Federation-Apocalypse Session 58 Log: A Singular Refuge

   While the troops were being recalled and the Singularites were evacuating to Ealor – and Marty was directing traffic to avoid people being trampled (no matter how weird it felt to be trying to prevent that sort of thing rather than encouraging it) – Kevin dispatched more Thralls to poke around the base. None of the “Outsiders” had turned up to talk to them, which made it pretty likely that they’d all bugged out – but it wasn’t like they really could have prevented that. He could keep people out of Kadia a bit, but that was only because he’d created the place. Could you do a dimensional interdict? Like the time-slips? Probably; but it would doubtless take a LOT of arranging – and there still seemed to be enough souls around Singular to prevent that sort of stunt unless you were willing to expend an incredible amount of power.

   Still, they didn’t really know anything about this set of “Outsiders” except that they had a fair bit of influence. They might just know more about the Manifold than the Singularites. There were probably some mages and such helping with their gateway system too – probably in the targeting – since that would explain who the guy in mages robes who’d left just before they’d arrived had been.

   Kevin spent a few minutes reviewing the projects list:

  • Introducing anthropomorphic sapient property into core was going well. There wasn’t any particular resistance and he hadn’t even had to try meddling yet – although he had a fair amount of influence there to apply if necessary.
  • Copying the data from a Core computer system in Crusader where the copy-spells would work was under way. Analysis would start as soon as they had the data.
  • The “official” inquiries weren’t too bad yet – but with the New Imperium, Ealor, the Ministry of Magic, the newspeople of Core, the Federated Americas, and quite a few other groups (on top of the House of Roses and Core Earth Military/Department of Mysteries) taking an interest, there would have to be a press conference or something soon. Still, the announcement-summary they’d started handing out might satisfy some of them.
  • Not counting Vekxin, there’d only been one other Pacter operating in Core and around recently – and the Church had apparently run him out of Core and suppressed most of the information fairly quickly. Probably a poor precedent for his purposes.
  • Amarant Solutions now had offices (eight Thralls plus support staff each) open across Core Earth (8), the Core Solar System (6), the twenty largest colonized systems (20), and the six smaller systems that were either currently threatened or the most interesting (6).
    • They had smaller offices (four Thralls plus support staff each) in Crusader (2+3 magical-services speciality offices), the Commonwealth (2, operating cautiously), the New Imperium (5, including Ealor), the Old Republic (2), the Old Empire (3), Baelaria (3), Faerun (4), the Underdark (6), the Roman Imperium (4), the Dragonworlds (2), and the Anthropomorphic Animal worlds (3). Places with only one office so far included the English Fantasy Zone/Potterverse, the Talking-Animal Zone, the Colonial Era, the Battletech Realms, Middle Earth, Faerie, the High Seas, the Kalevala, and the mythic Sumerian, Babylonian, Chinese, Japanese, Celtic, Vedic, Slavic Twilight, and Egyptian realms (decent populations, and – even if their technology is primitive – their handicrafts were quite good and their magic was both strong and basic enough to most later systems to work in a lot of areas of the Manifold).
    • On other fronts, they had 162 Thralls deployed with the House of Roses, 30 with the Core Earth Military, 218 in the Linear Realms (plus several thousand neodog recruiters), 120 providing guide and transport services for their trade-operations, 100 on Relief Duty, 60 on roaming assignment in the Core Worlds, 20 helping with moving the Dark Elves to the surface and guarding the city and gates there, and 20 working for various factions and groups. 30 Searching and Guarding the Rosary of Memory, 40 Bodyguarding various Meme-Scientists and Mr Myagi, 80 working as Gatekeepers in Kadia, 108 working for the Legions of the Roman Imperium, 34 working for Dumbledore (and attending classes), 240 contracted out in Faerie, 30 or so on assignment to various friends or to minor posts, 16 serving as crewmen for Captain Rata, 11 are working as gate-operators for Orman Valif, 273 are contracted out, serving as bodyguards, healers, familiars, babysitters, and personal aides, 23 are working for Xellos, an 67 are working for various caravan- starship- and sailing- masters to facilitate cross-manifold trade. A little over 2300 on assignment, a number assigned to special projects in Kadia, and… far more than that available. Admittedly, only about that many more originally-human thralls at the moment, but that was ramping up quite rapidly.
  • They had a team working on trying to analyze and map the distribution of souls in the Manifold and on trying to create a way to tap into the Rosary of Memory in some organized fashion – or at least to start creating a search engine for it. That would probably be long-term, but it ought to be possible eventually.
  • A couple of the better diviners and an object-reader were trying to identify the artifacts from the Rosary of Memory – the sword with the Dragon and Bear symbols, the mirror-shield, the pharonic headdress on a bust, the iron spear, the asian-style bells, the oriental banner, and the various lost books.
  • A few other teams were taking a quick survey of the other openings off the Rosary of Memory – the cliff-city, the desert world, the ruined roman temple, and the low-gravity cavern network. They might be important somehow.
  • The group that had been cross-referencing the Tomb, Gray, and Mind Flayer Archives were almost done, and had started looking into some of the major common elements – “Dark Sun”, the “Nightmare” Realm, “The Dark Tower”, “Avalon”, and “The Moon” for places and Merlin, Revan, Maleficient, Taliesin, “Sam”, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for people.
  • He set a team to going through the records they’d pulled from the Baelarian Mages Guild. They’d known how to extract, bother, contain – at least somewhat – and possibly how to manipulate, souls. That was very dangerous lore, but it might be very useful to know how to maneuver a soul into an interesting Phantasm – and they might need it to put Arxus back together anyway.
  • The Meme-Treatments seemed to be running quite smoothly, with no serious opposition. That was just too good to be true.
  • The Meme-Countermeasure research was proceeding slowly, although all the security-precautions and multiple-location backups were probably holding things up a bit. Still, as important as that was, the precautions certainly seemed warranted.
  • Marty, of course, would like to get back to his Rosary-triggered memories and dig into them a bit. Of course, he was also looking for a brief tropical vacation, but that should be easy enough to arrange.
  • Wasn’t he supposed to have a report on those slaves who’d tried sending back home for buyout money? How had that worked out for them? It should be in the files somewhere.
  • Occasional Core youngsters still wanted to try the attractions that might get them indentured even after the warnings and waivers – and a few were now serving indentures as a result – but there hadn’t been any backlash so far. As risks and things that might happen to you went out in the Manifold, serving-an-indenture-but-able-to-call-home-periodically was pretty mild.
  • The Core Thrall-Colonization Project was underway, supplies were being stockpiled, and a couple of candidate-worlds were being evaluated. There were several that had been being prepared for colonization when the Ouratha showed up and the projects were abandoned, or had just turned out to be too far out or something, and one of them might do nicely. They still needed more information on what triggered the Ouratha to move in for a takeover though.
  • The “Thralldom as Apprenticeship” project was apparently going over quite well. The Drow, the stray youngsters on Baelaria, and quite a few other groups, all seemed to see it as less demanding – and far more survivable – than most of their own traditions.
  • The population of the Anthropomorphic worlds seemed to be reasonably high, but fairly hard to sort out: not only did they overlap into the Talking Animal Zone, but relatively few of the worlds had really strong identities. It looked like most of the original visitors had been more interested in the general notion of animal-people and were-things and such than in the details of the worlds they were supposed to be living in – and an awful lot of them simply overlapped to the point where people just wandered back and forth between them. It was going to take a good deal longer than they’d thought. On the good news side, quite a lot of the locations allowed you to simply buy members of various anthro-species. Racial prejudices were pretty common.
  • The information network was still being set up: Kevin’s willingness to devote a few of his extra communications channels to it, as well as access to the Core network, made it fairly easy to get vast piles of information, but setting up an analysis group was taking some doing.
  • Things were going on in virtually all of the worlds where they had identities of course, but few of those were particularly major.
  • Now, as far as people-they-wanted-to-know-more-about or had-business-with went, they had Isane, Merlin, Vekxin, King Arthur, the Hellstorm, the Power Armor Goons, Spellweaver, Michelle Wingates, Shayn, The Mirage, Dumbledore, Lloth and her Priestesses, the Drow, the Core Earth Military, the House of Roses, the Men in Black, Arxus, Darth Plageous, The Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that Kobold and Minotaur from the Underdark, and Walkins.

   After about an hour, the evacuation line wound down and the last few stragglers passed through. They’d presumably pool their technology and information with the other survivors, so if they ever needed any details they could probably get them on Ealor. Their estimate was pretty rough – 2300 or so plus the hundred-odd garrison troops and techs and the fifty-odd returning troops – but that came fairly close to that 2500 estimate. Presumably a few had been either dead or unable to return from the Linear Realms, so that should be pretty nearly all of them. The place had become quiet; about all they were hearing any longer was the hum of computers and the ventilation system.

   Right to the end, none of the “Outsiders” had turned up though. That wasn’t a good sign of them being either random visitors or really friendly. At least things had settled down for the moment on the Linear Realms side of things as far as the Thralls could tell. The damage level was pretty high though; while the Linear Realm knew this bunch was coming, they still hadn’t been on the same technology level. Still, the Thralls had helped.

   Marty and Kevin set off to poke around a bit. There might be some interesting bits of technology and intelligence about. The Thralls had reported a more-or-less standard-style large underground complex. It seemed to be an old missile launch facility that had undergone significant expansions and upgrades over the years. There were signs of a large underground factory on site as well. Most of it seemed to be abandoned; all the guards up front had given everyone important time enough to clear out – which would basically leave them with a search for clues and records. Of course, in an old Singular military base, there would probably have been enough active interior surveillance systems so that their enemies would have had to missed at least a few records. There were certainly enough systems scanning THEM. There were even plenty of viewscreens showing them wandering around. It looked like the system didn’t have much else to do at the moment. If the place wasn’t abandoned, whoever was left had locked themselves up tight somewhere.

“I need a shave.”

“True – although these aren’t the most flattering camera’s I’ve ever seen”

   They’d have to delegate a forensics group to give the place a through going-over – and to try to debrief those 2500-odd people. Throughly searching a facility that had housed them all for years was going to take quite a while.

“I really ought to study building layout. That’s be really handy on raids and expeditions like this”

“Definitely something to look into I think”

   Marty eventually managed to trace down the main security center or control center. It was a military installation; he was betting that the local commanders wouldn’t abandon it this easily. The Thralls had reported signs of robotic activity, and the droids appeared to be preventing access to certain sections of the facility.

   Somehow, Marty didn’t think that telling them that they were getting extra electricity breaks was going to work. Hopefully no one had left a giant self-destruct running – of the classic video-game “load bearing boss”.

   Personally, Kevin would bet on at least a few militaristic fanatics who want to go down with the planet, were unable to accept that they were being mislead, believed it was a trap, or some such. Oh well. Maybe the protective-of-youngsters bit would extend to him. After all, the Mirage had it built in.

   There were three droids guarding a massive blast door.

“Hello Sir MacHinery! That’s a good scottish droid! What seems to be the holdup?”

“Halt! This area is restricted to authorized personnel only. Attempts to enter can and will be repulsed with lethal force.”

“Well, Kevin, shall we show them what real lethal force is, or would you like to screw with their processors a bit?”

“By who’s authority? As the last living voter on the planet, I hereby elect Marty as President and Commander-In-Chief.”

“Hi! Have you ever considered working in corporate raiding? My company will give you more electricity breaks and a better salary than our best competitor.”

   Kevin started playing “Hail to the Chief” and put a spotlight on Marty.

“Oooh. And I’m the president too! Here, have a look at our sentient office device contract! It’s in your native language! (Binary – a union requirement.)

“Authority of order is classified. Election of presidential candidate is considered irrelevant. Entering corporate agreement while under military service is strictly forbidden.”

“Classified from the President?”

“Correct”

“Look, everybody’s gone. Kevin and I are the only two people here. I’m the President and a corporate executive. Therefore, you work for me now. At least argue with me.”

   Evidently either someone had been fooling around with the directives or they changed procedures after MacArthur bailed out on them.

“Arguing is not against mission objectives. Very well argument has begun.”

“You should let me in because you’re being misled.”

“What are the mission objectives anyway? Also classified?”

“No I’m not. And what if I don’t want to?”

“And your commanders have turned tail and run. If you let me in, I’ll make sure you have a purpose.”

“I am not sure you would. What if you just turn tail and run just like them?”

“How would you be worse off?”

“Let me put it this way. I can’t die. I just wake up in my own bed the next morning. I don’t fear a damn thing”

   Marty didn’t feel that the droid was showing enough passion. It looked like the basic program was willing to argue forever, but it would never actually go anywhere. It needed some of that Battling Business World spirit! He started pushing a bit of power into it… Kevin kind of figured that it was just good programming; if talking was all it took to maintain security, it was a soft and easy option.

“Here, this will help you see things my way!”

“Oh I am most certainly sure you fear something. All organics do as a matter of of base operating principle. As for how I could be worse off? Well I could be stuck here by myself without means of effecting the world around me.”

“Well, to be fair, there’s Abigail.”

“Do I fear her offing me? No. Turning my kid against me. Oh yeah.”

“Ah fear of the spouse unit.”

“What man doesn’t?”

“It is times like this that make me glad for Beowulf cluster unions. Not nearly as much of a power struggle as human relationships.”

   Well, humans didn’t work a lot like clusters of dissimilar-but-linked computers – no matter how good a way that was to make use of whatever computing power you had available.

“So what would it take to let us in?”

“Well option 1) You manage to defeat me and my companions in combat and rush in faster than reinforcements can get here. 10) You manage to tunnel your way in via another route and I neglect to notice and intercept your intrusion. 11) I suppose you could make some pathetic attempt to dress up as another droid and attempt to bluff your way past me. 100) You could always wait until my powercell needs charging and I go for charging and my replacement neglects to show up on time. 101) Manage to impersonate a general you have never seen and know nothing about in order to make me believe you have access authority. Now many of these options and more that I haven’t listed could result in the sudden release of large amounts of ordinance.”

“Okay. 1, how long does it take your reinforcements to get here, and 10, what’s your battery life?”

“I take it preventing damage to this location is part of your mission?”

“Oh I would say around 3 minutes, although some unforseen circumstances might interfere with that. And battery life is 3 hours remaining with a total life of 18 hours per charge. And yes preventing damage is part of our mission.”

“Is it a higher priority than preventing the president from accessing this location?”

“Hmm, I am not rightly sure. I suppose it would be more important to prevent damage.”

   Well, they had just gotten though one negotiation using a pile of antimatter. Why not try for two? Kevin had some of the Thralls bring the pile of weapons along.

“That is an impressive stash of antimatter. May I ask what you intend to do with that?”

“Now then: we want to know what’s going on. We want information. If we can’t have it, there’s no reason to leave this continent here.”

“Hmm, this one bargains well.”

“And that isn’t anywhere near enough antimatter to kill either of us. We’ll do it, too.”

Marty had one of his pocket-Thralls put an illusory big fuse on the bombs.

“I suppose painting the walls with the remains of your heads would be counterproductive to protecting this facility.”

“We’d just return pissed.”

“You are quite welcome to give it a shot if it amuses you. You might make us turn loose all that antimatter though. Lets see: the major nonsense here seems to be the Praetorian junk, the dimension-hopping tech, and a few other bits – all of which we both already have and have no use for.”

“So what information can we dig up then?”

“Oh I am quite sure it would be amusing to do so. On the other hand, while preventing intrusions is important, protecting this facility is more important. Maybe if afterwards, when you leave, I could separate you from the antimatter and give a spectacular chase?”

“Always good fun.”

“I love being bait!”

“I have always wanted to see the expression on a human’s face if I could try fitting a siege weapon down the halls to chase some errant human.”

   Kevin and Marty simply headed on in. If the door didn’t open, they could try using antimatter as a lockpick. Of course, Singular did allow the user of magic of up to level three, although it was easier for outsiders than for the natives.

“It’s kind of overrated. If it hasn’t happened to them before, they just stand there in shock.”

“Hmm that would be disappointing.”

“This one time, Gelman deflected a ballista bolt back at this HR guy. It was funny to see HIS expression.”

   Almost disappointingly, the door opened as they approached. On the other side, the lights lit up to reveal an enormous open cavern / room. The place was filled with enormous amounts of machinery flying about. On one side there were huge crucibles of something molten being moved around, casting units, several large tanks labeled as containing HCl, and several mech-style machines being rolled around in various stages of assembly. The smell of soot filled the air and something at the far end of the chamber was covered with a wide variety of warning symbols. On the other side, there were a series of sealed environment rooms and a control center.

“Oooh, hydrochloric acid! That stuff’s fun. Want to see what that big thing with the warning symbols is, Kevin?”

   Well, they’d gotten most of the codes back in Star Wars from the singular droids there – and the Singular hazard symbols were on file. Most prominent: “Warning: Radiation hazard, Warning: Extreme Temperature, Warning: Tidal Forces, Warning: Time Dilation. Also prominent: “Containment failure will kill YOU, everyone you care about, and annihilate a good portion of the planet.” Spray painted under that was the phrase “This means you, Jackson!”.

“Hmm . . . I think I need to get a drink with Jackson!”

“Looks like they’re playing with singularities.”

“Heh. Wonder what they’re doing with it?”

   There was a lot of computer chatter, although most of it seemed to be handshaking and position tracking. There were lots of audio and video feeds going back and forth though, and several cameras and audio devices were trained on them and tracking them. Were they running a ring-singularity to import exotic energies through? Kevin had wondered what they were using to drive their gate-system locally; Core didn’t allow technological gates, and Singular was VERY closely modeled on core. That would also explain the targeting problems and why they hadn’t simply left for a better world; they didn’t have full control of the process or didn’t fully understand it.

   Marty just waved to the cameras and tried to catch what they systems were saying on the feeds. Kevin decided that – since they were obviously being monitored – he’d simply ask:

“Ring-singularity or are you simply running a condensed-matter ring or disk rotating rapidly enough to generate a local discontinuity?”

“And may I ask who you are?”

Kevin reeled off his identity-spiel – and threw in “and the only current taxpayer on this entire world!” Marty did his as well, and finished up with “And he pays my salary! You can call me President Tabard!”

“Damn and we lost all the tax collectors. Do you know how much outstanding debt the government has? We’re going to have to take it all out of your hide now.”

“Bring it!”

“How much you worth?”

“Eh, we could always get you a few dimensions. And you are?”

“Surprise me. I am Chief Engineer Chu Taiking. And I don’t recall voting for you.”

“Not our fault if you don’t pay attention to politics”

“I don’t either!”

“So what’s up? You do realize that pretty much everyone else has left don’t you?”

“What’s your agenda? Are you going to run against me?” You realize I’ve got the teenage kid vote, right?”

“Ya, some nonsense about going to another world where there are other survivors. And what if I am going to run against you?”

“Well, we’d have to have a campaign.”

“And do remember, the youth vote is the most unreliable voting block around.”

“It wasn’t nonsense however: the lunar colonies were evacuated to a planet called Ealor some time back, and most of the people who were here have gone off to join them.”

“Kevin’s very mature. And he’s telling the truth.”

“Strange, I don’t recall seeing any sort of power drain on the system to collaborate that story – and you would think I would be on a targeting breakthrough.”

“That’s because there wasn’t one. They didn’t use your system: they used mine.”

“Do you WANT to be President? If I had my way, I’d have actual people under me.”

“People are highly overrated for many things. And what sort of system do you have?”

“This one”

   Kevin quietly poked a finger into the air and dragged the terminus of the Ealor gate into the room.

“All this stuff you use is very awkward. Much easier to just do it directly if you have the talent for it.”

“Now that is annoying. A kid able to do what I have spent decades working on using his damn index finger.”

“Hey, finding a technological way to do it at all is quite impressive. Anybody else still hanging around by the way? There really isn’t much here worth sticking around for.”

“Oh a few dozen other members of the science and engineering staff. Seems like everyone else left though. A shame though, some of them were real interesting.”

“Well yes, considering that some of them were probably behind ruining your planet in the first place. After all; they had dimensional travel, and access to thousands of nice worlds – but they told you that they had targeting problems or cargo limitations too didn’t they? And kept you all here to send against other targets?”

“And why am I not surprised. I tell ya, some of the military types are easily duped. Now, what exactly is being done with those who destroyed our world?”

“We’re looking for them. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some payback.”

“Oddly enough, professional paranoia does make you easy to fool when confronted with things outside your experience. Professional paranoia focuses on combinations of known threats and likely unknown-but-plausible ones. It fails to consider scenarios involving new principles. Only raving paranoids try to consider things that make no sense in their experience, and they tend to veer off into tinfoil-hat territory”

“Right, I want in on it.”

“Unfortunately, all of them seem to have pulled out when this operation went out. We were hoping to find clues or records; beating all your survellience systems would be murder. “

“Of course! What do you say, Kevin?”

“Oh, you’re certainly welcome.”

   Kevin kind of thought that it was time to call in some forensic help. The record pulling and sorting, 2500 interviews and debriefings, and checking over the entire facility was going to be a job for the House of Roses and the people of Ealor. He could have a few of the Thralls who could do low-level divinations help out, but it wasn’t like either Kevin or Marty were much good at divination OR detective work. Fortunately, Chu Taiking had full administrator access to most of the systems, and could probably escalate his privileges on the rest. They were bound to have quite a bit of information on the bastards; they never seemed to consider the computers much of a eavesdropper for some reason.

   They’d have to send out some people and check for any other survivors while they were at it. No point in waiting for any more surprises out of Singular. There would probably be another assault on the Linear Realms soon – there were too many souls concentrated there, and relatively poorly-defended, to pass up – but they ought to get a break for a bit.

“They’re mostly magic-users I think – and not very technologically-oriented from what I’ve seen. They are slippery bastards though. Always hiding behind some group that they’re using as a pawn.”

“It’s getting annoying! I want someone I can kill!”

“Well that would fit with the Arthurian theme many of them had going.”

“Arthurian? Knights in shining armor?” Was there a Merlin?”

“Hm. Most likely Merlin again. Well, we were already sure he was a major figure in this mess from the attack on Baelaria.”

“Oh nothing so blatant, you could overhear some of them calling each other Sir something or other. Heavy old English accents and the like. Never liked firearms, and had a friggin moronic code of honor.”

“Well, I think we can take the fact that – despite claiming that dimensional travel was very difficult for them – they all promptly bugged out when we arrived is definite evidence of bad faith, which I think says something about their “honor”.”

   They evacuated the technical staff and turned loose the evidence-collectors and enough Thralls to help defend them.

   The Chief Engineer wanted some way to check up on the factory, the ring singularity, and the gate system – but that was easy: Kevin just assigned him a couple of Thralls and left the gate working. He wanted in on the fight anyway, so they made sure to send him all the usual briefing materials, introduction-to-the-manifold programs, and a briefing on Thrall-services.

   Undefended flanks… Kevin went to see his parents. He’d been putting that off – and putting off introducing Eogan Ailill’an’Keras (his dragon-son) to them for too long. Now that he’d given the boy Thrall-powers, and he could take human form and walk in Core, it was time for him to pay his grandparents a visit.

   He’d definitely have to stress “behaving” to Eogan though; he’d already gotten into fights with thirty-four other male hatchlings – about half of them his phantasmal half-siblings (bad luck for them) and half some who were wandering around loose (a few of those had escaped, but they’d been caught and returned to the boy easily enough). He’d been being relatively nice to the half-siblings (he’d simply been lording it over them and kicking them around rather than claiming ownership), but he’d been leaning towards the mean side of the spectrum with the rest. He really seemed to like asserting dominance and power. Still, he was only six – and that might be more or less normal for kids that young who got the chance. They were all still alive though, since he understood that it was no fun dominating the dead.

   (Marty thought that was cute; “Aww, he’s learning fast!”)

   Well, his slaves and subordinates couldn’t come. He’d have the staff look after them – and informed Eogan that he’d punished if he didn’t behave himself.

   He handled his routine business, spent a little time with the various concubines, and headed off to Core. Hm. He hadn’t really thought much about it before, but keeping that many hatchlings in one area was bound to lead to a lot of them challenging and enslaving each other. Of course, he’d never paid attention. Most of the Phantasms were destined for slavery anyway. He’d have to look into things a bit next time he was there.

   Marty came along. He wouldn’t miss this for the world, and Kevin was nervous enough to make no objections whatsoever.

   They had a place in the Mountains of Lahien, so they opened a gate down in the foothills to walk up. It might or might not be a surprise: Lahien wasn’t very computerized – at least yet – but they might well see them group coming up. Kevin had the Thralls look just a bit canine-inhuman with a genetic template to match: he was getting TIRED of pretending that they weren’t property! (Marty had to agree with that: with family, at least, Kevin might as well be open about it. If they didn’t accept him for what he was, nobody would).

   His mother, at least, did: she was waiting at the front door as they walked up the path:

“Well hello, welcome home! I am glad to see you again!”

“Always nice to visit (Hug)!”

Marty shook her hand when she was done greeting Kevin.

“Your father is out on business at the moment, but he should be back shortly. Nice to meet you Mr. Tabard.”

“Same here.”

Roulan looked at Eogan… “And this is?”

“Er… Eogan Ailill’an’Keras. He hasn’t been able to visit Core before, and I didn’t want to introduce him until he could. My son, and your grandson. Er… I’m sorry if that’s a shock. But I wanted him to meet you now that it was possible.”

   Roulan promptly squealed, grabbed Eogan, and started hugging and kissing him. Eogan was very embarrassed… Marty was a bit startled; he really hadn’t been expecting that reaction. Still, they might well have been expecting complete weirdness: having a grandson was really pretty normal.

“Does this mean you have settled down and had a family?”

“Well, a bit perhaps. A household anyway. Eogan was a bit of a surprise. But he’s quite advanced for his age. How have you been doing? And Dad? And Thomas?” (Thomas Junyi Sanwell, Kevin’s younger sibling).

   Roulan had gone into full grandmother mode now, and was devoting a good portion of her attention to Eogan…

“Please come in and make yourselves comfortable, I will make something to eat. Oh we have been doing fine dear. Your father has been busy with the infrastructure expansion and all.”

   Kevin settled in a bit uncomfortably. Parents always did that to their kids; the clash between them remembering you as a small child and your current view of yourself was always awkward.

   Marty made himself at home too. It was FUN seeing Kevin as a human being, rather than the Dark Lord of the Manifold.

“What’s with the lack of computers? Not that I mind.”

   Roulan briefly explained about the planet both being a relatively new colony and that they ‘d opted to minimize the computer systems in favor of allowing some social variation and experimentation.

   Marty could definitely approve of that.

   At least Eoghan hadn’t said anything that required extensive explanations yet. He was still busy doing the squirming-small-child thing.

“Oh, about Thomas? Well, he was growing quite rapidly and his psychic abilities were just amazing. We were getting concerned about being able to help him with his studies and all but then we met this wonderful man a while back who said that Thomas’ abilities would need a proper environment to grow to his full potential. So we took a full tour of the Academy he offered to have him tutored at and we discussed curricula and visiting plans.”

   That suddenly made Kevin quite nervous: that kind of thing could get his little brother into an ENORMOUS amount of trouble. Of course, that could just be Manifold plot-paranoia, and there was no point in looking worried yet…

“Oh? That’s lucky! What academy was it? Should I send some presents?”

“Oh, it was the Jedi Academy on Tython. I am sure Thomas would appreciate whatever presents you send him. I am sure it can be lonely out there by himself. But he is with a bunch of real good teachers and other students.”

   Eoghan might have pre-empted it, but she hadn’t bothered addressing the Thralls – although they’d apparently been monitoring his activities enough to know about Marty. What was going on?

   Adrian got home just then.

“I heard that one of my sons has returned from the quantum foam to pay us a visit!”

“Hey dad! (he got a hug too).”

   Marty said hello as well – and they spent some time dealing with the “What have you guys been up to?” query. Even a general description, leaving out a lot of the classified stuff, took awhile. Meanwhile, Kevin was frantically searching. He’d never heard of Tython… one of the Star Wars subrealms perhaps? There was a LOT of Star Wars source material. Oh, wait; origin-temple of the Jedi order? Old Republic?

“And what is your mother going on about?”

“Er… Well… That’s Eogan. He couldn’t visit core before, but now that he can, I wanted him to meet both of you. Every kid should get to know his family.”

“I have a grandchild?!” (Adrian ran off to see Eogan)

   As far as Kevin could tell, they both were trying hard “not to notice them”, or bring attention to the fact they were trying not to notice them, when they looked at the Thralls. There were several layers of emotion underneath and the two of them seemed to have had some heated discussions about the topic. Unfortunately, the emotional noise made trying to read many details pretty much impossible. Blast it; if even his PARENTS wouldn’t either accept it or talk about it frankly, there wasn’t much hope for openly doing business in Core.

   They’d asked the Thralls what they’d wanted, handed them food and drink, and gotten them chairs – and totally ignored them otherwise.

   Worse, he’d been planning to try to get them to accept some bodyguards / aides / servants. He was becoming too much of a target to leave his family unprotected. He could still assign some to hang around in small-animal forms, but it wouldn’t be as effective. For that matter, he’d have to assign some to Abigail and Julia too, even back in Battling Business World.

   (Marty hadn’t been so sure about that: Abigail would be insulted – but they didn’t have to tell her and she didn’t have any magic, couldn’t work gates, and couldn’t call across the Manifold for emergency assistance. Well, the guards could be squirrels or hamsters or something. He could even deliver them to show that he was improving as a dad! And if Abigail thought that the Dragon was “enough pets” it would be time for squirrel form; there were a couple of trees in the back yard. That would be amusing; a tiny gate hidden inside a tree).

   About then, Adrian and Roulan started wanting to know WHY the boy couldn’t come to core before. Kevin looked pretty uncomfortable and started squirming himself.

“Well – his natural form is pretty highly magical. I wasn’t expecting him because I didn’t believe that it was possible. He had to learn to shapeshift to a non-magical human form before I could bring him to see you.”

“And what form is this?”

“Er… Well… It’s… Ah… He’s a dragon. At least in the universe where he was born.”

“A dragon? Like breathes fire, flies and sits on a horde of treasure dragon?”

“Er… Yes. Although it’s not always fire. And they use a lot of magic. Flies, armor-plated, born able to talk, that sort of thing. But, well, that form just doesn’t work in Core, does it Marty?” (Kevin desperately tried to involve Marty and get the attention off himself).

“Well I can tell someone has been engaging in some unusual activities out in the Manifold!”

(Marty grinned wickedly) “Why don’t we find out? After all, I can’t show them Limey. He’s just a normal laptop here. Gotta do something to impress the folks!”

(Kevin was still babbling…) “Well, that world tends to make visitors into dragons you see, and you know how that works, and the local personality is pretty strong, and when some things come up, well…

“I see” (Roulan took her attention off of Eogan for a moment to give Kevin a long hard look.)

“Would you like to visit Kadia? There’s plenty of magic there for him to use, and it’s a nice place, and you might find it convenient to have a gate there available.”

“Kadia? Is that the one I hear about being advertised on the net?”

“Yeah. It’s a great place.”

“Um, yes… We’ve been running a treatment program for people who’ve been exposed to manifold weapons, but that’s only a sub-section.”

“You should be proud of the kid. He’s quite the businessman.”

“Well I suppose a visit couldn’t hurt. It would be nice to get offworld too.”

“Cool! Er… Where would a gateway be convenient?”

“The yard will do just fine. Should be plenty of space behind the house.”

   Kevin set up an arch behind the house to mark the gate.

“Would you like to be able to turn into dragons while you’re there? It’d be easy to arrange, and that way you can play with him a bit in his natural form.”

“We can try that, although it may take getting used to.”

“Oddly enough, that sort of thing always feels quite natural while you’re visiting a dimension that allows it”

   Besides, that would almost certainly be the best way to explain what being a dragon felt like to them. Kevin created the gate, took them on through, decreed the draconic ID’s – and breathed a sigh of relief: being in the vicinity of adventurers was potentially quite dangerous for them in Core.

   Marty opted for a draconic Kadia ID too. It looked like fun! He turned out to be Green!

   Adrian and Roulan turned out to be Bronze and Brass.

“Well, that should feel quite natural within a few minutes at most. Identities are like that.”

“Flying is fun!’ (Marty did all kinds of wacky flying stunts).

   Kevin went Dragon too, since everyone else was – and Eogan got fussed over by a pair of metallic dragons; he hadn’t been expecting that.

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