The sparring match was going relatively well. While her skill would normally have been no match for Semerlin’s, the hidden physical advantages of her lycanthropy provided her own edge. That might not be quite “fair”, but “practical” won out over “fair” every time in her book.
A stunning blow to the head would normally have been blinked away in seconds – but the walls, floor, and ceiling continued to twist and waver in her sight.
Semerlin seemed to see it too?
Brendalen staggered as the floor twisted under her – turning Semerlin’s outstretched hand (whether to aid or seeking support of her own) into a gentle push.
Brendalen toppled over, through a wavering section of the floor, and into darkness.
In the places between the worlds, the reality storm was raging. The myriad realms of the Manifold normally sought their own balances, fading into other – similar and related – worlds in gentle transitions. Thus a man might, given long ages, walk or sail a myriad worlds by paths both hidden and blatant.
The flow of energies, of reality and souls, through such gates was gentle as well, a vast, slow, tide of belief and energy, feeding on the varying definitions of the realms as hidden continents of belief and legend surfaced from the deeps of the Racemind, and long-forgotten ideas settled into the deeps to flow into the Seas of Memory.
The Openers had disturbed that balance. They opened paths between utterly unrelated worlds, with no buffer of intervening realities. While only those paths which balanced in at least one way were at all stable, through many such gates wild power poured both ways – and the storms grew.
To intrude overmuch into the manifold of a young race was to awaken churning chaos. That was, perhaps, a defense mechanism of sorts – but the reality storms would build and churn for a long time after such an intrusion.
Or after the Opening.
Sucked into such a maelstrom, even a Loup-Garou was but a bit of flotsam – but this one housed a soul, a hard core of identity in the flux.
What the storm could not break down, it eventually cast ashore on the borders of reality – a tidal surge of power breaking through a weak point in the reefs of structure which surrounded each of the more vital realms.
A point where an Opener or Gatekeeper had recently opened a path.
Brendalen Kathin awoke later. How much later there was no knowing… Minutes? Hours? Decades?
The towers of the city around her were dreamlike, towering hundred of stories in a mad mix of colors, styles, and materials – and her head throbbed. Perhaps she was hallucinating?
The local population certainly supported that idea. The streets were full of “people”, but… there were green furry humans wandering by, a centaur chatting to some sort of silver orb floating next to her, a warty green-skinned goblinesque punk dressed in leather with tusks that should make eating difficult tap dancing across the street, and an androgenous silver creature that sort of floated by instead of actually walking.
At least most of them were speaking English of a sort, although it was hardly the only language being used – although most of the others seemed to be being pointedly used to exclude others from the conversations.
They mostly seemed to be wandering between the numerous shops, which were advertising food, drink, self-restructuring clothes, nanotech toys, specialized microtronics, implants, complete body restructuring, pocket-sized devices advertised as “All the information of the Inner Solar System at your fingertips!”.
No real bookstores though.
It was about then that she realized that she was in her natural form – an eight-foot-tall four-hundred-pound dire-wolf-human-hybrid-monstrosity – and no one was paying any attention to her whatsoever.
That was either refreshing or terrifying; she wasn’t sure which. It was a bit like one of those dreams, where you were giving a presentation when you suddenly realized that you weren’t wearing any clothes.
She fell into step next to a pink-scaled woman…
(Brendalen) “Uhm, would you mind telling me where I am. I am not quite sure.”
(Pink scaled woman) “You’re actually lost? You don’t seem like a luddite with that body.”
Evidently giant furred werewolf-creatures were… normal?
Wait, she’d somehow slipped into full-wolf form. How had that happened? Simply due to the dizziness and an instinctive attempt to compensate with more legs?
Within her the chaotic energies of the reality storm gradually grounded themselves, making many small changes along the way.
(Brendalen) “Well, uhm, the last thing I remember is getting hit in the head and falling through something. I’m not quite sure what I fell through though. That sounds a little ridiculous I know, but…”
(Pink scaled woman) “Eh, not too uncommon among some areas. Look, you’re in New York City right now, lower Manhattan to be exact. Here’s five creds, buy yourself a pocket assistant and it can help you more than I can. You can find the things everywhere.”
(Brendalen) “Oh, thank you. Have a nice day. “
She took the creds with her mouth and looked around for advertisements… It didn’t take long to find a store that was currently advertising pocket assistants with access to the network and to the expert system library with your choice of personas based on reconstructions of a wide range of historical personalities. Only 3.99 with unlimited bandwidth access for a year.
She picked “Amelia Earhart”, even if it did come with a disclaimer stating that the programmers could not be held responsible for any inaccuracies with actual historic people from before Reconstruction, although the programmers and Personality Engineers did extensive research in an attempt to make them as accurate as possible.
She bought one from the holographic salesperson – and shifted back to hybrid form to collect her purchase. Now that she was paying attention, she could feel that the transformation was significantly more time consuming and limited than she was used to.
It was about the size of a 3X5 card, and lit up when she looked at it.
(Assistant) “Unable to identify carrier. Are you the new owner of this device?”
Well, there didn’t seem to be any other form of input.
(Brendalen) “Yes. I am the new owner of this device.”
An image of a young woman appeared on the screen.
(Assistant) “Unable to verify identity. Please state your name and identification code.”
(Brendalen) “Brendalen Kathin and I don’t have an identification code.”
(Assistant) “Ah, are you perhaps a new arrival into this world then? Or a victim of memory erasure and slave trafficking?
(Brendalen) “The former would be more acurate, although I did arrive here by knockout.”
(Assistant) “Ah, well I can direct you to a group of people that also appear to have arrived from elsewhere. Perhaps you originated from the same location? Currently nearby I am tracking a young man and an older gentleman seeking to purchase indentures from the local children. They currently have a number of young adults with them in tow as well. The other one I am tracking is a businessman seeking to close a business deal in the necropolis. They all arrived together at the same time before parting ways.”
Indentures? Some sort of slave trader? And the locals put up with that? Not such a world of pleasant fancies as the place appeared on the surface then…
(Brendalen) “Direct me towards the Businessman I suppose. Information on what he looks like and who he is might be helpfull along the way.”
(Assistant) Current information gathered thus far is that he calls himself Martin Tabard, appears to run an interdimensional trading organization, is in far better shape than the appearance would indicate, and is in possession of technology of a nature foreign to our reality in design if not operating principles.”
A three-dimensional holographic image of the businessman also appeared on the screen – and waved at her cheekily?
Elsewhere Marty grinned… This deity-practice was fun! “Ears of the Wind” was what Kevin had called it? Too bad he hadn’t gotten it working except in bits and flashes yet…
The display gave her a map and a route… A couple of miles. No problem at all even if she hadn’t been faster than any human… OK (looking around her) than any NORMAL human.
The Terminal Café was still partially on fire, a group of the patrons were playing Russian roulette with a gatling gun, and green smoke was billowing from the concrete beneath her – while no one paid any of it any heed.
Marty was sitting inside the cafe drinking and laughing with another fellow. They appeared to be gesturing towards a laptop and making rude gestures.
(Marty) “Whoa, going to have to watch the gestures after we’re done with him! Gelman will have a fit if he starts mimicking them.”
Brendalen, still in her hybrid form, headed over…
(Brendalen) “Hello, Martin?”
(Marty) “Hi there! Who are you?”
Marty cheerily shook her paw, showing no astonishment at all at her being a bipedal wolf-creature. Of course, if he was doing business around here, that wasn’t a very big surprise.
(Brendalen) “I’m Brendalen. I just kind of showed up in this reality and you were one of the people said to be from somwhere else and was hopeing to try to find out if it was the same place I was from or if you at least knew of it.”
(Marty) “Maybe. You take pills to get like that?”
(Brendalen, shaking her head) “Born well not this way but with the ability to be this way.”
(Marty) “Not from my world then! Sit down, have a drink. I’ll pay.”
Marty introduced her to the bar’s owner, Santiago Columbar, and to Limey – his laptop computer.
(Brendalen, sitting down) “So, uhm… I don’t have any idea of of how I got here.”
(Marty) “What were you doing before it happened?”
(Brendalen) “Sparring with a friend. They kinda hit me in the head and I got knocked out.”
(Marty) “Funny way to open a gate… Well, after I finish things here, I can take you to Kevin! I’m sure he knows how to get you home.”
There wasn’t much that Santiago couldn’t make – even if he’d need a brain scan to sort out what it was that he was supposed to be simulating – but she settled for bourbon. Her head hurt already anyway.
(Brendalen) “So, you know more or less what I am doing here. What about you?”
(Marty) “This Jedi Master told me that Santiago here had useful information. So Kevin and me took a long trip to get here. Turns out he’s got a procedure that can animate this little guy in worlds where nanotech works.” (Marty indicated Limey). “So he’ll get it done for me in return for some services.”
(Brendalen, downing the glass of Bourbon) “I have to say this is a bit much for me… uhm most of the time I am the most unusual thing people see where I am from… “
(Marty) “Weres are a dime a dozen in the Manifold. In fact, I DID pick up a dozen in one world.”
(Brendalen, looking around distractedly) “I wonder what happened with the friend I was sparring with… the one that knocked me out.”
(Marty) “Who knows? Maybe wondering what the hell he did, maybe in another realm.”
(Brendalen) “So uhm, how many realms are there? an infinite number or has someone managed to find a finite number that is accurate?”
(Marty) “Probably infinite. One for everything everyone’s dreamed up.”
(Brendalen, studying Limey) “Hmm… Interesting.”
(Marty) “I just know that everything came from the Core. The Core IS reality. All the other realms sprung from creative people there. And they’re arranged in these circles. The further out you get, the more dramatic and idealized things get.”
(Brendalen) “Uhm how do you know that wasn’t sprung from somewhere else?”
(Marty, shrugging and sipping his dirty martini) “Good question. I try not to think of it much. Hell, learning my realm wasn’t the sum of reality was hard to swallow.”
He and Kevin had several days to kill anyway. Santiago was setting up the process for Limey, but getting everything ready would be a day, and the process itself would require three… Plenty of time for briefings and discussions.
Besides, Kevin was a werewolf sometimes, he might have some special interest in another were.
Along the way, Brendalen stepped out to take her human form – and found that the process of transforming was much slower than usual, and did not feel at all the same. She was used to an abrupt change that filled her with energy; this was gentle and internal, like something that was a part of her body but not part of it was directing things according to some design – and she had to strain to get her clothes. THAT was abnormal.
Marty’s lechery kicked into full gear of course, but that was normal enough – if noticable. A fellow businessperson!
(Brendalen) “So, uhm. Any idea’s on how to get me back home or at least find a route so that I can make my way here?”
(Marty) “My friend Kevin should be able to figure out something. He’s great with gates.”
Kevin, meanwhile, had been off making arrangements. It hadn’t taken much calling to collect some fifty-eight new Thralls just from the local kids within a five or six blocks… It looked like the prospects for those with nanodiseases and no insurance or money were very limited. The recruitment success rate was pretty high – and the local ensoulment rate was also pretty good. Few of the local kids had any commitments that would HAVE to be handled either, although the parents would like to remain in contact, and there were legal obligations with regards to schooling since they were still alive – but the computer networks and smartclothes could handle most of that almost automatically. This would be a good world to recruit in.
Baldy had not objected; his thoughts seemed to be on other matters.
Setting up a local office was more complicated than usual though; you needed permits, legal id’s for the business owners, a network address, and all kinds of paperwork. All the legal stuff for the business could be set up over the network though…
They’d need a local lawyer though. There might be issues regarding their legal status if they died during the contract and were resurrected. It was iffy as to exactly what portion of the law applied – and a challenge could be filed on the grounds that the Thrall-imbuement qualified as Reconstruction, and thereby death since it wasn’t paid in advance. That might be considered murder under worst case conditions… Still, the Enthrallment vs Reconstruction issue was unlikely to come up – unless there was some sort of incident.
He got one on retainer and had him start setting up the contracts and digging up legal precedents. It looked like he was technically legal… Still, He could just see it if THIS one came to trial. The calling of witnesses alone would set new precedents. “To testify next, we shall be calling to the stand Apollyion, the Angel of Darkness, just as soon as we finish the summoning chant…” “In cross-examination, we will be having the Exorcist Father Gideon, who will be demonstrating that your witness is in fact a deceiving spirit of the abyss!”.OK, it was a super-tech world without magic – but the Thralls could call witnesses too… The could even bring in the Nazghul as lawyers!
Oh well. That sort of thing would probably be for the next visit. It’d be like Ealor! Crazy social workers, lawyers, weird demands…
Kevin was just getting the office set up – which involved having a nanocontractor restructure the building he’d bought – when Marty turned up with his new friend. Sadly, Marty was only beginning on the path of the gate opener.
(Marty) “Hey, Kevin. This is Brendalen. She’s some kind of werewolf, I think. And as far as I can tell, she got here by getting hit on the head.”
(Brendalen) “Hello… Well, I was hit in the head and then I think I fell through something – but I’m not sure what, the entire episode is kind of fuzzy.”
(Kevin) “Well that’s a new one… Usually you have to go through a gate. I thought that it was only in anime realms that you could be hit hard enough to get knocked into another universe. Can you change here? Most magic doesn’t work around here unless you’ve got some special adaptions.”
(Brendalen) “I seem to be able to change though it acts very differently. Particularly getting my clothes back. I started out here in my hybrid shape.”
(Kevin) “Hm. Either you’re drawing on your home dimension, or you’ve adapted to using nanotech while you’re here. Ah well. I presume encountering us was not entirely random? It is a big universe.”
(Brendalen) “Well, I did speak with someone that gave me a little money and told me to get one of these things. (She held out the pocket assistant) – and it was able to tell me that you all were not from this dimension as well.
(Marty) “Damn. That’s some advanced technology.”
(Kevin) “Either that or advanced monitoring. I wonder just how “Big Brother” this place is?”
(Brendalen) “Yes it is. I am really curious how it might work in my world really… we have cell phones and a few wireless internet devices, but nothing quite like this. Too bad I don’t work for a tech company could make a killing replicating this thing.”
(Marty) “Huh. Well, at least your world’s got a good tech base. What do you do there, anyway?”
(Kevin) “I kind of thought that we’d dropped into a local role given the tour guides reaction – and apparent expectation that we’d be familiar with the data system access around here – but apparently not.”
(Brendalen) “I’m a business exec. I manage the financing department for a corporation.”
(Marty) “I hope they can get by without you for a bit. We might have to go through a few more worlds getting you home.”
(Kevin) “It might not work in your world anyway. Some dimensions are quite picky about that sort of thing.”
(Brendalen) “I suppose they can. It runs smoothly most of the time. I just hope nothing drastic happens. The CEO is a little dense and if he were to try to correct a major problem it would not end well.”
Marty had to chuckle at that. He wasn’t sure that Mr Leland could handle Amarant’s finances without Jenkins either.
(Kevin) “So; you’ve got early electronics, corporations, and werewolves. What’s the year in your world and has it got any other major characteristics?”
(Brendalen) “Well, uhm werewolves yes obviously because of me but I haven’t really met any others – though it has helped a little in promotion in my company just because it tends to lead me to more physical prowess and the CEO has this odd rule that to advance you have to gain in a martial arts training as well.”
Well, that might be NEAR Battling Business World.
They spent awhile getting further details and getting operations set up – they’d have to open several offices to make sure that kids could reach one. Maybe set up a transport offer with whoever handled commercial transport locally?
And then it was time to get poor little Limey nano-patterned. Marty was sad about having to leave the little guy, and visited frequently and helped with the procedure as best he could – which was not a lot.
Unfortunately, there was a complication. Marty had let Limey have a werepuppy as a pet – and the boy had accepted Enthrallment – and Limey had digitized him and put him on his hard drive, since he couldn’t keep the kid in his extradimensional space or care for him in non-magical universes. On the hard drive he could be put into hibernation when there was no time for him!
Marty had long forgotten about the werepuppy – and never had asked where Limey was keeping the kid. The kid was a werewolf-thrall! He could take care of himself!
The “lab” looked like a typical studio apartment. The large tank and the racks of computer equipment in the back were the only indications that the place was anything other than an apartment.
(Santiago) “So Marty, are you ready to begin?”
(Marty) “Ready as I’ll ever be. Handle him gently, now!”
Limey went into the nanotank… Marty smiled nervously and hoped that he came out okay…
(Santiago, later) “Alright it does look like we have an image of the laptop down to a molecular level. That should give us enough to derive the quantum state and form a pattern. The computers are going to have to crunch the data for some time though before a pattern fit is made.”
Sadly, the computer had not been programmed for the two-in-one issue – and made quite a hash of it. (On two 3d6 skill checks, a natural 3 and 4 – critical failure and automatic failure respectively; there would be all kinds of messy complications).
Still, it was a nondestructive effect; it was the pattern item – and the link it would create between Limey and his Puppy – that would be weird. There would be a blending…
Columbar eventually came back from the fabrication system with a small item.
(Columbar) “It looks like the final pattern item is complete!”
Marty – showing a most impressive turn of speed – rushed over to have a look… The item looked to be a computer chip. It had a label saying “Animal Inside!” and looked more or less normal – save for the hair.
(Marty) “Animal… inside? What the hell!? OH !@#$%! I TOLD HIM NO MORE WEREPUPPIES!”
(Kevin) “No more? How many werepuppies did he already have?”
(Marty) “He already has one! I told him no more after Gelman chewed me out!”
Meanwhile, Brendalen was looking shockingly white at the idea that lycanthropy might be a genetic trait.
(Marty) “Oh, he is getting a lecture when he’s back online!”
(Kevin) “Hm… Where did he keep the one he had? And are you sure this is another? Maybe it just means he dreams about werepuppies a lot?”
Marty looked blank for a moment.
(Marty, smacking his forehead) “Oh yeah, he knows magic. I guess he could’ve converted the werepuppy to data… Well, let’s continue the procedure and see what happens. Maybe he’s still sapient.”
(Santiago) “Well the process is more or less complete. All that remains is to remove him from the tank and give him the focus.”
(Marty) “Right! Let’s do this!”
Kevin was wondering… After all, wouldn’t the pattern-stabilizing item be based on the local version of Limey, which was simply running an expert system?
Marty let Limey boot first to see what might have happened to his system – and then inserted the chip.
(Limey) “I’m all wet!”
(Marty, drying Limey) “Well, it seems to have worked. Brendalen, Santiago, this is Limey!”
(Santiago) “Charmed I’m sure.”
(Brendalen, leaning over to have a look) “Hello Limey.”
(Limey) “Hi, do you know where my puppy went? I seem to have lost him while I was asleep.”
(Marty) “Oh, ugh. Limey, why didn’t you tell me you’d stuck him in your RAM?”
(Limey) “You didn’t ask?”
(Marty, sighing) “Good point. Anyway, because I didn’t ask, he’s now a part of you!”
Marty showed Limey the chip.
(Limey) “Eww, you smashed puppy into a chip!”
(Marty) “And you! I’m not sure what this chip is going to do to you, but I know it’ll let you move around in worlds where tiny robots work.”
(Limey) “That wasn’t very nice, you shouldn’t have done that to him!”
(Kevin) “Hm… I’m not sure how to tell if there’s a soul in the chip…”
(Marty, with a sad face) “Well, I didn’t know he was there. I’m sorry, little buddy.”
(Kevin) “Well, there should still be a link – but I’m reluctant to start meddling until we find out a little more about what will happen first.”
(Marty) “Hmm. What exactly is in here, Santiago?”
(Santiago) “It is more or less a representation of what Limey’s inner self is. It isn’t a recording so much as an embodiment, like a soul. It is something unique that defines him and gives him a distinct form. Much like an artist is represented by his masterpiece, or a writer by their books.”
(Marty) “Think Kevin could do some analysis? I’m not sure he’s the only thing in there!”
(Santiago) “Now given the chip and what I have heard you say here, there is certain to be some contamination. What that means though is beyond me, I never tried mixing phantasms.”
(Kevin) “Well, we could take it back to Kadia. I’m not much for divinations, so we’d have to get some of the specialists to have a look.”
(Marty) “Yeah, let’s do that. I am NOT putting that in him until we know what’s inside!”
They headed back to Kadia for some analysis.