Over in the Linear Realms, Dr Brenner was stretching the limits of his organization… He didn’t want to try and move too far up the existing syndicate chain of command, or he’d risk losing control – but there were limits to how fast he could recruit controllable subordinates as well. His semi-monopoly on Smartclothes, along with his new pets, were massive advantages – but not enough to weather a major syndicate war.
Still, he had his slaving operation running at full throttle – and, much as he hated to admit it, even allowing for expansion (and those confounded neodog child-rescue squads) it was going to be a long time before there was any serious depletion of the pool of potential “recruits” – even sticking to the illegal kids and to the ones who ran away on their own. Perhaps one day there would be a need to start intentional rumors and disruptions to encourage that, but that wouldn’t be for a long time. There was no need to generate any more heat than necessary.
He did have to ensure that his own pets didn’t offer gratuitous support to the ones that were running free rescue missions – but a quick swat on the nose with a roll of paper and a sharp “NO!” seemed to suffice. Sure, they were intelligent, but a little humiliation worked wonders – not that they seemed inclined to be even slightly disobedient once told not to do something anyway.
Still… the capture and sale of children was pretty much running on its own now. Next up, real estate – selling off some bits of that bizarre step-function galaxy to the desperate. Who else in the Linear Realms could offer virtually endless unexploited living space? Dyson Spheres with a ten-thousand mile depth of livable VOLUME could swallow the earth with barely a ripple, much less it’s population…
After that? Well, endless dimensions surely meant endless opportunities for someone who could see them!
Hm… Wait a moment… Moving up in his own syndicate would be awkward – especially since he’d been a fairly small operator up until now – but perhaps he could take control of one of the competitors? He’d always worked with the Remillard Family – a fairly old-style mafia group that had a lot of law-enforcement and social pull. Like himself, they’d been exploiting the recent social disruptions and (semi-) “martial law” incidences to seize more power. He’d leave them alone; there was no sense in annoying his old Mob “friends” while grabbing things…
Still, the twenty-four Penn-York Linear Complexes supported at least two other notable gangs…
The Red Scimitar Tong was in the weakest position – but had a demonstrated willingness to employ some of the most spectacular tactics, like turning people into walking bombs. They were even rumored to have some renegade psychics on the payroll. They were thriving on some of the classical businesses – illegal services, slave-trading, prostitution, and drugs.
Marvandias Ishkan was efficient, ruthless, and had good connections through the area – and had recently managed to acquire Smartclothes for himself and for at least some of his forces. Whether he had full control was quite another question – but even the basic protective functions which would work for anyone would be pretty useful to him. His gang ran more towards major thefts, information manipulation and computer crime, blackmail, and similar less-public options.
Ishkan controlled a smaller, tighter, gang – and would be harder to exploit effectively if he did manage to seize control. Besides… he was inclined to go after the Tong first. They were creating the most mayhem and disturbance, which was bad for any kind of business. Those psychics would be a problem – but he had six new psychics of his very own.
At least as importantly, he’d had time to test them – and the results had been impressive. There were more powerful psychics out there – but not very many, and almost certainly none of those were working for the syndicates, much less for local criminal groups. Even if there had been, he had six – and there were few other psychics so versatile, none with so many secondary abilities to draw on.
Actually, the Thralls in NeoDog form had been concealing a few of their powers from him – just as they’d been ordered. They hadn’t revealed that they still had easy and open cross-dimensional communications, that their primary loyalty was still – of course – the Kevin, that they could return if killed, or their ability to shapeshift to human form. As far as Dr Brenner knew, they could only handle small and medium animal forms.
Sadly, he didn’t know much about the Tong’s hideouts and safe houses. Unsurprisingly, such locations were the best-kept secrets of the various criminal groups; otherwise a simple tip could put them out of business. That was one reason why the Remillard cultivated so many connections – and needed correspondingly less care with the locations of their strongholds.
Well, he could easily hire a few ethnic Chinese anonymously to try and get the information he’d need. They had an ethnic drive towards large families, and always needed support and credentials for illegal children. It would still take some time though. Fortunately it would be easy to screen for moles and fifth columnists. That was the joy of having psychic dogs. No one expected it.
He could give them Smartclothes as well. Those could be programmed to self-destruct, or to try and return to him – and they could report back even if their wearer’s were eliminated – and no one would be expecting that either…
The only trouble with Smartclothes was the number of restraints in the things… There were an awful lot of obvious applications of smartfibers and their energy reserves that they were programmed against applying – and a lot of protective and life-support functions that couldn’t be turned off.
Wait a moment… He could just use Smartcollars! They were just as effective, and while they still had some restrictions, there were a lot less of them. They’d apply shock-discipline, or restrain their wearers, and spy on them, and even administer drugs and perform minor surgery on external command. They could even simply be deactivated, or commanded to self-destruct, if that would be more convenient.
Not quite the same as exploding, but a lot less conspicuous anyway.
After he sent them off, he started setting up a trip to the step function realm… He couldn’t expect much in the way of results for some time. The Tongs would be careful to avoid being followed, and the various subcultures who might know more would take time to infiltrate.
(Rex) “Yes Master! Would you be wanting to take anyone else or bring anything back?”
(Brenner) “Oh, no, Rex. We’ll be doing a survey.”
Odd. In a way, he kind of missed Ramirez. These “Military-Class NeoDogs” were a lot more useful since they could attack humans effectively (and had a lot less in the way of silly scruples) – but the naive creature had been amusing to have around! Still, this male made a far more imposing pet bodyguard-pet when he wanted to make an impression – and was a lot more sensible about taking whatever actions were necessary.
He asked some more about gates on the way; after all, he’d be trusting himself to the things – and he wanted to know exactly how they worked and if there was any chance of losing a limb to the bloody things!
The NeoDogs explained that the “size” of a gate was governed by the size of the balance point, by the power of the operator, and by the will of the operator and the person being transported. There was no weight limit as such, but merely a volume restriction. They could hold a gate open for many hours, and there was no risk of injury in passing; once someone was within the area of a gate, which realm they were in was a matter of choice.
They weren’t sure if a nonliving item could be divided by, say, two people pulling towards oppositive dimensions at the same time, but it would be easy enough to test in the unlikely event that no one had tried it yet. Personally, they could move things up to aircraft-carrier size. Planets and such required an Opener however, not just a Gatekeeper.
Aircraft carriers? They were bloody huge weren’t they? Floating cities…
Wait a moment, planets? Where the hell would you put one?
Anyway, could they just more his base of operations?
Ah. It would need to be mobile to pass through a gate, since it would have to go to the gate unless you he had an Opener to make one where you he wanted one…
A mobile home or yacht perhaps? He’d always wanted a yacht, but it was such an obvious target. Still, that wouldn’t matter much if he sailed it out of this dimension… Perhaps a small cargo ship? It would have lots of room – and there had been a lot of oceans connecting the asteroids. It wouldn’t take more than a couple of days to acquire a small ship. They were expensive, but they were just vehicles to be bought and sold.
Finding a surveyor and a crew who could be counted on to stay quiet simply took a few careful interviews – with a little canine assistance.
As it turned out, his pets were perfectly willing to quietly hypnotize his surveyor and crew and put them out for him so that he could install control implants. That way he could win either way… He could give them Smartcollars instead of Smartclothes too. There was no real external way to tell the difference of course.
All he’d need was a bit of cover – and that was easy enough. There were always the various charity efforts around the world. Africa would do; after the out-of-control epidemics had died down the place had gone semi-colonial again, but there were plenty of pockets of trouble left. It would do nicely as a low-priority cover – and nobody would worry too much if they quietly vanished after they were well out at sea.
Since the evacuation/rescue efforts required a lot of gates to Kadia, there were quite a few available at the moment – and the transition took mere moments.
(Rex) “Welcome to Kadia Master!”
For once, Brenner was speechless.
The sky was brilliant and unpolluted, the sea was blue and full of fish – and there was something very odd about the horizon. There are a few other ships about, including some very old-style sailing ships and galleys and some which were considerably more modern than his own…
(Rex) “We’re registering your visit, and your chattels, now Master! Is there anything you’ll need while you’re here?”
The crew was muttering ominously, and the pilot is speechless and wondering about weird sea-superstitions. It looked like they weren’t being paid enough not to wonder about THIS.
(Brenner) “Umm… some vodka would be nice right now.”
(A Crewman) “What the hell is this! What the !@#$% is going on here! Where are we? What have you gotten us into you lunatic!!!”
(Rex) “Your vodka Master!
(Brenner) “Vodka for everybody! (Aside, to Rex) “and maybe some hypnosis…”
Rex provided quite a lot of vodka. The crew was mostly be sitting around dazed in short order… In fact, it was pretty plain to Dr Brenner that they’d been tranquilized – probably by something hidden in the vodka. Well, if the dogs could conjure vodka – at least around here – presumably adding some tranks wouldn’t be a much bigger trick.
Of course, that called for the rolled-up newspaper.
(Brenner) “You imbecile! How am I going to sail a ship with a drunken crew?”
(Rex) “Sorry Master! I thought it best to calm your other properties! I can neutralize it if you wish; my powers are much stronger in Kadia!”
(Brenner) “Well, hypnotize them before you do that. Convince them that, no matter what, we’re sailing on a perfectly normal sea. No Age of Sail ships, no high-tech hovercruisers, and DEFINITELY no . . . whatever that swan thing is.”
(Rex) “Yes Master! Do you wish them modified for long-term obedience? That will take longer, but will not need to be repeated later on!”
(Brenner, after a moments consideration) “Perfect. We may need these men later.”
Wait a moment… “properties”? They’d been fitted with control implants, even if they didn’t know it; did that mean that the dogs now considered them slaves as well? And were prepared to inflict some sort of control-conditioning on them?
Apparently yes – although it did take Rex about an hour each. Fortunately he’d brought along a second for backup – a female named Thatcher – which meant it only took about six hours to finish up with the twelve crewmen.
(Rex) I’m done processing your other slaves now Master! Shall we continue our trip now?”
(Brenner) “By all means. Gentlemen?”
(Crew) “Yes Master!”
Hm. According to his pets, the available waterborne courses for the step-function galaxy included… Crusader to the Celtic Dawn to the Step Function Universe. The Waterfall at the Edge of the World to the Spelljammer Realms to the Step Function Universe. The Seas of Faerie directly to the Step Function Universe. It only took a few minutes to check on some of those – and Faerie might be shorter, but it was a lot more risky.
He decided on The Waterfall at the Edge of the World to the Spelljammer Realms to the Step Function Universe. He just HAD to see those anyway.