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.
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.