Back in Battling Business World, Jenkins was making preparations for a trip – and looked back on the situation that had led up to it. It had started off in her apartment, after she’d just hacked a couple of youthful burglars to bits.
One or more of Abigail’s pestiferous squirrel-kids might have escaped. That was unimportant – it wasn’t like the idiot things really mattered much, at least as individuals – but the information that one of them had let slip WAS. They had injured Lord ZERO! Directly! No wonder he was in a fury beyond anything that she’d ever seen!
She laid in some additional precautions – and put a variety of personal enhancements and damage transfer effects into play as on-demand augmentations. Her lord might still be beyond rationality when she next saw him – especially since, having just been attacked by mortals, he took her manipulation of the rules of accounting (and attempt to transfer his insanity into mortal victims) as an attack.
Fortunately, the lesser digits handled the details of Accounting – and it would take even Lord ZERO a good long time to change how they went about things. She would not easily share the fate of Euler – which would not balance in any case, since Euler had betrayed his lords, while she was working to assist hers.
With the power of two hundred thousand new accountants – and several million lesser digits – to back her own abilities, she WOULD straighten out her master’s mind! She could offer sacrifices in apology for the presumption later on!
Even if Pi had simply been confused by Abigail’s pie in the shape of Pi, it had still seemed like a potentially-good idea. The woman WAS one of the best cooks she’d ever encountered, and never blew up her kitchen either. How she made things so tasty without flash-cooking explosions was hard to understand.
Meanwhile, Lord ZERO was calling up some minions! He would send for his errant champion, that she might perceive him in his full glory! In his realm, with his minions at his beck and call and where his power was at it’s peak!.. Funny, that thought had never occurred to him before.
(Lesser Zero) “Greetings Lord ZERO! How may I serve your magnificence!”
(Lord ZERO) “Take some other Zero’s with you, and go to…” (Lord ZERO attempted to remember what the mortals called the place where his Champion lived) “Queens! Retrieve my champion and bring her here for punishment! This insolence cannot be tolerated!”
(Lesser Zero) “At once Lord ZERO!”
The lesser zeroes took along a bunch of ones; they could never shake the feeling that they – even in a swarm – didn’t really amount to anything, but that having the ones along made them ten times as effective!
ZERO sighed. He kept telling them it did not work that way! Not without ten ones and a addition sign, at any rate! Cursed Eighty-Eight, mucking with the rules!
Lord ZERO used a divination effect to see what his minions – and errant Champion – were up to.
Hmm… His Champion was… in her home, rather than fled, no more than reasonably augmented, and… coming uncoerced? It had taken Lord E several decades to track down Euler after what he did. And now Jenkins came unbidden? Surely that meant that she would submit to his authority! This would be no worry! Let her be levitated before him! Rotating for maximum discomfort! Let her prostrate herself before him, as she should!
Jenkins would not normally have defied even Lord ZERO’s unspoken desires – but the situation was anything but normal. She quietly set up a bilocation effect and shifted the reference frame.
(Lord ZERO) “Arrogant woman! You, a mere organic being, try to manipulate ME? I am Lord ZERO! I am perfect and sane! You were nothing until I imbued you! And WHY AREN’T YOU ROTATING?”
(Jenkins) “But we are my lord! We are simply sharing an arbitrary reference frame!”
Jenkins was more worried than she had anticipated. Her block transfer had not – at least as yet – drained enough of the insanity from her lord and master! Of course, the effect was still running… She would have to stall long enough for it to work!
(Lord ZERO) “Don’t be smart with me! I know what you just did! You created a horde of new followers-and centered them on yourself! Now hand them over before I revoke my blessings!”
(Jenkins) “They will reject us both shortly in any case my lord! The installation is an imposition, and will vanish with their next death – which will not be long, given how intolerable most humans find Accounting. I can begin a transfer if you wish however! Is there any particular order you would like? And what computer would you like the interface on?”
The rationality was beginning to weigh on Lord ZERO. After ages of relentless fury and madness, he was beginning to get a bit sleepy from it…
(Lord ZERO, yawning) “Enough chatter… fine. I want you to do something to prove your loyalty. Or else I will devour you.”
(Jenkins) “What would you wish Lord?”
(Lord ZERO) “I want my chew toy back. The one I had you spy on.”
Jenkins considered… that would be a problem! Todd was out of reach! No, wait… All she needed to do was to balance the equation! Todd had departed from Battling Business World and left an imbalance – so she could simply solve for the lost variable and reconstruct Todd’s pattern. Things which were precisely equal WERE the same thing, so she could bring Todd back easily!
Well, easily given the vast power she currently possessed.
Fortunately, neither Jenkins – in her blind fanaticism – or Lord ZERO, in his arrogance and hubris, considered the presence of a Soul of any real significance. Souls wandered in and out of realities all the time, their presence or absence was strictly immaterial…
(Jenkins) “I should be able to recover him easily now My Lord!”
She did so… The power-drain was immense, but it wasn’t as if SHE was supplying it!
It didn’t even take too long – a good thing, as her power was waning rapidly as her involuntary aides suicided. Although – surprisingly enough – it looked like their might be several hundred of them who liked the power and were willing to accept the touch of the Number Lords to obtain it.
She still managed to make sure that it took long enough to reduce Lord ZERO to temporary sanity. It would wane of course – the inherent insanity of the Number Lords could not be so easily overcome – but it would be decades or centuries before Lord ZERO was quite so mad again…
With rationality came the need to analyze however. Tired as he was, Lord ZERO did something quite uncharacteristic… He used an epic-level numerological hex, and checked. After all, his champion has already betrayed him, and had good reason to do so again right now.
Lord ZERO checked the mind, the memory, and the physical details of her Todd-Duplicate and confirmed that his spells were gone – but found their traces in the mind, despite the normal resetting typical of Battling Business World. Fortunately for Jenkins, the Number Lord did not check for a soul. Those were not always home anyway… (which was why “Marty” sometimes showed up for work, despite being away in the Manifold).
Lord ZERO found the offering good.
(Lord ZERO) “Everything seems in order. I will keep this one close from now on. You may leave now, and don’t cross me again!”
ZERO granted “Todd” immunity to numeric energies; otherwise keeping his plaything close would destroy it all too soon! To be safe, he enclosed Todd in one of the environmental orbs that Lord I had learned how to create! Such “mercy” would keep his plaything viable for centuries to come!
Lord ONE was pleased… ZERO made a far better consort when it was a little calmer!
Lord I preferred it as well! It meant that there was a way that it can provoke him without getting immediately smashed.
Lord PI knew that a calm Lord Zero meant that it got picked on less.
And, of course, Lord E was too busy plumbing what it meant to have its former follower’s soul and plotting with PI to notice unless PI wanted to let it know.
The other number lords began to quietly conspire with Jenkins to keep ZERO calm. Her power had dropped considerably but it was still substantial (at least in those realms where she could still draw on the power of her follower’s numerology), even in the accounting of the Number Lords and the worlds of the Manifold.
Even at his most rational, ZERO was still unhappy about the Thralls intrusions into “his” realm – and about their assault on his very person! It was not long before he decided to pre-empt the other Number Lords attempts to negotiate with his Champion by giving her the power to travel the dimensions. That would put her out of their reach – if out of his reach as well. Surely she would not dare to betray him again however!
And that had led to her current situation. Her supplies were packed, her Naginata was at the ready – and she was prepared to set out into the cosmos. Those who had so affronted her lord would pay for their temerity!
Even if ZERO was something of a jerk. He could have prohibited her from seeing that as a part of her imbuement – but why would ZERO prohibit her from seeing his flaws and irrationalities when he didn’t think that he had any?
On Inversion’s Moon, the Earth glowed in the sky – blue and green and white where the light of the sun shone upon it, the crescent of the night outlined by the glow of city lights along the edges of the continents… It’s soft, mild, glow illuminated the lunar landscape with cool tones as it had not done in decades. Damaged it’s ecosphere might be, but – at this stage of the progression – little of that damage was apparent from space. It would require hard work, but mankind could – and, if the scientists (and that youthful voice with it’s unearthly power which echoed in her memory) were to be believed, would – heal that damage, cleansing the lands, seas, and air of their world.
Beneath that benign glow, Holly Simmons shuddered. For two decades, with the psychic senses which had been born of her power as a Landsknecht, she had felt the flickering of orbital debris and conflicts, the endlessly irrational propaganda broadcasts, the telepathic pain of a wounded world. She had suffered much in her escape from “God”, had taken refuge with the lunar rebels – and had seen the earth become a barren wasteland, throwing upon it’s lonely moon a harsh and poisonous illumination. She had fought the slow death of her world, and it’s conquest by a horror from beyond that called itself a god, for twenty years. She had earned a high position in the lunar military – high enough to know that the struggle was slowly destroying both sides and the earth itself.
A teenaged boy, a plump merchant, and a few other hangers-on had dropped by from some other realm. They had offered badly-needed supplies, and a bit of further assistance. They had brought in a few psychic children as representatives. They had “rescued” a few individuals from the Earth – and then the boy had spoken, and touched the minds of the world. He had raised his hand – and rolled back fifty years of time across the entire earth, unmaking five decades or environmental destruction and three decades of war. He had restored cities and forests, caused fleets of ships to vanish like soap bubbles, and banished the creature that called itself a god. Above her, the Earth had simply changed. In a fraction of a second, a tide of transformation had rolled across an entire world.
The benign glow of the earthlight was, to her, made terrible thereby.
What were “Kevin”, “Marty”, and “Xellos”? What other powers lurked beyond the walls of the world? “God” had been bad enough – but how could anyone live with the knowledge that, at any moment, their wold and their history might be wiped away by some whimsical child-deity from beyond?
Worst of all perhaps was the fact that most of the people of the moon seemed… accepting. Even FORGETFUL of what had happened! They had seen the Earth changed, reality ripped apart, and transformed – and they were taking it in stride. A few were curious, a few were turning to various religions, a few were now interested in the possibilities of the “Manifold”, and some were lost and confused – but only a modest number seemed to be as aware as she was! How much had Kevin changed THEM to achieve such casual acceptance from so many?
The preliminary report from the observers that had gone to “Kadia” had been troubling as well… The fact that the place seemed to be some kind of cross between a gigantic tourist attraction, a medical center, and a refugee housing development was odd enough – but the reports on “Kevin” had been downright insane! He was apparently popularly accepted as a “creator god”, although – unlike “god” – he did not seek worshipers and was bizarrely obliging, although he ran “Kadia” as his personal, feudal, domain.
She couldn’t live with this. “Kevin” had left some child-agents on the moon – and stated that they could call for a gate in an emergency. She would find one, and find out for herself. Even the most progressive and enlightened Landsknecht were used to getting what they wanted…
Madaron hadn’t really been expecting to be jumped by one of the locals – especially not one with so much psychic power.
(Madaron) “Hey! Let go! That’s awfully rude!”
(Holly) “Ugh. Sorry about the roughness, but I just saw the Earth turn green over my head. What the HELL is going on? Where’s this ‘Kevin?’ kid? I need to see him NOW.”
(Madaron) “I think he’s in another dimension at the moment! And it turned green because it’s been reverted to pattern, that was what he made that speech for, weren’t you listening?”
(Holly) “Yes, but I didn’t think he’d actually pull it off!”
(Madaron) “Why not? Kevin can do all kinds of things anyway, and all of you wanted it turned back didn’t you?”
Holly’s migraine was getting worse… She decided to ignore the blatant impossibility of that for now.
(Holly) “Okay, so we did it. Great. I just need to speak with him and see what the heck is going on! Can you get me to his current dimension?”
(Madaron) “Er… If it’s an emergency I can see if there’s someone available in Kadia who can jump dimensions independently! I’m just a gatekeeper, I can only control gates, not make them like Lord Kevin can.”
(Holly, calming a bit on finding the kid so obliging) “Well, thanks, and get on it.”
Perhaps she should have left it alone and joined the others in celebration… Too late now… She might as well continue investigating. SOMEBODY should anyway.
Kevin was pretty busy, and communications did have to go through him – but had a spare channel or two, and he’d rather been expecting some such demand from the lunar bunch. He relayed the request for a pickup and got back to work on his current concerns.
Madaron looked abstracted for a few moments.
(Madaron) “OK! There should be a pickup by in about five minutes… At the square where we ran the gate through. One of the “Traditionalists” will be handling it apparently… I don’t know much about them either, sorry!”
(Holly) “Thanks. I’ll be at the site, waiting.”
Traditionalist? What the hell was a Traditionalist? Oh well, at least the kids were perfectly willing to accommodate her. Was it really possible that they didn’t think that they had anything to hide?
The Traditionalist turned out to be Todd Jenkins; he’d been relearning dimensional travel anyway, so having a practical destination for one of his practice gates was a small thing – and the Gatekeeping trick had turned out to be surprisingly easy for a Traditionalist to learn. He might have had trouble with full psionic dimensional travel in a normal dimension – but Kadia upped his limits considerably. Besides… the Lunar Group had a long list of supplies on request, and he could easily take some of them along.
Holly was a bit startled. A very proper English gentleman? Weird interdimensional beings should not look like they’d just stepped out of a historical movie! Still, the English had always valued good manners – and the man had brought along a shipment of supplies; even with the war suddenly terminated, there were still quite a few shortages; they’d used up a lot of resources on it! Besides… if “Kevin” was still sending supplies, it implied a certain amount of benevolence. Would he have any other motive for that now that he’d already changed their entire world?
(Holly, looking relievedly at the supplies) “Good afternoon, sir. Holly Simmons, Lunar Landsknecht.”
(Todd) “Ah, good afternoon Ms Simmons! I’m told you have some concerns? Do step this way then, the gate is draining to keep open for very long, even though your universe does allow the operation of the Paths.”
(Holly, stepping through) “Paths?”
That got her one long, dry, scholarly, explanation of the ancient traditions and paths, their history and importance, and the role they had played in the development of England – or at least of some odd version of England. Definitely some kind of scholar… Well, that wass bearable. In return, she explained what had happened to her world to a man who looked old enough to be one of her uncles…
She even included the odd impression she got when thinking back that she, personally, had had a say in what had happened – if a tiny one.
Todd found that a bit startling once he sorted through the digressions. Still… .
(Todd) “I suppose I should have realized that Kevin was capable of such a thing; after all, he created this world to suit his purposes. It’s still most impressive however. To focus and channel the power-capacity of an entire world would – I suspect – annihilate any mortal. Still, he is at least a demigod.”
(Holly) “Yeah, he seems to be powerful… Wait. Sir, did you say he’s a demigod?”
(Todd) “I would say so. Wouldn’t you say that apparent immortality, the ability to move at will across reality, and the ability to create and transform worlds covers most of the qualifications?” Holly had to process that for a moment.
(Holly) “I didn’t think they existed… I mean, sure, we had somebody calling themselves ‘God,’ but he never did anything like THAT!”
(Todd) “I hadn’t directly encountered any myself until recently.”
Holly was looking around Kadia – and found it blatantly obvious that Todd was the oldest, and most formally dressed, person around.
(Holly) “So how’d you run into him?”
(Todd) “I and my associates were being tormented by Lord Zero – an insane entity with vast powers, perhaps comparable to the entity you refer to as “God” – and some of Kevin’s agents came to rescue us after they were informed of the situation. As refugees from our own world, we were offered accommodations here.”
(Holly) “Okay, just thought I’d ask. You didn’t look like a local.”
(Todd) “There aren’t many. This entire world is only a few months old – and I must congratulate you. Even with such a graphic demonstration in their immediate past, most people would have more trouble accepting this. It took myself and my colleagues several days.”
(Holly) “Where I’m from, you have to process stuff like this fast. It can mean life or death.”
(Todd) “I take it that Kevin’s actions on your world have provoked some disquiet?”
(Todd) “From what little I have seen of Kevin’s activities, he seems oddly responsive, rather than active. It’s as if he mirrors what his observers wish to see. He claims to be a dark power – but that the Darkness brings people what they desire.”
(Holly) “He seems pretty active to me.” (She thought for a moment) “But with the power he’s wielding, active and passive might start to blur.”
(Todd) “Yes – but he came to your world, and unleashed your own power – and gave you what you wished for. He claims that the Darkness – for example, ambition, lust, greed, and the desire to control – gives people what they want, while the Light gives people what they need. Honestly, I suspect that he mixes the two. It seems likely that your world may have both wanted and needed help.”
(Holly) “I see your point.”
Holly – now that Todd had calmed her down a bit – had been looking around Kadia more carefully. So much greenery!
(Holly) “This has been enlightening. I want to stay, but the other Landsknecht are probably wondering where I am. If those kids haven’t already told them.”
(Todd) “That’s very likely. Is there anything else you’d like to see while you’re here? If there is an urgent need for you, the message will be passed on.”
(Holly) “You and your associates are definitely some kind of psychics. I’d like to speak with them about that for a bit. The other Landsknecht might find it interesting.”
(Todd) “Easy enough. Most of them are teaching classes at the moment, but they’ll be pleased to meet a psychic who follows a different psychic system.”
That led to a good deal of discussion… Holly found the abilities of the Traditionalists quite interesting – and very versatile – and the Traditionalists were always interested in other systems. There was so scholarly discussion that the more militaristic Holly was quite surprised when spirit weapon practice starts. Old-guard Traditionalist explanations generally didn’t emphasize that bit – and she had tuned out part of Todd’s version.
On reflection she found the fact that “Kevin” really was a youngster rather comforting – as was the fact that he seemed to be interested in giving worlds what they wanted, not what he wanted… On the other hand, the sheer power level was terrifying. What in the cosmos could make that kind of power available to a CHILD?
It was also kind of comforting that “Kevin” had allowed a collection of elderly psychics to simply move in on him and start teaching – diverting youngsters from joining his followers. He had to be the most undemanding “deity” that she’d ever heard of!
It was something to take home to the moon anyway – and the elderly psychics might make interesting reinforcements and support. Even if “Kevin and Marty” seemed to have banished God and Merlin and undone the entire war – revising the entire earth, and all it’s inhabitants, along the way.
Hopefully he wouldn’t be revising their reality any more! Even “with consent” that was just too disturbing!