Brenner was quite glad that he’d decided to condition the crew. Otherwise they never would have agreed to sail off the edge of a world… Even for him it was a shock as the ship changed around him, picking up paddle-wheels, a steam boiler, and supplemental sails as the steel hull transformed to copper-sheathed wood, and the sky suddenly began to look curiously like a dome. Off to the port side a sea monster was disporting itself, and the bottom was shallow; he could see the sand and weeds of the bottom and the ripples of a steady current. The crew were suddenly dressed like something out of “The Voyages Of Sinbad” – although their smartcollars were still working normally.
He laughed after a moment and adjusted his own Smartclothes to suit the “Sinbad” role and took the tiller. Why not ham it up a bit?
(Brenner) “Into the unknown, men!”
The dogs flanked him as his vessel glided over the sea, passing several mysterious islands. The water rippled as it flowed faster and faster towards a horizon that seemed closer and closer at every moment. He called for more coal and full sail as the men pointed ahead in terror;
(Crew) “What is that master! The Sea! The Sea is vanishing into clouds!”.
(Brenner) “That is our destination, men. Have courage!”
After all, otherwise he’d just shoot them in the head anyway…
There were cries of shock and dismay from the crew as the sea droped away from beneath the ship. The foaming waterfall, with occasional fish leaping sideways from it to flash in the sun, yielded a rich harvest of rainbows as it toppled down into the abyss towards the… elephant? (Really? Oh come on! Seriously?). He could see the thousand-mile long tusk thrusting forth, a long, long, curve which obscured most of the even vaster turtle below on which the cosmic elephant stood.
OK, the silliness could be cut with a knife, but still – what a VIEW. That alone was worth the trip!
The ship hurtled onwards, out across the mist and air, cleaving the clouds above the airs of the earth, it’s paddle-wheels thundering. They drove across the fathomless abyss towards the sign of the Cornucopia, hurtling towards the celestial dome that stood between the earth and infinity – a vast sweep of darkness, infinitely deep, and yet so very close that Brenner could almost touch it.
They passed into night, to emerge into the wildspace beyond the crystal sphere – and to sweep across the flowing elemental chaos to pass through a curtain of astral mist and into the waters of the Dyson seas of the Step-Function Galaxies – leaving the Great Elephants, the even Greater Turtle, the flat disk of the Earth, and pretty much everything that he’d recently considered the limits of reality, far, far, behind.
Hm… It looked like the ship was somewhat more modern than it had been – had his pets been meddling? – and evidently the place wasn’t QUITE uninhabited; there was radio traffic from roughly twelve hundred miles away…
(Brenner) “Did you tinker with the ship Rex?”
(Rex) “Things do tend to adapt when you shift realms master! Especially in the more extreme realms! But we did upgrade the ship a bit on arrival here master! It would be hard to get fuel oil here!”
(Brenner) “Oh good. I felt like I was in a cheesy B-movie, and that would get old… I should visit some more of these worlds when I have more spare time.”
Hm. The radio traffic had some light scrambling – but it wasn’t anything that the smartclothes couldn’t decipher easily. It seemed to be nothing but simple chatter from some sort of exploratory group – quite a coincidence that, unless there was some sort of rule that drew people together here. There might be; how else could they find each other in a dimension where livable space came by the cubic light year?
Still, he could simply survey a few of the nearest asteroid-archipelagos while he listened. There were a few references to a “High Lord” and to passing reports back to… Mars? Clearly not from any place he was familiar with! They did seem to be at least quasi-military though.
Brenner opted to avoid them. No need to make trouble with possible military forces and it wasn’t like there weren’t millions of square miles of ocean for them to get lost in.
There were fish, breezes, storms, asteroids entangled in plants, places where trees miles tall reared out of the ocean… and plenty of usable asteroids suitable for a little homesteading. Let them try to pull his medical license here! He could simply declare his own country!
Hm… Scenery was easy. Every spot with a clear view of the sky showed hundreds of millions of square miles of scenery… The rougher asteroids provided a towering mountainous backdrop, with many crags and valleys – as well as gas bubbles, caverns, and hollows suitable for a secret base.
Somehow he was beginning to give himself a distinct super-villain vibe. He’d have to watch for that; if he found himself starting to cackle, encasing himself in powered battle armor, or tinkering with orbital mind control lasers, it would definitely be time for a vacation…
(Thatcher, who had been watching him survey the layout of the land) “Will this do Master?”
(Brenner) “Can you tell if it’s hollow?”
(Thatcher) “I think there are some major hollows deep inside, but there are a number of deep ravines, gas bubbles, and caves that might do. How much space are you looking for Master?”
(Brenner) “Enough for an aircraft carrier, perhaps?”
(Thatcher) “I don’t think there are any quite that big on this side Master! I can’t feel anything more than five or six hundred feet across!””
Five or six hundred feet? Wait, how big a vehicle could one of these dogs move? He’d never had much interest in naval units, but…
Better than a thousand feet long. Hundreds of feet wide. Many stories. Up to a hundred thousand tons or so. A floating base for nearly six thousand people, a hundred planes, and any number of small boats.
And they could hold a gate open for hours. One of these dogs could more an army or a naval fleet between worlds – and he’d been handed six. Casually. He could go into partnership with some petty warlord and seize some primitive world if he was so inclined…
Argh! He could feel the super-villainy, he evil cackle, and the bad fashion sense sneaking up on him now!
For now, he’d settle for a cavern suitable to house his secret base… Hopefully that wasn’t the first step towards a mask, tights, and cape!
How extensive were this “Kevin’s” operations anyway? What was he involved with?
(Brenner, to Thatcher) “See if you can find a good cave, then.”
(Thatcher) “Yes Master! There are some over this way!”
The caverns had an odd look to them. They were much more wildly irregular than he’d expected. Of course, the fact that the local gravity was pretty minimal changed things a lot… It had been pretty comical to watch the crew flailing about before getting their bearings. Oddly enough, it hadn’t seemed to affect him… Ah. His pets had exerted a bit of telekinesis to stabilize him whenever he was having a problem. Now that was quiet and unobtrusive service!
Still, he’d laughed at the slaves a good bit… (they’d apologized for their clumsiness). Could he get gravity control for his quarters? There was probably something that could be done about it out here. If there could be worlds that were literally being carried on the back of elephants riding on cosmic turtles bigger than Jupiter, there weren’t many things that were impossible.
Exploring turned out to be less exciting than he’d thought it might be. There were some very large birds and oversized squirrels, giant butterflies, big dragonflies, crabs, shellfish, bobcat-sized cats, a few lizards and… ah. The place had been DESIGNED to be a hospitable environment for humans. It was hard to believe that some hostile creatures wouldn’t have crept in somewhere – but given the scale, and the fact that he had been looking for a safe refuge, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that he wasn’t finding much in the way of dangerous animals – and his pets were quite capable of keeping him out of danger from anything short of a major disaster. Come to think of it, with no tectonic plates, intentionally-stable suns, and self-organizing Dyson-sphere-worlds, were major disasters even possible in this universe?
Anyway, there were exotic fruits and flowers, fresh air, fish, and – by Linear Realms standards – an endless – and almost literally boundless – luxury of space and natural surroundings. It was a delightfully relaxing environment, complete with his pets to attend him – and the sailors to busy themselves with ship maintenance, cooking, building him a shelter, and setting up a picnic.
(Brenner) “Ahh… I feel like crab.”
Rex ran off to fetch some while Thatcher stood guard.
(Brenner) “This is a good secret base site. Don’t you think so?”
(Thatcher) “Yes Master! It would be difficult to get more concealed from most of the universe, and that exploration group is at least eight hundred miles away, and probably a good deal more!”
(Brenner) “Good dog.”
(Thatcher) “Thank you Master!”
He had the slaves start to set up the foundation for a small commercial space in one of the caves – deep enough inside to make it awkward for any “explorers” to wander in. A sea entrance, a suitable area for docking the boat, a “secret headquarters” back up in the dry area… He’d have to get some real equipment though; there was only so much that could be done with rocks, wood, bamboo, and seaweed outside of classic sitcoms.
He’d have to go back to the hellhole of the Linears. As much as he hated to. He could get used to this fresh air… it would be easy to retire here. Maybe after he had his real estate setup making a profit?
Before he went back…
(Brenner) “Thatcher? Why were you and Rex willing to obedience-condition the crew?”
(Thatcher) “Well… they were brought into Kadia as your property, so you were entitled to have them modified – and obedience-conditioning is pretty standard for slaves master.”
(Brenner) “How traceable would this be back home? And just how dependent are these men on me now?”
(Thatcher) “A strong psychic probing their minds could easily note it, and might be able to undo it. They regard you as their proper owner and master, but are capable of functioning with a fair degree of independence, just as we are. They are bonded and programmed in a similar fashion, albeit far more throughly on the conscious levels. We can’t go as deep as Lord Kevin does with us though.”
Hm. That was easy enough. If he kept them on the ship, they weren’t likely to encounter a strong psychic. He’d just have to make a note of that when it came to crew replacements. Still, he was pretty leery of conditioning all his employees. Psychics were slippery…
Of course, anyone he imported here probably should be conditioned. He wouldn’t want anything unexpected going on behind his back – and it was going to be bad enough concocting a cover story for the trip. Maybe medical stasis? Or at least making sure that the portholes were very grimy and stuck shut? That would be cheap enough, and ought to work just fine.
(Brenner) “How does Lord Kevin make you anyway?”
That got a fair amount of explanation. They’d apparently been normal Neodogs – although that apparently meant boosted physical abilities, high intelligence, self-healing, and speech – and then “Lord Kevin” had used his divine powers to conclude a contract with them, granting them lots of additional powers.
(Brenner) “Divine power?” (He wasn’t going to argue with it after having seen the Manifold, but it was still hard to swallow!)
(Thatcher) “He’s a god or demon lord. The terms are really sort of interchangeable and depend on which culture is looking.”
A demon-god? It fit in a way… Well, he couldn’t say that he cared very much as long as he wasn’t singled out for some sort of divine wrath!
He spent the next couple of weeks establishing a facility and importing more personal slaves. It was such a scenic place – and watching the slaves flail around until they got their bearings never got old!
Besides, while he was getting a bit of information back, he was still waiting on the locations of the last few safehouses for the Red Scimitars.
The fourth trip back abruptly got exciting…
As he was coming off from the monotrain from the docks, a middle-aged fellow nearby abruptly detonated a bomb-vest – but Rex knocked him flat ahead of the blast.
Goddamn Red Scimitars! They’d caught on somehow! Probably one of their damned psychics!
They had a followup team too! At least three people blasting away with small arms and two men moving in with knives!
He always kept his gun handy – but he had to hope that his bodyguard-pets were pretty damned good at their jobs – and Thatcher had already taken a couple of bullets; he’d better not expect too much from her. At least Rex was moving to defend him – but five to one wasn’t good, even with screaming-and-running innocent bystanders about to use as cover. At least the pistol fire was slacking off as the knife-and-hand axe (how traditional could you get?) men were moving in.
Oh, one of the pistol-users seemed to suddenly be on fire… Now THAT was handy; he’d almost forgotten that his pets could do that. Fortunately, most of the likely witnesses were running like mad at the moment.
He started rolling back while firing at the guys closing with knives – focusing on the one that Rex wasn’t lunging for… A (fortunate) shot to the chest took him down, unconscious or dying. With Rex locked in a fang-to-hand grapple with the other melee artist, that left Thatcher between him and two gunmen. Fortunately she managed to take a couple of bullets for him.
Presuming they survived, both of his pets were definitely getting steaks when he got home. Brenner rolled behind a bench and kept firing. The light structure wasn’t much cover, but it was the best available, which – along with the fact that a little way beyond this point there were a lot of possible routes available, was probably one of the reasons the ambushers had picked this particular point.
Only a couple of hits so far, and nothing too serious. His smartclothes were handling the glancing shots – but Thatcher took several more slugs hurling herself towards the gunmen, even if she did get her jaws locked around one gunman’s hand.
He put a slug into the one fighting with Rex. It was the only one he had a clear shot on – and it would leave Rex free to take out the other two; the one who’d caught fire had it out and was up again. Rex would take a few slugs doing it – but better Rex than HIM. He didn’t have enhanced healing powers!
Rex rolled free, lunging towards the last gunman as the one who’d been on fire burst into flames again and went down. He took a couple more hits – but he was still doing fairly well when his blood-soaked pets took down the last of the hit squad. He’d taken several more small hits – but the willingness of his pets to take multiple bullets for him, and his smartclothes, kept his skin mostly intact.
They actually were loyal enough to die for him – and he knew damned well that they didn’t approve of him. How the hell did “Kevin” achieve that result and still leave them independent enough to act effectively? For that matter, how could they still be on their feet? Thatcher had taken at least eight bullets, but was still moving. Rex had several stab wounds and some bullet wounds, but seemed to be in better shape. It had to be part of their psychic abilities – although maybe their smartcollars were doing something. They ought to be in shock at the least, or suffering from multiple organ failure even if the smartcollars were blocking most of the bleeding.
Still, as long as they WERE still functioning… He had several unconscious attackers and a few dead. He grabbed the most important-looking one amongst the unconscious and got out. Security had to be on it’s way, and with an explosion and gunfire the police wouldn’t be far behind – if they didn’t beat the local security, who wouldn’t be any too eager to get into the middle of something like this.
Hm… At a quick guess, “most important” looked like one of the melee specialists. The unconscious body he grabbed seemed incredibly light though. Adrenalin? No, that would be wearing off. One or both of the dogs STILL had the power to spare after keeping themselves alive to help him out with telekinesis?
Well, he wouldn’t look the gift horse in the mouth.
He headed for the closest safehouse… It took some sneaking, and a minor illusion or two courtesy of Rex and Thatcher, but they successfully evaded the police.
(Thug) “Geez boss, what happened?”
(Brenner) “I decided to eat Chinese. What do you think happened? Restrain this idiot.”
He got into his surgical outfit, with all his lovely sharp tools – and waited for his new “patient” to wake up. He checked Rex and Thatcher while he was waiting… Rex was mostly healed already, and Thatcher was healing at an incredible rate – although she found his getting the bullets out helpful. Well, that saved on sutures and anesthetics.
They both seemed a bit… embarrassed? Oh for… It was becoming pretty obvious how they thought; they’d been assigned as bodyguards, they’d failed to spot the ambush, and now they were feeling guilty about it. It wasn’t like they could possibly be perfect – and they’d spotted it in time to push him down before the blast wave hit. It was hard to ask for more than that.
(Brenner) “Hmph. That was a well-planned ambush. But we’re all in one piece… mostly.”
He had the aides bring them some steaks.
Hm. On evaluation, evidently the “military models” had no compunctions at all about attacking, killing, or enslaving, humans. Maybe their makers weren’t as soft and crazy as he’d thought. He’d gotten a fair deal then!
His prisoner came awake shortly after he’d gotten back to him – and had started to froth a bit, then had stopped.
(Brenner) “Everybody step back!”
(Thatcher, on the private links) “He tried to poison himself Master! I’d heard of the “hollow tooth” gag, but I’d never actually seen it!”
(Brenner) “Oh. Well, he’s in for it now.”
Brenner engaged in a bit of interrogation, and had his thugs knock the guy around a bit – but found that the dogs were capable of reading surface thoughts, even though they said that the guy had apparently had some basic shield-training somewhere.
Well, that at least confirmed that the tong had some minor psychics.
Hm. It looked like the Tong had noticed his inquires, traced them back somehow, and had decided to terminate them with extreme prejudice. Still, his pets could read bits of routes, thoughts of safehouses, and a good deal of other information; it might not have been enough on it’s own – but his agents had reported some information, and he’d had some already.
Dammit. Well, time to get direct.
(Brenner) “Well, you’re going to answer them for me.”
He picked up his most intimidating set of forceps.
(Brenner) “Or we’ll widen your mouth so we can get them out. Now… where is the nearest Tong safehouse?”
Ah, that did get a few more useful bits from his thoughts. He should be able to find them fairly soon, especially if he sent one of the other dogs to look.
Well, he clearly couldn’t let the man live, and if I recall correctly, I’m banned only from vivisecting children. Still, enough torture might get a little more information – and he looked healthy enough. His organs would fetch a decent price on the black market.
Rex still had enough power left for some healing, which made the eventual breaking much more of a sure thing – although it took a lot of time to put together any really coherent answers.
Rex, of course, felt that he was working for a monster – but Kevin had assigned him here, so it presumably served Kevin’s purposes, which was good enough.
Eventually they had some good locations, and a fair amount on the structure of the Tong.
Rex noted that – if they took him along the next time they went to Kadia – Brenner could have obedience and easy answers.
That wasn’t a bad idea. The man was ethnically Chinese (really the only reason he’d assumed that he was important), and – once made obedient – he could be quite useful. He’d sedate him and keep him under “observation.”
Rex was better satisfied with that. At least he was saving SOMEBODY. It was hard to blame people for wanting to kill Dr Brenner. He was NOT a nice man!
Dr Brenner got a bone for Thatcher while he was at it, since she’d been hurt more severely.
He had to think about acquiring some personal power. That “move an aircraft carrier”, “stop eight bullets and still fight and heal in hours afterwards”, and “adapt a ship to the physics of a flat world on elephants and a turtle” was sort of saying he was involved with things he wasn’t entirely ready to handle, no matter how good he was in his at using people and the dogs. Oh well, that was a note for later. The Tong was a little closer to home, so he’d focus on that for the moment.
It looked like most of the Tongs income came from the classics – drugs and sex. Low expenses, fairly high profits, and with the world running downhill a big demand. They weren’t above providing services that were pretty hard on their “employees” either. He put the other four dogs to work hitting the profits for the moment… Sending masses of vermin into their brothels, using molecular-level telekinesis to ruin their drug shipments, and so on. The dogs were rather a lot of supernatural muscle, and he had no reason not to use it! It wasn’t directly traceable either! It’d be slower than a direct attack – but there wasn’t any rush when he had such a secure location to fall back to.
Direct attack… Wait. The dogs could easily shapeshift into the form of small animals, and canine jaws did have devastating effects on throats. He doubted that anyone would notice a rat skulking into some Tong operative’s apartment – and the mysterious deaths would have some impact. The size-shifting shapechange was one of the things the local psychics just couldn’t do.
That did start causing some chaos. He let them do a little kidnaping too, using “Charm” spells on some of the kids of upper-level Tong types, as well as throwing minor curses, illusions, and similar indirect stuff to go with the hits.
Should he hold the kids hostage? Their tender little hearts were so tempting… High-quality child organs were so profitable! People would pay ANYTHING for their own kids to live! Still, he had agreed to sell them to Kadia… He let the dogs guard them while he made up his mind.
Just having the kids vanish would provoke some chaos, and was less risky then messages were – but there was something… (Rex pushed a bit) Oh, that was so OBVIOUS! Ship them to Kadia as slaves to be programed to obey him! That would be a really long-term takeover scheme of course – but it would make great backup! Why kill or imprison your enemies when you could dominate them instead?
His pets warned him that it had limits; if he abused his slaves too much the conditioning would eventually start to fail. It would only take a modest amount of consideration to keep them from ever considering trying to resist though.
He’d watch out for that – although it made it a lot easier to populate his asteroid-island! It would be a near-perfect safehouse!
And by now he’d gotten enough equipment and materials there to be getting pretty comfortable.
How could he get more of these wondrous “Military-Class NeoDogs”?
What could he trade to “Kevin” – who evidently had enough to simply assign them by the thousands to gathering children and was his only known source – for more?
Well, “Kevin” wanted more kids. Well, he had a deal on marketing the ones from THIS dimension – but they’d probably be ready to make more deals for kids from OTHER dimensions, and he hadn’t guaranteed that he wouldn’t ask for other prices for some of the ones from the Linear Realms!
(Brenner) “Rex, Thatcher. Tell me what worlds are nearby.”
That was another long discussion – and wound up talking about souls too. That limited things down to the “Disaster Realms”, which had lots. How many kids would it take to buy another dog?
He’d have to work on some more trips! And some more reward-options other than steaks… What would they like?
Oh. Treats, walks/runs, someone assigned to do petting, combing, etc, permission to spend a bit of their daily power reserves on themselves and their own comforts sometimes, new computer games, educational programs, chew toys… Well, he’d been going to get some toys and such for the captive kids, now that he had to keep them conscious and not remove their organs, even if they were being turned into docile little slaves. Might as well throw in some stuff for his pets as well.