Nadyenka and Dr Parson had a more specific source in mind for their next stop. They shared a distant family relationship through Lilian Ardanel – and Temerin, Lilian’s youngest daughter, had opted to stay in Kadia – and was currently supposed to be one of Kevin’s Thralls.
Lillian was pretty worried about her, although she put on a good face when it came up. She might be right to be worried too… If only they could get more than the public information on Midnight Gardener! It showed a frightening level of ambition anyway – and either a lack of all sense of scale or a serious intention to challenge eternity. The boy was certainly thinking on a transhuman scale there – even if the fundamental motive was no more than “I don’t like death!” his humanity was arguable enough at this point anyway.
Finding Temerin was easy enough – although they did stop to talk to a young performance artist along the way. It seemed that he had opted for indenture instead of Thralldom – but had nearly bought himself out of it in less than a year through sheer talent since he was allowed to keep all of his profits beyond a fairly modest daily fee for not taking a work-assignment as a tour guide…
That really was a remarkable bit of generosity on Kevin’s part. Demanding a substantial share of the profits rather than a flat daily fee wouldn’t have been at all abnormal. They bought several of his paintings; the expense account had been under no strain at all so far, so they might as well give the boy the final boost he needed to be free.
Dr Parson’s involvement with that interview gave Nadyenka more time to find out what Temerin was involved in – and it seemed that she was currently working with weaponized meme victims, attempting to trace the source of their exposure and looking for new strains. That was… rather a lot of responsibility for a child of only twenty-eight! [thanks to Core genetic engineering, that’s about equivalent to an old-style fifteen]. For that matter, it was also yet another major, and at least apparently altruistic, project – unless Kevin’s motive was simply to ensure Core’s stability so that he’d have a steady source of recruits. Still, if that was it… why had such a vital project been left in the hands of a self-proclaimed demon lord? Surely there had been an evaluation run when the boy had gotten involved in that field as well!
So many contradictions… Either the boy had no stable personality at all, or he had some of the most elaborately contorted self-justifications in human history!
In recent history anyway. Old-style humans could get pretty crazy.
While the others were musing, Dr Parsons went on a bit ahead.
Temerin was engaging in some light exercise then he arrived – a combination of acrobatics and aerobic dance to music that called for impressive strength, agility, and timing. A rather high-end training exercise for a purebred human, if only mid-level for someone with the right genegrafts – or for a Thrall. At least she was quite blatantly healthy and happy, even if that “happy” might be pretty artificial.
(Temerin) “Great uncle-Albert! How nice to see you! What brings you to Kadia?”
(Dr Parsons) “It’s good to see you too! I noticed you had disappeared, so I thought I would search for you. Your cousin Nadyenka is here as well, and will be along shortly.”
(Temerin) “Oh Uncle Albert! I was home for a holiday, and sent an electronic contact address! Mother was just all nervous wasn’t she after that mess in Masayvril wasn’t she?”
(Dr Parsons) “I’m afraid so, child. Is everything all right? You seem happy enough.”
Dr Parsons was scanning as well… It looked like she really had accepted the Thrall-pact; assorted massive physical, psychic, and magical augmentations, genegrafts, exceptional muscle tone and conditioning, and all. She’d filled out a bit too – probably thanks to the shapeshifting. She was as well-shielded as the rest on most levels, but – like the other Thralls – had nothing to keep him from reading her physical reactions and condition – or from noting her pointy ears, tiny cute fangs, and slight fuzz. What, was lycanthropy – or possibly the old “catgirl” or “wolfgirl” routine IN this month in Kadia? That was what happened when you made voluntary shapeshifting a major feature of a world!
On the other hand, like the rest, she did indeed seem to be fine – and quite happy with the arrangement.
Maysavril had been one of the worlds on the fringe of the New Imperium/Old Sith Empire until the Hellstorm hit it unexpectedly and reduced the surface of the planet to a sea of molten rock. Unfortunately, Temerin had been visiting there at the time and hadn’t managed to reach a gate in time to evacuate. For a time she’d been presumed dead in the attack – although, in the Manifold, there was always hope.
As it had turned out, quite a lot of people – at least the ones with offworld wealth to pay for it or who were most salable – had been taken off by freetraders. Some of Kevin’s agents bought her, and had offered to either send her home with a charge against her credit account in Core or to let her join the Thralls. She’d seen enough of their abilities to find that interesting – and the notion of being able to take care of herself was also appealing – so she’d taken them up on it. After she’d reached Kadia, been briefed, and had accepted the bond, she’d gotten back in touch with her parents – who’d been overjoyed to hear that she was alive, less than happy to hear that she’d been enslaved, and QUITE unhappy to hear that she had then VOLUNTEERED for more slavery!
Confirming that made Dr Parsons quite uncomfortable. Thralldom in the abstract was enough of an ethical problem, having it become a family matter was entirely too close to home. Still, at least she was alive; as long as that was true, almost anything else could be worked out eventually.
It was easy enough to find out why Lilian was looking so strained though; unsurprisingly, no amount of explanations from Temerin had helped things with Lilian – especially since the first reports of her daughters adventures had involved dangerous rescue missions, with her having both legs blown off and nearly dying on one of them.
Dr Parson’s wasn’t so happy about that himself, but at least she was definitely aware of the risks. It was even better that she’d apparently decided to keep things a little quieter for a bit.
(Dr Parsons) “Sigh… you do realize your mother is unhappy about this, of course.”
(Temerin) “She thinks I’ll get hurt… I did stop taking rescue missions to try and calm her, but it’s not like I could get killed or anything! Kevin doesn’t allow that!”
That was still the rub; Kevin delivered what he promised – but the price he demanded could be abused so readily!
(Dr Parsons) “I know, dear.”
As the rest of the group arrived, Temerin cheerily waved, gestured, cleaned up instantaneously, and flipped down from the exercise area to give Parsons and Nadyenka welcoming hugs.
(Temerin) “Hey Nadyenka! Why are you here? You worried too? I’m just fine you know!”
(Nadyenka) “If you say so.”
(Temerin, not being stupid) “You don’t approve – but they rescued me, and gave me a chance to rescue other people and really do things that needed doing!”
(Nadyenka) “For what purposes, though? Have you thought about his motivations? CAN you?”
(Temerin) “Yeah! He likes to have people in general be happy and expand – and he likes to have more Thralls sign up! And why shouldn’t we?”
Nadyenka really didn’t have an objection to that quite ready… It was outrageous, and it was targeting children, and she didn’t approve – but she was stymied in looking for a LOGICAL objection.
Dr Parsons had been probing as deeply as he could – at least on Temerin he had a baseline to work with – and the Thrall-augmentations were just as major as he’d come to suspect. There was no remaining trace of damage or trauma; it looked like the transformation had wiped all that away. Her stress levels were good – but she practically radiated eagerness to please Kevin – like all the rest – and utterly accepted her status as property right down to the instinctive level.
She did still like to help people at least…
Generic lycanthropic powers, but – at least for a Thrall – that seemed to be a very minor thing, and might just be a training package. She was also about two weeks pregnant at the moment.
Lycanthropy never got any less disturbing… Wait, she was pregnant?!
Dr Parsons elected to ask telepathically, since he wasn’t sure Nadyenka was going to react.
(Temerin, mentally) “Oh? It shows already? I decided to get pregnant by young Limey Tabard! He’s really cute, and he’s extra powerful, and he works directly with Kevin and Marty!”
(Dr Parsons, mentally) “That’s an odd name. Is it his actual name or just a nickname?”
(Temerin, mentally) “Oh, it’s Limey Remiliard Akeveron Tabard really!”
(Dr Parsons, mentally) “Is he a werewolf? A human?”
(Temerin, mentally) “Oh he’s a werewolf! And a weremachine! And a lot of other things, as well as being a bit younger than I am – but he has lots of energy!”
(Dr Parsons, mentally) “I can’t even BEGIN to imagine what the baby will look like. But you’re clearly well-supported here.”
(Temerin, mentally) “Oh of course! Lord Kevin takes good care of everyone – and he makes special provisions for anyone who’s having a baby!”
(Dr Parsons, mentally) “That’s good.”
Oh dear! Was Kevin is trying to BREED thralls? What were those benefits?
Oh. Public records. Virtually EVERYTHING was public records… Was that intentional policy, a leftover childhood assumption, or a carefully-crafted front? In any case… Larger quarters, child care, larger luxury allowance, assignments in Kadia with flexible hours and such to allow parents to spend time with their children (and to make sure that the children remained in Kadia, where nothing seriously bad could happen to them, until they were of age), and – apparently – Kevin’s general seal of approval.
Well, at least he wasn’t forcing them to have children – although further investigation was certainly in order. Still, she was far, FAR too young! People didn’t normally start families until they were at least a hundred and had settled down in life a bit! (Well, OK, a few overeager types started around forty). Her family was NOT going to be amused!
Well, there was nothing that could be done for Temerin; she’d accepted accepted the deal, and apparently Kevin was incapable of revoking it. They could set up more regular communications, and tell Lilian that – since she had a daughter resident in Kadia, and in Kevin’s service – she could just come and visit readily enough.
The report – to both Lilian and the military – was going to be awkward. The data was disturbing, yet there were few black and white issues save one; it was hard to find a better deal in exchange for your freedom, dignity, and personhood – but were those things that, even if there was no way to stop the sales, Core should acknowledge that a child could sell? Loosening up had benefited humanity, but to this extent? It seemed so extreme!
Now, they could certainly report strong indications that Galman was right; Kevin was addicted, trapped, and not really in control of the power passing through him. The fact that he didn’t have any purpose in mind for most of the Thralls said that it was the binding itself that drove him. The honesty… spoke of inhuman self-discipline, and he might well have recently become aware that fathering children was a possible self-treatment for binding-addiction.
It would be worthwhile maintaining communication with Gelman. For someone approaching the matter from a religious and philosophical perspective, he had done some rigorous investigation and analysis – and he seemed to be genuinely concerned. There had even been some indications that he might be trying to influence the situation – although he might well get in over his head.
Next up; they’d have to try and see what Kevin was doing in person. So far, at least, there was no indication that simply meeting or talking with him – if that could be arranged – was dangerous, and they still needed more data.
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 140a – Reaching the Core (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 140b – Interviews (ruscumag.wordpress.com)