Federation-Apocalypse Session 92b – Unrelenting Updates

   The Mirage had been making good progress on it’s magic lessons… Shapeshifting had gone well, although it seemed to be limited to taking on the forms of it’s prior incarnations at the moment. The magic lessons had been going well too; the Mirage seemed to have a good well of magical power within itself (oh, it had decided it was male, and thus it was himself) and a fair degree of control – although he could mostly only do solar magics at the moment.

   Well, to be fair, he was drawing his power from a fusion plant.

   The Military was becoming increasingly enthusiastic about the Thralls. The logistical benefits of having a ready supply of gatekeepers available had already proven invaluable, having even low-grade magic available was often extremely convenient – and some of the commanders had also seen great benefits in assigning them to scouting and reconnaissance.

   Early results from Kelsaru and the others indicated that being impregnated and gestating in Core – even if it was in an overlay zone – did indeed help a great deal with the chances of ensoulment. (And the “clutching in Core even if it was in an overlay zone part would be coming up in the next few days). The “welcoming thoughts committee” and benefits didn’t really seem to have any effect though.

   Oh well. Kevin had figured that it was worth a try, but he’d rather suspected that the transference was effectively instant under most circumstances, without any souls “drifting about making disembodied decisions”. After all, a mind and soul was always anchored in SOME sort of host and didn’t really seem to be conscious outside of one. Chalk one up for the negative results column.

   Over in the Forgotten Realms – Faerun and the Underdark – the best indications were that one of Elistraee’s priestesses would need to stand up and become a new vessel for the goddess, since her previous one had been slain, before she’d be able to return. The best option was usually a descendent, but sometimes a particularly devout or talented individual could take on the role through some sort of quest. That sort of thing had happened before with other deities in the history of the realm.

   The group wasn’t entirely sure about that. It was probably none of their business… Still, they meddled in a LOT of things that were none of their business. Should they offer to help that out somehow? It would be better for Marty’s kids there if the Elistraee priesthood was doing well; they wouldn’t want there to be a Dark Elven social collapse before they were born.

   Given that thought, Marty thought that they should help out. He wanted his kids to be born! In a reasonably decent place too!

   They weren’t too sure how they could help out though… Channel a lot of power into a relevant subject? Try to empower her priestesses a bit as a sign that she was coming back and to help keep her worship vital and her followers helpful? That might help with the stability if the other gods didn’t get fussy about it… Could they even do that anyway? Marty had told Kevin that he had some priests – but it was hard to take that seriously, and the process obviously didn’t need much of any attention for him or he’d kind of have to have known about them for it to work in the first place.

   Marty still thought that was funny. Poor child-priests, their god wasn’t even paying any attention to any of them! He hadn’t even noticed that they existed!

   The Linear Realms has thus far managed to avoid a collapse of social order, and the attacks on their defense infrastructure had done some damage, but it was fairly minimal. Several American, Core Military and other Openers had apparently heard the word, and had been busy setting up gateways to realms with substantial military and economic resources. A crash program had been instituted to upgrade the realm’s defense infrastructure as quickly as possible.

   The social order was still going downhill though; there’d been a sharp rise in syndicate activity, and the mass disappearances of children – even if they were runaways, unregistered, and otherwise mostly off the official records – still wasn’t helping. Violent outbreaks against “oppressors”, both real and imagined, were on the increase and the police forces were being stretched thin. A perceived near-panic on the federal level was exacerbating the mess even further.

   That annoyed Kevin; he’d been trying to take some of the stress off the Linear Realms – at least considering the number of kids who’d be disappearing anyway as the realm slit towards war. He might have to send a fairly high percentage back as Thralls to try and keep the lid on things.

   Unfortunately, trying to hire the Syndicates to work elsewhere was a hopeless effort. Some of them – of course – weren’t willing to sign on for unspecified jobs involving “travel” and there seemed to be a near-endless supply of potential syndicate recruits replacing the ones they did hire. It did provide them with a near-limitless supply of thugs with unsavory skill sets, but they were after stability…

   Well, once again, it had been worth a try. Perhaps if they just hired existing syndicate hire goon squads for jobs elsewhere? Those don’t need to be thrall-candidates children, just thugs. Was there anywhere where they could use lots of goon squads? Would it be any use hiring them to try and keep order in the Linear Realms? After all, it was their world too, and it wouldn’t help them if it fell apart.

   The information network was picking up a lot of activity in Arthur’s court in the Commonwealth. More Knights were coming in all the time with reports on preparations and progress. There was apparently a good deal of annoyance at the lack of success on some of the preparatory work on some unspecified project – perhaps the assault on the Linear Realms? – although various members of the court, along with more unspecified “others” had apparently taken the opportunity to jockey for favor by promising to deliver success.

   Master Tindale’s recommended contacts had been located, although trying to get in touch had proved impossible… Marty’s had been found in a realm based on a Science Fiction series written in the twenty-second century. Apparently a mirror or alternate world based on “what if events in the 21’st century had gone differently”. A fairly common type of realm really… Kevin’s had been found in the Shaolin Temple realm – apparently in one of the temples that specialized in enlightenment and inner discipline.

   Kevin didn’t know whether that was insulting or not. It wasn’t like he didn’t know exactly what he was up to didn’t he?

   They’d probably make contact with them both personally of course, which was what had been recommended anyway. Precognition was like that; it was quite probably the act of going to see them – and possibly the act of intervening in whatever situation they were involved in – that would wind up being helpful.

   Marty was curious anyway; he’d never had any experience with precognitives.

   On Ealor, the Singularites were expecting a baby-boom in the near future. With a few visits to Core, fertility had skyrocketed – although the recent incident with the runaways was calling their child-care precautions into question; how could they best care for the children and ensure that the mistakes they’d made were not repeated?

   They were putting together a team of their own – with the best equipment and training they could provide – to track down the children gone missing in the recent incident if Kevin and company did not respond and if the Amarant Solutions teams couldn’t locate them. They’d even hired a Jedi… It would still take a little while to get the team ready, but at least they’d be ready for a fast response in the case of any future incidents. It had only been a couple of weeks, but the Singular bunch placed a great deal of importance on their children.

   They were already on the brink of a trade war between the Kuat-ATE alliance and the Ealor-Corellian partnership too. A new imperial ship construction contract was up for bids, and both parties were keen to get a piece of it. The Emperor had been playing both sides off against each other, much to the annoyance of the Kuat-ATE alliance.

   They really should try and get the kids back if there was time – although, come to think of it, it seemed like most of them had taken the basic spirit-pact – so, if they got killed, they’d just wind up in Kadia. They’d have to check and see if any had shown up. Good either way really; if there were some there, they’d probably be able to provide some leads on where the rest were. If not, then probably none of them had been killed – although there was a slim chance that they’d stumbled into somewhere really horrendous where they were either being imprisoned after death or weren’t being ALLOWED to die. Tracing them across space and the Manifold was not going to be easy though.

   As for the Trade War… Did they want to get involved at all? A trade war REALLY wasn’t their business.

   Interestingly, the anthropomorphic-animal realms were quickly becoming the number two realm for recruitment after the Linear Realms. The operations there weren’t nearly on the scale of those in the Linear Realms, but they were beating out most of the others – Core, Hogwarts, Imperial Rome, and the others – by a good margin. Business was especially good amongst the Rabbits and Mice, where fatalities would normally be especially high.

   Marty thought that would be amusing… Odd looking Thralls! A bit more like some of the wilder sectors at home!

   Kevin was pretty pleased; he’d been wanting a ready supply of anthropomorphic Thralls; anthromorphs could already be legal property in Core, so they were been helping with the core-acceptance project.

   A’ikana was not especially pleased. That was all Kevin needed! More encouragement and a legal basis for his misbehavior!

   Hogwarts had been implementing new rules about allowing certain types of children in – and was looking into getting a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher well versed in Pacts and Manifold travel. Dumbledore’s first pick was noncommittal, although there might be an arrangement in time for the next semester… In the meantime, Paul Malfoy was trying for the temporary position. Who knew? He might be able to turn it into a semi-permanent one.

   Shyan had wandered off, and had last been seen in Crusader New York and in the Jedi Temple the group had visited some time ago. He’d apparently been speaking in riddles or prophecies about a conflict of legacies or some such and had last been heard of heading for a world that had been split into two to find out some secret. Master Tindale had found him to be quite odd… Crazy prophet warning!

   Kevin was SO glad that time travel backwards with respect to Core seemed to be quite impossible. There were realms that featured “time travel”, but you always left them later than you’d arrived with respect to every OTHER dimension, and the places were so unstable that it was hard to tell if you’d time traveled or just had a reality-shift anyway.

   Puck had been known to frequent the fey realms and the realms connected to Shakespeare. He had a long track record of humiliating and enlightening those who encountered him. The general consensus was that people were usually better off for meeting him, and hated him for it. He wasn’t believed to be ensouled, but was suspected to be a major fey or psychic focus specializing on giving people a swift kick in the ass. Enlightenment through jackassery… He was probably very very used to being pursued.

   Marty’s best bet on legal advisors in his child custody dispute seemed likely to be a law firm from LA called the “Nazghul”; motto “We might have redeeming features, that is, if we had souls.”

   Marty had vaguely heard of that bunch. Corrigan’s territory. If his stories were true, Marty felt that he had better practice his driving – and learn to act really superficial… at least he had the blond part down!

   Well, it was better than the “Charon, Yama, and Thanos” bunch from the the Necropolis; Motto: “We’re dead and Hell won’t have us, so we went to law school”.

   Marty was still thinking… geez, could he hire a law firm with THAT motto? Admittedly, it was better than hiring form the Necropolis: the Nazghul lawyers have less of an appetite for brains. Still… was his best shot lawyers or personal appeals? What evidence did he really have for a desire to reform? He had dismissed the concubines, but all of them were pregnant, and they’d simply moved in downstairs and set up a creche to raise his half-drow children with theirs. Running a mass enslavement operation wasn’t good evidence – at least not FOR him… He was definitely in a pickle!

   OK, he had saved an entire realm from annihilation and captured a Horseman of the Apocalypse, but it wasn’t like that hadn’t been saving his own butt too, and it certainly didn’t have much to do with child-rearing except to say he had horrific enemies.

   Maybe he could bring in some knights as character witnesses? But the judge would just think they were crazy…

   Drat!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 92a – Reams of Reports

   Session 91 is being difficult – but absolutely nothing plot-critical happened in it, so I’ll put it up when I come up with a narrative that satisfies me.

   While everyone had been busy, some reports had started to come in…

   Death had been willingly cooperating with his Church, House, and Military debriefers – but the most valuable bits were not the detailed information on his abilities and those of War, and the more general information about Famine and Plague, or even the information on what realms were being used as staging areas and resource centers – valuable though that was. The fact that War had “recently” been replaced was interesting, as was the fact that Famine and Plague both predated Death’s arrival on the team – or at least the arrival of particular version of Death.

   Famine seemed to be the leader of the group, and was apparently the most powerful. He was the one that was setting up the barriers. (They had gotten some clues to the mechanics of the barrier, but the researchers were still busy coming up with hypothesis there). Famine might have been involved in setting up the disaster realms, but most of those apparently predated Death’s arrival.

   Most interestingly, Merlin had appeared to brief the group on several occasions, although he often seemed to be relaying orders. Merlin seemed to be an operator on the same level as Famine.

   Well, he’d already been in the “heavily suspect” category, but it was nice to have a definite link.

   Unfortunately, it also meant that there was a more-or-less established procedure for replacing a fallen horseman. Drat it.

   The search for currently unknown worlds in danger from the ring-nova shockwave had mostly come down to sky-survey searches, asking the Ourathan robots, and then running probes and divinations out as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the Ring Nova had been at the fringes of the Terrain Exploration Sphere, and that was only a few hundred light years out. By galactic standards, it was almost next door…

   It looked like there were at least five inhabited worlds in danger… Four human worlds colonized via slowship as the systems were without fast jump points. Another one that appeared to be inhabited by dolphins (how had they managed that?). The robots had, thus far, overlooked the systems that were not connected to the jump point network – or had despatched takeover groups though normal space and simply hadn’t mentioned it. Why would they? They had somehow seemed a little pleased to find that humans were inquiring about rescuing any aliens that they’d imperiled with their antics, but that might just be wishful thinking. Still, they had a galaxy to draw on and lots of experience. They’d probably dealt with this sort of situation lots of times before.

   Ryan had apparently noticed the world in most immediate peril, and had set up a gate – but there hadn’t been any follow-through since then and the place only had a month left.

   The next world after that had six and a half months, then 3 years, 17 years, and 18 years. After that it looked to be fairly empty space – save for robot territory.

   Kevin promptly put a major priority on the worlds with only months left. If the six-month one hadn’t been in enough to get a gate open to them, he was going to have to try something drastic.

   The meme countermeasure research appeared to be going well. They weren’t anywhere near 100% effective; the more close-minded the individual, the better the immunity. Attention disorders also appeared to grant limited resistance; people with that kind of trouble were only affected after repeated exposures… The memes mostly worked via visual stimuli, although there were some audio connections – and introducing a slight mismatch in the synchronization of audio and video feeds looked to do quite well. That could be compensated for of course in the setup of the meme, but randomly varying the intervals provided considerably protection… Testing was currently underway to determine if a strong conviction – or faith – had any effect on infection rates or symptoms.

   The Rosary of Memory search engine project was well underway. The Rosary did indeed appear to store a great deal of memories on prior lives of souls – and entries on other souls could be accessed by probing the social connections between them from some known starting point. Cataloguing these connections had been one of the biggest time consumers so far – although family tree and historical data from Core and elsewhere had been of great assistance. Still, the social space being explored was very large and multifaceted indeed, and the connection-chains were very indirect in some cases. Small groups that did not survive might take a very long time to trace, since it would – or at least could – mean exploring back to the origin of the species and tracing back up every branch from there again.

   The side-project on mapping the distribution of Souls in the Manifold had been tricky, but had actually revealed some results; it did indeed appear – as expected – that most souls originated in Core or were born to souls that were recently from Core. Major realms in the Manifold typically looked to have been populated in waves, depending on cultural and geographic origins. The various religious “Afterlife Realms” were some of the biggest ones, although realms based on supposed “ideal societies” had also seen great immigrations… Places like the One China realm, the Christian Holy Land, the Aryan Empire, and such had all seen waves of souls enter them at one time.

   There was also evidence that a major reshuffling had happened at least twice, and possibly more often than that. As realms were forgotten in the Core, their stability became dependent on local minds, and their development went their own ways. With increasing trade, changing cultures, and the passing of time, realms had interacted, transformed, merged, and split. The pattern seemed to be near-stability until – abruptly – some critical point was passed, the people of the realms came to believe that things were changing or nearing some crisis, and a wave of shifts and changes would ripple through great stretches of interlocked worlds, following in the wake of new beliefs, new faiths, and other cultural shifts.

   It had never before involved the Core of course – there simply hadn’t been enough quantum links, exotic energy transfers, and mental pressure to allow direct movement in and out of Core at those times – but the times were hard to pin down relative to core. After all, in many cases, one of the major predisposing factors was a realm being forgotten there – and, for a lot of realms based on travelers tales, legends, and popular beliefs, that meant that all records of the realms involved had been lost with the cultures that had spawned them.

   The Neodolphins had apparently been pooling their credits, investing in trust funds and other institutions out in the Manifold – mostly through intermediaries – and using the resulting income to both increase their financial base and to make limited investments in research, buy special equipment, and arrange genetic deprogramming for members of their species.

   Kevin made a note to make sure that “removing obedience-programming genetics” was one of the cheaper services being offered to the Neodolphins – although they didn’t seem in too big a rush on the subject. Of course, staying out to sea mostly kept them away from human orders in any case.

   While the Thralls out scouting had already located routes through to the Great Lakes Trade Colonies and Lleogyr, the former was via a sailing expedition through arctic waters, and the latter was via a series of plague and monster infested countrysides. A few realms appeared to have been almost totally depopulated. The vast majority were currently intact, but were sealed off from gateways – whether naturally or by the action of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

   Marty was a bit annoyed at that; they’d sent some Thralls to recover his ship – but they were bringing it back the long way to avoid all the battles, and that might take a week or two longer. Of course, his starship was still parked on Ealor from after that trip to the original Jedi Academy, and they needed to stop in there anyway…

   In Core, the addition of some “Rights” to Kevin’s contract was greatly improving the reactions of the computers and focus groups… The Computers had been marginally approving in any case, at least for youngsters who seemed likely to get into trouble otherwise – but this version was a considerable improvement from their point of view.

   Kevin was considering that at well… He’d chiefly thrown in the minimal-care guarantees, being allowed to dispatch messages home, some allowance for time off (during which they could visit home or hang out in Kadia or such if they liked), and a guarantee that they wouldn’t be gratuitously tortured or anything – but he could also throw in some monetary credit, quite a lot of health-care – not that they need it under any normal circumstances and the resurrection benefits were automatically a part of the package anyway, the bonus for being killed in the line of duty, a formal guarantee of eventual release to back the inherent one, residence and housing rights in Kadia, with the residential credits and access to the various shopping, training, recreational and enhancement options and facilities in their free time.

   He wouldn’t have thought it necessary to say most of that. Would doing anything else really be likely to get the best possible service out of them?

   On the Vekxin front, Vekxin had been stripped of all his followers – but had been holding off his besiegers by firing positive energy blasts towards them. The intensity and frequency had been slowly dropping however, and it looked like he’d deplete his reserves within the next few days. The Thralls on that operation had been considering making multiple suicide attacks in order drain his reserves even faster or to possibly pull off a capture – but the house operative teams were had preferred a more cautious approach, and were in charge.

   Arxus had made a full recovery, although he had complained of receiving visions from inside whatever lab he was pulled from for some time. The visions had dropped in frequency however, and last one he’d had had been three days ago. He might well be turning into two separate entities; nexi could merge and split easily enough… He’d been wanting to get involved in the search and rescue operations – although hearing about the debacle going on in the Linear Realms had thrown him into a fit and given him a strong urge to go syndicate hunting.

   Most of his visions had been of the same elderly mage – first of the man running experiments again, then of the old guy getting puzzled and throwing fits, then starting up a new series of experiments focusing more on mental things. The last vision had includeed what appeared to be a training exercise of some sort…

   Had the mage realized that – with a second self to act as a power outlet – pouring more energy into Arxus was of little use?