This particular episode was a while back – but since nothing that was actually important to any of the ongoing plots, or of much importance to any of the major characters, happened during the session, there’s been no rush to get it up.
Over in the Dragonworlds, Ramira Al’Fatim – a bronze dragoness – was fuming a bit… One hundred and eighteen years old, a successful niche carved out in the computer and information security market – and yet ANOTHER sensible-seeming boyfriend idiotically challenging a far more powerful male and getting killed or enslaved for it. She didn’t even bother to check on which it was any longer!
She needed to find a young male who had enough wealth and power not to feel a NEED to challenge wealthy and powerful older males! They wouldn’t have GOTTEN to have wealth and power without being well able to defend it!
Well, there was no reason to rely on social networking and divination when you were one of the few dragons to really master computer systems. She’d run some searches…
That took some months. Several candidates didn’t measure up on close examination, a couple got taken down by challengers, others did something stupid, one or two were just too grossly evil (she might be labeled “neutral selfish” by some of her siblings, but there were some things she wouldn’t do) and it wasn’t like most of the transworld network functioned in realtime. Sometimes it took months for updates to come through from the more distant worlds.
She did come up with one. An “Ailill Keras’an’Darkell”. He’d played a major part in creating the imperial gateway network, eleven years ago – despite being merely a young adult – and had been richly rewarded for it.
So he had enough power and skill to actually EARN plenty of wealth – and apparently not a few dragonslaves. Far more importantly, he’d been able to defend that wealth and status – defeating challengers on a regular basis – but he HADN’T challenged any other dragons. Evidently he was reasonably content with what he had, and so might be expected to remain alive and free; dragons didn’t normally challenge down the dominance ladder.
He was a Red – which might have put him on the “too evil to accept” list – but he didn’t seem too bad… In fact, he’d recently started some sort of… “Hatchling Evaluation and Education Service”? From the description in the brochures and computers (strange enough in itself) it was apparently designed to be almost entirely fair, with only a modest (and clearly stated) bias towards his own hatchlings, and to be extremely kind to the culls – most of whom even seemed to be happy with their enslavement. As evil went, that was fairly subtle… It also showed some quite impressive resources – more than his initial reward and collecting the possessions of his challengers would really explain. He must be – or at least employ – a skilled business manager as well and apparently had uses for a small horde of hatchling-slaves.
It looked like his new School was drawing a fair amount of attention and quite a few challengers though – which would be an excellent test of his skills, resourcefulness, and power – and that he was even allowing visitors…
Perfect! She would drop by and see his establishment and decide if Ailill was worthy of her attentions! Travel time – even using the public parts of the imperial gateway network – would be a few weeks, but that was nothing.
For good or ill, Ramira arrived while Ailill/Kevin was occupied in the Crusader Kingdoms, and had left the servants to manage things on their own for a bit. That had been somewhat awkward at first – but there were more than enough Thralls with local draconic identities to handle a succession of rowdy adolescent would-be male challengers and the occasional females who wanted to forcibly seize control of the hatchling training operation.
Ramira decided to just barge in… After all, she was evaluating a potential mate, and she needed to show that she too was formidable!
(Draconic harem attendant, answering) “May I help you Ma’am?”
(Ramira) “Where is your master? I have an offer for him…”
(Attendant) “I fear he is occupied elsewhere, and may be so occupied for several days. Shall I take a message?”
What, out? With as much attention as his new operation was drawing? That spoke of either great confidence in his servants or great foolishness. Ramira invited herself in and strolled past the slave.
The servants had orders covering young males pushing their way in, but females were allowed to visit – at least until they started trouble.
(Attendant) “Ma’am? Are you acquainted with the Master? Do you require something?”
(Ramira) “I would like to ally with him.”
Meanwhile, Ramira was taking a look around Ailill’s establishment and harem.
While the place showed every sign of wealth (including half a dozen draconic attendant-slaves on call to greet visitors), it was obviously only an outpost of a far larger establishment. Well, Ailill WAS notable as a gate specialist… There were a few signs of combat – apparently a recent intruder had been dealt with summarily – but they were rapidly being removed.
The servants seemed to be willing to fetch her anything she wanted – which was pretty hospitable for a Red – so she asked for a tour…
(Attendant) “What would Ma’am care to see? One of the casinos? A portion of the school? The guest accommodations? The trophy chambers? The cells? One of the industrial operations? The Recreational facilities? Since you are female, visiting the Harem is permissible as well.
(Ramira) “How about the children’s quarters?”
(Attendant) “The children’s private quarters are restricted, but the school, children’s recreational areas, common areas, library, and other associated facilities are available for touring Ma’am!”
(Ramira) “We shall go to the recreational areas, then!”
(Attendant, ushering her through a series of gates) “This way Ma’am. The primary recreation facilities include the arenas, the hunting asteroids, the playgrounds, the museums, the casinos, the markets, and the carnival. As you can see, we are currently accommodating some twelve thousand hatchlings, while those culls (the attendant pointed at scattering of peculiar machines with hatchlings in them – and eager audiences of jeering hatchlings watching) are currently being slave-processed”
Ramira was slightly shocked. If she’d read the signs correctly, she’d passed through at least three gates to reach the school – and “the hunting asteroids” implied considerably more. Ailill was running an interworld gateway network to link his holdings? No wonder it had been so hard to determine exactly how widespread they were; there’d be no apparent external links – and he’d be getting challengers from all over the empire, many of them probably more-or-less unaware of who he was. That would mean that it would be virtually impossible to trace his acquisitions – and that he might have collected an awful lot of challengers and their properties! Besides… That implied phenomenal magical power. Creating permanent gates was not easy… The imperial gateway network might be less extensive than his households!
And the servants were permitting her – and an assortment of hatchlings, of all colors (even if there did seem to be a modest preponderance of reds – presumably Ailill’s own hatchlings by his slave-concubines) to see this… either something was going on, or Ailill did not CARE who saw this!
Besides… Museums? Hunting Asteroids? Carnivals? Those were hardly normal parts of dragon-nurseries. Normally there were modest facilities and a few slaves of the lesser races to look after things. Providing facilities like this for thousands of hatchlings – with more to come – implied enough wealth to purchase small planets.
Very literally if he’d purchased and landscaped entire asteroids as hunting areas.
A closer look at a slave-processing system – ignoring the frantically squealing and protesting copper hatchling being processed at the moment – said things as well… She was familiar with systems designed to restrain new slaves while they were modified to suit their masters. A few of the most expensive systems – those of imperial quality – included medical computers and surgical packages, and could perform basic modifications and feedback conditioning and install tracking chips. These… these seemed to be capable of advanced neurosurgery – and of integrating microelectronics with draconic brains – on their own. In fact, they seemed to be capable of some operations that were beyond the surgical skills available to the Dragon Empire. So Ailill’s gates extended beyond the Empire – and he was importing technology.
She watched as a couple of slave-attendants loaded a whimpering green hatchling into a machine – which set itself up in readiness and then… paused? Ah. Awaiting an authorized start command.
(Ramira) “How many of these does Ailill have?”
(Attendant) “The master initially had four hundred installed to promote discipline. With the school opening, he had another four hundred installed – although we may have to expand that number to meet demand as the school becomes more popular. Things are quite busy with the school opening and the initial testing. Even with the systems, it does take several weeks to fully condition and imprint-train a new dragonslave – and so there is a backlog at the moment.”
(Ramira) “It seems to be entertaining the other ones, though.”
(Attendant) “They do seem to enjoy the spectacle Ma’am, although the privilege of actually making option-selections and starting the machines is somewhat restricted.”
(Ramira) “Umm… do they do anything BUT watch the weaker ones get enslaved?”
(Attendant) “They are aware that missing too many classes will lead to going into the machines themselves, and there is some allowance for the temptation to stop and watch. but it is something of a problem at the moment; there has not been enough time to smooth out everything yet Ma’am.”
Well! THAT would not do! If the next generation was not well-educated, dragonkind will become a laughingstock! And proper discipline always requires a personal touch…
(Attendant) “Would you care to see anything else in this area Ma’am?”
(Ramira) “I will look around. You may wait”
The slave-attendant could wait until she was good and ready… Time to see what Ailill was making available to the hatchlings in the market.
That turned out to be mostly minor stuff. Major items were apparently either special-order or not yet within the range that the hatchlings could afford. The staff, however, was mostly hatchling dragonslaves again. The consequences of losing out were very much on display, although most of the slaves seemed oddly cheerful.
She quizzed them about that. They all provided the same – properly deferential – answers. Ailill believed that contented and devoted servants were far more useful than ones you had to whip and threaten all the time
Well, that made some sense – but how was he forestalling revolts? Eventually they would demand more than he was willing to give!
Ailill had arranged it so that serving well was pleasurable for them? How in the myriad worlds… Neural programming technology. He could rebuild the slaves instincts… The implications of that were dizzying.
Ailill might be incredibly powerful – but, like any young red, he wasn’t hiding his secrets very well! Allowing the knowledge that he possessed such technology to leak out to the rest of the empire – and it inevitably would, he was beginning to send out hundreds of hatchling-slaves who’d been modified with it – was going to attract even more attention than he’d already drawn! It might take a few years – no one paid much attention to an obedient and well-trained hatchling-slave which made no trouble, but EVENTUALLY the older dragons would start to notice that the younger slaves were unnaturally content and docile!
He might not even be trying to hide it!
She asked the attendants – and they simply informed her that their master was a gatemaster, and that he traded extensively. That was a point… If there were consequences, it was unlikely that there would be any that a gatemaster couldn’t simply dodge. All he’d need to do would be to shut down a link or two and have one of his many challengers front for him elsewhere.
Well! There were some disadvantages of course, but Ailill was certainly a superb prospect for a mate. She was sure that a fair number of other females had been poking around – but she was also willing to bet that most or all of them had gotten over-excited, or arrogant, or threatening, or had otherwise trespassed – and would now be occupying holding cells (or perhaps slave-processing machines) and awaiting Ailill’s return! Most dragons were neither calm nor rational enough to work computer security… That was why SHE did such a good business!
Now, how could she impress a gatemaster who ALREADY controlled resources like this? Clearly she was on the giving end here…
First up, he really was being more than a bit lax about security! That would take some thought – but perhaps, at the least, the attendants could be instructed to keep a few matters quiet and perhaps the hatchling-slaves could be programmed not to reveal much about how they’d been processed.
Secondarily, there were fantastic numbers of slaves around – but no really experienced managers. A lot of fairly minor matters seemed to be being left for the Master’s return, and he seemed to have a lot of business elsewhere – although that wasn’t too unexpected for a Gatemaster. The highest authority in the household at the moment seemed to be the attendants and teachers – and it looked like all of them were slaves…
Finally (at least at the moment) she’d be willing to bet that some of the Hatchlings were slacking off, simply because they were too busy watching others get processed!
She asked some questions about that.
It looked like some of them were – but it really wasn’t too bad. Quite a few were hustling though, and the actual educational programs were apparently very good. Still, things definitely could be better – and a few of Ailill’s own hatchlings were undercutting the Master with his own equipment, running other people’s slaves through the schools highly-superior processing for less than the Master charged.
Would Ailill care? He could not possibly be making a profit on his “school”. The entire complex almost HAD to be operating at a massive loss! All he was taking in as payment were hatchling slaves and minor fees.
She inquired – albeit not too insistently – about Ailill’s other holdings.
The attendants were vague – GOOD; at least they had SOME comprehension of data security – but it looked like the physical holdings in the Empire were fairly expansive, and that he had some mining and manufacturing interests – but that most of his holdings were in shipping and trading. Well, that made sense for a gatemaster. The harem was extremely extensive as well – which meant competition, confound it – but that really wasn’t a major source of power.
Ailill’s security was very good on the physical and defensive level, but his operations were just too widespread for very good information security. She had some slaves who could help out with that; her operation was a lot smaller and tighter. She could easily sort out some of the minor details too; Ailill’s slaves were very loyal – but not that well organized.
Strange; the green hatchling still wasn’t being processed when she left. Why hadn’t someone started the system? There even seemed to be a few other hatchlings keeping an eye on the young green?
Well, she’d figure out what that was about later.
Ramira decided to stick around and spend some time helping with the organization. If she could make herself look like a valuable mate, it would give her some pull. Ailill had lots of slave-girls – another very impressive number actually – but only one known concubine, a Red named Kelseru. Concubine was a worthwhile position in itself when you considered the incredible wealth Ailill seemed to control – but a formal alliance-mating would be best if she could arrange it.
She wouldn’t propose that for a while though; she’d prefer to see how he made out defending his wealth now that word would be getting out about it. That would draw a LOT of challengers.
She had a look at the course-materials… There were a lot of them. There were courses for careers outside of the Empire, for youngsters who decided to become slaves voluntarily (? Oh yes – he was making it pretty pleasant and relatively safe; some of the weaker ones might well decide that it was better to volunteer), and for a wide variety of careers – and they ALL seemed to be actually designed to give the hatchlings the best possible education AND provided equipment! There were even courses for processed slaves – although those were oriented towards being useful to an owner. Ailill was being nicer to other dragon’s hatchlings than most metallic dragons were to their own.
Wait; was he aiming to usurp the Emperor? He certainly was subverting the existing social order – and programming vast numbers of dragons to be loyal to him and then disseminating them throughout the Empire in the guise of valuable servants would give him a creditable chance in a mere few centuries… He certainly had a diverse enough training program.
Of course, he could also be meaning to expand beyond the realm. That would make even more sense for a gatemaster! She could get behind that! The dragons of the Empire had sat on their collective scaled rumps and contented themselves with petty squabbles for far too long! They were a superior people, even if they did have problems in non-magical realms… Of course, that was one reason that so few other Dragons even paid attention to the myriad other dimensions. Most of them hated to feel that there were areas beyond their control.