Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 62b

Infra-red image of the centre of our Milky Way...

Somewhere out there is the ultimate recipe...

Lazlo had spent a fair amount of time probing what was left of Huriel’s mind… That was risky to his own sanity, but they REALLY needed to know where he’d hidden all his clones. The ones out in the galaxy beyond the stasis field were almost certainly already gone – but he turned out to have hidden several facilities around the galactic core.

Alys had been as surprised as everyone else by her new Republic constitution. She’d started out just trying to make everyone comfortable and making a few suggestions… The notion that she might be tapping into information from alternate timelines – including the Final Empire – was a  worry. On the other hand, the experience had made her rethink her attitudes toward politics and bureaucracy; it was more interesting than she’d thought – and she had to admit that she seemed to a talent for organization that at least one galaxy seemed to need badly.

She was starting to wonder about her datapad too, if somewhat less seriously. After all, there were all those incidents surrounding Shipwreck’s sensor rig. That mostly seemed to be a joke – but STILL.

She’d been diverting those worries by running searches and purges on the Mrs Beasley’s computers… They didn’t need another droid rebellion – and it was obvious that they hadn’t gotten anything NEAR a complete survey of the systems yet.

She found something else active. A LOT of data feeds were being copied to some system that she couldn’t get into – somewhere in the middle levels. The blocks on it were GOOD too – but there apparently wasn’t anything backing them but droids at the moment. Having some actual people working on it always threw in approaches that the droids weren’t prepared to handle.

That eventually led her to… some sort of special-purpose databank perhaps? A sizeable chunk of space that had… no datafeeds, no surveillance, and nothing at all coming out. That the droids just… routed around. It seemed to have links to a lot more buried programs too.

She took Ben and Smooche and went to have a look at it.

It took some careful probing, but that eventually revealed a massive sphere – several hundred feet across – armored with collapsium and with nothing much going in or out except a few fiber-connections and a few equally-massively sealed and collapsium-armored doors – all locked.

Ben foresaw that trying to get in by force would almost certainly lead to the death of Ben Therus, and almost certainly of Alys Nere. It would also lead to a great deal of destruction, and possibly to the loss or destruction of the Mrs Beasley.

He also got the feeling that something was waking up early… Had Jacob started something with his button-pushing explosions? Blast it! This was probably some last-ditch anti-hijacking precaution of his elder self! It might even be a “make another Ben” button!

Jacob was busy too… He’d been sensing traces of the Dark Side around that didn’t seem to match anyone he knew – and Alys’s searches had turned up some anomalies in the same general area. Nothing like the sphere-thing she’d turned her attention to – but someone had apparently ordered massive amounts of some sort of equipment installed on two decks, taken over one of the major environmental decks (and split it up into smaller segments), and had restructured and reduced the temperature in close to a square mile of one deck.

The environmental area was… full of all kinds of plants and things? From all kinds of worlds? And there were… huge ovens, and strange vats, and things bubbling, and micro-distillation and extraction systems, and…

COOKING?!”! Was all of this… Spices, meats, fruits, and other supplies from across several different universes and the galaxies largest food-preservation and processing setup? WAIT. Hadn’t Lazlo been dealing with a Sith who was obsessed with cooking?

Good God! The man could have stood in for a model of a death star! He was so fat that he had to move by levitation!

At least he couldn’t be that dangerous!

Oh. Unless you criticized his cooking. His tendency to chop food critics into bits with flying knives was what had killed his cooking-show career. Maybe they could get him a droid audience?

Still, as Sith went, it was no wonder that they hadn’t noticed him.

Jacob passed on word about the man and went off to have the robots build him a new Sabership. In fact, twenty more! You never knew when they might come in useful!

He just had that set up when Alys called…

With the negotiations between the various factions of the galaxy now well underway (and having established a certain reluctance to bring in new chunks for the galaxy due to all they hyperspace problems), it was about time we disassociated ourselves from the process. To that end, we decided to take the Mrs Beasley back to Alderaan so we could pick up the rest of our fleet. Even with a less roundabout route than the one we took to get to the galactic core, it was still going to take a week to get there. About halfway through the journey I got a call from Alys on my commlink.

(Alys) Kira, can you come to deck 437, North 30, West 20?

Those numbers meant absolutely nothing to me, but thankfully the Personal Droid Assistant Ban had incorporated into my belt brought up the maps showing where that was.

(Kira) What’s going on?

(Alys) Not sure, we found something onboard that we aren’t sure what to make of it.

(Kira) Ok, on my way.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I could do to help if it wasn’t hostile and the techs couldn’t figure out whatever it was. But if it made them feel any better, then so be it. As I got in the elevator to head to the location given, I reached out mentally to Valerie.

<Kira> Just a heads up, Alys and the others have found something onboard they are having trouble identifying. I am heading that direction myself now.

<Valerie> What location?

<Kira> Wherever the hell deck 437, North 30, West 20 is.

<Valerie> It’s a coordinate system, I’ll explain it later. Currently I am busy knocking some sense into some techs hoping to pick fights, let me know what you find.

<Kira> Will do.

Following the directions given to me by the droid’s pathfinding, I soon enough ended up at a set of secured bulkhead doors that had been opened rather forcefully. The guards waved me through the doors as they saw my approach. Through the doors I found myself in a large corridor that ended in a near-perfectly smooth – if ever-so-slightly curved – and reflective wall with a tiny discontinuity indicating a sealed hatch in it. The surface of the sphere was as reflective as any mirror and seemed to have a sparkle quality to it that shimmered across the surface as I moved towards it. I saw Ben, Alys, Shipwreck, and Jacob were already here and probing at it near what looked to be a door.

(Kira) Looks like a very pretty wall to me.

(Ben) It’s a collapsium shell with a diamond support coating on the inside and outside, along with what must be massive structural supports. It has a detectable gravity well up close. That is what gives it the shimmering effect and what makes it such a perfect reflector.

(Shipwreck) That near-perfect reflector status is also making it very hard to tell what is inside the thing.

(Jacob) I think it might be a ship inside the ship!

(Kira) Well, there is a door there.

(Ben) I foresee very bad consequences for entering an invalid code.

(Kira) Alright, forcing the door open?

(Ben) Same issue.

(Jacob) I can tell there are a number of buttons on the inside, should I press them?

Precognition was giving me all sorts of nonsense regarding most anything about this thing. Probability analysis showed that Jacob pushing buttons was likely to result in a number of massive explosions for unfathomable reasons. Personally, I was beginning to think this thing needed to be shoved out one of the shuttle bays out into deep space or hyperspace (although that might also set off things apparently). The others were too caught up in the mystery of things to want to do that though. Nor were they likely to leave it alone.

(Ben) Hmm, pushing buttons is likely to result in a number of explosions, Kira surviving, me dead, and the others with various intermediate odds of survival.

So that said whatever was in there wasn’t very likely to be able to readily kill me, but could kill Ben. That at least limited the more outlandish theories about what was in there, but otherwise wasn’t very illuminating. Phasing through the door was foolish in my opinion. I was likely to rip out the portion of myself still anchored to reality in the process and either fall out of the universe entirely, or reappear next to Valerie with massive internal bleeding. I again reiterated my opinion to simply dump the thing into hyperspace and was ignored.

Ben instead came up with the crazy idea to build a personal subspace drive for himself that would take him through the wall to the inside. Our ability to rescue him should something go wrong was limited, but he was volunteering for this. He showed up again with the most ridiculous contraption I have ever seen attached to his armor. After a few quick checks and minor modifications, Ben simply vanished in a puff of cold air. My Force senses were able to pick him up on the inside of the shell though, so it seemed like he had survived.

Ben’s contraption included a personal lightsaber-hat that would thaw him out, a tiny, very limited use neutronium power supply – far too small for stability, and with an actual energy capacity smaller than a much smaller, lighter, and simpler power-cell, but which should still function at nearly absolute zero, and the drive circuitry… With several codex-users focused on warping probability, he should be able to make it inside safely in only a few tries. Clearing out some bulkheads and floors minimized the chance of his rematerializing inside something.

He nearly did anyway – the inside of the sphere turned out to be quite crowded – but he made it in. It looked like… the “open” switch included a biometric scan; evidently SOMEONE had been familiar with the push-buttons-with-the-force trick. If there was no authorized presence when the button was pushed, the heavy war-droids and command-override programs would go forth to retake the ship – or to try and destroy it if they couldn’t. There were other buttons to cause that ANYWAY.

Not so good – but it looked like HE was authorized to open the door…

Moments later the door opened and Ben let us inside. Inside we saw that the collapsium shell appeared to be a small ship, with numerous piles of very heavy weapons and a lot of heavy combat droids. It looked like an armory stockpile of some sort, but the ship was a rather odd thing to be sealing away this deep in the bowels of the Mrs Beasley. Plus that bulkhead door was nowhere near wide enough to fit it through. I started perusing the droids and weapons looking for anything particularly annoying or interesting.

It was Alys who found something of immense interest first though. She found what looked to be a number of cloning and bacta tubes and other odd equipment stashed inside the ship. Some of them were even occupied. Looking at those closely showed a number of people I didn’t recognize offhand and an old Ben and Alys – not quite fully grown. The rest of the equipment I didn’t recognize off hand.

I suspected this was the Ben and Alys that had originally built the ship. The faces and general age were a match for what records we had found on them, but it still didn’t really explain why we had found remains of both of them aboard the ship already if they were stuck here in tubes. I didn’t think clones of older people came out old either.

Eventually Ben, Jacob, and the technicians were able to piece together how the system worked. Apparently, they had put themselves into low-metabolism cold-sleep stasis while using some sort of neural enhancement thing I didn’t understand in order to think while in cold sleep. So while their bodies were sleeping, their minds were free to act. This was combined with a form of the technology we had seen used on Chyran for the Sith Archives there in order to let the now active minds interface with Zandaras goo implanted in the skulls of clone bodies. Those bodies could then be operated remotely via the system to run the ship. At least that was what I understood how it worked. This apparently had been set up to activate a thousand years after the final supernova, when the ship would have cooled enough to be safely usable again. Something – probably Jacob’s button-pushing – had triggered the activation sequence early.

What a disgustingly cheap trick to use to cheat death.

Being able to sacrifice clone bodies repeatedly while you lived in a tank for millennia was not my idea of a way to live life. What meaning did various actions and consequences have when you just grew yet another clone body to remotely operate? At least the Sith using the Clone Possession technique still had to actually live with the consequences of dying repeatedly in clone bodies as things degraded. Only the most insane were willing to repeatedly kill themselves because of that fact. This was…. irresponsible and I didn’t see good things happening if this technology became common.

Ben and Alys and most of the others thought it was BRILLIANT. This would have let the crew take the ship into a grossly high-radiation zone, rescue the planet – and reclaim the ship when the radioactives had decayed enough to leave it usable again. They’d probably only been wrong about the time because of the Final Empire’s meddling.

Of course, it also meant that the ship’s real owners were waking up – those bodies would be done soon, and the tanks would presumably wake up their owner’s minds – and that was quit an ethical dilemma! They’d worked hard to build this ship to save their galaxy, and it was hard to argue with the idea that it rightfully belonged to them – but their civilization had been taken by some version of the Final Empire! How would they react to that? And to Kira?

Lazlo voted for killing them, since two Bens was too many – but was firmly overridden by those who wanted to talk to them. Especially Alys, who was intrigued with the notion of a good talk with her elder self. Besides… who knew what that would set off? Purging the Mrs Beasley of program traps was virtually impossible without the help of the original builders!

Besides… That technology could lengthen your effective lifespan by a factor of ten or more. There was something to be said for that, even if there were limitations – which there were bound to be.

There were of course. The rig somewhat limited sensory acuity, only those with at least some force-sensitivity could use it, the range was limited, it required massive power sources, and it was very expensive – among other problems. Still, when it came to living to reclaim the Mrs Beasley, it was well worthwhile.

Debate then ensued over what to do next with these alternates. Just killing them wasn’t exactly ethical, but letting them loose was going to raise all sorts of difficult issues with possession of the ship and the fact that their version of me nearly destroyed the galaxy. I was all for resetting the clocks to activate things in 550 years and sealing the place shut again, but I got outvoted. They wanted to revive Alys and try to negotiate things. I was more concerned about the potential for hidden overrides and such for the various systems of the Mrs Beasley. Trying to find them all was going to be murder. On the other hand, we might be able to get Lazlo to pry that information out of the crew here, but that got voted down too.

<Kira> Valerie, we’ve got a number of the original crew here in stasis including Ben, Alys, and a possible Jacob. They’re wanting to release Alys and try to talk with her. I am not certain this will go well given the current situation, but I am getting outvoted.

<Valerie> Understood, I will get with Virstris and we’ll assemble a team for possible contingencies if we have to fight to maintain control of the ship.

<Kira> I hope it doesn’t come to that.

<Valerie> We can’t risk this ship falling into the hands of a bunch of grief-stricken nutjobs.

<Kira> That is a point. Alright, I am going to remain here so I can intervene at the source if it comes to that.

<Valerie> Keep me informed.

<Kira> I will.

I leaned back against the wall opposite the various tanks filled with people as the others started the awakening sequence. Some time passed before the lid on the cloning tank finally opened to let Elder Alys step out. There was several moments of obvious disorientation as she tried to figure out what was happening, before she realized that she was in the company of another Alys and Ben. Demands for explanations started quickly as Elder Alys tried to get a handle on the situation. Things finally began to settle down as younger Alys tried to explain what was happening when Elder Alys – the chief speaker of the galactic senate – finally spotted me.

Luckily I was prepared for it as she snatched one of the blaster rifles and fired it at me. It proved to be a simple matter to lean to the side and avoid that shot as the others took the gun away…  Eventually she was restrained and disarmed as younger Alys once again resumed the explanations. I paid only cursory attention to the explanations since I knew most of the story already. My attention was focused on watching the other tanks and systems in the room for signs of unexpected activity or failsafes.

Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any of that going on. Elder Alys was eventually calmed down, although she absolutely refused to trust me under any circumstances. I would have admitted to being heart-broken about it, but then I would be lying. Jacob then decided to ask the Artificer Cook for the best coffee he could make for everyone for refreshment as the discussion went on. First thing I knew that something was wrong was when we all started drooling the moment the coffee entered the room and the aroma hit our senses.

What followed next was a hazy blur in my memory. I just know that we ended up drinking that coffee as quickly as we could and almost immediately starting going into withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully, Valerie and Virstris noticed that something was wrong and got us all into medical quickly. Whatever the hell was in that coffee required us wasting several days in addiction counseling. I quickly revised my assessment of just how dangerous cooking could be after that incident.

Jacob was impressed… That had been GREAT! He had to remember to challenge the cook more often!

He was glad that there didn’t seem to be another Jacob though. If he’d been another Atavist, they might have given headaches to two entire galaxies!

Alys made arrangements to watching the Sith cook through the droid cooking show audience. He was all but completely harmless – but the “all but” was an important facto. He could become FAR more dangerous with the right contacts or the right provocation – and it might be best to restrict that coffee to the ship!

She was beginning to worry about her own family too. Would the republic codifiers target them too? Staying in touch with her older self – and getting the family history from her point of view – might be well worthwhile too.

She also reached an agreement with her elder self… She could have the galactic advisory position, and she and her crew would stay in the Codifier Galaxy – and the group (thanks to their greater knowledge of the multiverse) would try to find out what the Final Empire had done with their galaxy and return the ship after the original time was up or sooner…

By that point we had arrived in the Alderaan system. Republic ships had also arrived with delegates too. News of the end of the war had already arrived and planet was in the middle of a spontaneous celebration of the event. Since Alys and Alys were busily talking to themselves, I figured it was time for a little fun as I prepped to head to the planet’s surface. I headed to one of the shuttle bays after requesting a pilot to take me planetside, only to find Valerie waiting for me planetside at the space port.

(Valerie) We agreed to spend time together.

(Kira) We did, doesn’t mean it has to be aboard the ship now does it?

(Valerie) Not at all, I just was curious as to why you didn’t invite me along.

(Kira) Well, you don’t seem the partying type. I mean the last one we both attended you ended up kidnapping my childhood friend and siccing Gregory on me.

(Valerie) Standard Sith courtship ritual. Next step was to knock you unconscious and drag you back home. Didn’t you learn anything at the Academy?

(Kira) Everything I know about Sith I learned from watching Holos. Come on, the festival is already starting.

The streets were packed with people. There didn’t seem to be much organization to it at all. People were cooking and providing whatever food they had in a large potluck buffet. Others were busily providing impromptu entertainment using whatever talents they had. Some of the adults even nominated themselves to watch after and entertain the various children. It certainly didn’t have the same air of refinement and class that the festivals back home had, but then again, this was a more poorer community and who was I to judge how a party was supposed to be run? They certainly seemed to be having fun with it.

A band started playing in one of the larger squares in the middle of the city. It wasn’t particularly good music, but they tried to make up for it with enthusiasm nonetheless. No one seemed to mind. Couples started dancing and the band started changing tempo accordingly. Another square was busily forming a some sort of fighting or wrestling competition. It was hard to tell what exactly it was, and given how drunk the participants were, I suspected that they weren’t sure either.

I think we were both rather surprised to see Virstris leap into the fray as she clocked one of the fighters with a bottle and tackled a second one. She too was obviously drunk, but seemed to be enjoying herself as she took another swig of someone’s drink. Augusta and Ban were cheering her on from the sidelines while Vincent was quietly shaking his head. I was especially impressed at the tactic of belching into her opponent’s face and causing him to pass out. Valerie wasn’t quite sure what to make of it though.

(Kira) This is a side of her we’ve not seen before.

(Valerie) Well, there were rumors that she participated in underground fighting rings throughout her time at Officer School. Not exactly the sort of thing a Councilman’s granddaughter was supposed to be involved in. No one was able to prove anything though.

(Kira) Then best we don’t witness this and claim ignorance at her time in medical afterwards.

(Valerie) Hey, Varen protect their own, especially family. Besides, it’s not like a drunken brawl in the middle of a celebration is all that unusual.

We continued wandering the party, sampling the food, watching the performances, and perusing the shop stalls that had begun to spring up along the streets selling a variety of wares. Well, I figured this was as good a time as any to pick up souvenirs for the friends and family for when I finally find them again. I also purchased a number of items for myself and I saw that Valerie was doing the same. I paid particular attention to getting a sampling of music while she focused more on clothing and artwork. Eventually we had to pay some of the kids to deliver the items to our shuttle for us as we continued wandering the streets.

I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this place felt like it belonged in the Outer Rim as opposed to the Galactic Core.

We participated in some of the contests and games, but refused any prizes for winning since we had an immensely unfair advantage. That eventually got the locals aware of the fact that we were both Binders, and once that information got out it spread like wildfire. Soon we had a number of people wanting to talk to us, give us gifts, and get our signatures. There were a number of requests for blessings and fortunes from us as well. I was rather unnerved by it all, but Valerie took it all in stride. She quickly sensed my unease with the situation.

<Valerie> Come now Kira, it’s not all that different from how Varen are treated back home. Well, minus the hero worshipping. The people want and need a superior breed to lead and guide them. It promises stability and prosperity for the future.

<Kira> I really don’t think of myself as part of a superior breed.

<Valerie> This coming from the man at least partially responsible for the defeat of Huriel, Lecrouss, and Zandaras? Plus a number of Faded and minor Sith as well.

<Kira> There were extenuating circumstances in most all of those cases.

<Valerie> Yes, and you either managed to arrange or exploit those circumstances to maximum effect and pull off a victory where everyone else has failed. Face it, you are a great hero out of legend to these people so try and act like it a bit. The symbolism of it all matters just as much as the actual deeds done.

There was no use fighting it with her. Plus the crowd was rather insistent with the matter too. So I went along with the process as Valerie mentally coached me through the motions of it all. I ended up giving blessings, telling fortunes, and otherwise going through the motions of acting like some sort of primitive Force cult shaman.

Eventually the festival turned to night and the more adult style entertainment started. This of course included the practically obligatory slow couple’s dance. The fact that we were by now known as the alternates of a certain popular Codifier couple started the demands from the crowd that we participate and even lead the first one. Valerie gave me a look demanding that I not question it as I was drug into the center of the plaza. Suddenly I was grateful for those dancing lessons from Dorothy as suddenly we became the center of the dance.

My skill wasn’t anything special, but I think we put on an decent start. The crowd started getting excited and the band did begin steadily increasingly the beat in proportion to the crowd’s mood. At that point both Valerie and I started tapping into our powers more and more to keep pace with the music and the crowd’s expectations. And quickly the resonance between us began to kick in and get stronger. It was like the resonance we felt during our sparring matches, but it was different too. More subtle and harmonious as opposed to matching power flows. The general heady mood in the party made the resonance rather hypnotic as we seemingly lost track of time.

Eventually we had to sit down and rest for a bit out of sheer exhaustion as the rest o the party-goers continued their celebrations. There was only so much the Force and Codex could do to help you maintain that level of performance for long. We found a quiet bench underneath one of the tree lit up with colored lighting. I was idling wondering where Virstris and the others had run off to when I noticed that Valerie had fallen asleep on my shoulder. I wasn’t about to begrudge her a nap after everything we’ve been through and it wasn’t like this wasn’t about as safe a place as would could get right now. I quietly pondered how different this was from the last party on Alderaan we had attended as I too fell asleep.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part III

Inugami (犬神, a dog-spirit) from the Hyakkai-Zu...

Bloody Spirits!

It was easy to see that the staff of the Factory-Cathedral had their doubts about their new boss. A lot of the people in Yu-Shan looked odd, but “god-blooded kid” really wasn’t one of the guises that gods used – and it didn’t lead them to expect much. Sure, they’d gotten tied up in projects that they couldn’t finish – but it was pretty unlikely that a kid would be able to fix that, no matter how promising he was!

At least the boy turned out to be methodical. A survey of the premises, examination of problems, detailed inventory… Not a bad start. He even hired some minor unemployed gods to get some of the more standardized ingredients stocked up again. He’d have to find most of the rarer stuff himself of course.

Charles found that the supplies of magical materials, particularly jade, were fine.

The Adamant stocks were a little low, but it was a VERY low demand magical material, since attunement could be annoying. He might need to restock after making the artifacts that required it though.

There was some Soulsteel… and it hadn’t been made from Ambrosia (which put it in the “figure out how to let people out” pile). At least it was a low-demand magical material. As it turned out, most of what was on hand was… well, those definitely weren’t human faces. Trying to date it was… also odd. The metal was about twenty years old. The souls, on the other hand, were easily several billion years old.

Interesting and somewhat scary and VERY odd. Very old souls. Apparently far older than earth – or the universe.  Raksha perhaps? The stuff was carefully tracked… It looked like it had been captured during a Sidereal mission, and using it required prior approval from the Bureau of Endings. The Chosen of Secrets on that team had been quite befuddled by it. Soulsteel was rare enough, but stuff like this was even more so.

He left it alone for the moment. He didn’t know how to let anyone out yet anyway.

The starmetal was mostly ambrosia-made. It was very rare to execute gods nowadays, unless they’d lost their domain and somebody needed a scapegoat.

Well, THAT was just fine! Using ambrosia was quite acceptable!

There were plenty of basic components for the rating-1 and even a lot of the rating-2 stuff – and it would be at least weeks before anyone would even starts to imagine that anything could be done. It looked like the place normally ran six days a week, but only for about eight to ten hours – leaving a fair margin around the cool-down-and-recharge cycle that corresponded to “night” on Earth. Hm. That left some time in which he could use the facilities while no one was around!

Charles started planning. It would be best to stay under the radar for a bit, at least to start. He had some more charms and things to learn before he’d be ready to get into too much trouble. Ergo, at least for the moment, it would be best to study, make more artifacts, and get ready to deal with it when the serious questions started. Maybe if there was a good opening to deal with the gold or silver factions… He could just get THEIR artifacts ready fast.

  • So high priorities for private, personal, projects – after his tools and Ixian’s amulet – were Rachel Cartier’s boots, Malakai Run-and-Gun’s personal transport, and Sal Montague’s stuff. That was Solar, Lunar, and the Gold Faction. They’d be sure to appreciate it, they were all potentially very good contacts, and they were all unlikely to say anything about someone who could provide off-the-record artifacts fast.
  • Then WWW and Hiparkes – because the web was important (and because Charles kind of liked horses).
  • Well, maybe he’d sneak in a few of Hiparkes official orders on the “unofficial” side too. They should be pretty easy.
  • Lastly on the private side, the pirate goddess and Gustav Meyer – and Gustav wouldn’t be getting his stuff unreasonably early even if it was done early after all the others. After all, Gustav WAS bronze faction and Charles didn’t want to attract too much attention – so keeping deliveries for him on a reasonable timescale was sort of important. As for the Pirate Goddess… Well, unless she’d changed to internet piracy she probably wasn’t expecting her order to get done at all quickly – and SOMEBODY had to be towards the bottom of the list.

As for the official ones… nobody had put any special priorities on anything, at least as of yet. Ergo, lower-level artifacts first, simply because he was just starting up on the job, and those were simple, relatively quick, and would be a shakedown. Besides, he could take proper advantage of having access to a factory-cathedral to make lots of smaller stuff at the same time.

Harmonic Adapters would be best to start with. He only had orders for a few, but there were multiple orders, they were an easy start, and more were always in demand!

Ergo, for the first month or two, presuming that nothing came up, it was going to be lessons, run the cathedral, do private projects after hours, gather ingredients, and research things… A good thing that “running the cathedral” overlapped a good deal with study, design work, and gathering ingredients – and that he didn’t need to sleep all that much!

After that he could give their artifacts to Rachel, Malakai, and Sal and see what reaction he got…

He scheduled a few minor repairs – nothing too serious, but in an essence-forge as finely tuned as a Factory-Cathedral even the wrong shades of paint could fractionally impair performance.

The staff was pleasantly surprised at that. The kid had spotted pretty much everything – including the paint, and nobody had bothered with fixing THAT is eighty years. Had they actually gotten a boss who knew what he was doing? It might explain why someone with so few apparent political connections had landed the job… He could be older than he looked of course. That kind of thing was always hard to tell with god-blooded.

Since readying for a genuine production run would take a couple of days, Charles went off to look for ingredients. First up…

  • For Ixian’s Amulet of Shadow Walking, a vial of darkness from the depths of a cave where the sun had never shown, carved with an obsidian blade which has tasted blood, from the heartwood of a tree hit by lightning during a night storm.
  • For the Windblade it was feathers from five different predatory birds, a globe of each of the four winds, and a cloud from an otherwise cloudless day.
  • For the Swift Rider it was horseshoes from a Kentucky Derby champion and a hipparion bone.

A good thing he had cash! Hiring some agents or unemployed gods (there were more than a few who were willing to help out cheaply) could handle most of this. Any Spelunker or minor earth-deity could get the vial of darkness. He could easily chip out a obsidian blade – and surely blooding it wouldn’t be too hard. There were storms all the time, so the wood was just a matter of finding a tree that got hit during a storm at night. Ixian had influence with the little gods, and it was his amulet; he could just put out the word and they could even drop by at night before anyone saw and heal up the tree for it’s little-god dryad. Predatory bird feathers were a little scarce – they were mostly protected species after all – but money (and the exemptions for licensed falconers and older artworks) would cover that easily enough. After all, he had put in his own little zoo out in the fey reaches, so adding a few more exotic animals was nothing. His Inugami could trap some winds and clouds for him with thaumaturgy. Horseshoes from a kentucky derby winner might take some explaining, but should be doable with a fairly simple visit. There were a lot of winners on stud farms; he could just have someone visit, get a horse to throw a shoe, and collect the other three when the farrier said “Oh well!” and pulled them off to fit a fresh set. Horses threw shoes, and got fitted with replacement shoes, all the time, and it wasn’t like it hurt the horses any or the shoes were normally worth anything. It was an odd souvenir to want, but not like it was hazardous or secret or anything; any farrier would be willing to sell them. A hipparion bone was a bit more exotic though since they WERE extinct. Perhaps a natural history museum? He’d probably have to visit personally. Hipparion bones were fairly common, and could probably be bought and sold readily even if it wasn’t like they could get replacements from the stud farm.

Thank goodness these were only low-powered exotic ingredients! Higher-range stuff was going to be a lot harder.

Ixian was more than happy to help out with the crafting of his own amulet, and sent messages to his Terrestrial god friends to watch out for trees struck by lighting.

Oooh wait! With divination, and lifeweaving, and his skills, he could probably transform a few live gazelles or something into live hipparions! They wouldn’t be genuine for magical purposes in the first generation – but a century-long duration was quite long enough and they would breed true. He’d just need a few bones to start with – along, perhaps, with some line about genetic reconstruction from tiny DNA fragments in it or something! That would make whichever god is / was responsible for them really happy though!

Well… now that he’d thought of the poor, domainless god… Off to the natural history museum!

The receptionist wanted to know what his business with their paleontologist was of course. He DID look like a typical kid.

(Charles) “I’d like to talk about some extinct species and about funding one of his projects!”

(Receptionist, arching an eyebrow) “Well, I’ll see if he has some spare time then.”

As it turned out after a call, Dr Valenti wasn’t too busy today, thought that education was part of their business – and that if the kid donated a few bucks, it was a bonus. They sent him in.

(Charles) “Hello Dr Valenti! I’m pleased to meet you!”

(Dr Valenti) “The pleasure is mine, Mr. Ward. Now what are you interested in discussing? It’s been somewhat slow today, so I do have the time.”

He was pretty dubious about the “funding” claim, but he was more than willing to talk about his subject and specialty!

(Charles) “At the moment, I’m primarily interested in the horse’s evolutionary tree, especially Hipparion.”

(Dr Valenti) “Fascinating creatures, with a wide range. I remember when…”

The doctor spent some time talking about his first dig involving the creatures – and Charles was quite willing to converse for awhile. It didn’t take all that long for the man to forget that he was talking to an early teenager – or at least to conclude that he was talking to a prodigy.

(Charles) “Now, essentially I have a project that I’d like to try; current magnetic resonance imaging techniques suggest an alternative approach; a reconstructive scan projected onto a protein matrix, so as to provide a good reconstructive model of the soft tissue structures. What might be called temporal imaging. To try this out, I need some Hipparian samples – but I understand that they’re one of the more common fossils, and a few of the more damaged samples can readily be spared for such an experiment. In return, I am willing to fund your next dig for – shall we say – six months. Plus, of course, there’s the new data from any reconstructions I manage to produce.”

(Dr Valenti)  “That’s an… impressive technology, young man. Where did you find it?”

(Charles) “Mostly my own theories – but, if it doesn’t work, the cost is rather small.”

(Dr Valenti) “Well, no one is likely to make a fuss over a few samples. I’ll let you check some out under my name in return for letting me witness the process. – and, of course, the funding. You are serious about that, of course?”

Charles hadn’t quite planned that far ahead. Well, he did have a normal residence in Atlanta; he had one of the Inugami set up some complicated equipment, combined with some illusions, and some stuff that could burn out and smoke spectacularly. He could use a few of the Gazelles from his personal amalgam-making zoo. He certainly wanted to imply that this his “results” were unrepeatable!

(Charles) “Of course. I believe your last dig had a budget of 600,000$?”

(Dr Valenti) “Around 400,000, actually. I have many hard-working graduate assistants to help me.”

(Charles, pulling out a pocket computer and making some baking arrangements) “Very well then. It should be credited to your departments account, earmarked for your next dig, now.”

(Dr Valenti, blinking) “Your parents must treat you exceptionally well.”

(Charles) “Unfortunately, only my grandfather is available – but I make most of my own money these days; I hold the family resources in reserve.”

(Dr Valenti, startedly) “Ah. Well, I appreciate your donation, Charles.”

Dr Valenti was seriously wondering now… This boy – well, young man – claimed to be making enough money on his own to throw that kind of funding around on personal experiments? And still had time to study natural history and electronics in that kind of depth? Still, if he actually could reconstruct a soft-tissue model the technique could answer a LOT of paleontological questions!

Besides… At worst, he was up enough money for another dig without all the bother of raising funds and down an afternoon and few bones that weren’t at all unique or even unusual specimens. There wasn’t really any risk at all.

Dr Valenti got a few bone samples out of the storage rooms – and they headed off to Charle’s “apparatus”.

Charles’s little show basically involved feeding the specimens into the “machine”, a vat of fluids (actually an illusion over few gazelles of the appropriate sizes), lots of instruments, a gradual “reconstruction”, then a massive “power surge”, lots of smoke, and several damp and confused Hipparions about. The specimens were, “sadly”, “destroyed” in the event.

(Charles) “Dear me. THAT was not supposed to happen! In fact, it really ought to be impossible!”

Dr. Valenti needed to sit down. He was more than a bit woozy after that.

Charles got him a glass of water – and put the hipparions in the well-fenced yard.

(Charles) “Well, it looks like neither the original specimens nor my apparatus survived – but I suppose we’ll have to call it serendipity!”

(Dr Valenti, sipping his water and staring at the hipparions.) “Well. That’s… definitely the best word for it.”

(Charles) “Oh dear. I’m not sure I even want to try explaining this at the moment!”

One of the hipparions was looking his way… Almost certainly a minor deity peering through. The gaze was far too bright for a mere animal.

Charles made sure that Dr Valenti was where he couldn’t see and waved at it cheerily. It whinnied and nodded… He’d probably be hearing from that deity later on. He or she was probably a subsidiary under Hyparion these days.

(Charles) “Well, I suppose this gives the museum a new attraction! Animal care isn’t really my speciality, and I suspect that we’ll want a vet to give them rather a lot of immunizations before letting them come into contact with any other equines! They’d probably catch something they aren’t resistant to yet if they did!”

He fished out his computer and set about finding one, informing the man that they had foals, possibly with weak immune systems, so a full set of vaccinations and precautions against transinfection are were order. Fortunately, finding a horse veterinarian in Georgia was no trouble at all – and some money and a simple short-term secrecy agreement could handle keeping things quiet for the moment.

After all, if the man did start talking at the moment, he’d probably just get his license suspended for being crazy anyway. He could write it up later, especially if he wanted to work with Dr Valenti, who presumably had little expertise in live animal care.

The veterinarian was just as stunned as Dr Valenti, but he was perfectly willing to work on the hipparions.

(Charles) “Now, I think I’ll have to put this project on hold for a few months of consideration… Hipparions are almost certainly harmless, but re-introducing extinct species should probably be done with considerably more caution!”

Dr Valenti and Dr Winston were studying the hipparion very carefully. Charles figured that it was a good thing he’d done a complete job, right down to the genetic level! He quietly did some immunity-boosting and other health-boosting effects on them too – although it was fairly obvious that their patron god was keeping a very close eye on them anyway.

For someone who’d been without a domain, and so near-powerless, until a few hours ago, that wasn’t a bad suite of protective charms. Perhaps he, she, or it had gotten more help? Of course, as the species repopulated, there would be unprotected ones, but that’s how nature gods worked.

Oh dear. He really hadn’t thought this through all the way… In a week or two both Valenti and Winston – and probably a few more people – would be wanting to talk to him. On the other hand, he’d be needing a lot of odd things – and the museums and scientific research community was a great place to get them.