  682. --
  684. >Docking went smoothly.
  685. >A pony must have said something they shouldn’t have and ended up getting a few sharp kicks to the ribs, but overall a pretty clean transfer.
  686. >You didn’t outrank the security team, so even if you mentioned that it set training back if they got hurt, it wouldn’t stop them from making the sure ponies felt their place.
  687. >Still went better than some days.
  688. >After washing up, a message pinged on your phone with the company logo.
  689. >’I want you down at the consumer floor to meet clients. You have a fresh tab open at our bar so make use of it by buying some drinks for our patrons. Business casual dress. Remember, we have a big fish to sell and she’ll be here tomorrow. Make sure they know she’s in good hands. See me when you get here.’
  690. >Your hand twitches and you realize you’re going for a smoke again and you stop yourself.
  691. >Redheart would chew you out if she saw you chaining like this.
  692. >It would be a breath of fresh air to talk with her, lecture or no.
  693. >She made this job tolerable.
  694. >You glance at your bed, remembering how tired you are.
  695. >Maybe you could just say you fell asleep and didn’t know.
  696. >Knowing your boss, he’d send Redheart though.
  697. >Better to try to keep her out of things tonight if you can.
  699. >You make your trip through the steel maze and end up at the double doors to the client room after a minute of walking or so.
  700. >Two security members flank the door, armed with riot shotguns.
  701. >A quick flash of your card and a nod are all you exchange as you continue straight through.
  702. >The roaring club music fills your ears as you enter.
  703. >Three mares twirled around the onstage poles, arching their backs and giving breathy looks to the audience.
  704. >A few others danced at the large table mounted poles around the room.
  705. >Three dozen or so ponies made their way through the clients, giving coy winks and swishing their tails to tease the guests.
  706. >The clients, male and even a few female, didn’t hoot or holler, instead eyeing possible purchases and talking casually, though some opted to pull an available mare to the side for some personal attention if it suited them.
  707. >Without a special pass card, each mare was subject to ‘try before you buy’.
  708. >Rose colored chairs dotted the rooms, and you noted a few mares bobbing their heads on a patron’s crotches across the room.
  709. >A pink, blue maned mare trots up to you with a tray filled with glasses of bubbling champagne.
  710. >”Would our Master like a drink?” she says bowing her head at the neck and keeping the tray balanced on her back.
  711. ”No,” you answer, keeping your eyes scanning around the crowd. “I’m not here to get drunk.”
  712. >”One of our fine mares would be happy to keep you company for a while if you wish it. I t-too am available, sir.”
  713. >You look to her at that, and your trainer instincts take hold.
  714. >Tail not twitching…
  715. >Head bowed as show of submission but done deliberately, rather than instinct…
  716. >Body stiff… possibly expecting a blow?
  717. >No, not a blow but something like it…
  718. >Shaking slightly but that could be from carrying the tray all night…
  719. “Not interested.”
  720. >She relaxes her posture just a pinch.
  721. “I see. Is there anything else I can do to serve you, Master?”
  722. “Can you tell me where Andre Vargas is tonight?”
  723. >”Master Vargas is currently entertaining a small group of clients in the VIP room.”
  724. “And I bet I can guess what they’re up to…”
  725. “Sir?”
  726. “As you were.”
  727. >You turn and make your way toward the curving staircase that led to a room overlooking the main floor.
  728. >Ceiling sprinklers puff out a small cloud of pink smoke which lazily floats down and disperses over the pole dancers and in the lounge areas.
  729. >The mares bite their lips, arch their backs, and a few even moan as the chemical hits home.
  730. >Looks like they upped the dose tonight.
  731. >Ponies from all sides gave you lidded gazes and called out if you wanted company or said you looked handsome as you went.
  732. >After so many nights making obligated appearances as a host, you knew the routine.
  733. >The purring voices and skimpy clad mares were more part of the scenery than anything at this point.
  734. >After you scan your clearance card at the VIP door, you head in.
  735. >A teal, turquoise maned mare lay at the center of the room, surrounded by clients with their pants down, stroking themselves over her.
  736. >The girl had been covered in their spunk, and judging by the smell and damp area around the carpet, a few had also urinated on her too.
  737. >You noted a bald man built like a truck, lounging in a chair and watching the spectacle while smoking.
  738. >You walk over, seeing the man tense as he sensed you, then relaxed once he glanced over his shoulder.
  739. >Anyone who didn’t know your boss would have thought it was fear.
  740. >Vargas wasn’t that kind of man.
  741. >He was more predatory than that.
  742. “Boss, you wanted to see me?”
  743. >He motions a hand for you to wait, not taking his eyes off the scene at the center.
  744. >”Observe for a moment. Tell me what you see.”
  745. >You sat down and grabbed a drink off a passing tray, then turned your attention to the teal mare at the center of the group.
  746. >She shuddered as a shot of spunk strung across her already matted mane.
  747. >The music covered up most of her whimper, and she kept her face tilted up.
  748. >”Alright boys,” one yelled out as his stroking sped up, “time for the piece de resistance. You ever had a strawberry shortcake, little one?”
  749. >>”I-I think so, sir. Do you want me to eat one c-covered in your sperm?”
  750. >The man smirked.
  751. >”Ah, the innocent ones always get me.”
  752. >He grabbed her mane and pulled her close, blowing his load over her face.
  753. >The mare shook but kept her hooves by her side.
  754. >His fist lashed out and smashed into her snout, knocking her to the ground with a heavy thud.
  755. >You flinch and your grip tightens around your glass.
  756. >What in the hell are they thinking?
  757. >You get to your feet heat rising in you, but Vargas’ calmly holds a hand for you to stop.
  758. >”Sit down. They bought her contract.”
  759. >You clench your jaw.
  760. >Not your mare.
  761. >Not your choice.
  762. >They could kill her if they wanted out here.
  763. >The mare sniffs and shakily props herself up.
  764. >She turns her face to view the crowd, her eyes glazed with forming tears.
  765. >Fresh blood oozed from her nose, mixing with the white viscous fluid.
  766. >The man bent down and grabbed her mane again, yanking her up.
  767. >”What do you say?”
  768. >She gulped and clenched her eyes shut, mouthing something.
  769. >”Louder,” the man say with a singsong tone.
  770. >Tears started to drip down the mares chin.
  771. >”Th-Thank you, Master.”
  772. >“Good girl,” he said and threw her back to the ground.
  773. >The crowd around her laughed and a few spat on her.
  774. >The pony just lay on the floor, covering her face in her hooves.
  775. >Her body heaved with sobs that were swallowed by the chatter and music around her.
  777. >”So?”
  778. >You turn to Vargas.
  779. >He smirks and his eyes hold a small glint of amusement.
  780. >What’s he playing at by showing this to you?
  781. >You weren’t dumb.
  782. >You knew these things happened.
  783. >There was just no reason to focus on it.
  784. “It was… something.”
  785. >”Yes,” he said “Quite something I’d say.”
  786. >You put your glass down.
  787. >You’d lost your thirst.
  788. “Am I supposed to take something from this?”
  789. >”Ideally, yes. Anonymous, from day one I’ve tried to guide you in how to approach our business. You’re a talented man—the best at what you do without question, but sometimes you don’t have the right mindset.”
  790. “Are you saying I need to abuse them more?”
  791. >He rolled his eyes. “Like I said. Wrong mindset. Tonight we have about a dozen mares being returned to our offshore headquarters for what purpose? Grooming? Of course not. They’re here because they’re failures. Consider that some ponies are too defiant to be any use to us, and there are customers out there with rather extreme tastes.”
  792. >He took a puff of his cigarette, watching as the club security team clicked a chain leash with a rubber handle onto the crying pony’s collar.
  793. >She didn’t move at first, but slowly got to her feet and began to walk behind them.
  794. >The blood had dried, but not before mixing with the white semen on her chin.
  795. >You knew all too well that there were “extreme” clients.
  796. >You pursed your lips.
  797. ”Is there a client who wants me to train a mare for this sort of thing?”
  798. >Vargas chuckled. “Anonymous, you weren’t paying attention if you think these clients want a pre-broken mare. There’s no need to waste your time which is why you haven’t had a client request for such a training regiment. Rather, this mare was one that hadn’t been able to catch the eye of a single client at these get togethers the last month.”
  799. >He turned to you, quirking a brow casually.
  800. >”If a tool breaks, you throw it out. There are clients with particular tastes that don’t need anything more than a warm body to entertain them. Having that said though… let me put it this way, do you think Moon Dust is pretty?”
  801. >She was…
  802. “She’s not bad. I’d actually have expected she’d catch clients easily.”
  803. >Vargas nodded.
  804. >“She was indeed a pretty mare—good coat, nice eye catching colors. That’s just it though. That’s why they did it? She looked horrible tonight.”
  805. “Uh… yeah. Why?”
  806. >Vargas’ lips pulled up in a cutting smile.
  807. >”Because destroying something beautiful is sometimes the most wonderful thing in the world.”
  808. >A knot tightening in your stomach and you felt your grip tightening on the chair arms.
  809. “Is that so?”
  810. >He shrugged. “You don’t have to agree. Your taste is your taste, Anonymous. The point IS, is that there are clients like this willing to pick up ponies we can’t figure out homes for. Specifically, we have some tempting offers from some snuff film producers.”
  811. >You jolt up out of your seat, fists clenched.
  812. “You have to be kidding me. Why would Hub do business with those filth?”
  813. >Vargas didn’t look the least bit concerned, merely taking a light puff of his cigar.
  814. >”Calm yourself. Normally we don’t. Bad publicity if anyone makes the connection that some of the ponies we showcase anywhere end up in something like that. More importantly, they don’t pay nearly as well as someone does for an actually well trained pony nowadays. This is not something I’d normally entertain but we have a special case being shipped here, don’t we?”
  815. >You blink.
  816. >He was talking about… her.
  817. “What? Someone offered you a price to just film her getting tortured on camera.”
  818. >”Mm, you catch on. And it’s a decent offer too. With all the people she’s killed there’s a lot of hatred out there for her. She’s the princess who’s been trapped here since the war, unable to get across the portal, and has been the center of an underlying rebellion on earth. Can you imagine how many people are eager to see her bleed? She’s a symbol of their people. There is no greater thing to tear down.”
  819. “I know what she’s done, but you can’t just damn her to something like that!”
  820. >Vargas put out his cigarette and stood.
  821. >The man towered over you and he put one of his mammoth hands on your shoulder.
  822. >“I imagined you’d take such a stance. And, for one, I’m glad. A friend of mine, who just wants a good companion has offered significantly more than any other bidder. A cleaner record for treatment of his property couldn’t be asked for, amusingly enough. If you feel so strongly about her, then you’ll have to turn her into a perfectly obedient slave.”
  823. >You took a step back.
  824. “But this is Luna we’re talking about. When does the client even want her?”
  825. >”One month.”
  826. >You realed.
  827. “One month! Who does he think he is!”
  828. >”It’s not him. It’s her. Alicorns take up a lot of our gross budget to keep contained, fed, and monitored by staff. If you can get her ready to lick his boots to shine them when he gets here, she gets to go on the happy train and lives with a prestigious client of ours. Failing that, well… there’s always the backup.”
  829. >You narrowed your eyes.
  830. >He knew what he was doing this entire time—calling this party tonight, calling you up here to see him, knowing who he was entertaining.
  831. >And you played out your emotions for him to read like a greenhorn.
  832. >So be it.
  833. >You’ll play it how it he wants.
  834. “So… I get it now. Train Luna and she gets to live peacefully out of the public eyes where she can’t do damage. Fail to break her of her defiance and she gets to die horribly for anyone with curiosity and an internet connection, is that it?”
  835. >Your boss gave you a nod rough pat on the back.
  836. >”So it would seem, Anonymous. Tough lot for her, mm? I suppose it’s not a terrible thing considering who it is though.”
  837. >He shrugged, then turned and strode to the employee exit.
  838. >Vargas retrieved a scan card from his pocket, unlocking the door to the employee areas.
  839. “Sir… do you want her to die?”
  840. >He froze, one hand on the doorway.
  841. >”Anonymous,” he said, turning halfway. “My duty is first and foremost to Hub Group and I have investors to keep happy. We make more money if we succeed here, and tons of money is the name of the game, regardless of what any silver tongued politician will tell you about the nature of the American dream. So no, I don’t want her to die and I don’t want to sell her to hate-filled snuff film degenerates. But…”
  842. >You see his mouth pull back in that shark smile you always hated so much.
  843. >”There is a beauty to her.”
  844. >Without another word, he walked forward and closed the door behind him.
  845. >You turn and look across the open window toward the main floor, watching the candy colored mares, several being used by men and women to sate their lust.
  846. >A numb sensation fills you.
  848. >The mares looked awfully pretty tonight.
  850. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  853. >Be Redheart.
  854. >You walked the floor, keeping a wary eye on the clients around you.
  855. >The party had been going for a good while now, and you could see faint blushes and stumbling steps in more than one of them.
  856. >The telltale spritz of more pheromone sounds above you.
  857. >You stifle a gasp, and your legs nearly buckle out from under you.
  858. >It had been hours of doses all night.
  859. >Each time you caught that sickeningly sweet fragrance, you had to count to ten and just focus on your breathing.
  860. >Gods, what did they put in it this time?
  861. >You felt like your face was on fire, and your eyes were blurring at this point.
  862. >You needed to get air, and soon.
  863. >Where on earth was Anon?
  864. >You were here because he couldn’t host right away, but it had been two hours.
  865. >The wall clock near the bar read 12:30am.
  866. >The ship had to have docked at midnight, so where was he?
  867. >The eyes of those around you grew more attentive as you walked by, trying to keep your tail from twitching.
  868. >One group of men in suits, quiets their banter and you notice a few glancing toward you.
  869. >Predatory smirks work their way onto their faces and they gesture to their friends in your direction.
  870. >You ignored the flittering feeling in your stomach telling you to run and hold your passcard necklace close.
  871. >”Not on the menu…” you mouth to yourself.
  872. >Anon will take over when he gets here, just wait and it’ll be fine.
  874. --
  876. >Be Anon.
  877. >You progress down the VIP stairs to the dance floor, jaw set, hands clenching and unclenching.
  878. >The memory of the pony you saw is still burned into your mind.
  879. >Fuck the VIP rooms.
  880. >It was one thing when a Hub CEO gets some rich clients together to party in LA.
  881. >It was something else entirely when they all made the trip to unsanctioned waters.
  882. >And then to VIP sections, where they wanted to separate from *this* general crowd?
  883. >You shake your head and walk onto the main floor, consciously trying to wipe the glare off your face.
  884. >And then there was Luna.
  885. >You had never asked for this.
  886. >The job was a shitshow sometimes but you never had to check up on ponies to see who was buying or where they’d go.
  887. >It was easier that way.
  888. >Not so easy this time though.
  889. >Even Luna didn’t deserve… that.
  890. >Still, you have no clue if you can even do a thing to help her.
  891. >Making THAT pony subservient wasn’t just a tall order, it was impossible.
  892. >You could always just not bother with her—make her stay in a cage for a week, then she’d no longer be your problem.
  893. >Why waste the effort, right?
  894. >But… then you’d be responsible in a way.
  895. >She wouldn’t even have a chance.
  896. >You grit your teeth.
  897. “Damn… what the heck am I even supposed to do?”
  898. >A pony sashays in front of you and gives you a wink.
  899. >You stop and tsk.
  900. >She takes your stopping as invite and pushes her snout near your crotch.
  901. >”Hey, fella, looking to work out some—”
  902. >You grab her snout and shove her to the side.
  903. >She lets out a yelp and covers her head with her forehooves.
  904. >”M-Master, I was just—”
  905. “Not in the mood,” you say, and stride past her.
  906. >A bit of guilt nips at you but it’s burned away in your frustration.
  907. >As far as you were concerned, a little impoliteness was fair play.
  908. >You had a long night to host and a big smile to put on as a representative of Hub despite all the stress boiling up in you.
  909. >The only silver lining to everything thus far was that your tire had burned to ash in the wake of your frustration.
  910. >Now, to find your stand in...
  911. >They had probably put one of the non-sex detail mares on duty in the meantime.
  912. >After all, these get togethers only helped the company if an associate was there, giving subtle, friend-like help with the selection.
  913. >Suggestion was a powerful tool when dealing with drunk people, especially when one wanted to look good in front of friends.
  914. >You glance around, looking for any pony wearing an orange and blue passcard necklace.
  915. >They’d have to be marked with one or be mistaken as part of the entertainment.
  916. >The face of semi-drunk humans in suits and dresses, mingled with scantily clad or naked ponies is all that meets your eyes.
  917. >Weird—maybe they left already?
  918. >You shrug and turn towards the bar.
  919. “Time to spend that tab, I guess.”
  921. --
  922. >”Hey there, little nurse, can I get a checkup?”
  923. >Be Redheart, and be calming your sped heart at the voice that spoke just behind you.
  924. >You spin on your heels and face a clean cut man in a tan khaki suit, giving him what you hope is a convincingly friendly smile.
  925. >He had a young face and black hair with sunglasses covering his eyes and a cigarette in his mouth.
  926. >The man gave you an oily smile as he looked down at you.
  927. >Several of his friends took positions around you in a semicircle, with your back against a wall.
  928. “I’m sorry, sir, but if would please, ah—!”
  929. >He grabs the ID pass at your neck, yanking it upward and puzzling at it.
  930. “Y-Yes, um, as you can see I’m not here for anything more than purchase aide and help finding a suitable m-mare for your interests.”
  931. >The one holding your passcard smirks.
  932. “Oh, so suddenly this little piece of paper means you’re not interested? Coulda fooled me.”
  933. >He yanks hard, and the cord snaps.
  934. >With a flick of his wrist, the ID card flies down across the crowded floor and is lost among the traffic.
  935. >”Oh how about that? No passcard to be seen.”
  936. >He reaches behind him a brings out a pocketknife.
  937. >The man presses it to your cheek and you feel your face pale.
  938. >What on earth?
  939. >Was this guy insane!
  940. >You feel the blade start to press lightly into your cheek and you feel your legs weaken.
  941. >No…
  942. >Nonononono, please don’t...
  943. >”God, I love the look when there’s a knife to their throat or gun to their head. Fuck, staining that pretty white coat of yours is gonna’ be delicious. You gonna piss yourself little whorse?”
  944. “S-Stop,” you say, your voice sounding more like a whimper.
  945. >It just fuels them.
  946. >Aww, hehe, I’ll tell you what,” he says, grabbing your face and shifting the blade so it gleams. “I’ll be gentle and you try not to cry.”
  947. >A stinging sensation on your face jolts your eyes open.
  948. >Pain flooded into your mind, flowing slowly from the side of your cheek to your jawline.
  949. >You squirm in their grip and start to cry out.
  950. “Stop, please! It hurts. Ahhh!”
  951. >Hot tears start to run down your cheeks, making your makeup run.
  952. >His eyes and smile grow wider.
  953. >”Aw, gonna cry? And you were doing so wel—”
  954. >A deafening bang rings out.
  955. >You sit there, stunned as his form jerks to the side.
  956. >He falls to the floor in a heap like a ragdoll and doesn’t stir.
  957. >The movement of the crowd is a blur, and nothing but bright ringing echoes in your ears.
  958. >Something is dripping down your chin, and you taste iron.
  959. >”—ucker, you killed him!”
  960. >Your hearing starts to return to you, and with it your mind starts to focus.
  961. >”You shot him, you crazy piece of shit!” one of the clients yells.
  962. >He’s on the ground, looking like he saw a ghost.
  963. >You follow his gaze.
  964. >There, stands a man in a suit holding a shotgun with the iciest glare you’ve ever seen.
  965. >A-Anon?
  966. >”Rubber slug,” Anon says.
  967. >He tilts a shotgun’s breach toward the man and half cocks the pump to show him the round.
  968. >”He’s fine, just unconscious from the shock. Might have a cracked rib, and he might have a neck issue from the whiplash, but he’ll be fine.”
  969. >Two men in security gear push past the onlooking crowd and look at Anon.
  970. >”Anon, hey you can’t just take my gu— whoa, what happened?”
  971. >”We were just having some fun and he shot us!” Another client says, sounding out of breath.
  972. >Anon shoves the weapon back into the guard’s hands then turns to glare at the client.
  973. >”You pulled a weapon on one of our mares,” he says, bending down to pick up the reddened knife.
  974. >He hands it handle first to the security guard.
  975. >“These people weren’t checked. I’m calling security lockdown,” Anon says then turns to the crowd. “Party’s over. You can blame these four. Everyone, take the cargo ship out or your own private choppers and planes within the hour. And you four, consider yourself banned from this platform for life. Redheart, come with me please.”
  976. >He started moving, not waiting on you to rise to your shaken hooves to follow.
  977. >The crowd murmurs discontentedly and give looks toward Anon and your assailants both.
  978. >Your group of assailants look to each other with stunned expressions.
  979. >”H-Hold on, you can’t just ban us! We’re part of Omali group. You ban us, and we’re take our business elsewhere.”
  980. >”Y-Yeah, another yells We just spent 20K on sessions with a mare and her labor contract tonight, and that’s withdrawn in full if you fuck with us.”
  981. >Anonymous freezes.
  982. >”What do you mean?”
  983. >”We payed for Moon Slut, er somethin’ or other, and a private room with all kinds of shit to use on her.”
  984. >”You’ve been with the people doing VIP sessions?” Anon asks.
  985. >“Yeah, and we spend a lot at this place, so you ban us, you lose major cashola, get me? Now how about you let us continue with this mare here, and hope we don’t tell your bossman about this.”
  986. >Anon pauses.
  987. >He looks to the guard, takes the knife and tosses it at the feet of the man who spoke.
  988. >A knot twists in your stomach and your eyes widen.
  989. ”A-Anon… please, don’t leave me with them,” you say.
  990. >What was going on?
  991. >This wasn’t like him.
  992. >The man grins, picks up the knife, and flicks it open.
  993. >You open your mouth to say something but nothing comes out.
  994. >You’re frozen in place as your legs turn to jelly.
  995. >No… please...
  996. >A loud band rings in your ears and the man is thrown against the wall, dropping the knife.
  997. >”Fuck Omali co, you little shit! I have had it up to here tonight!” Anon bellows, the shotgun once more in his hands.
  998. >One of the two gets to his feet, reaching behind him for a weapon.
  999. >Anon steps forward, flipping the gun and swinging the butt in an arc.
  1000. >The rifle smashes into the man's face, sending him reeling to the ground.
  1001. >Anon turns to the last assailant.
  1002. >The man puts his hands up around his head.
  1003. >”Whoa! Bro, just calm down,” he says.
  1004. >Anon pauses for a moment, then leans down and grabs the man’s collar, lifting him up to glare into his eyes.
  1005. >“Get. Out.”
  1006. >Anon drops the man, then grabs you in one arm.
  1007. >The shotgun is tossed to an open mouthed guard.
  1008. >”A-Anon, what the fuck did you just do?” the guard says.
  1009. >”I’ll worry about it in the morning. I’m tired.”
  1010. >Without another word, you’re carried out under his arm, facing backwards and watching the glares that bore into his back.
  1012. --
  1014. >The short walk back to your room was quiet.
  1015. >You merely watched the little plips of blood you dripped down onto the walkway, which slowly petered out.
  1016. >What even happened back there?
  1017. >Everything just felt so surreal, and your head was still spinning.
  1018. >One moment you’re hosting and feeling light headed from pheromone, the next you’re being carried like a gym bag out of an angry crowd.
  1019. >Weirder things had happened, you supposed.
  1020. >Anon laid you down on your bed in your eight by eight room, then promptly collapsed to a sitting position on the floor.
  1021. >He sighed and slumped over, putting his head in his hands, facing away from you.
  1022. >You pause, not sure what to say.
  1023. “Anon… are you okay?”
  1024. >”No. Not really.”
  1025. “T-That was a bit much. Vargas is going to be mad.”
  1026. >”Ya think?”
  1027. >You frown, knowing the boss.
  1028. >Anon was only so immune.
  1029. >He chuckles, laughter starting to build.
  1030. >You frown at the back of his head.
  1031. “What’s so funny? You did something really stupid back there.”
  1032. >”Aha, but what are they gonna do, sue us? They can’t when there’s no jurisdiction here.”
  1033. “Anon, they’ll just go to Hub’s headquarters in Washington. You’ll get fired, or worse!”
  1034. >Anon just lolled his head to the side and cracked a grin.
  1035. >”My, wouldn’t that be nice....” he trailed off, the smile melting from his face.
  1036. >You scrunched your muzzle.
  1037. >Anon could be so annoyingly childish sometimes.
  1038. >Still…
  1039. “Hey, Anon?”
  1040. >”Yeah?”
  1041. “You didn’t have to do that. Just, you know, thanks for sticking up for me.”
  1042. >He slowly nods to himself.
  1043. >”Yeah… I know how you can get though. You just lose your voice sometimes. Forget to call out.”
  1044. >You cringe, remembering how you hadn’t just yelled for security.
  1045. >”It’s fine though.”
  1046. “Huh?”
  1047. >He turns to you and sits up on the bed. “You know, I can just talk for you if that happens. I imagine it’s frustrating.”
  1048. >You stare at him, a flutter in your stomach growing.
  1049. >That was… actually kinda sweet.
  1050. >You’ll have to be stronger next time.
  1051. >Anon shouldn’t have to do that for you.
  1052. >He yawns and you can’t stop it from being infectious.
  1053. >You lean in and rest your head against his side, feeling the night having taken it’s toll on you.
  1054. >He puts a hand on your back and gently runs his fingers through your coat.
  1055. ”I’m glad you’re here, Anon. The weeks you’re gone are kinda rough.”
  1056. >He stays quiet as you start to drift.
  1057. >Just as sleep starts to take you, you hear him speak under his breath.
  1058. >”I wonder if Marble thinks the same thing…”
  1059. >You don’t have time to think about it as sleep takes you.
  1061. --
  1063. >Be Marble Pie.
  1064. >The street outside has a fresh coat of rainwater, and the overcast sky kept most people indoors today.
  1065. >Not a great day for people watching, but that’s not why you’re looking out.
  1066. >You know why you’re looking out.
  1067. >You just don’t want to say it out loud because it’s so pathetic.
  1068. >Your ears fold back.
  1069. >Celestia, no other word could possibly describe you more.
  1070. >You turn from the window and head into Anon’s room.
  1071. >His bed is unmade, and the apartment is still littered with empty beer cans and pizza boxes from Jacob and D2 yesterday.
  1072. >Normally you’d clean it right away.
  1073. >This was Anon’s house, after all, and he made it clear he appreciated what little you did for him.
  1074. >You couldn’t help but feel happy when he told you you did a good job taking care of the place.
  1075. >Today though…
  1076. >Today you don’t want to think about anything.
  1077. >You grab one of his shirts, put it on, and climb into his bed.
  1078. >The shirt is horribly oversized for you, but the scent it holds always makes you feel a little better.
  1079. >Now though, there’s an edge to it.
  1080. >It makes you feel sick.
  1081. “He doesn’t want me…”
  1083. >You hear the doorbell ring rapidly and your heart skips a beat.
  1084. >”Ey rock-horse, open up. You doing okay yet?”
  1085. >D2.
  1086. >You lay your head back down.
  1087. >You won’t answer it—not today.
  1088. >”Maaarble. C’mon, I have vanilla ice cream. It’s your favorite.”
  1089. >You pull the sheets up over your head.
  1090. >She’ll leave.
  1091. >There’s some mumbling outside and you hear hoof steps back away.
  1092. >Everyone eventually leaves.
  1093. >A crash sounds from the living room, making you jerk upright.
  1094. >D2 stumbles into your room, ice cream splattered across her carapace and a blush on her face.
  1095. >Silence passes between you, as you just stare at one another across the room.
  1096. “Did you—just break down the door?”
  1097. >”I dindu nuffin’.”
  1098. ”D2…”
  1099. “The ice cream was melting so I uh… well, it’s out in the living room now—like in a few places.”
  1100. >You groan and flop onto your back.
  1101. >You’d have to clean that too.
  1102. >The only thing D2 cleaned was her plate.
  1103. >”Is that Anon’s shirt?”
  1104. >You flinch and pull your hooves in.
  1105. “N-No.”
  1106. >She gives you a bemused look. “Marble…”
  1107. “Yes. I mean I just—I don’t know.”
  1108. >You sink down to the bed and curl up in a ball.
  1109. >”I get that you’re upset he left all of a sudden,” D2 said, “but why’re you being such a sourpuss? You have this place to yourself.”
  1110. “That’s the problem,” you say under your breath.
  1111. >D2 purses her lips and sniffs the air.
  1112. >You quirk an eyebrow at her.
  1113. ”D2?”
  1114. >”It tastes… cold and yucky.”
  1115. “Hey, that’s not fair! You said you wouldn’t read my emotions.”
  1116. >D2 breathed out her nostrils.
  1117. >”I know what I said,” she says and climbs up onto the bed.
  1118. >”If you don’t want me finding out my way, you have to tell me what’s up.”
  1119. >You feel a blush spread across your face.
  1120. “D2!”
  1121. >”Too bad. That’s the deal.”
  1122. >You bite your lip and face away from her.
  1123. >This was just… too much right now.
  1124. >”Hey, Marble,” D2 said and put a hoof on your shoulder. “I’m your friend alright? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but I mean… You’re not alone. Jacob and I are always here. Look, I’ll be in the living room putting some things away. You shouldn’t leave things like this. If you want to talk, I’m here for a few hours. Just… he didn’t do it because he doesn’t like you. You mean more than you know to him.”
  1125. >D2 jumped off the bed and headed out, not waiting on you this time.
  1126. >You sit there, digesting what she had to say.
  1127. >Anon didn’t see you as worthless…
  1128. >Why wouldn’t he though?
  1129. >You could only do some cooking and cleaning.
  1130. >All you knew were rocks and gems—nothing you could use really.
  1131. >Anon had sunk time, effort, and his income into you constantly, even when he was looking for a job and could barely afford food.
  1132. >What had you even done for him?
  1133. >Anon never asked much of you, but, well, what even could he ask of you?
  1134. >Your ears go back and you sink tighter into the covers.
  1135. >He’d offered you more than you deserved yet you were completely useless to him...
  1136. >You don’t tell him about it but… you think sometimes your previous masters were right.
  1137. >They called you terrible names, but the word ‘worthless’ was always there more than others.
  1138. >The sound of them shouting at you starts you echo in your ears.
  1139. >’Useless’
  1140. >’Fucktoy’
  1141. >’Garbage’
  1142. >No… no don’t think about that.
  1143. >You focus your senses on the scent around you, breathing as calmly as possible.
  1144. >You live in Anon’s apartment.
  1145. >He’s not like that and would never hurt you.
  1146. >D2’s frustrated curse pulls your attention from your thoughts.
  1147. >Something about Jacob’s snobbishness and fetish for pizza.
  1148. >You actually remember D2 eating more pizza than him but that’s probably beside the point.
  1149. >Maybe a little cleaning was in order.
  1150. >You should do that much for Anon.
  1152. >A sigh leaves you and you get up.
  1153. >The shirt is folded neatly and put back, and you head out to see D2 stacking boxes on top of the kitchen trash can.
  1154. >She cocks her head to the side and glances your way.
  1155. >”I tried.”
  1156. >This is pretty much why you do the cleaning around here when Anon is gone.
  1157. >You start to pick up some of the red cups and paper plates, as well as the occasional bottle.
  1158. >You give D2 a well natured smile and move the pizza boxes so you can start putting away all the loose trash.
  1159. >D2 shrugs and grabs some paper towels to take care of the splatters of ice cream.
  1160. “So how do you know?”
  1161. >D2 perked up.
  1162. >“Eh?”
  1163. “You said that Anon, um, well liked me. If that’s true, and well with you being a changeling and all, I was just wondering...”
  1164. >You could feel your stomach doing flips for even wanting to ask this.
  1165. “D2, What does Anon think of me?”
  1166. >Peering over at D2, you see she’s not giving you a look thankfully, instead stacking up trash and moving it to the can.
  1167. >”Hm, well. I know it’s not really fair to read emotions and all, a-and I haven’t,” she said, then whispered ‘‘for the most part” just loud enough for you to hear.
  1168. >“But changelings still are sensitive to vibes and all that. It’s just part of how we view the world. I don’t need magic to tell that you guys are honestly pretty close. To be fair, Jacob and I are too, but you two? I don’t know what to even call it. Like Jacob is my best friend and roommate, and he’s a dumbass who I love the snot out of, but we’re not like you and Anon at all. Anon seems pretty fond of you. Why do you get so mopey when he’s not around? You’re like a whole different pony when he’s here.”
  1169. >You rub a forehoof and look away.
  1170. “U-um, well… it’s hard to put into words. When I first came here, I was actually pretty afraid of Anon. I had been passed between several different human masters and—it was bad. I didn’t know it at the time, but Anon showed me not all humans are like that. It took me so long to just… be able to sit at the table with him and not feel afraid.”
  1171. >A smile breaks out on your lips as you tilt your head up.
  1172. “I thought he was going to be watching me, waiting for me to make a mistake, but whenever I checked, he was either not paying attention or he just—smiled at me.”
  1173. >You giggled. “He’s actually not the best cook. Not sure how he got by alone sometimes but I remember the first time I was able to get up and walk around. He made mac’n’cheese to celebrate. You should have seen his face when I tasted it. It was some of the first decent, solid food I had had in such a long time. I remember it tasted so amazing. I have no clue how silly I must have looked trying to hold a fork with hurt hooves, getting cheese all over my face like a little filly.
  1174. “He had to actually come over and help me out. Can you imagine that? A fully grown mare getting fed like a baby? Celestia, I was so embarrassed, and I tried as hard as I could to do it all myself but I just couldn’t yet. Somehow he wasn’t annoyed or angry at me like I thought he’d be. He just seemed amused I guess, and made sure I had as much as I wanted.”
  1175. >D2 watches you, stock still now with her mouth slightly open.
  1176. >”I… never knew. He sounds nice.”
  1177. “Mm. But he’s also strict with things he believes are good for me, like making sure I don’t skip meals. And Anytime a problem comes up, he calmly takes care of it. I tend to get really anxious instead. I also know I’m safe when I’m with him, and he wouldn’t do anything he thinks is unsafe for me. I feel so much more… settled, when he’s around. But…”
  1178. >You look down, shoulders sagging slightly.
  1179. ”When he comes back from work there’s a kind of storm around him. I think his job is really hard on him somehow. He comes in with a far off look and he sleeps right away, whether he gets back day or night.”
  1180. >You bite your lip.
  1181. “D2, I really worry about him. He’s like a different person when he’s like that. Part of me wonders if he’ll come back one day and just… stay that way.”
  1182. >D2 quirked her head to the side in thought.
  1183. >“So, what gets him out of his funk?”
  1184. >You shrugged as you started cleaning again.
  1185. “I’m not sure. I just try to keep an eye on him in the meantime and ask if he needs anything. He just looks so hurt. I don’t know how to help, and I try to just make sure he isn’t alone.”
  1186. >You paw at the ground with a hoof.
  1187. “Sometimes I sleep next to him for the night. I know it’s a bit useless but it’s all I can really do.”
  1188. >D2 pursed her lips as sorted and threw away trash bits.
  1189. >”Marble, I know you don’t think much of yourself but you mean the world to Anon. I can see it the way he looks at you.”
  1190. >You feel your face heat up and a nervous excitement starts in your core.
  1191. “O-Oh.” you say, and turn to make a study of the carpet at your hooves.
  1192. >The two of you sit in silence for a moment as D2 sifts through papers and empty beer cans.
  1193. >Your mind starts to drift and you stare at the door almost able to hear Anon’s tired footsteps coming up down the hall after his work month.
  1194. >It’d be so nice if he just walked in.
  1195. >It felt awful when you saw him miserable when he returned
  1196. >But at the same time… it was the only time you could feel his arms around you.
  1197. >There was no way he’d want you, but when he was broken, you could comfort him.
  1198. >You bite your lip and feel shame wash over you.
  1199. >What kind of mare are you that you’d wish that on Anon, just so you had an excuse nestle up to him…
  1200. >You give a heavy sigh and start organizing some papers strewn about the room.
  1201. >D2 had already cleaned quite a few.
  1202. >Midway to throwing out a stack, D2 stops.
  1203. >“So… Did you ever think about just, going to him?”
  1204. “What?”
  1205. >”Do you want to see Anon? Like, stay with him at his workstation.”
  1206. >You feel a leap in your center at the thought but come back down just as quick.
  1207. >It’d be so nice if Anon would just say he wanted you with him.
  1208. “W-Well, yes, but D2, Anon has always been reserved when it comes to talking about work. He specifically told me not ask him about it.”
  1209. >D2 snorted.
  1210. >”And you listened?”
  1211. “Yes? Why wouldn’t I?”
  1212. >D2 smiles, then jabs a hoof at your nose and you scrunch your muzzle.
  1213. >”THAT’S where you’re wrong!”
  1214. “What? But he asked me not to. I don’t—”
  1215. >”Listen. By not pursuing it and just shutting up right away, you show that the issue isn’t something important to you. I get that it’s not like you to go against people, but this is the one thing where you should be firm with him. Go there and show him this matters to you, and don’t take any other answer but yes.”
  1216. “But, what if he thinks I’m just clingy and demanding? D2, I don’t want him to be mad at me.”
  1217. >”Marble, he might be mad at first, sure, but you never hardly ask for anything from Anon. I could never act like that with Jacob. Anon will understand.”
  1218. >You start to feel an ache in your chest and your eyes start to sting.
  1219. >Maybe she was right, but there was more to it than that.
  1220. >She was your friend, and only meant the best.
  1221. >But she just didn’t understand.
  1222. >This wasn’t a possibility, and thinking about it only made it feel worse.
  1223. “D2, I—”
  1224. >”Is this important to you or not?” she said, leaning close and frowning at you.
  1225. >Your throat feels dry and your nose starts to run.
  1226. >D2, please stop.
  1227. “Yes, but you don’t unders—”
  1228. >”Then what’s stopping you!”
  1229. “I don’t know where he—”
  1230. >”That was all talk wasn’t it?”
  1231. “N-no, I—”
  1232. >”You’re not afraid of making him upset. You’re afraid of the rejection if he tells you to get out of his life and you’d rather sit here, feeling all abandoned, instead of doing something to show how you feel.”
  1233. >Your jaw sets and you feel your face get hot.
  1234. “D2, shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” you yell.
  1235. >Her eyes go wide and she steps back, staring at you like you had grown a new head.
  1236. “You think I don’t want to go? You think I’m making excuses or something?”
  1237. >You choke back a sob and wipe a hoof across your face.
  1238. “I don’t know where he even goes. He doesn’t share that with me. I guess he doesn’t want me trying to follow him and being a nuisance. But, D2, I would okay! I’d go and I’d be there for him and do what I could to help him with whatever makes him so miserable and… Celestia it’d be nice to just see him even if he sent me back.”
  1239. >You sit down, D2 just watching you from a few feet away.
  1240. >”Good,” she says.
  1241. >A paper slaps down on the floor in front of you.
  1242. >At the top in bold is the word ‘Invoice’ and several financial totals run down the sheet, each with different bank IDs and…
  1244. >An address.
  1246. >You pick up the papers and reread to see if you misread, but there it was.
  1247. >Anon was stationed at a rig a few miles off the coast.
  1248. >You could see him.
  1249. >You look up at D2, tears still at the corners of your eyes.
  1250. >“Found it early while sorting.” She shrugged. “Did you really mean what you said then?”
  1251. >Your mouth drops slightly.
  1252. >All that antagonizing...
  1253. >She did it all on purpose.
  1254. >You rush forward and wrap her in a hug, a giant smile on your face as she chokes from the sudden impact.
  1255. “D2, thank you. You are such a jerk, but you’re the best friend in the world.”
  1256. >D2 coughed lightly. ”S-Sure, man, thanks I think? So I take it you’re going for it.”
  1257. >You pull away and look her in the face, not at all bothered for probably still looking like a wreck.
  1259. “I’m sure now. I’m going.”
  1262. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1264. >6 months ago, the first week after finding Marble.
  1266. >You flopped down into your computer chair and booted up your machine, intent on checking some news and email before bed.
  1267. >Marble had settled down for the night after you made sure she took her new antibiotic and pain medication.
  1268. >She had a hard time getting to sleep, so it was a bit of a process, but she trusted you enough to let you get close.
  1269. >You’d speak to her, making sure she knew you’d be there and nothing bad was going to happen while you were in the house.
  1270. >Meanwhile you’d be combing your fingers through her hair, careful to avoid her injuries.
  1271. >She’d sometimes just watch you—those big violet eyes looking still like they belonged to a scared, helpless child.
  1272. >Though lately, the fear was gone and replaced with what you think was more like curiosity.
  1273. >Eventually, her breathing would settle and she’d drift off to sleep, hopefully to rest through the night.
  1274. >You’d smile as you notice how at peace she seemed when she was sleeping.
  1275. >None of her cuts or bones hurting her… none of the memories flooding her mind as she sat up and stared out the window for hours on end.
  1276. >Sleep offered her a measure of peace, though not as much as you would have liked.
  1277. >Bad dreams seemed to come frequently for her, and she’d wake up, crying or sobbing to herself.
  1278. >You had been getting less sleep since you kept her door open, but hopefully she’ll get better.
  1279. >God, you really do hope she’ll be okay...
  1280. >You scan the lines of your inbox, looking for anything other than ‘application confirmed’ in the subject, free song ringtone offers, and the occasional personal pony slave spam.
  1281. >You hadn’t disabled cookies when you tried looking up information on how care for Marble, and since then you had been made privy to the glorious world of horse kink-slaves.
  1282. >I guess asking ‘what can and can’t ponies eat?’ means you probably were fucking one nowadays…
  1283. >You’re about to close the browser when you suddenly see one of the emails with your name in the header.
  1284. >Shit.
  1285. >You don’t remember using your name anywhere.
  1286. >Usually they’ll just take your IP and declare your town had singles that wanted to bang.
  1287. >Against your better, totally not tired-as-fuck judgement, you open the message.
  1288. >After reading, you couldn’t help but think it was too good to be true.
  1289. >It was a job offer.
  1291. --
  1293. >The next day saw you heading toward the harbor district with an address and a nice suit.
  1294. >After a bit of looking around, you found a large concrete building with the right building number and were led by a secretary to an interview room that looked a lot like a police interrogation area.
  1295. >The interview was with a thin, unshaven guy with black greasy hair.
  1296. >He had a been hacking and spitting toward the floor as he glanced through your resume and credentials with a bored expression.
  1297. >Even picked his nose with a gloved hand.
  1298. >Normally that demeanor would be a red flag, and you’d have left thinking this was all bullshit.
  1299. >Your eyes drift down to the man’s dirty coveralls and the H logo inside an orange hexagon embroidered on the left chest panel.
  1300. >Hub Group.
  1301. >It was still possible the job was fake, but you were reasonably assured this was either a real offer, or these scammers were playing with fire by impersonating one of the big dogs.
  1304. >Shady individuals still infested the slave business, but the so called ‘big dog’ companies were territorial, getting rid of competition and circumventing laws with the power of the almighty dollar wherever they could.
  1305. >Underground auctions and private sellers were still big of course, but in coastal cities, particularly on the east coast, Hub Group held the slave trade in an iron grip.
  1306. >They had been a small shipping child company but exploded when the portal opened and the war started.
  1307. >When there’s blood in the water, the sharks come in droves…
  1309. >“I think that’s enough with the formalities, Kaine. We saw his license. We’re familiar with the rest,” a voice echoed over a speaker.
  1310. >A moment later, a man in a clean suit with light blue eyes and a smile that was more smirk than it should have been, walked in.
  1311. >He was built like a truck, standing at perhaps six and a half feet tall, and his walk gave off a casual, egotistical aura only seen in the super powerful.
  1312. >He knew he had nothing to prove and wore the air of strength like a glove.
  1313. >The interviewer, apparently Kaine, stood up, frantically smoothing out his unkempt clothes and stood at attention.
  1314. >>”Mr. Vargas!” Kaine said. “I didn’t know you were going to be paying a visit. I was just looking through the papers of course and making sure everything was in order.”
  1315. >The man rolled his eyes and spoke in a slow deep tone.
  1316. >”Right, just as I’d expect of you, Kaine. You’re always so proactive and insightful.”
  1317. >>”Uh…”
  1318. >”I didn’t think so either.”
  1319. >The man in the suit, Vargas apparently, extended a hand and gave you what you think was supposed to be a friendly grin.
  1320. >It felt more predatory than that.
  1321. >”Hello, Anonymous. I wanted to come down and see you in person. I understand you have a special set of skills and you’re looking for employment.”
  1322. “Uh, yes. I guess Hub Group is looking for some guard dogs,” you say with a casual laugh.
  1323. >”Hm, it’s actually more of a matter of quality assurance. Please follow me.”
  1324. >You blink, and Mr. Vargas turns without another word, opening the door and heading down a new hallway with a sign overhead that says ‘employee only - secure area’.
  1325. >You had no choice but to follow.
  1326. “I’m a bit confused. So you don’t need guard dogs?”
  1327. >Vargas speaks up as Kaine slinks behind you. ”No. I’m afraid dogs like that have been known to damage merchandise in the past. We also have had problems with certain individuals being able to… enamor animals.”
  1328. >He waves a keycard in front of a sensor, and a beep then click of a bolt sounds before he opens it and heads in with you behind.
  1329. >“We use human and electronic security.”
  1330. >You quirk an eyebrow.
  1331. “So what do you need me for? Are you looking for another security guy or...”
  1332. >It’s dim and there’s only a single table, an observation window, and a single being chained to the wall by a collar.
  1333. >A pony
  1334. >A pegasus pony, to be specific if what you had read online was right.
  1335. >She had messy blonde hair and golden, crossed eyes, with a bubble flank marking.
  1336. >You notice right away the slump in her posture as she barely looked up toward your general direction, as well as rib indentations around her barrel.
  1337. >”So Anonymous, I’m a busy man so I’ll get to the point. I want you to train pony slaves.”
  1338. >Wait, what?
  1339. “Sir, I don’t understand. I don’t know anything about training ponies. They’re sapients; the same rules probably don’t even apply here.”
  1340. >Vargas shrugged. “Maybe. I had hoped you’d tell me otherwise. The job doesn’t take much though. Kaine, why don’t you go ahead and teach this one the lesson she’s due.”
  1341. >Kaine leaned his neck to the side and a few snaps echoed through the room as she walked forward. “Sure thing, boss.”
  1342. >”You see, this pegasus here has been returned several times. This will be her seventh. She’s not been keen on picking up the lesson of ensuring her master is happy, so we make sure when she gets back that she regrets it dearly.”
  1343. >Kaine backhands the pony, sending her to the floor.
  1344. >You take a step forward, but the words are lost in your throat.
  1345. >You didn’t want to see this.
  1346. >The man picked her up and threw her against the wall behind her.
  1347. >She choked out a sob as she hit the floor and tried to shakily stand up.
  1348. >Sure it happened all over the place, and sure it was something even neighbors did.
  1349. >But it was out of sight, out of mind, and you had no control over it.
  1350. >There was nothing you could do to change it, so why pay it any mind?
  1351. >But then there was Marble.
  1352. >And now this.
  1353. >Twice now things were staring you in the face, and something in you squirmed at that.
  1354. “Stop.”
  1355. >Kaines boot lashed out hitting her in the stomach.
  1356. “Stop!”
  1357. >Kaine glanced at his boss, and with a nod from Vargas, Kaine shrugged, put his hands in his pockets, and strolled back to his place near the door.
  1358. >You could see a faint smile coming from Vargas out of the corner of your eye.
  1359. >”Anonymous, you have something to add here?”
  1360. “Beating her senseless isn’t going to do anything…” you say, your voice sounding cold. “She’s clearly malnourished and weak. And if you do this to her every time without any different results, you need to try something new.”
  1361. >Vargas shrugged.
  1362. >”That’s a bit outspoken. Are you telling me I can’t have my own slaves beaten?”.
  1363. >Technically speaking he could do anything he wanted to them and your opinion didn’t matter.
  1364. >You also can’t say you’re keen on sticking your neck for this pony and hurting your job prospects.
  1365. >Still…
  1366. >You watched as the pony kept near the floor, shuddering with each labored breath, not even crying out.
  1367. >She didn’t deserve this.
  1368. >You grit your teeth and step within a few feet of the pony.
  1369. >You had to try, if only to give this pony some mercy.
  1370. >Your senses focus, aiming to pick up subtleties in the creature before you.
  1371. >Head is bowed, tail tucked, ears back away from you… not showing her midline to you but she’s a pony so maybe that doesn't apply...
  1372. >You approach slowly and lower yourself down to a sitting position, being careful not to move into her personal territory while also making sure to make enough noise that she knows where you are.
  1373. >Her nostrils flare subtly, taking in your scent and you wait while she familiarizes herself with it.
  1374. >She looks up and meets your eyes for a split second before dropping her gaze.
  1375. >Hm, beta submissive personality?
  1376. >Good those are easy to deal with—just show kindness and shower them with treats at first.
  1377. >You start to reach into a side pocket of your jeans then stop.
  1378. >Do canine personality archetypes even apply here, though?
  1379. >These ponies were sapient.
  1380. >They’d know what you were up to if you cooed and pet them while giving food after they did something for you.
  1381. >”Something the matter, Anonymous?”
  1382. >You bite your lip.
  1383. >Job’s on the line, Anon.
  1384. >Normally you’d have to take the time to condition an animal, but with time you learned you could make a lot of progress on the first session.
  1385. >And you had one last thing that might be on your side.
  1386. >Pony’s can talk.
  1387. “No, sir,” you say. “So, Derpy is it? Would you like a treat?”
  1388. >She didn’t move, keeping her eyes to the pavement.
  1389. “Derpy, I heard you haven’t been doing well. I need you to eat. Can you do that for me? You’re going to get sick if you keep this up.”
  1390. >Her tail started to untuck and her ears swiveled toward you.
  1391. >You felt your heart speed up.
  1392. >Yes, your experience still applies.
  1393. >That meant you had one last move to make, just in the context of a person.
  1394. >You edge closer and reach out your hand toward her chin.
  1395. >You see her tense and her ears go back.
  1396. >Your heart beats fast in your chest but you keep your trepidation from your face.
  1397. >Don’t, for the love of God, bite me.
  1398. >Your hand comes up under her chin and you push her gaze up to meet your faked stern expression.
  1399. “I asked you something. I don’t appreciate being ignored.”
  1400. >You hear a small gasp come from her and you see her eyes dart across your face.
  1401. >Your breathing stops as you wonder if she was going to panic and attack you.
  1402. >Shoot, why would you think any of this would apply?
  1403. >“S-Sorry.”
  1404. >You blink.
  1405. “What?”
  1406. >”I’m sorry, sir. I can eat now if you want.”
  1407. >It takes everything you have to keep your expression level, and you move your hand around to give her mane a pet.
  1408. “Good girl.”
  1409. >She just watches you, mouth slightly open, but her tail swishing back and forth behind her gives her away.
  1410. >Reward received.
  1411. >Holy shit, it actually worked…
  1413. >You stand after giving her a final pat and turn to Vargas.
  1414. >You speak low so only he hears. “You can serve her whatever she gets now”
  1415. >Vargas stares at Derpy, a hand absently rubbing his chin.
  1416. >”Interesting.”
  1417. “I can stay in the room if you want. It should help her get used to me if I’m nearby when she eats.”
  1418. >”No need. I’m afraid I’m a busy man and I have another one I’d like you to take a look at,” he said, and turned toward the door.
  1419. >You followed after, and soon you were heading down the hall to the next room, this time without Kaine.
  1420. >”I’m impressed though. Hardly more than a stern voice and she’s willing to jump at your command.”
  1421. >You shrug. “I just thought she might respond well to a soft approach, then firmness right after that. It makes them feel you’re nice, but also in control and able to handle things. The concept takes longer to communicate in animals, but I guess it worked right away in this case since I could speak with her. I can’t say she trusts me after only a few seconds, but something in her recognizes the cues you or I might.”
  1422. >”You were still surprisingly gentle, even when asserting yourself.”
  1423. “Violence isn’t a good training tool sometimes.”
  1424. >”Oh isn’t it? Are you some sort of humanitarian activist who believes every problem can be solved with kindness?”
  1425. >You purse your lips, wondering how to word it.
  1426. >It wouldn’t due to be dishonest.
  1427. >Best say it clear now.
  1428. “No. I wouldn’t go that far. I’m not a perfect person and I don’t have an opinion on pony slaves one way or another. But in training, it’s the last resort of the incompetent. You don’t beat your dogs into submission and expect them to understand. It’s cruel and unnecessary.”
  1429. >Vargas smirked and gave a light chuckle.
  1430. >”I’d wager you’ve a bit more to learn then. The key thing you have to keep in mind is that, even if they’re not worth as much as a human, ponies are sapient beings. Don’t ever forget that.”
  1431. >You furrow your brow and stare toward the floor.
  1432. >What does being sapient have to do with it?
  1433. >If anything that made things easier since you could communicate directly.
  1434. >What’s he getting at?
  1436. >The two of you approach a cell door and he slides his keycard to the sound of a beep.
  1437. >The door opens and you both step inside to see an aquamarine pegasus with blonde hair and a cutie mark featuring lightning bolts and stars.
  1438. >She was chained similarly at the far side of the room, and her eyes traced you as you walked in.
  1439. >”We need to transfer her to a different cell. Show me what you can do with this one, and remember, you’re allowed to use any method you please. After this, we can talk.”
  1440. >Okay, just as smooth as the last...
  1441. >You started watching for her tells.
  1442. >Head ducked, eyes open with no sluggish movement, not stopping eye contact since we got in here.
  1443. >Tail rigid, wings flared, posture stiff… uh, shoot.
  1444. >Dogs don’t do that so was it… a mating stance?
  1445. >You start to sweat.
  1446. >A hint would be nice here.
  1447. >At first glance it looks like aggression but this was a pony.
  1448. >Was she just curious?
  1449. >You walk up to her and sit down on your haunches near the middle of the room.
  1450. “What’s your name then?”
  1451. >She gave a cocky smile and flipped her mane back.
  1452. >”Lightning Dust. Fastest flier back in the homeland and probably in this world too.”
  1453. >You humor her with a grin.
  1454. “That’s quite the title. You feel like stretching your legs? We’re going to get you a new room.”
  1455. >She stares at you for a moment and you think you catch her eyes flicking toward the door.
  1456. >“No problem. Just get me out of these restraints,” she said, nodding toward the rear leg restraints.
  1457. >A chuckle comes from Vargas and he takes a seat in a nearby metal folding chair.
  1458. >You roll your eyes while facing away from him.
  1459. >If anything, being sapient made this a lot easier.
  1460. >Lightning sounded friendly and was happy to get the chance to stretch her legs.
  1461. >You walk behind Lightning Dust and start to unclip the restraints holding her legs.
  1462. >They were notably shorter, and likely limited her to only part of the room.
  1463. >A metal clink sounds as the restraints come undone under your deft human fingers.
  1464. >The muscles in her back tense and her hackles rise.
  1465. >A smirk works it’s way across her face and you catch a glint in her eyes from the side.
  1466. >Your stomach drops out and you pale.
  1467. >You realize you had been only listening to her words.
  1468. >It’s too late.
  1469. >Lightings legs lash out in an instant and catch your left arm.
  1470. >A snap echoes through the room and a sickening, tingling sensation shoots through you as you slam against the wall.
  1471. >The pain hits your brain and you cry out, just as she darts towards the door.
  1472. >Lightning spins on her heels and bucks it, busting the handle and throwing it open.
  1473. >>”Thanks for the help, dumbas—”
  1474. >Electricity surges through her and she spasms, letting out an agonized cry of pain.
  1475. >Her outline stains your eyes, and when you blink your sight clear, you see her on the floor in a heap.
  1476. >Her muscles twitch and drool dribbles from her mouth, pooling on the floor beneath her face.
  1477. “What the…?”
  1478. >You blink and stare at the black metallic collar on her neck.
  1479. >Small trails of smoke waft from around the device and you can see the fur around her neck is singed.
  1480. >”Hm, quite a lot of speed in her. I almost wasn’t ready.”
  1481. >You turn to look at Vargas, who had reclined in the metal fold out chair, a small remote in his hand.
  1482. >What in hell...
  1483. “Y-You… you just killed her.”
  1484. >He snorted. “She’s knocked out. The shock collars are new and she didn’t know what it was when we put it on her.”
  1485. >Vargas rose, walked over to the collapsed mare, and picked her up by the scruff.
  1486. >She moaned and lolled her head to the side.
  1487. >”And coming around so soon too… You could have been a great companion or even race horse, but you’ll fetch at least something when we sell you to the labor farms,” he said, then tossed her back over to your side of the room.
  1488. >She tumbled and rolled like a ragdoll, eventually stopping a foot or so away from you.
  1489. >You look down to your side, head still swimming, and go to move your arm.
  1490. >Agony shoots through it and you breath in sharply through your teeth.
  1491. >Nothing was sticking out of the skin thankfully, but she had probably fractured your arm.
  1492. >Shoot, how could you be so careless!
  1493. >There was no way this constituted a pass.
  1494. >You wouldn’t hire your sorry ass either.
  1495. >Your mind wanders back to Marble.
  1496. >You failed not only yourself but her.
  1497. >She couldn’t stay…
  1498. >You feel your eyes start to glaze over.
  1499. >What a worthless half-assed effort in the end.
  1500. >You look up to see Vargas standing patiently and watching you.
  1501. >He hadn’t said anything yet.
  1502. >What on earth was he waiting for?
  1503. >There’s no way that was good enough.
  1504. >Unless…
  1505. >Your breath catches.
  1506. >It wasn’t over yet?
  1507. >You look down to the mare a few feet away.
  1508. >She lay on her side, belly facing you.
  1509. >She gives a grunt and cracks an eye open to look at you.
  1510. >Lightning scowls, and tries to get her hooves under her but can’t manage much more than moving them against the floor like a newborn pup.
  1511. >Your intuition kicks in and you start reading her.
  1512. >Breathing heightened, nostrils flared…
  1513. >She hacks and spits, hitting you on the cheek.
  1514. >You blink.
  1515. >This little shit!
  1516. >You shakily get to your feet, teeth clenched.
  1517. >Vargas leans forward, taking sudden interest.
  1518. >You get it now.
  1519. >This was never about the transfer.
  1520. >He knew she’d fight if you let her off the chain.
  1521. >He knew she’d lie and you just happened to be dumb enough to not think.
  1522. >They were sapient.
  1523. >It makes sense now.
  1524. >Talking didn’t help.
  1525. >What comes out of their mouth isn’t trustworthy.
  1526. >You had to focus on reading them and figuring out the best way to handle them.
  1527. >That was the test, and you failed that part, but he was watching for something else, but what?
  1528. >Were you supposed to scold her?
  1529. >Vargas’ cold eyes look at Lightning Dust, his gaze filled with contempt.
  1530. >No… not scolding.
  1531. >Your hand slackens and you feel your heart sink.
  1532. >Could you really do that to her…?
  1533. >It was your fault, wasn’t it?
  1534. >You had done something dumb with an animal you didn’t know.
  1535. >It’s your fault if it attacked you.
  1536. >Only worthless hacks would beat the thing out of anger for their own mistake.
  1537. >But… was that even the case here?
  1538. >Lighting Dust was a person, not an animal.
  1539. >She knew what she was doing.
  1540. >She had lied to you.
  1541. >Vargas lets out a sigh and rubs the bridge of his nose.
  1542. >”It looks like I might have placed a little too much faith in you, Anonymous.”
  1543. >And with that he turned and headed towards the door.
  1544. >You’d taken too long.
  1545. “W-Wait, I can—”
  1546. >He keeps walking.
  1547. >Dammit, no.
  1548. >Thoughts of Marble flood your mind.
  1549. >She was still sick and you’d hardly even started healing her mental scars.
  1550. >You know what happens when dogs are abused by person after person.
  1551. >Eventually they never trust anyone ever again and forage on the streets alone.
  1552. >Marble though?
  1553. >Maybe it was your intuition, but you saw this might be her last chance.
  1554. >Out on the street, she might meet someone to help her but...
  1555. >Ponies got everything that came to them, as they’d say.
  1556. >She stood a good chance of finding someone more interested in hurting her.
  1557. >You stare numbly at the pegasis by your feet.
  1558. >You were going to lose Marble, and it was because of her…
  1559. >You stumble to your feet and take a step towards the mare.
  1560. >She keeps looking at you, smug as can be, as if to say ‘I won’.
  1561. >Dammit, all she had to do was listen and work with you.
  1562. >But now… now…
  1563. >Your mind wanders.
  1564. >You had found Marble thrown in with the trash.
  1565. >People had left her for dead, and she’d done nothing more than get trapped on this side of the portal.
  1566. >This job had been your best shot.
  1567. >Your savings were gone after the next few days.
  1568. >Marble’s voice echoes like a phantom in your ears as you see yourself carrying her out.
  1569. >Those beautiful eyes looking up at you… and those words exiting your lips.
  1570. >”I can’t keep you anymore.”
  1571. >Ponies who were unwanted went to labor camps.
  1572. >Ponies who couldn’t work at labor camps?
  1573. >Used up and thrown away.
  1574. >Your good hand tightens into a white knuckled fist.
  1575. >No.
  1576. >You could stop it.
  1577. >You stumble forward and your hand wraps around the crook of her wing.
  1578. >You press a boot against her back and brace.
  1579. >Her pupils dilate and her mouth opens.
  1580. >>”H-Hey, what are you doing?” she says in a raspy voice.
  1581. >A shudder rolls through you but you close your eyes.
  1582. >You knew what Vargas wanted.
  1583. >An slave couldn’t attack their owner and it was your job to teach that.
  1584. >You had to make sure they never dared to try.
  1585. >You breath slow, breaths feeling cold and dry in your chest.
  1586. >In your mind’s eye you focus on those pretty eyes that looked at you like you were worth something.
  1587. >You steady your foot, extend her wing against your thigh...
  1588. >And you twist.
  1589. >The snap echoes off the walls.
  1590. >There is silence for what seems like an eternity as the world is still.
  1592. >And then she screamed in agony.
  1594. >Warm liquid poured across your fingertips.
  1595. >You're trembling and still holding her now twisted wing like a man clinging to a life raft.
  1596. >You let go, not saying a word in the cacophony as you watched her coat turn red on her back.
  1597. >She cursed you as she screamed, wailing for all the world to hear what you had taken from her.
  1598. >All you felt was dizzy and sick.
  1599. >Vargas was there still.
  1600. >He stood, a casual look of amusement on his face.
  1602. >You left the room with him, though you might as well have been in your own little world.
  1603. >Hardly anything reached you as he talked outside the cell.
  1604. >All you could hear was Lightning, screaming in pain.
  1605. >The cells were soundproof.
  1606. >He eventually turned, offered a hand which you shake, and told you “Welcome to Hub group,” with his friendly smile that seemed far too twisted, then headed down the hallway.
  1607. >Your stomach knots, and you careen into a nearby bathroom.
  1608. >You didn’t make it to the toilets before your stomach emptied onto the clean tile floor.
  1609. >Dark vignettes closed around you and you felt your head lighten.
  1610. >Your body fell as consciousness slips away.
  1612. --
  1614. >You woke up after fainting a little while later with the smell of sour vomit permeating the bathroom.
  1615. >The rest of the night was something of a blur in your memory.
  1616. >See the secretary about some finals papers… drive home… stumble into apartment...
  1617. >You had gone right to see her, Marble that is.
  1618. >She was still in bed and had been sleeping
  1619. >Must have woke up when you came in.
  1621. >The moment you laid eyes on her you started picking up body language.
  1622. >Ears back….mouth slightly open...forehooves pulled close…
  1623. >You shake your head and clench your eyes shut.
  1624. >”Anon? A-Are you okay?” she says.
  1625. >You flinch and look up at Marble.
  1626. “I’m fine!” you say.
  1627. >She flinches and pulls the covers up slightly.
  1628. >And here you are yelling at poor Marble.
  1629. >She just wanted to know if you’re okay.
  1630. “Just, had a rough night is all. I’m not in the mood to talk about it.”
  1631. >She paused, her eyes flicking across your face.
  1632. >”Okay, if that’s what you want, sir,” she said, looking down.
  1633. >You stand there in the doorway, unsure of what to say.
  1634. >There was good news.
  1635. >You had a job finally.
  1636. >Yet...
  1637. >A wave of nausea pulses through you, and the faint echoes of Lightning Dust’s howls seem to echo far in the distance.
  1638. >Could you really continue if it was going to be like that?
  1639. >If you didn’t though…
  1640. >Marble’s gaze snaps away from you when you look up at her.
  1641. >Her pretty purple eyes shined in the dim light, and you could see the a thin frown on her face as she fidgeted.
  1642. “M-Marble… can I ask you something?”
  1643. >She looked up, seemingly startled, and nodded.
  1644. “Am I… a bad person?”
  1645. >”What? Why would you...”
  1646. ”I—agh, nevermind. I’m going to get some sleep. Forget I said anything.”
  1647. >You turned and shut the door.
  1648. >Heading to the couch, you face planted onto it and pulled a pillow over your head.
  1649. >Why did you ask her that?
  1650. >She barely knew you.
  1651. >A thud sounded from your room and you heard a muffled ‘ow’.
  1652. >Your bedroom door creaked open a moment later, and you turned to see Marble in the doorway.
  1653. >She walked forward, wincing with each step and moving with a limp.
  1654. “Marble, what are you doing? Stop”
  1655. >Her ears went back and she froze, then sat down.
  1656. “Yes, sir,” she said meekly.
  1657. >You could barely make out her outline with only the light from the bedroom leaking in, but you could still see those deep violet eyes staring up at you.
  1658. >You furrow your brow.
  1659. “Marble, what are earth are you doing getting up? You could hurt yourself right now.”
  1660. >”I know,” she said softly.
  1661. “Then what are you doing?”
  1662. >”You don’t have to be alone, Anon. I’ll leave if you really don’t want me here. I understand but...Anon, I think with all you’ve done, even if there are things you aren’t proud of, you’re a good person.”
  1663. >You watch her in the semidarkness for a moment.
  1664. >A sigh escapes you and you lay back down.
  1665. >A moment later, a smile works its way onto your face and a short laugh bubbles up from you.
  1666. >She frowns and a blush spreads across her snout.
  1667. >“Th-That was stupid, wasn’t it?”
  1668. >You get up and walk over to the mare, putting a hand to her cheek, moving her face to look up at you.
  1669. ”Hey, Marble?”
  1670. >”Y-Yes?”
  1671. “Thank you.”
  1672. >She beamed back and wrapped her arms around your neck in a hug.
  1673. >A warmth spread in your chest, not having realized how cold you had felt this whole time.
  1674. >You return the embrace, careful of her scars but still pulling her as close as you dared.
  1675. >As long as Marble was here… maybe you could get by.
  1677. ----------------------------------
  1679. >You blink awake.
  1680. >Your sight blurs and your mouth stretches in a yawn.
  1681. >The sun looked like it had been up for quite some time by the color coming in from the port windows behind the bed.
  1682. >You stretch an arm up and undo the latch then swung the porthole to the side.
  1683. >Redheart liked waking up to the sound of ocean waves.
  1684. >The mare had curled up and lay against your stomach.
  1685. >She stirred and gave a small moan.
  1686. >You smile, lay a hand down and run your fingers through her coat and mane.
  1687. >It was going to be a busy day.
  1688. >Letting her sleep in a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt though.
  1689. >Poor girl had a rough night.
  1691. >Your mind wandered back to last night’s dream.
  1692. >It had been a long time since you had dreamt about that night.
  1694. >It had taught you a lot.
  1695. >Foremost being what kind of man Vargas was.
  1696. >He had deliberately given you those tasks, knowing the first was arbitrary and the second was unreasonable.
  1697. >Every piece had fallen into place like he wanted…
  1698. >It was no wonder a company like Hub had grown so big with him at the helm.
  1699. >But despite how the two of you disagreed, he was a man you could learn from.
  1700. >It didn’t matter if you liked him or not.
  1702. >You lift your left hand up, stare at the palm, and clench your hand a few times as you think back.
  1703. >Vargas was ruthless and calculating… meticulously so at times.
  1704. >You’d signed some basic liability papers up front so your injuries were all on you.
  1705. >There was specifically a line stating you wouldn’t let any ponies out of their restraints.
  1706. >You wouldn’t have sued for the fracture anyhow.
  1707. >Don’t shit where you eat as they say.
  1708. >Besides, you were given an assistant with medical expertise.
  1710. >Still, you can’t help but realize how right Vargas was.
  1711. >Sapience changes everything.
  1712. >Violence with animals only teaches them that you’re a threat or outright confuses them.
  1713. >They don’t learn well from it.
  1714. >Dogs and Ponies were completely different.
  1715. >Ponies could learn to fear.
  1717. >And that fear could turn to obedience.
  1719. >Vargas was right.
  1720. >You clench your fist till it turned white.
  1721. >Somehow that burned you.
  1723. >Redheart stirred and sat up, putting her chin on your stomach.
  1724. >She gave a yawn and blinked blearily at you.
  1725. >Her hair was out of its usual bun and fell in front of her face.
  1726. >”Anon…?” she said with a yawn. “What’re you doin’ here?”
  1727. >You scratch behind her ears, stimulating her a bit to get her to wake up more.
  1728. “I crashed in your bed, remember?”
  1729. >”Ooohmmnnnn…” she said, eyes easing closed and leaning into your hand.
  1730. “We have a lot of work today, and sleeping in puts us behind schedule. You want me to head down to commons and get some coffee?”
  1731. >”Oh, I don’t want to bug you. Ah’m ready for *yawn* duty, sir.”
  1732. “Yeah, I’m going to get you some coffee…”
  1733. >You get off the bed, ignoring the whine from Redheart.
  1734. >She was just not a morning pony without her caffeine.
  1735. >Having slept in your clothes, you could head down to commons right away.
  1736. >The door unlocks after you input your pin, and you step out into the hallway of the east medical wing.
  1737. >You stifle a yawn as you head down the hallway, giving polite nods to patrolling security staff as you walk past them.
  1738. >The medical wing always felt spacious and comfortable to you.
  1740. >The hallways here were roomy, four-man width, to make room for a gurney and two staff members on either side.
  1741. >Other platforms weren’t nearly as cramped, but this wing was for practical purposes, and the medical staff had insisted on a lot of different facility rooms.
  1742. >Vargas had agreed, and outfitted the place for just about anything—ranging from emergency surgery to dental work.
  1743. >Rightfully so too.
  1744. >If anything went down, the nearest hospital was a good half hour chopper ride away.
  1745. >Infections and broken bones were common with ponies who came in, though sometimes not from capture or previous owner treatment unfortunately.
  1746. >A lot of the dangerous work would be handed down to them, and when you weren’t here, training accidents seemed to happen often.
  1747. >The ponies needed medical attention all the time it seemed…
  1748. >Vargas was the type to maintain product health at least.
  1750. >The door to the medical commons slides open and you step in to see things mostly empty.
  1751. >Several tables host medical team members or security people, but none are full.
  1752. >A handful of collared ponies mill about, grabbing this or that from a breakfast area after scanning their paycards, and munching on it in small groups or alone.
  1753. >In the city, the appearance of ponies going about as they please would probably have set off red flags for most people, but everything on base was designed to help ponies adjust to their new lifestyle while making sure everything was safe and secure.
  1754. >Each slave had a collar that would act like an electric fence device, keeping them in certain areas at certain times in the day.
  1755. >Along with this, they all had credit points they could earn that would be applied to their own unique paycards.
  1756. >This was something Redheart had actually suggested.
  1757. >It let you hand out a kind of reward for good behavior and let ponies take initiative in earning something for themselves when they did some work that was posted on boards around the rig.
  1758. >It wasn’t perfect, but the result was that they didn’t feel the weight of their collars as much, at least in concept.
  1759. >Getting them took more fighting than you had expected.
  1760. >Some people wanted ponies to gain a sense of total dependance from a master who is the only source of things they receive but something about that idea didn’t sit right with you.
  1761. >There shouldn’t be a need for another chain tying them to you if they’re treated well enough.
  1762. >At least that’s what you liked to believe.
  1763. >Figuring out how to give them the best situation took more guesswork than you cared to admit.
  1764. >You’d be over your head without Redheart.
  1765. >She wasn’t afraid to tell you if you were doing something stupid.
  1767. >You head over to the breakfast area, grab a styrofoam cup, and press down on the coffee dispenser while holding the cup in place.
  1768. >It occurs to you the room was unusually quiet this morning.
  1769. >Out of the corner of your eye you see some people leaning to whisper to one another.
  1770. >Their heads swiveled to look at you over their shoulders.
  1771. >You turn with the now filled coffee cup.
  1772. >There’s a cascade of hushed mutters and suddenly table occupants seem amazingly interested in their bowls of cereal.
  1773. “Last night’s scene must be getting around. Whatever… Let ‘em gossip,” you mumble.
  1774. >You shrug and idly take a sip of black coffee.
  1775. >...
  1776. >Goddammit that wasn’t for you.
  1777. >You scowl, put the cup down, and start filling another.
  1778. >A small stomach growl alerts you to a pony at your side, and you look down to see a teal mare stretch up on her hind legs to look up over the counter.
  1779. >Her bandaged nose points toward a clear box filled with bagels and muffins.
  1780. “Need help?”
  1781. >She gives a start, and looks up to you.
  1782. >Her eyes widen.
  1783. >”A-Ah, you’re the trainer, A-Anomalous. I mean Anonymous, s-sir, that is.”
  1784. >You quirk an eyebrow at her.
  1785. “Yeah…. Anonymous.”
  1786. >You could feel your tired mind’s gears clinking along as you looked down at the mare.
  1787. “Moon Dust…? I thought you got bought in a big contract.”
  1788. >”Wha—you know my name? Er, well, I guess you would. You’re this rig’s trainer. I was going to leave this morning but they declined payment.”
  1789. >She kicks out a hoof and looks to the side.
  1790. >”I guess they didn’t like me but… I can’t say I’m not relieved. I-I mean, it’s unfortunate. I should be thankful to be taken in by someone, sir.”
  1791. >Her stomach gurgles and she blushes.
  1792. >”Oh um. S-Sorry if I was bothering you, sir. I was hoping to get something to eat but I don’t have my paycard with me.”
  1793. “Can’t you just go back to your room to get it?”
  1794. >”Oh well…” she said and pointed to her collar. “The collar will start shocking if I get too far from where I’m supposed to be. I have 20 more minutes left for breakfast right now and I can’t leave until that time is done.”
  1795. >Right, they just started these versions.
  1796. >The idea was to have more staff hands free while keeping slaves from gathering.
  1797. >Brilliant really, though in this case a bit of a pain.
  1798. >You didn’t have clearance to do anything about it unfortunately.
  1799. >Redheart, probably still waking up.
  1800. >It was a good thing she was your assistant.
  1801. >She was tracked, but for the most part, her collar let her wherever she wanted during the daytime.
  1802. >The pony in front of you didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in.
  1804. “So… you’re just going hungry?”
  1805. >She gives a shrug and nervous laugh.
  1806. >”Yeah I guess so… didn’t get to eat last night either. They told me not to so I couldn’t throw u—uh, nevermind.”
  1807. >Right, she was the pony bought for Omali…
  1808. >Those were the guys from last night.
  1809. >They declined payment because of you.
  1810. >Vargas was going to have your ass for this.
  1811. >You should really think things through next time.
  1812. >Still, part of you feels good she’s still here than with them.
  1813. >Another part of you knows she didn’t misplace her card and security probably didn’t give it back to her like they were supposed to.
  1814. >They would some time today, as was policy, but a mare who got dumped out of a contract tended to attract spite.
  1815. >Even if it wasn’t her fault.
  1817. >You reach in your pocket for your card and hold it over a different box higher up.
  1818. >A click sounds and you grab a styrofoam cereal bowl, then press a button.
  1819. >Premium honey oats fill the bowl in a few seconds and you hold it out to Moon Dust.
  1820. “Here. Don’t spill it on your way to the table.”
  1821. >She looks up and backs away suddenly.
  1822. >”Oh, sir, I’ve never even had— well I have, but only as a special reward for something. They’re really expensive for us to try and earn. I can’t accept that.”
  1823. “Huh. I thought you’d like them. Ponies tell me these taste amazing.”
  1824. >You waft the bowl near her face and she opens her mouth slightly.
  1825. >“They do…”
  1826. “Good. Be careful then,” you say and place it on her back.
  1827. >”If you feel nervous about it, I’ll sit down with you. If anybody asks, I’ll tell them you did a job for me.”
  1828. >She stared down to the floor, trying to hide her face from you.
  1829. >”Thank you, sir.”
  1830. “It’s not a big deal.”
  1832. >After grabbing some frosted flakes and an apple, you head over to an empty table with Moon Dust.
  1833. >She sits down and glances around the room.
  1834. >The mare fidgets, putting her hooves in her lap and biting her lip.
  1835. >”You know, sir, I don’t think I’m hungr—”
  1836. >Her stomach let out a loud gurgle and she snaps her mouth shut.
  1837. >A shade of pink showed through on her cheeks.
  1838. >You hide your smile behind a sip of coffee, and she gives a sigh and starts eating.
  1839. “Do you not want me sitting with you?”
  1840. > “No it’s not that. I just— I feel bad. ”
  1841. >You quirk an eyebrow.
  1842. ”For what? You said yourself, the good oats are usually a reward.”
  1843. >”But that’s just it. I got dumped out of contract. I cried and put my hooves over my head when I was told not to and… I don’t deserve this.”
  1844. >Moon Dust pushes the bowl toward the center of the table.
  1845. >“It doesn’t feel right.”
  1846. >She didn’t know.
  1847. >Somehow Moon Dust thought it was her fault.
  1848. >Suddenly a sickening feeling settles in your stomach.
  1849. >Here you were, sitting right next to her and twisting the knife by doing what she saw as pampering.
  1850. >Hell, you just felt bad and wanted to give her something to eat.
  1851. >What were you supposed to do?
  1852. >She wasn’t being punished for any actual reason.
  1853. >You let out a sigh.
  1854. >She didn’t see it that way though, and sometimes until guilt was taken care of, it could fester and hurt esteem.
  1855. >Moon Dust wants to be punished.
  1856. >Fine then, we’ll play the game that way.
  1857. >You take your plastic spoon and scoop up some oats from the center bowl, then move it towards her muzzle.
  1858. “If you won’t eat like a mare, you’ll be treated like a filly. Open up.”
  1859. >She blinks.
  1860. “Huh…?”
  1861. “This will be your punishment. You’ll be fed like a child in front of all the ponies and staff here.”
  1862. >Your heart starts to ramp up but you keep your face placid.
  1863. >This was undoubtedly one of the dumbest punishments you could have thought up.
  1864. >But you can sell a lie if it’s big enough and there’s a hint of truth.
  1865. >You focus on her.
  1866. >Pupils dilated… breathing sped signaling heightened heart rate… tail fidgeting… keeps looking around but keeps her gaze down…
  1867. >It seems like it’s working but she could just be naturally nervous around me.
  1868. >She looked up at you under her turquoise mane.
  1869. >Moon Dust inched forward, stopped, pursed her lips, then finally moved in and put her mouth around the spoon.
  1870. “Good girl,” you say and give her a smile.
  1871. >She blushes bright red and gives a small, embarrassed whine as she chewed.
  1872. >You inwardly breath a sigh of relief.
  1873. >The stupid things you do for ponies lately...
  1874. >”Uhm, I can do it myself now, if that’s okay with you.”
  1875. “No,” you say and get another bite for her. “You haven’t proven you can handle responsibility.”
  1876. >She squirms in her seat and took another bite.
  1877. “Yes, sir.”
  1878. >...
  1879. >Why is this working…?
  1880. >You continue feeding her, and it gradually settles into routine.
  1881. >Scoop, eats, avoids eye contact and scrunches muzzle, checks the room and squirms a bit, repeat…
  1882. >A smile starts up on your face and you relax.
  1883. >This was actually strangely enjoyable.
  1884. >Maybe it could be intimate if the situation were different.
  1885. >...
  1886. >Just keep feeding her, you weirdo.
  1888. --
  1890. >Midway to another bite from Moon Dust, your phone rings.
  1891. >You pick it up with your right hand and settle it against your cheek.
  1893. “Hub group trainer division, Anon speaking, what can I help you with?”
  1894. >”You don’t check caller ID anymore?” a deep voice drones on the line.
  1895. >Shit. It was Vargas.
  1896. “Um, I’m a little busy right now, boss, can we talk some other time.”
  1897. >”No, but points for trying.
  1898. >You sigh.
  1899. ”Alright, give me a second, I’m working with someone right now.”
  1900. >You put your phone’s mic on mute and turn to Moon Dust.
  1901. “I have to take this.”
  1902. “I understand, sir.”
  1903. “Hey, Moony?” you say pulling her chin up. “If anybody gives you any trouble, just point them over to me, okay? In the meantime, I want you to eat up.”
  1904. “Are you not going to punish me anymore?” she said, looking down at her lap.
  1905. >Was that disappointment?
  1906. >Can’t be.
  1907. >Must be reading her wrong…
  1908. “If you still think you need more, I’ll come up with something. Truthfully speaking, I just want you to maintain your health. Can you do that for me?”
  1909. >She scrunches her snout before looking up and nodding.
  1910. >You pat her head.
  1911. “That’s a good girl.”
  1912. >She squirms and blushes at that.
  1913. >Time to get this call over with then.
  1914. >You put some distance between yourself and the rest of the common room, making sure to keep a sightline with Moon Dust.
  1916. “Alright, boss, I’m here.”
  1917. >“You know sometimes when I watch you I see a highly skilled, perceptive individual despite your hiccups.
  1918. >”Here you are making me wait for a confrontation. Waiting on someone to cool down is a good tact, I’ll give you credit for that much.
  1919. >”For the record though I’m merely miffed at some missing revenue this morning. I understand you found it within your interest to object to Omalis client’s treatment of your assistant?”
  1920. ”That’s—accurate.”
  1921. >”And this objection included a fractured neck, eye socket, two broken ribs, and… a missing pocket knife?”
  1922. >Whoops... apparently it did.
  1923. “Yes sir.”
  1924. >”Riddle me this—in what universe do I not fire and blacklist you for this.”
  1925. >You start sweating.
  1926. >Every universe that made sense.
  1927. >But you had one card to play.
  1928. >Despite your hair trigger, you did make sure to play to the audience with one key thing.
  1929. >You do everything in your power to even out your voice.
  1930. “They violated our weapons rule and used a knife on staff.”
  1931. >”You mean a slave?”
  1932. “A valued member of my team was assaulted. Have you seen the security footage? You’ll see the knife.”
  1933. >You hear a drawn out sigh from the other side and the line is quiet for a few moments.
  1934. >”Looking at the tape now, Mr. Anonymous, I see the knife that you took from them.”
  1935. “Within our own written statutes, it’s the right of any staff member to defend the brig from violence or miscreant behavior due to lack of applicable law enforcement personnel.”
  1936. >”Seems you’ve covered your bases.”
  1937. “Merely did what’s right for Hub.”
  1938. >A deep chuckle rings out over the phone.
  1939. >”Not bad. True enough, they can’t sue due to lawless waters and they indeed are in the wrong. Though…”
  1940. >You hold your breath.
  1941. >”... don’t make it a habit when it’s just a pony next time. I don’t actually care what the Omali think of us but I lost a lot of money on that deal. Keep that in mind in the next few weeks. I’ll be keeping tabs of progress on Luna personally from now on.”
  1942. >You breathe out slowly and lean back.
  1943. >Dodged it.
  1944. >”Well, if this business is concluded, I have some paperwork to do in transferring Moon Dust to the camps.”
  1945. >You nearly drop your phone and feel the blood drain from your face.
  1946. “What did you say…?”
  1947. >”Well, she’s not worth hardly anything now. I pulled a one time blackmail card and that was handed over as of last night. The mare has no special skills and scored with E ranks on nearly every practical skill exam.”
  1948. ”Isn’t she still trained though? North Rig off the Alaskan coast handled it. I thought we only sent hopeless cases to the camps.”
  1949. >”I feel like you weren’t listening if you’re asking me that. Sure, she’s trained, but she’s clumsy. Our clients don’t want some rat they can get at any underground auction. They pay us for quality servants, not charity cases. Even Omali’s boys had no intention of keeping her around forever.”
  1950. >You scowl and bite your tongue.
  1951. >Of course not.
  1952. >They’d throw her in the trash after they were done toying with her.
  1953. >The mare would be tormented until her voice gave out and her tears no longer came.
  1954. >That was their idea of a good time.
  1955. >You’ve seen the broken mares who survive those nights, eyes blankly staring off, hardly eating or reacting to anyone.
  1956. >Marble was a lucky one.
  1957. >She found a reason to live.
  1958. >You don't know what it was, but she found one and that's why you were able to drag her back.
  1959. >You couldn't have done it on your own.
  1960. >You know.
  1961. >You've tried.
  1963. >Your other hand tightens into a fist.
  1964. >Suddenly hearing about how many of their bones you broke felt satisfying.
  1965. “So you haven’t been able to find any buyers for her?”
  1966. >”No point in bothering to put her in listings. Would just hurt quality assurance.”
  1967. >You look over toward Moon Dust.
  1968. >The poor girl has her ears back and looks like a whipped puppy as she looks around.
  1969. >She had barely touched her oats.
  1970. “What if I know somebody that would buy her, and for regular price?”
  1971. >”And who would that moron be?”
  1972. >You take a deep breath, then say it before you have time to regret it.
  1973. “I’ll buy her.”
  1974. >”... Really now… the person who orchestrated the situation in the first place? Anonymous, what happens when an employee is caught tampering with supplies or prices so that something they want goes on sale, mm?”
  1975. ”It has nothing to do with that. I think the tests are not accurate. She shows a lot more potential than I think a client can see. Keep in mind, I never trained her. I’m just observing what a good job North Rig’s trainer did.”
  1976. >You hear Vargas sit back slightly and you decide to keep going.
  1977. “She did excellently last night and listened to all their commands regardless of how it obviously humiliated her. That shows good obedience.
  1978. “I know you can’t have employee’s tampering with product then buying at discount, but that’s why I’m offering full price, here and now.”
  1979. >”...What are you playing at?”
  1980. >What indeed.
  1981. >You’ve been playing it by ear since you got on the rig.
  1982. >You look over to Moon Dust, and watch as she perks up and waves bashfully toward you.
  1983. >There was no reason to stick up for just one pony…
  1984. >She was one of many, and getting involved could only end badly.
  1985. >A part of you knew you shouldn’t start down this road—you shouldn’t start to care or it’d just bring you right back to day one.
  1986. >But when you look at her, and watch how she moves, how she talks and that cute little shyness she had…
  1987. >What was that little pony doing to you…
  1988. “I just think there’s value in her,” you answer. “Let me buy her.”
  1989. >...
  1990. >...
  1991. >”No.”
  1992. >The word rung out and the room seems to drop a few degrees.
  1993. >The hand you held tight drops limply to your side.
  1994. >’That’s what you get,’ a voice in your head whispers.
  1995. “I understand.”
  1996. >”This will conclude our chat then.”
  1997. >The line goes quiet.
  1998. >Your hand comes up to your brow and you give a deep sigh.
  1999. >After all that and Moon Dust was still headed for those camps.
  2000. >Did you have any control over things?
  2001. >Maybe thinking otherwise was your mistake in the first place.
  2002. >You need to learn to let go and stop being such a naive child.
  2003. >Things weren’t going to change all of a sudden because of you.
  2004. >Ponies were slaves.
  2005. >That’s all there was to it.
  2006. >You start to reach for a cigarette before remembering they are back in Redheart’s room.
  2007. >You breath out and lay your head back against the steel wall.
  2008. “What am I even doing right now. I have work to do and I need to get back to her.”
  2009. >You head back over to the table and Moon Dust perks up, smiling at you.
  2010. >Her smile melts away as she looks up at your face.
  2011. >”Is something wrong, sir?”
  2012. “It’s nothing,” you say and glance down at her bowl.
  2013. “Why didn’t you finish eating yet?”
  2014. >She fidgets in her seat and drops her eyes.
  2015. “U-Um, well, I just didn’t feel right about it. I thought I should see my punishment out.”
  2016. >There wasn’t time for this, you think as you pick up the coffee’s you made earlier.
  2017. >This was all a tremendously stupid idea in the first place.
  2018. “If you need a punishment still, go see one of our discipline officers. I have somewhere to be and don’t have time for this,” you say. “Eat it or not. I don’t care.”
  2019. >Her eyes widen and her ears fold back.
  2020. >You hear a quiet whimper of a reply just as you’re turning to leave.
  2021. >“Did I— do something wrong? I-I’m sorry, sir… I don’t know what I did.”
  2022. >She hangs her head.
  2023. >You clench your jaw.
  2024. >Don’t let it get to you.
  2025. >She had nothing to do with you.
  2026. >You leave the common room without another word.
  2028. >The walk back to Redheart’s room is deliberate and mechanical.
  2029. >Too much to do today and too much playing around.
  2030. >You arrive, then balance the coffee’s in one arm and enter the keypin
  2031. >After the click, you step inside.
  2033. >Redheart is lying on her side in bed, her hair still loose to her shoulders which somehow, you had to admit, looks rather alluring on her.
  2034. >She gave you a sleepy smile.
  2035. >”What’s with the grumpy face, mister? Big line at the coffee area? You were gone forever there.”
  2036. >Nobody got coffee at this hour and she knew it.
  2037. >The feeling in your chest loosens a bit and you close your eyes.
  2038. “Yeah, yeah. I got distracted,” you say quietly and hand her a cup.
  2039. >Her eyes light up and she grabs it from you, careful not to spill any.
  2040. >”Oho Sun, I love you, Anon.”
  2041. >You let out a small chuckle as you sit at the foot of the bed, and listen to the happy slurps coming from the pony beside you.
  2042. >”You doing alright? You’re kinda quiet.”
  2043. “It’s nothing.”
  2044. >She gives you a sideways look and frowns for a bit but keeps to her drink.
  2045. “You sound already awake actually.”
  2046. >”Nope. Just now having coffee. Therefore I am only in the process of truly being awake.”
  2047. >You roll your eyes and smirk. “Deep. I’d think you were a philosopher if I didn’t know how slow you are in the mornings without.”
  2048. >She punches your shoulder and scowls at you.
  2049. >You smirk and bop her nose.
  2050. “You can’t be mad when it’s true.”
  2051. >She stuck out her tongue and gave your finger a deep, long lick.
  2052. “Oh ew, Redheart, why?”
  2053. >”Because. Things in my personal space get licked and you were asking for it with your sass.”
  2054. >You smirk. “Oh yeah?”
  2055. >You lean in and put your forehead to hers, staring into her eyes as if to say ‘I dare you’.
  2056. >She doesn’t falter and returns your challenging look with one of her own.
  2057. >Her wet tongue slides up your cheek.
  2058. >You reel back.
  2059. “Agh. Oh my God, you actually did it.”
  2060. >She laughs. “Aha, Anon, come on. You were warned.”
  2061. “Watch it, I’ll get you back.”
  2062. >”Pffff, you wouldn’t do that to a lady,” she says and puts her coffee down.
  2063. “Ooh bad move.”
  2064. >She cocks her head to the side.
  2065. >”Huh?”
  2066. “Your Coffee protection is gone and your poor widdle belly is exposed to me.”
  2067. >Her eyes snap open.
  2068. >“Anon, no—eep!”
  2069. >You pounce on her, laying her back against the bed and press your mouth to her stomach.
  2070. “No… no Anon don’t—” she stammers.
  2071. >It is too late.
  2072. >The time for mercy has passed.
  2073. >You blow a raspberry hard on her stomach and she howls with laughter.
  2074. >Her hooves flail as you assault her little midsection over and over, her voice ringing out in near hysterics.
  2075. >“N-no, Anon, hahahaha, oh my g-, p-plea— AHAHAHAAHAAAA”
  2076. >She gasps for breath and tries to push you off while laughing like a madwoman, tears in her eyes.
  2077. >“Pl-Please, aahahaaaa, ohmygosh, you’re gonna’ make me pee! Anon, please!”
  2078. >You lean back just a foot or so and angle up close to her face.
  2079. >Redheart is gasping for breath and her face is beet red.
  2080. >You give her a shit eating grin and she lightly taps your cheek in a playful slap while giving a goofy, breathless smile back.
  2081. >Huh...
  2082. >Her eyes seem… awfully pretty, you notice.
  2083. >Redheart’s breath feels hot on your neck and chest and you can’t help but notice how nice her fur looks in the morning light, taking on a slightly golden hue.
  2084. >She seems to be staring back and her smile fades.
  2085. >Her eyes look back into yours and her lips part slightly.
  2086. >”Anon...?”
  2087. >You snap out of it and lean off of her.
  2088. “Sorry about that. I got carried away I guess.”
  2089. >She looks down, staring off.
  2090. >“Uh, Yeah I guess,” she says and gives a forced chuckle.
  2091. ”A-Anyhow,” you say. “Finish up with whatever morning stuff you need to do here. We have to get down to the training platform.”
  2092. >”Oh right, the returns and first timers are here.”
  2093. >You give a half hearted shrug and run a hand through your hair.
  2094. >Playtime was over for everyone.
  2096. --
  2099. >Be Redheart.
  2100. >You are now heading down to the training platform strut with Anon just ahead of you.
  2101. >The smell of oatmeal bran muffins hits you as you pass the common room and your stomach growls in protest.
  2102. >There wasn’t time for breakfast today.
  2103. >It’s fine though.
  2104. >You were on a diet and you hardly ate anything in the morning.
  2105. >If you really needed to, you could whisper about it to Anon and he’d go get you something.
  2106. >You wouldn’t do that to him though.
  2107. >Something was bothering him today.
  2108. >You’ve spent enough time with him to know when he was upset, even if he tries to hide it.
  2109. >A bit of good natured teasing this morning put a smile on his face at least.
  2110. >He looked so good when he smiled.
  2111. >Your mind wanders back to this morning when he had just finished tickling you.
  2112. >You had been staring back into those deep green eyes and he caught you red hooved.
  2113. >Something about the way he looked at you though…
  2114. >Your skin had tingled your stomach suddenly did flips for some reason.
  2115. >You shake your head and purse your lips.
  2116. >What was that...
  2117. >Anon was your best friend.
  2118. >He was truthfully handsome though so you suppose it’s natural to notice.
  2119. >You idly wonder if women were always after him back on shore.
  2120. >Either way, he looked out for you.
  2121. >He’d make a great master, and that was worth the world to mares nowadays.
  2122. >You grin to yourself as you trot behind Anon.
  2123. >Anon didn’t own any mares according to him though.
  2124. >That made you feel really lucky sometimes.
  2125. >You were the only one that got to be with the real Anon after hours.
  2126. >Not the Anon he had to be.
  2128. >The two of you enter an observation room overlooking a large open area with a few iron fence pens at the back.
  2129. >The steel grey of the room spoke of it’s practicality, and only a handful of bookshelves and personal amenities from both you and him dot the place.
  2130. >You had opted to keep some of your old medical supplies and tools from equestria, as well as photos of Ponyville.
  2131. >He had used his side of the room to put up certificates, some character figurines, and photos of him with gruff looking men in some strange uniforms alongside German Shepherds.
  2132. >You bound past him and start sorting two piles for the initial paperwork on his desk on one side of the room.
  2133. >It was your job as his assistant to support him as best you can.
  2134. >Today that meant looking after him emotionally and just being there for him, but also taking some extra paperwork if you could.
  2135. >He’d reach out when he was ready.
  2136. >You grab most of the grindy forms and slide them into a tray, then onto your back.
  2137. >Your own desk setup is tucked away behind a few shelves on the other side of the room and you head over, taking care not to drop any forms.
  2138. >“You’re taking all of the 384s?”
  2139. >You nod.
  2140. ”And the TR7 health forms as usual. I’m much faster at those.”
  2141. >His mouth forms a thin line.
  2142. >“How much coffee did you drink again?”
  2143. >You shrug nonchalantly and put the papers down.
  2144. ”What can I say. It’s a new day and I’m ready to get things done.”
  2145. >“Alright, well if you need help, don’t feel bad about handing me a few. That’s a pretty big stack you made there.”
  2146. “What kind of slave master are you? You should be happy.”
  2147. >He flops down in his desk chair and starts going through the remaining forms with a pen.
  2148. “I don’t own your contract, Redheart, Hub does. You’re my assistant, not my slave.”
  2149. >You give a wry smile and start on the first form of many.
  2150. >It was amusing to hear that.
  2151. >He meant it in the nicest way possible.
  2152. >But it probably wouldn’t be so bad if he did own you.
  2153. >You’d get to leave the platform.
  2154. >You let out a heavy sigh and your shoulders sag.
  2155. >It’d been a long time since you saw fresh grass and trees.
  2156. >Almost a year now, being passed between platforms and ships.
  2157. >You shake your head and grab a pen in your mouth.
  2158. >Get it together girl.
  2159. >Now isn’t the time to be feeling bad for yourself.
  2161. --
  2163. >You are still Redheart and you are going to die.
  2164. >Numbers and data swirl in your head as it throbs with the start of a migraine.
  2165. >You glance toward the sizable finished pile.
  2166. >Not bad really… it’s a few inches high.
  2167. >Nodding with appreciation, you turn to the unfinished pile.
  2168. >It was the same height.
  2169. >You lower your head until your forehead clunks on your desk.
  2170. >A groan escapes you.
  2171. >”Oh dear human sun god, whatever your name is, please have mercy and smite me.”
  2172. >You hear, papers shuffling to your left and you bolt upright.
  2173. >Anon was grabbing most of them.
  2174. >You sit up and give him a grumpy whine, reaching out a hoof to stop him.
  2175. >He simply flicks your forehead and you winch.
  2176. “Ahow, Anooon!”
  2177. >“Shush, I’ve been done for the last ten minutes.”
  2178. ”Then study their profiles or get started with them or something. This is mine,” you say, and hug the remaining stack of papers close to yourself.
  2179. >Celestia dammit, Anon, let me be nice to you for once.
  2180. “I’ve been studying profiles for the last THIRTY minutes. That reminds me, we have a few names from your town. Cheerlie taught school there. Oh and do you recognize a Cloud Chaser and Flitter? Sisters.”
  2181. >You blink.
  2182. “They’re here? I thought they finished their training with you two months back.”
  2183. >He shrugs and sits down at his desk, starting to fill some forms.
  2184. >”Well I didn’t train them well enough I guess…”
  2185. >You scowl.
  2186. “It’s not your fault. It’s those terrible clients who bought them with unrealistic expectations.”
  2187. >”Maybe…” he says, staring off.
  2188. >”They’ve only got so many chances though...”
  2189. >You pause and your heart sinks.
  2190. >”Yeah, I know...”
  2191. >You turn back to the papers, thinking of all the friends from Ponyville you saw come through here.
  2192. >”No more slacking,” you say to yourself and grab another form.
  2194. >The rest of the work went by in only a few minutes with Anon sharing the forms.
  2195. >You’ll just have to come up with something else.
  2196. >If only he wasn’t so stubborn.
  2197. >Maybe then you could just be direct and give him a massage or something to help him unwind.
  2198. >You place that idea on a mental list to try to trick him into later.
  2199. >Right now you had to be on the ball.
  2201. >The two of you sort the last slips and exit the office.
  2202. >Below in the open area that your office overlooked, ponies were being led into cages—one cell for each.
  2203. >You head down and Anon scans his card by two steel bulkhead doors.
  2204. >They creak open, letting you in and shutting with a slam behind you.
  2205. >The ponies all sit up at the noise and you scan the room to take inventory.
  2206. >The setup crew had provided the usual rolling tool box, which would be filled with anything and everything Anon might need, from handcuffs to sedatives to treats.
  2207. >Several clips line the walls and floor for attaching gear to, and high above the room, a catwalk looms with all kinds of large devices that couldn't’ be wheeled around but could be lowered with a cable system.
  2209. >Anon presses a button on a remote and all the cages open.
  2210. >He’s looking to get first day over with probably.
  2211. >A sickening feeling settles in your gut as your eyes scan the small group.
  2212. >The first day was the hardest in a lot of ways.
  2213. >Especially for one pony.
  2215. >Anon is looking across them as they walk out too, likely figuring out who to pick.
  2216. >You can’t fathom having to go through what they would.
  2217. >But you also can’t fathom having to choose like that.
  2219. >Anon stands with his legs slightly apart, hands behind his back, and a strict, calculating gaze as he waits from them to come closer.
  2220. >They do, as always, the returns leading the way with heads bowed, and the new ponies following suit, not sure why their peers are so eager to come up to the yellow line painted on the floor before Anon.
  2221. >”If you’re a return, step forward.” Anon says.
  2222. >About half sheepishly step forward and you recognize a few faces.
  2223. >Lily Valley, Apple Cobbler, Cheerilee and Roseluck were all from Ponyville.
  2224. >The other two you didn’t know.
  2225. >”Before I get started, my name is Anonymous. Address me as Master or Master Anonymous. Sir is fine also. The return mares who were trained here will assure you that disrespect of any kind will earn you less than favorable circumstances. I am your worst nightmare if you cross me or any of the staff here. You’d do well to be humble and thankful around any humans or slave staff here.”
  2226. >He pauses, watching their reactions.
  2227. >The front row stays quiet while the new ponies whisper and shoot worried glances at one another.
  2228. >“That brings us to our first lesson,” Anon said. “You probably haven’t had a chance to clean yourself since you were shipped here. It’s not much to me, but I know you all are probably bothered by it considering your sense of smell, and well, it feels good to be clean.”
  2229. >He nods to the doorless shower rooms.
  2230. “In the room to your right, there is a small group shower facility. It has hot water, scented soaps—anything you should need to get freshened up.”
  2231. >A few of the ponies perk up at this, and glance at one another, not sure what to think of this gesture.
  2232. >The returns, all but Roseluck who looked down with a forlorn expression all respond with “Yes, Master” or “Thank you very much, Master.”
  2233. >Some of the new ponies scowl or curl an upper lip at the returns, but a most only look embarrassed.
  2234. >One by one, most of the ponies took their turn giving their thanks.
  2235. >”Y-Yes, Master, I’ll use it well.”
  2236. >”Thank you, um, Master.”
  2237. >”That is gracious of you, Master.”
  2238. >”Sir, I appreciate the gift.”
  2239. >Part of you feels a twinge of nausea and horror at listening to them, but it’s nothing but a flicker.
  2240. >You’ve been through the routines too many times.
  2242. >Anon surveys the group for a moment then spoke.
  2243. >“Good, some of you know how to be thankful when something is given to you. Know that besides today, you’ll have to spend points if you want luxuries like hot water. We’re in the middle of the ocean, and we don’t have enough for everyone to use. This is a treat that some of you get today because you showed obedience. The returned ponies and the ones who did not show gratitude, stay here. The rest of you, go ahead and enjoy your showers.
  2244. >”It won't be that easy to earn things in the future, but this is the first step. Meet back here within ten minutes.”
  2245. >With that, the ponies in the back row, minus a lime green pony with a cowboy hat and a canterlotian white pony with a pink mane, head off to the showers, giving the others who they left behind worried looks.
  2246. >The return ponies glance at one another—all but Roseluck at least.
  2247. >This must be her third time being returned.
  2248. >Poor Rose…
  2250. >Anon walks over to a firebox on the wall, unlocks it, and starts to uncoil the hose.
  2251. >You heard Rose whimper, and you hum thoughtfully.
  2252. >Honestly it wasn’t that bad.
  2253. >They’d experience much worse in their lives if Anon didn’t prepare them.
  2254. >You do still barely remember a time when watching this disturbed you though.
  2255. >How long ago was that…
  2257. >Anon finishes working with the hose and gives it a few test blasts off to the side.
  2258. >Water blew out in a gush and he adjusts the nozzle down, though you could still hear the harsh slap of water on the floor.
  2259. >He presses a button on a pocket remote and drains open up in the floor.
  2260. >”For those that haven’t guessed,” he begins, “ponies who are not interested in serving their masters are in for an unpleasant time. If you do not obey, punishments get worse. Accept them as they come, even if you don’t agree, and they’ll become a passing memory in no time.”
  2261. >The pony’s in the back row glare at him and the one in the cowboy hat spoke up.
  2262. >>”You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me. You’re going to hose us down with that?”
  2263. >”Yes, and if you’re feeling talkative, you’re going to step up and be the first.”
  2264. >>The pony spits. “Like hell I am.”
  2265. >She walks right up to Anon, and the front row balks, whisper yelling at her to stop and sit back down.
  2266. >The mare didn’t listen and walks right up to Anon.
  2267. >Anon for his credit didn’t show a flicker in his demeanor and kept on with examining the hose.
  2268. >>”If you think for a SECOND, I’m going to be a submissive little cur and let you make me into your little precious little slave then you have ‘nother thing comin’. There’s nothing stopping me from bucking you into next week!”
  2269. >Anon’s careless gaze flickers suddenly, and he frowns.
  2270. >Just as the pony starts to turn and crouch, he sidesteps and reaches down, grabbing her by the neck.
  2271. >>”What the—”
  2272. >Anon shoves her down onto the concrete floor, forcing her legs to buckle and pinning her in place.
  2273. >The mare gasps and hacks as his hand keeps a firm hold on her neck, but not hard enough to strangle.
  2274. >She struggles, but thankfully it looks like she’d been taking her magic supplements and was too weak to break free.
  2275. >The mare was luckier than she knew.
  2276. >Anon had moved fast for her sake.
  2277. >If the hidden cameras caught her trying to attack Anon, it would force his hand.
  2279. >Anon motions over to you, and you open the first drawer from the large, wheeled tool chest.
  2280. >You grab the first item in your mouth and trot over, handing it to him.
  2281. >The device was a double spreader bar, with a chain linking the two bars and another chain leading from the middle to hook into any of the clips settled in the floor.
  2282. >As the mare gasps for breath and struggles in his grip, Anon clips her hooves into the spreaders and drags her away from the group.
  2283. >He hooks a finger around a notch and brought up a clip which secures the spreaders to the floor and walks away just as the mare was catching her breath and staggering to her feet.
  2284. >Without so much as a twitch of emotion, he dusts his hands and walks back to the hose.
  2285. >”Who wants to get clean first?”
  2287. >The ponies don’t say a word, and you can practically feel their trepidation.
  2288. >”I will, sir,” Roseluck says with her head bowed.
  2289. >Anon nods and she takes her place.
  2291. --
  2292. AN: past tense from here on out. I keep switching to it unconsciously and having to edit.
  2294. >The cleanings went like usual.
  2295. >The defiant pony yelled taunts at Anon while he laid into other mares with the hose.
  2296. >They all cringed and winced at the sharp sting of both the pressure and the cold, but they all stayed mostly quiet, save for a whimper here and there.
  2297. >You’ve never experienced it yourself thankfully, but you have had your fair share of cold showers on the rig.
  2298. >You hated them, but they weren’t the worst slave life had to offer.
  2300. >After a little while, some of the new mares came back from their showers, towels wrapped in their mane or around their barrels.
  2301. >A few of them paled or pulled their ears back as they saw what the noise had been about.
  2302. >They took their place all the same, likely thankful it wasn’t them under Anon’s focus today.
  2303. >You idly stare at the floor and dig your hoof into it.
  2304. >Their day wasn’t over yet.
  2306. >”Okay, that’s the last one then,” Anon said and he gestured for a pink coated pony to return to the group.
  2307. >>”Hey, I’m talkin’ to you, you big dumb ape—”
  2308. >Anon reached in his pocket and produced a remoted and clicked the button.
  2309. >A loud surge of energy shot through the green pony, and she screamed.
  2310. >Her legs wavered and she collapsed, unconscious.
  2311. >She probably was going to be the pony he choose today… poor thing.
  2312. >The mare had been defiant but she still didn’t deserve it.
  2313. >Anon started over to the fallen mare but stopped for some reason.
  2314. >He narrowed his eyes and looked across the ponies who waited on the line.
  2315. >His mouth moved as his eyes flicked across them.
  2316. >”Six… seven… eight—”
  2317. >You blink.
  2318. >You hadn’t even noticed but one of them was missing.
  2320. >Anon scowled then looked toward the shower room.
  2321. >Your sensitive ears picked up the sound of a shower still running and you clicked your tongue.
  2322. >Looks like no hot showers for you tonight…
  2323. >If only he’d just go in and take them out of there, but Anon insisted on letting them make their choices.
  2324. >He crossed his arms and relaxed his posture.
  2325. >And so you waited.
  2327. --
  2329. >Thirty five minutes.
  2330. >It was thirty five minutes before you heard the shower shut off and listened to the peppy clop-trot of the pony coming back to join the others.
  2331. >Your heart sank when you saw who it was—the one filly of the group.
  2332. >Anon stopped and turned toward the foal.
  2333. >His facade failed for a moment, and he stared at her with dread.
  2334. >A moment passed and he regained his hardened expression, just as the foal plopped herself down in line.
  2335. >”... Dinky.” Anon said, his voice hard, but underneath you could hear a tint of desperation.
  2336. >She jerked and looked up at him with a questioning gaze.
  2337. >>”You know my name?”
  2338. >He didn’t answer.
  2339. >”Dinky, how long were you in there?”
  2340. >The filly fidgeted in place, catching his tone.
  2341. >>”Uh, I don’t really know.”
  2342. >Anon’s eyes flicked toward the tool box and he tightened his fist.
  2343. >Maybe he’ll find an out for her…
  2344. >He would discipline foals if he had to.
  2345. >But he’d give them their best chance to avoid it.
  2346. >”The water ran for 37 minutes. How long did I ask you to limit yourself?”
  2347. >>”The limit…?”
  2348. >The filly’s inner eyebrows turned up at his tone and she took a slight step back.
  2349. >>”I-I forgot—I’m sorry. It just felt really good and I kinda got lost in just thinking about—m-my mom and—”
  2350. >”The rate of each shower is around 1.9 gallons per minute. You’ve used 70 gallons of heated freshwater. Each of you had a relative allowance of 10 minutes, or 19 gallons. You’ve used shower time for several others on the rig.”
  2351. >>”But it’s just water… I don’t…”
  2352. >Her eyes darted from one pony to the next, likely hoping for some support or explanation.
  2353. >The mares didn’t speak a word.
  2354. >Most knew what talking out of turn or arguing would get them, it seemed.
  2355. >”Dinky, look at me right now,” Anon said, taking a few steps toward her.
  2356. >”Water here, especially hot water, is a luxury, and even if it weren’t, you haven’t grasped the real issue.”
  2357. >Dinky looked up at him, pupils shrunken and her mouth trembling.
  2358. >She was folding to the pressure.
  2359. >Anon clasped his hands behind his back, his mouth a firm line.
  2360. >He waited for a few moments just watching her passively.
  2361. >Her eyes started to get misty.
  2362. >>”I… what do I say? I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to use up all the hot water.”
  2363. >Anon frowned and let out a sigh.
  2364. >”Walk forward. You’ll receive a punishment.”
  2365. >>>”No! She didn’t mean it,” Cheerilee said, leveling a look at Anon.
  2366. >Anon furrowed his brow.
  2367. >”Cheerilee? This isn’t something I expected out of you…”
  2368. >Cheerilee pursed her lips and stood still.
  2369. >>>”She’s just a foal, sir. She’s bound to make some mistakes the first time. Punishing her right out isn’t the way to help her.”
  2370. >Anon’s stern expression flickered again.
  2371. >For just a moment, you saw doubt flash across his face.
  2372. >”This isn’t something you have a say in.”
  2373. >He took another step towards Dinky.
  2374. >Cheerilee looked down at the floor, then toward the scared foal.
  2375. >She closed her eyes, shook her head.
  2376. >>>”No, it’s not right. I won’t let you.”
  2377. >She bounded across the distance and slid between Anon and the filly.
  2378. >The mare glared up at Anon, her stance spread and her muscles tensed.
  2379. >”You’re out of line, Cheerilee.”
  2380. >>>”I don’t care.”
  2381. >”It’s not your place to decide how I teach anyone here.”
  2382. >>>”Even if I’m right!?”
  2383. >...
  2384. >”Step aside.”
  2385. >>>”Punish me instead if you need to make an example.”
  2386. >”You don’t make that choice,” Anon said and started walking forward.
  2387. >Cherilee tensed her eyes widening.
  2388. >>>”D-Don’t come closer.”
  2389. >Anon ignored her and closed in on Dinky.
  2390. >Cherilee tried to muscle in between, but Anon simply held her to the side and picked up Dinky by the scruff.
  2391. >>>”N-No! Hey, leave her be!”
  2392. >Dinky started to kick and scream, saying she’d be a good filly.
  2393. >You watched, numbed to the process.
  2394. >After so many iterations, you’d eventually come to terms with it all.
  2395. >He’d not hurt her but they didn’t know that.
  2396. >Anon would just separate her for a few days and give her a firm talk right away.
  2397. >It still could be so much worse…
  2398. >Adults he had the stomach to be rougher with.
  2400. >They didn’t know that though.
  2402. >You also knew that he had to ignore any Martyr pleas.
  2403. >Ponies do not have control, even over their own punishments.
  2404. >Judging by the tears and yelling, Cheerilee felt awfully helpless.
  2405. >You nodded to yourself.
  2406. >That was really just the way it had to be.
  2407. >Anon wouldn’t punish her.
  2408. >And that would be her punishment.
  2410. >>>”No! Stop it! Stop it and put her down!” Cheerilee said, as she continually ran to try to be in between Anon and you at the tool cart.
  2411. >She started to cry and push against Anon, who kept ignoring her.
  2412. >>”Miss Cheerilee,” Dinky said, “What’s going on?”
  2413. >>>”Dinky… Dinky, you’re going to be fine, okay? Just…”
  2414. >She looked at the ground and and shut her eyes tight.
  2415. >>>“Whatever happens, just stay quiet and don’t show Mr. Anon any more disrespect, and listen to Rose or Lily, okay?”
  2416. >Cheerilee dashed forward, opened her mouth, and bit down hard on Anon’s leg.
  2417. >Anon gave a yell, stumbled for a few steps and dropped Dinky, who ran over to the flower sisters.
  2418. >Cheerilee kept her mouth clamped down while Anon simply tried to shake her off.
  2419. >A piece of fabric from Anon’s pants tore, sending Cheerilee tumbling to the floor.
  2420. >A small trickle of blood soaked into the pants leg and square teeth marks showed on his leg through the hole.
  2421. >Cheerilee spat out the fabric and rose to her feet.
  2422. >Anon bent down with a wince to check the wound.
  2423. >He sighed and turned back to Cheerilee.
  2424. >”You may be disappointed to hear this, Cheerilee, but it doesn’t look bad. You’re lucky. Still, injuring a staff member is a serious matter.”
  2425. >Anon rose to his feet and walked to her, his muscles tensed and ready this time.
  2426. >He loomed over the pony, but she returned his look with a glare of her own, and despite the height difference, she seemed to match him in some way.
  2427. >”Probably my fault for not being ready,” Anon said. “I should have known you’d go this far. In any case, if you want my attention so badly, you have it now,” he pressed a button on a remote and a line of rope lowered from the ceiling with a whirring sound.
  2428. >”Wait in that spot,” he said, and pointed where the rope touched down a few feet in front of the group.
  2429. >Cheerilee walked around him and took her place without a word.
  2430. >Anon tied her front hooves in the ropes with practiced ease, and raised the rope.
  2431. >Cheerilee gave a wince and soon she was forced up on her hindlegs.
  2432. >Anon headed to the chest, opened the top drawer, and picked up a long, jet-black whip.
  2433. >”The take away for today is simple,” he said, coming behind Cheerilee and addressing the group.
  2434. >”Dinky, the water use is bad, but I can cut it off if it gets to be a problem. Right now, all it means is that you and the rest of the trainees won’t be allowed hot showers for a while. The importance of today is to learn to follow directions, as well as to remember to always show respect to your masters.
  2435. >”Not once when I asked Dinky, did she think she’d done anything wrong until I told her. You’ll need to learn to anticipate your master's needs as well as take what they say seriously.
  2436. >”But that’s not the only important lesson today.”
  2437. >He turned to Cheerilee and her ears went back and she darted her gaze away.
  2438. >The mare was still mad but you could see her trembling from where you sat.
  2439. >”If any of you disobey or do something wrong, like attacking your master, the punishments can and will be severe. I assure you, that I will be one of the most severe masters, but know there are worse. Cherilee?”
  2440. >>>”...what?” she spat.
  2441. >”There will be thirty lashes.”
  2442. >Cheerilee paled and looked back at him with wide eyes.
  2443. >>>”Th-Thirty?”
  2445. >For attacking a master, that often meant a lot worse, you thought to yourself.
  2446. >At minimum other rig trainers would slap on a few for each time she had addressed him without calling him master.
  2447. >Anon looked down, his shoulders sagging just a smidge.
  2449. “Yes, Cheerilee. Keep count or we will start over.”
  2451. --
  2453. >The screaming still rung in your ears when it was over.
  2454. >Cheerilee’s backside stood as a canvas of gashes, and several dripped thin red streaks down her hind legs.
  2455. >Her eyes stared lifelessly at the floor and the rope bit hard into her forelegs as she slumped forward.
  2456. >>>”Thir...ty.” Cheerilee said, nearly ten seconds after the last lash had hit.
  2457. >She sobbed quietly in the silent room, her tears having left stains across her cheeks and down her barrel.
  2458. >They and long since run out.
  2459. >A small trickle of blood leaked out of her mouth.
  2460. >She had bitten her tongue to try to hold back the screams, but that only worked for the first five lashes.
  2461. >Anon pressed a button and the rope holding Cheerilee lowered her to the floor with a whir.
  2462. >She collapsed to her side and curled her legs to her chest.
  2463. >He returned the whip to the drawer, alongside assortments of needles, pinwheels, high intensity cattle prods, and even metal tipped whips.
  2464. >All but the one whip were still covered in dust.
  2465. >”Give her some numbing ointment,” Anon said...
  2466. >You opened the chest where you kept your medical supplies and hurried to Cheerilee’s side.
  2467. >She flinched as you took a dab and pressed the cool cream to her backside.
  2468. ”Shh, it’s okay,” you said. “This will make some of the pain go away.”
  2469. >You coated her backside and flanks as gently as you could, but she still tensed and whimpered whenever your hoof returned to her.
  2470. >She’d be out of training for a couple days by your recommendation to Anon at least.
  2471. >You sigh.
  2472. >First day was the hardest.
  2474. >You took a step back to examine her lacerations.
  2475. >Her coat and skin still featured angry criss crossed marks but she had a thin sheen of gel across them now.
  2476. >She should be feeling some numbing, you think as you screw the cap back on the container and head back to Anon’s side.
  2478. >Anon sat on his haunches and didn’t react when you came to his side.
  2479. >You looked to him for the signal to leave.
  2480. >”Cheerilee… are you going to be okay?” he said, low, almost afraid to be heard.
  2481. >You pause and turn to him with a look.
  2482. >Anon shouldn’t be asking that here, not in front of them…
  2483. >He had a job to do.
  2484. >Cheerilee curled up tightly and you saw her ears go back.
  2485. >There was only silence, not single trainee daring to speak after what they had seen.
  2486. >>>”I… I hate you,” she said.
  2487. >Anon didn’t react, instead staring blankly with tired eyes.
  2488. >Cheerilee started sobbing again.
  2489. >>>”I hate you humans so much. I hope… I hope Luna wipes every one of you out one day. And you are by far the worst of them. You’re evil, barbaric, and self righteous. When I leave this place, I never want to see you ever again. I’d rather die than come back!”
  2490. >Anon gave a slight nod and stood, motioning for you to follow to the exit.
  2491. >His lips moved, and had you not been looking at his face, you may have missed what he said.
  2492. >It was quiet, like a thought that happened to travel too far but not far enough to be said.
  2494. “I hope I never have to see you again either.”
  2496. --
  2498. >Anon dropped into his chair like a lead weight and rolled his head to stare up at the ceiling.
  2499. >You moved in through the doorway and sat down at attention in front of his desk.
  2500. >Before dismissal, he’d decide where trainees would bed down, and which ones would get extra or less rations.
  2501. >You fidgeted in place, but didn’t speak.
  2502. >You wanted today to be over with so you could get past this.
  2503. >But at the same time… you couldn’t help but pause at how this particular day one had gone.
  2504. >Something was different with Anon this time.
  2505. >You’d been through countless first days, and Anon had made even more examples of ponies to keep them all in line.
  2506. >You never stopped hating it, but it was just part of your life.
  2507. >It didn’t get to you nowadays, and usually not him.
  2509. >Not to this extent.
  2511. >He opened a drawer and looked down, then blinked and furrowed his brow.
  2512. “Anon?”
  2513. >”...what?”
  2514. “You okay?”
  2515. >”Yep.”
  2516. “Why are you looking for your cigarettes then?”
  2517. >”Who said that’s what I was doing?”
  2518. “Oh, really now? Well I’ll let you just grab your pack of nothing then, because you don’t keep anything else there.”
  2519. >He pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned back.
  2520. >“Did you move them on me?”
  2521. ”So you do want them then?”
  2522. >“I didn’t say that. I just want to know where they are.”
  2523. “I’m not giving you any.”
  2524. >He rolled his eyes.
  2525. >”You can’t just take my things. I’m technically your master until after hours. Give me my smokes please, Redheart.”
  2526. >You puffed out your chest and stuck your nose in the air.
  2527. “No.”
  2528. >”I could punish you for this, you know.”
  2529. “Yes, but I also know you won’t.”
  2530. >”You tempt fate.”
  2531. >You stuck your tongue out and gave him a wink.
  2532. “Oh, master, please don’t spank me for being such a bad pony.”
  2533. >He flashed a quick smile and you couldn’t help but grin.
  2534. >“That’s terribly inappropriate, considering things.”
  2535. “Maybe, but it got you to smile.”
  2536. >He nodded and the room fell quiet.
  2537. >Making him feel better felt really good sometimes.
  2538. >But there was something still eating at him.
  2539. >You had to get him to talk to you.
  2541. “Anon?” you said, coming around his desk and looking up at him earnestly this time.
  2542. “What was that back in the training room?”
  2543. >He clasped his hands and looked away from you.
  2544. >“Was thirty too much?”
  2545. “Maybe, but every other platform is worse. That’s not what I’m talking about.”
  2546. >He grumbled and leaned back in his chair.
  2547. >”Should I get out the therapy couch, doc?”
  2548. “That’s not funny, Anon—I’m trying to help you,” you said, getting up on his knees. “Something isn’t right lately. I can tell.”
  2549. >“Oh?”
  2550. “Yes. You’re irritable whenever I let you out of my sight for a while. And today just... The Anon I know is focused, strong, and unyielding, but also fair and understanding. Today? You just seemed hesitant and uncertain. It was like you were afraid.”
  2551. >He sat still, letting your words sink in, then sighed.
  2552. >“...Come here. I can’t stand it when you look up at me all worried like that.”
  2553. >Anon reached down and lifted you up.
  2554. >You suppressed a small squeal and wiggled your hind hooves as he moved you to his lap.
  2555. >Your back nestled into his broad chest, half to conceal the light blush growing on your muzzle and half because you knew he liked to pet your belly if you sat like this.
  2556. >A hand came around and combed through your tuft, and you suppressed a gasp.
  2557. >He had no idea how intimate this was for ponies, but you knew how calming it could be for humans.
  2558. >You’d do this for Anon if he wanted it, even if he didn’t know what it meant in your culture.
  2559. >No need to let on how much you loved the attention as an aside.
  2560. >This was about Anon right now.
  2561. >”You’re a good friend, Redheart. Better than I deserve,” he said.
  2562. >”Sometimes I just don’t know if I’m doing the right thing is all. I saw a lot of my old self in the way Cheerilee acted today. I used to think a lot like her… the job sometimes just wears on me I guess.”
  2563. “Because you’re the bad guy to them?”
  2564. >He chuckled. “Only to them, huh?”
  2565. >You flattened your ears and frowned.
  2566. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
  2567. >”I’m a slave trainer, Redheart. No matter how you look at it, I’m a bad guy.”
  2568. >You pursed your lips and you tail swished against him.
  2569. ”Well… it may not be ideal but there are only so many chances for each pony. Most are lucky to get three returns before they get sent off to… those places. If things are bad for them in training, they’ll appreciate having a master who’s even half decent to them and try to stay with them.”
  2570. >You smiled and wiggled into him a bit more as you looked up at him.
  2571. “Besides you may not be a knight in shining armor, but you’re really nice deep down I think.
  2572. >He cleared his throat and you could feel him shift in the chair.
  2573. >Aw, hehe.
  2574. >Anon didn’t know how to take compliments like usual.
  2576. “Anon, do you like working here?” you said.
  2577. >He blinked at you.
  2578. >”It pays the bills. Why?”
  2579. “It just seems like you hate everything about this place some days. I mean, I don’t really want you to go, but you don’t seem happy. Do you... think about quitting ever?”
  2580. >He stopped petting you and looked up.
  2581. >”Maybe… but there’s more to it than that.”
  2582. “What? Why?”
  2583. >”Well,” he said giving a sheepish grin, “the pay is good and it’s hard to find a job right now. But I wouldn’t keep working here for that. You’re right in thinking I don’t always like it here… but if I wasn’t here, who would take my place?”
  2584. >You look up at him, eyes widened.
  2585. “Y-You’re not actually thinking about it, are you? They’ll put Kaine in charge while they look for a trainer from another base. They’re… really bad people, Anon.”
  2586. >He paused watching your face for a moment before putting an arm around you.
  2587. >“I’m not going anywhere. That’s my point though, Redheart. If I leave, someone just takes my place. At least as long as I’m here, I can make sure they all get some good food, and they’re not hurt too badly. I can control how much punishment they get, or how much reward they should have for being good. Besides the trainees though…”
  2588. >He hugged just a faint bit closer and your heart started to beat faster as you looked at him.
  2589. >“I have someone special I want to keep safe.”
  2590. >Your cheeks heated up and you darted your gaze to the floor.
  2591. >Anon, you big cheesy dummy.
  2592. >How the heck are you supposed to respond to that?
  2593. >An uncomfortable silence fell over the two of you.
  2594. >”Redheart? Are you blush—”
  2596. >A knock came at the door and you flew back down to the ground.
  2597. “I’ll get it!” you blurted out.
  2598. >Without turning around, you ran to the door and swung it open, opting to head out and slam it behind you.
  2599. “Hello, welcome to the trainer bay, how can I help you?” you said with a forced smile.
  2601. >A teal mare with a crescent moon cutie mark gave start and took a few steps back.
  2602. >She looked at you with a mixture of nervous apprehension and embarrassment.
  2603. >Her mane looked hand combed at best, her coat like a musty stuffed animals.
  2604. >Slightly damp marks ran from her eyes to her jaw and she darted her eyes up at you before planting them toward the floor.
  2605. >>“Good afternoon. Does Mr. Anon work here?” she said, wiping her snout and giving a sniffle.
  2606. >You leaned back, not sure what to make of the blue-green mare.
  2607. “Uh… yeah. What do you want with Anonymous, Ms...?”
  2608. >>”Moon Dust. I’m uh…” she said rubbing a forehoof. “I was told to report to him for disciplinary action and I’m supposed to get my snout looked at.”
  2609. >You tilted your head.
  2610. >Now that she mentioned it, her snout seemed a bit off.
  2611. >Just a slight tilt to the side and it was pushed back a pinch.
  2612. >You took a step closer and she flinched.
  2613. “I’m not going to hurt you,” you say in a gentle tone. “I just want to take a look at you.”
  2615. >Moon Dust nodded and sat down, letting you get close.
  2616. >You touched a hoof to her muzzle and she hissed through her teeth.
  2617. >It looked swollen now that you were closer.
  2618. >You carefully reached another hoof up to the side and pressed.
  2619. >Moon Dust let out a pained squeak and shut her eyes tight.
  2621. >You sat back and nodded to yourself.
  2622. >The mare in front of you sobbed.
  2623. >>“Is it broken?”
  2624. “It’s not broken. You have some blunt force trauma and some swelling makes it look crooked at some angles, but I think you’ll be fine. How’d it happen?”
  2625. >She curled her tail around her legs and almost seemed to shrink into herself, while her eyes stared off.
  2626. >>”I just… ran into something, that’s all.”
  2627. >You searched her face for a few moments and sighed.
  2628. >You weren’t an idiot.
  2629. >And you both knew last night was a VP party.
  2630. >You’ve been through more than one on this rig.
  2631. >No reason to drag that out of her right away though.
  2632. >Tending to her injury came first.
  2634. “No problem. Just be more careful next time,” you say, rubbing her back with a hoof.
  2635. >The mare tensed and her breathing hitched.
  2636. >You took your hoof back, doing your best to act like you hadn’t noticed the tell.
  2637. >Poor girl…
  2638. >She didn’t trust you one bit.
  2639. “I have some balm that will take care of the swelling downstairs. Why don’t you come into the office and rest for a bit while I go get it, okay?”
  2640. >She stiffened and stared at the door like it was going to eat her.
  2641. >>“Is Mr. Anon in the office?”
  2642. “Yes… why? He won’t hurt you.”
  2643. >>”I know I just… I think I did something this morning to make him mad at me.”
  2644. >You furrow your brow.
  2645. >Anon could be a grump sometimes but he wouldn’t ever yell or hit ponies outside the training area—mostly he was just quiet around them.
  2646. >He’d watch them with more of a solemn wonder usually.
  2647. >What could this mare do to bother a guy like him?
  2649. “Listen, you said you have to see him for discipline, right?”
  2650. >She nodded.
  2651. “I think you may find Anon is not like some trainers. If I know him at all, he’ll wave your discipline slip. Just go have a seat and I can get you taken care of.”
  2652. >She bit her lip and turned.
  2653. >>”B-But…”
  2654. >A career in nursing had trained you to hear that type of tone.
  2655. “Is there something else, dear? You don’t have to be embarrassed.”
  2656. >”I… do I look stupid? My nose, I mean.”
  2658. >You moved your head back.
  2659. >What the heck…?
  2660. >Why was this girl concerned about that?
  2661. “Your nose looks fine, Moon Dust,” you said. “I didn’t even notice until you mentioned it. Besides, I can’t leave you in the hallway. Come inside and I’ll get you some juice.”
  2662. >You didn’t leave room for argument this time and pulled her in by a hoof.
  2663. >As the pair of you entered, her eyes darted around the office before landing on Anon.
  2664. >She let out a squeak and covered her nose.
  2665. >Anon stared off at a wall, spinning a pencil in his fingers.
  2666. >The few accommodation papers lay in front of him and he seemed not to notice you.
  2667. >You cleared your throat and Anon drifted his eyes over to you, then to your patient.
  2668. >He dropped his pencil.
  2669. >”Huh? Moon Dust, what are you doing here?”
  2670. “She’s just here to get some medical attention.”
  2671. >He seemed to deflate at that.
  2672. >”Oh right… her snout is broken then?”
  2673. >You hummed to yourself.
  2674. >That’s odd.
  2675. >Did he know something about that?
  2676. >Moon Dust dropped her hoof, looking like someone had just kicked a puppy in front of her.
  2677. >>”I told you I looked dumb.”
  2678. >You glared at Anon and mouthed ‘what the heck?’
  2679. >He put his hands up defensively.
  2680. >”No, she looks fine. I just… I know she got hurt, okay?”
  2681. >You sigh. “Doesn’t matter. I’m going downstairs for some swelling cream. Moon Dust, there’s juice boxes in the mini fridge over there. Help yourself to one,” you say, pointing at a chrome box by your desk.
  2682. >You purse your lips and give Anon one final look and mouth ‘be nice’, then turn to head downstairs.
  2684. --
  2686. >Be Anon.
  2687. >And this was rather awkward.
  2688. >Moon Dust sat at Redhearts desk, sipping a small juice pouch.
  2689. >The two of you had played sneaky peeks at one another for the past minute or so, neither saying a word or willing to make eye contact for more than split seconds.
  2690. >...
  2691. >Why was this awkward anyhow?
  2692. >You remember being a bit harsh with her but…
  2693. >A sigh escapes you and your eyes drift down to the now empty training bay.
  2694. >Was that really anything new for you?
  2695. >Honestly?
  2696. >You had overreached and tried to play at something you weren’t.
  2697. >There was nothing you could do for her, and letting that seep in would only wear you down more.
  2698. >You sigh.
  2699. >That was the last thing you needed.
  2700. >You couldn’t let this one thing get to you.
  2701. >But neither should you act like such a child.
  2702. >You really liked Moon Dust in the short time you’ve gotten to spend with her.
  2703. >The least you could do was set her at ease a bit.
  2705. >”I’m sorry for this morning,” you both said in unison.
  2706. >The two of you widened your eyes and froze up.
  2707. >Your mouths worked to form words, as you studied one another.
  2708. >”What? Why are you apologizing?” you said.
  2709. >She frowned, casting her eyes downward.
  2710. >>”Trainer, sir, you should not be the one to apologize. I… It’s my fault. I’m very sorry for bothering you.”
  2711. >You furrowed your brow.
  2712. >”Moon Dust… You did nothing wrong. Why are you acting like you have to tell me you’re sorry?”
  2713. >>”Mr. Anonymous,” she said, tentatively peeking up at you. “I know I’m not… a very good pony. I can’t do anything very well, and reading my masters has always been hard for me.”
  2714. >She gave a half-hearted smile.
  2715. “A-After all, I’ve been returned several times and dropped from contracts often enough. I can’t do a whole lot right, I guess. I might not understand why exactly you got upset, but the way you looked at me…”
  2716. >She bit her lip and brought you legs closer to her chest.
  2717. >>”I don’t want you to hate me, so just know I didn’t mean it, sir.”
  2719. >...
  2720. >You had no clue what to say to this poor girl.
  2721. >On one hand, you wanted make sure she knew it wasn’t her fault.
  2722. >None of it was her fault.
  2724. >If Moon Dust only knew what you had heard on the phone…
  2725. >But talking about company work like that, especially with slaves, was strictly prohibited.
  2726. >If a slave knew they were going to a labor camp, they’d try to escape.
  2727. >But even so… with this filly beating herself up right in front of you, with the way her cool green eyes looked at you like you were a big brother she was ashamed of disappointing… you couldn’t have left it like that.
  2729. ”Moon Dust, look up at me,” you said softly.
  2730. >She did, frowning but she meeting your eyes.
  2731. “This morning… I absolutely was upset. And yes, it had to do with you.”
  2732. >She nodded and moisture pooled at the corners of her eyes.
  2733. >You moved a hand to cup her cheek and used your thumb to wipe a fresh tear before it fell.
  2734. “But I wasn’t angry AT you. I... wanted to try to do something to help you.”
  2735. >>”Oh, s-sir, the food was more than enough.”
  2736. “No, it’s not that. I just…”
  2737. >Your mouth worked, trying to find the words for moment.
  2739. “I tried to buy you.”
  2741. >Moon Dust’s mouth dropped open and her eyes gradually widened.
  2742. >>”What…me?”
  2743. >God, she probably hates you now…
  2744. >Sure, you’d have treated her nicely and only asked for some help around the house now and again.
  2745. >Hell, you might not have done that for a while until she learned to relax and feel safe again.
  2746. >But she didn’t know that.
  2747. >She didn’t know you.
  2748. >Moon Dust probably thought you were just another Trainer picking out another slave.
  2749. >You’re not sure you’re thinking too highly of yourself anyhow.
  2750. >You could try to be nice, but did that mean you could really care for a pony who’d been through hell?
  2751. >Did you even know how to fix someone like her…
  2752. >You’re truthfully not offering her anything special.
  2753. >But it was better than the alternative.
  2755. “Moon Dust, you were chosen to go… someplace. I don’t know why but I thought I might be able to help. I couldn’t in the end though, Moon Dust. I’m sorry I even brought it up. I shouldn’t have said anything. Mentioning it now feels like I’m only teasing you. That’s even assuming you’d want to be around me at all, but I just couldn’t stand you thinking it was something you did so…”
  2756. >You sigh.
  2757. “Sorry.”
  2758. >Moon Dust sat silently for a moment and you withdrew your hand.
  2759. >She robotically laid down on the chair, eyes wide.
  2760. >>”You… wanted me,” she said, just loud enough to hear.
  2761. “Well yeah,” you said.
  2762. >She looked up again, reading your face to see if you were lying.
  2763. “Moon Dust, you don’t give yourself enough credit,” you say, reaching to pat her on the head.
  2764. >Tears started to roll down her cheeks, but at the same time a smile formed on her face that could light up a room.
  2766. >You couldn’t help but grin back at the little pony.
  2767. >There was nothing you could do to save her.
  2768. >You had hated yourself for trying, acting like a bitter child, and at even wanting to play hero.
  2769. >But watching how she looked at you, happy as can be at just the mere idea of being taken home… you couldn't help but at least feel the effort was worth something.
  2771. >You ruffled her mane and immediately noticed a dried feeling against your hand.
  2772. >You grimaced and pulled your hand back to stare at it.
  2773. >The image of Moon Dust on her knees covered in white fluid flashed through your mind.
  2774. “Did… you not get washed since last night?”
  2775. >She blushed.
  2776. >”No, sir. I’m still… I didn’t get cleaned up yet. They didn’t let me shower since I was up all night and missed that part of our routine. I did what I could with paper towels. The rest was just too worked in. I-I’m sorry I didn’t warn you, sir. You got dirty because of me...”
  2777. >God, poor thing…
  2778. >She was stuck in commons, still filthy, in front of all the other mares.
  2779. >They could smell it with their stronger senses from across the room probably.
  2780. >You can only imagine how humiliating that must be, feeling so dirty, reminded not only of the night before, but unable to wash the feeling away.
  2782. >You glance over to the training bay, toward the shower room.
  2783. >There was only so much hot water for your platform left.
  2784. >You’d have to explain the excessive water use, and you might have to deal with cold showers yourself for a few days, but it was at least something real you could offer her.
  2785. >Moon Dust deserved to at least feel clean.
  2787. “Hey, Moon?”
  2788. >>”...Yes, sir?”
  2789. “Do you want to take a hot bath?”
  2790. >Her eyes widened.
  2791. >>”A bath…? For me? You can do that?”
  2792. >You nodded.
  2793. “Yeah, there are some baths on the platform,” you said.
  2794. >>”...Mr. Anon, why do you treat me so nicely?”
  2795. >You move to speak but find you have no words.
  2796. >Truth be told, you don’t know the answer to that question.
  2797. >Why her?
  2798. >Why bother?
  2799. >You pursed your lips and felt your hands grip your knees a touch harder.
  2800. >Really, it would be a problem if you weren’t careful.
  2801. >So… why?
  2802. >Was it a desire for penance?
  2803. >No amount of nice deeds like this would ever erase the part you’ve played in the slave trade.
  2804. >It wasn’t that, or at least that wasn’t the major reason—it just didn’t feel right.
  2806. >You look up to see Moon Dust, innocently watching you with curious eyes.
  2807. >The way she looked at you—it was almost like you weren’t a slave trainer.
  2808. >She looked at you like you were somebody completely different; somebody who would be there to help her, not hurt her.
  2809. >Your chest ached.
  2811. >>”I don’t think I deserve something like that, Anon.”
  2812. “Maybe…” you say. “But it would at least put me more at ease. I won’t be seeing you again, Moon Dust. I want to at least say goodbye by giving you something nice. You may not agree with me, but you deserve to have something you like, at least just this once.”
  2813. >She seemed to think for a moment then nodded slowly.
  2814. >>”Okay… if that’s what you want.”
  2815. “But just a bath isn’t much honestly. Is there anything else I can do?”
  2816. >She shifted in her seat, then kneaded her hooves and looked to the side.
  2817. >>“Uh… well if you wanted…”
  2818. >You leaned forward.
  2819. >She opened her mouth then snapped it shut and blushed, shaking her head.
  2820. >>”It’s nothing.”
  2821. “Just say it. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”
  2822. >>”Well, please don’t think I’m weird, but… could you help?”
  2823. “Help? Like help you bathe?”
  2824. >She nodded.
  2825. >>”There was a spa where I’m from with two ponies who’d clean your mane and coat, then give a small massage. They made it feel so relaxing and amazing. If you’re okay with it, and because I know fingers can feel really good…”
  2826. >She cleared her throat and looked up at you, trying to gauge your reaction.
  2827. >You had to hold in a laugh honestly.
  2828. >That’s all?
  2829. >It was something so simple really, but the girl was lit up like a tomato.
  2830. >She could have asked for anything and this was all she could think of…
  2831. >Moon Dust sure was a special pony.
  2832. “Sure, Moon Dust. You deserve it.”
  2834. --
  2836. >Be Moon Dust.
  2837. >You headed down the steps with Anon, freshly dried pain relieving paste on your snout.
  2838. >Your eyes kept to Anon’s broad back, just watching how he moved… it was a tired, yet determined stride.
  2839. >There was a kind athletic grace to how he did things.
  2840. >Humans were large and powerful.
  2841. >You had seen them accidentally hurt ponies when they misjudged their own strength, but in Anon, all you felt from him was gentleness.
  2842. >No other human had ever put you at ease like this.
  2843. >He was really unique, you suppose.
  2845. >You, Redheart and Anon headed down a long hallway, passing several employees on your way.
  2846. >You wonder for a moment why Anon was taking such a strange route but it was his training platform.
  2847. >He’d know which way was the best really.
  2848. >Anon turned to a door, scanned his thumb, and it opened with a harsh click.
  2849. >You walked in after him and took in the room.
  2850. >A large human bed lay up against the wall and a few travel bags sat near the door.
  2851. >There was a basic vanity, and a door leading to a washroom to your right.
  2853. >Anon dropped his shoes and motioned you over toward a door.
  2854. >”Go ahead and adjust the water temperature to your liking. I’ll be there in a second.”
  2855. >You glanced around, furrowing your brow.
  2856. >This looked a lot more like a hotel suite than a bathing area.
  2857. “Um, sir, are all the cleaning facilities at this rig this nice?”
  2858. >He and Redheart turned to you, giving you a look.
  2859. >”This is Anon’s personal quarters, Moon Dust,” Redheart said stiffly. “The training bay only has a large shower room with no curtains for privacy.”
  2860. >She gave you what you thought was meant to be a friendly smile, but somehow it felt forced.
  2861. >A nervous feeling settled in your center.
  2862. >Did you do something wrong?
  2863. >The nurse had been really nice up until you came here.
  2865. >Anon nodded.
  2866. >”Mmhm. And I promised a bath, so we’ll be using my stuff,” he said, giving you one of his friendly smiles.
  2867. “Oh… thank you.”
  2868. >Suddenly the carpet seemed super interesting.
  2869. >Get it together filly, you thought. It’s just his room.
  2870. >No matter how much you tried to convince yourself, it still felt like you had been taken to a palace and told to make yourself at home.
  2871. >Celestia, how long had it been since you felt carpet?
  2873. “Right so I’ll get on that then,” you said in a quick slur.
  2874. >You scooted on into his bathroom and started the water, not wanting to stand in front of him while fighting your nerves.
  2875. >A big part of you wanted to just tell Anon ‘thanks for the offer’ and you’d decided not to waste his water and time, then scurry out just to end the guilt and butterflies raging in your stomach.
  2876. >But you think something letting Anon do this for you would make him happy.
  2877. >You wouldn’t throw his kindness in his face like that, no matter how nervous you felt.
  2879. >You sigh, and check the temperature.
  2880. >It was probably right—hard to say since it’d been ages since you had a warm shower, let alone a warm bath.
  2881. “Um, it’s r-ready,” you say, unable to keep the stutter out of your voice.
  2883. >Redheart came in first and took a seat by the entrance, looking somewhat bemused.
  2884. >Maybe she didn’t approve, but then she didn’t have the authority to question him probably.
  2885. >Anon followed just after in a loose tank top and some athletic shorts.
  2886. >”Alrighty, upsidaisy,” Anon said as he hooked his palms under your forelegs and lifted you carefully over the edge.
  2887. >Thankfully you just barely held in an eep.
  2888. >He placed you into the tub and you couldn’t help but let out a breathy moan as the soothing water soaked into your coat.
  2889. >Oh Celestia… this was so nice.
  2890. >You looked up at Anon and he grinned down at you.
  2891. >A heat spread across your cheeks and you bit your lip.
  2892. >”You ready?” he said.
  2893. >You nodded and leaned back a bit, as his hands began working through your coat while cupping small doses of temperate water to splash on your mane.
  2894. >The water soothed your skin as it flowed down you, lulling your nerves with every trickle.
  2895. >Your eyelids felt heavy and your mind started to drift.
  2897. >What an amazing send off.
  2898. >Anon had tried not to say it outright, but there really was no point in dodging it.
  2899. >You knew exactly where you were headed after being returned so much.
  2900. >Any mare would have probably heard the rumors and put it together by now.
  2901. >You were powerless to stop it.
  2903. >Hub only sold slaves to certain people—affluent individuals, or at least people with good money and a decent track record.
  2904. >There were even rumors of a green and black lists that all the major companies shared.
  2905. >Somepony had told you it was a matter of keeping the worst of the abuse out of the spotlight.
  2906. >Not many people liked ponies, considering things, but if anything really bad surfaced, even Hub wasn’t immune to the backlash.
  2907. >Either way, your prospect of finding a buyer by the end of the day was… near nonexistant.
  2909. >Anon had tried even… and that meant the world to you…
  2910. >If he couldn’t, no one could.
  2912. >Anon grabbed a bottle and squeezed a dab of shampoo into his palm.
  2913. >He began working it into your coat with his fingers, scrubbing away all the dirt and filth from the night before.
  2914. >You felt the knots and tangles loosen under his gentle touch and your breathing hitched.
  2915. >Was this what it would have been like if he had brought you home?
  2916. >Would he do this some nights if you had dared ask?
  2917. >Being his…
  2918. >It was a dark, covetous thing to still be thinking about but somehow you couldn’t keep the fantasy from sprouting.
  2919. >Maybe at least for today you could pretend.
  2920. >Yes, right now, it was like you were his.
  2921. >Anon was cleaning his little pony after a long day.
  2922. >You had worked hard for him, and you earned yourself a night sleeping beside master.
  2923. >What you would give to make that a reality.
  2925. >How many times at North Rig had you been passed up for purchase.
  2926. >Ten?
  2927. >Twenty?
  2928. >Your aptitudes and garish colors made you nothing but a pointless eyesore to humans.
  2929. >You had been grateful nobody wanted you for some time.
  2930. >But while some masters were bad, the trainers at North Rig were always worse.
  2931. >They took out their frustrations on you when you didn’t measure up.
  2932. >You reflected badly on them, and they couldn’t seem to ever get rid of you.
  2933. >They’d drink and beat you, calling you names and forcing you to degrade yourself by repeating them back.
  2934. >What they made you call yourself burned on your tongue, but at some point it stopped feeling bad.
  2935. >Some names started to feel accurate.
  2936. >There were sometimes even nights where you’d be forced to go to bed covered in bodily fluids from them or slave stallions, just like last night.
  2937. >Some nights you didn’t feel anything and just fell asleep staring at your ceiling.
  2938. >Others you thought you deserved it.
  2940. >Anon eased you onto your back in the shallow water and started combing his sudsy fingers through your tuft and belly.
  2941. >His wonderful digits felt their way to your hips and hind legs, traveling down to your hindquarters.
  2942. >A leg involuntarily twitched and you let out a breathy gasp.
  2943. >”Am I being too rough, Moon Dust?”
  2944. >You felt like your face was on fire.
  2945. >If anything, Anon was just being gentle and professional.
  2946. >You were just letting it get to you.
  2947. >What would he say if he knew what you were thinking...
  2948. “N-No. It’s okay.”
  2949. >You thought you heard Redheart huff but Anon’s hands distracted you before you could think much of it.
  2950. >He coated your haunches and thighs with soap, making sure to take care of every inch of you.
  2951. >You panted, completely unable to keep under control as his hands seemed to explore every bit of your body.
  2952. >Anon simply hummed to himself, giving you a smile every now and again when your eyes met.
  2954. >He grabbed at the base of your tail and you bit down on your lip, hard, letting out a light mewl.
  2955. >Anon gave you a worried look.
  2956. “Moon Dust, do you want me to turn the temperature down? You’re looking awfully heated right now.”
  2957. >Your head felt hazy and you gave what you assumed was his blurry figure a limp nod.
  2958. >You felt a cool splash behind your neck though you couldn’t tell if it did anything.
  2959. >All you could think about was the sensation in your tail as he idly pulled his fingers through it.
  2961. >Anon thankfully gave you a breather when he reached up and detached the showerhead from the wall and brought it down.
  2962. >A hose ran behind the device and he carefully aimed it away while adjusting the temperature.
  2963. >After fiddling with the knobs a moment, he turned and started with your hindlegs.
  2964. >You flinched as the water brushed across your sensitive inner thighs.
  2965. >“Don’t worry, Moon Dust, I’m right here,” he said. “You can lean back and close your eyes if you want, I’ll make sure your head stays above water and I’ll cover your ears when I do your head.”
  2966. >Your heart beat like a drum in your chest as the stream relaxing water flowed over your chest and belly.
  2967. >”I’m right here, Moon Dust. Relax.”
  2968. >You leaned your head into his forearm and your eyelids drooped.
  2970. >Please stay here… master.
  2972. >Your days at North Rig gave you memories you never wanted to relive.
  2973. >It didn’t take long before your heart ached for a master to take you away.
  2974. >But each passed you by all the same.
  2975. >You’d watch ponies of all ages, shapes and colors get adopted instead of you.
  2976. >More than anything, you wished for a master’s soft leather collar to replace the cold metal one you had.
  2977. >A master who bought you might take pride in you.
  2978. >You’d mean something to someone, even if you were a slave.
  2979. >Even if he didn’t, any place would be better than North Rig.
  2980. >After so many times being passed up, you realized something though.
  2981. >Nobody wanted you.
  2983. >Until Anon.
  2985. >You let out a squeak as the shower head passed across one side of your face to the other.
  2986. >Anon cupped around your ears to shield them from the flow and gently stroked the suds out with his hand in instead.
  2987. >You let out a yawn and found your head leaning up against his arm for support.
  2988. >The water’s mild embrace encased you like a blanket and you started to drift.
  2990. >Anon wanted you.
  2991. >Your heart sped up and a nervous feeling resettled in your gut.
  2992. >He’d never actually own you in the end… that sort of thing just wasn’t something ponies like you got to have.
  2993. >But still… to just know someone had thought to have you by their side…
  2994. >It felt good.
  2995. >It was so simple, but you could never return what he had given you.
  2996. >For the first time in forever—
  2998. >you felt loved.
  3000. --
  3002. >Be Redheart.
  3003. >It looked like Moon Dust fell asleep.
  3004. >Anon held her with one arm behind her back, keeping her above water, just as he promised.
  3005. >He reached in with his other arm by her hips and lifted her out, grabbing a towel on his way to his room.
  3006. >Anon wrapped her up like a small child, even taking care to grab second towels for her mane and tail so they’d dry properly.
  3007. >His lips pursed.
  3008. >”Did she have a ribbon or anything”?
  3009. >You shook your head.
  3010. “You need something to tie her hair back with?”
  3011. >”Yeah, I’m thinking with the length of her mane, it’ll help.”
  3012. >You scrounged around for a bit in his sock drawer but turned up empty hooved.
  3013. >Admittedly you were strangely relieved to find there weren’t any female products lying around from visitors.
  3014. >You sighed.
  3015. >Focus, filly.
  3017. >Something tore behind you and you turned to see Anon ripping a strip from a orange safety vest.
  3018. “What the heck? You’re going to use that?”
  3019. >Anon chuckled as he eyeballed the bright orange material.
  3020. >”It’s certainly not soft, pretty, or girly, but I’m thinking it’ll at least work.”
  3021. >He bent down to Moon Dust, who lay sleeping like a filly on his bed.
  3022. >Anon wrapped the middle of her mane and to your surprise, it looked good.
  3023. >The color was bright but it contrasted well with Moon Dusts coat.
  3024. >Somehow it seemed fitting.
  3025. >You couldn’t help but notice a resigned smile on Anon’s face.
  3027. >Your tail batted back and forth and you frowned.
  3028. >You’d been his assistant for some time now, and you’d played witness to whippings and other punishments as a weekly routine.
  3029. >When you watched Cheerilee get whipped, you didn’t even flinch.
  3030. >But watching Anon be so gentle with Moon Dust felt so strange.
  3032. “Anon.”
  3033. >He took a seat on the edge of the bed and turned his eyes from Moon Dust to you.
  3034. >“Yeah?”
  3035. “Why did you decide to do this?”
  3036. >”You know she asked me the same thing. It took a little fighting just to get her to want to even try this.”
  3037. >He gave a half-hearted shrug.
  3038. >”All I can do is tell you the same thing I told her—I don’t know. I just did it.”
  3039. “Yes, but why her?” you said, more forcefully than you had meant to.
  3040. >Anon sat for a moment, mulling it over.
  3041. “There’s a certain gaze that people have when I walk around. They don’t always realize it, but it’s there. Sometimes they look at me with fear, sometimes respect, envy, or hate. With ponies, it’s usually a mix. When people see you in that light, and when you’ve played the part so long, it becomes a piece of you. Between the shore and here, sometimes I… don’t know what to think anymore. But something in Moon Dust didn’t see me as a Trainer here. She saw something else, something I’m not sure exists, but all the same, it’s something… I guess I wanted to try to be. And without thinking I just did things to that end.”
  3043. >And it surfaced when he asked Cheerilee if she were okay, you thought.
  3044. >You couldn’t help but notice Anon looked tired.
  3045. >He was always like that, but somehow it seemed like this place had worn on him—ground him down like a gear near to breaking.
  3046. >To be hated for so long… can you really imagine it?
  3048. >You were always seen as the slave nurse that sat by Anon’s side, soothing the trail of pain left in his wake.
  3049. >You were distanced, and therefore ponies saw you as one of them, rather than an accessory to the humans slavery.
  3050. >Cheerilee’s words and hateful glare reverberated through you, and a sickening feeling settled in your chest.
  3052. “A-Anon,” you said. “You know… you can rely on me for training a bit more, if you want.”
  3053. >He furrowed his brow.
  3054. >”What do you mean?”
  3055. “I just… I can share some of the burden. I want to be active in training. You’re the only one bearing that.”
  3056. >He sighed.
  3057. >”Redheart, you don’t need to do that. You help ponies and they like you because of it. Don’t throw something like that away. They need someone to trust.”
  3058. “I know it’s important that they feel safe around me but… you can rely on others around you, okay? I want you to know I’m your assistant and that means I’m here to help you in any way I can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. You can’t always solve everything on your own, so… don’t try to bear it all, alone.”
  3059. >Anon looked off, nodding slowly.
  3060. >He let out a long sigh and flopped back onto the bed.
  3061. >His eyes closed and his hand reached over to pet Moon Dust’s mane.
  3062. >The mare murmured in her sleep and nuzzled against him.
  3063. >”Maybe that’s what I’ve done wrong… Okay, Redheart. I’ll keep that in mind.”
  3065. --
  3067. >“Is that the last of them then?” the pilot said to one of the guards.
  3068. >Be Moon Dust.
  3069. >You hefted your bag up into your kennel slot on the chopper.
  3070. >You had hardly anything, same as the other slaves being shipped out with you.
  3071. >They didn’t let you keep things you couldn’t easily carry with you.
  3072. >Different rigs had been sprinkled with your belongings as a result, but you like to think of it as leaving something behind to say you were there.
  3073. >You reached behind your head and felt at the bow Anon had made you.
  3074. >It was a coarse, loud orange strip that simply held your mane out of your eyes.
  3075. >But it was from him.
  3077. >You hopped up into your kennel and took a long steady breath.
  3078. >Soon, you could rest, you thought.
  3079. >Just a little longer.
  3081. “That’s the last one. Go ahead,” the guard answered, and gave a wave as he stepped out.
  3082. >The pilot grunted in response, and the side door to the transport choppers closed with a whir.
  3083. >The vehicle lifted into the air, heading over the roaring waves at the crack of dawn.
  3084. >The sun behind the Pacific Rig, Anon’s rig, lit the station in a beautiful, warm glow, that somehow made the place seem just a bit friendlier.
  3085. “Bye, Anon…” you whispered to yourself. “Thank you so much. I hope maybe in another life, I can meet you again.”
  3087. --
  3089. >The ride wasn’t long.
  3090. >You decided to take a small nap.
  3091. >It was nice to get some extra sleep really.
  3092. >You usually had to get up early and work on something on the rigs.
  3093. >With a little imagination, it was like you were on a vacation.
  3094. >You yawned and stretched as well as you could in your small cage, a small squeak coming from your mouth as you did.
  3096. >The door opened as the chopper touched down and an employee bearing the Hub logo on a pair of orange coveralls came in with a clipboard.
  3097. >He looked over the tags to the side of your cages and made small marks on a paper for a minute or so, then motioned to some men to start unloading you all.
  3098. >Looks like you won’t get to stretch your legs just yet.
  3100. >Some ponies cried.
  3101. >Others just sat in their cages like numb dolls as they were loaded into separate trucks to be shipped to different places.
  3102. >You noted one or two pairs yelled like madmares after being separated.
  3103. >You’d never know if they were friends, family, or lovers.
  3104. >Deep down you remember a time when you had been afraid and angry at everything around you.
  3105. >It didn’t matter now though.
  3106. >You smiled and closed your eyes.
  3107. >No matter what’d happen, you’d always know he tried to buy you.
  3109. >Your cage was tossed into the back of a truck—one of five caged ponies or so.
  3110. >The group stayed quiet, save for the occasional sob in the dark.
  3111. >It might have been their second trip; they all seemed rather calm.
  3113. >One by one, your companions left you, moved using their cages handles and given to different people throughout your drive.
  3114. >Your eyes being adjusted to the darkness of the truck you couldn’t see much, though you don’t think you would have wanted to see who they were left with.
  3115. >Or where.
  3116. >Finally, the doors opened with only your cage left.
  3117. >It was time.
  3118. >A guard and one handler hoisted your cage off the edge of the truck to the ground.
  3119. >They opened the cage and a minor shock at the rear of the container from a prod encouraged you to step out, only to meet a leash noose which tightened around your neck.
  3121. >You looked around to see you were…
  3122. >In a parking lot in the middle of the city?
  3124. >A man in a clean grey suit and trim blonde hair stood in front of the two men.
  3125. >By his side, a beautiful mare with a bright white coat and light pink mane sat.
  3126. >On her flank was a fleur de lis.
  3127. >You tilted your head and furrowed your brow.
  3128. >Wasn’t a pony just like this on the Pacific Rig?
  3129. >You could have sworn she was one of the ponies Anon had for training…
  3130. >Odd.
  3132. >”I assume all the paperwork is in order, gentlemen?” the man in the suit said.
  3133. >The two guards nodded and handed over your leash to this new person, and you couldn’t stop yourself from doing a double take.
  3134. >This didn’t look anywhere near a labor farm.
  3135. >Did this man purchase you as a temporary whore first?
  3136. >Or was it something else...
  3138. >A cold shudder ran down your spine.
  3139. >There were rumors of groups who bought cheap ponies every so often.
  3140. >Ponies with paperwork showing they had been sent somewhere far away.
  3141. >Ponies they could hurt.
  3143. >You looked back to the man, trying to gauge him.
  3144. >He simply held a bored expression as he conversed and signed forms with the delivery guards.
  3145. >The pony by his side kept her gaze down but she had a clean coat and no cut or bruises.
  3146. >Maybe he wouldn’t do anything too bad…
  3148. >After the shipping truck turned a corner the man yawned and motioned for the two of you to follow him.
  3149. >You walked a few blocks before coming up on a nice looking apartment complex.
  3150. >It was somewhat new, and probably not a cheap dump, but no place any Hub buyer would actually live.
  3151. >A one time whore then...
  3152. >So you really were going to get used one more time before getting shipped out again the next morning.
  3153. >Tears started to form at the corners of your eyes as you entered the building.
  3154. >Memories of Anon’s gentle hands nipped at the edges of your memory.
  3155. >Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if you could pretend.
  3156. >Was that any way to treat his memory though?
  3158. >You walked up a flight of stairs, your stomach feeling progressively more knotted as you went.
  3159. >A hallway stretched out before you after hitting the third floor, and the three of you made your way to one of the rooms.
  3160. >The man fiddled with some keys and unlocked the door with a click.
  3162. >After walking inside the man tossed your leash onto the ground and threw his arms up in a achey stretch.
  3163. >“Ah, easy enough. Looks like the membership info went through easy enough. Leave it to my dad to get things done.”
  3164. >>”Yeah. I guess running a company as big as he does means he can get results when he wants.”
  3165. >”I’ll owe him big for this.”
  3167. >The two walked on, not paying you any heed as they continued to talk.
  3168. >You ambled along behind them with a limp leash, like you had become a little lost puppy wanting to be noticed.
  3169. >Nobody was even paying attention to you.
  3170. >You could run off… if there was any desire for that left in you.
  3171. >You padded in behind the two, feeling plush carpet under your hooves and took in the room.
  3172. >The apartment was… rather nice.
  3173. >The kitchen looked clean and the living room held a large, flatscreen tv with a plush couch and lounge chair.
  3174. >Not what you’d expect from a seedy rented room.
  3176. >The man tossed aside his jacket and sat down on the couch, letting out a sigh.
  3177. >The pony joined him and flopped down back first against the human’s side.
  3178. >She craned her neck up to look at him and jabbed a hoof into his stomach.
  3179. >You stiffened, but he just grunted and looked down at her.
  3180. >”Ow, what the heck—”
  3181. >>”Give her the thing from you know who.”
  3182. >”The letter and the r—”
  3183. >She decked him in the ribs this time.
  3184. >>”It’s wrapped for a reason,” she whisper yelled.
  3185. >The human frowned and stuck his tongue out at her, then reached under the couch and brought out a small box and a letter envelope.
  3187. >Something had been written in pen on the front of the letter.
  3188. “To… Moon Dust.”
  3189. >Your eyes widened.
  3190. “This is for me?”
  3191. >You quirked your head to the side and looked up at the human.
  3192. >He nodded.
  3193. >”Mmhm, someone special wanted me to give this to you.”
  3194. >Your heart sped up in your chest and you touched your ribbon.
  3195. >No…
  3196. >You’ve done so much to finally let go and be at peace… but... what if…?
  3197. >You wanted to stifle it but you felt a little bloom of hope start in your chest.
  3198. “Did I get bought by someone? W-Who wanted to give me this...?”
  3200. >He pinched a finger and thumb together and moved them across his lips.
  3201. >The pony gestured you to open the gift.
  3203. >Your heart beat like a drum in your chest and your eyes started to water.
  3204. >You padded up to the giftbox, giving cautious glances at the two now and again.
  3205. >Everything felt slow suddenly, like you were in a dream.
  3206. >Your hooves shook as you reached for the package.
  3207. >It was small—just big enough to fit between your hooves.
  3208. >The wrapping came away and you blinked at the appearance of a velvet box, like something you’d see at jewelry stores, but bigger.
  3209. >You opened it with a careful push of your nose and the lid tilted back on a hinge.
  3210. >Your breath caught in your throat, stifling a small squeak as tears began rolling down your cheeks.
  3211. >In the box sat a beautiful, tangerine colored ribbon made of silk with a note.
  3213. “I hope you like your new home, Moon Dust.” —Anon.
  3215. >You immediately felt your legs go out from under you.
  3216. >Words failed you, the only thing coming from your mouth being inarticulate, breathless squeaks.
  3217. >Your thoughts and eyes blurred as your mind tried to comprehend what was happening.
  3218. “Anon… the ribbon… h-how?”
  3220. >The human chuckled, ruffled his companions mane and got up from the couch.
  3221. >“My name’s Jacob. Pleased to meet you, Moon Dust.”
  3222. “But how did—!”
  3223. >He put a finger to your lips.
  3224. >”Hold on, kid. He asked that I make a call for you when you got here. Anon will answer any questions you have.”
  3225. >He pulled one of those strange phone devices from his pocket, tapped on the screen a few times and a ringing sounded.
  3226. >Jacob lay it down on the table and you stared at the device, trying your best to pull yourself together before you said something you’d regret.
  3227. >Just… Celestia… this was really happening.
  3228. >You felt dizzy and nauseous and you were still tearing up like a little filly but you wanted to hug Anon so bad it hurt.
  3229. >It didn’t matter how embarrassing it’d be or if he’d be mad at you for it… you wanted to be be with him.
  3230. >His voice would have to be enough for now.
  3232. >>>“Hello?”
  3234. >Your ears perked up and your heart sped.
  3235. “A-Anon?” you asked, taking a half step toward the device.
  3236. “Hi, Moon Dust.”
  3238. >And just like that, the last vestiges of doubt crumbled away.
  3239. >A glowing feeling brighter than the sun spread through your chest and you beamed.
  3240. “Celestia, Anon, I love you so much thankyouthankyouthankyou. I was so scared and kept just trying to keep my mind on the good things and, but then this guy in a suit who I guess you know seemed to buy me but I thought he was a bad guy and ohh the ribbon looks to beautiful and I’m crying all overyourcarpetsorry.”
  3241. >>>”O-Oh.”
  3242. “Anon… I- can I hug you?”
  3243. >>>”As soon as I get back. I can’t leave the trainees right now.”
  3244. >Your ears went back and your shoulders slumped.
  3245. “When are you coming home?”
  3246. >>>”It’ll be a bit, Moony. Sorry. Normally I stay out here for a while before I can come back to shore. Jacob watches things over there in the meantime. He’s a very good friend of mine even though he can be a bit crude.”
  3247. >Your gaze tilted down and your bottom sank to the floor till you were seated.
  3248. “Can I come back to the rig then?”
  3249. >>>”No. No matter what I can’t have you come here. I technically don’t own you and if my boss knows that I’m in any way associated with you, I could be in trouble.”
  3250. “What? Why?”
  3251. >”You on your private phone, Anon?” the man, apparently named Jacob, said.
  3252. “Yeah. She deserves to know I suppose. Moon Dust, right now you are owned by a man named Gregory Atkins, Jacob’s father.”
  3253. >Your eyes widened.
  3254. “Wait, you’re not my master?”
  3255. >>>”No. I never bought any slaves ever, but when I tried to buy you, Vargas wouldn’t have it, and it makes sense given the circumstances. I can’t really get into it now, but having this position here is important, so I can’t risk getting on his bad side for all of our sakes.
  3256. >>>”Vargas wouldn’t have sold to anybody considering how seriously he takes product consistency, which gets rid of possible Hub member buyers, and the company doesn’t sell to any non-members.”
  3257. “So… how did you do it?”
  3258. >>>”Really, it has almost nothing to do with me. I asked Jacob for help and he said he owed me a favor. He convinced his father to put his reputation on the line and you’re in Jacob’s care now.”
  3260. >You turned to Jacob.
  3261. “Is that true?”
  3262. >He gave a cough and shrugged.
  3263. >“I promised my father I’d go back to business school if he did this, but it really wasn’t a big deal. They don’t let just anybody into their little private club, but with a little money here and there, you can grease any gear.”
  3264. >>”Anon paid for most of it. It wasn’t even your money, dipshit.” the white pony said.
  3265. >Your eyes snapped wide.
  3266. >Holy balls of fire, filly!
  3267. “S-Sir, I’m sure she didn’t mean that!”
  3268. >He got up, ruffled your mane and walked past you toward the kitchen.
  3269. >”Nah, she meant it. But she’s a grumpy cunt who doesn’t get any dick, so it’s no surprise she has a mouth like a bitchy teenager.”
  3270. >>”Oho, watch that mouth before I fuck it.”
  3271. >”In your dreams.”
  3272. >>”If your state in the morning is any indication, I’d say it’s in your dreams.”
  3274. >You could feel your face heat up and you averted your eyes.
  3275. “D-Do they always talk like this, Anon?”
  3276. >>>”Unfortunately. The one on the couch, by the way, is D28C-something.”
  3277. >>”C76, Anon. D2 for short, Moon Dust.” the pony said with a chipper smile.
  3279. >You wonder how she got such a strange name.
  3280. >Just as you opened your mouth to ask, a flash of green flared in the room where the white pony stood.
  3281. >Your mouth dropped as a changeling cracked her neck to the side and gave you a casual wave.
  3282. >>”Hiya.”
  3283. >Your eyes widened.
  3284. “P-Please don’t eat me,” you said without thinking.
  3285. >The changeling laughed.
  3286. “What am I gonna do, suck your soul out? I’m not going to eat you, dummy. I get by on normal food and the spare couple walking the streets. Racist ponies still, I swear,” she said, shaking her head.
  3288. >You felt your face heat up and you looked away from her.
  3289. >Of course it’d be fine if Anon sent you here and knew about her.
  3290. >You suddenly felt very conscious of the silent phone on the table.
  3292. “U-Uhm. Right. Anon uh…”
  3293. >You bit your lip.
  3294. “Even if you’re not my master, I’m happy I got to meet you.”
  3295. >You heard him chuckle.
  3296. >>>”Moon Dust, even if I don’t own you, Jacob and I are neighbors. You can come see me any time you want.”
  3297. >Your breath caught and your heart lept in your chest.
  3298. “Really!”
  3299. >”Really really. You’re in my apartment right now. I figured it’d be nice if you slept in a bed, so you get to stay at my place and Jacob will just keep an eye on things during the day.”
  3300. >OH… Celestia you get a whole bed to yourself!
  3301. >Your mouth dropped.
  3302. >You get to sleep in HIS bed!
  3303. >What if it smells like him?
  3304. >You felt your face heat up and you covered your mouth with your hooves.
  3305. >Th-This was too much.
  3307. “A-Anon?”
  3308. “Yeah?”
  3309. >Your ears folded back and you did your best to stifle your nerves.
  3310. “Thank you… so much.”
  3311. >You felt a pang of guilt for only being able to thank him like this.
  3312. >It felt so inadequate.
  3313. >But when Anon spoke, you could almost hear the smile in his voice.
  3315. “You’re welcome, Moon Dust.”
  3317. --
  3319. >Be Jacob.
  3320. >Looks like you managed to do some good today.
  3321. >You’ve never seen a happier little pony.
  3322. >She ran all over the place, asking what everything did and what Anon liked to do when he came back.
  3323. >The poor girl looked like she saw a ghost when D2 transformed but your little changeling was pretty good with people, even if she seemed like an idiot.
  3324. >Tasting emotions all your life probably made you pretty good at reading people, but even so, D2 had a talent for caring for others.
  3325. >She had been welcoming Moon Dust and taking her around the apartment in a tour of sorts.
  3327. >You could hear them talking from across the apartment in Anon’s room.
  3328. >>”And here is your half of the closet.”
  3329. >“O-oh my gosh! He bought me dresses!”
  3330. >God, she was so much like Marble.
  3331. >A younger one perhaps, like a little girl where Marble was something like an older teenager at times.
  3332. >Marble really didn’t trust you sometimes—she’d completely cling to Anon when he was home like a little puppy.
  3333. >She even hid behind him when you first met.
  3335. >It’s too bad Marble couldn’t be here to meet her honorary little sibling.
  3336. >D2 told you she had headed out yesterday to go meet someone close.
  3337. >She didn’t give any more details than that, but you choose to trust your roommate.
  3339. >>>“Hey, Jacob, you still there.”
  3340. >You blink and shift the phone in your hand.
  3341. “Sorry Anon, just kinda overwhelmed by this still I guess.”
  3342. >>>”It’s cool. Hey, could you give the phone to Marble? I really want to talk to her. I didn’t get to say anything about this beforehand to her since I was working to keep everything went right with the paperwork on this side. Is she handling it well? I didn’t hear a peep out of her when I was on speaker.”
  3343. >You furrowed your brow.
  3344. “Anon, didn’t D2 or Marble send you a message or something?”
  3345. >>>”No… what’s up?”
  3346. >”D2 said she went on a small trip to see someone. Said it was important.”
  3347. >>>”Jacob, do you not know where she is?”
  3348. >You could hear the tension rising in his voice.
  3350. >>”What’s going on?”
  3351. >You look up to see D2 in the doorway.
  3352. >Moon Dust was in the living room, playing with the remote and exploring how the television worked.
  3354. “Hey, D2, Anon wants to know a little more about what’s going on with Marble. Did she go to see family or something?”
  3355. >D2 smirked mischievously and held her hand out for the phone.
  3356. >You stood nearby and listened closely to make out Anon’s voice through the speaker.
  3357. >>”Don’t worry,” D2 said. “She’ll get there safe and sound in a few more hours. I took care of her ride and everything.”
  3358. >>>“Well… it’s fine for a pony to be out alone and all since some slaves are allowed to, but she doesn't have ownership papers and registry. If an officer or someone tries to check to see if she’s allowed to be out alone…”
  3359. >”Anon, shush, you have to trust me. She’s just going to see someone at their workplace,” she said, smiling far too much for your comfort.
  3360. >She only got that look when she was planning something.
  3362. >>>”... so her ride is trustworthy…?”
  3363. >>”Mmhm. Cross my heart and hope to fly.”
  3365. --
  3367. >Be Marble.
  3368. >The old war plane lurched and you instinctively go to grip the seat belt tighter.
  3369. >The autumn colored pony across from you looked up at you and gave a reassuring smile.
  3370. >”First time flying? Takeoff will get a little bumpy.”
  3371. >You nodded.
  3372. “I’ll be fine.”
  3373. >”You sure? You look a little nervous.”
  3374. >You nodded, fighting the butterflies in your stomach.
  3375. >”What’s even out there if you don't’ mind me asking. My owner was pretty leary about flying a pony out there alone. I don’t really know what’s bugging him but he’s put on a smile for some really bad people. I can’t imagine what would make him second guess this run. Are you sure you know what you’re getting into.”
  3377. >You put a hoof to your chin.
  3378. >That was pretty odd… wasn’t it just a shipping platform?
  3379. >You shook your head.
  3380. >No, now was not the time for second guessing yourself.
  3381. >You couldn’t turn back now.
  3383. “I can’t say I know exactly what the place is like. It’s my first time going there…”
  3384. >You nodded slowly to yourself.
  3386. “But even if it’s not what I expect... there’s someone I need to see.”
  3388. --
RAW Paste Data