Federation-Apocalypse Session 102b – Less Then Ruthless Predation

   Meanwhile, Ruth Gelman was nearly eight hundred credits ahead… That was quite a sum, but there were a LOT of interesting things going on in Kadia!

   It wasn’t really enough to build an army of cyber-augmented mammoths though, no matter how much fun the idea seemed likely to be.

   What kind of exotic services could a nice Ashkenazi find for herself in Kadia? Things that would get Pops’ goat up a bit, but not enough to make him lock her in the apartment?

   She could – and did – get herself a bit of Cyberware – but it wasn’t like a medical implant and an adrenal booster were anything major, even if they were only normally available in Tokyo in Battling Business World.

   Lets see… Pops wouldn’t approve of magic lessons, but she wasn’t sure that she did either -even if it did look a lot more like some odd branch of technology than what she’d think of as “magic”… Nothing but the ritual stuff – which even the people in Kadia seemed to see as something mysterious and exotic – seemed to involve anything in the way of mystical entities.

   Psychic Power Lessons might be neat, but she wasn’t sure about the way that most of them seemed to involve “Witchcraft” and “Pacts”. There wasn’t anything that was free of course – but having a magical price stated up front in lieu of time, effort, and money, was just a bit disturbing. Still, the people over in the UK seemed to manage without any serious difficulties… A bit more research would be in order first.

   Of course there were any number of other exotic services available – induced shapeshifting, genetic modifications, dragon-riding, lycanthropy (seriously? wasn’t that supposed to be a curse or something?), various personal services (including some that were pretty obviously grossly immoral), guided dimensional tours, big game hunting (including mammoths, dinosaurs, any mythical monsters), whitewater rafting, vacations in faerie, sailing, visiting adventure novels, martial arts training (ranging from the utterly mundane to the extremely mystical), indentured services, combat training and live-combat exercises, education, vehicle piloting, art lessons, dance, contests, ice age survival, handicrafts, gambling, trips into the wilds where there were no legal protections, recreational dueling and mutual hunting games, and many more…

   Well, at least the live-combat exercises were all basically mundane enough. Everyone came back in the morning, just like at home, so live weapons and such were the order of the day.

  So was the betting, and most of the contests – although the fact that you could bet or spend yourself into indentured servitude was a bit exotic. Still, you’d have to be pretty stupid or reckless to do that what with the regular allowance everyone got just for living in the place…

   Quite a lot of the competitions offered good prizes too – and it looked like she was a lot more used to combat than the other excited first-time visitors.

   Heh. She’d been getting a bit bored with “blow the crap out of people”, but “blow the crap out of people for prizes!” was a lot better!

   Hm… It looked like most of the battle-games were pay-an-entry-fee and the top placers got bigger or smaller prizes depending on how big the entry fees and the number of contestants were. There were all kinds… Individual events, small-team events, large-team events, entire group against the computer… Capture the flag on acid – multiple flags, each worth points based on strategic value. Matches lasting until one side had died or surrendered. Supply caches, some with magical items that couldn’t leave the arena. Matches which allowed magic and psychic powers. Side bets, personal bets… it was a free-for-all at the high end. The grand prizes ran up to things like… Mecha, Starships, and Fighter Planes? Those were some pretty impressive prizes!

   Impressive entry fees for those levels too… Better to go for the ones that offered cash to start. Owning her own fighter plane would be pretty cool, but what would she actually do with it?

   Outside of outrage Pops of course. He’d thought that a CAR would be bad enough…

   Hmm… There were a few new “high stakes” battle-games that someone called “Kelsaru” had set up… Those had big prizes and relatively low entry fees – but the first few to get taken out wound up on twenty-year slave-indentures and (in some games) the grand prize winner got to claim one of them. Supposedly that was to simulate the “fact” that – in “most dimensions” – “death was permanent”.

   That still seemed pretty unlikely to Ruth. After all, she’d died at least a hundred times – and it was pretty obvious that death had never been “permanent” for HER!

   Actually, Kelsaru had set up the high-stakes games mostly for minor troublemakers: not only did quite a lot of the refugee-kids from the Linear Realms belong to mutually hostile gangs, but a fair number persistently misbehaved in ways that had long since been educated out of Core children – and that Kevin hadn’t anticipated. While Kevin would have found a twenty-year term a bit much for such petty misbehavior, a small chance at such an indenture would probably seem fair enough to him – and a steady supply of new indentures would suit his Thrall-gathering purposes as well. Of course, the ones who were entered for misbehavior weren’t eligible for any prizes – but paid entrants and their prizes had been an afterthought anyway.

   Hey, wait! Fighter plane games! She’d been wondering what doing a bombing run was like ever since her big sister had left to join the Israeli Military! It looked like doing a real combat mission would be pretty expensive though… Renting a simulator for a training program was moderately expensive – although it looked like it was provided free if you were in a military training program – but the virtual-reality games were almost as good, and quite cheap. It looked like Virtual Reality would have to do.

   Still, the high-stakes games seemed like they would be REALLY exciting. A real test of her abilities!

   Hm… This one looked good! A 100-credit entry fee, slots for 50-60 contestants, free-for-all rules, first three losers got 20-year indentures unless they could pay their way out, first prize 4000 credits and a choice of one of the three new indentures, second place 2000 credits, third 1000 (unless, of course, you were in the game as punishment for something, in which case the prizes were like 400 and no servant, 200, and 100).

   It looked like – since she’d never played before – she’d be in the “newbie” category (meant to ensure that massively-skilled experts didn’t just keep claiming the prizes and beating up the new kids) for the first few games. Most of the entrants seemed to be street gangers from this “Linear Realms” place, and were incredibly slow and fragile compared to her!

   That was kind of irritating really – no challenge and she hated to be underestimated – but it would mean that she’d hardly have to worry about losing any of the first few games!

   Hm… If she entered, there would be a game open almost immediately!

   She’d need the permission of a parent or guardian if she was under fourteen (only fourteen?) – but she was just past sixteen now! And Ms. Jenkins used to say that the last woman standing wins, even if she’d lost all her limbs!

   She’d show these kids what Battling Business World tough was all about! It looked like she might be able to enter three matches today!

   She did.

   Given her skills in stealth and acrobatics, boosted reflexes, and expertise with pistols, her strategy was pretty simple; evade initially, do some fancy maneuvering to get behind her opponents – and plug away while they were flatfooted! She could rely on her regenerative talents to handle enough hits to make sure that SHE wouldn’t be going down to early… She could afford to let the crowds thin a bit before moving in for the kill.

   There was no reason not to exploit her natural advantages!

   It got rougher towards the end in each game… There was a lot of hiding and ambushing, but her enhanced vision and ability to sniff out her opponents stood her in good stead.

   Too much luck in the first one; she only managed to take third place. She’d underestimated how willing to take risks the other kids were, and two of them managed to beat her score.

   She won the second match – but she’d underestimated how rapidly she’d exhaust her healing powers playing three games. Thank goodness she’d gotten that booster implant.

   The third game she had to play a lot more cautiously – but she was really getting the hang of it, and managed to pull out a second place win. After all, after enough of the others had gone down, she could run massive risks; if she lost, she’d only be out a hundred credits and the rest of the day until she came back.

   That wasn’t entirely satisfactory, but hey – at least she seemed to be putting out a consistent top three performance! And scoring a full 6700 credits even after deducting the entry fee!

   Er… And an indenture-slave.

   She hadn’t really thought about that. She’d thought it was something a bit less serious than a twenty year indenture somehow (OK, so she’d skimmed the section of the rules about losing; she hadn’t really seriously considered the possibility) – and, apparently, the right to do all kinds of things to them. Wow.

   She was presented with a choice of… a seventeen-year-old boy, a fifteen-year-old boy, and a sixteen-year-old girl. All Linear Realms ganger kids.

   Er…

   What if she didn’t pick one? Slavery was just WRONG. She hadn’t really thought about it before, but just where the heck had Pops taken them all?

   Anyway, it looked like… all three would just be sold or put to work, and she’d be credited for one-third of the total price unless she turned down the money.

   Well, she could just take one and let him or her go. There was no rule about THAT. She was pretty sure that Pops wouldn’t approve of keeping one, even if they had bet and lost… and for once she actually agreed with him. It wasn’t right to enslave people when your people had been Target #1 for centuries.

   Gah… Picking one… She picked the youngest. The older ones should have known better!

   She told the official (another youngster actually) – one had come by the next morning, after the early casualties had resurrected – that she intended to let the kid go after he was delivered.

   The “official” made a great point of fitting the boy with a smartcollar, having him stand there, and listing off a lot of options for have him upgraded with genegrafts or modified – with computer illustrations. He offered to turn the kid into pretty much any kind of anthromorph Ruth might want, to cyber him, to teach him some magic or psionics, or (for that matter) to fix him, before saying “and you can easily afford any of those options, even with the mandatory reversal-fee for later on! What would you like done with him?”

   He seemed to find watching the kid squirm a bit amusing – although he might have been watching HER reactions as well. She hadn’t realized just how far you could go in Kadia in transforming people… It was more powerful then Medication was in Battling Business World! Maybe she could get Fire Breath and Claws after all! Or a scary Number anima like Ms Jenkins! It looked like that – and all kinds of other cyber – was well within the possibilities available in Kadia.

   She was really considering slugging the official too – but she’d realized that it would probably be useless: violence in non-designated areas just wasn’t productive in Kadia!

   Oh well. Perhaps the “Official” was just trying to teach the kid a lesson? He’d certainly succeeded in boggling her a bit… Some of the available enhancements were a bit of a shock for someone with a conservative jewish upbringing! Especially the ones for pleasure-servants…

   Good sense, massive embarrasment, and a fairly good upbringing still led her to free the kid.

   The “Official” gave the kid a brief lecture on how lucky he was to get picked out by someone who simply wanted to let him go free – and sent him on his way.

(Official) “That was kind of you. He’s a bit young, so I thought I’d give him a bit of a shock – although I must admit, the expressions on their faces are always funny when they see some of the options an owner has available.”

(Ruth) “Yeah, yeah. My dad would lose it if I bought a slave home, anyway.”

   She wasn’t about to admit to being weird enough to have ethics…

(Official) “If you wish to continue in the high-stakes competitions, we’re going to have to be advancing you to the next category for competition… Three wins in a row says that you’re either too good of too lucky for this level of competition – and it looks to me like it’s too good”.

(Ruth) “Sweet.”

(Official) “Since you seem fairly nice, I’ll advise you; if you do wind up losing – which becomes increasingly possibly as you advance – the odds are good that the winner will be male, since better than 80% of the competitors are, and that he would pick you unless you have another indentured servant to substitute. The consequences of that aren’t really too serious either, but I get the feeling that you might consider them so.”

   Odd. Something about the “Official” reminded her of someone she knew, but she just couldn’t place it for some reason.

   Didn’t seem like one of the local fey.

   Oh Lord! Could it be that Unicorn Pervert?

   Nah… She was pretty sure she’d recognize HIM.

   Nobody she’d met – just the general style somehow.

   Pops was going to have some explaining to do! After all, no slaves – and he had two kids who kept calling him “Master” and did whatever he told them to! She’d heard the parakeet story! And, unlike Sophie, she wasn’t at all skittish about expressing her displeasure!

(Official, noting that Ruth was getting a bit hot under the collar) “The category upgrade will be showing up tomorrow Ms Gelman. Should I put you down for an advance sign-up? And is there anything else I can help you with at the moment?”

(Ruth) “Uh, yeah. I”ll be back tomorrow.”

   She’d have to practice her sharpshooting in the meantime! the more winning she did, the fewer the kids who got enslaved! Once she got on top she’d see about changing a few of those rules!

   Ruth went to have a talk with her father… He’d said that he’d been trying to deprogram Sandy and Illona after some cult – come to think of it, a cult that was supposed to be based in Kadia – got to them, but he’d certainly been accepting their services!

   She’d have to devote some time to hunting down this cult!

   She went to have a little talk with Sandy and Illona.

(Sandy) “Yes Ma’am?”

(Ruth) “Hey Sandy, how did Pops meet you two?”

(Sandy) “We were assigned to his service on his first visit to Kadia!”

(Ruth) “Wait, what? How’d this happen?”

(Illona) “Apparently he was investigating the bodyguards Lord Marty had assigned to Abigail, and came through the tree. Since he’s employed by Amarant Solutions and was becoming involved in Manifold work, we were assigned as aides!”

   “Lord Marty?” Wasn’t that the perv who crank called Mom that one night? Eww!

(Ruth) “Did he ask for this?”

(Sandy) “I believe he inquired about Lord Kevin’s services as a contractor in some dispute with Mrs Jenkins, but I believe he accepted the offer of some aides. He had some odd idea about deprogramming us!”

   There was “Lord Kevin” again. Was that something more than some weird local cult? She’d heard an awful lot about Lord Kevin in Kadia. His name was attached to all sorts of things.

(Ruth) “So… is it true you worship this “Lord Kevin”?”

(Sandy) “I know a few who do! Illona worships the Goddess Freyja, and Lord Kevin says that he believes that there is a True Creator or Creators, but that the True Creator has arranged everything to make sure that no one can really know who that might be. Lord Kevin made Kadia though, and he’s a lesser god, and I certainly respect him!”

   Well, she’d heard about false gods in synagogue, and this “Lord Kevin” definitely sounded like one! She was really in the lion’s den here! Just the way she liked it! It looked like Pops did something cool for once! Maybe this was some kind of training exercise! She had to wonder why they didn’t all worship Kevin though…

   Besides. “Kevin”. What kind of a name for a deity was “Kevin”? Was he part of the pantheon of Harry god of Beer, Chris, Debbie the Cake Goddess, and Barbie goddess of beauty?

(Ruth) “Why don’t you all worship Kevin then?”

   They certainly seemed friendly enough. There was no reason not to ask them.

(Sandy) “Lord Kevin says that we can if we want, but that it’s kind of silly; he’s giving us all the power he can and bringing us back if we die and everything anyway, because that’s what we indentured ourselves to get!”

   Now that was just WEIRD. What kind of god – false or not – would say that? Either he was faking it or he had more power than he knew what to do with… Wait, indenture?

   Oh, right, that was a part of the deal she’d heard at the arena, wasn’t it? No, wait, those were indentured for twenty years, but didn’t get a load of power for it. Illona and Sandy’s deal had to be something different.

   They were perfectly willing to show her the contract – and what it featured – on the local computer network.

   She had a look out of curiosity – and possible espionage…

   It wasn’t very believable. The benefits were impossible, and the multi-century term of service – and the Soul-Bond – were even worse. Still, she’d seen what Sandy and Illona could do – and Kadia was full of examples. There wasn’t much choice EXCEPT to believe.

(Ruth, more than a bit incredulous) “And anybody can get this?”

(Illona) “Er… Only those who are willing, young enough to adapt properly, and are stable when traveling the dimensions.”

   Sandy and Illona were not about to try and explain Phantasms to Ruth. That wasn’t their job; if Gelman wanted to explain, he could. Besides… they weren’t entirely sure what not having a “soul” meant. Was having aspects linked across the dimensions really the true definition of a soul? Perhaps “Phantasms” were just on time-share? They weren’t entirely sure that they weren’t having roles as phantasms elsewhere…

   Ruth had some idea of what they were dancing around anyway. There had been indications – and the information was pretty freely available in Kadia. It was rare for a phantasm to notice the difference between themselves and the ensouled – but she’d noticed that she could adapt to new dimensions a lot faster than her father or Sandy and Illona could. Pops leaving everyone else behind in Sesame Street had been a big clue as well… It was no shock to her to realize that she was more fey – mutable, able to blend in with everything, and essentially immortal because she’d reset or reappear eventually no matter what – than human. After all, that was just like everyone else back in Manhattan! She couldn’t even remember most of them! The number of people from there that she really remembered could be counted on one hand…

   Sandy and Illona were waiting quietly to see if she’d need anything else; she was, after all – and phantasm or not – their master’s daughter.

   She took a hard look at them… It was bad enough that they considered themselves property – but it was worse that they’d chosen it and seemed to regard it as being worth it! Those were some REALLY good powers there, but were they really worth indenturing their souls over? She certainly wouldn’t have – although she had to admit that she was an independent sort…

   She’d REALLY have to talk to Pops!

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