Abigail had been wondering… What little she’d ever heard about dragons didn’t really suggest that they’d made good house pets – much less well-trained and obedient pets – even if they had been fixed (which was wildly abnormal in itself). After all, they were intelligent! Wouldn’t that just cause resentment? Was she going to need a dragon-psychiatrist? (Presuming that there WAS such a thing; she’d have to check the phone book). What else had been done to the poor creature? At this point she wasn’t putting much of ANYTHING past Marty and this “Kevin” fellow! After all, she knew they were trading in child-slaves and treating people like they were simple animals or sapient devices…
She might as well ask Blackie directly. He’d almost have to know SOMETHING about what had ben done to him! It was pretty blatant that it went beyond simple neutering!
Blackie didn’t really understand most of it. He had been vaguely familiar with the dragonworlds imperial slave-conditioning systems, but the prototype system Ailill/Kevin had used had included quite a few upgrades. Kevin had wanted to make sure he’d be a good pet for his partner’s young daughter. Still, he’d heard some terms, and the slave-technicians who’d tested the results had talked pretty freely. He told his Mistress what he could.
Abigail hit the wall so hard that she smashed the china cabinet on the other side, and accidently broke the countertop yanking her hand back. “Neural Programming”? “Pleasure-Pain feedback systems”? “Obedience Compulsions”? Control mechanisms installed in his brain? “Slave-marked and Bonded”? Various “other” modifications?
She didn’t even know what half of that MEANT – and it was pretty obvious that Blackie didn’t know either – but it was enough to make her madder than hell! What right did ANYONE have to treat a child this way! Even if he was a dragon! It sounded like they’d rebuilt his entire brain! Could ANYONE – much less MARTY – be trusted with that kind of power over other people?
Err… Darn it! Repairing or replacing the stuff she’d just broken was going to be expensive!
It was perhaps worse that Blackie seemed to think that being treated this way was entirely normal – in fact, that he’d been treated very, very, nicely under the circumstances. He hadn’t been strong enough to dominate, or talented or clever enough to find a position as an aide to someone who was – and he’d been allowed to live, and was even being treated as a favored pet instead of as a simple slave.
THAT was even MORE disturbing! Where the hell had Blackie been born? There was nowhere on Earth where treating children like that was was even remotely acceptable, much less the norm!
Blackie explained about The Dragon Empire, covering some of the basics – and the fact that 90% or more of the dragon- hatchlings there normally died, that another 9% or so was lucky enough to be enslaved, and that the remaining 1% would, on the average, produce several hundred children over their multi-millennial lifespan – only to see most of them die or be enslaved competing to be the parents of the next generation.
Well, that was just peachy! At least Blackie was well out of THAT. Long Island – and being a pet – might not be ideal for a dragon, but it was pretty obviously better then Dragon Empire. Maybe she could take him to one of those weird countries with dragons?
Blackie was glad to be in Long Island as well, and to have a nice owner – although he’d heard a little from the Thralls about Kevin’s Dragon-School, and he would have been happy to be sent there too. The hatchlings who washed out there just got slave-processed – and were even allowed to be happy – rather than being killed or dying in duels.
Kevin again. Abigail still didn’t know what to make of Kevin. Everything she heard seemed self-contradictory. Was he a dragon? If so, why hadn’t he incinerated Marty? Surely Marty would be enough to provoke any dragon…
Blackie thought that Ailill was a dragon, who took human form as Kevin a lot!
Where was this Dragon Empire? She’d heard of Honalee, but that wasn’t a particularly big land, and it certainly wasn’t an entire empire!
Blackie didn’t really know how to get there either; he’d been in a gift box.
(Blackie) “Doesn’t this world have a starport? There are thousands of worlds in the Dragon Empire!”
(Abigail) “Starport? Aliens? Well… that would explain things – but there’s no starport here.”
(Blackie) “Yes Mistress! But the gods put Elves and Dwarves and Humans and Dragons and Halflings and Illithids and all the other races everywhere! If there’s no Starport this must be a fringe world Mistress!”
Abigail thought about the visit to Kadia, and to Sesame Street – and about what the Thralls had told her about alternate worlds.
(Abigail) “Oh, you have no idea…”
She spent a little time telling Blackie where he was – with a bit of pity. It seemed like he was pretty much in exile from his own kind.
On the other hand, it was becoming pretty obvious that his own kind weren’t very nice.
(Blackie) “Oh. Must be an alternate plane then! I don’t know much about them; I was enslaved before I got to any studies on other dimensions!”
(Abigail) “Well, at least you’re a housepet and not some corporate raider’s attack pet!”
(Blackie) “Yes Mistress! It’s been quite nice!”
Gelman, the Thralls working for her – and her investigation as to Kevin’s possible interest in Julia – had told her a lot about Souls. She wasn’t sure how much of that she believed, or what a “Soul” really was – but it was obvious enough that it described some quality that maintained your personal reality and kept you from simply blending in to a new dimension.
It was also obvious that Blackie didn’t have one. He’d simply accepted Battling Business World and his role as a little girl’s pet. Too bad! She really wished Blackie had a soul, so she could have him hunt down Marty and possibly eat him… Ah well.
It wasn’t that “let the kids fight it out” wouldn’t have made sense – Ok, SOME sense – on battling business world, but toss in “death is permanent and the winners either kill or enslave the losers” and it changed things quite a lot!
She was still having some trouble with the notion of death being permanent anyway. It was just so HARD to see how life could be like that! As for “enslave the losers”… Insult and tease, sure, but enslave? How could people – and Blackie might be a little slow, but he was definitely people – be like that?
She told him so.
(Blackie) “Much better than being permanently dead Mistress! Most kids are really lucky to be enslaved rather than killed – and I actually get to enjoy it when I please you and Julia!”
Abigail sighed. Perhaps she should have left the squirrels alone. Did she really want to know all of this? She was just a caterer! Why had all this cosmic stuff come to roost on her doorstep? Just when she had a family court case to plan!
Personally, she was hoping that it went to a duel!
Blackie eagerly volunteered to help with that – although he wanted to know if she’d be allowed to rid him into a duel.
Abigail, with some annoyance, had to admit that Marty would need a mount as well if she used one.
(Blackie) “Oh… He’d probably have a bigger and more powerful dragon if he’s allied with Aillill. I’m sorry. I might not be able to help.
(Abigail) “Dang it!”
(Blackie) “Sorry Mistress!”
(Abigail) “All court duels have to be balanced – so I guess they’d put him into one of those Japanese battlesuits… I think I can still take him though!
Blackie looked a bit torn… It was pretty obvious that he had some doubts, even if he wanted to loyally agree with her.
(Abigail) “Spit it out!”
(Blackie) “I really don’t know Mistress – Ailill is pretty powerful, and I’d bet that Marty is too – but I already know that I’m a loser. I’m very lucky to have gotten to live!”
(Abigail) “You’re not a loser! You’re a very nice acid-spitting dragon!”
Blackie didn’t say anything – but he was very young, and it was easy enough to see that he didn’t consider being a slave-conditioned housepet quite the same as being an up-and-coming young winner with a hoard of his own, some personally-defeated dragon-slaves at his beck and call, and every prospect of becoming a father later on.
Abigail sighed. There HAD to be some way to reverse that. Of course, according to the Thralls, sufficiently powerful magic – or Kevin – could do virtually anything.
Blackie seemed to be very surprised at the very idea however. Not even a Golden Dragons would ever consider letting even a golden male slave get restored that way – much less a black dragon – and they were the nicest dragons of all!
Perhaps it would be worth consulting one of those Golden Dragons… She asked Blackie where she could find one.
(Blackie) “Uhm… There are lots in the Dragon Empire – but I was in a gift box, and I don’t know what gates I was taken through to get here. Maybe your other slaves know?”
The Thralls know that there are some Golds in the dragon-stables in Kadia – although they were slaves too of course. There were a few resident in the directory who might not be slaves though – and there was a Red who was mostly running things in Kadia.
Abigail set one of the Thralls to babysit Julia – the kid would probably be in pony-form again by the time she got back – and went to Kadia to look up one of the free ones. There seemed to be several young dragonesses in one location…
It was a young gold who answered – but, judging by the slave-collar, it was another one who’d been – processed – like Blackie. Evidently a servant.
(Kardin) “May I help you Miss Abigail?”
What? Oh: Kadia. The computer systems had probably told him who was at the door even before he’d opened it… Oh dear. If this was another of Kevin’s servants, this was probably his household. Oh well.
(Abigail) “Hello. I need to have the slave programming removed from my Blackie… and isn’t that outfit – or lack of one – drafty?”
Ok, it was inane, and it wasn’t like Blackie normally wore anything but a collar either – but she wasn’t sure of what to say when confronted by a kid in this condition!
(Kardin) “I don’t really feel drafts in this form Madam. Uhm… As for removing the slave-programming from a natural black dragon, it will make him most unreliable. The natural temperment of blacks is quite malign.”
(Abigail) “I think I can handle him.”
After all, a young dragon couldn’t possibly be that big a handful, that sneaky, or that ruthless. After all, she’d handled Marty for years!
(Kardin) “He was a present for your daughter according to the records. Her consent will be needed as well – and I’d really recommend studying their natural behavior a bit first Madam! I’m Kardin by the way, and is there anything else I can help you with?”
Abigail hesitated… Could a young dragon be worse than Marty? It might be a good idea to take a look first.
(Abigail) “No, just get me something to look at on their behavior, I would like to know.”
(Kardin) “Would you care to come in then? I’ll pull something up for you once you’re comfortable.”
The records on “natural” Black Dragon behavior were pretty appalling… Ravaging areas, killing each other, enslaving humans and each other, slowly dissolving people in acid feed first, and otherwise being viciously – if rather cheerily – evil in a throughly organized fashion.
Gah! If she got the programming taken off, he’d need an obedience trainer for sure!
She was almost done watching when a young silver dragoness dropped by to say hello – and said her name was Meara. She wasn’t collared anyway, so at least she wasn’t obviously a slave. Abigail smiled and nodded…
(Meara) “I’m pleased to meet you. Marty has mentioned you many times – along with some quite interesting descriptive notes”.
(Abigail) “Oh really? What did he say?”
Meara made an effort to be diplomatic – but was fairly accurate about Marty’s comments and stories. After all, she had traveled with Marty and Kevin – admittedly, mostly as a ferret except at night when she and Tanis were sleeping with Kevin – until quite recently.
Perhaps sadly from Abigail’s point of view, not much of what she said seemed to be helpful for the custody case. Marty loved Julia – but was simultaneously annoyed with, and fearful of, her. Standard ex-spouse response.
Abigail decided to ask her opinion of un-conditioning Blackie.
Meara advised her that young dragons (and especially “chromatic” young dragons) got worse – perhaps worse than at any other time – when they hit adolescence; draconic sex drives were extremely powerful and the males tended to spawn half-dragons all over the place unless they could collect a harem to keep themselves occupied. That was one major reason why they tried to eliminate each other so often.
Abigail sighed. There really wasn’t any reason for the girl to lie about it… She hated to say it – but it looked like she’d have to keep Blackie obedience-programmed.
Meara agreed that it was a pity that it was necessary – but dragons were as they had been imagined (if adapted for consistency), and she thought that Kevin HAD greatly improved the lot of the losers.
(Meara) “Anyway, I’d heard enough about you while I was traveling with Kevin to want to meet you!”
(Abigail “Huh. Well, nice to meet you.”
Abigail considered the girl… She might not be the best judge of dragons, but she seemed to be pretty good-looking. Several young female dragons attended by eunuch dragon-slaves, who had traveled with Kevin… Kevin was pretty obviously keeping a harem.
She asked where Meara had originally come from.
It seemed that Meara had originally been human, and had come from a “Core Colony World”. Her parents had (unwisely) taken her and her older brother to the “Roman Imperium” for a bit of relaxation – where they’d offended someone who had sentenced them all to die in the arena. Her parents and older brother had (permanently, which still made her shiver) died there – but Kevin had managed to buy her out before her scheduled appearance as animal food. He’d kept her as a slave-concubine for a few years, but had eventually “promoted her” to Thrall when she asked him to give her the power to locate – and punish – the men who’d sent her family to the arena. She had traveled with him – and later with Marty as well – for the next ten years or so, but had eventually volunteered to take the dragon form (which she regarded as a lot of fun) and bear some dragon-children by him.
Abigail didn’t know what to say… At least the girl was safe in Kadia, but as a dragon-concubine? She had settled one thing anyway; Kevin was a human, even if he really did like the dragon-form. There were people like that back in Battling Business World, and there were pills to make them that way. It was a bit eccentric, but not really that odd. Still, keeping a harem of young girls – even if they were being dragons – was entirely over the top! Even if it was normal enough for a teenage boy to want one, Kevin had been around for decades – more than enough time to grow out of it!
(Abigail) “So he’s decided to settle some of you down in Kadia and start a family? Are you pregnant now? How many kids – er, young dragons – has he decided to father?
She didn’t expect to like the answer.
Meara explained that there were thirty or forty on the way. Kevin was testing to see if he could arrange for most or all of them to have souls. That was why he’d picked concubines with souls who have recently visited core – and why they were staying where they were. Kevin had set up an overlay zone with Core for them.
She also spent some time talking about how wonderful Kevin was. Could the girl still be infatuated with Kevin after ten years? Was Kevin THAT charismatic?
That consideration got her past the “thirty or forty” bit – but it was still a shock. She tried to rally – and not to blow her top; it did no good here in Kadia!
(Abigail) “Well, I’m sure they’ll be well taken care of.”
(Meara) “Oh yes! Arrangements have already been made! The ones with souls will have all kinds of chances, and even the ones without souls – if any turn out like that – will have a fine education and the best chances that can be arranged in consideration of the fact that they’ll be fully subject to dragon-instincts.”
Huh. For all of Kevin’s… Oddities… he was being much more prepared than Marty was had been.
Admittedly, it was in his own bizarre fashion – but at least his girlfriends didn’t seem ill-treated or unhappy. Still, he’d obviously gone overboard. He’d apparently had a kid, decided he liked being a father, and had promptly arranged for forty more. That was more like his own preschool – but at least he’s probably wasn’t likely to scream “EWW!” at the birth like Marty had or think she could hold her head up! It was overdoing it – but in some ways she was a bit jealous!
Besides… Childbirth was probably a bit less messy and painful with egg-layers, and the kids were apparently born able to talk and not needing much care – which was an attractive feature. It would make things easier at first anyway. Of course, then you had the combativeness problem later on. There was always a catch somewhere.
She chatted with Meara a bit further. After all, she’s been with Marty and Kevin for some time. The girl was mildly odd… She really did seem to be throughly infatuated with Kevin, was a very strange mixture of teenage girl and thirty years of experience, saw nothing wrong with belonging to Kevin – and yet Kevin had still given her a free choice of whether or not she wanted to try this. More contradictory behavior. Very considerate in an absurdly arrogant fashion. Hopefully Gelman could straighten Kevin out, because she knew that Marty wouldn’t!
She really needed to talk with Kevin.
On the other hand, it might be best to take a break first. At the moment, she wanted too many things at once… Explanations. General Impressions. To beat him about the head (although that would probably be impolitic on a world he ruled and near-impossible to do in Kadia thanks to the security systems). To talk to him (or maybe rant at him) about Marty. To try and sort out what he was actually like; Kevin seemed to be a chameleon who left everyone who talked to him with a completely different impression!