Federation-Apocalypse Log 43: Vanity

   Kelseru Ana’Nasu was intrigued… This Ailill Keras’an’Darkell fellow was something a little different. Admittedly, she hadn’t been in the Dragonworlds for long – but most of the young men of his age were arrogant, demanding, and inclined to try and use their raw power to take what they wanted. Enough of them had simply attempted to challenge her to reveal that. “Social Graces” just did not seem to be a part of their worldview. This one was willing to send presents – and some quite impressive ones too! Where had he obtained a trio of young dragons to begin with? Did he actually control enough resources to be willing to give young dragons away on a whim? She’d checked their minds: they were well-trained, throughly bound to obedience, and didn’t even consider themselves ill-treated.

   Apparently Ailill was a sufficiently skillful artificier to have earned himself some major Imperial contracts and rewards, and was competent enough to have defended his gains since – and to keep most of the details quiet. Still, he apparently had some fairly extensive estates and controlled dozens of subordinates.

   Competence was such a rarity – and she would have been hard-pressed to control so many lesser dragons. Even if he wasn’t willing to share that technique, he might be a useful contact – and there was nothing wrong with being courted anyway.

   At the restaurant, Kevin spent some time bustling around, pestering (and enhancing) the cooks, making sure that the ingredients were the best possible, and ensuring that his gobs of money had been well spent. There was plenty of minor chaos, but no disasters. Perhaps fortunately, the ovens did not run on antimatter or explode or anything like that, despite some rumors and suggestions.

   So it was a lot of trouble to go to over a bit of lust / dominance / territoriality. It wasn’t like he had a resource shortage or something.

   The greeting, escorting her to the table while an assistant escorted her attendants to a table for humans, giving her with a trio of young reds bearing gifts as personal attendants (and giving each of her attendants one as well), all went well. She’d brought a bottle of fine wine, but hadn’t been nearly so extravagant.

   Kevin pointed out that excess income was no fun at all unless you spent it.

   She agreed with that: so many loved to sit on wealth in the dragonworlds, so few understood the pleasures of a luxurious lifestyle.

   The conversation drifted, touching on other entertainments, projects and enchantments, ensuring that the empire remained stable so that wealth could be properly enjoyed, importing items of interest, collecting lore and history, and the interesting rarities that occasionally came up on the market. She seemed pleased that he had plans beyond the moment and climbing up the status ladder. So few were truly prepared for what they found, it was something of a pity really.

   Meanwhile, her assistants were keeping a close, if discrete, eye on the situation. They were doing magical scans of the area and the food going by while engaged in small talk and trading stories with each other. Of course, for good or ill, there was nothing to detect: no traps, no barriers other than privacy stuff on the restaurant in general, and the food was simply very good food.

   From what Kevin could see – and he had quite a lot of passive detections running – her companions all had both magical and psionic enhancements. One was some sort of mage, most likely a prepared spell user. The second was a swirling mass of energies, with a link to the positive energy plane and maybe to another plane as a sink; he fed off the power flow and regulated it, although the links might or might not be an inerent part of him. The third had runes all over him, but apparently hadn’t made them. He was well shielded and flowing with power though; most likely either a fighter or a support type. All three were fairly powerful, although none were as powerful as their mistress. It looked like they had strong possibilities for continued growth though. They seemed to be mercenaries, and had quite a lot of power – but not as much as Kevin had locally.

   As for the attitudes of the dragoness – She didn’t like people who took her lightly, or confused her with a material thing to be won. She thought that people who overreached themselves grasping for things they did not have or understand deserved what they got. She believed in merit over other qualifications and liked to be in charge – but was not obsessed with power, although she enjoyed the benefits and perks that come with it. She believed that one should use power responsibly, since otherwise you might be disposed by the masses. You should treat those under you with fairness, treat those above you with respect, and eliminate or convert rivals as efficiently as possible. She probably wasn’t really a red dragon – a local form as a gem dragon seemed more likely – and she wasn’t originally from the Dragonworlds. She appeared to be sizing him up at the same time – leaning towards seeing him as a possible ally, but prepared to face a rival. She didn’t seem to be quite happy with the currently established order.

   She was mildly impressed simply with the sheer number of dragons on the serving staff – although she wondered why there were so many metallics (and was informed that it was mostly because they were more decorative, smarter on the average, and made better servants), but was mostly interested in something called the “Conway Contract”; Conway was a relatively powerful mage in the Empire who had been fishing around for someone to provide him with advanced technological equipment and technicians to pursue some project. Many of the big companies in the empire had been lining up to supply more or less off-the-shelf equipment and technicians. She had been thinking that she and Kevin might be able to procure better items and make their own bid. She had the contact, and suspected that Kevin might be able to procure some unusual stuff.

   Well, he could usually find anything he needed – and the reward was well worthwhile. Mr Conway seemed to be throwing quite a lot of money around.

   She also wanted to find out a bit about his companions. They appeared to be quite well suited to their tasks, both mentally and physically – and loyalty like that was hard to come by.

   Kevin provided some vague explanations and decided to move things up a notch. Unless someone admitted SOMETHING, they were never going to get anywhere. Revealing that he knew she wasn’t originally from the Dragon Empire wouldn’t give much away: he could use his work with gates as an explanation.

   She was willing enough to admit that: she found many of the comforts of the Empire pleasant, although the social system could use a bit of work. It was easier to counter human technology in the Empire than in her original magical-cyberpunk world. Antiaircraft missiles made life difficult. A couple of her companions were also from there, although they had picked up the odd ability here and there. The third was from a rather strange world of disgusting personal power. Thankfully while he retained some of it, he was limited in terms of just how much power he could channel in most other places.

   Sounded like she was out of one of the gaming universes; it had recently undergone some sort of phase transition wherein magic returned, had a semi-psychic magical style targeted against the will, early cyberpunk-level technology, plentiful weaponry and personal conflicts. She had heard of places with even more powerful technology, but had not visited them – and preferred not to. There needed to be a certain level of respect to being a dragon. Sadly, her ability to come and go as she pleased was rather limited as well. Mr Conway’s contract, should we be able to acquire it, will certainly prove lucrative, and would help cement a further step up the ladder.

   Mr Conway needed high level computers (and had some rather detailed specifics on base operating principles), rare radioisotopes, chemical processing equipment, and more. All of that would be fairly easy – although there was the “what he’s going to do with them” problem. Still, if he could travel freely, he could get his own stuff – and if he couldn’t, any resulting problems were likely to be contained anyway. Oh well, why not?

   With all of her business finally out of the way, Kevin focused on being as charming, fascinating, and attractive as possible – inadvertently channeling the vast energies of an adolescent demigod into the effort. Combined with a bit of accidental (and probably unduplicatable) reality manipulation, that went completely out of control.

   Kevin was pleased with the results – he hadn’t seriously expected to fascinate her to the point where she would willingly allow him to claim and bind her – but that was a contract of sorts: she got wealth, luxury, servants, some local authority, his backing, pleasure, magic and offspring (and plenty of education, equipment, and opportunities for them) – while he got her, a useful contact and broker in the Dragonworlds, and some insights into the violence memes (or at least some clues for where more information could be found in the manifold). She still had a dozen psionically-bonded young dragons of her own, plus the six he’d given her. They were currently acting as her business representatives on the major trading worlds.

   Kevin hired the three bodyguards. It was hard to find competent independent personnel!

   Back on Battling Business World, Marty was talking with Limey and seeing how well he could fight – which wasn’t too bad for a child-level sentient notebook computer. Admittedly, it was mainly cyber-attacks and spitting out spells; his hand-to-hand just wasn’t very good yet.

   Perhaps he could get him to cut back on the Polymorph spell a bit though; it was kind of weird for Battling Business World.

“But hey, it’s a work day! You get to meet the other office devices, and Lou the vending machine’s a real sweetie!”

   Marty packed up Limey and headed for work. He took the road rage lane since Limey had liked it the last time.

   At the office (and several intense police chases) later, things were a mess, two entire floors had been destroyed in interdepartmental fighting. Things were exploding left and right, there were corpses everywhere, and Mr. Leland was calmly sitting at his desk, despite the fact that one side of it was on fire. Marty put it out.

“Oh great. Have HR and Accounting gotten into an argument again?”

“Procurement and Accounting this time.”

“What the hell happened? Did they refuse to give the accountants their Ticonderogas?”

“Well, it all started with the upgrades for the new Accounting Database. Accounting gave IT the specs, and IT came up with a solution for 10 million. They then sent the deal to Procurement to approve. Procurement threw the spec out, started bidding with the wrong companies at 20 million, got a Microsoft web server for 15 million, and claimed a 5 million dollar cost savings. Accounting then swore a blood oath to slay Procurement and take their power and stuff while leaving the responsibilities with Procurement. Procurement then launched a preemptive strike on Accounting. I’m not sure who won.”

   Marty knew how accountants were. If Procurement thought that they’d won, there were deluded; the accountants were hiding in the shadows with their briefcases and stamps, waiting to strike when Procurement wasn’t looking.

“I’ll check. Is Sadie ok? Do you need me to find her?”

“Sadie is just fine, at least as of ten minutes ago. She was running around finishing off Procurement guys.”

“Oh good. I’ll go mop things up then.”

   Down in the cubicle warzone it was a mess: paperwork flying everywhere, charred remnants of who-knows-what lying about, the smell of burning office equipment. The elevators were jammed with devices that were madly trying to escape before the sprinkler system activated. It was worse than when Chase Manhattan raided.

   The elevators had been working until one of them got overloaded with several copiers and fell, the others were being reluctant to open up now.

“Hmm . . . hey, Limey, want to get in good with your coworkers? Then listen up. They’re all over there, trying to get out before the sprinklers give them a shower. I’d like you to evacuate them so they don’t lose a day’s pay. Make sure we don’t have too many copiers on the remaining elevators, since that tends to weigh them down.”

   With Limey organizing the escape of the sentient office equipment, Marty headed towards the fighting. It looked like the Accounting foyer was pretty devastated, but the defenses appeared to have held. Accounting had pushed down the hall, and was deep in Procurement territory. They appeared to be making a run for Gelman – the Procurement manager – and a total conquest of the department. Marty hated accountants. They’d probably make Gelman do accounts receivable before they killed him with their pencils! He had to save him!

   Wait, actually that sounded like fun. Now he was torn on what to do.

   Whether fortunately or unfortunately, the accountants spotted him. Fortunately, they were quite willing to try and make an alliance of convenience even though they know Marty didn’t like them much.

   They were even going to make Gelman do the books RIGHT; they had mathematicians from the University to double check his work and were thinking of having him use 8 dimensional calculus to work on the budget for this month.

“Okay, I’ll help you if you let me buy Limey his own desk and Gelman doesn’t know a DAMN thing about me helping out.”

“A desk for the desktop? Shouldn’t be an issue. Now Gelman not knowing is as much your problem as ours. We won’t mention it, but you are responsible for you being unseen”

“Of course.”

   Marty smiled. Since he was dealing with accountants it was a bit forced, but still . . .

   The Accountants had sealed off both hallways, thus cutting off reinforcements, and were making a big push to get through the Supervisor offices. Unfortunately, Gelman’s Administrative Assistant had waded into battle and was a whirlwind of destruction, using a massive table as a melee weapon and flattening accountants right and left. That reminded Marty of his ex-wife…

   He slipped up on her and pulled off a devastating first strike. Unfortunately, she got up again and made it a tough battle anyway; wielding the table as a shield and a copier as a weapon.

“You damn whippersnappers think you can just waltz right in here and see the Manager without an appointment?”

“Ow . . . why did you hit me with the STOVE, Abigail?”

   Marty managed to disarm her, sending the copier out a window and setting off at least three car alarms below, and switched to ranged attacks. Still, there were accountants to spare to help out: apparently they’d hired a few tems from the Kelly Mayhem.

   She went down eventually – taking the backbone of the resistance with her, although leaving the fallen copier wreaking mayhem on the street below.

   The final push into the Manager’s office was underway. There was plenty of cover available, even if half of it was on fire.

   Marty had a plane: he’d have the accountants “capture” him and force him to do the books. He’d scream for help and offer Gelman a shiny new set of battle golf clubs for getting him out of it. The girls would cover most of the accountants with invisibility. Then, when they had Gelman in the trap, the girls would cancel the invisibility, he’d run, make a loop around the cover, and garrote Gelman into unconsciousness. Then the accountants could have their way with him… MWA HA HA!

   And he’d still give him the clubs, too!

   The accountants gave him some very funny looks about “invisibility” of course, but went along with it. To make it convincing, they would bring in one of the mathematicians to play along.

“Oh hey, guys. What’s going on here? Fighting with Procurement? What do you think you’re doing?”

“You are either with us or against us!”

“Oh, come on! I just got back from my business trip! I want to say hi to Gelman! Can’t you let me by?”

“Never! Either join us or fall with them!”

“OH SHIT! AIEEEE!”

“Now we will force you to do the books and teach you to do them properly!”.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I’M NOT AN ACCOUNTANT! SOMEBODY HELP ME! GELMAAAAANNNNNN!!!”

   Watching Gelman learn accounting with actual numbers, as opposed to imaginary ones, was most amusing.

   Meanwhile, Limey had gotten the evacuation finished, albeit with a liberal use of polymorph to turn larger items into smaller ones. Turning them back was a bit awkward – Limey couldn’t remember what they had been, since he’d overwritten the file – but simply asking them worked well enough.

   Mr Leland was pleased to have all that sorted out for the moment. The Balrog was working out well too: he’d been sent to an animation studio a bit earlier; the cartoonists had been refusing to do a LIVE cartoon show – but he’d straightened them out.

   Marty finished up his workday, informed Mr Leland that he was heading back out – and took the girls out to dinner before heading back for the Rosary.

   Back in Kadia, the purchasing effort – supported by the House of Roses – had obtained ownership of nearly 3% of the property-class NeoDog population (of whom roughly 20% were young enough to be potential recruits, since established companions and such weren’t for sale. Quite a lot of the free population was applying for jobs as well. The meme-treatments were underway as a pilot project, since there were plenty of NeoDogs to staff things now.

   It had been two months since Kevin had checked his Thrall-recruiting efforts: there were quite a few possibles; The recruiters in Baelaria had turned up 22 prospects, the New Imperium had yielded 16, the Old Empire had yielded 8 (OK, they mostly wanted to become “Jedi” or “Sith”, but the abilities of a Thrall covered both), Faerun had turned up – 3 street kids from Waterdeep and 4 young Dark Elves (who say it as a chance to get ahead – and away from rivals), 3 from the English Fantasy Zone, 14 from the Linear Developments, 3 from the Colonial Era, and 6 from locations scattered around the Manifold, for a total of 79. Things were picking up.

   The slave-buyers had turned up quite a few ensouled slaves as well – although the percentage of slaves (at least of those who’d ever had any other future to look forward to) who took the offer of thralldom was very low compared to the percentage of selected volunteers who decided to go for it. The Old Empire had yielded 38, Thay 11 – although there were 8 captured surface-dwellers, 2 rebellious young dark elves, and 58 half-drow from the Underdark – 6 kids from the Goblin Markets, 22 from the Linear Developments, 18 from the Roman Imperium, 3 from the Dragonworlds, 5 stray kids from Faerie, and 6 from Angus Kirkwell. That made 177 – and, at least judging from prior experience, most of the half-drow would go for the deal.

   The situation was more complicated in a few places, so there were no reports yet. The Potterverse was still settling down, the House of Roses had been recruiting for two months, but wouldn’t want to discuss that in an unsecured location. The Core Military might or might not be recruiting – but apparently wanted a personal discussion again. Orman Valif was probably up to something, but there was no telling what with him – and he did have 53 Thralls currently operating in core, and showing off and passive recruiting was a part of their job. He’d just have to see how many turned up to hear the pitch.

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