Federation-Apocalypse 37: The Dark City

   Back in Core, the nearly 60 Thralls on recruiting-assignments were making some progress. The basic staff positions were pretty straightforward anyway: you got some modest magical abilities, a good salary, and various other benefits – immunity to weaponized memes, freedom from aging regeneration, and so on – while in Kadia, and you could quit at any time.

   The obedience-programmed NeoDogs were – of course – willing to go along with whatever their new owner wanted, and it had been easy, given sufficient funds, to pick up quite a lot of them. They had a couple of thousand so far, several times that many purchased and being shipped, and were checking availability on the rest.

   Well, there were more than six million out there. Even if only one percent could be purchased that would still be quite a few, and the ones up for sale would probably be selectively weighted towards young ones. Established companions and such wouldn’t be available.

   Some of the free NeoDogs were expressing an interest in jobs too: there wasn’t much available for them in core, and evidently freedom from aging, enough shapeshifting to have hands of their own (instead of having to use neural pickups and effector modules), and a good salary was a fairly attractive offer. A fair number even seemed likely to be interested in Thralldom later on…

   The neodolphins just didn’t seem to be interested in conventional jobs. They’d just splashed the Thralls and swum away. In theory they could have simply ordered the obedience-programmed ones to sign up – but if they weren’t interested in the job, they’d probably make lousy staff.

   They weren’t interested in Thralldom either, even with the offer to remove the obedience-programming right down to the genetic level afterwards as a bonus, over and above the usual benefits. Presumably that kind of thing seemed pretty restraining to a creature used to the freedom of the seas.

   Even with the various benefits – INCLUDING the side-effects of working in Kadia (immunity to aging and death while there, being healed of Meme-infections, access to the amusements and cheap luxury goods, and assorted magical powers) and the usual high salary – there weren’t many humans who wanted to work in Kadia. It had only been a few days, but there had only been forty or so qualified applicants (pretty much all hired of course).

   Now that just seemed wrong. OK, you had to commute a bit, business was booming in the Core, there might be paranoia about any kind of Manifold travel right now, there was a certain amount of apathy, and apparently some companies had been pushing virtual-reality style games as an alternative to actually going out into the Manifold – but he was still recruiting from a pool of a little over a hundred billion! Even if literally only one in a million was interested in those benefits and willing to consider giving it a try, he should have still be getting quite a few inquiries… Was someone actively working against him? Was it just him, or was it any Manifold-base recruiting? Wait: there was at least one group that would be interested in keeping everyone home, quiet, and passively accepting that the computers were running everything. The Ouratha.

   Meanwhile, Marty was waking up – with a hangover. He had his opinions on something being wrong with Core as well: it was as boring as piss. Of course, he then remembered that he hadn’t been using birth control at the party.

   Well, Kevin had already been planning to pick up the kids later. The free dark elf mothers would have to be persuaded, but they could just buy the slaves while the buying was good: the city was pretty cooperative at the moment.

   He also had a present for Marty – Elerra and Minel, sun elven and dark elven Thralls from amongst his latest recruits. That way Marty could keep them in ferret-form in his pockets while out and about – so that he’d always have some help handy in a fight – and need never be lonely at night.

   Marty thought that that was pretty bloody convenient. The fact that they had biocontrol witchcraft, and could handle their own contraception was even more convenient. He needed more pockets…

   With a current shopping list consisting of (1) the three (probably phantasm) slavegirls that Marty or the Thralls had impregnated at the party, (2) any half-drow on the slave market (since there had been five last time), (3) some work for a seamstress (for about eight more pockets for Marty – he was a bit evasive about whether or not that was a hint), and (4) a magic shortsword disguised as a shoddy blade, shopping didn’t take too long. (1) was easy, for (2) there turned out to be a dozen likely-ensouled half-drow kids on the market this time around (all easily buyable), and (3) only took a few minutes and a few coins – but (4) turned out to be more or less unavailable. The locals were trying to build up their reserves, and weapons were at a huge premium. They’d have to find one somewhere else.

   Meanwhile, Jarvian was running a small ground action – chasing down and capturing the pirates who’d dug in. He wasn’t feeling much like taking prisoners – but he didn’t want to send the kids in with orders to kill anything that walked either. Besides – the “pirates” could be MORE kids out fooling around, or on some sort of deniable political mission.

   Dammit! People were supposed to take war seriously! Not treat it like a big video game!

   It looked like most of the pirate `mechs were – or at least had been – pretty badly battered light scouting units. The pirates cracked under interrogation pretty readily – the long-range attack seemed to have hurt their morale – and claimed to have been working for “Wrath Pei” – the “Pirate-Lord of the Solar System, feared across all the terraformed worlds”. (Evidently Jarvain had some competition – since that didn’t fit in with what he knew and he’d never heard of anyone called “Wrath Pei”).

   Jarvian turned the pirate `mechs into smoking craters, made sure no communications gear survived, and loaded up his dropship with supplies and ammunition before clearing out – and having a little “talk” with his cadets, mostly centered on their ages (they were of the opinion that 12 was “of age”, like it was on Baelaria, while Jarvian was of the opinion that it was 17 or better).

   Back aboard the Jumpship, Jarvian set course back for Ealor and wound up making the Cadets exercise themselves into unconsciousness while he ranted. WHERE THE FUCK WAS KEVIN WHEN HE NEED TO CHEW HIM OUT? WHAT DID HE MEAN RECRUITING KIDS AS CADETS!

   The Mirage agreed with the trip to Ealor: It wanted to lodge a formal complaint and to get Jaiden to a DECENT medical facility. The ones aboard were hopelessly primitive! Besides! It needed to talk to some psychologists about the other Cadets! Their attitudes just were NOT RIGHT!

   Back in sick bay, Jaiden was getting poked and prodded. A few odd readings and rather young to be pregnant, but extremely healthy for now.

   Unfortunately, the jump-transitions would take awhile.

   With the shopping done, and the slaves stored away for the moment, it was time to head for Hogwarts and check on the de-addiction was going well – and whether anyone was still missing and where the extras were from. Fortunately, the communications hub was nearby and he’d set up a direct Hogwarts gate there earlier. Of course, it opened in the Room of Requirement, so it had to be opened by someone on that end as well – but he still had people working for Dumbledore there, so that was no real problem.

   They put the Thralls they’d brought as caravan-guards on duty with the reinforcements Kevin had assigned to the search earlier at the communications center, set up vacation-rotations for Hogwarts and Kadia for after the current push to catch Vekxin was over (subject to emergency calls of course), took the thirty-two youngsters from Hogwarts who’d volunteered for the search, and headed back to school.

   Kevin warned Marty that he might wind up teaching a class on business or muggle studies or something – and finally heard about Smoke’s “Shakespeare in Klingon” performance. He traded him the story about the drunken fire elemental – but noted that the school was much more medevial-magical-castle than industrial London.

   Dumbledore was waiting in his office, and pleased to see them. Kevin introduced Marty – who was startled to find that, if he wanted, Hogwarts would be pleased to educate his children when they reached the proper age – even if it was a bit early to be scouting out schools. Kevin couldn’t resist pointing out that – in a year or so, depending on the vagaries of underdark time and dark elven gestation of half-elven offspring – he should have eight or nine.

   Well – that was a nice idea, but he’d like to see at least half of them go to business school…

   As far as the kids they’d shipped back went, the inventory was currently underway. The recovery attempt had been more trouble than had been hoped, less than was possible… There had been a lot of temporary casualties among the searchers, which Kevin really hadn’t been expecting. It had been supposed to a communications attempt, not a military operation – and Kevin would really have preferred to capture them without having to drop a thousand tons of rock on their heads, even if their current condition did let them survive that.

   Dumbledore felt that Vekxin had been getting rather desperate lately – which didn’t surprise Kevin: most youngsters were actually pretty at spotting half-truths and insincerity. It was their primary survival mechanism.

   The final inventory showed a complete recovery of the kids from Hogwarts and 120 additional kids – 72 from Baelaria, 11 from Core, and 37 from a variety of locations… Of course, a great number of the 125 from Hogwarts were originally from core as well (after all, that was where most of the students to he had lay) – which would hopefully help calm the hysteria there. The other kids – well, Kevin could offer them hospitality, and possible staff positions, in Kadia for the moment. He spent the next few hours in the infirmary removing the excessive energy-infusion while providing life-support and patching up the damage it had done, curing the addiction, blurring the more painful memories a bit, patching neurological traumas, and so on… This sort of thing was NOT in the usual obligations of the Alumni association!

   There was a good deal of gratitude – but they were welcome; tricking people into bargains like that was quite unacceptable. That sort of thing required complete explanations of everything that you were getting into.

   Those who needed someplace to stay for a bit, or a shortcut to any of Kevin’s list of major core worlds, Core (virtually all of them), got accommodations in Kadia – he might as well consult Dumbledore on where and set up a permanent gate somewhere – and had arrangements made for the ones in transit or who wanted a vacation for a bit. He also informed them all that – if they wanted to come back to Kadia and visit the facilities (malls, amusement parks, etc) or go back through to Hogwarts, that there would be gate-attendents on duty. They’d simply need to identify themselves, since he was extending residence, visiting, travel, allowance, and identity-enhancement privileges to them all for the time being. For those returning to Core, he asked them to spread the warning that Vekxin was not trustworthy and was not fully explaining his bargain.

   While at Kadia Kevin decided to go ahead and try the enthrallment sales-pitch on the property-class NeoDogs – and found that, out of the 418 or so who were young enough to become Thralls, 142 did. The ones who didn’t seemed to be the ones that were taking longer to become friendly to him – probably not truly willing beneath the programming, but it looked like being used to the idea of being property made a BIG difference. He’d have to look – or have someone look – at their veterinary histories and any information available on how they’d been treated prior to this point to see if there was any kind of correlation.

   Then that really sank in emotionally. Better than 30%!?! That was REALLY going to upset some people and some power-balances! That was going to be kept VERY quiet for the moment! At least until he had more time!

   Top priority, money and resources as needed. First up, a set of searches on “NeoDogs for Sale” and a mass online purchase and adoption. That could be done in seconds, before anyone – even the computers – could correlate all the data. Monitoring pet purchases just wasn’t a high priority process. Then have the Thralls in Core try to adopt as many of the remaining property-class NeoDogs who were without owners as possible. Then start making offers on the remaining ones – pet-store breeding stock and such – through multiple fronts, including Amarant Solutions, any business offices he could set up, and Kadia, since he was already hiring for there. After that, it might be worth trying through the House, and possibly even the Military.

   Marty had been passing the time with Elerra and Minel after they shapeshifted a bit to match his tastes more precisely – but he was ready to head back to the Drow city and thence to the Mind Flayer city before the passageways got closed off. He’d checked his pockets; he had everything…

   The Mind Flayer city was likely to be a ruin, since they’d left it eroding, imploding, flooded, half-depopulated, and with a modest army on the way to attack it – but you never really knew in the Manifold. They picked up what was left of their caravan, and the guard-thralls at the dark elven city – but the place was being rebuilt and further fortified, which made shopping awkward. At least they’d managed to establish some sort of alliance with the Moon and Sun elves from the surface, and were sending noncombatants there…

   Business matters put Marty in charge of things again. They picked up 40 assorted cheap bugbear and orc slaves (and really heavy restraints before they heard that they were going to a mind-flayer hangout) from among the ranks of the captured besiegers to go with their remaining trade goods: they city hadn’t really needed most of the luxuries or gems and they had gotten a share of the besiegers stuff anyway. Besides, with 13,000 new slaves, 20,000 old ones, and only 30,000 dark elves to watch them, they could probably stand getting rid of a few – and with a dozen Thralls along as guards, Kevin’s usual three companions, and the four girls, a small caravan with that many guards would look pretty odd.

   So: there were rumors of another army on the way from Menzobarranzen, the other races in the Underdark were vacating the area as the war played out, Clerics from the surface had arrived, along with some mages – and the arguments over what to do with the slaves were becoming quite heated. There were also arguments about what to do with drow/dark elves wandering to the city seeking refuge, and the list went on…

   Couldn’t these people give it a REST? The city had only broken free of Lloth a few months ago! How long had it taken the surface to get civilized again after the collapse of Netheril?

   Marty promptly started getting them all organized. A few basics first: (1) Slaves of inherently evil underdark races stay slaves. (2) Enslaved hostile Drow stay slaves. (3) Replace any surface slaves or good-guy slaves with class (1) and (2) slaves from the attacking army. (4) Refugees, do some testing and split into genuine refugees (welcome) and would-be fifth columnists – goto (2) above.

   Fortunately, his bargaining, negotiation, and leadership skills – with a little help from his new pocket-assistants – were well up to the task. He got the surface elves to quiet down with their demands, and the dark elves to make concessions on slaves from inherently-good races.

   The Underdark was about PERFECT for a branch of Amarant Solutions: battling-business world style takeovers were the normal order of business in the Underdark! A PERFECT place for his up-coming illegitimate kids! All he’d have to do would be to find and infiltrate a “normal” drow city. What a happy thought!

   Well… He’d have to have them raised somewhere else initially, and get Kevin to enthrall them or something first. Otherwise they could really get killed. Apparently Kevin could do it as soon as they were old enough to say yes as long as their parents wanted it done and thought it was for the best. It wasn’t like it hurt them, and they should be fine psychologically as long as he didn’t push the “obedience” bit too much.

   He set up a local office with a Thrall for staff and communications for the moment. That way the local office could monitor the ten or eleven free dark elves he’d impregnated, and make sure that his kids didn’t wind up on the slave market or anything. He could keep monitoring the slave markets for half-dark elf kids as well, although both needs might wane rapidly with the influence of the surface elves.

   With an office ready, he set to work on some trade deals. Kevin had set up trade-groups in Waterdeep, the Underdark, and in Thay, as well as with Baelaria, Core, the Old Empire, the New Imperium, Ealor, and several places other offworld, so there was no reason not to use them. Kevin left pretty much all the actual business to him anyway while he looked for more potential Thralls.

   Kevin tried to speed things up in his own way by performing a citywide repair spell and another major stone shaping to redo the walls and things. It might be fun, and it would get Marty’s local rep more respect anyway – and it would give Marty another impressive point to use in his talks with the surface leaders. It did seem to work, although the surface elves seemed pretty shocked for some reason.

   Marty found Dhoul talking with Vardis, a sun elf Archmage, who apparently hadn’t believed the story – at least until Kevin had done it again. Vardis hadn’t thought that anyone on Faerun excepts the elves of Evermeet could do things like that any longer – and certainly hoped that he hadn’t learned the technique from the Red Wizards.

   Marty had to pretty much deny knowledge of that. Kevin was something of a prodigy, but magic wasn’t his field.

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