When Marty got back that evening Limey was pestering the local Thralls for Scrolls too much on, playing, and listening to all the Drow teaching stories – although some of them seemed a bit off to him.
Marty found him a few more scrolls to eat.
(Limey) “Whee! Lots of spells! I don’t know about these stories though! Most of them wind up with backstabbing, or other nastiness!”
(Marty) “Yeah, don’t listen to those.”
(Limey) “OK! Can I have a werepuppy? You said I could pick someone, but I didn’t get to!”
(Marty) “Nah, and I think I’m going to be cutting down on my people. It’s not good to have people as property!”
(Limey) “But you said! And they all volunteered! You even ordered people fed to werepuppies and had a lot of the werepuppies collared, chained, caged, and branded with silver! You got to have them, why can’t I?”
(Marty) “Because I wasn’t thinking about ethics at the time. I was being a jerk – and it’s not like you were an angel either.”
(Limey) “No fair! I don’t want to be all grown up yet!”
(Marty) “You can still be a kid sentient device. You just can’t be a horrible slaver like I’ve been – or a selfish jerk. I’ve been bad about that too… My God, what kind of role model have I BEEN to you?”
(Limey) “I think you’re over-fussing! You let Mr Gelman get you all upset! You got an exception error, you fixed it, you put a patch on! No reason to throw out your entire operating system!”
(Marty) “The man had some good points, little buddy. I HAVEN’T thought about what I’ve been doing. And I have been relying on the Thralls too much.”
(Limey) “Still silly! They’re almost all happy! Are you making things better?”
Limey began to suspect that he wasn’t going to get another werepuppy to go with the one from the pirate trip… He cared about Marty, but he still wanted another werepuppy! Marty had told him he could pick one!
(Marty) “As for werepuppies – you already have one! That’s enough. Just like these two in my pockets were always enough for me!”
(Limey) “You’ve got ten in your pockets now! And ten more waiting back at home! And three servants! That’s a prime number and has no factors! And it’s the atomic weight of…”
Limey wandered off into a riff on things with the value of 23. Well, he was a young computer.
(Marty) “Yeah, well, I’m cutting down to Elera and Minel. What the hell do I need with more than that?”
(Limey) “The others will be upset; you took them, and now you’re getting rid of them? Right after keeping them for a week?”
(Marty) “How long will they be upset?”
(Limey) “How would I know? There are things a good computer will do for you, and things it won’t! I found that on the internet!”
(Marty) “Well, everybody involved’s just going to have to live with it. Not like Kevin can’t find work for them.”
That was a bit of a dilemma though. What if they got assigned to risky jobs? Still, he didn’t HAVE to keep them as concubines, he could always use them as office staff or transfer them to other projects gradually. That would probably be best.
He thought about it while he took the straight gate-route back to Kadia and settled down to talk to “his” Thralls.
Finding out that all eight of the new ones were pregnant by him was a bit of a shock.
(Marty) “You’re ALL pregnant?!?”
He was in a state of shock for a few minutes… He knew perfectly well that pregnancy was not a 100% thing, and they’d only been with him a week!
Then he kicked himself. Caught just like Jarvian. He should have known better. They’d sensed that he was missing his kid, and it was the duty of concubines to produce more. He hadn’t issued any direct orders about contraception, so they’d all used their powers to become pregnant by him. Probably on the very first encounter.
Well, he’d take care of his own. The kids would stay with the mothers of course, but he would provide. The nice thing about Kadia was that there was no shortage of resources.
(Girls) “Can’t we stay with you? Children should be raised in a family! And we can take in the half-drow children too!”
(Marty) “I can’t exploit you anymore. I’ll visit, I promise.”
(Girls) “Is it exploitation if we want to be with you?”
Marty sighed and assigned them each separate apartments in his building. At least he could dismiss the ten runners-up that he hadn’t actually taken more readily…
(Girls) “Thank you sir!”
He also informed them that they were no longer his servants, and that they should lead their own lives – futile though that was.
Well, maybe not entirely; Kevin could override it, but why would he? They’d still want some useful work, but there was no shortage of that for gatekeepers.
Turvin and Amsian helped track the kids and keep things organized of course – and Marty told them they were welcome to stay on in that capacity, although they were freed from his service with only Kevin to obey. He was taking a risk there, but he didn’t think that Kevin would betray him… poor screwed up kid.
Wait a moment… Kevin. Contracts. Pacts. Agreements… Kevin had agreed to work amicably with him long ago. The poor kid couldn’t go back on that agreement either could he… Was the boy just as trapped as his Thralls? Was that why pacters normally didn’t usually do a lot of socializing?
Would Kevin be dismayed by his actions? He just couldn’t play entirely by his rules any more…
Wait. Core. Kevin would probably just assume that he’d had a midlife crisis, grabbed a harem, and run off to be a bard – and then had realized that it wasn’t really what he wanted. He probably wouldn’t even see anything abnormal about it.
Anyway, he had to play with Limey and figure out how to teach him some ethics. Would a Core education work on a sentient laptop? It might have been designed for humans and not sentient devices, but the behavior of sentient devices was still modeled on human behavior, and he could certainly link with the system at least as readily as a human child. He’d find out what Teacher thought of the little guy!
Besides, he wanted to nip this “Lord Tabard” business in the bud. He’d always been “Marty,” “Mr. Tabard,” or just “Tabard” – and “Lord Tabard” was right out! He issued the orders right away!
(Thralls) “Yes Mr Tabard!”
And then kicked himself again. Ordering them not to act as if he had a right to order them around was kind of circular wasn’t it?
Perhaps he needed to make his own realm? How in the Manifold had Kevin done that anyway? Even Kevin didn’t really seem to know… Wait! Ryan O’Malley had known something about that kind of thing hadn’the? He’d have to try and get a hold of him. Still, if he had his own realm, he could offer an alternative to Kadia.
That left him directly employing Elera, Minel, Kelian, Turvin, and Amsian.
Well, his two girlfriends /aides and someone to be on call for each shift was pretty reasonable… He gave them strict orders not to show up for non-emergencies unless it WAS their shift. Turvin asked if Marty wanted to transfer Amsian and Himself from the “Harem Attendant” category to the “Servant” category.
Sure, why not? He had them make it so – and they promptly thanked him for his decision.
Wait… Why was that important to them? It was just a category, it didn’t even affect their pay! Come to think of it, Kelian had thanked him for NOT putting him into the Harem Attendant category.
Oh no. Surely they hadn’t… He certainly hadn’t meant for…
He didn’t want to know, and he definitely wasn’t going to ask. The suspicion was quite bad enough.
Thank goodness he HADN’T casually had Kelian lumped in with Turvin and Amsian! He’d known the kid beforehand!
Had this been his Midlife Crisis? Every Battling Business Worlder went through one – but the standard vacation time for that was two months! During which you usually ran completely wild, and showed entirely upside-down behavior patterns?
Huh. Had he drifted so far towards the center that his Midlife Crisis had actually been SUBTLE?
He’d have to re-evaluate Kevin’s contract too, and look for things that were overly unethical.
That more-or-less came down to “is letting people sign themselves into a limited-term slave-indenture acceptable”. Did the “they’re guaranteed to come out of young and healthy” part make a critical difference? All the rest was just quibbling over price.
It would still be better if Kevin wrote at least SOME limited “rights” into it – like the Neodogs had in Core After all, apparently the terms bind him too. He’d have to lobby Kevin to add those in… After all, Core played by different rules, and evidently judged the first part acceptable – and, much as he hated to say it, Core was GOOD at objectively evaluating things.
“Morally Gray” was workable. It was just the “outright black” stuff that bothered him… He’d always thought that he was better than that! Moral paragon? No. Complete monster? He’d been getting a bit closer to that than he wanted. He’d have to push Kevin into the lighter grays if he could. He’d exploit the Thralls as little as possible. Once he established his own realm, he might have to skim ensouled individuals off Kevin to ensure they can live freely there – and he’d treat “his” Thralls as employees and friends instead of property. It would help his conscience…
The Thralls appreciated that all the more since they knew that he didn’t have to treat them that way.
As for Kevin, the Soulbond – however necessary it was to give them the returning ability and mana – would always lead to a gulf in how Kevin saw them. Both they and he KNEW that they were his property for the duration, and that would always color things. Marty wasn’t sure that he could change that, but HIS Thralls were going to have all the freedom he could give them!
They still tended to work hard. They knew how much they’d been given – and most of them felt some obligation to earn it. They didn’t want to cheat Kevin – and there were a lot of people who needed their help. The powers they’d been given were SO useful…
Marty made sure that they could spend time on things like rescue work. It wasn’t like they could actually die doing it.
They were pleased with that. They liked helping people, and showing off a bit, and knew that Kevin liked them to spend time rescuing people – which was something of a reassuring item all on it’s own. The boy wasn’t that bad, no matter what people thought. He just needed to be more responsible and to get over wanting to be a jerk. Just because his powers came from a nasty source didn’t mean that he had to be nasty!
Marty spent a little time looking into those powers – and found that, in some ways, Kevin was a drug addict. There was only one bigger rush than binding a willing soul to yourself; and Enlightenment – progressing towards a bond with ALL souls – was hard to repeat so often. Raising a kid could involve a more subtle, but just as satisfying, soul-bond – but that took a lot longer.
Dang. Poor little guy. Somehow that comparison made Kevin a lot more human to Marty.
It would be easier for him to get that rush if he didn’t insist on being fair about it – and he certainly didn’t stint on the powers he bestowed. That set him far, far, apart from most soulbinders. In some ways he was still a fourteen-year-old who wanted to run around adventuring and keeping everyone safe – and got infused with massive demonic powers. He hadn’t really aged or changed since…
That might not change Gelman’s mind about Kevin, but it was enough for him!