When last heard from, the characters were cleaning up after a fight with some bandits that unexpectedly went nuclear.
Unfortunately, after getting Jarvian and Jaiden patched up, checking on the Mirage revealed that it was in emergency shutdown – and Kevin wasn’t at all sure what effect a healing ritual would have on it. Emergency battery power was still running the failure readouts though – magnetic containment system failure, nanite program compromised, wellstone system malfunctioning, secondary radiation is still high, and computer system in preemptive shutdown. All in all, it looked like a major overhaul and part replacement. Kevin was no engineer – but he guessed that the superconductive coils and gravatic-shield drive were fried, that the nanite memories were partially randomized (and thus the nanites had been purged), that induced transmutations had fouled up the electron-well systems in the wellstone, that the entire system was radioactive, and that the computer circuits and memory core were in self-protective shutdown.
Jarvain had to wonder – this kid WASN’T a science or engineering specialist, and he’d skipped out on school at what – fourteen? What the HELL did they teach in the colleges in Core? He’d spent years in research in what was left of the Star League archives to assemble the kind of information Kevin took as a birthright.
If and when he had some kids, they were getting a Core-style education if he had to personally rebuild the star league to get it for them.
Back in reality, it was pretty obvious that there were really only three options – replacement parts and a shop, massive magic, or looking up a local mad scientist. Given that (2) and (3) might well go wrong and were certain to draw unwanted attention in any case (plus that, while Kevin was fairly sure he could remove the radiation with a ritual, the nanites and low-level molecular damage was probably going to take a shop – a repair ritual capable of handling that kind of detail work would call for an archmage). They might be able to manage it all given time and fresh nanites, but as it was, it was time to bail. Oh well, it wasn’t like hitting the bandits was really required.
They sold the Minotaurs to the locals – except for the four they’d promised the bartender – but the locals disapproved of slavery for the 30-odd human bandits and five leaders they’d caught. They wanted ot put them on trail and put them in jail for awhile. Oh well, they had paid out a pretty good reward already. They could have the lot. They’d blown up quite a few of their fields anyway.
It would be best to head back to the singular technicians in the New Imperium. Still, even if the gate in the bar was still open, that meant hauling an inert 10-ton mech up a few hundred feet of ladder. A reduction spell would help, but that was still going to take some heavy-duty levitation. Jarvian wanted to use a stretcher for the symbolism of the thing – which was easy enough.
Wonder of wonders, the bar was still standing and the gate was still available. They left the four Minotaurs with the owner (and told him that they weren’t currently explosive).
Sadly, the corridor of doors didn’t include anything for the New Imperium or even for Core Earth; it was going to have to be up the ladder. That was a pain: the Mirage kept getting wedged and they had to yank it free…
Back in Baelaria, repairs were well along – far too well along for the couple of days they’d been gone. Even the trains were running again. They disguised themselves and went through without making a fuss. The place was already a swiss cheese, Kevin hated to spend Mana, and Jarvain didn’t feels it was urgent, so they took the established route via train. The time was wrong though: it had apparently been weeks. Either Baelaria had been running fast or they’d hit a patch of slow time somewhere. Weird: Samurai Jack time had mapped well to core time for the first bit when Kevin had been in core, why should the second visit put things so far off? Maybe Baelaria skipped a bit ahead? Oh well, the train trip was nicely relaxing. Jarvian studied the blueprints for the Mirage. It looked like a complete tear-down and rebuild job.
The android storing their ship was still insulting – for which they rendered it temporarily human – but it had done a good job fixing up, restocking, and caring for it. It even filed the flight plan for them. Efficient, if unlikable. Probably a gambit to get the customers to pay for regular droid upgrades: you shoot it, you pay for it.
Meanwhile, Kevin was comparing Core and Personal time. It looked like Core and Samurai Jack had been running roughly 1-to-1 during his first visit – but the half-a-day they’d spent dealing with the farmer and the bandits had taken nearly five weeks on core. Moreover, something had been blocking the messages from the Thralls – which were only now starting to come in. That neatly eliminated any local problems: some really major manipulation must have been centered on them. But why? They weren’t really a major factor yet – and that sort of thing normally left plenty of traces. Fortunately, the difficulty of supernatural time-manipulations scaled with the number of souls involved – so the major realms were pretty well proof against them. There was somebody out there they REALLY needed to do something about.
So what had been going on?
The trade route to the Forgotten realms through Castle was in limited operation, but armed escorts would be needed for some time. That should be profitable – especially since they needed the materials in Baelaria.
Malfoy, in the underdark, had been sending regular messages: they’d been being targeted by the missing students. He’d organized the thralls into defensive positions but wanted reinforcements and orders. He’d been sending daily requests for the last four and a half weeks…
Kevin decided that it was time to GET Vekxin. He wasn’t putting up with this. From now on, Vekxin was on the LIST. What did they call that once? Fatwa? Excommunication? Crusade? Oh yes: Jyhad.
Right: they were still holding – honestly, they were bloody hard to get rid of – so he sent them some of the sixty unassigned youngsters: at least they were out of training now. Secondarily, check with Dumbledore? It was no longer a “rescue mission” if they had to fight the people they were trying to rescue. It was supposed to be locate kids, pass on messages from home, and try to persuade them to come back – but if they were being targeted, someone was taking that badly.
It also said that Vekxin was probably working with somebody else. A major mage or something. Somebody ELSE who was going on the list. Places to go, people to kill…
He had a little list, they never would be missed, of Manifold offenders who might well be underground…
Jarvian felt that getting the cadets a little experience with real Mechs might be in order – but he would need a temporary ride while the Mirage was being repaired.
Malfoy appreciated the feedback, he had been getting worried and had been about to break off his mission and come looking for Kevin and company. Still, they had persuaded a few of the more recent recruits to come back; the others hadn’t been listening and had been growing increasingly hostile. Secondarily, the ones they’d captured in the battles had been showing signs of addiction; they’d sent them on to Dumbledore to find out what and for advice.
He agreed that it was probably the energy-feed they were being given. Still, going to Dumbledore had been a good decision – and Kevin made sure to let him know that.
Most of the rest was just minor status updates; they’d been concerned with the lack of response.
The traffic around Ealor (the Singularite’s new world) was pretty heavy – and so was the Imperial presence. Evidently they’d been making a splash… Of course, they would be: pretty much 100% of the Singularite survivors had been people with souls – and thus at least some ability to bend events in the manifold to suit their desire to survive. The New Imperium was a reasonably popular realm – but it was also a very big one. A relatively unified group of ten thousand – in a previously uninhabited solar system to boot – would certainly warp the local reality around themselves a bit.
Ealor was starting to look like a bustling city, traders, workers, survey work – quite a lot had changed in the last six weeks (including the construction of several spaceports).
Jarvain went to work on getting some engineers and getting the repairs underway. Fortunately, their were plenty of repair facilities available – although the engineers were a bit appalled at the mess – if only because they didn’t see how any pilot could survive the kind of radiation-blast that it would take to do this kind of damage. The repairs were going to take a couple of weeks: they had most of the parts on hand, but the reactor would need to be replaced entirely, and time on the fabricators was at a premium. While the safeties had kicked in properly and shut things down before any mutations could take effect, it still looked like they’d have to revisit the design.
They also weren’t willing to provide replacement positronium warheads (no real surprise there). Of course, the Mirage had simply synthesized it’s own – but they might have been planning to inhibit that. Still, the Mirage had a soul, and they had plenty of magic and other sources of they actually needed any WMD’s.
Jarvians secondary project was upgrading the Battletech mech chasses he’d acquired. The local engineers didn’t think that was worth bothering with – better to simply junk them and start over – but it was his money… Jarvian was agreeable to junking most of them – and getting some light Mechs for his cadets – but he wanted the Atlas upgraded: it was historical.
Jarvian headed out to eat, get some input from the cadets on what kind of mechs they’d feel most comfortable with,
The Wingates were still in core, and things seemed to be going well, so Kevin got in touch with the House – and found that they’d like a physical visit. Well, that was pretty easy – but he got a priority contact request from the Military as soon as he was back on the network. They wanted to talk to him as soon as possible… Well, House first; he did supposedly work for them and the gate came out in London anyway.
Fortunately, the House already knew that someone was pulling timeslips-and-blocks on their agents – and that there might be out-of-contact intervals until a way could be found to block it. All the teams affected had been on Vekxin’s trail – and it had been fouling up all attempts to corner him. Until he could actually be located, it was going to be a war of agents – and the Manifold was unmatched as a hiding place. The House already suspected that Vekxin was not an opener, and might need others to act as gatekeepers – which drastically limited the paths he could take, especially if he could be forced into one of the more mapped-out regions.
That at least Kevin could confirm: Vekxin could not be an Opener, he didn’t have a soul – unless he’d stolen one somehow, he was out of luck. That also meant that he couldn’t enter Core without serious issues – which would hopefully hold down his ability to find followers in the Core.
M did consider the military request a mid-level priority – but wanted Kevin to be careful about how he answered some of their questions.
Kevin simply set up the call from the House, with M edited out. That way he could take some warning signals if any were needed. They could also add a bit of extra fuzzy and delay to what the Meme filters were putting in anyway. The Military put him straight through to General McAndrew in person – which wasn’t much of a surprise, but was still impressive. He’d apparently been wanting to get in touch with Kevin for some time now. The agents he’d left them were performing well and had a lot of useful talents – but it struck him as odd how much their abilities matched each others.
Kevin was mildly surprised at that. Sure the lab crew had passed on that they were bestowed? He must just be wanting confirmation. Still, easy enough: it was because their basic abilities were a partial mirror of his own. The drew on his power, but it was amplified by their innate potential, and would gradually become more and more their own power until they no longer needed any of Kevin’s – and in the meantime, they helped boost his own powers. As for the upper limits, they seemed to be expanding with practice. There was presumably an upper limit, but it hadn’t been established yet. Unfortunately, it was still limited to teenagers and below.
For McAndrew that was problematic, teenagers could only be recruited with computer or parental assent. Adults were a different matter. Kevin did note the safety features in return, but had to admit that most of the public wouldn’t necessarily see it that way.
Kevin was pretty careful about McAndrews inquiry as to whether or not he’d been recruiting in core – noting that “Unfortunately, given the forces needed to set up the link, attempting to imbue someone in Core would be extremely difficult”.
Apparently McAndrew had been running into backlash tied into the missing person reports. The military had been forced into doing more and more exhaustive investigations – and so recruiting teenagers from Core without computer or parental consent was a touch subject.
He appreciated the agents Kevin had already sent, but hopefully he’d eventually be able to manage adults. Teenagers presented quite a few political difficulties. Still, more candidates from the Manifold would be welcome enough: they had an evacuation to prepare and he liked having more than one option on the table.
Kevin had been hoping that the military might be more pragmatic than that in the face of mass death, destruction, novas, and killer memes. Oh well – they still might be, just not in conference.
Come to think of it, only one month to go until the supernova front hit that colony world.
M thought that that conversation had gone unexpectedly well – and that Kevin would be part of the solution of the Manifold woes rather than a part of the problem – but not everyone would necessarily see it that way. The computers could not be gotten to give a straight answer about whether or not Kevin’s contract was acceptable: all they got was basically “be very careful, we advise against making major life decisions so young, this sort of contract could affect your future for a long time” – exactly what Kevin had gotten on his tests.
Proposing a test to M – picking up one of the obedience-programmed neodogs at a pet store and giving it an illusory human form first, then a temporary polymorph to human, and finally giving it shapeshifting to human, and trying to get a ruling from the computers on whether or not it was still a pet – after all, illusion was just illusion, polymorph was sort of an illusion that was tricking reality, and shapeshifting went right down to the genes. What made it stop – or start – being a pet? Was it simply the fact that it agreed without being forced and couldn’t change its mind?
M really didn’t know – although he tended to go for “personhood” for almost any sentient being; obedience-programming was just a mental disability that put responsibilities on their caregivers.
A pretty defensible opinion, but Kevin was pretty sure that the computers didn’t entirely see it that way: mental disabilities were pretty well gone – even brain damage was correctable now – and it didn’t match up with the results of his tests on the colony worlds or with the “personal responsibility” rules.
Oh well. Probably no way to drive the computers into a logical corner there either: the system would just default on the side of protectionism and refer back to whoever it was consulting. There had to be some way to find out who that was.
M was trying to find out too.
Kevin sent McAndrew six more manifold-origin Thralls from the sixty unassigned, sent six teams (eighteen more) to the Underdark as reinforcements. The kids there were in good defensive positions now, but Malfoy wanted to go on the offensive and start capturing Vekxin’s recruits.
Time to check back with Dumbledore; were Vekxin’s recruits curable of not? There was no use in a war between the Thralls and the other kids unless something can be done for them after capture or it cut into Vekxins forces more than it did into his. Besides, if it was coming to heavy fighting instead of passing on messages from worried friends and parents, and persuading them to come back, it wasn’t really what he’d had in mind.
It looked like Vekxin had his recruits addicted to positive energy. Great. The Dr Vu syndrome. Had Vu been a prototype? It might be time to investigate Ryan and ATE. Still, they were curable – apparently Vekxin, lacking a soul, couldn’t create a soul-link – even if it wasn’t easy. It took some serious magic or time to back them off the dependency. It might be worth making a serious effort to collect them – but that diverted effort from trying to find and stop Vekxin in the first place. There really wasn’t enough information for a cost-benefit analysis – but curing some and publicizing the story might really Vekxin’s recruiting (not to mention being a good plug for his own). Detox took weeks or months, but magical intervention was pretty quick (even if it did call for a lot of power) – and they were seriously disenchanted with Vekxin afterwards.
So it was magical detox and spreading the word. Kevin played coach for speechmaking (he was pretty good at that) and arranged for rebroadcast in Core. That would reach a fair chunk of the youngsters in existence since Vekxin apparently couldn’t recruit phantasms (Kevin guessed that they’d dissipate under the overload). That was a good thing, since otherwise he’d have swamped them everywhere outside of core – and it meant that their advisory had a good chance of being a major hindrance. It looked like Kevins return-the-really-young-and-unwilling routine might really pay off rather than just being an “evil excuse for being nice”. After all, McAndrew was bound to track them down eventually.