Federation-Apocalypse Session 86b – Binding Words

   Behind them, Gelman had given up the pursuit for long enough to call Mr Leland and let him know what Marty had dragged his company into…

   However ironic it was that – out of all the things Marty had actually done – it was something that had happened behind his back that was finally catching up to him.

   Another notification had arrived for Marty while he’d been at his party; a legal notice forwarded from Battling Business World through Abigail’s Thralls. One custody agreement amendment, as authorized by the New York City family court and subject to review in six months. An injunction against unsupervised contact with Julia and all such contact at the option of Abigail Saunders-Tabard, justified by a failure to appear to answer allegations of moral turpitude.

   Marty couldn’t say he was surprised. He knew he was no moral paragon, and he’d never been one! But damn! Plus, while he was having that party… Did karma normally work that fast? And now this business with Gelman… Still, that was only partially his fault at best! He was pretty sure that he could still do something about the slaving-mess, but the custody order was another matter entirely.

   Still, at least Kevin seemed to be upset too, if not quite so outraged. That was people from core though; always too damned reasonable.

   Well, if he couldn’t fix it, and got fired over it, he had a whole multiverse to work in! Talk about ultimate job flexibility! But damn, Julia… He should have been there more.

   Ikeran was currently reviewing reports from the Linear Realms. He popped up to attention and bowed when Kevin and Marty came storming in…

(Ikeran) “My lords! I am honored!”

(Marty) “Yeah? What’s this I hear about you outright KIDNAPPING kids?”

(Ikeran) “Sir? I just arranged for them to be purchased once they were captured!”

(Marty) “Oh, captured! That makes it better!”

(Ikeran) “I think it’s better than being used as toys and organ donors Sir!”

(Marty) “Well yeah, but like they had any choice in being captured! It’s not like giving them the offer!”

(Kevin) “Yes it’s better than being killed! But that would have been what, a hundred or so a day? You’ve made direct arrangements to pay people to kidnap more kids and to buy all they can catch! That’s not a rescue operation, or even purchasing kids who are already enslaved! Did you ever consider trying to do something about the syndicates rather than turning them into employees!?! And why did you assign six Neodog Thralls to a mass murderer of children? You know what kind of power that will give him!”

   Kevin had to pause there… He had to admit that buying slaves was actually pretty gray, since it did encourage the slavers – but dammit, it wasn’t like he was a big part of the market, and buying kids that had already been enslaved by the local system, and were usually legally up for sale on the market, was (somehow) a lot different from hiring people to snatch kids from worlds with no legal slavery! Setting up your own slave trade was a lot worse than just picking up some kids who would be slaves ANYWAY.

   Marty had been getting a better look at the entry on the “good doctor” while Kevin was on a tear – but the silence let him get a word in.

(Marty) “Wait a minute… What a bastard! He thinks he’s HELPING these kids? I’ll gut him myself!”

(Ikeran) “There would be others! I thought it would be best to try and get them to stop and sell kids to us rather than murdering them Sir!”

(Marty) “How about I gut you instead? My most experienced home colleague is pissed, my wife isn’t letting me see my kid, and I missed my chance to bed women today!”

(Ikeran) “If I was wrong, it is only right that I should be punished Sir!”

(Marty) “Yeah, I would do that… but you’re still a kid.”

(Ikeran) “I came of age almost three years ago Sir!”

(Marty slumped into a chair) “Well, we’re going to have to get those dogs back, or at least stop the flow of kids.”

(Kevin) “Hm. You don’t think much of the Neodogs do you?”

(Ikeran) “Rameraz acted very foolishly Sir! He risked the security of the entire operation for four children, when that would increase the risk to many thousands! In addition, after a known security breach, he hesitated to take the necessary actions to escape and that led to the capture of another five – although they were equally foolish to allow it!”

(Marty) “And you gave him to a murdering butcher.”

(Ikeran) “Yes Sir! Operatives and liaisons needed to be assigned to put an end to the organ transplant industry in the Linear Realms and they had already proved their incompetence elsewhere!”

(Marty) “What do you think he’s going to do with exotic animals from an advanced society?”

(Ikeran) “Probably use them to help cover his criminal organization and the capture and transport of children Sir! He probably won’t try to breed them though, since they can tell him how long they take to mature and twenty-odd years is almost certainly too long to be useful. He might fix them to prevent the distraction I suppose, but it’s not like they’ve proven effective anyway!”

(Marty) “Listen, kid, you haven’t seen as many bad sci-fi flicks as I have. Mad scientists don’t think about practical things. He’s going to breed them. That’s what they DO.”

(Ikeran) “Well, they’re only talking dogs without the Thrall-powers Sir!”

(Marty) “He’ll find SOME use for them. And guess who management will blame?”

(Kevin, considering Ikeran) “You act like Rameraz had a real choice about whether or not to try and rescue those four kids. He didn’t. Property-class Neodogs are COMPELLED to protect and obey humans. That’s one reason they’re property; it’s because it means that a human is always responsible for their care! They NEVER had a choice, which is why I’d feel guilty about mistreating them – unlike you. YOU had a choice and opted to serve in exchange for your powers!”

   Ikeran was looking a bit confused… He was from Baelaria – a far more ruthless world than Core – and the Neodogs were just DOGS. So they talked. Familiars talked, and that didn’t make them PEOPLE.

(Marty, to Kevin) “Are talking dogs so common there that he DOESN’T think they’re worth respecting?”

(Kevin) “What? You remember Baelaria. That Victorian steampunk place with the mages guild. Only normal dogs there.”

(Marty) “Ugh, my brain… What ARE we going to do?”

(Kevin) “Urgh… He’s 10% right. This does keep the organleggers from killing more kids – but it puts us so far in the wrong doing it that it’s hard to measure the distance to the surface!”

(Ikeran) “Then I should be severely punished Masters!”

   Marty STILL had trouble hurting kids – but he was inclined to have the kid explain himself to Gelman and let the good Lord sort it out. He could at least let Gelman know that he’d done this with neither Kevin nor Marty’s permission.

   Kevin could see his point – but that would put Gelman in the position of brutalizing a kid… That wasn’t fair either. Hmm… First up; a learning experience.

(Kevin) Ikeran.. You obviously don’t appreciate what the Neodogs have to deal with in the way of mental compulsions or how well they do despite those limitations. I’m changing your base species and damping your shapeshifting.

   Kevin pointed – and a crackling sphere of energy left behind one Neodog. He’d never paid much attention to dog breeds, so he left that up to Marty’s input – and Marty suggested the smallest practical (given the need to support the brain) hairless. It might be a bit petty, but he thought that Ikeran SHOULD look a little stupid.

(Kevin) Now, you’ll need a smartcollar, and appropriate shots and such – and a new assignment.

(Marty) “Here, have a chew toy. You jerk.”

   Ikeran judged it wiser not to say anything at the moment – and had a lot of new instincts to deal with – so he simply took the chew toy.

(Kevin) We’ll have to limit your responsibilities to where you can’t do any damage for awhile, but I’m sure there’s some job you’re up to out there. I’d put you on child-rescue in the Linear Realms, but I suspect that you wouldn’t actually be much use there. Anything else come to mind Marty?

(Marty) “Could have him do computer work. Neodogs do that. And it’s TEDIOUS.”

(Kevin) “True – but something where humans order him around a lot and he has to keep coming to the rescue would fit… How about to the staff who’re working the madness-meme treatment projects?

(Marty) “Great idea! He can learn some empathy!”

(Kevin) “Empathy… Ikeran? What did you think that this “Doctor Brenner” was likely to do to Rameraz?”

(Ikeran) “Er… He’d gotten the man into trouble, forced him to expend his resources, defied, and attacked him. Severely disciplined at the least. Probably fixed Sir!”

(Marty) “So you were more worried about the mad doctor than the dog? Whose side are you on?”

(Ikeran) “No sir! But I thought that the dog had severely fumbled an operation, and if he was punished for it, it would be no more than he deserved – and if it soothed the murderous doctor without him hurting any more children, that would be a bonus Sir!”

(Marty sighed) “Yeah, the kid’s right. But boy, that solution is troublesome!”

(Kevin) “I don’t really think Rameraz fumbled it… He didn’t really have a choice about the initial intervention and managed to pull it off. If he’d known how corrupt the local authorities were – which SHOULD have been a part of his briefing – he could have turned in some news films and such and made it impossible for Doctor Brenner to get off the hook so easily! It’s not like his Smartcollar didn’t have pictures, and we could have provided any amount of video from that with the processing capacity going to waste on Kadia! As for the murderous doctor… I don’t think it’s necessary to cool down an ice cube!”

(Marty) “Yeah, we can handle an intervention to save a bunch of Neodogs… You REALLY should have told us about this.”

(Ikeran) “You weren’t in touch Sir! You were in the Crusader Kingdoms!”

(Kevin) “For THIS you should have made an emergency call!”

(Marty – with heavy sarcasm) “Yeah, he could have done it, but Rameraz was a bad dog.”

(Kevin) “Damn… He’s made a bargain on our behalf, and left Rameraz and five other Neodogs in the lurch. At least the Doctor apparently doesn’t know about the immortality – and I’ll tell them not to let him know.”

(Marty) “What else are we going to do?”

(Kevin) “Well, first… Ikeran… I’ve heard what you thought you were sending Rameraz into, and you really ARE a bad dog and a failure now. When you get to medical, tell them to give you the same treatment you thought you were sending Rameraz into. Get over there now.”

(Kevin, to the computers) Remind me to see how he’s getting along in about twenty years. Damn it, it may not be one either of us would have made, but we have a contract! Any ideas here Marty?”

   Marty was a bit startled. He’d known that Kevin always kept his bargains and contracts – but it wasn’t like HE was exactly fond of breaking contracts either. He’d read up a bit on supernatural pacters and the fey, but it had been kind of hard to take it seriously… was Kevin really supernaturally bound by his oaths and promises? That HAD to be a pain in the ass!

   Kevin was busy placing some general orders; from now on, any deals of this – or even remotely similar – magnitude had to be approved by Marty or himself in advance!

(Marty) “Dammit, we can’t break it. How am I going to explain this to my people?”

(Kevin) “My parents are going to kill me!”

   Marty had to give him a look at that one. Was he really listening to himself? Even if he hadn’t been legally an adult, he wasn’t really within reach of his parents discipline any longer on any level beyond the social… Oh well. Arrested aging obviously had it’s downsides, and there was no arguing with what went through people’s heads under stress. Personally, he needed a drink.

   Fast-chugging a few quarts of high-proof helped for a few minutes – but he recovered too quickly for that to work for long. Fortunately, the system could provide it very quickly.

(Kevin) “Did I overdo it with Ikeran there?”

   Marty thought about that for a moment… Ikeran was going to spend quite some time as a dog, on the bottom of even the dog social ladder. On the other hand, he’d made a horrible mess – and all by not looking into doing his job properly. Too much blind belief and not enough understanding.

(Marty) “No, you didn’t.”

(Kevin) “I could put some regular thralls into Neodog form and try and trade them for Rameraz and the others. They knew they might be rented out to use as familiars and such when they signed up, so at least they had a choice about it… He’d still try to breed them for pups though, wouldn’t he? And the shapeshift is complete enough for that.”

(Marty) “Send the ones who can control their fertility. That should work.”

(Kevin) “Well, they can all do that. We can probably bribe the evil doctor into it with a few more Thralls; the Neodog maturation rate really is too slow for his kind of operation… That still leaves us responsible for mass kidnaping and enslavement-turned-indenture though!”

(Marty) “Yeah, and Gelman is not going to be amused by ‘he’s bound by his oaths.’ Dammit, I should have sided with him! If he hadn’t lost his department, he would have stayed back home!”

   Well, really, that probably wouldn’t have been the case; a man as smart as your typical sentient computer would have put two and two together eventually – but Marty was kind of depressed at the moment; things had never caught up with him all at once this way before!

(Kevin) “Blast it… Can’t do much about the payment scheme – that’s already agreed on – and it does save some kids lives, even if it means kidnaping a lot more. Not much alternative to shipping them to Kadia… Charging people purchased as slaves their purchase price is also standard procedure.”

(Marty) “So you’re saying we can’t do a damn thing, or close to it.”

(Kevin) “Well…. There’s dry up the sources – but that’s long range. There’s eliminate the syndicates. We could probably get enough information shortly to do that, but it would be being pretty treacherous… Wait… How much is the purchase price on them?”

(Marty) “Thinking of buying them up?”

(Kevin) “No, there was something in that contract… they were being paid for with supplies of smartfibers, either as smartclothes or collars…”

   Fortunately, Doctor Brenner had had a very exaggerated idea of the monetary value of smartclothes, hadn’t wanted to disrupt civilization too much, and hadn’t wanted to flood the market – and Ikeran hadn’t been wholly incompetent. The “good doctor” had agreed to provide three kids in exchange for each set of Smartclothes.

(Kevin) “Ha! It’s not ideal, but there is something we can do here!”

(Marty) “What?”

(Kevin) “Indenture them until they’ve paid for one-third of a suit of Smartclothes!”

(Marty) “How much is that?”

(Kevin) “About eight credits! The “welcome basket” credit for arriving in Kadia is ten!”

   Marty had to grin at that one. That was true… Core tended to give away Smartclothes. Ikeran had been ethically challenged, and blindly fanatic, but he hadn’t been stupid enough to miss an opening that broad.

(Marty) “Yeah, that should work.”

(Kevin) “Lets see… I’ll call it a 2 2/3’rd credit bonus for the first time someone listens to the recruiting spiel… We’ll still be responsible for kidnaping them, and for paying off the thugs who are doing it – but I think I can live with trading “a few kids get snatched and killed” for “twenty times as many kids get snatched and have to listen to a speech before going on vacation”!

(Marty) “I can hear it now, though: ‘Well, Tabard, you solved the problem . . . in the laziest way possible.’ But what the hell, it’s better than just keeping them enslaved.”

(Kevin) “I suppose it is unfair to indenture youngsters who were snatched by pirates and such – but somehow the second-hand snatch is a lot easier to live with than ‘we’re funding a mass kidnaping operation’. I ought to reduce their indentures a good deal too. It’s not really like ‘money’ means much when you have the resources of the Manifold available to pay with.”

(Marty) “Hey, watch it, pal! You say that where I’m from, and you’ll get pummeled!”

(Kevin) “Sorry… It’s just that… well… I built a universe! That’s a pretty big financial base!”

(Marty) “Heh. Maybe I should look into this ‘god’ business.”

(Kevin) “I really ought to find out more about how it works myself!”

   Kevin went off to make some arrangements – and Marty headed back to his penthouse, and another drink. He wasn’t so sure about these deals any longer… The wrath of his more moral and ethical colleague had made him a bit leery of them Of course, since Kevin couldn’t back out of the deal, and he was Kevin’s partner, he was stuck!

   About that time Gelman managed to get through on the network.

(Gelman). THERE YOU ARE! It took a little sweet-talking, but this system finally put me through to you! What are you and that satanic “Lord Sanwell” character up to! What have you done to FIX THIS MESS!”

   Marty explained to him, emphasizing that “Lord Sanwell” couldn’t break his contracts…

(Gelman) “Then he should be a lot more careful of what contracts he makes shouldn’t he!”

   The boy literally COULDN’T break his contracts? Could this really be Satan in person?

   Marty had to agree there.

(Marty) “Yeah, he should!”

   Gelman wasn’t exactly happy with the situation – but at least something was being done about the worst of the abuses. Besides… Perhaps there was hope for both Marty AND “Lord Sanwell”. They’d recognized when they’d gotten involved in a genuinely grotesque abuse, and had promptly done something about it. Not what he would have done – but it was better than he’d really expected.

   They evidently weren’t entirely lost to morality. That meant that there was something there to work with.

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Federation-Apocalypse Session 86a – Contracts

   Back in his Kadia penthouse, Marty was feeling vaguely guilty, and resenting it. He really hadn’t meant to upset Abigail that way, and he’d certainly meant well. Her spotting and resenting the Thrall-bodyguards was about par for the course – he should have realized that most of the Thralls probably wouldn’t be much better at intentional deception than Kevin was – but she ought to give him SOME credit! He’d been looking after Julia! It would serve her right if he went somewhere right off the communications grid and did something downright immoral!

   Wait-a-moment… He needed a bit of a break anyway after that mess in the Crusader Kingdoms. That Drow city had offered a pretty impressive variety of ways to misbehave. He could go and visit the place – or at least the new version on the surface (what was it they’d called it? Twilight Forest? Oh yes; “Barrataur”) – and let Limey out of the backpack to play for a bit! The kid was probably bored and itching to get out anyway!

   It’d be an indirect sort of counterstrike, but Marty abruptly decided to pick up a few more girls. Elera and Minel were very talented, lots of fun, and the shapeshifting made sure that things never got old, but picking up a few more would show Abigail that she had no right to upset him! Besides… his identity in the Forgotten Realms was a bard, and everyone knew what bards were like. He could have some hedonistic groupies and some musical backup too!

   He’d hung around Kevin and Core enough that the inherent “does-not-follow” errors in that line of reasoning would have been apparent if he’d thought about it – but that just made sure that he didn’t.

   Hm. He was going to a Drow – OK, “Dark Elf” – city. Ergo, elves – or people who could readily look like elves – rather than getting too outre. Hm… He’d gotten eight more pockets during the first visit, ergo another eight girls.

   Funny, he hadn’t thought about that impulse in quite a while. Had he really been settling down with just two girls? What had been happening to him?

   He also hadn’t used the rooftop garden and pavilion much although the gardens – like the rest of the place, including the apartments, workships, practice rooms, labs, medical clinic, and all – had been placed at his disposal. He just wasn’t used to having quite so much space, or quite so many facilities, all to himself… (Were there really people out there who actually needed a personal museum?) He had a desk and a casting couch set up by the pavilion and put out a casting call in Kadia and Waterdeep. Hmm… How to phrase it?

“Bard seeks entertaining companionship for a trip to Barrataur. Must be attractive, open-minded, and elven”. That was simple, direct, and would probably suffice. Hey, he’d even let Limey pick a couple out! It would keep him involved and give him something to do!

   OK, so the Kadia version would pretty obviously be from “Lord Tabard” and the responders in Kadia would certainly read “elven” as “willing to look elven” – but the people of Waterdeep and it’s environs didn’t have a global computer net to use for references.

   Marty had seriously underestimated how many Thralls – and Neodogs, and not a few youngsters from Core, for that matter – desperately wanted to work directly under either Kevin or Himself. If the computer systems hadn’t automatically limited the number allowed to turn up to a few hundred there would have been ten thousand or more in line within a few hours.

   Most of them were human Thralls of course, although there were quite a few Neodogs and Neodog Thralls (mostly in anthropomorphic forms) – along with a scattering of kids who’d been visiting Kadia and would either like some excitement or who wanted to meet him.

   Marty was kind of startled when he checked on the number of applicants and opened the auditions. He had to admit that renown was nice – and quite a few of the Thralls were making their eagerness to serve him in any way he would like pretty obvious. Well, the Thralls REALLY wanted to serve Kevin and his associates… Ur… He had to inform the Neodogs that they weren’t qualified.

   He was nice about it – he liked dogs, and the Neodogs were even more fluffy-friendly-devoted than normal dogs – but they pretty BLATANTLY weren’t elves, even if some of them had pointy ears. They looked at him with big eyes and – when that didn’t work – went off to spend their afternoon doing something else. It was amazing how they could make you feel guilty that way. It was the helpless-needy-childish-innocent routine or something.

   Most of the non-thrall kids seemed to be looking for membership in a musical group, or possibly for a chance to go adventuring. Of course, when Marty informed them that his trip was off Kadia, most of them didn’t have parental permission for that – and didn’t want to risk actually being killed. That pretty much left the Thralls.

   One young man had quietly and efficiently helped him pass the word to the Neodogs and kids. Marty kind of hated to tell the youngster that he was only interested in females. He didn’t swing towards men…

(Boy) “Oh… Why didn’t you say so in your ad Sir?”

(Marty) “Bit of an oversight, I’m afraid.”

(Boy) “I’ll pass the word Sir!”

   The kid trotted off, got the line organized, and separated out the males. A few moments later – now that they Thralls were clear on what Lord Marty was looking for – he had an entirely female and (since they could switch the Smartclothes into a belt, collar, or harness configuration with a quick mental command) naked audition line.

   Most of the males quietly departed – but a few hung around hopefully, and the one boy turned up again…

(Boy) “Will you be needing any harem attendants Sir? There will be fewer volunteers for that, but there will be at least a few since it would still mean direct service to you Sir!”

   Marty really wasn’t paying that much attention. The line of young women was pretty distracting; if he hadn’t had an overactive libido he – well, he wouldn’t have been him!

(Marty) “Sure, why not?”

(Boy) “Yes sir! I’ll pass the word right away!.. How many?”

(Marty) “Two should be plenty.”

(Boy) “Yes Sir!”

   The girls, of course, were competing to see who could be the most enticing. Unsurprisingly, as a male, Marty was throughly enjoying that. He hadn’t realized that he’d been missing doing this sort of thing!

   Most of the remaining male Thralls cleared out while Marty was distracted, although a few – including the first boy – only went downstairs and returned a few minutes later once they had their qualifications as attendant-applicants in order. He wound up with sixteen possible attendants bustling around – competing amongst themselves to see who could best organize the line, sort the girls, and cater Marty’s private party.

   They were quiet, unobtrusive, and efficient enough that the only reason Marty really noticed them was that they were still dressed. Unsurprisingly, the first boy who’d popped up was probably the most efficient at it – but one of the others was a close runner-up. Marty took a few moments out from looking over the girls – after all, a bit of anticipation made things all the sweeter – and beckoned those two over.

(Boy) “Yes Sir?!”

(Marty) “You two make the cut. You’re in.”

(Boy) “Thank you sir! I’m Turvin Sir! He’s (there was a barely-perceptible pause for telepathy) Amsian. We’ve (another momentary pause) now been assigned to your service! Do you want your current houseboy grouped with us Sir?”

(Marty raised an eyebrow… Why did grouping matter?) “In the ‘servant’ group?”

(Turvin) “In the harem attendant group sir!”

   Oh, expected to focus their attention on organizing the girls… Naw, Kelian was doing a bang-up job as a houseboy and social secretary; he was fine where he was.

(Marty) “Nah, let’s keep him in his current group.”

   A few hours later, Marty had sorted the line down to six who were just perfect for his tastes and a dozen runners-up that it was hard to choose between for the last two slots. Well, he had said that he’d let Limey pick a couple. Of course, sentient devices didn’t exactly judge things by human standards…

(Limey) “But you sent away the neodoggies! And there are no werepuppies here at the moment!”

(Marty) “Oh, right.”

   Limey would have been looking for someone to play with. Oh well; it wasn’t like that would be beyond most of the Thralls.

   Marty made his selections – whether consciously or not – on the girls NOT looking like Abigail. Turvin efficiently had the runners-up assigned to Marty’s penthouse to await his return – an order which Marty, unsurprisingly, elected not to countermand.

   The private rooftop garden – just above the penthouse level – with it’s semi-outdoor arrangement, force-field roof and furniture, pavilion and stage area, grass, trees, privacy-screens of trained bushes, careful landscaping, attendants, and assortment of naked girls in compromising positions was (of course) a perfect place for a party.

   Marty had been enjoying himself for some time when Kelian popped up discretely…

(Kelian) “Sir? A Mr Gelman is on his way up to see you Sir. “

(Marty) “Wait a minute . . . Gelman?”

   What? Gelman? (How did Gelman even find out… oh, wait a minute, he’s as bright as most sentient devices. Dammit.

   Seeing that the girl Marty was currently involved with was doing her best to hold his attention for the moment, Turvin headed off to hold up Mr Gelman for a bit and divert him to the penthouse while Ovsana made a few biological adjustments to ensure that Marty would get her pregnant. Marty hadn’t issued any verbal instructions either way – but she, like the others, had easily picked up on the fact that Marty would kind of like some more children of his own, and it was a concubine’s duty to bear them.

   Besides, it was fun.

   Marty didn’t see any point in hiding what he was doing… Gelman probably suspected as much anyway, and disliked him to begin with. Still, there was no point in flaunting things… He had the girls put their smartclothes back into “clothing” mode (Gelman was touchy about modesty), sent them to pick out living quarters and get settled in – and headed on down.

   At least Gelman wasn’t Abigail! Gelman could keep his temper in check.

   Turvin was still carefully chatting with Gelman – but it looked like even a Thrall with social talents and Witchcraft was having a hard time keeping things calm… What was up?

   Gelman gave him such a look when he came in.

(Gelman) “Tabard… Do you actually know what you’re doing? Have you really looked it or thought about it? Over the past two days, Amarant Solutions has purchased better than twelve thousand ENSLAVED CHILDREN – apparently mostly kidnaping victims! Are you actually willing to associate yourself with that? And what kind of “casting call” was that you just put out?”

   Oh just great. Leland had sent the moral voice of the company as his partner. One of the people who was more skilled at debate than he was too!

(Marty) “You looked at the worlds they’re coming from, right? A lot of those places are going around the cosmic toilet, full of anarchy and dictatorship, or worse. And it’s not like they HAD to take the deal.”

(Gelman) “I’m not talking about the voluntary recruits! As dubious as that is! I’m talking about the ones who arrive here because YOU PEOPLE PAID KIDNAPERS FOR SLAVES! The ones who get put on “PURCHASE PLANS” to buy their freedom if they don’t sign up!”

   Marty frowned… Kevin had made a routine of buying any ensouled enslaved youngsters they’d run across – and keeping an eye out for possibilities was a part of every business offices standard routine – but that seemed like quite an upswing. The more agents they had out, the more prospects they’d pick up of course, but still. Had something changed?

(Marty) “Damn, that’s a big upswing. I mean, I was fine with it in small amounts, from worlds where the offer was better than what they were getting.”

(Gelman) “WHAT OFFER! ARE YOU ACTUALLY LISTENING? THESE KIDS AREN’T GETTING A CHOICE! THEY’RE BEING SNATCHED AND SOLD TO YOU! AS SLAVES! WHETHER OR NOT THEY TAKE “LORD SANWELL’S” (he makes that sound like a horrible curse) ‘DEAL!’”

   Wow… He’d actually made Gelman yell! He could count the number of times that he’d done that on one hand, and he’d made angering Gelman his hobby… Wait, that wasn’t good.

(Gelman) “IF THEY DON’T TAKE IT AFTER THEY’RE HERE, THEN THEY HAVE TO BUY THEMSELVES BACK WITH DECADES OF WORK!”

   Well… Yeah. Paying back their purchase price was the way Kevin had been working it. Looking at it, that had always seemed more symbolic than anything else. He let them send for funds (and provided the messengers and an investigation to make sure that they weren’t being bought back to make sure they were permanently disposed of), took IOU’s from kids from Core and other worlds that were reasonably likely to actually pay, returned kids that were too young gratis, and even routinely offered them a choice of jobs and worlds – complete with an evaluation of how easy escape would be in each (see Session 28). Escaping from Kadia to Core wasn’t exactly hard – and these days most of the “jobs” were things like “run a carnival game for four hours a day” and both paid decently AND provided all the benefits of being in Kadia!

   Yeah, it was still more than a bit gray morally, but it wasn’t like they were sacrificing screaming children to evil gods or sending people out to snatch them! What would be upsetting Gelman so? Had something seriously changed?

(Marty) “Whoa. Gelman, don’t get your yarmulke in a bunch. The number of slaves has always been smaller than that. Tell me what’s going on. I’ve been gone the past few days!”

   It took him a moment to realize that Gelman had picked him up with one hand and slammed him against the wall. That shouldn’t have been POSSIBLE given the safety systems – and there was an alarm going. Elara, Minel, Turvin, and Kelian were tensing to intervene.

   Oh fuck! Had Gelman hacked into the system or was this another manifestation of his rapport with sentient devices?

(Marty) “Stay back, kids! That man is not as weak as he looks!”

(Gelman) “THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHARGING FOR A RESCUE AND CHARGING THEM FOR THE COST OF PAYING FOR SOMEONE TO KIDNAP THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE! AND THEN CHARGING THEM FOR IT!!!”

   This was BAD. Gelman-GELMAN-was infuriated beyond the point of rationality! What the HELL could be going on? He couldn’t let the kids get involved in this! Gelman might beat him up or kill him – but it looked like he was actually working up to a lecture-with-beating!

   Well, he was wearing smartclothes of his own; he put in a query – just as the wall he was pinned against started to ripple like it was made of water… How… A lot of the building was a force-field structure, like most of the architecture in core. There was just enough real framing to hold in case of a power failure. Was Gelman unconsciously influencing the building systems? What could put Gelman into this kind of fury? It had to be a real atrocity! Curse his friendship with sentient devices! – And thank God that Limey was off playing with some Neodogs! In this state Limey might have sided with Gelman.

   The answer was pretty appalling; it looked like one of the subdivisions had made a deal while he and Kevin had been busy in the Crusader Kingoms – paying the syndicates of the Linear Realms for the mass kidnaping, enslavement, and transport to Kadia of illegal and runaway kids. Of course, once they got to Kadia, they were considered indenture-slaves.

   WHAT?!?

   The systems provided the records – and Marty found an expression of horror on his face. Surely SOMEONE had exceeded their authority for that! He had to get away from Gelman, notify Kevin, and do something to straighten this out!

   Well, the nearest window was only a few feet away – and he still had enough control over the security system to open and shut it. The system was reporting a… “Reality Malfunction”? What in HELL had Gelman gotten ahold of? Was it possible to simply be so angry that reality started to warp around you? Was he actually channeling the Wrath of God? He would have laughed if he hadn’t had an atrocity and a very angry Conservative Jew on his hands.

(Gelman) “YOU’RE IN CHARGE OF BUSINESS AFFAIRS AROUND HERE! THIS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!”

(Marty) “I’m on it!”

   Marty kicked in every speed booster he had on hand and departed through the window. Hopefully Gelman hadn’t acquired any similar tricks; he was already pissed off from the accounting incident.

(Gelman) “YOU’RE NOT GETTING AWAY THAT EASILY!”

   Gelman – another native of Battling Business World – had no fear of leaping out the window after Marty, but Marty was confident that he could outrun him. Now, outwitting him on the other hand… that was the trick! He notified Kevin as he was running – and was thankful that the Thralls in his penthouse had used Telekinesis to pull Gelman back in.

   Gelman’s Russian curses were literally curdling the air – part of it turned into something nasty and crawled away – and the carpet burst into flames. (Hoo boy. He’d never seen anyone except Abigail do THAT… And dammit, Abigail was friends with Gelman! That was just Great! The two strongest people HE knew were out for his blood!

   Marty might have worried less if he’d known that Gelman had been assigned two Thralls, and – at least in Kadia, where the links were stronger – thus had access to Mana and Reality Editing without even knowing it. At the moment he was drawing on them out of sheet outrage.

   Man, Kevin better be at least annoyed by this!

   When he got Kevin on the line he was actually pretty startled. He hadn’t authorized hiring people to go out and kidnap and enslave kids! Just to buy any that turned up! It wasn’t like he could stop the slave trade across the Manifold.

(Marty) “Yeah, and my colleague is PISSED, too! He’s a religious type! I didn’t even think he’d make it here!”

(Kevin) “Wait, he’s religious, and ensouled, and you set him up to work next to the Balrog of Moria? That’s kind of cold Marty!”

(Marty) “Hey, it was the boss’ idea! Who am I to say no? . . . Dammit, Mr. Leland has a sick sense of humor.”

(Kevin) “One of these days we’d better check on the Balrog too… But that’s a diversion! We’d better review this and have a talk with this “Ikeran” kid! It looks like he brokered this!”

(Marty) “We need a safe place, behind as many force fields and secure systems as possible.”

(Kevin) “Oh, come on Marty! This is Kadia! I’m pretty sure I can handle whatever he’s gotten ahold of HERE.”

(Marty) “You’re right, I guess…”

   Marty remembered when HE was the weaker of the two.

Kevin was pretty confident in his power level in Kadia. After all, he was it’s creator god – and Marty remembered that in a few seconds.

(Marty) “Yeah, definitely right. So where’s this Ikeran? He’s made my day suck.”

   Kevin and Marty took a flit headed for Ikeran – which was a bit silly, since he worked for them and could be called in on a whim, but converging on him seemed to be a mutual impulse… It was only a few minutes anyway. The population of Kadia wasn’t all that spread out yet and flits could easily handle near-mach speeds.

   Marty was glad to be on the flit. He could run pretty fast, but it got tiring after a while.

   By the time they’d gotten there, they’d both at least skimmed over the information and the contract.