Fortunately for Todd, Zero was a very busy digit. It would take some time for a lesser digit to get through to him – and the cab was careening wildly across the city.
(Cabbie) “Goddam lazy drivers! Don’t let those cars stall out! Pass me another molotov, I’ll teach him to brake for yellow!”
(Todd) “Oh dear. Well, you are the cabbie…”
The explosions were spreading down the line of stopped cars, and across the street. Fortunately, the cab itself appeared to be quite used to that kind of thing and was still steering itself.
Todd – thanks to his talents as a scout – could hear Jacob whispering to the cab:
(Jacob) “Triple fare if we actually get there! You can get a new polish job and some new points!”
He couldn’t blame the lad, New York cab drivers could make the ones in London appear pleasant, and that wasn’t easy… Where was the boy from though? He seemed quite sane!
As more firebombs flew, they did get a cop pulling alongside, yelling something about an “open bottle law!”
(Todd, to himself) “Please don’t molotov him, please don’t molotov him…”
The cabbie dove out the window, clutching a molotov in each hand!
(Cabbie) “I’ll show you an open bottle!”
The ball of flame swelled – and the cab announced:
(Cab) “I’m sorry, but I’m required to have an operator!”
(Todd) “Bloody hell. Does the operator need a cab license?”
(Cab, puzzledly, and after a pause) “What’s a cab license?”
Todd scooted over into the driver’s seat.
(Cab) “Off we go then!”
Ah, it had been so long since he had a car! His last one was a smoking heap somewhere on the road rage lane…
(Cab) “Hey! you seem to know what the brake pedal is for! Where did you learn to drive?”
(Todd) “Oh, my father taught me. But my friend Fred showed me how to use the brake.”
(Cab) “Could you explain it to me? I’ve never had a driver who knew – and it’s weird to have parts and not know what they’re for!”
(Todd, explaining it the way that Gelman had explained it to him) “It stops the car from moving so you die less frequently. I’m actually a bit out of practice; I haven’t driven in years.”
(Cab) “That’s OK! My usual driver only throws bombs! Or molotovs when he runs out of bombs; that way he can charge the gas to the company account!”
(Todd) “They would never tolerate that in Swansea or Cardiff. Definitely not cricket.”
(Cab) “I’ve seen those! They say they’re something called a “voice of conscience!”. My driver dips them in chocolate and feeds them to his “inner demon”!”
Oh, right. Americans said “fair.”… He took directions from Jacob.
They were most of the way there when a crackling bolt of lightning came out of the sky and started erasing the zeroes on the speedometer. Their speed began dropping to a crawl to match the new numbers – then started picking up again as the speedometer abruptly went black.
(Todd) “What in the name of Gwydion?”
The remaining tiny zero hummed angrily – and with increasing desperation. At this rate Lord Zero’s favorite torture-toy might get somewhere where people wanted to help him before Lord Zero could be notified! And the child was trouble too! The boy had far more psychic power alone than a normal mortal child should – and he had access to enough extra-dimensional energy to counteract minor numerical manipulations, such as reducing the car’s top speed! Could some of the Traditionalists of England who’d been overseas possible have escaped Lord Zero’s power? Or was the effect weakening? This worlds constant resetting negated almost any unamusing manipulation that did not receive constant reinforcement!
Jacob was frowning internally as well… He didn’t know all that much about “the numbers” – even the locals didn’t appear to know that much – but he could certainly tell a malevolent spirit when he saw one! And poor Todd had several of them hanging about! Had he given away too much already? But how else could he get the man to Mr Gelman?
Todd kept on going, adjusting his driving accordingly – but he was definitely unnerved by this spectacle. SOMETHING – and something with some extremely bizarre powers at that – was trying to stop him.
It got worse when they arrived at the entrance to Abigail’s gated community – and ten identical guards were there to meet him, blocking the way quite throughly.
(Guards – mostly to each other) “Who are you bunch! I’m supposed to check each new arrival! No, I am! I am! We’ll all inspect! Are you trying to steal my job? Where’s my poleaxe? That’s MY sword!”
(Todd) “We’ve come to visit an acquaintance. May we please come through?”
Todd wavered… On the one hand, the guards were just doing their job. On the other hand, it didn’t take a genius to realize that things were getting strange. Even for Battling Business World, this was pretty bizarre.
(Guards) “Not until we settle this! Sure you can! You’re trying to get us fired you bastard! You can’t imply that about my mother!”
The guards were… arguing over which one of them was the original and actual guard? Todd tried to remember just how far it had been to Abigail’s house. This was rapidly becoming an emergency, perhaps enough of one to use his precious Mana.
(Jacob) “Uhm. Mr cab? Can you get back to your company on your own?”
(Cab) “Well of course! Provided that no one’s set it on fire yet today!”
(Jacob) “Well, here’s your money then! And a tip!”
(Todd) “Jacob, do you know any psychometabolism or psychoportation techniques?”
(Jacob) “Basic telekinesis! Want to walk around the corner and jump the fence?”
(Todd) “You can do that. I think I should be able to dimension slide past it.”
(Jacob) “All right sir! I’ll see you right inside!”
(Todd) “Be careful, lad. This is getting insane.”
Todd warped past the fence – attempting to dampen the visual display. A small and irritated digit expended another of it’s (modest) remaining allotment of mathematical manipulations. It needed more reinforcements! Or for a more powerful Number Lord to appear to take responsibility!
(Guards) “What was that! After him!”
Had they suddenly just become ten times as hostile? It certainly seemed like it! They were still doing their jobs – or job – perhaps, but it was getting ridiculous!
(Guards) “Get him! Get him now!”
(Jacob) “Sir? I think perhaps we had best hurry!”
Todd nodded. With a a pack of gate guard (could that possibly be right?) on their tail – even if they WERE still arguing over who got the weapons from the guard post – the world didn’t leave them with much other choice! They ran – boosting their speed where necessary.
The pursuing digit – rapidly being left behind – expended it’s final manipulation accelerating the guards it had multiplied and made more hostile. It hated to have to trust in oh-so-fallible humans – but there was little choice at this point. Todd and the boy possessed enough power to counter most direct assault, and it was but one small, lesser, digit!
Jacob strewed a few “trip” charms and such behind them, but the pack was still baying at their heels when they got to Abigails place.
(Abigail, to Guards) “What’s all this fuss! That’s just Todd! Quit upsetting the dragon!”
(Todd) “Oh, hello, Abigail! I’m sorry about destroying your kitchen.”
(Abigail) “Oh, it was fixed quickly enough! But why are you by today?”
(Todd) “I need to speak with your squirrels.”
Todd glanced back over his shoulder – those guards seemed menacing – but they were currently chasing… another him? Oh! Jacob must know some telepathy! He’d have to thank him for that! And Abigail – not that he knew her very well, but she didn’t seem raving mad – didn’t seem in the least surprised at someone coming to talk to her squirrels. Maybe they were some of the talking ones? An odd choice for a message drop anyway, but considering how odd they day had been…
(Abigail) “Well, the squirrels are in the tree around the back! Except for the one that’s tutoring Julia!”
(Todd) “Well, thank you, Abigail. I wish I could stay longer, but Fred is expecting me, and I don’t think those guards will be fooled for long… (he hesitated briefly before inquiring) Is there something wrong today?”
(Abigail) “Not that I’ve noticed – except for that weird cloud up there!”
Todd looked up… Having grown up in the rainiest place in Britain, he might well be TOO used to cloudy days.
The clouds were glowing green, swirling chaotically, and growing denser hundreds of times faster than normal… Towering thunderheads covering all of New York City. Could something on THAT scale possibly be aimed at him? The guards and such – and that bolt of “lightning” that had hit the car – certainly had seemed to be!
(Todd) “Well, that’s not natural! Jacob, let’s hurry to the squirrels!”
As a gentleman, Todd made sure that Abigail got safely back indoors before rushing to the backyard – where he found several squirrels – some looking nervously upwards and several of them getting out tiny little acorn slingshots.
(Todd) “Hello. Fred Gelman sent me.”
He kept glancing up at the clouds while he spoke. Why such a sense of deja vu? Surely he’d never seen such a thing before! He’d surely remember!
Lord Zero had been notified at last – although it had taken a few moments to prepare. Jenkins had reported some magical squirrels at that location, and a small dragon – but the locus of disorder had shown no signs of spreading, and so had not been a high priority. A ward against magic, a spell to reduce the effects of any damaging attacks by 90% or so, and a storm guardian – just in case the dragon was a heck of a lot more powerful than what had been reported – would more than suffice. A fourth spell would be an absurd waste of resources.
The Storm Guardian wrapped Zero in a crackling web of lightning, ready to lash out on cue or to strike back at any attacker, as the Number Lord manifested – floating high above the nexus of disorder and it’s errant toy.
(Zero) “And what is going on here! Who dares to attempt to defy me by assigning this man a free aide! I have tolerated this small intrusion into my realm long enough! I, personally, shall multiply your future happiness!”
(Todd) “Oh! You’re that thing that Terry keeps talking about! Hello there!”
Todd waved cheerily. Zero was associated with his wife – and that meant that the entity was surely benign!
How was he to know that his memories of the battle against the Number Lords had been wiped from his mind?
Still, something about the Number Lord unnerved him. The creature simply wasn’t right…
(Jacob) “Our client has been invited to go on a visit, and I have been assigned to escort him there and assist him in the meantime. Is there some reason to object?”
(Zero) “You dare to question me?”
The Storm Guardian unleashed a cascade of lightning bolts upon Jacob. Sadly, his personal talents ran to things OTHER than spell absorption or evasion – and he’d been busy laying defenses around Todd. After all, if HE was killed, he’d simply wake up in Kadia. If Todd was killed, they’d have to try and get him out of his office again.
(Todd) “That’s not very polite . . .”
(Abigail) “HEY! YOU STOP RUINING MY LANDSCAPING! I PAID GOOD MONEY FOR THOSE PETUNIAS!”
(Zero, in astonishment) “Shut up woman!”
(Todd) “And that’s DEFINITELY not polite.”
One of the Thralls who’d been in human form tackled Abigail to the side as the Storm Guardian sent a cascade of lightning bolts at her.
(Todd) “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a friend to visit… Jacob?”
Oh dear. More squirrels, but Jacob seemed to have been vaporized at the moment. He’d have to get back in touch with the boy tomorrow.
(Kid who’d tackled Abigail, to Zero) “Go away and leave Mrs Saunders-Tabard alone!”
Zero pretty obviously wasn’t listening.
(Todd) “Oh, sod. It always turns into a fight…”
He manifested Ariannaidd, his bow of moonlight. Granted, the sight of this… thing was making his hands shake a bit, but he was not going to let it stop him!
(Zero) “You are a fool to attempt to defy me once more, as crippled as you now are! I shall multiply your misery throughout all eternity!”
Zero expressed his displeasure with an epic-level storm-multiplier – spawning multiple tornadoes and strafing the entire city with lightning bolts.
(Todd, shouting) “WHAT? Once more???”
Once more? What once more? He’d never seen this thing before! Surely he’d remember!
Oh bother. No one could hear him over the storm anyway. And such a storm… The lightning was actually melting down the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and several other tall buildings, while much of the rest of the city was crumbling beneath the wind and rain!
(Abigail) “YOU STOP THAT THIS INSTANT! WHAT DID MANHATTAN DO TO YOU?”
(Zero) “I shall destroy all of you! Simply for wasting my time!”
Todd was appalled… Oh… I don’t want to abandon them, not in this situation! Where’s Fred? I’ve got to find him, get these people out of here, and run! There was no choice… He’d have to distract the thing.
He fired a Knight-and-Horse-Slaying Arrow at Zero, not even bothering to manifest a power to assist. There was no time – and he had the feeling that nothing else would work.
Zero allowed the shot to hit – simply to demonstrate the futility and hopelessness of resistance. At 90% damage reduction, even Todd’s full-powered focused shot inflicted a mere scratch.
(Zero) You see you fool! Weakened as you are, you are no more a match for me now then you were then! And you have no allies now!
(Todd) “What are you talking about? I’ve never met you before.”
The squirrels were launching a flight of acorns at Lord Zero, but it was easy for the Number Lord to see that the “acorns” – while they might be backed by plenty of skill and even some minor personal enhancement spells – carried no enchantment or psychic power worth mentioning! They could not possibly penetrate his defenses!
(Zero) “You fools! Do you expect mere acorns to touch me? As if they would even penetrate my aura!”
In a way, that actually mirrored the Traditionalists original attack on Zero. The Number Lord had been too busy insulting the more experienced Traditionalists to notice one apprentice with a bow.
In this case he had missed the fact that – no matter what they were currently charmed to look like – the weapons of Core were purely technological. The Thralls had been equipped and prepared to face anything that threatened Abigail – and this entity commanded enough magical firepower to vaporize one of them in one shot. They’d gotten out the big guns.
The barrage of microfusion warheads on smartmissiles was a bit more than a rude surprise.
Todd – warned by some of the Thrall’s stray thoughts – had hit the turf just before the blast. For a moment, even the raging hurricane seemed to stand still, as threads of lightning lashed back towards the Thralls from the Guardian Storm – searing and burning them, but with far too many targets at the moment to actually destroy any of them. Even with 90% damage reduction, Zero was gravely wounded – and almost blown out of the air. The Number Lord wound up hovering just a few feet above the earth.
(Abigail) “Agh! My Souffle!”
Todd grimaced, and forced himself to look up; Zero was severely scorched, and somehow managed to look seriously shocked – but it was still mobile. After THAT? Whatever THAT had actually been? It had seemed like an artillery barrage! From SQUIRRELS?!?
Abigail was actually the first one to recover…
(Abigail, charging in with her skillet) “YOU RUINED MY SOUFFLE!”
Zero barely noticed that she was attacking it – after all, it wasn’t allowing any more deliberate hits to show off right now – but she got it’s attention for a moment even if it had not yet recovered enough to actually act [OK, Abigail and some of the Thralls got better initiative rolls].
(Zero) “WHAT IN THE INFINITE REALMS ARE THOSE SQUIRRELS WOMAN!?!?!”
(Abigail) “They’re BETTER THAN YOU.”
The Storm Guardian was coming down like a hammer to destroy the entire neighborhood – but Zero’s irritation at that response focused it on Abigail – and a hundred bolts descended in a stream.
Fortunately for her, the Squirrel-Thralls each held a few moments of time in reserve – and one of the ones that DID know the art of absorbing spells leapt onto her head to do so. For a moment, the sky went mad as the entire storm funneled down into a small squirrel – but the Storm Guardian was still just a spell, even if absorbing one of the magnitude left the “squirrel” stunned and smoking.
(Zero) “WHAT?!?!? THE PROBABILITY OF THAT IS MINISCULE!”
(Abigail) (to the squirrel) “Poor thing!” (To Zero) “You leave the squirrels and Mr. Jenkins alone!”
Zero found all this quite unbelievable… Being seriously wounded by a traditionalist during the attack on England had been quite bad enough – but this, THIS was an unbelievable affront! Undignified beyond belief! Barraged by squirrels and lectured by a mere housewife? How could this be happening? He began working on a spell to destroy the entire area!
Then another squirrel [still with a higher initiative] absorbed his defensive spells. That left her smoking too – but a third got Abigail out of the way.
(Julia) “I never liked math anyway! Gettim Gettim Gettim!”
(Abigail) “Get back in the-oh, the house just dissolved, great…”
(Zero) “DISGUISED AS SQUIRRELS? HAVE YOU NO DIGNITY? EVEN THE MAGICAL GIRLS WOULD NOT STOOP TO…”
At that point there was an echoing boom as the remaining Thralls who were ready [with high initiatives or bits of stored time to use] hit Zero with another barrage of missiles. Not so many this time with some of them not participating – but with Zero’s defenses down, it was more than enough.
(Todd) “Serves you right, you twit!”
Todd then found himself looking around for a suitable wallbanging surface. What WAS that horrible abomination?
(Squirrel, to Abigail) “Mistress? The Number Lords may be upset about this. Perhaps it would be best to fall back to Kadia for a time in case there is a massed assault?”
(Abigail, sighing) “I don’t think we have a choice. Julia, Blackie, we’re going on a vacation.”
(Julia) “Wee! A vacation in magic squirrel land!”
Abigail grabbed Todd. There didn’t seem to be any suitable wallbanging surfaces left on Long Island, but he really looked like he would try and find one if she allowed him to wander off.
(Abigail) “Come on, no need to brain yourself into a coma over this!”
Todd frantically apologized for getting her into trouble…
(Abigail) “Well, usually it’s Marty who makes the trouble, but in this case it seems to have been Gelman…
She carefully didn’t mention it to Todd, but – on due consideration – Terry Jenkins was probably going to be a bit upset. Most people got that way when you blew up their “god”!
(Todd) “Oh, so you don’t blame me… still, it was all caused by me being OBVIOUS, and I really should have enhanced that arrow… What WAS that thing? It seemed to know me!”
(Abigail, looking at Todd and surprised that he didn’t know) “Ur… It was Zero, ruler of the Number Lords. It’s a good thing that Marty sent some bodyguards I think!”
Actually she suddenly found herself re-evaluating those bodyguards… They were so good at being cute and fuzzy animals, or child-servants, that she’d more-or-less come to think of the “bodyguard” thing as a polite fiction – but they’d just handily defeated Lord Zero – one of the most powerful entities that she had ever heard of actually appearing – in battle.
Kevin… Kevin was a polite boy, and obliging, and drank tea with you – and it was so EASY to forget the kind of power he controlled. World-creators were just not SUPPOSED to be obiging children!
How much of that appalling power did he give to his Thralls? Just what did they become? Zero had leveled Manhattan with that storm – in seconds – and one of the kids had absorbed it. OK, the girl had been stunned – but that was still enough power to level a city…
And they were willing to provide pony-rides for Julia.
It was giving her a headache!
(Todd) “Oh. I never really paid attention to the books. I let my wife handle that. Why would it hate me so much? I’ve never met it!”
(Abigail) “Well, it seemed to think differently… Come to think of it, if you represent some sort of paradox – say IT has met YOU and YOU never met IT – it probably would hate you for that alone.”
(Todd) “Good point. Oh, sod it… let’s go see Fred. We should be safe for now.”
Todd relaxed a bit, although being picked up one-armed by Abigail was fairly embarrassing.
(Todd) “Where did you find so many witches with shapeshifting? That’s a rare talent! And where did they get those acorn-weapons? That didn’t look like witchery! What’s all this doing inside your tree?”
(Abigail) “Well, it’s just where they put the portal. They were pretending to be squirrels so as to avoid upsetting me or the neighbors…”
(Todd) “There’s a dimensional portal here? Just where did Fred go?”
(Abigail) “Well, Fred moved here; to Kadia. To help organize things.”
(Todd) “Is it safe from this Zero?”
(Abigail) “I can’t say for sure – but there are thousands more like the squirrels there.”
(Todd) “Right, then! I don’t think we have any reason to stay here. Again, I am VERY SORRY for this.”
Abigail was still considering the Thralls. Could Marty really have been being honest about the kind of enemies he had? Robots and berserkers and Merlin and renegade godlings and all of that?
The Thralls temporarily closed the portal behind them as they emerged in the park, near the carnival and playing fields. Today there seemed to be a soccer game going on, as well as dragon-jousting and some sort of three-dimensional maze game.
Now that he was in Kadia, Todd’s mental blocks and compulsions began to fade – and Todd began to mumble to himself:
(Todd) “No, that’s not possible, my Tradition doesn’t have those powers… There is no way I could have manifested THAT one so many times that day…”
There was some whimpering as well, as he remembered fighting Zero the first time – and what the Number Lord had done to him in retaliation.
(Tibernia) “Mr Jenkins? My name is Tibernia, and I’ll be handing Jacob’s duties until tomorrow!”
(Todd) “Oh, hello, dear. I’m so sorry he died. Will he be back to see me tomorrow? Oh, silly me, you said he would be.”
He went back to staring into space. How had that shot hit Zero? Had the Number permitted it just to demonstrate how helpless he was?
(Todd) “Anyway, is there a problem?”
(Tibernia) “Well, we need to get you over to your own apartment so you can get ready for dinner!”
(Todd) “My… own apartment? Dinner? (Oh, it had been so long since he had had an apartment – or an actual bed – or a real dinner!) I can’t afford that!”
(Tibernia) “There is no charge for an apartment, clothing, basic foods, non-elective medical care, or other basic services sir!”
(Todd, somewhat in shock) “Oh… oh my. Yes, let’s go then. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
In the morning, Jacob was back – although, given the situation, Tibernia was still around too, just in case of some attack.
His memories were mostly back, and working nicely, too.
Todd was notably quiet at breakfast. Even for a British person. This was a lot to process. So far, he had only come to one conclusion: Zero was going to have to pay.
(Jacob) “Are you all right sir?”
Todd considered playing stoic for a moment, then shook his head.
(Todd) “The Numbers have hurt many people. And do you know what the sad part is? They don’t even remember.”
He sipped his tea.
(Jacob) “I’m sorry sir: there isn’t that much in the databanks about the Numbers as actual hostile creatures. A lot of number theory though.”
Todd explained what he remembered about his and his colleagues’ powers, and what, as far as he knew, the Numbers had done to them.
(Tibernia) “That really is quite dreadful – although most of the others will probably have an easier time dealing with it sir!”
(Todd) “Mmm. Yes.”
That did reassure him somewhat. At least the other Traditionalists didn’t draw a Number’s direct wrath…
(Todd) “But what does this mean? Surely returning to Battling Business World is folly!”
He was loosely familiar with a number of nearby dimensions – he’d been studying Erudition, with it’s dimensional powers, before he’d crossed Zero. Such astral journeys had classified a variety of realms. For example, the Number Realm was a Keter-Class dimension – although none of the astral realms had been quite as… SOLID as Kadia.
(Jacob) “You would seem to class as a refugee, so you are welcome to stay in Kadia for as long as you wish sir!”
(Todd) “Oh, that’s wonderful. Who can I thank for this?”
(Jacob) “Lord Kevin created this dimension as a convenient base of operations, but he sees no reason not to let other people stay if they need a place. From what I hear though, the “everything basic is free” is just the policy of the world he was born in anyway.”
(Todd) “It must be a wonderful place.”
(Jacob) “Most people find it rather dull sir! I like it better here!”
Todd re-adjusted his smartclothes a bit. What a marvel! Even if he got into a fight, these clothes would not rip or stain… Wait; “Lord Kevin” had CREATED this world? Well there might be some truly mighty rituals or something that could tailor a pocket dimension…
(Todd) “It seems to have anything a person could want… Oh, I nearly forgot! Fred is expecting me.”
(Tobernia) “The Core worlds don’t have magic, or major powers, or much of any violence, or things going wrong much sir! It really is quite dull!”
Todd could get behind the last two. The first two were more than a bit odd.
(Todd) “No magic. How on earth do they survive?”
(Jacob) “Purely technological sir!”
(Todd) “Well! That must have taken a lot of luck.”
(Jacob) “Well, neither of us were originally from there – but the databanks offer courses on pretty much everything!”
Databanks? Those sounded worthy of study. For now, though, he had to reestablish contact with his old friend. He’d gone through a lot to get here and make that possible – and it looked like the trouble might only be beginning.
Another youngster answered the door there – and another went by in pursuit of a small boy, who was body-surfing on a… private stream running through the hallway?
(Todd) “Hello there. Is Mr. Gelman in?”
(Sandy) “Yes Sir! Do watch out for the stream though… Little Isaac has persuaded the local water spirits that the building REALLY needs a waterfall, and we haven’t managed to talk them out of it yet!”
(Todd) “Oh dear. Where can I wait for him?”
Fred had a third son now? Had it been been that long?
(Sandy) “Right this way sir!”
Gelman looked a bit stressed – not as stressed as usual, but still somewhat stressed.
(Todd) “Fred! How are you?”
Gelman was a bit shocked… Todd looked… well?
(Gelman) “Fairly well I suppose! There are still a lot of messes to straighten out of course… And how are you?”
(Todd) “I can’t remember being so clear-headed. Sad, really. Thank you for the bara brith, and the message.”
(Gelman) “Ah. You’re very welcome… I’m glad it worked. I was told that visiting here would fix a lot of things, but – even for here – it seemed like a bit much to believe.”
(Todd) “It was startling. I had no idea we’d taken on the Numbers.”
(Gelman) “Oh dear. THAT was what happened? How did you get away?”
(Todd) “The children fired nuclear acorns at that… THING. It destroyed Manhattan and Long Island!”
(Gelman, half choking) “Nuclear ACORNS? Oh, they’re shapeshifting the weapons too… But they had nuclear weapons available? (Peers off into nothingness) as a STANDARD HAND WEAPON? Laser-triggered microfusion missiles? Oh dear…”
(Todd) “Abigail and I would be dead had they not used them. I’m not sure it would have let us revive… And my ex-wife WORSHIPS that monstrosity!”
That was something that Gelman had never expected Todd to call her.
(Gelman) “Ah… You realize that now? Anyway… It’s just that, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; Kevin tends to hand out whatever he thinks might be needed, and giving the kids nuclear weaponry fits his pattern – but it really had never occured to me as a possiblity! It’s not like Ruth’s paintball guns!”
(Todd) “Well, I hope they save them for emergencies. That was definitely one!”
(Gelman) “It’s just… When they feel that Kevin will want something, they don’t hold back one tiny little bit – and I didn’t really know that he gave them nuclear devices to use on their own responsiblity. I really wish he had some calmer, more experienced, and less-committed managers. The kids are just too eager to please to always think things through.”
Todd thought about that for a moment.
(Todd) “Is he hiring? Just living off his generosity doesn’t seem right.”
(Gelman) “He’s always hiring… His operations are expanding at a ludicrous rate.”
(Todd) “I think I’ll apply, then. It’s the least I can do.”
Surely there was something in the dimensions that could protect his mind from the Numbers! And… maybe do something about poor Terry. Even most Battlers weren’t THAT irrational and violent.
(Gelman) “Well, the refugee-hosting operations alone are enormous… He’s currently taking in nearly six million a day, and the rate is still increasing. The mental-disorder treatment program is huge as well. I still find his recruitment programs a bit dubious – but I can’t say they’re unfair.”
(Todd) “What would allow me to travel the dimensions?”
(Gelman) “Almost anything. If you’re working for him, you’ll be assigned some aides – and they’ll have a wide variety of powers. The same kind you apparently saw them use against Zero. About those aides… You ought to know…”
Gelman explained about the Thralls at considerable length.
(Todd) “By Gwydion, that’s contradictory! He should decide if he wants to be good or evil! Still, I can’t argue with their utility.”
(Gelman) “I think he’s busy pretending to be evil for image – and perhaps so he can more easily tell people “no”.”
(Todd) “Ah. Edgy, is he?”
(Gelman) “More busy I think – and there are a lot of requests that are just too low-priority for him to get to. After all, he gets requests that he go after – say – not quite forty runaway kids from somewhere called “Ealor”. On the other hand, there are realms where twenty billion are in danger, and not of their own wills. The forty kids have not been a high priority – and I suspect that, if he does run across them, he’ll just try and recruit them.”
(Todd) “Well, that’s understandable.”
(Gelman) “Yes – but he changes identities, and fits expectations, so readily that I think he has a hard time saying “no”. Having people expect him to be evil, unhelpful, and purely selfish may make his life a lot easier – even if he doesn’t really behave that way.”
(Todd) “It’s always harder to be upright – but at least he’s not that Marty fellow. Whatever happened to him? He seemed to drop off the radar.”
(Gelman) “Well, he has an evil excuse for every nice thing he does – even if some of them are pretty stretched.”
(Todd) “Oh well. Clearly I have some research to do. Ah, are those your wife’s latkes?”
(Gelman) “Either hers or Illona’s… She’s been showing her how to cook.”
(Todd) “Would they mind if I had some?”
(Gelman) “Not at all.”
Todd had some – and they were every bit as good as he remembered.