While Marty had been away, Kevin had been busy; he’d set up some definite procedures and guidelines for slave-purchases (which looked pretty good to Marty), instituted some rules about reviewing contracts before final approval, made sure that all the Thralls who worked with the Neodogs were briefed on them, and gotten quite a lot done in several other fields.
After Marty had time to catch up a bit, he was rather pleased. Kevin might not be too hard to push towards the lighter grays after all! Of course, now that he was thinking about it, he had to say that being a professional “lesser evil” was more than a bit weird. On the other hand, Kevin’s notions of “reasonable work and decent treatment” were derived form his own childhood in core, and would have been regarded as impossible luxury throughout most of history. Overall, not too bad – which he supposed was the point of being the lesser evil.
Gelman would be a harder sell… When your people had a history of being exploited, you tended to be touchy about such matters! And he’d already stretched his ethics enough just to get his family to a safe place. He would have preferred instituting something like the classical Jewish Sabbatical. Still, he’d probably take it as a sign of progress.
Of course, Kevin would probably argue that all his contracts were limited-term and – since he threw in support and extended lifespans – a longer term with allowances for buyouts was quite reasonable. It was hard to say how that argument would turn out.
Marty wasn’t quite ready to face Gelman again – it would be HARD to admit how wrong he’d been about some things – but he’d have to apologize to the guy. Their work history was full of prank wars and altercations… He’d have to find him soon. After all, he couldn’t get much lower than this. It was really gonna be awkward though… He’d hardly ever apologized for anything! Most Battling Business Worlders just went berserk and knifed people instead of apologizing!
Meanwhile, Gelman had investigated a little further… It looked like this really might have been a subordinate screw-up. He’d have to talk to this “Ikeran” person.
He was still on the boil though. Allowing a mess like this to develop would be understandable if Marty were fresh from Battling Business School. For a man with a ten-year career, a blunder of this level was inexcusable! You were supposed to keep an eye on your subordinates, if not to a micro-management level. Still, the thought that Marty was new to operations on this level cooled him down a bit.
Rationality started to return from it’s little holiday.
Gelman still hadn’t quite absorbed the fact that Marty and Kevin had more employees than many small nations had citizens, had operations spread over two hundred and fifty worlds, and that their organization had expanded by a factor of more than a hundred thousand in less than four months – or the idea that, technically, for them to intervene on anything less than a global scale WAS micro-managing. Still he set out to interview Ikeran.
Finding him was easy. Dealing with the fact that he was a dog – a wrinkly-skinned canine of one of the hairless breeds – was a lot harder…
Ikeran saw that he was floundering – and, of course, attempted to help.
(Ikeran) “Yes Sir?”
(Gelman) “You’re Ikeran???” (He’d thought that it was just a severe demotion! How powerful was this Lord Sanwell? He’d been presuming that, at the very least, creating a world was a major project – but the way that Sanwell seemed to just casually throw power at trivial problems was something else altogether!)
(Ikeran) “Yes Sir! (There was a momentary pause while Ikeran’s smartcollar provided him with data) Can I help you Mr Gelman?”
(Gelman) “You were in charge of the Linear Realms Neodog operation, correct?”
(Ikeran) “I was acting as the East Coast Co-ordinator there Sir!”
(Gelman) “WHAT were you thinking? How could you do that to those children? Surely you could have turned them over to the proper authorities!”
(Ikeran) “Uhm… The proper authorities in the Linear Realms regard their existence as illegal sir! The realm has a population of nearly twenty billion, all on earth, and illegal children would be sterilized and assigned to the labor pools. The casualty rates in the labor pools are fairly high Sir!”
(Gelman) “That might be the case, but isn’t there somewhere you could put them other than thralldom? There have to be foster families somewhere!”
He was pretty angry at Ikeran – but it was rather balanced out by the poor young man’s new hairless form. It was HARD to be furious at an apologetic ugly dog…
(Ikeran) “It is difficult to find millions of foster families for off-dimension children sir; we do not yet have that kind of staff – one reason why Lord Sanewell is recruiting sir! They are not required to accept Thralldom though; children who arrive as refugees may remain as guests, and even the ones who arrive as slaves may simply accept an indenture instead of enthrallment Sir!”
Gah! Millions? He’d only looked at the purchases… He pulled the “refugee” figures – nearly THIRTY MILLION in the past FEW WEEKS… From the “Linear Realms” ALONE… Could even Mr. Leland handle an operation this big? It exceeded anything he’d ever dreamed of! How was Marty able to hold things together for this long?
He looked at Ikeran again – and took refuge for a moment in complete irrelevancy. The boy didn’t look it, but he HAD to be cold, with no fur and wearing nothing but a collar.
Ikeran, of course, had his smartcollar, an effector module, magic and witchcraft. He was quite comfortable – although Gelman was still wrapping his head around that list of powers.
Coming back into focus… Was it even POSSIBLE to think of a suitable solution for this issue? He didn’t want to see more kids enslaved, but they didn’t have enough staff… It had to be possible. There had to be a way. Otherwise it was going to eat at him.
(Ikeran was still speaking) “Lords Sanwell and Tabard pointed out that I should have made sure to understand both the local circumstances and the limitations of the Neodogs when I took the coordinator position Sir, and Lord Sanwell changed my species so that I would be sure to learn about how they worked Sir!”
Gelman blanched at that last statement. This was… Sanwell’s idea of teaching someone? No doubt it was also a punishment – the rebuke was pretty obvious – but “You are mistreating your horse, now you shall become one!” was something that belonged in a child’s fairy tale!
(Gelman) “Well, clearly they need to evaluate their employees more effectively! That said… I don’t like what Lord Sanwell has done to you.”
(Ikeran) “It is well-deserved sir! And only temporary! I failed to do my job, made a severe error – and then both blamed and punished a subordinate who had actually done very well for my error!”
It still didn’t sit well with him… Even if you COULD turn youngsters into dogs AND they thought that it was justified, you SHOULDN’T go around turning youngsters into dogs! He had to wonder if Lord Sanwell had something to do with that INS incident…
(Gelman) “Ikeran? Would you mind if I inspect you?”
It could still be some sort of an illusion or something. Or a medication. And he had to ask. Just because Ikeran was a talking dog didn’t mean that he had lost his right to personal space.
(Ikeran) “Certainly Sir! Shall I sit up or levitate myself?”
(Gelman) “Just sit up.”
Ikeran was – quite obviously – a dog. He was a wrinkly-skinned hairless dog weighing about sixty pounds – apparently about the minimum for an adolescent neodog, at least according to the computer systems. He had slightly-modified and semi-manipulative front paws, a broad head to accommodate a large brain, a modified voicebox and a more humanlike tongue to allow speech, was neutered, had mobile ears, and had all the usual canine features… There was certainly no sign that the boy had ever been anything BUT a Neodog.
It was a side issue, but pharmaceuticals could cause this level of change – but the INS incident had occurred on a scale precluding them. If they’d been in the water supply, much of Manhattan might have been affected.
(Gelman) “How did this happen to you? Did he use a spell or give you a pill?”
(Ikeran) “Lord Sanwell just pointed at me to change my species Sir! I went down to medical to pick up a collar and get my shots and be fixed Sir!”
Everything he found out about this “Lord Sanwell” implied a truly frightening level of power. Did Sanwell even HAVE limits? He had to consult with the local sentient devices and see if he could find more information.
(Ikeran) “Can I help you in any other way Sir?”
(Gelman) “No thank you. As much as I feel guilty for asking… would you like a treat?
(Ikeran, excitedly) “Yes Sir! I got all the canine instincts with the species Sir!”
Gelman procured a steak for Ikeran. Not a dog treat. That would be just too humiliating… There was lots of tail-wagging.
Even pharmaceuticals didn’t normally provide that kind of reflex. As far as he could tell, the change was entirely real…
(Gelman) “Are you SURE you don’t need a sweater?”
(Ikeran) “I don’t need one Sir! Would you like me to wear one?”
(Gelman) “It would make me feel much better, Ikeran.”
Ikeran promptly conjured one.
Gelman said goodbye and went off to do his research. There was so much that was contradictory about Kevin. Mass rescues and mass slaving in the same man… He would have to try and meet him directly. Trying to take the measure of a man from secondhand observations was a recipe for confusion.
(Ikeran) “Goodbye Sir!”
Ikeran went back to work. Helping with the Madness-Meme cases was difficult – but it was very important and necessary work that didn’t really call for any management skills.
Gelman considered. So much power… Come to think of it, what was happening to him? He’d been too outraged to think about it much – although he had helped with what little clean-up that the computers hadn’t already gotten to afterwards – but some awfully odd things had happened during that confrontation. He could easily understand how he might have “overridden” the security systems and made the computer-generated “wall” ripple – he was used to systems being over-obliging – but the flames, curdling the air, and having his anger take form as a CREATURE of some sort was something else altogether!
Even in his anger he’d noticed the look of horror on Marty’s face – and Marty had run instead of retaliating. What had he been seeing? What had he known? Perhaps he could ask the sentient laptop that was in Marty’s custody?
Still, for once, maybe, just maybe, he’d gotten through to the incorrigible Brooklynite.
He considered calling Marty – but for something like this, a visit was in order. It wouldn’t be right to do it over the phone – if only because Marty was trickster; he might spoof the call or have a double take it.
Checking revealed that Marty had already left for someplace called “Faerun” – one of those “gaming worlds” where Amarant Solutions had apparently opened up offices. He’d have to wait on a visit then – but it was time to be getting home anyway.
Sandy and Ilona were anxiously waiting for him when he got back… Was something wrong?
They wanted to know what the problem was; they’d been worried when he needed so much power so suddenly.
(Gelman) “Could you explain that, Sandy?”
(Sandy) “You’re our master! It takes a formal grant from Lord Sanwell to let people draw on our power outside of Kadia, but here simply being master is enough – and you were drawing on quite a lot of power for a few minutes there! We were worried that something was wrong! I’m glad to see that you’re all right Sir!”
Power? Oh! The kids were imbued with all kinds of energies. Psychic, magical, dimensional, and more. He could draw on that because they were assigned to his service? But he hadn’t even known that was possible! Two of them could provide enough power to warp reality that way, even when their power was being tapped unconsciously and directed by nothing but anger? Was that what made Sanwell so powerful? He had thousands of Thralls to draw on – but he’d given them their powers to begin with!
They “grew into their powers”. Did Sanwell awaken and support them at first, but draw on them later? He handed out so much power so casually…
Sandy and Ilona were waiting for an answer.
(Gelman) “I was having a performance critique with a colleague.”
(Sandy) “I hope it wasn’t too serious Sir!”
(Gelman) “No, I think I made my point.”
(Sandy) “I should warn you sir! It will take about three days before that much power will be available again! We can only build up reserves of the energies needed for direct reality-manipulation slowly Sir.”
(Gelman) “I shouldn’t need it.”