It was a bit of a risk – but they agreed over breakfast that the next logical person to talk to was this “Fred Gelman”. He was one of the few accessible non-Thralls who’d had extensive contact with Kevin, he could help them reach more obscure sources, he’d already provided a good deal of useful information and a contact-reference – and he seemed to have a good moral sense.
They asked a few questions about Kadia in general and the management in particular to cover up the fact that visiting Gelman had been on their list of “things to do on my vacation” all along – but it was really beginning to look like no one cared… Either Kevin was, in fact, being reasonably honest – or all of the currently-occupied region of Kadia was a showplace, and he kept anything he wanted off the record hidden off-dimension or at least a few million miles from the populated areas.
Gelman didn’t have to much to add to the information that he’d already provided (Gelman’s interviews with Kevin and Rabbi Menasche can be found Here, Here, and Here) – but he could give them an introduction to Kevin’s harem – and the dragonesses there certainly had some personal impressions to provide. On the other hand… most of those impressions were pretty much guaranteed to be irrelevant. The boy’s adolescent antics – however eccentric – had no real bearing on their investigation!
Unfortunately, random Thrall-interviews conducted while wandering around Kadia weren’t very informative either. Most of the Thralls had only seen Kevin in person once, at a modest distance, during their mass induction. They said that they were treated well, loved working for Kevin, had – of course – perfect health care, were well paid, and felt that they were doing valuable work. Most of them claimed to have been rescued from various bad situations, and had signed up either because of all the benefits and powers, because they wanted to use those powers to rescue friends and family members from something, or because they just wanted to do good. Even the ones who’d been indenture-slaves before they’d signed up claimed that there hadn’t been any real duress – and the youngsters who were still indenture-slaves that they spoke to tended to confirm that. They spent a little time working, a fair amount of time in school, and most of the rest of their time on whatever they wanted to do. Some of the ones who belonged to owners other than Kevin seemed to have more burdens, but that seemed to be very rare – and mostly the result of private bets.
Of course, that just emphasized the difference between belonging to Kevin and belonging to some random individual.
Curiously enough, Nadyenka found the fact that new Thralls were allowed to shift from job to job until they found one that suited them especially ominous. It – once again – implied that there were a LOT of Thralls. Enough so that even the number of open positions in a rapidly-expanding trade and Manifold operation were having difficulty absorbing them all. That was borne out by the induction arrangements; Kevin might be recruiting hundreds, or even thousands, a day! In an exponential growth pattern as THOSE Thralls recruited more! That would have to start to taper off eventually – but unless there was a limit to the number of Thralls the boy could take, he might soon command an army of millions.
Jerome found it less ominous and more sad… The religious evaluations were obviously right; the boy was a soul-binding addict. His Thralls had no general orders save… to please their master by maintaining good public relations and bringing in more Thralls. They were given lots of time to please themselves, and ever-increasing benefits, simply because that would also serve to bring in more children to be bound… an uncontrolled engine with no true purpose save to feed Kevin’s addiction. The boy seemed to be personally benign enough – but with that addiction to divert his attentions, how easy would it be for someone else to turn his activities to their own ends?
At least in his opinion, it was extremely unlikely that the Midnight Gardener project was simply an attempt to make sure that his supply of new Thralls would never end. No simple addict would risk a disruption of his current supply to deal with a possible shortage that would not occur for billions of years. There had to be something else driving the boy – but he’d be willing to bet that the thought of “Thralls without end!” was lurking in the back of his mind.
Radheya had had less to do so far – where there was no magic involved, the technological basis of Kadia, and the equipment of the Thralls, seemed to be relatively conventional. Still, the sheer scale of Kadia was disturbing. If the local hyperbolic geometry really extended indefinitely, and the systems were all in place and simply waiting for a population to arrive – then, with the near-limitless resources of the Manifold to draw upon, the only apparent upper limit on the manufacturing capacity of the place was the ability to co-ordinate production. Still, potential did not amount to intent, or even danger, when there were no signs of anything truly threatening as yet.
They decided to take advantage of Mr Gelman’s introduction and briefing on the place to talk to the residents of the Harem. If they were looking for subtle influences on the boy, talking to the people he’d chosen to surround himself with might be quite informative.
The location was a towering, showy, and quite absurd mountain-castle-fortress, and the door was answered by a young silver dragon wearing a collar.
(Silver) “Dr Parsons and company? You have a recommendation from Mr Gelman, but nothing listed for the purpose of your visit – which doesn’t quite fit in with a “vacation” anyway. I take it you’re one of the groups evaluating Kadia and Lord Kevin’s operations on behalf of those “Core Computers” he would like approval from? Were you looking for someone in particular?”
Well, it looked like the “vacation” cover was blown – it had been fairly thin to start with – but either no one cared about the the military evaluation part of the trip or it was still more-or-less secure.
(Dr Parsons) “Is Ramira in? I would like to ask her about life with Kevin.”
(Silver) “Yes, she is. I shall let her know that you would like to see her. In the meantime, if you would wait here, Marderin (the silver indicated a gold with a collar) will be in attendance.”
(Dr Parsons) “Certainly.”
(Marderin) “Can I fetch anything for any of you? Or is there anything else you need?”
(Jerome) “Perhaps drinks. It’s been a long day.”
Marderin took their orders and the drinks arrived in a few moments…
(Dr Parsons) “How close are you to Kevin?”
(Marderin) “I’m an attendant in his Harem sir; I see him fairly often, but he generally has other things in mind while he’s here than chatting with the servants.”
(Jerome) “You must be fortunate to work in such a lovely facility.”
After all, if there was anyone around who might resent Kevin, it would be a slave-attendant in his harem.
(Marderin) “Indeed sir! Especially after I challenged his dominance back at home!”
Definitely another Thrall. Bothersome magical realms with strange supernatural creatures. The creature probably hadn’t known what he was getting into when he’d tried challenging Kevin; the boy’s powers were certainly formidable.
A little further chat while waiting revealed that Marderin had thought that Kevin was simply a dragon of about the same age, but of a somewhat inferior – and notably evil – breed, and thereby somewhat weaker than himself. He’d tried to challenge him to either enslave or kill him and take over his holdings. He’d been quite surprised to be so easily defeated, and then extremely pleased to not only be permitted to live, but to be offered the chance for a comfortable life as a Thrall after the initial discomfort of enslavement.
Hm. Just like in some of the older gaming worlds, although that was somewhat surprising. Most of the more popular ones from their great heyday during the arcology period of the 2060’s had mutated beyond recognition long ago. Perhaps drawn from a very obscure source? In any case, it looked like… the boy had been after a power base first, and the harem was something of an afterthought – and even then had stayed confined to whichever dragon-realm it was until one female had started dating Kevin, had become dominant over all the slaves, and had been moved to Kadia. All kinds of provisions had been made for her kids and to make sure that they would have souls.
Could that possibly have been the boys first romance? It would explain the dragon-fixation… Well, if Kevin was a Dark Lord, he was a very, very nontraditional one who had read that ancient list of rules.
The harem itself was pretty traditional – at least as adjusted for dragons; jewels, ornaments, and scale-decorations for the concubines and simple collars for the attendants. It wouldn’t be a harem without male guards who couldn’t enjoy the women of course… Did the boy actually think that he was being shocking? It was fairly normal behavior for an empowered adolescent male – or at least it would have been outside of the draconic angle, which was a minor variation at Kevin’s power level. Far more importantly… he’d arranged for all of the residents including the attendants to be happy with their positions, located it in a realm where mere physical forms were easily mutable, and made sure that all the residents were volunteers on temporary assignments.
It seemed to be a theme; virtually everyone in Kadia was pleased with life – even if an outside observer would have said that they were obviously being mistreated. Were any of the boy’s facades – the Demon Lord, the Oversexed Adolescent, the Benign Merchant, or the Embodiment of Destiny – more than a mask?
Ramira was mildly surprised to have visitors – especially from a “focus group” – but she knew that the Core acceptance project was important to Kevin / Ailill, and so she consented to see them, even if it was a bit of an imposition!
(Ramira) “Well then! I am rather busy gentleman, ladies – but as a courtesy to Mr Gelman, I can make some time for you. What was your business?”
(Dr Parsons) “We wanted to ask some questions about your relationship with Kevin. How did you enter his harem?”
(Ramira frowned slightly… what a silly question! Was this going to be a total waste of her time to satisfy the idle curiosity of mere humans?) “I was looking for a worthy mate, and – upon investigation – he seemed like a remarkably good prospect; in fact, he turned out to be even better than that!”
Dr Parsons frowned slightly himself… The subtext there of “and he turned out to be surprisingly easy to move in on” was slightly disturbing – as was the rather mercenary attitude. How many of the people around Kevin were simply using him? Was the boy THAT easy to manipulate, or did he simply not care as long as he got something he wanted in exchange?
(Radheya) “I understand you handle local computer security. Mr. Gelman has told us of your skills. Is Kevin pleased with your work?”
(Ramira, preening slightly) “Of course!”
(Jerome) “Now has he sired any hatchlings with you yet?”
(Ramira) “I don’t see how that matters, but it’s no secret that all of Kevin’s concubines here are pregnant – except Kelsaru, who clutched a few weeks back – and of course no other intact male dragons are permitted in the harem! I think they’re going to turn out splendidly, and he’s already made arrangements for them to have every advantage!”
Dr Parsons sighed. Ramira was far easier to read than she appeared to imagine – and it was quite obvious that her soul was entirely human. She had fair telepathic defenses, but nothing at all to keep him from sensing her blood pressure, heart rate, and other indicators. The “Surprisingly enough for a male dragon” appendum was easy to read.
(Dr Parsons) “And, lastly, how do you feel about his treatment of the servants, here and elsewhere in Kadia?”
(Ramira) “Rather excessively kind really! It’s no way to maintain real discipline!”
(Dr Parsons) “Well, thank you for your time, Ramira”
Dragons. It was obvious that Kevin’s charisma was having an impact on her, and that she liked having such a powerful mate – but she, at least, seemed to have a pretty pragmatic view of the entire topic of “family”. Still, brief conversations with a few of the others made it apparent that most of the concubines were a lot less mercenary. Even most of the genuine dragons seemed to be decent enough, if ambitious – and several of the thralls in draconic identities seemed to have been with Kevin quite awhile; evidently the boy even bonded with his Thralls to some extent – although he obviously preferred more freely-offered companionship.
On Kevin’s side… the classic teen-age attention-seeking factor was fairly evident. The boy was trying so hard to be shocking, and to such little effect. Had he forgotten his own basic biology lessons? “Try to monopolize a bunch of females and eliminate rival males” was a pretty basic drive in males. That utter adherence to “fairness” though – was that an attempt to keep his addiction under control? The boy focused so on his rules and rigid control… was it simply that he had no attention left over for anything more than simple, instinctive, goals? There was lots of posturing in evidence, but very little actual “evil” by any but the most general philosophical measures. The only differences seemed to lie in the methodological approaches and the self-justifications. Was the entire bit with the harems and children a diversionary sideshow?
Confound it! Did the boy HIMSELF have any idea of why he did things?
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 140a – Reaching the Core (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 139a – The Council of the Traditions (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 139b – The American Werewolfmobile and the British Umpire (ruscumag.wordpress.com)