In the Jesus Realms, while Marty had been getting Limey upgraded, Kevin had been busy setting things up… More recruiting, setting up several business offices, getting a good law firm on retainer, getting his commercials and explanatory videos set up, and setting some of the new local thralls to handling things.
He didn’t know how he’d ever gotten along without the mystic oratory abilities. OK, it was mostly an appeal to logic and mass-communications, but those skills made his appeals almost as effective on recordings as they were in person.
Picking the island of Manhattan clean didn’t take all that long, but it was pretty profitable. There’d been nearly sixty recruits within his initial calling range – and he’d restricted that. After covering all of Manhattan (and a bit of overlap into the surrounding areas), there were nearly 120 – roughly one in fifteen thousand. Given that, there might be fifty to a hundred thousand thrall-recruits available in the realm, even accounting for the drop-off in ensoulment as you got away from the center of the action.
Of course, cleaning out the greater New York area, the states of New York and New Jersey, and then the rest of the world was going to take awhile… Still, any kid who was seriously interested would automatically gain some wealth (along with the other basic powers) – more than enough to pay for transportation in anyway.
Part of it might even show up in the form of mysterious bus tickets appearing in their pockets or backpacks. The local computer systems would have fun trying to get a handle on that one. It might be even harder to understand than mysteriously-appearing supplies of rare elements and other valuables. Nanotech could account for that – even if it was a bit of a stretch – but bus tickets implied a lot of mysteriously-appearing information in the system.
No doubt that court case would come up soon enough.
After that, Marty wanted to leave for Kadia and get Limey’s new chip checked out. They didn’t want to go back through Necropolis – Necrosis was probably annoyed – but now that Kevin had gotten the hang of magical gates, all they needed was to jump to somewhere where magic worked rather than needing a full route – and there were gates to places like that all over the place and the Jesus Realm had their gates pretty well mapped. It looked like all they needed was to jump to “Magic America” – through a gate in Rockefeller Plaza – and then make a magical gate to Kadia. The transition point lay on a concrete wall you had to skate into.
Magical America was an alternative history that started off during the lead up to the American Revolution, replacing the industrial revolution with magical revolution. Aether had been found to have REALLY interesting properties too… The basic structure of American society wasn’t all that much different though, although they were still in the pre-world-war-one robber baron age.
Well, that should be no problem. It was probably a good place to assign a few of this batch of Thralls to recruit and trade as well…
They assigned twenty-four Thralls to the Jesus Realms, and six to Magical America – at least unless the place proved valuable or important.
Kevin had one of the Thralls with good cloaking and anti-divination powers in Necropolis report to Hoxin in Neodog form, with instructions to see to it that he got all the power he needed for the next year (or possibly more). After all, Hoxin had been a good deal more help than he’d had to be – and that way they’d greatly reduce Hoxin’s threat to travelers, possibly acquire an ally in the realm, and have an undercover agent under Hoxin’s protection who could pass back reports on what Necrosis and Evanescence got up to – even if it would mostly be from outside the city.
He did give the kid instructions to run mind shielding constantly, to use The Adamant Will to block if anyone attempted any serious form of mind control – and to call for assistance and/or pull out if there was real trouble.
Hoxin was pleased and confused; did these travelers always overpay this much?
Evanescence would have a Thrall-contact – probably the last living and ensouled person left in the city – minding the shop. Definitely a job for a kid who’s personal powers ran to defenses and escape of course – and hopefully someone who wouldn’t mind twiddling his thumbs in the store while the hungry ghouls and eldritch abominations from beyond tried to decide what to eat.
Kevin assigned a Thrall to Baldy too, at least until he got the knack of dimensional navigation. After all, Baldy presumably had his own things to do – and as interesting as aliens sounded, at the moment they already have far too many projects running.
Kadia hadn’t changed much, although the Thralls new organizational skills were kicking in – and there were noticeably more people there than.
(Marty) “Coming along nicely!”
Marty got some Thralls with Divination and special senses get to work on that chip, while Kevin checked on Kelsaru… She was a few days overdue by the average estimate, if still well within the normal range, and was being testy at the moment. The servants were calling it hormonal swings… Still, the expectation was that she would clutch in next twenty-four hours. She didn’t want Kevin around during the process either – although he’d be free to visit afterwards though.
Still no real indication of the likely number (Kelsaru didn’t want to be poked at like some fragile human female) – or if they’d have souls. At least this batch had been gestated and laid, and would eventually hatch, in a Core Overlay Zone – even if they hadn’t been conceived there.
Brendalen found Kadia a bit of a shock. OK, the Jesus Realms had been bizarre – but at least most of it was just weird people. Here… Well, her lycanthropy had been something she’d hidden. On Kadia, there were shops advertising several different styles of lycanthropic transformations, and assorted magical and technological accessories for the lycanthrope-on-the-go!
Dragon rides? Magical services? Tours of mythical realms?
She wound up getting some free medical counseling for reality shock.
Meanwhile, as far as the study of Limey went… It looked like Limey now had a soul linked to him. Currently the link was weak and passive, but it would almost certainly get stronger with time. The link was embodied by the chip itself – which was essentially a relic. It would allow Limey and the werewolf-Thrall to draw on each other’s powers – but the more Limey drew on those powers, the more the Thrall would dominate the relationship; every use would pull part of the Thrall’s personality and identity along for the ride. Eventually they’d probably merge; there was no “safe” limit in such a bond between a phantasm and a soul. Had Limey undergone the process to create the item before the link was established, then he and the Thrall would have been on a more even footing – but “what might have been” was purely speculative.
Getting Limey up in realms that wouldn’t support him would leave the channel open – even if he wasn’t actually drawing on the Thrall’s powers. Definitely more for emergencies then… Oh dear. A happy fuzzy werewolf kid with a flip-open screen and keyboard in his side? K9, the robot dog? Either would be awkward to explain…
Worse… It looked like the Thrall’s personality had been distorted by the computer foul-up. The boy had originally been one of the younger kids from that french village in the napoleonic-werewolf world, and small kids tended to be small kids. Kevin didn’t really overwrite their personalities, even if the obedience-compulsions, loyalty, and implanted skills, language, and manners tended to mask them pretty throughly under the polish and shine, but now…
He’d definitely see Marty as “Daddy” – but he’d picked up the underlying notion from Limey that “older models” were to be superseded by new ones – like himself – as quickly as possible.
Oh, that was going to be fun. A greedy smart ass who wanted to inherit “Daddy’s” estate, and was willing to do pretty much anything to get it. Endless frustration for it since Marty couldn’t really die – and highly annoying for Marty.
He’d still want more werepuppies too. At least those would distract him…
Marty decided to allow a few, at least as long as he told Marty about them when he put them into his system.
Meanwhile, in with the project reviews…
The Midnight Gardener project had some preliminary results, which could be roughly summarized:
Based on the baryonic mass of the galaxy – approximately one hundred billion solar masses – and estimated mass-depletion from mass-energy conversion, ejection to intergalactic space (less the compensating inflow therefrom), and losses to the black hole in the core – a steady-state galaxy would have to be supplied with matter at a rate of some 12 solar masses per year, from at least two sources (with four preferable) located near the outer limits of the spiral arms.
The input matter would need to be mostly hydrogen, but modest quantities of other elements would be needed to ensure the continued formation of appropriate population-one stars and planets.
The input velocity would need to be some 250 Kilometers per second.
In steady-state, burned-out and collapsed stars would need to be removed at a rate of roughly 9 solar masses per year, at the moment, there were estimated to be a considerable backlog.
Removing existing dangerous celestial objects – hypernova candidates, colliding neutron stars, and other sources of catastrophic events – would require perhaps ten thousand Opener interventions, as well as a complete galactic survey. It was, however, quite possible that the Ouratha would be willing to share their galactic survey information and that Openers of other species would already be handling a fair number of the removals.
The central black hole (with a current mass of some 3.7 million solar masses) would need to be supplied with negative energy at a rate of roughly .001 negative solar masses per year to maintain it in a steady state. If this was supplied along the polar axis, this would eventually result in the formation of a ring-singularity, but that would not occur for millions of years. Despite Kevin’s initial guess, that would not result in any major change in the output from the black hole for a very long time; most of the infalling matter in the accretion disk was ejected again anyway normally.
Oh well, he was no astrophysicist.
The gradual accumulation of dark matter particles in the central black hole could be made up for by trivial adjustments in the matter feed; since dark matter only interacted gravitationally anyway, the orbits of dark matter particles were not subject to accretion by collision and friction; they simply looped past the hole and out again – so losses there were fairly trivial.
Overall, setting up the project would require the location or creation of at least two specialized feed-dimensions – one for negative energy and one for the matter-feed – as well as the attentions of several thousand Thralls to maintain each of the major feed-gates and a rather sizeable set of linked space stations for them to live on while they maintained the gates.
The Core Acceptability Survey was going well, and the preliminary results were showing a positive approval for the program. The system was now being through, and was trying various angles to the program and predicted common situations for potential nuances.
The Colonization Project was also going smoothly – even if the first kids wouldn’t be born for months and the educational system and social program was still purely theoretical. The Thralls could live very very comfortably in a pre-industrial setting given witchcraft, a bit of magic, and the use of overlays to allow access to greater powers when needed. Far more importantly, the Ourathan generally weren’t interested in pre-industrial worlds except when they needed disaster relief – and all the Thralls needed to do was to pretend to be a variant species.
Kelsaru finally did clutch while Kevin was reviewing other projects – laying three eggs. Kevin was greatly relieved; at least all that magic that had been going on while they’d been conceived hadn’t done anything TOO weird. He congratulated her, and brought three presents for her, and one for each of the eggs when they hatched, and so on.
It looked like there hadn’t been any major calls from Ryan, M, Merlin, Arxus, or any of the other groups they’d left with ways to get in touch with them. Of course, they were running about at a rather high speed, and most of those situations were only a few weeks old.
Arxus was currently running around in the Linear Realms fighting criminal syndicates, Arthur was there as well, starting a worldwide grass roots political movement. Ryan was there trying to get the defense and manufacturing architecture modernized as quickly as possible. M had been sending teams to the Linear Realms as well – but was up against the fact that many of the best team members were currently locked down with Vekxin. They had, however, actually pinned him down in the Forgotten Realms – for real this time – and were ready to begin an assault. One of the Thralls had managed to get a shot in on some kind of focus…
That sounded like the Linear Realms were becoming the place to be. Of course, they’d already sent in rather a lot of resources. After all, the Linear Realms had been next on the hit list – but the place probably didn’t need them until the actual attack came up. Besides… Both Kevin and Marty were committed to attending the final assault on Vekxin.
They headed for the Forgotten Realms. Not too unexpected really; that was where Vekxin had lost his last gate-keeper and magical gate creator.
They took the gate through Barrataur. They were in too much of a rush to check out how the place was going along the way though. At least it appeared superficially fine…
Vekxin was trapped in an old gnome city deep in the Underdark right now, holding his attackers back with massive bolts of raw positive energy. It looked like he had been losing his physical form, and becoming more and more of a conduit of raw positive energy in his efforts to keep pursuers at bay. Currently he still had a material form, but the House wasn’t sure how much longer that would last.
That wasn’t good, even for a phantasm. Attempts to make contact had not gone well. People were either being blasted the moment they announced their presence, or were running into mutual incomprehension difficulties.
(Marty) “Sounds like a job for us! How good a life ward can you put around us? Don’t people exposed to raw positive energy detonate after a while?”
(Kevin) “I can whip up a pretty powerful one – sixth level indefinitely, and I could push that with Mana if I had to.”
(Marty) “We should be MOSTLY safe against that then, depending on how powerful he is.”
(Kevin) “Unless he brings the roof down on us.”
(Marty) “Well, can’t you whip something up to let us dig through the earth then?”
(Kevin) “Well, shield-spells, protections from both positive and negative energies, and rely on our wits I guess. And I guess we could dig fairly readily; it would just waste a lot of time.”
They headed in.
(Marty) “Have no fear, Martin O’Dale is here!”
(Kevin) “And the Red Wizard Kevelian!”
The House and thralls currently had the abandoned gnome city surrounded. They had systematically blocked all the exits and had been working their way through each district taking control and isolating them systematically. Vekxin had been confirmed to be in the remaining district: Power District.
Kevin brought in another hundred Thralls or so to make sure that he didn’t get out.
(Kevin) “Marty? Do we want to use a white flag/attention-grabber or not? It’s not like we’ve ever actually met Vekxin.”
(Marty) “I think so, he knows there are people in the area. Whether he gets the meaning or not is the thing.”
They went in with a big green flag with a happy face on it. That should at least confuse things a bit. Marty shapeshifted too. He’d never done it under his own power before! Now he could use this ID’s powers and pretend to be the “Thayan Red Wizard’s” pet for now, just in case something happened – which it surely would.
Kevin added an “I’m with Kitty” T-shirt.
(Kevin) “Hey! Vekxin! Want to talk? You’re destroying yourself you know! And I wanted to ask you a few questions before you blow yourself up!”
(Vekxin) “You are not here to demand my surrender?”
(Kevin) “Hey, we always offer options! You can talk and then we’ll leave and let the final assault launch, you can blow yourself up, you can surrender, you can do other things too! Admittedly, a lot of those other things are pretty silly, but they ARE always options!”
(Vekxin, after a puzzled pause) “You said you had questions.”
(Kevin) “Yep! I want to know how you’re stabilizing yourself against dimensional shifts; I know of several ways, but you might have a new one. Where you came from, and why, and who you were working with or for would be nice to know too.”
(Vekxin) “And what do I get in exchange for this?”
(Kevin) “What were you after to begin with? At this point, it’s essentially mild curiosity; I doubt we could really trust anything you said anyway.”
(Vekxin) “If you really must know, I was fleeing God.”
(Kevin) “Any particular one?”
(Vekxin) “Ah yes, you would not know of him since you are from the outside. Have you ever heard of Inversion?”
(Kevin) “A couple of times. Some local power then?”
(Vekxin) “To call his power local is to insult his power. He is also not part of the stories of your world either.”
(Kevin) “Well, you might as well spill it. There aren’t going to be many more chances to change your situation here.”
(Vekxin) “All I know is that he is from the Manifold, his power is great enough to take over a world of supernatural beings singlehandedly, and he plans to make moves elsewhere. In fact, I hear some world of buildings filled with limitless amounts of people is his next target. My chances ran out a long time ago, all I’ve been doing has been delaying the inevitable. That I now see.”
(Kevin) “And was “God” using you as a vessel for various kinds of power – one of which you found that you could wield?”
(Vekxin) “Indeed, I was one of six such vessels. My ability to absorb the energies and identity of others was a great asset to him, till I found I could harness the power for myself.”
Drat. Probably Merlin again – and blowing up Vekxin would suit Merlin. Merlin is far more dangerous though. So; Kevin guessed he could settle for a capture… , Vekxin hadn’t had a soul at Hogwarts. If he had originated in Baelaria, he might have one now though if his was among the ones they’d released, it might have returned to him.
(Kevin) “So you fled, absorbing the psychic energies and strengths of others in exchange for vast infusions of positive energy – attempting to build up a sufficient power-base and stock of diversions to make pursuing you far more trouble than it was worth to “God”.
(Vekxin) “Indeed, you deduce much. But I can see that in focusing my attention on God, I neglected to pay enough attention to pawns like you. Now here I am stuck in this ruined city of midgets.”
Leopard Marty yawned in a subtle sign of playing the world’s smallest violin.
(Kevin) “Would you care to surrender? Capture is usually better than annihilation – and you cannot use your own power much longer without losing yourself entirely, just as you could not have used the Rosary of Memory. I will protect you from “God” – and you already know that our power exceeds yours.”
(Vekxin) “And what makes you think you can stand up to a god?”
(Kevin) “He took over a world. I find it easier to create them.”
(Vekxin) “Impossible! Only a god can create a world to his tastes.”
(Marty, transforming back into human form). “Yeah, and this kid’s a god. He’s teaching me to be a god, too!”
(Kevin) “Few things are actually impossible. Some are, however, quite unlikely. We specialize in those.”
(Vekxin) “Heh, is it rude to demand a god prove himself?”
(Kevin) “What proof would you ask?”
(Marty) “Yeah. I can name all sorts of things he’s done!”
(Vekxin) “I would have you show me a world you have created, then if you really are a god, you would have no fear of taking me into your dominion without dominating me first. If you are not a god, then I can either cause great damage there or you will refuse to take me.”
(Marty looked over at Kevin) “Think he could do any damage in Kadia? I don’t.”
(Kevin) “Why not? You might as well come out then.”
They could see the shadows shifting around them as footsteps were heard against the steel floor. One of the hallways to the right began to glow brilliantly as a figure stepped out. It was hard to tell against the light, but the basic form looked humanoid in shape.
(Kevin) “You are overcharged there. Do you want some of that drained off or suppressed? That would let you blast away longer if you insist of course.”
(Vekxin) “I shall hold onto this power for just a little longer I think. Should you prove to be bluffing, then this might make my escape more effective.”
(Kevin) “Very well. One dimensional gate to Kadia.”
They took him to one of the golf courses in the outlying districts, with nothing but phantasms at the moment. If he did decide to make a disturbance, there’d be room for it there.
Marty thought that was a great idea! He needed to work on his drive!
Then a golf ball came out of the gateway and smacked Marty in the nose for a severe wound to his pride.
(Golfer) “Ooooh, portal trap!”
(Kevin) “Not exactly, but I think it’s a three stroke penalty!”
(Another Golfer) “Man, this extreme miniature golf is hard! I thought the varying gravity wells of the last hole were bad enough. Now they are throwing random portals in the way?”
Marty made a note to himself. When he made HIS godrealm, remember to fill the golf course with deliciously deadly grass for that unique Battling Business World experience – in addition to Kadia’s obstacles.
(Kevin) “Anyway, shall we go?”
He had the Thralls pass word back to the House; cooperative answers were preferable to explosions anyway.
(Vekxin) “Very well then.”
(Golfer) “Alright, what are the rules regarding glowing eldritch abominations stepping between you and the ball?”
(Kevin) “Just wait a few moments?”
(Marty) “Let it do what it wants so your brain doesn’t get eaten?”
(Kevin) “So: Welcome to Kadia.”
(Other golfer) “Yep it says it right here in the rulebook glowing eldritch abominations: leave it alone and three stroke penalty.”
(Golfer) “Another three stroke penalty?! That’s six strokes in less than a minute!”
(Other golfer) “Better than the 15 stroke penalty from when I was unable to retrieve my ball from the black hole.”
(Marty) “Ugh. If this course had deliciously deadly grass, you wouldn’t be complaining any more because you’d be DEAD!”
(Vekxin) “You made a miniature golf course as a world?”
(Marty) “Nah, this is a tiny part of Kadia.”
(Kevin) “I fear I wasn’t very specific about the golf courses and they got weird. And no, the world goes on indefinitely. It has to; there are about two hundred million guests at the moment.”
Unfortunately, the game was called at that point due to external circumstances.