With Director Myagi and Dr Samson considering what they’d been told – and as to whether they really wanted to try a quick tour of a multiverse they didn’t quite believe in – Kevin went to check on the military liaison guy who’d been directing the truck loading . The man had been badly injured, although enough patching to ensure his survival had been easy – but there was just something about the whole situation that didn’t seem right. Director Myagi said that the man was “Captain Jason MacArthur”, and that he was a member of the military’s civilian liaison group. He had served in one of the wars overseas – although the Director was quite unable to remember which. Hmm. A Coca-Cola truck and an FBI director who wasn’t sure of the basic details of a liaison officers identity? Another visitor stirring the pot?
The local medics were preparing to send him to the hospital for examination. Kevin didn’t know the man, so he just patched him up the rest of the way, kept receptive telepathy going, and went with the basic concussion-check questions; name, year, number of fingers being held up, and so on.
One thing was sure, the man didn’t want to be sent to the hospital.
“I am Captain MacArthur son, and I thank you for helping us back there. Let me say that such fine service will not go unnoticed. As for the year, well it is 2238 I believe unless I hit my head a little hard back there”.
Hm. Hiding something, had to think about the date, and a bit of malice in his thoughts. At least two groups in play, since it didn’t seem likely that his own side had shot him up. He didn’t seem to be entirely on the locals side either, but he wasn’t apparently against them either. Some other group trying to twist things here to their advantage? Taking the rising chaos as an opportunity? Just a representative of the local meme players? Still, then there’d be no reason for him to have to think about the date.
They decided to just haul him along. They should be able to handle him alone. It was easy enough to finish healing him and point out to the ambulance guys that he was basically uninjured and that they had lots of more urgent cases.
The paramedics did a quick double take, saw that that was correct, and promptly moved on to the more urgent cases.
Kevin promptly rushed the “good” Captain off to the conference before he had a chance to get his bearings. After all, he was just coming out of a pain of haze and shock – despite his protests about having to supervise the loading of the truck. After all, the place was going to be on lockdown for a bit.
There were more protests, feelings of annoyance, and a general wondering about who Kevin and Marty were.
Well, it would be a quick test for localness: if he DIDN’T pitch a fit when dragged into the New Imperium, he was not a local. Dr Samson and Director Myagi were both more or less ready – or at least believed they were – so they promptly gated to Corusant in the New Imperium. As expected, Samson and Myagi were shocked and amazed. MacArthur registered a momentary sensation of shock and recognition as he exited the gate, gave them all a hard look for a moment, and settled down to taking stock of his location and who else was along. Definitely no fit though – and he hadn’t even had a preparatory lecture.
“So: for those of you who are unfamiliar with the setting, this is Corusant, capital of the New Imperium – a realm derived from a series of late 20’th century and early 21’st century entertainment productions. Oddly enough, the real population is considerably below the real population of your world – although there are lots of phantasms to fill out the background details”.
“A sort of a cross between AI’s, Illusions, and Automations: people with genuine free will require souls – and that’s the one thing that cannot simply be imagined into being by an author, dreamer, or director.
“If you don’t have a soul, you’re a slave to the plot of a realm. Like my laptop here.”
“Basically, while the number of souls in the multiverse increases steadily, the number of worlds in the multiverse increases far more quickly. Now then, Mr MacArthur: where are you actually from? You recognized the gateway, and I believe you know what I am”.
“It appears the jig is up eh? Ah well, suffice it to say I am from Earth, just not their Earth”.
“What’s yours like?”
MacArthur was considering lying – but looked at Kevin and decided that it might not be the best course for the moment.
“My world was destroyed by these meme weapons many years ago. That and by those who took it upon themselves to destroy everything rather than live under the memes”.
It rapidly became apparent that he was another refugee from Singular. He didn’t approve of the Praetorians either:
“Oh god, those damnable things? They made the situation worse in my opinion. Refused to follow orders and placed a little too much value in protecting the infected instead of quarantine and elimination. They make those combat cyborgs we faced look like child’s play. At least those primitive things can be brought down with hand weapons”.
“That would be Singular or a very similar world then: we evacuated the lunar colony survivors from there a little while back”.
That brought up emotions of revulsion and derision. Hm. MacArthur – Singular – hadn’t he been a political figure of some sort?
“Now, Director Myagi? Dr Samson? This is one of the primary complications of dimensional travel: when people arrive in a world, they often are fitted into roles in the local reality. MacArthur here is in fact a visitor to your world, but he also has a local history, because universes tend towards internal consistency”.
“So you are saying he is like you, from another world then? That means almost anyone could be an accomplice then. Background checks aren’t going to cut it either”.
“Unfortunately true: that’s one reason why I told you that you might not want to know. The only place where both history and natural law is reliable is the core universe – which is the one thing that makes it unique”.
It seemed that MacArthur had escaped by using a technological dimensional portal generator – a military R&D toy. Well, that was possible with a limited subset of universes. Some allowed technological transitions, some magical, some psychic – and they all, even the Core, allow direct reality manipulation. (The group provided more exposition as a courtesy for Myagi and Samson).
The closest portal was to Crusader. That would do nicely.
Crusader was once again in the midst of a superbattle. It was business as usual. Much of the city had been wrecked.
There was more exposition. Game universe, resets of buildings and such, easy travel, few “hard” natural laws, and bystanders virtually never came to harm no matter how destructive the battles got.
Of course, Crusader put them back on the grid – and they could check the Singular databases on MacArthur: Primary match, President Jason MacArthur. Last President of the United States before being disposed/made irrelevant by the spiraling chaos. Was elected based on doctrines of eliminating the “enemy” and being rather liberal in what he would declare the enemy. A Praetorian coup brought down his regime after they were ordered to use lethal force on infected civilian populations. Afterwards he went into hiding in the Rocky Mountains and ran an insurgency against the Praetorians using military elements still loyal to him.
Definitely someone they needed to watch, at least if this was the same fellow. It did fit in with him having access to experimental military toys though. He might have been acting in a limited sort of best-interests-of-his-adopted-realm way: he probably had no way of leaving. Of course, he’d probably also want to regain a serious power-position.
Next up: Core Earth. The only truly stable universe, and the only one where newborns ALWAYS had souls: those born elsewhere might or might not, depending on whether someone who’d died in the core reincarnated in them or whether they had a person with a soul for a parent – and the longer a soul is away from core, the more fertility decreases. Somehow the Linear Realms had received a truly massive infusion of souls a few centuries ago – so that now virtually everyone in that world actually existed. That apparently correlated with a massive series of deaths the arcology environments some centuries back. The details were mostly suppressed at the time – but it seemed to have involved some sort of massive terrorist incident with no apparent motive.
The bit about souls brought a moment of shock to MacArthur.
Hm… It looked like MacArthur simply disliked anyone with enhanced abilities that he did not possess, as well as anyone who outdid him at anything, interfered with his desires, or could not simply be shouted down if they ventured to disagree. He had a strong “anti-metahuman” bias, and tended to see them as tools and weapons; those which did not obey were like dogs biting their owners. He had a casual disregard for human life if it got in the way of what he believed to be the best course of action in a situation. The old “burn the village and everyone in it to keep the infection from spreading”. He felt justified in his actions due to his position and authority. The power and perks mattered a lot too him though; he wasn’t one to say “screw it!” and push the button. On the other hand, that wasn’t much of a redeeming factor, especially when his motive was purely selfish. Probably a sociopath. He could be working for an enemy, but no one with any sense would trust him very far as an agent anyway. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Mr Myagi still wanted to see Core, but Dr Samson was going into reality shock. It was time for drinks all around. Myagi settled for a virtual tour: it was quicker anyway.
There really wasn’t any way to object to a plan like “save the worlds”. The Linear Realms would need some support (better weapons, defenses, and computer systems) in getting started though – and he was a bit startled to find that “payment” for aid in mutual defense didn’t really come into core thinking. Of course, he wasn’t used to the idea of near-limitless physical resources – or of most knowledge being regarded as the heritage of the entire race.
The trouble was, publicly challenging the presumptions on which a world was based could be very destabilizing; that was why such information was not generally revealed – at least not by responsible people – unless things were getting very bad already. The people who’d been drawn to a particular world were entitled to have the world they’d chosen as long as that was possible.
While Mr Myagi, Dr Samson, and MacArthur digested all of that and considered what they had in the way of suspects to interrogate, exchanges to set up, and people to track down, Kevin set them up with an introduction to the Federated Americas – and took a call from the Military. Well, that had been inevitable as soon as he stuck his nose into Core again.
Marty took the opportunity to check on his businesses.
The ad agency had found the samples of Core-style advertising rather uninspiring – but if that was what was wanted, they’d come up with some samples along those lines.
The samples looked more likely to get a reaction in Core; there was still a hint of “swimsuit beer commercial”, but it was considerably more in line with the target audience.
Marty hired them. Even in Core attractive smiling people presenting your points and subtly associating success and wealth with them never hurt. Core had gone over-factual in a lot of ways; it was all the computers.
The advertising people weren’t entirely happy – it seemed a bit like making soviet propaganda without the propaganda – but a “just the facts” approach was certainly easy enough to take.
Marty elected to start the campaign with Europe and the Americas, since that was where the main Core offices were. He sent along some sample ads from Baelaria, Faerun, and some of the other areas as well; might as well discuss advertising in the Manifold as well during the next meeting.
Business in core was picking up slowly but surely; the biggest requests were for transit and spells of various types. The local offices were looking for a more powerful mage they could subcontract out to: most of the requests were for minor stuff, there were also quite a few requests for stuff of up to the sixth level – mostly from people who didn’t understand how difficult the stuff they were requesting was – and occasional requests for levels eight and up, including one businessman (apparently wanting a leg up on the competition) who’d wanted a twelfth level effect a few weeks back. He didn’t go into specifics on what it was for; he’d merely provided details and the school, level and components and asked if they could pull it off. When told no, he’d simply thanked them, gathered his stuff and left.
The Thralls – or at least the ones with the right talents – could manage the occasional L4-5 effect, but for anything beyond that they’d have to go to Crusader, where a good local ID could handle up to L4 routinely and up to L7 occasionally. Beyond that, you needed some really serious power. At least most of the customer’s weren’t expecting that sort of thing in Core. Ergo, time for an expansion office in Crusader, with some specialists in magical services. There’d be the occasional superbattle, but that was to be expected. There were enough Thralls available right away, so that shouldn’t take more than a few hours.
Hm. Metropolis would be best. Relatively quiet, shared many characteristics with New York, and a strong superhero presence. Easy to rent office space near the financial district. There was a strong service demand for transport to other realms, information, and tracking services in Crusader anyway.
Maybe he should wake up some laptops to create general mayhem.
Meanwhile, the Military was pestering Kevin. They wanted to know how he got those abilities, whether or not anyone else was likely to have similar powers, and just what the upper limit was. They were extremely worried about the ability of Manifolders to come into core, wreak massive devastation, and escape, leaving Core with little ability to deter or strike back at them. Most of the previous “loose cannons” seemed to have limits…
Well, he wasn’t going into detail – but you had to be an Opener to start with, to have the power to share. Then you had to be accidently infused with a tremendous amount of darkness magic. Only darkness magic could create the soulbond necessary to share an Opener’s power with someone else – and it was impossible to infuse a resisting Opener, since it would just create a local Identity instead, while voluntarily seeking out dark power was incompatible with the mindset necessary to share it. Creating the Soulbond called for voluntary recruits, since any resistance would block the formation of the bond at the level required. To share an Openers power required a complete explanation, a willingness to accept that your recruits would eventually go free complete with the powers you’d given them, and decent treatment – since giving someone the power to mold reality and then making them consistently unhappy was a guarantee of disaster. Given that there were only about 1200 Openers to start with, he thought the odds of his being unique were pretty good.
The upper limit on the number of recruits he could support was still unknown (if there was one), but was probably supported more his recruits end than from his. HIS upper limits were basically normal Core-level psionics (basic witchcraft), low- to mid-level magic, and the usual powers of an Opener. Ryan had said something about “being a god”, but there were dozens of “gods” over in Crusader; it was just another origin story. Presumably Ryan could have moved the planet on his own: it just might have turned it inside out or something without enough gatekeepers to manage the fine control.
Openers were foci for the power of the race, they didn’t generate it themselves.
Now, if they wanted to influence the Manifold – well, Core ultimately controlled a lot of it, and had more people than any other realm by a hundred to one. They just needed to get more of them trained to use the power of the manifold, and then none of the realms would be able to attack them. Even now, relying on nothing more than random volunteers with no real manifold training program at all, they weren’t doing badly. It was time to graduate: if humans really needed constant computer supervision after childhood, they were all out of luck. If they could be brought up to function sensibly, and to be trusted with power, then Core had the population to try it with.