Any reasonable person would have thought that Dr Brenner would be out of action. After all, he’d been caught red handed running an illegal organ-transplant operation using kidnaped kids for involuntary donors. After all, surely the only safety for such an operation lay in secrecy!
Make that any reasonable person from Core.
Doctor Brenner had other resources. His emergency escape route hadn’t worked out – the access hadn’t actually been in the operating theater for a start – and his monitoring and approach-alarm systems would have worked better if anyone had been looking out for dogs – but he still had a lot of connections. For starters, he had ties with the criminal syndicates, more thugs, and plenty of cash in reserve. At least he wasn’t big on weapons. Those tended to attract too much attention.
He had blackmail material on everyone he’d ever provided services for – and that was a LOT of leverage.
He also had some solid connections and bribes in with the emergency response groups. They often needed medical services, and everyone needed money.
The Neodogs simply weren’t yet familiar with that level of corruption. They had never had any experience with serious corruption in Core.
The “Good” Doctor was able to sweet-talk his “friends” in emergency response into letting him go without ever winding up on the official reports and records – although they did save the kids he’d actually had in the operating room.
There was a well-planned high-powered tranquilizer ambush two days later.
Rameraz woke up moderately sedated, muzzled, fitted with a shock-collar (and stripped of his own), fitted with control and tranquilizer implants, and strapped down on a veterinary examination table some time after that… While he had only a few aches and pains to tell him, he’d been poked, prodded, x-rayed, given an MRI, and been extensively sampled – tissue, blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid, bone marrow, sperm, and more. It’d been a full veterinary exam.
It hadn’t taken a really detailed look at the chromosomes to reveal that Rameraz didn’t have that much in common with a normal dog. He was stuffed full of synthetic chromosomes.
An examination of the collar had been almost as interesting as the examination of Rameraz had been. It was an electronic system of unheard-of sophistication, its computer power rivaled that of a supercomputer, it could actively restructure itself, and it was incredibly durable. It might even be capable of that legendary “neural interface” since there didn’t seem to be any built-in link that would let the wearer use those functions. Not quite nanotech, but still higher technology than anything he’d ever heard of outside of urban legends – and it had been “willing” to interface with a simple computer and answer all kinds of questions about it’s wearer… All you had to do was tell it that you were a vet.
(Dr) “My, you are a piece of work. I wonder which black government lab you came from?”
Rameraz whined a bit… No smartcollar meant no remote communications and no computer access (and feeling naked and helpless, he’d worn one all his life). This was very bad. How had the Doctor gotten away? The police should have kept him! No fair!
(Dr) “Yes, you must be from one of the top labs. I’ve never seen a collar quite like this.”
The collar had been remarkably helpful. It had provided a manufacturing facility, model number, activation time, and system status response, noted being upgraded to military specifications in “Kadia”, and had provided a variety of specifications and records on it’s wearer – including his name, age, veterinary records, educational data, test results, and records of his advanced studies in computer programming and comparative mythology.
On the other hand, quite a lot of that material – right down to the activation date – made no sense. He was damned sure that there was no such facility. Perhaps all the information was coded or a cover? Still, the educational records were quite straightforward – if equally crazy. Why would a black lab teach their experimental beasts computer programming and comparative mythology? Who would give their laboratory specimen a 120 IQ? Not to mention an ongoing educational program, hacking programs, and quite a lot of what seemed to be custom-tailored adventure games?
(Dr) “Where are you from? What is this ‘Kadia’ black lab? I haven’t heard any rumors about that one.”
Rameraz rolled an eye at the crazy doctor – even if he’d wanted to tell him about Core and Kadia, he had a muzzle on!
He tried to purge himself of the drug, and incidently heal the aches, pains, and minor injuries from the surgery. Unfortunately, that was quite detectable; the neural activity that went with using his psychic powers was a dead giveaway – and the system just drugged him again, keeping him a bit dopey – but not out.
The Doctor – well aware after the MRI scan that Rameraz’s voicebox had at least the potential for humanlike speech – tried a little prodding… It might be revealing.
(DR) “Hm. To unmuzzle or not to unmuzzle? I don’t think I’ll take the risk. Whatever he has to say isn’t going to be pleasant!”
He had to find a way to breed these things – or at least to successfully clone them. Intelligent psychic dogs… The bloody law-enforcement psychics were the one threat that the underworld had never really found a counter for – up until now.
Rameraz was done evaluating himself. There didn’t seem to be anything major wrong with his body. If he could just free himself, he could purge the drug easily enough… He couldn’t spellcast or use martial arts while pinned down and doped, the system could detect it when he tried to use Witchcraft, and would just dope or shock him into unconsciousness – but that still left ripping free by raw force or shapeshifting.
He had to do something. If the Doctor was this clever, he’d soon have more of the Neodogs in his lab – unless he was stopped quickly enough.
Ripping free by raw force was a bust. The doctor had anticipated that.
(Dr, amused) “Aw. Poor doggie.”
Well… getting larger would be a bad idea in solid restraints – but cat-form should be small enough to slip through easily.
Doctor Brenner was more than bright enough to realize that THAT stunt was flatly impossible according to the current understanding of physics. Seventy pounds of mass could not simply vanish! Even psychic powers respected the laws of nature! The secrets in this thing!
(Dr) “WHAT? Get that dog-I mean cat! Whatever it is! That violates all the laws of physics!”
Rameraz spun a multiple mirror-image spell. As long as the cat was out of the bag, he might as well go all out.
(Dr) “I’ll actually bother to help out with this one! I am not losing my cash cow!”
Normally the Doctor left the physical stuff to his guards and assistants. Still, this was a secure lab, and he had plenty of well-prepared guards and assistants handy. Unless the creature had even more unrevealed powers, there was no way that it was going to escape.
Rameraz was looking frantically… Sealed doors, no windows, plenty of guards, a distinct shortage of things that would blow up… Plenty of breakables and sharp things though. He called up a poltergeist and went invisible, leaving the guards busy with his mirror images while he tried to get in behind the Doctor and take him hostage.
He’d have snagged his smartcollar on the way, but the doctor was keeping it on his person anyway.
Unfortunately, he reverted to canine form – bringing the control implants back on line too – to grab the doctor’s neck in his jaws. He’d been too woozy to think of that, even if he didn’t have all that many other choices. While he succeeded with the grab – and had a good grip – the doctor had read the psychological information on neodogs in general and Rameraz in particular on the smartcollar, and had thought about the tactics Rameraz had used in the first battle. All nonlethal, and as gentle with humans as possible. He thought the actual risk was very small.
(Dr) “Bad dog! No treats for you!”
A direct and emphatic human rebuke. Rameraz hesitated for a moment – long enough for the doctor to trigger the knockout implant.
Next time he woke up he was fixed up with even more restraints and was in a bubble that would trap him even if he shapeshifted smaller. At least he wasn’t muzzled this time…
The doctor was waiting. Clearly this “dog” was no mere animal, and had secrets that even psychic powers would not explain . He wanted to talk to the creature this time – and, if this one didn’t want to talk, his agents had captured and sedated five others. There seemed to be a lot of the things running around – which was odd in itself. How could that be possible?
Rameraz rolled an eye at the doctor…
(Rameraz) “That’s not fair! How come they didn’t lock you up?”
(Dr) “Why would they lock me up? I run a legitimate surgical practice.”
(Rameraz) “You were killing children!”
(Dr) “My, you’re naive. Did you just escape the lab? Those children would have been doomed to a life in the criminal underworld.”
(Rameraz, indignantly – and forgetting about security) “There’s lots of places for them!”
(Dr) “Oh, really? For unregistered children no one wants?” (He poured himself a well-deserved drink). “I’m granting them mercy! And this way, they can help others. It makes their lives meaningful.”
(Rameraz) “There are lots of places with hardly anyone! And killing them while the barriers are up just keeps them here!”
It took a moment for Doctor Brenner to make sense out of that. The “Lots of places” was silly to start with. Where had this creature grown up? The Earth was unbearably overcrowded! There were dreams of escaping into space, but – save for a few pathetic orbital installations and arguable designs for generational colonizer ships – those were little more than dreams! He had to laugh…
As for the second part…
(Dr) “Yes, but it will take centuries to build that many orbital colonies.”
Rameraz looked blank for a moment – not that it was easy to tell on a canine. The doctor continued.
(Dr) “Do tell me about these ‘barriers’ (complete with air quotes) though.”
Rameraz hesitated… That wasn’t exactly classified… but they weren’t supposed to attract too much notice. On the other hand, it was too late not to attract notice – and the man did already realize that something was going on beyond his knowledge of how the universe worked.
(Rameraz) “Er… well, the soulwards keep people from leaving between lives, so they have to stay here, and the fertility rate stays high. It’s not really my field!”
(Dr) “Soulwards? Vinny, did LSD get into my vodka again?”
(Rameraz – getting more upset than ever, and still dopey – lost patience) “You’re disregarding what you’re seeing aren’t you? You’re thinking that secret labs, with technologies you’ve never heard of, and new species, and mental powers you’ve never heard of, and developments that should take centuries of research, and millions of disappearances, and even more, all tangled together, are somehow more plausible then the universe being larger than you thought! You are making yourself a crazy person!”
Doctor Brenner had to admit that there was something to that argument. The sheer number of incredible elements in this situation argued against any reasonable explanation.
(Dr) “Hmm… I will admit that this universe sucks – and that the government can barely keep things together. How could they make something like this collar you were wearing?”
(Rameraz, with another blank look) “It’s only smartfibers. They’ve been around for two or three centuries now. I knew you were a bit behind, but that far?”
“Only smartfibers”. Oddly enough, that casual dismissal was more convincing than anything else the creature had said. It argued that the technology behind the collar was so well-accepted where the creature had grown up that no one even remarked on it or treated it as anything special.
(Dr) “Hmm… definitely not from this world…”
(Rameraz) “Let me go! I’ve got work to do!”
(Dr) “Well, since you’re obviously not going to cooperate, breeding is out of the question. What are you doing here?”
Rameraz winced a bit. As a male canine strapped down on a vet’s table, phrases like “breeding is out of the question” brought up some unpleasant associations.
That was more or less what the doctor had intended; a bit of intimidation always helped get good cooperation. It wasn’t like it was true, after all, he now had sperm and egg samples, as well as more potential breeders, and he could always try cloning. No need to let the creature know that though; why give away information you didn’t have to?
(Rameraz) “Taking people past the soulwards while they’re incarnate and only held by the dimensional barriers!”
(Dr) “So you’re trying to get them out of here to your world?”
(Rameraz) “Lots of worlds!”
Now THAT looked like an opportunity to Doctor Brenner.
(Dr) “I think we can come to an agreement. I have contacts.”
(Rameraz) “What, you want money or something?”
(Dr) “Oh, no. I’d like some of this smartfiber technology. It could make things much better around here.”
Rameraz looked blank again. After all, he was used to the notion that the technological heritage of Core was the heritage of the human race, not a bargaining chip. Still, that passed. It wasn’t like he was dealing with a friend and looking for a truly fair bargain. Besides, he – unlike Doctor Brenner – was no negotiator.
(Rameraz) “Er… I guess that would work. Is that all?
(Dr) “Oh yes, that will be all. I do hope we can be good partners.”
Doctor Brenner really wasn’t very good at looking repentant, although he took a stab at a facade.
(Rameraz) “I take it you have lots of local contacts who were keeping you supplied with children? You’re a very bad man, but master feels that rescuing people is a lot more important than psychological corrections. Are you going to let me up?”
(Dr) “Of course.”
(Rameraz) “Do you want to come to negotiate, or should I bring someone here? Or to somewhere else?”
Doctor Brenner opted to see a few of those other worlds. After some discussion, he settled on the Living Galaxies.
The route took them on a brief visit to the stone age Isles of the Hesperides, a descent into the Gulf of Stars – and then into the Living Galaxies, a realm of step-function gravity and Dyson Biospheres of plants tangling together asteroid belts throughout the livable zones around a grid of stars. Rising above the inner “surface”, they stood upon a tree-branch half a mile wide to look out across millions of miles of tropical jungle, at flowers hundreds of feet across, at green chasms that reached down thousands of miles into a floating twilight forest. They smelled the fruits and perfumes of a galaxy capable of accommodating the populations of trillions of crowded earths – and uninhabited. A green sea, filling interstellar space.
Doctor Brenner lost some of his composure. He’d never even been much for leaving the arcologies.
(Rameraz) “Most of these galaxies are uninhabited. The people who designed this universe got a bit over-enthuisastic about living space. It is one of the few universes where you could theoretically walk across the entire galaxy though!.. Can I have my collar back? All my saved adventure games are on it.”
Doctor Brenner was still thinking about the implications of that casual word “Designed”. These people designed custom universes – and still valued children. Couldn’t they just clone or breed all they wanted? Wait… Those bits about “keeping the fertility rate high” and “souls”. Was there something to the notion of “Souls” after all?
Besides… It really looked like Rameraz was actually being honest. That was… unexpected. Were the creatures really raised not to lie to humans?
That was true enough – and one reason why Kevin hadn’t been deploying them too widely.
(Dr) “Okay . . . but you had better bring me samples of this material!”
(Rameraz) “You can pick up a suit on the way back if you want. The neural interface will take a few minutes to adapt itself to your neural architecture though.”
Doctor Brenner did want to pick up some smartclothes – and to meet someone who was actually authorized to make a deal.
The Negotiator was a Thrall from Baelaria – Ikeran, one of Kevin’s earlier recruits from the place. He’d reviewed the situation and wasn’t too pleased about it. The idiot neodogs had failed to maintain security. This one in particular had risked exposure for the sake of one kid – and had bungled things enough to leave them negotiating with a mass murderer.
(Ikeran) “I’m told you have a proposition; essentially that you wish to trade ensouled children collected by a series of criminal enterprises with which you have connections to us in lieu of vivisecting them as organ donors or using them for other grossly immoral purposes, and that you want supplies of smartfiber technologies in exchange?”
(Dr) “Yes, that’s the summary.”
Ensouled? There were “unensouled” children out there? This was getting more and more interesting…
(Ikeran) “We would, in general, prefer to rescue children without rewarding such enterprises. Unfortunately, as you – like individuals from several other worlds – have demonstrated, this is not always practical. Do you know approximately how many you are offering?”
Doctor Brenner didn’t really know in detail. He simply emphasized that HE’D never had a shortage and went for an offer-for-each routine.
(Ikeran) “Very well. We must, however, insist that you cease vivisecting or modifying ensouled children while dealing with us. If you need some medical treatments applied to someone, we will provide those treatments as a part of your fees.”
That was mildly disappointing; there were a few clients who’d be upset if he couldn’t modify their toys for them any longer – but the money would be well worth it. Between the Neodog gene samples and the smartfibers he was going to be pretty well set for life. Not being able to do any more surgeries shouldn’t be a problem… Besides, the negotiator was still talking.
(Ikeran) “Now, you will need an assistant capable of operating dimensional gates and providing emergency trans-dimensional communications and assistance. Of course, such as assistant will also serve as a monitor on your activities with children.”
(Dr) “Oh, that will be acceptable.”
(Ikeran) “Very well. Since Rameraz here initiated this arrangement, is already acquainted with you, is used to operating in your world, and can function as an inconspicious bodyguard, he will be assigned as your aide. Indications are that you have captured another five of the empowered Neodogs; will those be sufficient for your needs?”
Ikeran didn’t want to assign any really useful operatives to this monster – but those six Neodogs had already demonstrated their incompetence by getting caught. Lord Sanwell was too soft on those who were insufficiently diligent in their service to him! Ergo, assigning them to Doctor Brenner would put them in a position where they couldn’t do much damage to the cause – and the Doctor was obviously ruthless enough that he might even properly punish them for their failures if having to work for a mass murderer wasn’t enough.
(Dr) “Actually, I need to return those to you.”
(Ikeran) “You have another preference then?”
(Dr) “So you’re offering them to me.”
(Ikeran) “They would be assigned to your service in all capacities other than monitoring the terms of our agreement and your treatment of children. Ultimate ownership would remain with Lord Sanwell”
It sounded like the negotiator didn’t like the Neodogs. Well, if he wasn’t happy with their performance, he should have gotten them better briefings, rather than getting all self-righteous about it. Still, the beasts were INCREDIBLY useful. He’d have to be a fool not to take them – even if that “empowered” bit did sound like any he bred or cloned wouldn’t have all the powers unless he could figure out how “Lord Sanwell” bestowed them. They could still be extremely useful though, both on the street and even on legitimate assignments. The change in operations was going to take some explaining, but he, and his organization, could adapt!
(Dr) “Well then, I’ll keep them.”
(Ikeran) “Very well. Outside of their monitoring responsibilities they will be at your disposal.”
Rameraz looked pleadingly at Ikeran from the back of the room, was ignored, and moved to take up his new position immediately behind and to the left of the Doctor – trotting at his new master’s heels.
He’d known he wasn’t very valuable – after all, the Neodog genetic design was public record and there hadn’t been much demand for Neodogs in Core before Kevin – but he hadn’t thought he’d been THAT wrong. Children would have died! How could the security of the operation be more important than that? Rescuing children was what the operation was all about!
Worse, he’d attacked a human, even if it had been in defense of human children, without being specifically authorized to do so – and later on he’d resisted human orders – and his action hadn’t been approved. The discipline for that was strict. No master wanted tendencies like that being passed on to the next generation, and the doctor was obviously an utterly ruthless control freak anyway. The doctor was a mass murderer of human children, and he’d already offended him.
Doctor Brenner didn’t really want to go home – after seeing the Living Galaxies, he’d kind of like to see more – but he needed to start getting his organization restructured and making mass purchase arrangements. A deal was a deal!
It was obvious enough that his new aide was pretty downcast. Normally he wouldn’t have cared – the creature was obviously going to be obedient regardless of how it was treated – but it was an opportunity to understand the creature a bit better.
(Dr) “What’s wrong?”
(Rameraz) “Er… You’re my master now. I tried to bite and fight you. I’m getting disciplined and fixed aren’t I?”
It was Dr Brenner’s turn to look blank for a moment… Ah, these creatures were still being selectively bred, and Rameraz was assuming that he’d just been classified as a failure and a bad dog. Personally, he would have blamed it on whoever was supposed to be in charge of handing out the assignments; the creature had made a remarkable attempt, and mostly succeeded, and would be responsible for his masters getting their hands on an awful lot of children (which they seemed to want), all in the face of quite impossible odds. His only point of failure had been due to not knowing that the local authorities couldn’t be relied on either. Could the creatures masters really be stupid enough not to realize what they had? All those powers coupled with a boundless self-sacrificing loyalty and enough obedience to stand still for that kind of mistreatment? What idiocy! And what a chance to start a real claim on the creatures loyalty coupled WITH a useful threat to hold in reserve! Besides… He might actually owe the beast a good turn. It had, however inadvertently, given him a chance at wealth and power in a fashion less messy than transplant surgery.
(Dr) “No, I’m going to feed you a steak and get you a soft dog bed.”
(Rameraz) “Really? Thank you Sir!
Rameraz didn’t quite understand – but he wasn’t going to press his luck or give his new master any reason to change his mind. Doctor Brenner was still a horrible monster of course, but as long as he was rescuing kids – even if he was being paid for it – that wasn’t something that Rameraz had any responsibility for judging. He wasn’t good at, or comfortable with, judging human beings anyway.
Doctor Brenner was a bit puzzled when he got around to examining the Neodog specifications. The maturation was kind of slow, and the five hundred year lifespan was rather a lot. What kind of civilization designed universes and built 120+ IQ’s and five hundred year lifespans into their pets? Still, he had two males and four females, and cloning systems. All he had to do was to get started.