Federation-Apocalypse Sessions 189-190 part II – Marty on Morality

Illustration depicting thought.

We'll have none of that now! It's unhealthy!

In Kadia, some things were coming to a head… Kevin was so used to people seeing what they wanted to see in him that he hadn’t really noticed that Marty had been thinking of his Thralls as “Employees” – while he, of course, thought of them as “Pets”.

Things had finally reached a breaking point; the contrast between Limey’s status and Rusty’s had really brought out that distinction – and the difference in perspective had become rather critical.

There almost certainly wouldn’t be any actual fighting – both Kevin and Marty were all too aware that it never solved much of anything and were still buddies anyway – but some attempts at stealth therapy were becoming pretty likely.

Marty’s tower – where Marty was currently sitting, actually trying to think about things other than booze or fighting in detail, and getting ever more sunk in gloom (while the wall kept looking more and more attractive) – was an eye-burning a homage to neon and bad taste.

Marty had shut himself up a bit. He hated to admit when something might be beyond him!

When Gelman arrived there was a small mob of kids and their pets there, being fussed over by some werewolf-thralls.

Oh dear. Marty HAD been busy.

(Gelman) “Hello, children. Is Mr. Tabard in?”

(Kids) “Big brother is upstairs! We tried jumping him, and riding a flying horse through his wall, and staging a knife-fighting tournament with each other, but he wasn’t interested in doing anything at all fun!”

Big brother…? OH, that was right! Marty’s father had moved into Kadia some time ago… Just how depressed was Tabard if a KNIFE-FIGHTING TOURNAMENT wasn’t getting him out?

(Gelman) “Is he letting anyone in?”

(Kids) “He locked the doors against us! You might be able to get in! I know he said that Abigail was allowed if she had a frying pan along!”

(Gelman to Fern, via Telepathy) “Fern, I need you to do an analysis of the security setup. This is more serious than I thought. He could be studying existentialism in there!”

In the meantime, he checked the windows and doors – and was harassed a bit by the kids.

Actually that was pretty reassuring for him as well! The kids were Thralls, yes – but they seemed to be quite normal kids when they were without orders and away from Kevin!

Marty was mostly just staring at the wall… The security setup was only locking out the kids, the werewolves, ten girls he’d given apartments to downstars (Gelman sighed; he knew what THAT was almost certainly all about) and most Thralls. The Thrall-houseboy was being allowed in and out though!

Staring at the wall… That was still bad. That meant that he was attempting to concentrate.

Gelman caught the houseboy on the way out.

(Gelman) “Could I please come in with you when you return? I need to speak with Mr. Tabard.”

(Houseboy) “Certainly sir! You’re not on the keep-out list!”

It bothered him again when he realized that any one of those nice normal kids would join Rusty in a minute if given the choice – but at least Kevin didn’t seem at all inclined to use that power or to offer that chance. Rusty and – er – Feanor were very much special cases since Kevin valued that access to Core so much. That restraint was much appreciated!

It also said that… Being a pet really WAS a special reward. If all Kevin had wanted was pets… He could have had a full pack at his heels with a moments command.

When he got inside, Marty… looked like he was about to start headbanging. Staring, leaning forward just a bit, and… at a wall of optional hardness, given that it was a force field.

Damn it! He’d already lost Todd to this for years, and Todd was as sane as he was when he’d started! Who knew what would happen to Tabard if he allowed him to take that first step?

(Gelman, via Telepathy) “Fern, could you please turn that into a soft squeaky plastic wall like a rubber duck so that he doesn’t hurt himself?”

Maybe that would make him laugh a bit. He looked like he could use it!

Fortunately, Marty was still fairly readily diverted. It was just the lack of a direct approach that was driving him batty – and some uncomfortable comparisons with his own kids. Had Kevin fallen over some new threshold of evil, rather than some sort of niceness? Had he slipped over from “user” to “torturer”? Had HE contributed to that slide?

(Gelman, looking concerned) “Is something the matter? You looked like you were about to run into the wall.”

(Marty) “Aargh! Kevin’s… Well, Kevin’s taken some kids and turned them into TOYS. Not just “Tools”! Tools was one thing! At least it had a point and some built in limits… (Pause) I think he might have lost it! I thought I could keep him sane… (Pause) And given his resources… I might have just screwed up the entire Manifold!”

(Gelman) “I assume you’re talking about Rusty. I just met the… boy… an hour or so ago. Is it really that bad?”

Huh. That was a mild surprise for Marty! Little to no hostility in Gelman’s tone there.

(Marty) “Is it? You saw him! What kind of life is that? Is there ANY reason for it? Just to spite his father for being rude? If he’d do that to a child just to annoy someone else… He’s become someone I don’t know at all! (Pause) And I thought he was a decent enough kid… Am I really THAT blind?!”

Gelman had to re-evaluate things a bit. Perhaps he had erred when he’d gotten angry at Marty… He started thinking about these things with no guidance whatsoever – and with only thralls to accompany him, how could he feel comfortable asking them about the bond? They would say whatever the Kevin wanted, because that was pleasing to him. But it wasn’t pleasing to Marty.

(Gelman) “Are you certain? Haven’t you noticed how obliging he is, how he helps everyone when you’re traveling with him? I’ve read the reports.”

(Fern) “And watched them!”

(Gelman) “Oh yes, we can’t forget that.”

(Marty, dully) “Maybe he is as evil as he claims… I never thought he was all that subtle except in lying to himself, but he’s never done anything like THIS before!”

(Gelman) “As far as I can tell from the news, it was partially the result of Rusty’s father berating Kevin over his court victory. I still don’t agree with the decision, and I certainly don’t agree with what he did to the boy, but they seem oddly… happy with the situation. I saw him feeding Rusty a sausage, and lavishing attention on him. Granted, he’s a thrall, and all thralls have keeping Kevin happy as their first drive, but they voluntarily signed up for this, with the contract. They knew that Kevin had the discretion to do whatever he wanted with them.”

(Marty) “ I… Suppose I trusted him NOT to exercise it. Even with the dragon-slaves, they’d challenged him first, and to put up the same stakes! (Pause) How can the kid be HAPPY with that?”

Gelman rather abruptly realized that Marty had never confronted Kevin’s tendency to think of the Thralls as Pets – or to casually modify them to suit himself – before. Turning them into panthers for a bit to infiltrate the Five Worlds was a minor lark, but this was different.

(Marty, almost in a despairing wail) “His mother asked me to try to get him out of it!”

(Gelman) “Marty…” (Huh. Had he EVER called Marty by his first name before?) “You and I both know that that is not possible until he works off the debt. I wish that wasn’t the case too, but even Kevin can’t revoke it early… Is this that much different than him making them work as animals, anyhow?”

(Marty) “I… suppose it’s the way that he’s treating him like a dog, and making the kid say that he’s HAPPY to be neutered and treated that way!”

(Gelman, gently) “Are you sure he’s making him say that? That it’s not just a natural result of the bond? I think you would actually know better than I do on this one.”

(Marty) “Even the boys working in the Harem say that they’re kind of looking forward to being sexed again later on! (Slower) even if most of them do… volunteer… in the first place… (Pause) (Plaintively) Why would they do that? “

(Gelman, sighing) “Have you asked them, Marty?”

(Marty) “Well… I… don’t think I wanted to know.”

Gelman called over a cross-section of Kevin’s harem attendants to talk about it.

The Thralls found the question… mildly surprising. After all, Master Kevin was the Avatar of the Darkness! Of the drive to breed and expand! And thus of sexual dominance, possessiveness, and jealousy… He did amazingly well to keep the personal aspects of those drives behind the doors of his harems while still encouraging the Thralls who weren’t serving there to enjoy themselves and produce offspring!

It was pretty much a given that – for a male to work in Kevin’s harem or go into it (presuming that they were of a remotely compatible species or were shapeshifters) – they needed to be neutered. Otherwise they’d be implicitly competing with Kevin, be subject to temptations to misbehave, would produce unwanted sexual signals, would be going against tradition. Besides, a staff of gelded young males fulfilled a basic adolescent fantasy and male drive – eliminating the competition and having all the women! It was a pleasant stimulus for Kevin, eliminated the “voyeurism” problem, and had many other advantages. It was a great honor to be trusted that far, to be allowed to make a small sacrifice for Kevin, and to be trusted to care for his mates and offspring. That was about as deep and personal as service got!

It also dealt with the fact that, while taking care of Kevin’s children, there would be no time or attention for their own – and so it wouldn’t be fair to have any of their own for the duration. Besides, being distracted by sexual drives would be a nuisance and interfere with their service!

As far as the rewards went… Kevin spent a lot of time in his Harems – so if you worked there you got to spend a lot of time with Kevin in his direct service. He didn’t allow most males to stay on duty there all the time, or for more than a few years – which gave more of them a chance. There was a small consolation prize for having to leave afterwards; generally lots of the female thralls would want to bear your children after you regenerated yourself simply because Kevin HAD picked you to be close to him and serve his offspring!

It was still very sad to have to leave though.

The Dragon-challengers whom Kevin had defeated felt that they were being allowed to make up for attacking Kevin – and they had all known what they were betting in attacking him. Kevin was REALLY kind to let them live, and his Harems were awfully luxurious places to be with very little real work involved. It was MUCH better than any normal master would ever let a challenger have, and they were very grateful!

If Kevin ever put out a “casting call” for harem attendants every unassigned male Thrall in Kadia would be freshly gelded and infibulated, naked to display that, and waiting in line to be inspected for the position inside an hour – just on the one-in-ten-thousand shot of getting chosen.

Every Thrall they’d interviewed had enthusiastically agreed (although the wording had varied a bit); ”Rusty was SO LUCKY! They’d LOVE to be in his place!”

Gelman waited to let Marty judge before he spoke up.

Marty… had been trying to ignore the “harem attendant” facet of Kevin’s activities up until now – and the fact that he could easily tell that the Thralls were being completely honest was making him quite uncomfortable.

Worse, it reminded him of something else that he’d carefully forgotten.

When HE’d put out a “casting call”, a couple of dozen Thrall boys had… had themselves castrated (however minor a thing and easily undone that was for a Thrall) simply on the off chance of serving him and so working for one of Kevin’s associates. He’d… never really admitted that to himself, simply because he hated to think that the Thralls were THAT devoted after all!

Gelman cocked an eyebrow at Marty when there was a passing mention of the girls downstairs.

(Gelman) “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of doing it. I know you all too well.”

(Marty, blushing) “Er… Once, when I’d just had a fight with Abigail over Julia, I… er… well, put out a “Casting Call”,and, well… I dropped it when I got over things in a couple of weeks – and I didn’t even realize what taking on a few boys as “Harem Attendants” meant… but the kids should be born soon… (Pause) I didn’t ask for THAT either, they just picked up that I was missing Julia out of my mind and they mostly got pregnant during that garden party!… Come to think of it… About twenty werewolf-thrall boys had themselves fixed and volunteered to join LIMEY’S harem when he was competing with me and started one… Kevin was cross when he found out, mostly because he said it was silly!”

(Gelman) “I see… you had absolutely no idea what you were getting into when you began work with Kevin did you?”

(Fern) “Wait, Limey has a harem?”

(Marty) “Well… I’d stumbled into Core with a girl, and ran into a House of Roses recruiter! When I got back into touch with Mr Leland he said it would be a fine idea to freelance a bit, and Kevin said he’d work with the group – and we headed out. Since then, things have always been in a rush.”

(Houseboy, to Fern) “Oh yes! He was malfunctioning a bit, and had just been merged with a werewolf boy, and quite a few Thrall-girls were willing to “help him out” just to get close to Limey who was close to Marty who was close to Kevin! And some boys wanted to join up for the same reason! (Well, OK, the girls also say he’s pretty cute and very good at sex too). Now he still has lots of “friends with benefits”, but Marty said to send most of the eunuchs away, and Kevin said that it was stupid for a lot of them to work for Limey because the Thralls had better things to do than to protect normal kids who didn’t need any protection and serve someone who didn’t need service! So he only has two now. I don’t recall if he’s had them re-neutered though; Marty said he could keep two of them as adventuring aides and treat them as he liked at the time (Since they HAD been silly enough to volunteer for it), and so he could have – or they might have taken care of it themselves!”

(Gelman) “Malfunctioning? Merged? How in the…”

There was a digression, and some recordings. Good! At least Marty could focus on something else now!

(Gelman) “Hmm, I see. So you were trying to ensoul him, and forgot to check and back up his hard drive. Do you understand why Corrigan would never give you a sapient device aide now?”

(Marty) “Well… yeah, although it was just trying to stabilize him a bit, not to get him a soul. And certainly not to merge him with a Thrall! He spent quite awhile trying to kill me after that!”

(Gelman) “Sigh… I suppose you’re feeling a bit guilty about that too. Would you mind if I checked him?”

(Marty) “Oh! If you would?! You’re much better at sapient devices than I am!”

Gelman checked Limey over – and eventually came to the same conclusion as Kevin had; it was better for him t

o be a full thrall. There was some chaos and a lot of fragmentation in his filing system – but it seemed to add creativity and to go with being alive. There was more ability to imagine, less certain replay of old data, and more ability to extrapolate.

Nothing harmful there, and definitely beneficial as long as he was taught properly. Marty might not be up to that of course – and so he really DID need his help.

Ah, he’d just need to tweak the “Teacher” program a bit by setting it to promote creativity more than usual! Other than that… the laptop/boy seemed to be doing quite well – even if he DID have a lot of werewolf porn on his hard drive. Of course, most of it seemed to have the same set of females – and occasionally himself – in it. Presumably it was his private records and recollections.

Gelman kept quiet. There were confidentiality regulations, after all – even if most sapient devices didn’t have relationships like that to record in the first place they had other stuff.

At least Marty had calmed down a lot. He wasn’t at all happy with the implication that he might just have to tell the woman that her son was a happy pet and was likely to stay that way (unless Kevin faked some work assignments to make her happy – which Gelman had to agree was not a bad idea). He’d never really worried about the dragons of course – especially not after being one himself on occasion…

Wait, now THAT was important – he shared the information he’d picked up about the Dragon-emperors psychological dinner-ambush with Gelman (which Gelman found quite horrifying).

The notion that the Thralls really were property – and pre-consented to pretty much anything Kevin wanted – had been something that Marty had been avoiding. He’d just been classifying them as “employees with a really good contract on them”.

Still, at this point – when confronted with the results – it was pretty hard to deny.

And Gelman abruptly realized that he’d just spent hours, and a lot of effort, breaking down a really MASSIVE case of denial and making sure that Marty KNEW that the Thralls were property.

That wasn’t a situation that he ever would have thought of finding himself in – and it made it pretty hard to maintain any delusions along those lines himself.

He hated to say it – but they were, indeed, simply Kevin’s properties. They’d agreed to that when they’d agreed to Kevin’s contract, and their owners were free to use them within the bounds of that contract.

Core’s legal decision… had been correct. And he could see why many children – even if they weren’t desperate – would sign up.

Gelman left Marty a few primers on ethics, so that he could study this stuff before he left. He resolved to keep in touch with Marty on the topic. He clearly needed the support.

Although it was still a relief to find out that – while Marty’s assorted younger siblings were all Thralls – as relatives of a friends, their orders were basically “enjoy yourselves and be sure to maintain a decent relationship with your father and other relatives”

The next time he saw Kevin’s new dog, he’d pet him.

He’d also have to start looking into finding Kevin some help. If enthralling youngsters the way he did really wasn’t evil… pretty much every one of the Kevin’s “evil excuses” fell through – and it became apparent that the boy might have very little more freedom than the Thralls. The boy DEFINITELY needed therapy.

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