With the return of the game master, we return to the tour of the Jedi Academy, already in progress.
As the tour continued, Kevin was having to suppress his feelings of confusion; these proto-Jedi actually seemed to be fairly sane! How could that happen?
The Jedi Master gave Kevin a rather confused look, but managed to hide it quickly.
“Is there anything that needs explaining? I am sure all of you have questions.”
“I’m good. You got anything, Kevin?”
“In a way I hate to ask – but are you aware of how many confused and bizarre variants on the Jedi there are?”
“We’ve had questions about that sort of thing in the past. I can’t really say I understand the nature of the problem either. It does seem like Jedi orders and worse from future timelines are out there, and have made contact with each other – but I can’t say though that we have ever really had any contact with them ourselves. It seems the route to our little world is rather off the beaten track. Somehow I get the feeling this was a blessing in disguise.”
“Probably yes; many of the future orders seem to be quite mad.”
“I’ve heard tales of kidnaping, brainwashing, genocidal wars and such, but it seems difficult to believe. I mean from what I have heard, what little there is, they seem to be just as much a part of the problem as a solution. And that is not what the Jedi are about.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad my brother hooked up with you instead of with any of them. Do you think he’s done with his class now?”
Marty wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or disappointed – well, pleased for Kevin’s sake. This was a Core-style Jedi order; very sane indeed (and not a lot of fun either). Perhaps their local pocket-universe didn’t include the insane force-dichotomy feature?
“Well that is indeed good to hear about us – although it does concern me even more about the other orders out there. I am afraid the school masters and I will have to put a great deal of thought into how to approach the inevitable contact.”
“Well, I can provide you with some assistance and much of the background information. Fortunately, I suspect that a great deal of it is inapplicable in your section of the universe.”
“Yes please do, and I do feel it is about time for young Thomas to be showing up. (The master looked to the door) You may come in, Thomas.”
Thomas came in wearing loose white clothing that appeared to have been dirtied out in the woods a bit. He looked to be about eighteen (roughly equivalent to an old-style human of 12) rather than the 15 (roughly equivalent to an old-style 11) that he ought to be according to Core time. Evidently he’d picked up a few years knocking around the Manifold.
“Hey! Long time no see!”
“Oh hey, Kevin! Can’t say I was really expecting you to stop by – although, on the other hand, I am strangely not surprised either. (He looked a bit confused for a moment)
“I think stopping by is kind of obligatory!”
“Well… yes I think so, I just wasn’t really expecting you to stop by today… I think. This precognition is a bit hard to wrap your mind around.”
“It would be. Not one of the fields I work with myself. You’re growing up there! Oh, this is Marty – a business associate. Runs the Manifold Operations for Amarant Solutions.”
“Yes apparently so, I would be shocked if I wasn’t.”
“Nice to meet you, Thomas.”
“And it is nice to meet you as well.”
“Well, I think you’re gaining a bit compared to Core. Besides, I seem to have gotten stuck. It happens.”
“Ya, mom keeps talking about that. She wants grandchildren and she’s getting annoyed. Luckily she hasn’t started looking to me for that kind of thing yet.”
Kevin got a bit red.
“I’m not stuck at too young for THAT!”
“He’s not kidding, son. You’re an uncle now!”
“WHAT?! I’ve got a niece or nephew now?”
“Well, no point in beating around the bush about it. He’s got to find out eventually.”
“Nephew! And you’re supposed to let people bring that up in their own fashion Marty!”
“Does he have a name and how old is he now?”
“His names Eogam… He’s almost six now, I just didn’t want to mention him until I could bring him to visit. He couldn’t easily visit core before; he was a bit too magical – and nobody told me you were out here!”
“Someone’s been up to some interesting antics then!”
“Hey, these things happen! Particularly in some identities!”
Kevin managed to divert attention to Marty for the moment – although Marty took pity on him and went along with it.
“So, how’s being a Jedi? Here, I’m just a guy who flies around in a spaceship.”
“Different than I figured it would be like. It’s like the movies, but it’s not. It is so peaceful here and the feeling of optimism just seems to radiate everywhere.”
“Nice. Hmm. I wonder what my little buddy is like here?”
Limey turned out to be a pocket droid that spoke in binary at the moment.
“Thomas, this is Limey. He’s usually a laptop or a spellbook.”
“I mean, the oddest thing I have found about this place – besides the peace – is the lack of lightsabers.”
“Really? What do they use instead?”
“Well, hello Limey. For the most part they teach us a yoga style martial art. Although they also teach is the use blasters and armor designed to stand up to blaster fire. But they say that isn’t really the point of the studies. We should be proficient in combat, but not focus on it. We are to serve as an example to the rest of the galaxy through mediating peace.”
“Huh. That’s very different from most of the orders. Do they not know about them, or do they just choose not to use them?”
“As best as I can tell they are not familiar with the technology, I tried explaining it but I don’t know enough on how to build one.”
Kevin chimed in again, now that the subject was safely changed;
“Well, they do look neat, but how often are they really practical? Still, if they’d like some to look at, I can get them some pretty easily.”
“Well I definitely seem to have peaked their interest with my talking of them.”
“I’ll make sure they get some then. Now, on the topic of getting things – the War of Souls is heating up, and my associates and I are attracting a lot of attention. That puts you, and this school, at greater risk than you would otherwise be in.”
“So actual battles are beginning then? This doesn’t bode well.”
“I’d like to assign you and the school some bodyguards or extra defenders. If you’re willing, I’d also like to set a link on you – and anyone else here who would like it – so that if you’re killed, I’ll be able to bring you back.”
Master Tindale didn’t quite choke on his tea at that one – although his truthsense and telepathy suddenly went into overdrive.
“Probably a good idea.”
Kevin was pleased at that; Thomas had evidently been keeping track of him enough to actually accept his abilities without a demonstration! Even his PARENTS hadn’t taken him that seriously!
“Ah, Master Tindale? I take it that you have not encountered that kind of ability before?”
“No we have not, and I must say I rather thought it impossible. Although the bunch of you all seem to readily accept it as fact.”
“It’s a rather rare talent, but one I see no reason not to put to proper use. The basic link will slightly enhance the recipients psychic talents and – if they’re killed – will allow me to provide them with a new body. There are much more powerful links, but they represent a major commitment. If you’d like some demonstrations, I think that any of my employees here will be glad to provide them.”
Master Tindale went into deep thought, while Kevin cheerily ran over the explanations of the basic Witchcraft pacts. He reached a conclusion fairly quickly however;
“I am afraid there are limits to my trust, I am going to have to require a demonstration. I apologize.”
“Of the powers, or of the ability to recall the dead?”
“The ability to recall the dead.”
One of the Thralls – Leonardo – promptly volunteered. He knew where to buy lightsabers in Kadia, and was needing to pick some other stuff up as well. The line-of-duty extra luxury credits death-benefit covered a small shopping spree in Kadia anyway, and he could just put the stuff for the Jedi on the expense account anyway.
“Very well; Master Tindale? Have you any preferences for making sure that no deception is involved?”
(Marty had a private gripe; people kept over-rating his death benefits! Sure, he got a day off when he died, but he didn’t get paid, and it counted against his vacation days! He really ought to try and renegotiate that… Out in the Manifold, a business-related death should at least come with a commuting allowance and an inconvenience fee!)
“I have been watching all of you very carefully looking for deception or mind control. Believe me, the moment I feel something amiss, I will intervene at a moments notice.”
“I meant more would you prefer to blow up our volunteer to make sure, use a blade so you can check on things personally, or some other method? After all, if we’re demonstrating resurrection, it follows that he has to be really dead first – and there’s nothing for eliminating the chances of deception like personal involvement.”
“Ah forgive me, we shall use a painless method to kill, and then check for vital signs.”
“Well, we are at your disposal.”
Now, if the local Jedi had a row of “instant disintegration booths” – or were set up to conveniently put troublesome or dark-side inclined students to sleep – they were going to have to re-evaluate them a bit.
They didn’t seem to though; life in the manifold – and the war – was probably making Kevin, Marty, and the rest all a bit paranoid.
“Alright then, step forward young man. (Master Tindale looked Leonardo deeply in the eyes). Are you sure you completely understand what is happening and the potential consequences? You do? Very well then, this will not hurt.
He laid his hand on Leonardo’s chest, and closed his eyes for a moment… Leonardo fell over gently as Master Tindale telekinetically lowered him – and sighed.
“The deed is done. He is dead. The young man trusted you and your abilities right up to the end. I hope his trust is well placed.”
“Right then; the recall will take about half an hour, a bit of clear floorspace, some chalk, and three candles; I have the chalk and candles, I hope your cleaning staff is willing to leave it on the floor for a bit.”
“It can be arranged. I presume that you are not needing the body for reuse?”
“No; the ritual creates a new one anyway. This has been known to confuse law enforcement however.”
Kevin got on with the ritual, while Marty carried on the conversation.
“So tell me a little about this part of the universe. I’ve never been around here before.”
“You are near the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The sheer number of stars and other debris makes travel difficult at best – and one stop in particular drops you well within sight of the massive monster. Unfortunately, it takes good piloting skills to make that next jump and arrive on target given the warping of space-time going on in the area. You can’t see the black hole itself of course, but you can see the effects it has on the surroundings. In particular, the accretion disk glows brilliantly as mass and energy is slowly sucked into its body of the black hole. It visibly rotates even when you are an enormous distance away.”
“Oh, we went by that thing on the way here. I was wondering what it was.”
“Some say you are even able to feel a presence – or a sort of active lack of one – as you go by.”
Kevin considered that for a moment as a side-issue. That multi-tracking thing was SO handy… Fortunately they couldn’t have timeslipped much, or they’d have been avalanched with Thrall-messages; it shouldn’t have much effect at light-months away anyway unless the local rules were REALLY weird.
“Guess it’s trying to communicate.”
“A few have suggested as much. I am not sure what to make of the feeling myself.”
(Kevin hoped it wasn’t someone – or some group – stuck near the event horizon and calling for help telepathically. That would be very depressing, and rescue would be quite awkward. On the other hand, given the time dilation effects, anyone at the event horizon would outlive most of the rest of the universe by a good margin – provided that they could survive the radiation. The tidal effects wouldn’t be too bad on a black hole that big… Marty had the same thought. A rescue at the edge of a black hole might be fun to plan out, but even hyperdrive and the power of hypermatter reactors had limits).
“Anyway, this area of the galaxy is very resource rich but sparsely inhabited and good hyperspace routes are few and far between. You can find an interesting variety of ecosystems around here.”
“I’ll have to do a little exploring when we have some time.”
“A few of the neighboring systems are inhabited, as best as we can tell by descendants of the same original species. Before the development of hyperdrive, contact between the systems was established the old fashioned way. It works some much better here where the distances between systems is only a fraction of the distance out in the spirals. Indeed it was the contact between these systems and their scientists that eventually lead to the discovery of the force and it’s use.”
“Now the Republic has managed to get into contact using that hyperspace route you followed and we are working hard at trying to integrate ourselves into the rest of the galaxy. I must admit a certain amount of admiration for the technological development of the Republic and their commitment to their ideals. Are there any other questions you wish to ask?”
Kevin had finally completed his ritual.
“Ah, here we are! Welcome back Leonardo. I trust you had time to do all your shopping?”
“Oh yeah! And I grabbed a bit of stuff for the locals here that might catch their interest!”
Leonardo unloaded a bag of stuff.
“What all did you pick up?”
“I grabbed several varieties of lightsabers, some movies, a few “history of the Jedi” things, training manuals from later eras, and few things on the Manifold in general.”
“Well, that should be helpful – if perhaps a bit horrifying in spots.”
Master Tindale had been probing carefully;
“All right, I am impressed. It definitely feels like it is the same person. Mind if I examine you for a moment young one?”
Leonardo didn’t mind. After all, that was part of the point. Kevin was giving it the nod anyway. Master Tindale laid a hand on Leonardo’s forehead and closed his eyes briefly.
“Well that pretty much concludes that. That should be nigh impossible to fake, although that may be yet another assumption. Alright Kevin, I believe you and forgive me for doubting you and putting this young man through that ordeal.”
“Not a worry; It’s not particularly troublesome to them, and I’m very well aware that it’s a difficult thing to believe. Anyway, there wouldn’t be much use in faking it: making my brother overconfident would not help keep him alive.”
“Now, the lesser link will simply bring them to Kadia to be raised, rather than making it possible through ritual anywhere – but the important point is being raised I think, even if it is a ways off. Would anyone else be interested? Setting up the link is something of a bother, but the number involved doesn’t really matter.”
“That does seem quite beneficial. Presuming there are no other complicating factors, I think we can arrange the interest of the other students.”
There weren’t any further complications – and there were quite a few students who liked the idea of an option to come back if they were killed, especially after the instructors explained the process and the reasons.
Besides, even if Kevin was only setting up witchcraft pacts, they did provide a few useful extra abilities.
“Now, I brought my employees along to supply Thomas with some bodyguards, and the school with a few more defenders. After all, if anyone is going to die defending the place, best it be people who can just come right back afterwards.”
“Exceedingly prudent, although I hope it never comes to that.”
They assigned the Thralls, set up some better transportation for the place so that the students parents and relatives could visit more readily, and spent some time on general visiting before saying goodbye for the moment – and leaving the students to experiment with their minor enhancements and the instructors to worry over possible futures.
If they wanted to consult or something later, they let them know that the Thralls could contact them – although they considered the fact that anyone who was linked could reach them just by dying too obvious to mention.
“Ah, one last parting gift in thanks for your assistance this day. For you Marty, you might do well to meet with an artist by the name of Santiago Columbar at a place called the Terminal Cafe. I suspect you might be able to have profitable business transactions and meet a kindred soul.”
“Thanks, Master Tinsdale, I appreciate it.”
“For you Kevin, you would do well to find the Winter King again and establish an alliance I think. I would try among the temples of the Shao Lin.”
The Winter King? Arthur maybe? There were several possibilities. Oh well. Precognitives were always cryptic; it looked to him like it was a way to shape events towards what they were seeing and reduce the temporal confusion.
“I’ll look into it. Thank you for your advice.”
Master Tindale proceeded hand out advice on chance encounters that could prove profitable to everyone, including the Thralls – who, after all, were people too.
On the way back home, Kevin had a neodog in anthropomorphic form call the Unified Church – as an agent for Amarant Solutions and himself as an Opener and as the Ambassador of the Fey – and request an appointment. That got them an appointment with a Cardinal only two days off.
While they were waiting, Kevin’s parents were still occupied (it looked like they might be busy for a week or so longer; the combination of fey food and the dragonform made for some strong impulses) – and Marty went off Pirating, so Kevin spent a couple of days recruiting, following up on the projects list – and “working” on romance, cuddling, establishing a welcoming and affectionate “family” for dragon-hatchlings (who knew?, it might have some effect), and getting started on becoming the father of a few hopefully real-and-ensouled clutches of hatchlings. Would it help that three out of four of them had apparently been wanting him to impregnate them for some time?
Well, that was one of the factors being tested.
Along the way he showed Kelsaru around Kadia, and took her to visit Core in the overlay area he’d set up for his experiment. It was going to make for awkward questions later, but he wanted to offer her an official consort position, and she ought to know what she was getting into.
Kevin had a few carefully-selected Thralls on call for the meeting, but didn’t take any along. No point in shoving things in their faces. Assorted documents of course, although the Church had doubtless pulled a through report on each of them, and knew a lot already.
Hm. They had a through investigative report pulled on themselves, and took a look to see if it said anything too shocking or that they’d really though was private.
It did have a lot more available on them then they’d really thought about, but it was well behind and at least most of the more critical bits were blurry, speculative, or missing entirely.
In Rome, they were called into the Cardinals office – but had to wait a bit. The secretary informed them that another matter had run over on time.
Well, making them wait could be a subtle power-play, but there wouldn’t be much point – and it gave them time to present all their assorted documents.
“Please be seated, the Cardinal will be with you shortly. I am afraid another matter has run over on time.”
About fifteen minutes later the door opened and the cardinal arrived – although in plain clothes, which was a bit of a disappointment for Marty.
“I apologize for being late and the style of dress, I am afraid the last appointment got a little out of hand. I am Cardinal Handel. You must be Kevin and Marty am I right?”
“Quite right sir.”
“Pleasure to meet you.”
“Now this does save me the time of having to track you down and ask you to come before me. As you no doubt realize we have been keeping an eye on you and have been monitoring your activities for some time now. To say you have piqued our interest is an understatement.”
“That did seem likely – and is why we are here.”
“Now what do you hope to get out of this meeting if I might ask?”
“The War of Souls is beginning to come out into the open; I would like to know whether the Church is likely to oppose, tolerate, or support my operations. I would prefer that the human race not be absorbed by the older races. Unity may be the ultimate destiny of all races, but I would rather not rush into it.”
“Interesting and direct. Well that does help matters. It saves this meeting from taking up the next several days at the very least.”
“I suspect that Marty is more-or-less unfamiliar with the concept of “religion” as a serious influence rather than an excuse for funny hats and odd styles of knives, and is simply curious; Marty?”
Marty did have to admit that the Battling Business World version of Christianity had Christ beating up the roman emperor after his crucifixion. After all, with no real need to explain what “happened after death”, militant martyrs running around, professional “Suicide Bombers” who did it for a living, “terrorism” defined as “the malignant destruction of property too trivial to reset and the disruption of services so as to cause the maximum possible annoyance” (with actual deaths being completely irrelevant) (which sounded like an Xellos thing to Kevin; he’d probably enjoy Battling Business World), and “old age” meaning that you just retired and sent occasional postcards from Florida and various resorts until you only appeared at rare intervals. You NEVER really “vanished” though. That was another thing that made Mr Leland so odd; he had silvering hair. Come to think of it, Marty Tabard Senior – and his efficiency apartment in an out-of-the way neighborhood – was a bit odd too, but that might just be because Marty was anchoring him.
“I just want to make sure business goes smoothly for me – and since this young man is my business partner, I felt I should come along.”
“Alright, I shall be direct as well. The Church has never endorsed or tolerated pacts. On the other hand, you have been unusually straightforward and truthful in your dealings thus far. You acknowledge the pacts to be a temporary thing, especially in the grand scheme of things. You have used the servants you’ve gained mainly for beneficial purposes and in the service of others in a time of war. You – and they – are capable of providing services which few others can, regardless of what your former tutor may think. With that said, it is also my personal opinion that you are hindering the emotional and spiritual development of each and every one of your charges – and may be delaying their personal growth by decades. Attempting to remain a child forever is going to prove problematic, for both you AND your charges.”
“Quite possible. In fact, almost certain. But while dying, and accepting death, may be a necessary part of growth, we have an eternity for that – and all of civilization has been directed towards comfort and safety.”
“I cannot say that the path you have chosen or the one you lead others on is what I would actively endorse. On the other hand, a great many can do far worse out in the Manifold. And while we could make your life very difficult, I do not have any illusions that we could stop you in the long term. As of this time the Church will not hinder your activities, but neither will we endorse them in the vast majority of cases.”
Marty found that acceptable. Kevin did too – although he had been hoping that someone besides “M” (whoever he really was) would acknowledge that he was offering about the best possible deal – not just that people could do worse if they really tried hard. Oh well, expecting the Church to admit that was probably a bit much.
“As Marty might say, I work with the cards I’ve been dealt – and, at the moment, Core needs defenders. The darkness is born of mankind and the struggle to survive. It is properly directed outwards, against that which threatens.”
“Quite true, which is why I have not ruled out ruled out all cases.”
“And if that battle fails, I hope that you have plans of your own. The light may send you a guardian if one is needed of course.”
Of course the light worked in mysterious ways. Who knows? Maybe what the world really needed was a Dark Lord – or, for that matter, a Battling Businessman.
“Would you like me to leave you a liaison?”
“I believe that would be a good idea.”
Kevin decided to stress the point. (Marty thought that that was a good idea as well; after all, they had an entire multiverse to hide in!)
“Very well. I shall assign one of the oldest youngsters to you, since the Church has an interest in history anyway. His name is Oshann, and he was born in the Manifold nearly four thousand years ago. When he was five, he was carried away by the Fey. Bound to their service, and to the changeless nature of their realm, he played many roles there – shifting from servant, to pet, to hound or steed, to quarry, and to many other roles at the whim of his masters. I invoked an old tale – the Tiend – to obtain the release of a dozen or so youngsters in similar situations. While that story is far more recent than the oldest Fey, and was never all that popular, like all tales it had a bit of power to it in their realm – and it sufficed to win the release of the oldest changelings. Some did choose to pass on, others chose other worlds – and a few choose to serve me for a far shorter time and purchase the freedom of the multiverse and enough power to please themselves for a few millennia, or to meet the fey as equals. He should find Core amusing – and he has a great many tales to tell if you would like to listen. Hopefully you can encourage him to wear some clothes and to adjust his apparent age up a bit. At four thousand plus, looking like a five-year-old is a bit silly – and clothes are very common these days!”
Actually Kevin wasn’t quite sure that the Fey hadn’t agreed simply because the oldest changelings were no longer much fun and he was bringing in plenty of new playthings anyway – but there had probably been some force to it; the fey were usually pretty possessive of the “things” they considered theirs.
“Quite touching, we shall do what we can to ensure his stay is enjoyable. And I am sure we will remain in touch as we find intractable cases that you might be better suited to. Care to stay for dinner or must you be off?”
“I believe we have time for dinner.”
The dinner was with several of the other Cardinals as well. Kevin wasn’t quite sure that they weren’t just fascinated with a chance to meet a friendly representative of the darkness, but it was a nice dinner anyway – and a lot of interesting stories were exchanged. Who knew? That might stir up some discussion on the issue all by itself – especially after they looked up the Tiend.
Marty found that his stories – while not as morally suspect as some of Kevin’s, were just as bewildering.