On Ealor, there were two hundred and forty-three children – less than 2% of the total population. That might change soon enough now that they were visiting Core, but the people of Singular had been a dying race long before the Horsemen of the Apocalypse arrived in their world. All of those children were, however, ensouled. It had been a grim truth – and one that had not been mentioned, or even widely known outside of the medical laboratories – but after the war decades ago there hadn’t been resources to waste on keeping phantasms “alive”. The unreal did not come out of the hospitals. In response to that denial, phantasms had almost ceased to be born. Where no one imagined they would be, they did not come into being.
Kevins two Gatekeeper-Thralls had been allowed supervised contact and play with the children. They were youngsters themselves, and it would have been unfair to deny the children of Singular a chance to meet new youngsters; their peer group was frightfully limited. Besides, you never knew; the two young Gatekeepers might have revealed something important to other children.
Child protective services had kept a careful eye on such contacts of course, to make sure that the Thralls didn’t use any weird powers on the kids. They hadn’t, however, counted on the power of simple information or on the various enhancements that Kevin was bestowing on even would-be followers. It wasn’t like such a thing had any precedent in their experience. Who in a scientific world would have believed that simply being fascinated with someone – however powerful that individual seemed to be – would suffice to gain supernatural talents?
The limited peer group simply made the Thralls accounts even more fascinating. Kevin gave his followers – kids no older than the listening children of Singular – all kinds of magical powers, protected them from death, and let them have adventures. While he did indenture them, he certainly didn’t seem to be making these two work all that hard.
Child Protective Services, and the parents, started to panic when a dozen or so random kids – the ones who were acquiring New Imperium Identities – and the kids who were most interested in Kevin and the two Gatekeepers started showing supernatural powers. The psychic stuff was almost understandable; it seemed to have a physical basis of sorts. The magic, the ability to warp time to suit their convenience – even if only for a few instants and seemed to be a strain – and the shapechanging was beyond anything they were prepared to deal with. Most of it wasn’t all that potent of course, but it was just so impossible. Reality-warping in creatures that seemed to be walking dimensional anomalies was one thing. It was quite another in their own kids.
Their first reaction was to isolate the Thralls – if only by keeping them too busy to have time to spend with the kids – and to quarantine every kid who was showing such “symptoms” of… er… “Reality Violation Syndrome“. That was a lot easier to think about than “kids somehow being able to violate the laws of nature”.
The second was to throw the study program into high gear. They had some luck with the psychic powers – a lot of them actually seemed to have a mechanism – but not much luck with anything else or with determining why simply being interested in working for Kevin caused R.V.S.! Or how it could still be spreading! There were more than sixty cases now! The kids were no longer being permitted to talk to the Thralls, they were no longer being given information on Kevin, and questions on such topics were being firmly discouraged – but it wasn’t stopping it!
Meanwhile, in quarantine, sixty-eight really bored (they’d been bored even before being put into quarantine) and annoyed youngsters had gotten most of their new powers figured out – and had developed their minor local identities. A few of the leaders among them with especially-strong personalities (also known as decent Charisma scores) to start with were developing fairly powerful local identities. It looked like the stupid scientists were going to keep them locked up – away from an entire new universe to explore and other kids to play with – for months! Maybe for years!
Elisar, one of the kids leaders, had developed a local ID included strong illusion-casting – and, in the next room, Tonia had developed exceptionally strong telepathic abilities. It wasn’t long before a telepathic gossip network was running – and a conspiracy was hatched. There wasn’t anything wrong with THEM. It was the Child Protective Services bunch – and their parents – who were being stupid!
The exodus went quite smoothly; a bit of group telekinesis to open a small hole in the security systems and barriers of each room, a simple illusion of a sleeping youngster over each child’s bed to cover the shapeshift into small animal form and his or her absence, stay in small-animal form to slip out through the holes they’d created… They couldn’t do much about the pattern-analysis and more sophisticated monitoring systems in the hospital – but they could make sure that the two people on the night shift kept absent-mindedly punching in override codes when the alarms went off. By the time the effects wore off, the illusions started vanishing, and the alarms started going off, they’d been gone for hours.
With Ealor’s new status as a center of commerce and trade, there were plenty of ships to be found in the dockyards – and it wasn’t like looking at them wasn’t a normal thing for kids to be doing anywhere in the galaxy. It was unusual for several of them to be force-users, and for ALL of them to have various psychic and magical powers – but “escaping just ahead of the pursuit” fell straight into the local plotlines. It almost could not fail.
They were in a whole wonderful new universe where you could have neat powers! They were going exploring, whether their parents and Child Protective Services liked it or not!
The take-off was more than a little sloppy, but it was still well ahead of Child Protective Services belated pursuit, and it wasn’t like anyone was willing to take serious measures – or shoot at them – to make them stop. Similarly, logic, parental orders, and official demands were singularly ineffective against children who hadn’t turned the communications system on.
And thus a starship piloted by a crew of talented children easily escaped pursuit from Ealor.
Whether for good or ill, their astrogation wasn’t all that hot either – so they fell back on jedi-style intuitive astrogation with no particular destination in mind except “somewhere fun and exciting”. Perhaps inevitably, they accidently slipped across the reality border of the New Imperium and passed into the realms of Anime.
As it happened, they managed to bypass the grim “young-and-untried-crew versus the evil- overlords-entire-space-navy theme”, as well as the semi-grim “bunch-of-youngsters-thrown-onto-their-own-resources” theme, and wound up crash-landing in a world of excitement and cuteness based on an old classic: “Bannou Bunka Nekomusume” or “All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku“. Of course, having landed with a pile of “alien” technology, and having crashed in that setting, meant that quite a few of them picked up local Identities as super-combat-androids and others picked up super-combat-android defenders and local identities as the objects of contention between kind and attentive (if quite insane) parents, organizations, and government security agencies. Fortunately, in the world of Nuku Nuku, ludicrous extremes of violence were pretty harmless. It wasn’t like anyone was ever worse than stunned.
Child Protective Services – knowing only that the kids had somehow slipped into another universe – promptly sent a demand to Amarant Solutions through the two Thralls he’d assigned to Ealor that Kevin come and locate the kids and bring them back. After all, this was all his fault anyway.
Meanwhile, over in the anthropomorphic worlds, the NeoDog Thralls had been doing pretty well at picking up ensouled slaves. Those worlds bled into each other a lot (and into the talking-animal realms and cartoon realms), but most of the more serious efforts – role-playing games and longer-running shows especially – had well-established class systems or slave trades. It was hard to avoid it when the various anthropomorphic subspecies were so blatantly unequal and so very obviously best-suited for particular professions. Humanities unconscious popular-culture assumptions about “animals” simply exaggerated the situation a bit – although that was also why Kevin wanted Anthromorphs; it would help him expand on the population of “legitimate” animal-person property in Core, and thus be another wedge in his campaign to give enthrallment a clear legal status there.
Of course, a large percentage of the population, and an even larger percentage of the slaves, were just phantasms – but there were still quite a few available. On the other hand, they were starting to have trouble with heroic rescuers and such; some of the anthropomorphic worlds, such as Ironclaw and Jadeclaw ran more on high-fantasy and romance rules, although others – like Furry Pirates or World Tree – were more pragmatic.
Other groups were starting to take notice as well – and with a new and lucrative market, some of them were considering expanding their efforts at acquisition.
The Thralls were going to have to get Kevin to drop by, discuss terms, intervene with some of the local power groups, and intervene soon enough. Of course, Kevin had never been that fond of visiting the Anthropomorphic Worlds – he always found the “big bad wolf” form a bit of a giveaway and he’d NEVER approved of the way that people casually got eaten in some of the talking-animal worlds.
(Marty’s player promptly started designing an appropriate ID for that trip… A pirate-captain parrot! He already had a pirate crew of werewolves to command. Most of those worlds had magic, so Limey could just use his spellbook form).