Fortunately enough, getting everyone back together proved straightforward.
“Hey Marty! How’d it go?”
“Oh, pretty good. Limey turned the entire staff of the INS office into animals though. And I helped humble a coworker.”
“Hm. Maybe some of those scrolls we gave him had more than one spell on them.”
“Yeah, I was going to ask you about that lightning bolt . . .”
“I forgot until I looked it up, but scrolls can have up to seven spells on them, and we were only checking the first titles.”
“That’ll teach us! At least the little guy can protect himself from the union.”
“Sounds like it. Of course, it might just be really easy to transform people in Battling Business World: realms like that are often heavily populated with talking animals and things.”
“It was funny as hell! And let me tell you, that’s one bureaucrat who’s going to be sober for a while!”
“I found a clue actually: those bloody memes might be related to the Linear Realms – and those might be worth checking into anyway. There are apparently a lot more real people there than I would have expected from some random realm – and I couldn’t find much on the history either.”
“Huh. At least one of us got some work done.”
“Hey, always best to mix a little work with your pleasure!”
Meanwhile, the Mirage had been doing training exercises with the Orcs. It had found itself to be much more capable since partaking of the fountain’s waters – and it would very much like to learn what the cadets were able to show it about magic. That was easy enough to arrange: it would give them all something to do while Jarvain was in therapy – and when everyone else was doing things in places where the Mirage would have a hard time fitting in.
Marty spent some time checking on business affairs; the visit home had that sort of thing at the forefront of his mind. Baelaria had the trade routes up and running, and profits were pouring in – along with occasional recruits for Kevin. The core offices had been getting quite a lot of business, especially for gatekeeping services, with bodyguard, search and rescue, and spellcasting (divination, transmutation, communication, healing, and the occasional enchantment) running a close second. Meme issues had largely been the occasional computer alert and censorship of media streams for periods of time.
There had been several inquiries as to why a bunch of adolescents were running such a business – and as to where they’d come from and who they worked for. They hadn’t been shy about saying they worked for Amarant Solutions of course – which had led to a dozen different people wanting to talk to whoever was in charge, although they mostly left rather than leaving messages except a number (always the same one) to call when informed that that person was out of touch at the moment.
Marty considered setting up an expert system to impersonate him – but decided that simply giving one of the employees a middle-management or secretarial title (and maybe having them shapeshift to look older) would be easier – while Kevin wondered why the offices weren’t attracting more attention than that.
They went to Kadia, made sure there was a meme filter running on the line (just in case) and Marty called while Kevin did his recruiting spiel. He promptly got put through to a young man at a desk who wanted to ask a few questions – and identified himself as Rael Thomas, a salesman for Holston Communications (a quick private search showed that as a minor firm, apparently originating from, and possibly based in, the Manifold. It had handled some minor advertising campaigns on earth and a few of the major colony worlds at modest expense and with mediocre results. The number did match, albeit as a private line. Still a startup, too small to have generated a lot of records, and probably looking for new clients. Could be a cover, could be a sideline like theirs, or it could be just a new niche player). An advertising company. Well, Marty understood that; they got the general spiel on available services. Now that they were established, advertising wouldn’t hurt a bit.
Rael did do some probing about the adolescents manning things, and as to how fascinating it was “to find so many talented young men and women willing to do such desperately needed work”. He was afraid that they might have to take some liberties in portraying employees in advertising though: people were more inclined to trust difficult tasks to adults. Perhaps he could handle advertising for some older personnel as well?
Well, for Manifold operations, they needed sharp, physically fit, and well-educated people who didn’t mind travel and had good nerves. Office staff could be almost any qualified applicant.
Rael would call back – or contact one of the offices – with a few proposals shortly.
Meanwhile, Kevin had been making his usual pitch to his 79 selected applicants, 70 youngsters who had been slaves from birth, and another 107 who had been purchased in various places around the manifold.
Unsurprisingly, the Thrall-selected applicants and slaves-from-birth (throughly used to the idea of belonging to someone) almost all (141 out of 149) signed up, as usual. Only 29 of the others signed up, but there were only 23 who need a bit of memory-blurring and being sent home (and only 11 from Core). The rest had noplace to go, so they got put on staff in Kadia.
It was pointless trying to keep exact track of the Neodogs. Admittedly, only about 20% of them were young enough to be eligible, and only about 35% of those actually accepted enthrallment – but an net 7% of 186,417 purchases was quite a few. There were even a few from among the eight thousand or so free NeoDogs who’d signed up for jobs.
It was an embarrassment of riches… He’d had been so SURE that deep-level rebelliousness and/or incompatibility with a human soul-bond would keep the numbers down! He would have been surprised at a tenth that number! Pleased with a HUNDRETH!
He didn’t dare actually put them to use on anything outside of Kadia simply for fear of what kind of reaction he might provoke. Even there, he had to make sure that he reoriented their basic “obey humans” genetic obedience-programming to HIM as opposed to any human – even if it wasn’t as powerful as the Thrallbond or genuine neural programming, it was still a powerful instinct, and one he didn’t need when they were going to be supervising humans who were recovering from the violence memes.
Any who didn’t accept got memory removal and an innocuous orientation lecture substituted, just in case – and the new Thralls simply got regular Kadia jobs for the moment. It was a waste, but Kevin just wasn’t powerful enough to open that can of worms yet. The military and the House of Roses were nervous enough just on the strength of Kevin’s ability to power-share with normal kids.
It was bloody lucky that he’d shielded and warded Kadia, both in it’s definition and with the best spells he could work locally – and that was pretty good. There were advantages to building your own realm.
Come to think of it, it would make a good spot for the House to drop by to talk about their “special projects” (recruiting efforts and others). He let them know that – and found that the House wanted a chance to discuss planet-moving with the military a bit more before he came by Core again. The Thralls could refer recruit-prospects to Kadia as well, and they could probably be back in a few days.
And the military was wasting their own time, and that of the Thralls he’d assigned them, with stupid, repetitious, interrogations about Kevin. He gave the Thralls permission to go ahead and get cranky and put up passive resistance (like shapechanging into koalas) when they got too fed up with it. It wasn’t like they actually HAD any information except about the pact – and they weren’t even asking much about the details of that.
Speaking of Memes, that seemed like a good spot to start: an expedition to the Linear Realms was certainly in order. It looked like you could get there most readily from Anarch – and Crusader offered easy access to Anarch.
Crusader had the usual battles running, but they didn’t bother to get involved in those. The gate was in the back of a “Radio Shack” (some old chain apparently), so they picked up a signal jammer, white noise generator, and a box of smoke grenades on the way through.
In Anarch they came out in a back alley by a free medical clinic, on a cold winter day. It didn’t look like a new plague though; just lots of poor people in desperate need of treatment. Keven left a couple of the new Thralls to keep an eye on the gate, to help out at the clinic, to heal if they wanted to, and to give the place a donation – unless it turned out to be a front, in which case they could do whatever they wanted to.
The gate to the Linear Realms was – of course – in an apartment complex near one of the larger Arcologies. The elevator wasn’t working of course, and it was twelve and a half floors up. No wonder it didn’t see all that much use.
In the Linear Realms they’d almost certainly wind up with local criminal roles – Kevin as a child-slaver and criminal dealer, Marty probably as some sort of blackmailer, extortionist, fixer, or crooked businessman, and Jamie would probably be a generic thug of some sort.
Kevin warned them all to remember that law enforcement there tended to be humane, but had LOTS of reinforcements available if they needed them; it would be best to try not to make too big a fuss unless they had to. They concealed their weapons, looked a bit shabby, and made sure that they wouldn’t stand out too much.
The gate came out in a large hallway: doorway BH1387 in a lengthy serious of somewhat shabby doorways. They made a careful note of that – but there was nobody around.
In this world? What was going on? They needed a public information screen and a history check on those killer memes.
Wait: there was somebody. An older guy with a floorsweeper by the plaza. A public datascreen too. OK: Complex BH, Floor 13, current news was the latest sports and media trivia, more corruption scandals in the government, civil disorder in block ZG, communications out at some substation and so data traffic is being rerouted expect delays, discussions about who really is in control of the linear developments and discussions on the latest medical breakthroughs in treating various behavioral and nervous disorders.
At least none of them were currently on the “Most Wanted” list and his local agents didn’t have any major warnings to offer. Still nobody in sensing range except the cleaning guy though. What the hell?
The floor sweeper yielded a bit of information: everyone was at a Revival down in the Auditorium. He would have gone as well, but his boss had refused to give him any time off. It was the preacher Walkins speaking. His message was for the salvation of their very souls, souls that had been rotting in this cardboard world they had been born in.
It had to be one heck of an event though to get all the illegal kids, all the crooks, and EVERYONE out though. It sounded like they needed to see it.
“Should be fun if the piety doesn’t make us throw up.”
“I suspect a total lack of real piety here.”
“Hey, the imitation of piety is far worse than the real thing”
“After all – “Cardboard World” – a preacher called “Walk-In”… Lets head on over.”
They slipped the janitor some cash and headed on over.
The auditorium was vast, and full of people. Every fire code on the books about maximum occupancy was being violated. There were numerous large screens showing what was happening onstage, and dozens of people huddled around portable little viewscreen units. Getting a look at the stage itself might be tricky though; the crowd was easily in the hundreds of thousands.
Somebody was playing major games. Why would a space like this even exist? It would make crowd control and maintaining order quite impossible. Hundreds of thousands? In a society where everyone was crowded into little apartments for maximum use of space and early virtual events were possible?
It looked like walls had been ripped out and structural supports redone to support the ceiling.
The spiel was being broadcast in high definition from somewhere nearby. It consisted mainly of lamenting the suffering the people in the linears had to endure and inflict on each other merely in pursuit of the right to have the children they wanted. Of how precious children were, and how by working together and pooling resources, they might be able to take control of their lives and their destinies. How this very auditorium was an example of such power, where once there were walls closing people out from each other and forcing interactions through little viewscreens instead of in person, now there was a great space and a community to fill it. It went on and on…
The response was entirely out of proportion to the logical content. Kevin started recording for material and running an analysis looking for repetitive images, sounds, and sequences – and especially subliminals. The man was a good speaker, and could have drawn a following – but this close to 100%? You couldn’t get that high a percentage of the population to agree that the earth was round without cheating somehow.
There was indeed a hidden layer in the transmission, although it was very subtle. Was this sort of thing routine for this world? Kevin hadn’t been looking for anything like it the last time around – and where was law enforcement? Unwilling to risk a mass riot? Ah. On the perimeter, trying to hide their numbers – although it was easy to see the nervousness in their stance.
Much as it pained them to admit it, for once they might be on the side of law enforcement.
The subtle layer itself appeared to be a mixture of small changes in color, brightness, and several other visual factors, the sound seemed to have been modified slightly in tone and inflection, with possible frequency shifts and changes in volume. All subtle, but certainly not normal. It looked to be designed to work on the lower levels of consciousness.
Kevin slipped up on some midranking enforcement type and showed him the data – and inquired as to whether the subliminals in this spiel were allowable. That ought to get a reaction, since they’d need a supercomputer to find the stuff in a week with their technology. Besides, it didn’t look like they could handle a crowd this large.
The cop took a look and started sweating.
“Kid, is this for real? Please tell me you are not jacking with me here. I am not in the mood for these kinds of sick jokes.”
“How did you think it got this kind of audience penetration? It’s got to be what, 99.99%?” This relies on subtlety. I’d suggest dropping some harmonics into the power supply in the audio and video-feed frequencies and varying them randomly. Everywhere if possible.”
“I was sincerely hoping that this was one of those cult things that occasionally occur and subsequently implode. You know how religions can be. This is unlike anything we have ever seen before… Not a bad idea on the harmonics, I’ll radio the commissioner and have him contact the power company. In the meantime, this may get ugly fast. If you have any sense, you will get out of here and keep your head down.”
Well, judging from the records this usually wound up with “go home and pray” – which was good, since Kevin didn’t think he could talk this many down, Marty though that violence and intimidation would only start a stampede, and even Jamie didn’t have enough tranquilizer gas to accomplish much against a half a million people. Given the locally-enhanced range for psychic effects Kevin could broadcast “calm” over quite a radius – but that would certainly draw official attention and he could only generate a mood, not control thousands of minds.
Kevin recommended that they – and the cops – hold back and let them disperse quietly if that was at all possible. They probably had a few more minutes before the data he’d provided got up high enough to make the authorities want to talk to them VERY badly – as in “How did you conduct that analysis?” and “Who are you anyway?”.
They gave the cop a copy of the data and departed quietly while he was busy explaining what he wanted done over the radio.
Besides, while the gatherings themselves were never violent, there was a marked increase in dead bodies that appeared in the related districts afterwards – usually identifiable as wanted criminals. That made sense: they were preaching unity, not putting up with exploitation. Of course, it also meant that they might be in trouble if they were recognized somehow.
Still, they were in the right place for some research. The meme and sensory-based mind manipulation techniques are well established in this reality.