Meanwhile, Gelman was off to consult one of the more actively researching Rabbis. Much as he’d like to consult a Rabbi from Battling Business World, he suspected that only a Core Rabbi would have the kind of background information he needed – and until Zero was pacified (if he ever was), Battling Business World was more-or-less off limits anyway.
On thinking about that, was it very wrong that he somehow found himself concerned for the Balrog as well as for Corrigan and Mr Leland? It had loudly proclaimed it’s evil – but it still reminded him of Kevin; it’s evil seemed more of a pose than a true darkness.
Besides… Some of the Core Rabbis had doubtless spent centuries in study, and for this kind of question – practical theology – he thought that he wanted the very best. For that matter, he wanted to avoid having anyone hit him with holy fire or something for his association with the powers of darkness.
He asked the computers – and spent a little time sorting out priorities and parameters.
He wound up with a recommendation that he visit the Kesher Synagogue in Israel – one of the few major synagogues that regularly sponsored active theology research in the field – and speak with the Rabbi Menasche. While the Synagogue had several Rabbis, Menasche was the most active religious researcher, an experienced traveler of the Manifold, and possessed a variety of holy powers.
Oh, good! It was always pleasant to visit the Holy Land, and visiting a version that didn’t get nuked on a near-daily basis would be particularly nice!
He made an appointment and headed out. It was easy enough to jump to Core from Kadia; there were a dozen well-established gates.
Core Israel was quite surprising though… It was green. The forests of cedars were back in Lebanon, and most of the middle east was once again wet and fertile. Core had apparently established an inland sea in the Sahara to add moisture to the air, reforested to conserve moisture again, and desalinated the soil… It was pleasantly pastoral actually; presumably the land had been like this before it had been subjected to several thousand years of overgrazing, war, and burn-offs – back in the days when it was truly “a land flowing with milk and honey”.
It took him a few moments to recover from that and go about his business. Mankind had long ago demonstrated it’s talents in the ways of destruction – but for men to turn their hands to such a task across the centuries, and to become the caretakers of creation as if in a return to Genesis, was a daunting accomplishment. At least in Core, humanity had apparently learned at last.
He barely noticed his Smartclothes adjusting to the warmer environment.
Israel – and especially Jerusalem – had been nicely restored in a great number of locations, with plenty of historical exhibits. He made a note to stop by and tour the major locations after he was done with his appointment.
Come to think of it, that also seemed to be a standard preoccupation of Core; the preservation of the heritage of the race and of everything that made mankind distinct. Was that foresight or simply an impulse to make sure that you never threw away anything that you might need later?
The Kesher Synagogue was fairly traditional though – the ark, the commandments, the Torah, and the eternal light of the Ner Tamid, as well as a collection of classical books and scrolls, were all present – which was comforting! There were several kids listening to a story, a set of displays on the history of the Temple Mount and the Temple, photographs of the first, second, and third temples in several variants (from a selection of manifold realms), along with various similar presentations on major relics, and personal interviews with Moses and two different Abrahams, all noted as to versions… Many of them had been personally contributed by the Rabbi Menasche. It was really quite impressive. It looked like he was quite the traveler. Surely the Rabbi would have some good advice!
The Rabbi was indeed pleased to meet him; there had been some discussions about Kevin and Kadia recently, as his operations and contract had become more widely known throughout the Core – and Gelman had a first hand report on the topic from a position of authority within Kevin’s organization.
As the Rabbi was most pleased to discover later on, Gelman also had a personal candid interview with Kevin to discuss – and did NOT seem to be a dark power committed to a demonic agenda of some sort.
Gelman explained how he’d arrived in Kadia, what he’d seen there – and his generally ambiguous feelings about its apparently-young ruler and his operations.
(Menasche) “That is indeed disturbing. Young Kevin – and he would still be rather young, even if he did not seem to have stopped aging as an adolescent – seems to be running somewhat amuck. His use of the powers of darkness is a serious flaw, and all too likely to lead to abuses and degeneration. Moreover, while what information I have obtained on his “Contract” suggests that he is being quite honest- and extraordinarily generous as such things go – it is still not a particularly moral or healthy arrangement.”
(Gelman) “I agree, Rabbi. I have spoken with him personally on some of these matters.”
Gelman spent some time divulging the information from his interview with Kevin.
(Menasche) “That is… very impressive in it’s way. To be infused with that much of the power of darkness and still to hold to such rigid, self-imposed, standards is most unusual. It suggests either an extraordinary will, great strength of character, or inhuman self-discipline – unless he is indeed shielded from the corrosive power of the darkness by some aspect of his power as an Opener. Most such victims are drawn into a vicious circle of indulging ever-darker impulses and desires. To have held out for nearly fifty years suggests that he might eventually even be able to surmount those limitations. While I suspect the popular belief that nothing can contain or bind an Opener is incorrect, it is certainly most difficult.”
(Gelman) “That’s what I was here to ask you. Do you think he could eventually free himself from the darkness?”
(Menasche) “All men must overcome their own darknesses in the end. He has been burdened with more than most – but does not The Lord give each man strength to bear his burdens? Moreover, what information I can pull up on Kevin Sanwell suggests that he has not aged in fifty years; he evidently has the time. I would wish that he would accept guidance – and may, perhaps, arrange to try and offer him some – that he might repent of his evil faster, but he seems to have many other concerns at the moment. Did not Israel have many kings who sinned, and led Israel to sin, without The Lord turning away for good?”
(Gelman) “Yes, Rabbi. The Lord is merciful and kind and gracious. Perhaps he intended Kevin to illustrate this point – or at least that we should not turn away from sinners”.
(Menasche) “At the most basic level, I find it hard to believe that a young man who is offering healing and sanctuary to millions, and whom assigns most of his servants to humanitarian work, is truly lost to evil – no matter what he may claim.”
(Gelman) “I don’t believe it either. He just wants people to think that for some reason. Perhaps he is afraid that the darkness in him will spread to others without his consent… I just know that I need to mitigate his most unethical practices wherever I can.”
(Menasche) “A most worthy goal in itself. Have you had much success?”
(Gelman) “It’s been an uphill battle. I’m currently trying to put a stop to his use of indentured servitude.”
(Menasche) “That does seem to lie at the center of his operations unfortunately.”
(Gelman) “The best solution I’ve been able to come up with so far is colonization. But it seems too similar to Australian transportation, even with support from Kadia itself. And imprisonment would only encourage their current tendencies.”
(Menasche) “Ah, you are referring to something lesser than his soul-bonding? A relatively minor aspect of his operations then; I had been focusing on his enthrallment of youngsters – and the sad fact that many youngsters find it attractive – as the primary issue.”
(Gelman) “Yes. This is what happens to the people who don’t accept the soul-bond. They pay for escaping their home realms one way or the other.”
(Menasche) “I hadn’t seen reports of that… I thought that most refugees were being hosted gratis. Has he changed that? It might be a sign of yielding to the darkness.”
Gelman paused to review his data. It wasn’t the refugees of course… He certainly had no issue with how he and his family had been treated, or with the treatment of Todd and his colleagues. For that matter, the youngsters who were purchased from that malevolent “Dr Brenner” character (no matter how much it had upset him at the time) were being now “indentured” for less than a day, and practically all of that was spent on “welcome to Kadia” lectures and the usual recruiting spiel. He had objections to the recruiting spiel in general of course, but less-than-a-day was hard to argue much with. Most places had far more elaborate immigration procedures.
It was the ones who were purchased as slaves elsewhere and who were given a twenty-year indenture to pay off their purchase prices (even if it was at four hours per day with benefits) and the juvenile delinquents, who were being given a 5% chance of a 20-year indenture by Kelsaru that were the real problems.
(Gelman) “I suppose it could be worse. He could be enslaving all of them – but it shouldn’t be happening at all!”
(Menasche) “For the ones that are purchased elsewhere and brought to Kadia, it sounds like this is an evil name for a rather benign placement program. From what you say, he is taking better care of them than almost any other world does – possibly including Core, since he will not permit them to die and limits their aging – and he asks for just enough casual token labor from them to provide them with an incentive to study something more profitable. The twenty-hour program is negligible – although I agree that his recruiting is quite dubious – but the delinquency proceedings are of concern, especially since some of those youngsters are apparently turned over to other people, who are permitted to use and abuse them – albeit within limits.”
(Gelman) “The juvenile delinquents are my primary concern, and, yes, I don’t see the value of high-stakes gunplay or worse for reform.”
(Menasche) “I have encountered many worse systems – such as stoning them to death – but this does seem to invite abuse. Who is administering it?”
(Gelman) “One of his draconic consorts, by the name of “Kelsaru”. She’s cranky and dismissive of humans, but not entirely unreasonable.”
(Menasche) “That would tend to explain it I suspect. Dragons are rarely particularly considerate or humanitarian, and have a reputation for ruthlessness even with respect to their own offspring.”
(Gelman) “I think she would at least consider the colonization solution. She’s about to clutch, and might appreciate one less problem on her desk.”
(Menasche) “Oh dear. He’s fathering dragons? That IS a bit of an odd preference… Why? Do you have any idea?”
(Gelman) “I’m… not certain. He might just have exotic tastes. Or it could have been an accident, and he wants to be responsible.”
(Menasche) “It might be revealing to find out sometime. Regardless, it sounds like that may not entirely be his policy. While I suppose that “put them in a regimented discipline program” is one of the basic approaches to juvenile delinquency, the “let someone else get a hold of nearly a third of them” sounds more like a draconic decision – indeed, it fits the definition of a “draconic judgement” almost perfectly. Kevin, after all, is apparently quite possessive of “his property”. I doubt that he would let indentured youngsters slip out of his hands that way”
(Gelman) “I’ll propose colonization – or at least retaining them all – to both of them then. She’s apparently as eager to please Kevin as the thralls, and if he agrees, I think she’ll accept it.”
(Menasche) “I suspect that may be best. Being near Kevin, you will have many opportunities to gently steer him – which works better than most approaches on an adolescent – and you have your own conscience to guide you. Do you feel up to taking on the role of a wise councilor for an adolescent god of darkness?”
(Gelman) “Well, I’ve juggled more than I can handle for most of my life.” (Gelman smiled) “Why stop now? Besides, the young man needs a role model… I wouldn’t mind some assistance, though.”
(Menasche) “It had best be subtle I suspect. Adolescents are always rebellious, even when they are polite about it.”
Gelman had to nod his agreement. He remembered dealing with Ruth before she left!
(Menasche) “You mentioned “Consorts”. Presumably a harem then? I suppose that that – given that his powers mean that he will always be surrounded by cute young women who are eager to oblige him – was almost inevitable. Dragons are an exotic twist though. Is he simply using that to restrict the numbers perhaps? Or just to make sure that his offspring can take care of themselves?”
(Gelman) “Yes, he does have a harem. As for why he’s interested in dragons, I’m not sure. There must be some explanation for it beyond hormones.”
(Menasche) “It may simply be imprinting. Youngsters do tend to try and repeat their first real romance – and far stranger things have happened in the Manifold.”
Gelman had to pause and think about that for a moment. He lacked personal experience in that area. After all, HE had married his childhood sweetheart.
(Gelman) “Ah, that’s a good point.”
He departed with some relief… The people of Core were still too generally rational for comfort in general – but in a Rabbi it was entirely appropriate.
Back in Kadia, the elder Sanwell’s – Kevin’s Parents – had recovered from the intoxicating effects of the dragon-form (even if it was so entertaining that they’d decided to stick with being dragons for awhile) and had been making some inquiries. A dragon-grandchild had been a bit of a shock – if rather fun – and they could easily understand how it had happened now that they’d experienced the dragon-form themselves. In fact, it was happening to them. Still…
Their visits to Kevin’s household in Kadia had been both enlightening and shocking. The fact that Kevin was keeping a harem wasn’t exactly unexpected (he was stuck in adolescence after all, and possessed tremendous personal power), and the dragon-girls seemed nice enough – but the fact that he had abruptly chosen to impregnate all of them was more than a bit of a shock. Thirty or forty children at the same time? A father should have more to do with his offspring than simply impregnating a girl! What could the boy be thinking? Was he just that thoughtless, or was something else going on? At least he had made arrangements to provide for them properly!
They started looking into getting him some counseling. There might not be any way to readily compel him to listen – but there were influences that could be brought to bear if simple parental authority turned out to be insufficient.
They also started looking a little more deeply into Kevin’s operations now that they were sure that he wasn’t – as they’d feared for decades – a con artist, cheating other youngsters out of their freedom for decades or centuries.
It turned out to be a lot easier to look into their errant sons operations in Kadia, especially since all of the Neodogs and Thralls (of which there seemed to be an unbelievable number) were eager to oblige them. In particular, the details of his contract – including the full extant of the powers and benefits that he offered – were freely available, as was plenty of additional confirmation that Kevin actually upheld his end of that impossibly-potent contract. Not least among such evidence was the fact that he had Thralls working for many other major organizations in Core.
There were partial records on what Kevin, Marty, and a selection of associates, had been up to in the last few months as well.
That had been dizzying.
The occasional battle and bit of heroism or villainy was only to be expected. Youngsters engaged in such things in the Manifold all the time. They studied magic and psionics and all the fantasies that mankind had ever dreamed up – and indulged their own. Some failed to return. It was always a worry when your child chose to walk the worlds – or had been until their son had begun to offer his contract.
But the scale on which Kevin and his friends were operating… Could he be channeling that much power simply from binding other children to himself?
The answer to that had, perhaps, been the most upsetting thing of all. They’d consulted quite a variety of sources – including the disapproving Unified Church – and had been informed that soul-binding was one of the most powerful addictions in the cosmos. Only enlightenment and the slow personal spiritual growth that came with raising a child could exert as strong a pull upon a soul. Even the Unified Church admitted that he had been doing incredibly well to resist that pull enough to remain honest about his contract, rather than seeking the quick rush of binding souls to himself in the short term.
Their son needed help. Badly. The fact that he was focused on recruiting bindable children – and ignoring all kinds of other resources – was enough in itself to scream “Addiction!” to anyone who understood what they were seeing. Would normal addiction-treatments even help though? Was his sudden rush into parenthood an attempt at self-treatment? Did they need some spiritual equivalent of the ancient AA twelve-step program?
“Hi! My names Kevin, and I’m a Soul-Binding Addict, Demon Lord, and Prince of the Abyss!” “Hi Kevin!”…
Apparently Ryan had inflicted the power of darkness on their son. While he’d been his teacher – and without warning him. Ryan had then, later dumped his own dark powers, but had failed to stop the Hell-starship – a fellow recipient of the darkness – that was currently attacking humanity and smashing galactic fleets Was their son also containing that much dark power? Perhaps by spreading it across many worlds? Was even an Opener capable of that?
They would have to speak with Ryan. COULD the power of darkness be dealt with without providing a replacement victim? Didn’t he feel any guilt over what he’d done?
For that matter… Was Kevin’s self-justification correct? Was that power needed – in his hands – at this moment in history? How much did what people expected of him shape him? Had he truly become a Lord of Darkness who answered when he was summoned and called upon? He seemed to automatically give people what they asked for – whether or not that was good for them in the long run – and to be constantly pushed or called into worlds where people needed his help… How much of that was Kevin, and how much was the flood of power that possessed him?
They would have to find out – and prepare for their own intervention.