With Julia still agitating to visit “Magic Squirrel Land”, decided to check it out. After all, if Marty had thought it was a good idea, there HAD to be a catch – and she could leave the Thralls to babysit Julia.
The exit, was in a modest park, with a carnival over the hill, a couple of playing fields, a dragon having a picnic, and a gryphon building a nest in a treetop.
Well at least that explained Blackie.
It looked like… soccer, some sort of maze, and… jousting? It must be some kind of amusement park!
Abigail went looking for the staff to ask some questions.
There were lots of little glowing things around, the carnival seemed to have a staff, and there was occasional traffic down the hill. Still, the bugs didn’t seem too promising. She went to poke around the carnival.
At the moment, there was a sword-fighting tournament in the bowl, the usual carnival games, exoskeleton-based flight suits, and a selection of rides. Most of the concession booths had staff though.
It looked like they blended a lot of magic with the technology here… She had to wonder how Gelman felt about that. For that matter, she wondered how she felt about that. Only a few days ago, she’d thought that magic was something you only found in fairy tales and fantasy movies.
She located an unoccupied staffer to ask about the place’s history. The kid looked about fifteen…
(Staffer) “Good afternoon madam! Care to play? It’s try to knock the weight to ring the bell at the top of the pole; if you can, you win a prize!
(Abigail) “Sure, why not?”
It was 5 millicredits per attempt – but the system informed her that she currently had a 25,000 Credit Balance.
(Abigail) “Credits? Twenty five thousand? But I don’t keep that much in checking!”
(The booth operator was also rather surprised) “Wow! That’s about forty years salary!… Didn’t you know?”
(Abigail) “Okay, how did I get that much money in my account?”
(Operator) “You’d have to ask the system, ma’am; it only responds to directed personal queries to maintain privacy”.
(Abigail) “Where is it?”
(Operator) “You can ask any one of the remotes”
The operator beckoned one of the little glowing things buzzing around, and it promptly came over.
Wait, those things were devices of some sort? That obeyed on their own? Sentient devices? How could there be that many of them? And so small? Magical sentient devices?
(Abigail) “Who made a deposit to my account? And where are your arms and legs?”
“Your account in Kadia was generated automatically Ma’am, based on the registered existence of an off-universe support arrangement with Marty Tabard. Given confirmation of identity, your ten credit arrival bonus has been registered.”
Abigail was a little dumbfounded. She’d literally had to pull teeth to get the alimony. Still, she wasn’t going to reject the money.
(Abigail) “Thanks, uh . . . what’s your name?”
“I am a remote unit of local node 1794 of the sector DRV subnet.”
A remote unit? Abigail wondered where the device in charge was.
“Can I be of further assistance?”
(Abigail) “Sure, can you give me the address of the Gelman household?”
The device hesitated for a moment – then announced the Mrs Gelman had provided permission, and provided an address.
(Abigail) “And where is Marty Tabard? We need to talk.”
“Mr Tabard is currently in transition between missions, and should be available for some hours. He is currently in ARV sector.”
Abigail tried to smile, even if it did come out a bit predatory.
(Abigail) “Thanks, 1794.”
She tried to knock the weight to ring the bell, just for old times sake. They didn’t have many carnivals in Long Island.
She actually won. Was whoever was in charge of these games actually honest? That was pretty unusual, and said that at least Marty hadn’t set up the carnival. She had a choice of stuffed animals, candy, small toys, a pocket music player, and lots of other junk. At least that was fairly typical for a carnival… Although the candy actually turned out to be quite good. How could whoever was in charge be making a profit if he or she actually provided worthwhile prizes with honest games and such a tiny entry fee?
She didn’t bother with the swordfighting or other attractions. She had things to do with Marty that promised to be much more fun if she could catch him. Of course, if he spotted her before she caught up with him, he’d become hard to find pretty fast.
A penthouse?! Apparently with a pool, hot tub, and built-in bar?!? Living it up on the sly out of reach of the courts was he! She’d show him!
(Abigail) “Let me in or I’ll rip the place in two!And what is up with this color scheme? You STILL don’t have any taste!”
Marty, of course, had been informed when Abigail arrived and headed up to see him. He was on the net with Jarvain at the moment – but his first impulse had been – of course – to hide. Then he’d thought a bit about force fields, and just had the girls get out of sight and sent his Thrall-houseboy to answer the door. He’d known this was coming eventually; Abigail was violent, not stupid.
He’d only taken on the kid because a live servant was as a status symbol and because Elera and Minel were enough girls for him at the moment anyway.
(Houseboy) “Good afternoon Ma’am! My name is Kelian, can I help you? Master Marty will be just a moment.”
(Abigail) “Just a moment? How many does he have in the bedroom?”
Abigail was too angry at the moment to notice that she was addressing an underage boy.
(Kelian) “At the moment he’s checking in with a mechwarrior pilot that’s a friend of his Ma’am.”
(Abigail blinked…) “Didn’t think he had military pals… Well, let me in! I need to talk with him.”
Kelian ushered her in of course.
(Kelian) “Can I get you anything while you wait? He shouldn’t be more than five or six minutes.”
(Abigail) “How about a bowl for this candy? And what’s your favorite food?”
(Kelian) “I like funnel-cakes ma’am.”
Well, a bit of cooking always diverted her. It looked like all the ingredients were available in the kitchen too, for a wonder. Perhaps the staff did the shopping? If it was up to Marty, there’d have been nothing but snacks to go with the booze. On the other hand, the kitchen was suspiciously clean and tidy. No doubt Marty went out all the time and hardly ever used the place!
She whipped up some quick funnel cakes. One for the boy – another kid, a lot like the ones working for her now that she’d taken a good look at him – and the other one for Marty’s face.
Kelian was more than happy to have some funnel-cake.
Marty turned up of course. He always appeared when sweet, greasy, fattening food was in the offing! It was suitable for kids of course, but Marty didn’t exercise enough!
(Abigail, with a predatory grin) “Here you go, honey!”
She pulled her skillet out of the void to start the beatdown.
(Abigail) “DO I LOOK FAT TO YOU? DO I LOOK LIKE YOU? YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME ABOUT THE SQUIRRELS!”
It took her a few minutes to notice the lack of screaming in pain and begging for mercy – and even then it took a moment longer to realize that the pan was slamming into invisible barriers while Marty rolled on the floor laughing.
Marty wasn’t gloating – but he found it SO funny. Now she was getting a taste of not being able to hit someone!
(Abigail) “Huh? Oh, don’t tell me I killed you! I’ll have to clean up!”
(Marty) “I’ll be fine dear! How’s Julia? She was fine on this morning’s report of course.”
(Abigail) “She’s good. She wants to visit… Why aren’t you bleeding and twitching?”
(Marty) “No time for that! I’m very busy these days! You’ve lucky to have caught me here!”
Abigail was seething and fuming at that point. She take another swing at him – but the only mark on his face was from stray bits of funnel-cake, and even THAT was just because he’d been scarfing the stuff up! She took another swing at him in a desperate effort to teach some humility – but it just bounced away!
(Abigail) “Aughhh! What’s wrong with this skillet?”
She tried throwing it at him, and something simply caught it and put it gently on the stove – which had incidentally been cleaned up behind her, along with the rest of the kitchen?
(Abigail) “I need an aspirin…”
Still, it seemed important to thank the nice little houseboy.
(Abigail, to Kelian) “Thank you; That was very considerate.”
(Kelian) “It’s just the automatic systems Ma’am. Violence is only allowable by mutual agreement. And I only picked up some major elements; the automatic systems did most of it.”
(Abigail) “Now I really need an aspirin.”
She thrust her finger in her jerk of an ex-husband’s face.
(Abigail) “You are DEAD the next time you come over!”
She stormed out, unwilling to listen to whatever biting response he came up with – although Kelian rushed after her to apologize for him.
(Abigail) “He’s always been that way . . . he’ll never change.”
(Kelian) “People rarely really do Ma’am!”
(Abigail) “Could you at least grab my skillet for me? It’s a family heirloom.”
It was too. Solid cast iron, perfect for fighting and cooking!
(Kelian) “It’s coming along now Ma’am!”
The remotes were bringing it.
(Abigail) “Well, thank you. I’d shake hands, but I don’t think you have them.”
“We can generate a hand to shake if you would like it Ma’am.”
(Abigail) “No, just give me my skillet. The jerk’s place is hurting my eyes.”
She left them a tip, strolled around until she calmed down (a process which took about an hour), and went to see Mr Gelman. She didn’t want to scare poor Sophie and Isaac, so she called beforehand too.
Sophie was delighted to have her come by.
(Abigail, with a very gentle hug) “Oh, Sophie. How are you holding up, dear?”
(Sophie) “Hello Abigail! It’s so nice to have you come and visit! It’s really very quiet here…”
Abigial found the place more than a bit boring – but she could understand why Sophie and Fred would be happy in Kadia.
They spent some time chatting about all the things housewives chatted about, with particular emphasis on the children. Abigail inquired about Ruth, since she’d gotten into trouble earlier and heard all about little Isaac’s new ID and how Ruth was wanting to install cyberweapons in mammoths – and how Sophie was slightly worried about Ruth; since it was so easy to pick up odd powers, who knew what kind of trouble Ruth might get into!
(Abigail) “Heh. Well, that’s one reason to watch Julia like a hawk around here! What are you going to do with Ruthie, though?”
(Sophie) “Well, it is just as long as they’re here – and Ruth seems to be content enough with the competitions! She’s been doing very well!”
(Abigail) “That’s a relief. Say, where’s your husband? I need to talk to him too.”
(Sophie) “He’s working downstairs; there was so much extra space here that we just set up an office”.
(Abigail) “I Thought he’d relax a bit once he got the chance. Come to think of it, it seems to have done some good for him. The dark circles around his eyes are already vanishing… Nice to see you again.”
Downstairs, Mr Gelman was – of course – checking files. He’d discovered that Amarant Solutions currently had hundred offices scattered over seventy worlds, and was opening more at a great rate. The company was trading in commodities he’s never even heard of – as well as in people, albeit almost entirely by purchasing them.
(Abigail) “Gelman, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Gelman rather felt that way. In Battling Business World people couldn’t actually die – so Hitler had tried to turn the Jews into his own personal janissaries/super-soldiers. What was being done to the Thralls seemed all too similar. It didn’t seem to be forced, which was something – and nothing horrible happened to the ones who refused – but still… What if they wanted to back out? There was no sabbatical or escape clause. It might not even have been too bad on a small scale, with a few volunteers – but the SCALE was appalling!
(Gelman) “Ah, Nice to see you Abigail!”
(Abigail) “So what is my rat of an ex doing? No good, I’m sure!”
(Gelman) “I wish I could say something nice… But the scale here is horrendous! The shipping alone would be fine – if incredibly complex – but the dragonness currently co-ordinating the operation is pretty ruthless, and they’re… well… have a look here for yourself. They’re dealing in millions…”
Abigail read… and read… and read. Finally, “How good is the soundproofing down here?”
(Gelman) “The local sentient devices say it’s “active force field and vacuum damping”. It seems to be close to perfect.”
Abigail yelled for about ten minutes. The content could be best summarized as:
(Abigail) “WHAT IS HE THINKING? I MARRIED A SLAVE TRADER? I KNOW THEY DID THIS WILLINGLY BUT SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE!… And you know what the worst part is?”
(Gelman) “I keep thinking I do, but then I think some more…”
(Abigail) “As long as the jerk is here, we can’t lay a finger on him! He has to consent to being attacked!”
(Gelman) “Why am I not surprised? It’s good for Sophie and the Kids – but Marty doesn’t seem to spend much time here at least.”
(Abigail) “Hey! I have an idea! Let’s find out where he’ll be next and give him a surprise!”
(Gelman) “Fair enough! He certainly can’t object! He knows its coming to him!”
(Abigail) “Any ideas where that is? I think you’re working with him… Sorry about that, by the way.”
(Gelman) “Oh, it’s not so much with him, as just trying to keep the operations straight! He and “Lord Sanwell” have been simply opening offices in whatever bizarre universe comes into their head and the dragon-lady has been reorganizing them at whim!”
(Abigail) “Hmm . . . and I’d rather not leave Julia alone to look. I wonder if we can talk through the kids. Does that telepathy cross worlds?”
(Gelman) “Hm. It must to some extent; otherwise how could they get their reports in? But the kids said it’s very short range… Sandy! Come here a minute!”
Another youngster. Oddly similar to the others come to think of it – all about the same age, all healthy, all physically fit, etc…
(Gelman) “How far does your telepathy reach?”
(Sandy) “A few hundred feet at most normally sir! Usually only fifty or sixty feet – although some places boost it and we can use magic to boost it in some worlds.”
(Abigail) “How about here, young man?”
(Sandy) “The range around here is usually about 120 feet Ma’am; there’s a slight boost. Magic can be used as well to let us contact other Thralls some of the closer realms. In a real emergency we can contact Lord Sanwell directly over the link with him, but that’s only for really important stuff or if he calls, because there’ s lots of us, and he can only talk to so many of us at a time.”
(Abigail) “I wonder how close that gate makes my house to here?”
It turned out to be about fifteen minutes by the shortest route – and, as far as Telepathy went, out of direct range, but reachable with magic.
(Abigail) “Well, it’s not like we’ll need to keep contact all the time. Why don’t you have one of your kids message one of mine when you find out where he is?”
(Gelman) “Sounds like a good idea… Confound it! It’s so easy to slip into casually exploiting them!”
(Sandy) But we’ve been paid for our services in advance sir!
(Abigail sighed) “I forget to give them breaks. They don’t even ASK. I’m starting to see your logic.”
(Sandy) “We don’t need many breaks sir, ma’am; we all get the ability to delay that sort of need for later, and there’s always plenty of time for it while you’re resting!”
(Abigail) “Yes, but . . . oh, wait, the bond. I really don’t know how I feel about that. I guess we’ll have to discuss it with their boss… Think you’ll need support?”