With the business negotiations concluded, it was time to take the singularite trade representatives back to Ealor. Since Marty had purchased his own tramp freighter – the Ebon Hawk (apparently an echo of Revan’s old ship) – to travel on, that was easy enough to arrange. Besides, there were a few final details to clear up with the Singularites; they’d forgotten to mention that visits to core would fix their fertility problems – and Raphial, Jarvian, and even Marty (somewhat; he thought that normal humans were just too fragile and was interested in anything with the potential to fix it) were interested in the Praetorian technology.
The Ebon Hawk was a “standard model” tramp freighter all right; lots of cargo space and a good hyperdrive, but the shields, weapons and computers all needed a lot of work – and it would need a big infusion of core technology if they were going to use it outside the star wars universes. Still, it was more than sufficient for the trip.
They kept having to go sublight to navigate through battlefield debris on the way back – apparently the Hellstorm had been busy – but the Singularites were pleased to have a trading deal set up. They were even more pleased when the group advised them of the advantages of visiting Core – and that they could pick up some educational programs, databases, and that Flit they’d been wanting while they were visiting.
Raphial picked up some general information on the nanite structure – not really that different in principle from any other cell, but far more readily programmable (and thus far more readily subject to mutation). Given that technology, step-by-step cellular mimicry and replacement wasn’t really all that difficult in concept – even if the details were incredibly picky. The Singularites were a bit nervous about simply handing out that kind of information – but Raphial got part of it: he was mostly interested in medical applications (while Kevin was mostly interested in how to get people to stop fooling around with it). In the end, Raphial got his samples.
The Wingates did want the group to keep an eye out for their granddaughter though – even if the group couldn’t really promise them anything.
With the refugees settled in adequately, it was time to head for Galdren – and the train to Baelaria.
Galdren had abruptly turned into a busy place; it now had gates for the Old Empire, Highway, Niven’s “Known Space”, the “Elysium Commission”, “Omega Realm”, and “Five Worlds” (that one was locked down tight; a cargo woke up and went berserk or something). They had to store the ship with a parking garage, which turned out to have a very annoying droid in charge… It looked like the Emperor was promoting manifold travel and knowledge as a method of cleanly separating the New Imperium from the Old Empire. He’d have to walk a fine line to keep it distinct yet cosmopolitan.
The gateway to Baelaria had become a bustling rail station. It was now several tracks wide with cars continuously coming and going all the time and a pedestrian walkway. There were customs and formalities. Fortunately, the three Thralls Kevin had assigned to Baelaria had an office, some business evaluations, basic contacts and arrangements, and ten more local Thrall-recruits all ready. There weren’t any more crowds of desperate youngsters though… It looked like they’d mostly been run off.
The locals still needed raw materials in bulk, bound elementals (which was why Kevin had sent a trade delegation to Faerun), and compatible technologies. There were some major inflation issues, so the group picked up some properties while the local government was floundering about trying to get OFF the gold and silver standard. Kevin checked the poorhouses, alms houses, and religious shelters, since the local craftsmen were now competing with droids using modern manufacturing techniques. They were all right with fine handicrafts, but would have been forced to dump most of the semi-skilled apprentices. Even so, there were only two possible recruits. Something about mages coming around looking for recruits was scaring people pretty badly.
As far as facilities went, there were three possible sites available – a multistory building a few blocks from the mages guild, a vacant lot (left behind by a recent explosion), and a storage warehouse. They settled the dilemma by simply buying all three. Next they needed some stock… The quickest route to Faerun – where they planned to stock up on bound elementals – was a three hour rail trip north to another city, through a gate there to Wild West world, from there to a world known as Castle (a feudal realm locked in a centuries-long mages war which was nearly at the point of exhaustion), through some deep tunnels stretching for miles before turning up in the Underdark. They’d need some way to protect themselves against magical manipulation of course.
On a side note, the Thralls were reporting changes amongst the phantasm kids… They were getting more alert, cunning, and vicious. Could be background assumptions shifting, visiting dreamers, feral-child patterns, alien souls, magical enhancements or transformations, personality imprints, praetorian nanite contamination, or unknown influences. They interviewed Arxus – a 14-year-old phantasm with an attitude: he wanted to rise in society, get out from under authority, and hit things. He wanted to see the manifold and supported himself by running errands and not letting anything get in his way. He even tried to protect the other kids… No soul (although one might have been resident until recently), but some psionic potential and a fully-functional mind – or at least a very good impression of one – although it really didn’t seem to be anchored to him. He felt that he had to get out into the manifold and go searching for something. Other phantasm kids were showing variations as well. Most were basic phantasms, some showed more independence, a few could pass for ensouled if you didn’t check. Arxus remembered being zapped by a mage, but hadn’t felt injured. Maybe the mages stole (and possibly traded off) his soul? Put it into a Praetorian body? Too many theories, not enough data – but they’d have to check on the mages next.
Still, just finalizing all the paperwork on their new properties, and business licenses, and waiting for someone at the guild to be available, and so one was going to take a day or so. In the meantime, everyone got to work on their private projects…
Raphial’s nanite investigations weren’t getting very far: the local physics didn’t have electromagnetism and his samples were inert. Still, at least the documentation was interesting – and he could simply duck back over to the Imperium to test things. It looked like replacing structural and muscular systems was easy enough: the chemical- and signal-processing organs were the hard part… He was going to spend the next few days getting a handle on how much medical knowledge, how complex a feedback system, and how difficult the programming would be, for his organ-replacement and cyber-interface operations. The full praetorian augmentation was way overkill – but muscle-bone replacement and subdermal skin reinforcement could be pretty useful without being nearly as complicated.
Kevin felt that he’d have to bring in some more Thralls from elsewhere to help get things started. Still, Steampunk England to the English Fantasy Zone was an easy jump – and from there he could use his own gates to hit the Roman Imperium and the Dragonworlds. His agents in the Imperium had nearly thirty prospects – although he probably wouldn’t be able to recruit more than five or six Thralls from among them even under their current circumstances (they were mostly dragged in by accidents or parents, rather than being self-selected) – but Daniel, Gerald, and Bard would probably enjoy a visit there anyway. There were eleven possibles in the English Fantasy Zone – heading off-Core was getting more popular apparently – and, while it was vanishingly unlikely that there’d be any ensouled dragons among the newly-captured young males who’d tried to raid his holdings there, he needed to pick up a few of the metallics to bond to the Thralls in advanced training. The trip to Hogwarts gave him the feeling of complications somehow: it might be best to put that off for a day or so…
Jarvian, of course, was busy commissioning some new mech frameworks, looking into steam-pressure pneumatic musculatures, and investigating the local weaponry. While the locals were quite up to making mech frameworks, the designers needed constant supervision: they were used to “muscle” systems built on pressure-expansion, rather than electro-contraction and the design requirements were pretty different.
Marty, or course, was setting up site security, commissioning reconstruction on their new vacant lot, arranging intercity transport for that route to the forgotten realms, and making local contacts. Alone among the group, Marty was more or less in his element…