By the time Marty got back to his penthouse, Gelman was long gone and the mess was cleared away (blast it; he never had found out anything about what had gotten into Gelman to let him do those things).
He tried to finish up his party – and the girls made a valiant effort to distract him – but he was too unnerved to really have much fun.
That had been the ANGRIEST that he’d ever seen Gelman. That had been ex-wife level fury – and he knew that the man was patient and methodical. Qualities that he lacked in copious amounts…
Still, even he realized that the Syndicate Contract had been a pretty grotesque abuse. No worse than a lot of things in history – but when you were reduced to that comparison, you were already pretty far gone.
Kevin was having some trouble with it too. He, like most people, had never really thought about the exact limits of what he considered acceptable. That was always an uncomfortable topic and, in most cases, a bit of fuzziness hurt nothing – but with swarms of agents acting for him, it was past time to really give it some thought.
What was definitely acceptable?
He had no trouble with owning and using people who were past the age of consent, competent, had fully understood what they were getting into, and had voluntarily accepted his contract without undue duress – like the Thralls he’d picked up in Crusader or on Baelaria or so many other places. For the duration of their contracts, they were property, albeit property that was entitled to decent treatment.
He certainly had no trouble with owning people who challenged him, and knew the possible consequences, like would-be rivals in the Dragonworlds. They were property until it suited him to let them go – and if that didn’t happen, well, they’d known that might happen and that they’d been risking their lives, not just their freedom.
He didn’t have a problem with purchasing and indenturing people who had been old enough to be sensible, not otherwise disadvantaged, and had gotten themselves into trouble – like the Core kids he’d picked up in the Underdark, the ones who’d been old enough to opt out but had gone along with visits to the Roman Imperium and wound up in the arena, or the ones who bet themselves into an indenture in Kadia.
He hadn’t had a problem with selling the minotaurs in Samurai Jack world, or the phantasms he’d taken away from the bandits as Arriken, or even that ensouled brat he’d taken from the demon… Ah. He’d drastically improved their prospects – but he didn’t feel obliged to make everyone’s life perfect (particularly if they were annoying – but that was just being human).
He was a bit dubious about buying people who’d been kidnaped, captured by pirates, or acquired by the roman legions, through no fault of their own though – or about people that he captured – but sometimes there seemed to be nothing wrong with it, other times it was just WRONG…
Ah. Trafficking in slaves and involuntarily indenturing ensouled people was all right PROVIDED that:
He reduced “slavery” to a “decently treated indenture with a reasonable level of work”.
He either had nothing to do with getting them captured if they hadn’t been born into slavery OR was rescuing them from far worse.
He wasn’t a major factor in keeping the market going in a given world. That was easy enough given that ensouled slaves were usually a tiny, tiny, minority.
He gave them chances to escape and chances to earn their freedom in a reasonable amount of time – AND made sure that they knew it.
He offered them the chance to send for help or money to pay off their indentures.
He took good care of them – just like a dependent would be cared for in Core.
He made sure they had chances to improve themselves.
He made sure that their indenture terms were reasonable – and made sure that they came out of them no worse off and not much older than when they’d started.
He DIDN’T deal in ensouled youngsters – except to free and either care for them or send them home gratis – if they were too young to be responsible for themselves.
OK, the rules for phantasms were a bit looser – but phantasms were everywhere, and there were always more to suit any world or situation.
There was probably more – and perhaps he should write a few of those terms and rights into his contracts – but that would do to start with.
It was unfair to ask to be paid if he hadn’t actually helped, or had only been fixing a mess he’d caused in the first place, if the power he was using to help wasn’t his own, or if the people being helped were too young or old or injured (or whatever) to help themselves – but if he helped with something that wasn’t his fault, and people could pay for that assistance, asking for a fee was reasonable enough.
People did not value what they did not pay for. And the darkness always demanded a price.
Now that he had THAT straightened out, it was time to see about spreading the word that the local authorities in the Linear Realms might be highly corrupt, and could not necessarily be relied upon, and about trading some regular thralls to Doctor Brenner in exchange for Rameraz and the other Neodogs that Ikeran had turned over to him. With proper presentation, Doctor Brenner could probably be gotten to see that as an upgrade to “models” that COULD attack human beings – a special favor in appreciation of the large numbers of kids he’d been providing.
In fact, that turned out to be easy enough. Doctor Brenner reminded Kevin a bit of the High Lord of the Five Worlds; he saw anything that looked to be to his advantage as being obviously his proper due – and the ability to attack humans would be a major boost to their usefulness; he was more than willing to trade. Given how slow they were to breed, he was even willing to accept the “no breeding” restriction too; it wasn’t as if they’d try to say no cloning-with-genetic-meddling.
Apparently he’d been planning to use them as bodyguards and personal aides anyway.
Rameraz and the other five got a personal interview with Kevin, and lots of reassurance that they had done the right thing, and had done very well, and that Ikeran had been wrong and had been relieved of authority for negotiating and reassigned.
Given that Marty had been right – Brenner had promptly had them start some pups – he also made it a point to assure them that he (Kevin) was looking forward to seeing the pups because he was sure that they were going to be very superior neodogs.
Kevin had been rather impressed anyway. Finding a way to save a kid who’d just had his heart cut out in the face of a locked door and three hostile guards – without even a medical kit – was fairly impressive in his book even without throwing in saving the other three who were in there at the same time. He’d get a sharp rise in his social status with the other Neodogs, simply because Kevin had called him in for a personal interview and directly praised him – but some other reward seemed in order.
A new chew toy – even one made to look like Doctor Brenner – really didn’t seem like enough. More luxury credits and some special presents and such were definitely in order.
There was one good thing: Doctor Brenner had drastically underestimated Smartclothes. He didn’t realize how much in the way of monitoring systems they had – or how deeply programmed they could be. Not only would passing them out allow Kevin’s agents to monitor the Syndicates, but they could be equipped with educational functions and psychology expert programs. With any luck, the syndicates could gradually be recruited into more acceptable positions elsewhere – making the Linear Realms a slightly better to live in at the same time.
It was still a bargain with MANY downsides, but at least that made the long-term prospects a bit easier to live with.
Kevin didn’t tell Rameraz that he’d sent in human thralls to replace him and the other Neodogs since they had a lot more freedom of action; Rameraz and the others would have been appalled at putting human kids in dog-form and putting them at Brenner’s disposal. It was the same reason that he wasn’t telling them that he’d punished Ikeran directly. Between a Core education and an instinctive dedication to serving humans, they’d probably have objected.
Did it say something really bad when your pets were more ethical than you were? Or was that just typical for Neodogs?