Despite their suspicions, the war council had taken Kevin up on his offer to bring in some supplies for them readily enough. After all, if the youngster could open a “gate”, and bring through whatever he wanted, and was hostile, he wouldn’t need to ask them what kind of supplies they’d like. He’d just bring through the troops or whatever.
It occurred to a couple of them that there could be some magical reason for asking for permission – but it was a scientifically minded world, and they dismissed the passing thought soon enough. Surely the universe wasn’t THAT silly! There had to be some sort of principles underlying the powers of the Manifold and its residents! There might be something weird about the supplies, but it was hard to see how getting a bunch of raw materials in could be inherently bad either.
They weren’t quite right. It was hard to accept that things worked simply because superstition, or some author, had come up with some bizarre idea. They didn’t understand that obtaining the agreement of the residents (whether directly through mass propaganda or by proxy through their leaders) made it a LOT easier to make changes in a reality – but there wouldn’t be anything major this time around.
They opted to have Kevin open his “gate” at a large plaza nearby; if he really could bring through a few tons of the most vitally-needed supplies, they’d need more space than was available in the bar. Businesses on the surface tended to be small thanks to the lack of space, but the underground facilities were quite another matter.
Besides, it was in one of the subsurface areas, and could be easily cleared, isolated, and put under a security cordon in the few minutes it would take to get there.
Kevin had his Thralls throw up some cloaking spells and effects to prevent magical detection, as well as having them stand by to damp out any reality disturbances and to keep an eye out for spies – although, come to think of it, that mana damping spell, and whatever effect was keeping the local reality from splitting, would probably handle a lot of the disturbance-damping for them.
He threw in some of the usual minor witchcraft-based dramatics – a bit of whipping wind, a spiral of runes spinning out, and some lighting effects – but the magical gate provided some of it’s own anyway. It would only hold for a minute or so, but that would be plenty of time to rush a few hundred tons of supplies through.
It had taken a little scrambling for the Thralls back in Kadia to come up with several tons of antimatter (and compatible containment systems) on short notice, but it could easily be imported from any of several universes where it was easy to come by. Same went for the uranics and transuranics and other bits of technology. Dense, concentrated, fortified, and delicious food was, of course, easy; Kevin kept calling for that as a trade good anyway. It went over well pretty much everywhere.
He had a quartet of Thralls come along as well; a few liaisons would probably be called for. They always were… it was one of the major reasons why recruiting more Thralls was something of a Red Queen’s race.
(Kevin) “Well, hopefully you’ll find that useful! Doing that sort of thing in a no-magic universe is always a bit of a strain!”
(Kilhoy, looking over the shipment – and the list of contents) “I’m impressed, is this an ability that can be taught or is it some strange Manifolder talent?”
(Kevin) “Oh, practically anything can be taught. That one does take a long time to learn without a massive natural talent though – and you do need to have a source of supply.”
(Kilhoy) “Well that stinks, a world of riches out there beyond compare that could tip the war in our favor, and it’s beyond our reach save for the charity of strangers.”
(Marty) “Better than having to live under God’s thumb.”
(Kevin) “I suspect that resources along won’t do it – but I can send some candidates through for gate-opening training if you like. There are ways to get around the training time, but the ones I have available only work on youngsters. I can cheat on a lot of things back home; my abilities are not so limited there.”
Most of the locals were trying to hide it – but there were some rather horrified reactions to THAT line. “Not so limited”!?!? The ability to – pretty obviously – multitrack and tracelessly direct his employees (or whatever they were) across dimensions, access to sufficient resources to casually give away tons of the rarest materials in existence on a whim, and to wave his hand and instantly import enough explosive power to exterminate the human race was what this boy could do where his powers were “LIMITED”?! And he had GREATER powers elsewhere? Presumably he was at or near the top of the power scale, but what else could be done by Manifolders when they wanted to?
Kilhoy had that reaction too, but he was doing a lot better than most of the others at hiding it.
(Kilhoy) “How young are we talking? And is there any catch?”
(Kevin) “Hm. Anyone who can accept the genegrafts to give them enough endurance to handle the energies can learn a gateway ritual and use it once every day or so. That’s useful, but it is not a power that I usually bother with running a program to teach. It wouldn’t be a big favor to set one up though… For a program that limited, I’d recommend pre-adult; genegrafts are more easily adapted to if your body is still growing. I can grant much greater powers to adolescents, but that requires a far greater commitment than a training program. Linking them to my powers requires a very deep link indeed, and it takes a long time for them to grow out of it.”
(Kilhoy) “I am going to have to consult with my superiors, but I suspect we can get some volunteers to learn the gateway ritual. The bigger stuff, I’d like to hold back on for the time being, but it isn’t my decision… If you don’t mind me asking, what do you plan on doing next?”
(Kevin) “Oh, we can stick around here for a bit in case there’s anything else you need – and to send a few people off for training if some choose to go, After that, we’d better get back to investigating “God” and Merlin. They’re being a pain elsewhere as well. Besides, you were trying to dig up a little more information on that pair, and we’d need to wait for that anyway.”
(Kilhoy) ” True enough, let me check on the progress of that.”
Off in their own private groups, the locals had a discussion going on – but the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion; they were desperate, the potential benefit was obviously vast, and it wasn’t like the local teenagers were safe anyway. Besides, quite a few of them were already in service in one way or another, and it looked like this group of Manifolders was actually benign. How far wrong could a training program go? Even if it did involve “genegrafting” and “magic”? They eventually wound up sending a dozen young volunteers – and were pleasantly surprised to find that their visitors had no objection to them sending along a group of observers to watch the process.
Meanwhile, Kevin and Marty were reviewing the information the locals had been able to dig up on Merlin and “God”.
Matthias Lecturn and a group of six other Landsrecht had appeared (probably arriving from the Manifold) in Great Britain decades ago. They had initially appeared to be friendly, and had begun to battle an assortment of the more malevolent individuals and groups of the time (according to the books, the classic villains of the setting). They’d enjoyed considerable success. Matthias had been the leader of the group, and had seemed to have a power the others didn’t, although they all sported handguns that were for more effective than should have been possible – dismissed at the time as some sort of speciality psionic enhancement. They’d been fairly normal-looking guns, but they’d been able to penetrate shields and armor, detonate, block regeneration, cause debilitating pain, and produce a wide variety of other effects.
Oh dear. THAT sounded ominously familiar to Kevin. It had been a long time since he’d handled one of those though… Ryan’s demonically-infused heavy Core pistols. Capable of bypassing a wide variety of defenses (including many spells), filled with flaming infernal energy, wounding, shocking, and any of several other items dependent on the will of he user.
The weapon that had set his own feet upon the path of darkness. The one that had linked him to the flood of dark power pouring out of the Ayss through Ryan. There had been a fair number of other Core children in his class at Hogwarts – several openers, a few gatekeepers, and not a few normal children had spent time there in the early days of the opening. Was this where some of them had ended up?
It took Marty a few moments – but the expression on Kevin’s face said quite a lot, and he’d made it a point to find out a fair amount about Kevin’s history. Gah! Those things!
Wait a minute… Did that mean that this batch had shared, like Kevin, in the power of the Abyss? Were they up against six demigodlings? And perhaps a “flawed” opener…
In any case, a bit later on – while Matthias’s group was battling one of the major villains of the era – Landrecht across the globe hand detected an incredible burst of raw psychic power from the site of the battle. A surge that surpassed anything that had ever been reported.
Some had even described it as profoundly evil and ominous.
In the aftermath of the battle, Matthias’s team had gone on a homicidal rampage across the globe. At some point Matthias had begun using avatars in battle rather than showing up personally – and the other six had demonstrated that – while they could each be defeated in battle individually – unless the body was either utterly destroyed or confiscated they would return even if slain. The number of avatars Matthias could support had been growing steadily, but was currently believed to be at six. Of his original companions, only two were still around – a man who seemed to have taken up the role of lead avatar for Matthias and a woman who had taken on the role of media personality for Matthias/God. There were those who said that Matthias was dead and that the woman was the one controlling everything.
Hm. Hadn’t there been a “Matthias” – one of the Round Table Knights – in the Crusader kingdoms? Knight Lord Matthias of the Hospitaliers? Probably just a coincidence though – and not even a bit one. There were LOTS of people with similar names in the Manifold.
Matthias sounded like one of the students from his time at Hogwarts to Kevin – although about all he could remember about him was an insufferable cheeriness and a lust for cool powers. The others sounded like they might have been students there too – but they weren’t very memorable. Of course, he had had more important things on his mind at the time and it had been fifty years. Who could be bothered to remember every kid in the class?
Kilhoy had been trying to figure out their expressions – but didn’t really have enough background information to tell much. Still, SOMETHING in that had meant something to this pair…
(Kilhoy) “Hopefully that was of some value to the bunch of you. It didn’t mean much to us.”
(Marty) “Oh, everything helps. Definitely more than we knew before.”
(Kevin) “It might mean a good deal. In the Manifold, names have power – and so does knowing about something’s origins.”
(Kilhoy) “Well that is good… So, how do you plan on continuing your investigation? And is there anything we can do to assist?”
(Kevin) “Hm. Well, we have identities set up; it might be best to drop back in and go for normal transport rather than teleporting. Since we don’t know where Merlin or God is at right now – unless you do? – the Trial at Berlin seems like a possible point to start looking around.”
(Kilhoy) “Well we know the Faye (the woman) is likely to be there. If she is there, then there is a high likelihood that at least one avatar is there as well. Where Matthias is, is anyone’s guess – although we are fairly certain it is on planetside.”
Hm. Merlin and Morgan Le Faye? That might well make sense.
(Kevin) “Well, we’d better head for Berlin then. We’d better check with our engineer friend to see what he would have put on those Landsknecht identities he set up first… Now, I had a youngster who can handle liaison come through with the last shipment; if you need something desperately before the youngsters have learned to handle gates on their own, he can get in touch with me.”
(Kilhoy) “Much appreciated.”
(Kevin) “Oh, you’re welcome. He can also call if you need some emergency evacuation, or a place to stash noncombatants, or some such.”
Kevin, Daniel, and Xellos were Landsknecht, since that was what they had asked for. Most of the Thralls were listed as trainees or servants… Ah; their last reported location was Dallas, so it would be best to go back through the city. Shoeing up in Berlin directly might trigger a red flag.
They were listed as semi-independent, recent “converts” from some of the tiny independent fiefdoms that had recently been forced to join the major governments what with the final ecological collapse.
Yes, there were covert Landsknecht enforcers and secret police – and the arctic regions (Alaska, Canada, northern Russia, and the Antarctic Alliance) had held out a lot longer than the rest of the planet. Landsknect were usually well-tracked, but they weren’t interfered with much save when a large number of them begin to gather in one place for indeterminate reasons. They usually wound up working for “God” in the end, but a few remained “independent” so to speak.
Heading to Berlin, where the trial and execution of a Manifolder was likely to take place, might or may not raise red flags; that would depend on how paranoid Matthias was. There weren’t many records on internal purgings of the Landsrecht.
OK, so they were a small group of holdouts that were considering joining up, but weren’t too sure about all this “manifold” stuff and wanted to see for themselves?
Marty felt that that sounded good. Perhaps they were some of the ones who wanted to see what “God” was all about.
Lets see… Their “original location” was near the Alaskan/Canadian northern border, or where it had been prior to the formation of the North American Union. The money system was a mix of each of the Federated States money systems with fixed exchange rates to a purely theoretical unit called a credit – but the gold, gems, and other valuables they’d brought along would work just fine. Besides, they could easily forge some of the local physical tokens. Kilhoy and company could spare them quite enough for samples. Bank accounts and such would be too readily traced and were rather difficult to counterfeit though; Banks tended to be at the top of the game in terms of computer security.
Physical tokens then. After all, outsider Landsknecht could be expected to like cash.
The locals had their dozen training-volunteers ready a few hours later (along with the observors) – so they got the locals a second, smaller, shipment of supplies while sending the volunteers off to Kadia for training.
A discreet psychic teleport back to Dallas was in order. A magical gate would be more likely to draw Merlin’s attention, and – while they and some of the local Landsknecht could certainly shield (on the Starship or Orb level) and thrust well enough to handle an orbital re-entry, it would be conspicuous and unwise – especially given the state war between the earth and moon.
They settled on back to the locker room; there might be a search on in the tunnels for their missing engineer and they didn’t know that many places in the city.
They made it, even if half of them did wind up uncomfortably crammed into lockers. For Marty, that was something of a middle school flashback – even if there weren’t any spikes or knives – but for Kevin it was a whole new experience, and not one of the more interesting kind. Not that escaping a locker was really very hard, but it was certainly annoying.
The place was still deserted though. This time they could take the train and look around!
The dome-city was as depressing as ever… They sampled the local food along the way, and found that it was very similar to what they’d usually find in Core and in other realms based on recent Earth. It did taste a bit “cleaner” though… No pesticides, diseases, preservatives, or other chemicals. It looked to be fresh and healthy. Local hydroponics or synthesis?
Marty – thinking about the way that this Earth was – was worried about mind control drugs in the water and food. He had the girls probe it…
Traces of chemicals related to suppressing aggression. Compounds related to growth factors and immunity boosters. Other factors tailored to trigger an immune response to certain proteins and enzymes (tailored to elicit an immune response against a set of viral replication enzymes). It looked to be heavily engineered on the base genetic level and was unlikely to even grow in a natural environment as it would need a tightly controlled environment and chemicals.
They quietly neutralized the annoyances; everyone had access to body-control witchcraft anyway.
Kevin sent the scan data back to Kadia for evaluation by an actual biochemist. It probably really was designed to help maintain health, and ward off environmental contaminants, but it wouldn’t be wise to entirely trust it at the moment – not with the kind of leadership the place had right now anyway.
Marty considered the “defuse the meal” scenario – as well as storming the kitchen to interrogate the chef – for a moment, but decided to save that sort of thing for Battling Business World where it belonged.
Emotionally, the place appeared to be tolerably well cared for… There was a vague sense of unease regarding the war with the Lunar Rebels, and about Manifold Agents, but the biggest concerns on the local’s minds was the loss of the third Elevator and the resources it provided access to. The vague desperation of “we’re on the edge and our major source of new resources has been cut off”. No access to the materials needed to keep building the Casimir systems…
Well, off to Berlin. They wouldn’t be able to fix much around here while “God” and Merlin were in command.
They took a place. If their ID’s were going to break, it would probably be there – but they’d need to know. There wasn’t much they could do to warp the odds there; it was all up to whatever their engineer had decided to do.
The ticket sale person was having problems getting the system to take the ID’s. Eventually she threw up her hands in frustration, called the manager, and the manager ended up penciling the bunch of them in on a flight after giving each of them a long hard look.
(Manager) “Alright, you are now cleared to board. Terminal is right through the security station to your left.”
(Marty) “Thank you.”
(Kevin, crossly) “Finally!”
(Marty) “You’ll have to excuse my friend, he’s young.”
Marty steered Kevin toward the terminal. Hm. Did they even bother telling psychics who could rip the plane apart with their minds “no weapons”?
Ah, it looked like they didn’t really try to enforce it, but even Landsknecht were SUPPOSED to check their weapons.
(Marty) “Oh, all right. Here you go.”
Marty checked his knife and pistol, and glared at the rest until they checked THEIR guns. The locals didn’t recognize the force-blades as weapons – and the ultralights, spare power cells, and such weren’t really weapons to begin with.
Security was much happier when they handed over the pistols. Their scanners did not pick up the force blades or any of the other bits of technology anyway.
(Kevin) “Hrmmph! Oh very well!”
(Marty) “Now now Kierroth, we’ll get them back when we land in Berlin.”