Federation-Apocalypse Session 153b – Baring The Imperial Fangs

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Gathering the retinue took some hours… There were advisers, guards, concubines, servants, half a dozen battle cruisers, his own, personal, blood-bound, party of adventurers. Considering where he was going, a few captives to show off – and to ask for a conditioning demonstration on – would also be in order. At the moment he had several dozen likely candidates in his dungeons – including fourteen of his predecessors offspring, six political troublemakers / opponents and their offspring, two of his older sons whom – according to the secret police – had been feeding information to conspiracies to eliminate him, and one younger son who’d been annoyingly clumsy once too often last week.

He gathered up the political enemies, his idiotic traitorous sons, and the clumsy one, and muzzled them in their restraints. Even if it was amusing to let them beg and plead sometimes, taunting wasn’t nearly as fun when they could turn it into banter!

Besides, he had other things to think about at the moment!

He and his entourage descended on the school by surprise; it would be best to know what kind of reaction that brought out just in case things turned sour…

The “school” itself was surprisingly small; it was quite obviously just a gate-linked outpost… It was rather well defended though. There were probably defenses enough to buy time to evacuate and to close the internal gate or gates if the place was attacked by anything less than a major task force… There was plenty of coming and going too, albeit mostly of hatchlings – and there was a trio of silver of adolescents who were apparently in the process of charging in to challenge Ailill.

Three on one? Unusual. They must be assuming that Ailill was VERY rich, and too formidable to defeat alone.

The activity in the streets quieted – save for a few gawkers with far more curiosity than sense – as his escort ships dropped into positions surrounding the school – and as his staff squelched frantic inquiries from the planetary governor. The carpet – and it’s corridor of defensive enchantments – rolled out as his precession headed towards the main door.

There some servants were hurriedly dragging the three now-unconscious silvers away to the cells and magically cleaning up the combat-mess – and a young bronze (apparently not a slave? What was up with that? Possibly a prototype school graduate acting as a greeter? It wasn’t like many draconic parents would bother showing up in person, although perhaps a few of the metallics would…) with a slightly abstracted look took one glance at him and started properly announcing him – at least until he gestured at the youngster to shut up. The formal protocol was a bore!

It looked like the three silvers had been defeated by… a pair of blue guard-slaves. Three silvers against two blues – much less blue slaves – should have been an easy win. Ailill’s combat training techniques were clearly effective – and explained how he dealt with so MANY challengers; only the best (or, according to a quick mental probe, the ones who made formal challenges without trying to cheat) actually made it to Ailill himself. Still… three or four on one, which the slaves would apparently have passed on if they’d made a formal challenge, should end with the one losing. Most abnormal. This Ailill was most formidable for his ago.

A slave, bowing very low, informed him that the master would be arriving to greet his honored guests very soon! It was simply a long trip and he would not wish to offend by teleporting in too near to such a distinguished visitor!

Ailill did arrive shortly; he didn’t want to offend the Emperor – especially now that he was going to be semi-permanently present in the Dragonworlds.

(Ailill) “My humble greetings and welcome to my facility my Most Eminent Lord Finnmacaurol! How may I help you?

Interesting. Polite enough for an informal visit – but there was virtually no fear there at all. The boy was either very confident in his ability to escape any consequences or actually thought that he and his servants might win in a confrontation. Adolescent dragons did tend to think they were invincible of course – at least up until their slave-collars went on and their new owners began to work on them – but a gatemaster might have good reason to believe that he could escape almost anything.

(Finnmacaurol) “Your facility has attracted my attention, Ailill. I would like to see its operations personally.” (Big toothy smile.)

(Ailill) “Certainly my Lord!”

A high-quality holo-projection map popped up. That wasn’t an unusual technology, but it was mostly reserved for game rooms and briefing rooms and such… Apparently it had been installed in the school foyer just to show things to guests.

(Ailill) “What would you care to see first? The recreation areas? The school? The library? The casino?”

Ailill trailed off as he gestured over the display. Actual physical locations were not shown, which pretty much confirmed the private gate-network – and neither was the harem or private areas. Apparently… the students were allowed their own private areas. More confidence there; there were reportedly enough of them to overwhelm almost anyone – and he was hosting them with no apparent concern. The trophy chambers and cells were buried on secondary layers; most likely the display was being adjusted on the fly – which meant he was using a very well-hidden interface. Yet another rare technology.

Apparently he’d also used it to send for gifts – a contingent of slaves and a few new concubines bearing more gifts – a stockpile of magical devices, including a supply of Pearls of Power (his favorite! He was happy to accept!). Enough wealth to say “I DON’T want to challenge you at the moment!” very nicely-  although, with Ailill’s apparent resources it could just be a ploy.

Of course, it also said “I have access to tremendous resources on a moments notice and without having to give any externally-apparent commands” – although he might be overestimating the boys subtlety. Still, it was yet more proof of a most sophisticated network interface indeed…

There WAS danger here – but there was also the possibility of solidifying his reign for centuries to come if he could harness those resources. A second power base to play off against the dragon councils would open many possibilities for him, even beyond those normally available to the Dragon Emperor!

It looked like the servants he was being given included… four of his predecessors missing adult sons – at first glance, substantially more powerful than their current master. Nowhere’s near all of them, but it WAS a big empire. He didn’t try to conceal the pleasure in his acknowledgment of the gifts. It really was most generous of Ailill to give him these!

At this rate, there might soon be none of his predecessors foolish younger sons left free save for those few who had made the highly undignified choice of “going wild” – and they could just stay out on the fringe worlds until a survey team came by!

Of course, the fact that Ailill had four of his predecessors adult sons on hand to give him said that he had a LOT of enslaved challengers – and that he had managed to keep the news of that quiet by using a lot of different ID’s on different worlds on his own gateway network, which was obviously even more extensive than he’d thought.

His new slaves seemed to be… pleased to enter his service too. That WAS good conditioning!

(Finnmacaurol) “Perhaps we should visit the school first. I would like to see how you create this level of loyalty.”

(Ailill) “Certainly my lord!”

The trip was short, but passed through at least three gates – two of them to nexi with numerous other gates. Given the simplest statistical predictions… that meant a probable total of at least a hundred and fifty permanent gates in Ailill’s establishment, although the margin for error in that was very wide.

What was so much power doing in the hands of a child?

The school was enormous – and was apparently a domed facility somewhere extremely secure. There was a carnival and shopping mall, internal buildings, several thousand hatchlings – and one struggling young silver who was currently being loaded into a processing machine of some sort.

Ailill cheerily offered a datapad with a remote menu for the processing options in case he wanted to select some personally – or wanted to inspect the process as the kid began his transformation into a well-conditioned slave. All the other kids were standing back – even the ones who didn’t actually recognize him could easily see that he was an Elder Dragon – save for one white who was agitating for the fun to get started immediately.

Some of the servants immediately loaded him into a second machine – and a second choice list promptly came up on his datapad, mostly covering special modifications and how prolonged and painful having them made would be. Some of them… especially the conditioning modifications… were quite impressive!

(Finnmacaurol, not entirely succeeding at seeming unimpressed) “Where did you find this device?”

(Ailill) “I set up a facility to build them My Lord; they are designed to restrain the new slaves. perform all necessary modifications, restructure their instincts and pleasure-pain centers, and provide basic training through neural imprinting. The process requires several weeks at best, hence I needed quite a few. The process is entirely automated, unless the person selection options chooses to perform some of the basic surgery personally.”

Finnmacaurol selected standard processing for the silver and maximal pain heightening for the fool white – which promptly began to scream most entertainingly – although the sound was automatically muffled when other people wanted to talk. Hence it didn’t quite cover up the terrified, desperate, whimpering coming from his idiot clumsy son and one of the traitorous ones. The other prisoners were either too terrified or resigned to whimper that way though.

That was just SAD. He had the prisoners loaded into various machines – the opportunity was just too good to pass up – and selected pain amplification for the whimperers too. Ah! There was an option to have the machine take and preserve a standard set of trophies from the males as well! That would be even more humiliating than having your new owner do it! He had to try very hard not to show his delight as he selected options….

(Ailill, noting the choice) “Your trophies will be prepared for you within the day; the processing will still take two weeks though.”

Spending a few minutes checking on the details of the process revealed that the machines could perform advanced automated neurosurgery. Either Ailill had found a source of technology greater than anything known to the Dragon Empire, or he was an unprecedented genius – and yet he didn’t seem to be pursuing power, instead he was making thousands of worthless hatchlings, many of them from hostile subtypes, as… happy as possible.

The chances of him being a genuine red dragon were continuing to plummet.

To be the first Dragon Emperor with a truly loyal staff however… It would be well worth forging a partnership. If he didn’t have at least some servants with this conditioning, his reign would be at risk. Other, lower-ranked, nobles had them!

The screams of his treacherous and clumsy sons started to quiet about the time they were becoming boring anyway as the initial surgeries wound down and the conditioning got underway. The others had quieted sooner;  but they had known that something like this was the BEST that they could expect anyway,

Finnmacaurol opted to continue the tour. Why not? This was a ridiculously advanced facility, and it was always good to understand the competition… The production facilities, recreation areas, and gate nexi were all about as expected save for being incredibly extensive – but the boy was obviously trying to steer him away from the cells and trophy rooms, simply by not emphasizing them. He wasn’t nearly as subtle as he thought he was, or at least wasn’t nearly subtle enough to fool someone twenty times his age.

He was discreet about his intent, but he really wanted to see how many young challengers the boy had taken trophies from. It was as good an indicator of power as any – and the boy might even have more than he did, as galling as that was.

It was actually to the point of being excessive. Thousands of adolescents and scores of adults. A few heads and bits from some that had managed to die fighting and had apparently refused to be raised as slaves. One or two completely stuffed. Very few juvenile trophies though, unless that was what was in the large jars that ornamented various turns and doorways. He’d estimate at least a hundred fronts, all accepting challengers – although quite a few would have been captured by the boys servants like those three silvers. It was obviously slowing – evidently a lot of the more ambitious or excitable adolescents had already challenged and lost – and he was cutting down the population of upcoming adolescents as hatchlings at a tremendous rate – and being paid to do it… Was he promoting long-term Imperial stability? Admittedly, in a ruthless fashion, but still…

Unless this was one of the most elaborate fronts in history, Ailill was either the most eccentric red dragon in the empire or he wasn’t a red dragon at all!

Not that there was any rule against becoming a dragon of course. It was grounds for a bit of social sneering – but if you were powerful enough to do it, there was no formal bar to becoming a dragon. Of course, without the combat training and experience there was about a 99% chance of winding up as a dragon slave – but that was one of the risks of joining the ruling class!

“Ailill” must be powerful indeed. What was his game? He could try probing – but if he boy had kept his secrets this long, and was that powerful, he had to have VERY good mental protections. Still, even passive sensing revealed… gargantuan power. Demigod level power. More power than even an adolescent dragon’s body could normally contain.

Now, if he’d defeated that many males, a lot of them would have started gathering their own slaves, harems, and resources of course, and the older ones would have offspring to claim – and he could apparently rely on all of them. He might ALREADY have enough followers to swamp the defenses of the government. If it was a power ploy… it was already ready, and may have been ready for some time. Still, surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough to let the emperor into the place where he was setting up such a ploy, and let him see the evidence of it, unless he’s very, very confident – or, just possibly – ready to try and bargain on near-equal terms.

He could jump the little upstart – but that trophy collection would warrant a moments thought about the wisdom of that, even without the other evidence. Even though the imperial guard were nearby and ready, having them bail him out against an adolescent would be dreadfully embarrassing… A bargain was in order – starting with his own show of strength where the boys defenses were weakest; in concealing that he couldn’t possibly be a genuine dragon.

He really needed to have some of those devices built for the palace anyway. A small tax on hatchlings, and having his own tested – and most processed of course – would pay off in hundreds of loyal servants… He could even simply pay a bit more for the “larger percentage allowed to move on past testing” option; that would give his bloodline excellent prospects, given that most would normally wind up dead or enslaved anyway. Every bit of advantage counted!

Perhaps that minor rumor that the secret police had uncovered – that Ailill had once, and without assistance, defeated nearly forty adult dragons in an open, simultaneous, battle – was accurate. If so, then the boy was simply… enjoying himself being a dragon, having a huge harem, and enslaving and humiliating the male challengers. He was simply playing with most of his challengers, treating the hatchlings as pets, and twisting the social structure of the entire empire for FUN  – and was probably only respecting HIM, as the Emperor, because he could readily spoil that fun. Still, he didn’t seem to realize how obvious that was to any older dragon whom he let inspect his operations… Besides, it would be fun to see his reactions. Negotiating as with an equal it was, at least to start!

(Finnmacaurol) “So, what got you started on pretending to be a dragon?”

(Ailill, startledly) “But… You’re supposed to be distracted by… Well drat!  I thought that all these would be absolutely typical for a powerful young dragon!… And they are fun to collect!”

What, hadn’t the boy ever looked at the demographics? If he hadn’t been being so incredibly conspicuous in a hundred different places, he wouldn’t have had more than a dozen or so challengers! Admittedly, some of those might have had two or three victories under their belts, and hatchlings that proved too annoying before they were sold or left on their own might have swelled things a bit later – but most settled down and stopped making challenges (and rarely were challenged) once they were out of adolescence. Only a dragon who kept it up – and somehow kept on winning – would EVER own anything like this many other dragons. Twenty or thirty concubines, and perhaps half that many surviving challenger-slaves, was a lot more typical.

He pointed that out to the boy.

(Ailill) “Er, well… would you keep it quiet? I was going to provide you with some processing machines anyway, and it will keep your empire much more stable if most of the more  combative and incompetent dragons get sorted out and enslaved as kids.

(Finnmacaurol) “Oh good! I was going to ask you for some anyway. And getting rid of the chaff would be very, very useful.”

(Ailill) “Well, I can provide you with more servants until you get all of yours processed. There are a lot of them who aren’t doing much besides being ornamental at the moment. If you wish to process your harem, Females can be processed without being sterilized. That option wouldn’t have come up since all the ones you picked options on used to be males.”

(Finnmacaurol) “That’s handy. At the very least, it will stop the junior consorts’ infernal arguing.”

(Ailill) “It does make them nicely compliant!”

Actually Ailill kind of thought that it made them kind of boring in the long run – voluntary concubines livened things up a lot more – but he wasn’t going to say that to a seriously chaotic evil ancient red dragon.

Finnmacaurol grinned to himself… Now all he’d need to do would be to make it an imperial decree that all hatchlings had to be sent in for testing and level a tax – a modest percentage of the hatchlings from each batch – on the returning slaves. To be honest, it wasn’t as if red dragon rulership – or that of any other chaotics – had much of a track record of stability, yet stability was earnestly to be desired when you were near the top of the heap! A little help from “Ailill” in that department might prove quite useful!

Hm. It would take awhile to catch up in the servants department. While hauling in his predecessors juvenile, adolescent, and adult offspring (technically he’d had very little right to do that, but who was going to argue with it except them?) had put him up a long ways – there had been grandchildren and great-grandchildren too, who had just gone to processing centers – it was still no match for Ailill’s collection. Still, as long as the boy was only interested in fooling about with other adolescents, his collecting would simply promote the stability of the Empire.

Even if he did try to avoid processing too many of his own useless offspring for some silly (and almost certainly non-draconic) reason. Really, as a red, he was something of a disgrace. Was he going to have to give the child pointers on being a dragon? He seemed to feel that enslaving lots of females for his harem, taking his trophies from newly-enslaved males, and processing 95% of the hatchlings in the galaxy into slaves (the 90% who fail in testing and the roughly half who failed in school) fulfilled his “evil quota”. The fact that most of that would have happened anyway seemed to go right past him on the grounds that HE was doing it. He… was mischievous, rather than being really EVIL. Easily exploited too. It was a fair bet that he’d never even roasted and eaten a hatchling!

And he could use a personal gate network…

Ah! That would be a way to demonstrate his proper place in the order of things! A dinner party! He’d invite the boy to a feast with the full spectrum of hatchlings as the main course, to see just how messed up he was!

(Two Weeks Later)

Ailill had stopped by the imperial palace to deliver the Emperor’s new properties – his own, now fully-processed, offspring, the prior emperors offspring who’d been sent in for processing, his trophies, and his processing systems – and to demonstrate just how well-trained, obedient, and loyal they now were!

Finnmacaurol was quite pleased! Now they could take their places among his palace staff!

He had the machines installed along one wall of the throne room, and immediately put them to work on the rest of the inhabitants of his dungeons. They weren’t going to empty themselves after all! He had quite a few political troublemakers and other opponents, annoying offspring, and left-over sons of the prior emperor to run through the system, and he wanted to get the basic palace staff processed up to standards!

Once he had enough genuinely loyal operatives, he could devote the next few months to rounding up and processing all those silver conspirators… It was the next sensible step. He could continue the purge until going further would risk reducing the chaos of the empire below the fun point. Going beyond that would just be too lawful anyway…

He had a few presents for Ailill too – a selection of magical and psionic toys, some of his current crop of daughters (a few favored ones going to join the household of one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and kindest dragons in the Empire as free concubines – and a few disfavored ones going to join that household as slaves), and a few redundant and annoying sons to become harem attendants. Even the disfavored ones would doubtless wind up happy enough rather than resentful and miserable – but that was a small price to pay for such reliability!

Finnmacaurol also invited the boy to dinner. Providing him with a few of his (hundreds) of redundant sons and daughters sent a hint about ruthlessness.

It was time for the main course!

Ailill definitely didn’t like the draconic flambeau. He even looked a little sick. He’d been aware that this kind of thing happened – but a dinner menu consisting of twenty pleading hatchlings – little kids! – whom you were expected to stick your claws into and tear chunks out of, toast those chunks in your own breath weapon, and dip them into various sauces before chomping them down, was rather a lot more than he was prepared to handle. It had never smacked him in the face before… He’d considered the traditional draconic aphrodisiac soup, but the donors there weren’t giving up anything that they weren’t going to lose anyway!

(Finnmacaurol) “Oh, do try the silver, Ailill! He’s quite tender.”

He did enjoy the frantic pleas for appetizers, the screaming for accompaniment, and the delicious flavor of still-dripping, freshly-toasted, hatchling flesh! Hatchlings were tough enough to survive to see quite a lot of themselves become a meal for their betters if you were even slightly careful not to pluck out anything too vital first! Especially if you used – as he did – serving platters with enchanted restraints that helped keep them alive!

Ailill, just as obviously, did not… As a red dragon, the boy really was a bit embarrassing! Still, that made the dinner all the better as an object lesson! THIS was what was expected of a Red Dragon! It really said “you’re not really a dragon, no matter how many female dragons you take, or how many dragon-enunchs you make, and it shows!” If he wasn’t up to being a red, perhaps he’d be better off playing as one of those inferior metallics!

Ailill, meanwhile, was divining frantically… It didn’t look like the Emperor was likely to notice a bit of dimensional overlay, save – perhaps – for how it made a few things a little easier. Only one of the hatchlings actually had a soul – but STILL.

He set up an overlay with Kadia; he had one of those around often enough anyway that it would probably pass as an aspect of his powers – and the hatchling-slaves would come back tomorrow THERE, and would be well out of the Dragon Empire!

It still left him feeling throughly sick, but at least he was doing SOMETHING. He pasted a smile on his face and grimly tried the tender silver – although he made sure to take a sufficiently vital chunk to greatly hasten the kid’s death… He arranged to have their memories of what had happened to them erased as well. He preferred much more subtle and debatable evil than eating screaming children alive… He’d have to do something about reforming the Dragon Empire!

The one with a soul could be offered Thralldom or a dragon-education (if as a subordinate companion for his own kids), and the others could join the dragon stables and the get-dragons-souls cartoon project.

He carefully avoided the thought that Finnmacaurol COULD have served one of his own kids that he wanted to get rid of. A hatchling red going “Please don’t eat me Father!” would have been entirely too much to take – especially when Kevin was a relatively new father.

Finnmacaurol did note that the areas planar traits had shifted slightly, and promptly took full advantage of the power boost to do a little boosted spying on his enemies. Still, he could pretty well take it as confirmed that Ailill really was more mischievous than evil, which was somewhat disappointing! Ah well, the Hatchlings were delicious – even HE didn’t eat like this every day! – and there was a lovely variety of sauces.

Ailill retired, quite defeated. The screaming dinner would be giving him nightmares for a long time… He would not attempt to interfere with the order of the Empire for some time to come – although he DID make sure that, since the Emperors sons and daughters in his harem were allowed to leave when they felt themselves ready, that they all found out that life was MUCH better with him. The emperor might not care at all – he didn’t need them to for anything anyway now that he didn’t need to pass them out as rewards or to deal alliances and they’d be continuing his bloodline by one of the strongest available males in any case – but it made him feel a LITTLE bit better to get to claim most of them.

Besides, he had to get RID of this body and make a new one! Thinking about those kids digesting in his stomach, and being broken down and absorbed by his bloodstream, was just too much!

Of course, in a few months – once the Empire was more or less stable, and the emperor was really firmly in control, the raiding and expansion would probably start again – and this time, it would likely extend out into the Manifold. There were plenty of places – even within the relatively limited range of dimensions that the Empires advantages would operate in – where a raiding party of powerful dragons, backed with high technology, psionics, and magic, could cause plenty of havoc.

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