Watching his parents fuss over Eogam – while refusing to even acknowledge the Thralls or to really talk to him about the topic – was making Kevin pretty cranky. The usual instincts of the Dragonform didn’t help.
Too bad only Eogam had a soul. Stupid phantasmal hatchlings. New phantasms usually started off a bit generic – albeit with the usual bell-curve distributions and whatever role’s the local world supported. They got less generic with more attention and interaction though. It might be possible to raise some sensible ones, although it would almost certainly be necessary to remove the less-malleable ones at the ends of the curve, deal with relatively small numbers, and exert some serious general pressures.
That might leave only 80% of them utterly screwed, instead of the usual 99.5%+.
He checked with the thrall-managers and Kelseru back on the Dragonworlds. Hadn’t he disciplined some of the hatchlings back towards the beginning as examples? He knew he’d sold a few – supposedly to become mounts and servants, although there really was no guarantee that they hadn’t been used for spell components or some such – back towards the beginning.
No, wait: that had been some of the slave-hatchlings he’d gotten from the imperial grant. He’d been well-established by the time he’d sired any clutches, and hadn’t needed to. He’d thought that the general environment would be warning enough.
Hm. Why hadn’t Eogam claimed ownership of his defeated half-siblings? There wasn’t any apparent reason for him not too. Was he subtle enough to bind them somehow, but to leave them apparently-free as a backup/rescue force?
Oh hell, he’d just ask the boy later. For once he didn’t need to do a lot of speculating and wasn’t trying to indirectly find information about people he’d never seen.
How had the rest of them been behaving when he wasn’t around to keep an eye on them? He called the staff – and Kelsaru – to check.
Oh. Pretty typically for chromatic dragons. Cut-throat competition, assorted dominance-battles, all sorts of blatant misbehavior, and occasionally enslaving each other. The staff had just been keeping a lid on the pressure cooker rather than trying to exert any real discipline. Well, the staff were all phantasmal slaves themselves except for a couple of Thralls. They weren’t very independent.
There was going to BE some real discipline. He’d have a search run in the Dragon Empire on any forms of non-lethal and non-enslavement discipline that actually had much of an impact on red dragon hatchlings – but, in the meantime, the staff could issue a few warnings along the lines of “your father, having heard about this misbehavior, is preparing to do something about it next time he’s here”. They could also start tracking which ones made the most trouble.
He checked with Eogam later: it actually turned out to be a simple misunderstanding… The boy had mostly been raised by non-dragon surrogates, and he wasn’t all that familiar with draconic tradition: he’d been aware that he’d been given enhancements, protections, and Thrall-servants to keep him safe – and he’d thought that Kevin would be upset if he actually enslaved any of his half-siblings.
As if Kevin had ever even paid much attention to them. Oh. They’d stopped being generic and ignorable background scenery simply BECAUSE Eogam had come along and started paying attention to them and interacting with them. No wonder they’d never been any trouble before and the few he’d noticed and liked had just been generic cute kids.
“You’re different from the rest you know. They’re Lesser Dragons, and you’re a Greater Dragon. You can travel the worlds, make your own decisions, and control your own fate. You have an independent soul. That’s why you get special treatment.”
“Ya, but, aren’t they family too? I thought that was supposed to be important.”
“It is; I try to make sure that they all get to live. Other than that – well, if all the Lesser Dragons were allowed to run around loose, there would be no room for anyone to stand. They’re your property if you want to claim them, since you beat them fairly.”
Hm. The boy was easily readable in direct conversation. He was wondering if this was some kind of test. Well, he’d have to wonder until they were back in the Dragonworlds. He did really want ownership of his defeated challengers though.
At least he already knew not to mention the lesser dragon kids or much about the Dragonworlds to Adrian and Roulan.
According to the staff back in the Dragonworlds, some 15% (somewhat favoring males) of the Hatchlings were grossly misbehaving – an awful lot considering that there were nearly twenty-four hundred of them – and the warning announcement was having no impact at all on those, although it did affect some of the milder cases. Five of the boys were particularly bad, and had enslaved forty-three other kids already. As far as other forms of discipline went, most of them were fairly limited as well, and took a lot of time and effort.
He was going to have to do something fairly drastic. Besides, this was his ID for being EVIL. He was TIRED of pussyfooting half-measures, and of twiddling around with trivial problems, and of being the good guy all the time. As it stood, 99.5% or more of them were doomed anyway – if not initially once they got out on their own – and they were hardly very loveable. They might be his “offspring” – although he kind of thought a fair number of them simply came with the role’ – but they were still phantasms and he hadn’t any objection to owning real people, much less phantasms. There was damned well going to be order and discipline in his harem, and among his “offspring”. He’d make sure that the smartest and strongest got decent chances – and he’d prefer not to see anything with a reason to call him “father” slaughtered for “experience points”, magical components, food, or amusement. On the other hand, casual discipline just didn’t seem to be working.
He had a lot of imperial-quality (with manifold upgrades), automated dragon slave -restraining (mostly ultratough chains, magic and psychic-power suppression) , -processing (collaring, marking, putting in tracking, restraint, and pleasure-pain conditioning chips, male and optional female desexing, optional breath-weapon gland removal, and various options for minor modifications) -obedience-conditioning and neural-programming, and -imprint feedback-training systems secretly installed in various places around the palace, harem, and children’s quarters – albeit carefully concealed in sealed and hidden spots for the moment.
The “Start” and option-selection buttons would be easily accessible once the systems were revealed, and would respond to any of the free kids, the Thrall harem-managers, Kevin himself, and Kelsaru – but if no one started the system within forty-eight hours of someone being put inside, they’d be automatically released. He might as well give them some sort of chance. It was fair enough; they’d been warned – and if they’d had any faith in him, they’d have listened.
When he finally got back to the Dragonworlds later on, everything was ready – and he was still kind of cross. He had the attendants gather up the hatchlings for a lecture and had the 15% who were completely out of control – minus eight that he rather liked due to exceptional talents, cuteness, or (in one case) a finely-tuned ability to make excuses, but making sure to include the five worst slaver-troublemakers – quietly separated out, restrained, stripped of items and defenses, and put into the processing systems while the others awaited their lecture. He had the ones that Eogam had defeated separated out as well, but he had them readied for processing in a private room behind the lecture hall. It took about six hours.
The lecture to the remaining hatchlings was straightforward:
“Since some of you seem to have forgotten the ground rules, here they are again: I expect a certain amount of discipline around here. I expect you to apply yourselves to your studies and training. Dominance-squabbles – and even full challenge-battles if BOTH of the people involved want to make it a full challenge – are acceptable. Challenge-battle losers should be dealt with appropriately. Not only is this traditional, but a challenge-battle loser is just going to be scorned, walked on, and treated as a slave by everyone anyway, so it might as well be formalized.
However, as long as you’re in my household and under my authority, there are some conditions. When you battle and enslave one of your siblings, they get to live. If they die in the battle, the cost of raising them comes out of your allowance. You can’t kill them afterwards either. If you sell them, you can only sell them to me – although you’ll get market price and a bit extra for them. You aren’t allowed to gratuitously torture them either.”
Well, he had most of their attention. There were quite a few who were looking a bit bored – well, this was familiar material – but Eogam seemed to be considering things. Presumably the ones locked up in the processing-system restraints were considering things too, but they should have done that earlier. They had to have a pretty good idea what was up.
He had a curtain drawn back to reveal Traithod – one of the five worst offenders and major slavers – muzzled and locked into one of the slave-processing machines. The large viewscreens provided everyone with a close-up look.
THAT got their full attention.
“Now, your excessively-naughty siblings, like Traithod here, are currently scattered around the palace and your quarters, occupying machines just like the one he’s in – although most of them aren’t muzzled, it’s just that I’m the one talking here. Eogam here, since he’s currently in my favor, gets to be the first one to push a Start button and make his selections.”
Eogam was a bit startled to be called forward – what was… Oh. OH. Hey… The few “options” the controls offered and a close look at the machine Traithod was stretched out in made it pretty clear what was up. Still, Traithod had been really annoying – and was (Eogam started to grin) er, make that “had been” – a serious rival. Picking a few minor options, hitting the “Start” button, and getting Traithod collared and off on his way to a career as an insignificant piece of property was a definite pleasure.
“Thank you Eogam. As you can all see, the initial slave-processing will be – while quite painful – relatively quick, although the conditioning will take some days and the imprint-training even longer. Traithod will be occupying this machine and on display for your amusement until he’s fully slave-conditioned and trained, after which he will be assigned appropriate duties or sold and a recording of his processing will be made available in the archives.”
Not quite 100% attention – a few were gaping at the machine and what it was doing to Traithod, a few were edging back from it, and a few were trying to hold back laughter – but he was pretty sure that they’d be like the ones who were casting sidelong glances at Traithod while watching him. They’d stop that and focus on him after he started talking again. He let them watch for a few minutes before signaling for their attention again.
“Now, you are all free to start any occupied machine you find, and to put challenge-battle losers and any slaves you acquire otherwise into unoccupied machines and start them – but if processing is not started within forty-eight hours of someone being put into a machine, they will be automatically released. That also applies to their current occupants, who now have about forty hours each to go. As you find machines, their locations, the names of their occupants – if any – and their operational status will be posted. The remainder of today and tomorrow will be free periods if you want to go looking, and all of you except Eogam here are dismissed. Eogam? This way please.”
The machines were now unconcealed, but still widely scattered – and the expressions on the hatchlings faces as they realized what he’d said, and what they’d been given permission to do, and started adding up the number of other hatchlings who were NOT present – were quite amusing.
Well, they were chaotic evil – or at least they were too young for much empathy or ethics, predatory, and with a mean streak and little tolerance for competitors.
There were no serious questions or expressions of shock worth dealing with. A few of the youngsters were still trying to distance themselves from the machine and a few others were still fascinated with the things it was doing to Traithod and the muffled noises he was making – but most of them headed out into the palace pretty promptly.
He took Eogam to the room where the half-siblings he’d already beaten were waiting on display in their machines.
‘Eogam? Since you were being kept partially isolated from the others, and were unaware of some of the rules, you didn’t realize that you were free to formally claim the half-siblings you defeated. I’m sorry about that; I should have made sure you knew. Your property is ready for processing here, and you’re the only one of the kids who will be permitted access to this room for the next forty hours. If you don’t start their processing by then, they’ll be released and you will have renounced your claim on them.”
Well, at least the boy wasn’t thinking that it was a test any longer. He seemed to be a bit torn though… He wasn’t happily pressing buttons, but he wasn’t listening to his properties pleas either. He was just thinking.
Kevin gave him a few minutes to think about whatever it was – and then informed him that;
“As a special bonus, here’s a teleport charm and here are the locations where your half-brothers Aurtan, Luathgille, Rhyfel, and Bastan (the other four major slaver-troublemakers) are occupying machines. I know you’ve had trouble with them, and if you want to drop by ahead of the other kids – who shouldn’t find them for several hours – and get their machines started, I’ll add them to your other properties here.
Eogam found that notion quite agreeable (they were his other major rivals after all, and would be just as satisfying to do as Traithod had been), and promptly popped off to press some buttons – and to get a little while to think away from the slightly more difficult decision.
Well, he had wanted formally-acknowledged ownership of the one’s he’d already beaten up. Probably just a bit disbelieving at having them actually handed to him. Kevin gave it a 99% chance that he’d be back, and pressing buttons, well before the time ran out. Bad luck for the phantasms – but phantasms only existed to play out supporting roles for the people who really existed. Were they simply helping Eogam work through his childhood aggression?
Out in the rest of the palace, some youngsters were still laughing at Traithod, or inspecting what the machine was currently doing, or just poking at him while he whimpered, sobbed, and twitched. Others were headed back to their own projects (mostly still chuckling or smirking) – and quite a few were going to look for the other machines.
When they found one, the name of the occupant and the location went up on the palace data network. All anyone who wanted to hit the start button had to do was go there.
Kevin watched for a bit to see what happened when they found the various occupied machines – but it was pretty much as he’d expected. Buttons were inevitably pressed. He doubted that any of the misbehaving hatchlings would make it anywhere near the forty more hours that would set them free unless it was by sheer luck of being overlooked – but that was perfectly acceptable. He would see to it that they got decent jobs as slaves – probably comfortable harem-attendant / example positions or riding dragons in the Kadia dragon-stables – and occasional pleasure-rewards from the pleasure-conditioning chips for good service. That should be a comfortable and reasonably happy life, which was better than what they would have gotten out on their own. Regardless, from now on there was going to be discipline.
The reckless, foolish, and defiant had little chance of survival, much less of becoming dominants, anyway. From this point onwards – unless he found a way to get them souls – phantasm-offspring who were excessively naughty, did poorly in training, or were too defiant, would be placed in a processing machine and left to the mercy of the other kids, the trainers, and Kelsaru.
The system would serve to weed out the weak and foolish, to encourage the kids to work hard in their training and education, to promote discipline and good behavior, and to encourage the hatchlings to form alliances and friendships with each other – so that if they DID wind up in a machine, there would be fewer people out there who WANTED to push the button and maybe even some who’d be inclined to try to keep anyone else from doing so until their forty-eight hours were up.
After this batch was done, the forty-three who’d already been enslaved after losing challenge-battles to the five slavers could be processed to get them up to standards – along with the twenty-odd from minor quarrels and the various outsiders – and there would doubtless be another wave of quarrels and such as the alliances shifted. Still, it should start narrowing down to the ones who were willing to think and cooperate. Just to keep examples up, he’d set up a processing-contract with the local slave-traders; it wouldn’t repay the cost of the equipment – imperial-level automated dragon slave-processing and conditioning gear (upgraded with magic and Manifold technology) was EXPENSIVE – but it would offset the costs a bit and it would keep a regular series of examples in front of the remaining hatchlings. With any luck though he’d be able to “graduate” the most competent 25% or so, which was at least five times the normal rate.
Eogam popped back in and started pushing buttons on his private stock of challenge-losers about four hours later – after Aurtan, Luathgille, Rhyfel, and Bastan had had most of their initial – and most entertaining – processing and had entered the conditioning phase. It looked like he’d been wondering if he should let his defeated opponents go and “start fresh” now that the ground rules had been clearly laid out. He’d concluded, however, on thinking about how bored the others had looked during the first part of the lecture and the general lack of questions, that the others had pretty obviously known the rules even if he hadn’t – and he DID want to own them.
Hm. That was both fair and thoughtful.
“Very well done. From now on, unless you abuse the privilege, when you report another kid as a troublemaker or problem, they’ll be immediately picked up, put into a processing machine, and – unless you decide to push the start button personally – will be left for forty-eight hours to see if anyone else does it as usual. Of course, if you want to own them personally, you’ll need to get them to agree to a full challenge, defeat them, and put them into the machine yourself. Otherwise they’ll go into the general palace servant-pool”
Eogam found it very VERY pleasing to be trusted with that authority.
The last occupied machine was located within eighteen hours. That was a little faster than Kevin had expected, although forty hours should have been plenty of time to find them all anyway – but they had been set up to be obvious examples and warnings once the systems had been revealed.
Not a single Start button out of the 351 occupied machines scattered around, Eogam’s 18, or – of course – Traithod’s, went unpressed. Most of the kids hadn’t actually gotten to press a start button of course, but they’d competed to see who could find the most, and the one’s who’d gone hunting had had a lot of fun.
The remaining hatchlings were mostly relieved that control and a reasonable degree of fairness were coming. The 197 boys and 155 girls of the 352 who’d been running amuck had been making life miserable for everyone. The few who weren’t relieved, or who had liked things the way they were, would probably be in machines and undergoing slave-processing soon enough.
Kelsaru – having observed the situation and having been informed of her privileges in the system (as promised, she had managerial authority and her hatchlings would get partial immunity and some special privileges – such as Kevin having a discussion with her before any of them got put into processing-machines; he’d promised her that they’d get special consideration, and they would) – thought that the solution was pretty reasonable in light of what she’d seen in the Dragonworlds and elsewhere. Given the convenience and utility, she had her own dozen psionically-dominated young adult slaves come in and get processed: it would make it a lot easier to maintain control of them – and it would make it acceptable for them to report to her in person, rather than by screen.
Hm. Kelsaru wasn’t that far along yet – unless all the spells he’d used back in the restaurant to make SURE she would be gestating a clutch by the end of the evening had some unexpected effects (hard to say, HALF of the things that had happened that evening had turned out to be unduplicatable), but the interval between fertilization and egg-laying wasn’t nearly as long as a human pregnancy anyway, even if it did normally take quite awhile for the eggs to hatch. Would any of those children have souls? Some of them? All of them? She had one, and he was directly from Core, but most dragon children didn’t get souls. A look at the swarms of phantasms was enough to demonstrate that. There WERE magical methods of manipulating souls and phantasms sometimes became ensouled. How did souls decide which role to move into? Could he get some to move in by advertising all the benefits a life as his child was offering?