Gelman waved good-bye to Battling Business World and headed for Core with his family – taking the most idyllic route Mr Leland had been able to provide. There was no need to excite Sophie and Isaac – and he made sure to tell Ruth that they were going to places where people didn’t look kindly on killing and where they didn’t come back.
Ruth didn’t understand, Isaac was confused, and Sophie just wondered if he was really ill – but he had to let them know.
There were several possible routes – Kadia via the squirrels, Singular via the moon, Sesame Street, and through the toonworlds.
Given limited knowledge about what some of those meant, Gelman opted for Sesame Street. Isaac liked Grover (and managed to get an autograph).
Oddly enough, Isaac wasn’t fainting nearly as much and enjoyed Sesame Street. Sophie was a bit confused – and Ruth was impatient. She was too old for muppets. Still, Gelman managed to keep everything on a friendly basis.
Sesame street was linked to at least a dozen realms, apparently including the “Underdark” (for some reason), New York, several other muppet realms, an assortment of New Yorks, some other puppet realities, and a bunch of randomly-scattered places in this “Core” place.
Gelman checked them all (while Ruth and the Parakeets kept an eye on Sophie and Isaac) to see which would be quietest… A wood, a yard behind a small school and park, down a ravine with a small stream… Quite a few little glowing things zipping about. They were very quiet though. A faint humming almost too soft to hear. Mostly tending plants. Sentient devices…
He started to wonder; why were the parakeets ALSO trying to persuade him to go to some other place than Core first? He couldn’t trust them entirely… On the other hand, he also had to hope that Ruth wouldn’t cause any trouble.
“Oh sure pops. What, we’re gonna be assaulted by muppets?”
“Honey, you can never be too careful.”
“Oh sure, we get assaulted by any little kids or muppets, I’ll blow the stuffing out of them.”
After a few moments one of the glowing things working on a plant spoke up in tiny voice:
“Hello! Your genetic pattern is not registered and you are not wearing Smartclothes. Have you had a bad offworld experience or are you a first-time visitor?”
Gelman held out his hand for a handshake.
“This is my first time.”
Two or three more tiny devices came over and joined up with the first so that it was big enough to make a hand.
“Are you in need of assistance or guidance then?”
“Is this place safe? I’m migrating from a dangerous Toonworld. My wife and children are on the other side.”
Gelman was a bit concerned. He hoped that he hadn’t inconvenienced the sentient devices by forcing them to shake hands.
“There is minimal danger unless hostile actions are initiated by the visitor in question. There may be functional limitations if your wife and children are normally partially supported by extradimensional interactions.”
Gelman wasn’t dumb… It was pretty obvious that the Muppets didn’t work on conventional biology, and he could guess at what that might mean.
“How can I tell?”
“There is no known objective test. Certain supernatural tests apply, psychological testing provides strong indications. A visit from beings who are so dependent is not harmful to them; they simply show limited independence and ability to think while visiting. Many people, however, find such changes in companions extremely upsetting.”
“Thank you for your time. In case we meet again… what is your name?”
“Name? I am linked with local node 37-83-97-Subsection W. Northern European subnetwork, Earth Network, Solar system supernetwork.”
“That’s your identification. Surely you must have a name…”
“The remote effectors are not stable units sir. They are constructed of reconfigurable microunits approximately 1/10,000 of an inch across which reconfigure and recombine to meet system demands.”
“Ah, I see. These are your hands, and you’re elsewhere.”
“I am a subprocess on the interworld computer network sir.”
A computer network of enough power to generate PHYSICAL processes. Gelman would contemplate it more – but he needed to get his family moving again.
“You are fascinating. I hope we can speak again – but I must check on my family. Goodbye.”
“You are welcome sir. Goodbye.”
Gelman returned, determined that Ruth hadn’t made or attracted too much trouble – and asked the parakeets. He would not bring his wife and children across unless he was certain that they can handle it – and the birds had been trying to persuade him not to. Did they know something?
“Er… It wouldn’t hurt them sir. But… no, they almost certainly wouldn’t function well.”
Oh dear. They might have to go to Sanwell’s den after all.
Meanwhile, Ruth had indeed found some trouble. She’d started swearing at one muppet, found that she was incapable of getting any swearwords out, and was currently contemplating how one pronounces “#”, She did start an argument with Miss Piggy though.
Sophie was sitting down looking a bit faint – and Isaac was actually siding with Ms Piggy. It helped that almost everything that Ruth said emerged as stylized punctuation marks.
It was something about being a ridiculous figure of fun rather than a star.
Miss Piggy stormed off after smacking Ruth with a handbag, which startled Ruth enough to remind her that they were guests in non-violent children’s show.
Gelman explained the situation as having taken a wrong turn. He wouldn’t want them to become automatons subject to his will. Then how would he be different from Mr. Sanwell?
Instead they were going to have to do something weird at Abigail’s place.
He gave them sugar pills to cover the transformation and took them to Kadia through the tree.
“This pathway is too small for us to enter… unless we take these shapeshifting pills.”
Sophie fainted a little; the city-in-a-tree was just a bit much. At least the muppets went through a fairly normal door.
“Honey, it’s all right, it’s safe here.”
Gelman asked the locals to keep his family away from anything too outre. He would rather not have his kids wandering off to deathtraps!
That was easy – although Ruth was fascinated by some of the available services. Dimensional travel. Skydiving. Martial Arts training. White Water Rafting. Indentured services auction. Cyborging. Weapons. Giant Mecha Battles. Sexual Services. Amusement Park. Shapeshifting Lessons. Psychic Powers Lessons. Live Combat Arena.
Gelman was quite firm. Anything truly dangerous would have to wait until she had slept in the same place for three days. He’d gone through a lot of trouble getting everyone to Kadia, and he’d prefer not to have to retrieve her. Secondarily, Sex and slavery was right out! Dimensional travel would have to wait until she turned eighteen!
“How about martial arts training, induced werewolfism, and shapeshifting training? And I was hardly thinking about signing up for slavery or something!”
Gelman sighed. He’d rather not have her buying indentured services – at least not unless she planned to follow the old laws and free her servants during the sabbatical year. Fortunately, she probably wouldn’t have the money for that anyway. Martial arts training was fine. He WANTED her to continue that, she was doing that in school anyway. He was… leery of the lycanthropy and shapeshifting. Too much like the thralls – and he was taking a risk by having his family in Kadia to begin with. He wanted to minimize it.
The things he was willing to do to stop evil… well, the high path was fraught with difficult choices.
Ruth thought it was really unnatural, but she could hold off on the serious risks for a few days.
Getting set up was easy. There seemed to be plenty of space, and all the basics seemed to be free. It was amazing and seductive… They took an apartment in the quietest region of Kadia.
There were plenty of those too. Apartments in the hills, each complex built around a facilities plaza, overlooking some valleys with trees, streams and wildlife, assorted quiet ravines and things.
He let Sophie decide. She preferred one of the “enchanted forest” areas. It reminded her of nice quiet fairy-tale settings.
“A wise choice, dear.”
Once they’d settled in, Gelman began his attempts to deprogram the parakeets in earnest during the times that Sophie was away – although that got interrupted on day two when Ruth shoot a unicorn.
Gelman was a bit upset there – weren’t unicorns peaceful magical examples of virtue? Besides, he was certain that unicorns weren’t kosher. Still, she hadn’t killed it – she’d just bowled it over with the first shot and “inspired it to leave rapidly” with the second one.
“That’s right! Run away you miserable beast! If I catch you hanging around here again…!”
Well, it was a forest, he wasn’t sure he could get angry at her for hunting – and the local laws just called for a fine if anyone complained, and no one else lived in the area yet. Her temper did worry him though. Perhaps she needed to be in school… risky, but if she can interact with other young people who aren’t thralls or slaves, it might be better. They needed neighbors…
He had to upgrade his BlackBerry to check the local internet. Fortunately it was easy enough. He was almost surprised when it didn’t wind up sentient. It seemed to be capable of vastly more than it used to be… Still, he’d been trying to PREVENT sentience as long as he could; life was hard for sentient devices in BBW, especially ones as small as a BlackBerry.
The nanite-based reconfigurable structure was quite incredible.
The research said that there were only a few million people in Kadia at the moment – fifteen or twenty million at the most – and that it was a great deal larger than Earth, and might be near-infinite. It was still being populated. There should be some neighbors along eventually though; they weren’t really that far out.
The unicorn didn’t come back though, which appeared to give Ruth some satisfaction.
Gelman went back to deprogramming, trying to convince the parakeets that they didn’t NEED this power and wealth. They just needed to grow up. If they were ambitious enough, they could get it then! Relying on this Sanwell was a crutch and was not good for them or for their souls!
The girl was convinced that she’d be dead now without the power, but she was from somewhere where the social order had been breaking down and people who died didn’t come back. The boy had been at less risk, but had wanted the security and the power – and he had really liked the shapeshifting and magic. Besides – they’d already agreed and were indentured to Lord Sanwell, and having it now was fun. Why wait to grow up?
They did know that relying on what they’d been given was a crutch, but their souls were bound to Lord Sanwell until their indentures were up anyway.
Gelman was appalled. Apparently they really did mean that their souls were literally bound to their master! This was beyond his abilities; he needed a priest of some kind, someone with genuine supernatural power. The rabbis at home would be no help at all.
Still, they were awfully confident that they weren’t really being harmed… Stunted a bit perhaps. They could have more power if they spent the next two or three centuries working on it, but this way they were guaranteed to survive and got it up front without all the work. They had to work in other ways, but nothing was really free.
“Do you like being slaves? Does it make you happy to know you’re his to use and abuse?”
“Are we being used and abused? We’re assigned to you, were you planning to hurt us?”
“We’re assigned to various projects, but we’re doing a lot of useful things. What’s so wrong with that? What’s wrong with being paid in advance?”
“Nothing, but doesn’t it bother you that your souls are his?”
“Only until the indenture is up – and if we weren’t bonded to him, he couldn’t bring us back if we get killed!”
Oh dear… They seemed to understand morals – and most of theirs weren’t too bad save for having no objection to slavery and premarital sex. They just didn’t seem to see why being soulbound for a time was necessarily worse than a lot of other things, or why it shouldn’t be their choice to make.
It wasn’t quite as bad as explaining religion to sentient devices. They just didn’t see anything inherently morally wrong with it.