Back in Cyarkian, Marty’s body had wound up at the “Watering Rat Hole” – where the city guards went to drinks. Between that and having remembered to tell his pocket companions to keep an eye out for pickpockets and other miscreants there was no trouble…
Few of the local criminal types were willing to risk poking around in the pockets of some traveling magical being anyway. Even if you stole something, and evaded the magical pursuit and the city guard, you were all too likely to wind up in possession of something you’d soon wish that you’d never seen…
No one disturbed the foreigner who’d been so helpful during the battle either. They owed him something – and he’d demonstrated just how incredibly dangerous he could be.
Raphael slept in a bit. He set a robot to wake him if something interesting happened, but mornings after battle were not his thing.
By the time he was up again, Kevin was winding down on “teaching” his pets to do undignified tricks and Marty was staggering back from the bar for breakfast.
Raphael had decided to take it somewhat easy – and just follow Kevin around to carefully steer things away from atrocities, large diplomatic incidents, or huge bouts of reality shaping… Hopefully, with that whole “guest” thing going through Kevin’s head, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Despite his local hangover, Marty was alert enough to test some of what Gelman had said…
Rusty and Feanor were both easy enough to probe – and they were… so terribly happy that it was CREEPY. Being Kevin’s pets… REALLY WAS the best possible reward as far as they were concerned. “Sandy” knew that pethood for him was only temporary – but he was still delighted to be given the chance to serve this way for a bit – and was flat-out envious of Rusty, who had every prospect of getting to be Kevin’s pet for years to come. Sure, he’d soon be standing to stud – but that was a poor consolation prize for not being in Kevin’s direct service any longer.
Errurrgghhh… Sure that was a relief of sorts – Kevin wasn’t torturing, or treating the kids that way to spite someone else – but STILL. The fact that Rusty did want this very very much indeed – and the fact that KEVIN saw nothing weird about that – was JUST as creepy! The Thrall-bond… was a lot more warping than he’d thought it was on BOTH sides!
(Marty, privately) “Hey Kevin!… Er… Sorry about the nose there; you kind of hit a nerve… Er… What DO you have Mr Anvari’s daughter doing?”
(Kevin, privately) “Oh that’s OK! It was just kind or surprising and it only took a few moments to heal up!… And the girls in Starship piloting training right now – although she is on standby to be bred if Rusty and Sandy here aren’t enough to make Mr Anvari really steamed up! Part of their deal was getting their father into anger treatment!” That’s what the box of pictures and souvenirs of Rusty and Sandy becoming good doggies is all about! She’ll present it, and it should really make him blow his top!
Wait, what? The kids were… conspiring to get their father medical treatment? And Kevin was… cheerfully facilitating that as always. Oh for…
(Marty, privately) “Ah, that’s not so bad then.”
(Kevin, privately) “You know, allowing people a few optional choices in the contract worked really well! It seems to make it way more palatable for some reason – so I’m putting in a selection!”
(Marty, privately) “That’s a good idea. What were you thinking of doing?”
(Kevin, privately) “Oh, extra money, personal flits and vehicles – maybe some boats and small starships – pets, servants, special equipment, assignment preferences, all that sort of thing! That’s all easy to provide in Kadia!”
(Marty, privately) “Should make it even fairer.”
(Kevin, privately) “Hey, I think it’s already pretty fair… And it’s not like a Thrall can’t get most of that stuff anyway! They just seem to like having choices other than “sign or don’t sign”.”
(Marty, privately) “Everybody does. Er, I really am sorry about the nose you know!”
(Kevin, privately) “What was that about anyway?”
(Marty, privately) “I’ve just been stressed about you. You’re getting pretty powerful, and… well, I’m worried about you being overwhelmed by the darkness. You’re a really nice kid, and it would be a shame if that happened.”
(Kevin, privately – and somewhat reflectively) “Huh… I don’t think I will be! The more Thralls there are, the more I… belong to them – and they want to see me as the guardian and protector who brings them adventure and safety, a complete lack of responsibility while doing important and respected work, freedom from restraints while still having firm limits, independence while still having someone to care for them, and the power to act on their own decisions while still having someone to tell them what to do – all at the same time!
Marty hadn’t thought about it that way – but the link did go both ways didn’t it? Kevin might own the Thralls, but collectively they had just as strong a grip on him… They made the boy a… RESPONSIBLE owner. Could that really be true?
(Marty, privately) “So you really think the more kids you have, the less likely it is that the darkness will be able to take over?”
(Kevin, privately, and somewhat sadly) “No more than it already has anyway…”
That – rather unsettlingly – carried a lot less of the choral-overtone multi-toned VOICE OF DOOM that had been creeping into Kevin’s voice and thoughts over the past few months. Still… That was a relief! Even if it DID say that there might not be much of any freedom there at all. How much of Kevin’s life was being subsumed in the balancing act? Thralls against Darkness, Soul-bonds against Parenthood and the Darkness-driven urge to breed, rigid rules against utter ruthlessness, gift-giving against having a price for everything…
Still, he had enough freedom to fight it, and that was a large part of what mattered to Marty… Perhaps the Darkness was not such a bad thing for Kevin – unless he lost control. It just didn’t leave the kid much room for any activities that weren’t governed by balance concerns.
Heck, it might help to just drag him along to a few parties and concerts! Petty pique at Mr Anvari might be about all the free will he could afford to exercise. Even the harems – as enjoyable as that was for any teenager – were thoroughly entangled in the darkness-urges.
Well, OK – for any male. Heck, if he wasn’t reforming… that garden party would be a regular event!
Heck, if he lost access to Julia… would there be any reason to reform? It had been what… eight and a half months – almost nine – since the party and…
As it turned out on a hasty check back In Kadia, the Thrall-concubines had been going to notify him that it was about time in a few days – but, with biocontrol witchcraft, magic, and the facilities of Kadia, they were quite willing to deliver on any schedule that Marty wanted.
Of course he wanted to be there! He sent an Avatar straight down to be with the girl that the medical facilities said should be first… the rest of them elected to stagger their delivery dates by a day or so each; they didn’t want anyone to miss their time to fuss over the newest babies!
Marty was determined to not consider the delivery process nearly as gross this time.
That turned out to be EASY. They were Thrall-girls! They had powers of shapeshifting, telekinesis, biophysical control and rapid healing – plus the technologies of Core if they should need them (they generally didn’t).
It pretty much came down to “A very pregnant girl broke her waters in the shower, lay down in a force-field cradle that positioned her, and dilated adequately with a tiny bit of shapeshifting. The baby (or set of twins) slid out propelled, guided, and supported by telekinesis. The baby or babies was instantly cleaned and assisted in clearing it’s lungs and throat via Hand of Shadows, and was wrapped in a wonderfully warm and soft bunch of smartfibers that massaged and monitored and supported it. The afterbirth came free and was efficiently and automatically bundled away. The bleeding stopped almost before it started, and the girl shapeshifted back to normal save for being ready to nurse the baby and coo over it. There was no birth trauma, no sudden shock, almost no blood, no mess, and constant telepathic reassurances to ensure gurgling happy infants.
Marty liked that! And when the babies got told “This is your father!” the telepathy meant that they actually understood it.
He gladly held his children.
They cooed for a bit – but eventually started to fuss and make faces until he got them a bottle. It really WAS “mommy” that was most important to a nursing infant. This was well worth putting an avatar on all the time!
The neodogs wanted to fuss too. They liked to fuss over human babies! And Neodog spit was nicely hygienic, so the girls had no objection
Limey was looking sort of thundercloudish though.
(Marty) “Aw, what’s wrong, buddy?”
(Limey) “It’s all crowded now! And they’re all taking over! You’re spending all your time with them! They’re gonna… they’re… Waah!”
(Marty) “It’s okay, buddy! You’re still going to go on lots of adventures with me.”
Still crying? Marty probed a bit…
Oh. Adoption-anxiety. Limey knew that he wasn’t REALLY Marty’s son – and that Marty’s real kids would naturally push him out of the second-to-top spot in Marty’s affections – and that really was all right, because he belonged to Marty, and Marty’s real kids SHOULD get to treat him as part of the household property – that was only right, since he was household property – but he was going to MISS being Marty’s son! He’d been highly favored – especially after all that naughtiness – but the children that Marty actually fathered would naturally take priority. Family does after all
On top of that of course, Marty WAS still his master, and he was very happy to see Marty with a big family – which was making him quite confused.
Marty sighed… Limey WAS his son! Maybe not officially, but… Well, he was a Thrall, but he wasn’t going to wind up being treated like Rusty!
He made sure that Limey got more personal attention while he waited for the next kid – and had some of the boys own harem girls come up to comfort and distract him.
That was comforting and distracting for the boy – but it was pretty much inevitable that he would be losing something there.
Marty reassured him that he would still be his aide – and would not be demoted to “pet for his real children” (Unless, perhaps, he did the same thing to another Thrall).
The kid would get over it. It wasn’t like being adopted, having younger “siblings” – or, for that matter, simply being a Thrall – were especially terrible fates.
Meanwhile, back in Cyarkian, outside of a few more kids and questions, nothing much happened during breakfast – although Raphael figured out what was going on with some annoyance. Blasted multi-presence! It would take a dozen or more minders to keep an eye on these two!
He really needed to hold a conference on the problem the pair represented. By now, they were big enough trouble-centers that half the major power-players in the Core and the Manifold had an interest!
After breakfast they headed off to see the diplomats – which suited Raphael just fine!
On the way he busied his nanotech cloud with casually smoothing and evening out the stone work, carpentry, and other architectural features as he passed – and with cleaning up after the flower incursion. If a universe lacked force fields and cheap microbot swarms you could always be sure that it needed maintenance and cleaning!
Kevin, of course, occasionally gestured casually at some collapsed structure, damaged facility, or awkward spot, and randomly repaired those – albeit not nearly so methodically.
The diplomatic offices were located in some of the very lowest levels, in the sections carved out of bedrock. The ceilings were quite high here – and the architecture was quite advanced and designed to maximize aesthetics. The steel structural supports were well concealed – and the whole level gave an expansive look over a large lighted town. They could see a number of mice and rats running around, building a catwalk and scaffolding.
The diplomatic offices themselves were a large round building near the center of the chamber that also acted as part of the main structural support.
The group wandered over, ignoring a selection of hostile looks at the entourage along the way.
(Kevin) “Nice job here! Lots of digging and sealing!”
(Marty) “Yeah! I think your NIMH theory might have something to it.”
(Kevin) “I think so! We did kind of leave them posed to spread out, and with a really urgent reason to do so and new knowledge of the Manifold! What do you think Raphael? Would a combined rats-and-humans culture be growth-inclined?”
(Raphael, dryly) “One would think so”
After all, rats and mice tended to go exponential at the slightest opportunity! Being civilized obviously reduced that quite a bit – but there were certainly plenty of kids around for a dangerous frontier town!
The diplomatic offices had a large lobby with a little mouse at the front desk. A emblematic seal was inlaid into the floor with heavy wood adornment. Behind the desk was a large map on the wall, with a cross section of the city along with sections highlighted as: Complete, Under Development, Under Construction, and Planned. Stacks of papers and books were neatly sorted onto tables on either side. The young mouse at the desk noticed their arrival and spoke in a very squeaky voice.
(Mouse) “Hi, you must be visitors that arrived as part of the last caravan, what can I help you with?”
(Kevin) “Oh, we mostly wanted to talk about your homeworld a bit!”
(Mouse) “Let me get Mr Cartwright then, he’s been the one dealing with nonlocal visitors.”
The mouse pulled a string under the desk, ringing a bell off in the distance. Soon enough an older looking mouse walked up to the desk as he peered over a set of spectacles.
(Cartwright) “Hello, I am Mr Cartwright, one of the heads of administration here, I take it you wished to speak with me?”
(Kevin) “Oh yes! We were curious about your original world since you’re fairly obviously outsiders here!”
(Cartwright) “Our original world? Ah, so you must be dimensional travelers yourselves then?”
(Kevin) “Oh yes! We travel quite a bit – but this world is usually fairly isolated.”
(Cartwright) “Well isolation is sometimes a good thing, although it does take some adapting. We are a hearty people nonetheless. What exactly about our “homeworld” do you wish to know?”
(Kevin) “Well, there are a few mouse-and-rat cultures out there – but your architecture looks a lot like that of the escapees from NIMH. I was wondering if that was right – and, if so, how your homeworld was doing? As last I’d heard there was some major volcanic activity coming up there!”
(Cartwright) “Ah, we are indeed the descendants of those initial escapees from NIMH. The volcanic activity was part of a larger set of general changes to the climate that began to take place across the globe. As both humanity, rats, and mice all became threatened by the changes going on, an accord was made between the three races to try and stifle the most dramatic of changes. Unfortunately, humanity has suffered a lot, and has retreated from the world significantly. Indeed, it’s gotten hard to find them at times in the places once famous for their presence.”
(Kevin) “Did it start with a supervolcanic eruption? One world we heard about was about to have one.”
(Cartwright) “China, Russia, Africa, and the Middle East have largely lost much of their populations of humans due to a variety of factors including disease, famine, and emigration across the Manifold. It’s given us room to grow and spread without coming into much conflict with the humans – although some of us have begun spreading out into other dimensions to see what we might find that could be brought back to help. And yes, there was a volcanic eruption in North America that would – at least according to our projections, if not all of the human ones – have wiped out much of the population there and across Europe, but it was contained due to the help of a number of dimensional visitors.”
Marty sighed. It seemed that they hadn’t been able to stop the destruction entirely. Of course, that was the way of dimensions; a single major intervention, even at a crisis point, was rarely enough to entirely derail the local plot. Still, it sounded like leaving some Thralls and gates behind had mitigated the actual casualties a good bit. The plot really wouldn’t care if they’d died or vanished into other dimensions; from the Manifold point of view the two were pretty much equivalent anyway.
Besides, a lot would have been phantasms.
(Cartwright) “So we are colonists here sent to learn more about the local world here, master what we can, and then trying to begin export operations back to our homeworld. Of particular interest has been the ways locals handle diseases and injuries. Even the best of human sciences can’t match what the locals do so simply. Does that answer your question?”
(Kevin) “Oh, I think so! We may have to do something about some relief operations I think… Although your culture makes that slightly more difficult!”
(Cartwright) “Our culture? Are you referring to the fact that our different views on how things work tends to make it more difficult for us to master the local magic?”
(Raphael) “The trick to mastering magic is to understand that it does not follow the rules of the greater universe but the rules of the local section and your own mind – but I don’t think that that is what he meant.”
(Kevin) “Oh, it’s mostly just that I normally recruit relief-workers locally! You culture might not be conducive to that!”
Cartwright took off his spectacles, cleaned them, and peered at Kevin again… A young wolf-person, with an entourage of other youngsters and a parrot? An experienced dimensional traveler who knew about their world but whose knowledge was superficial and stopped with the Yellowstone eruption? Who’d apparently been granting minor powers to youngsters on a whim and – according to the report from the city guard – had been demonstrating massive magical abilities and had an entourage of youngsters who demonstrated rather extraordinary abilities? Oh dear! He certainly seemed to match the description they’d gotten from talking to the “Thralls” who were still controlling the gateway at Yellowstone… They might be having a visitation from some of the universe’s major powers!
(Cartwright) “Ah, would by chance one of you happen to be that Binder fellow, oh I can’t remember his name…….”
(Kevin) “Originally Kevin – but I have lots of names; I’m going by Angkor here!”
(Cartwright, to Raphael) “Ah I see, yes, I could see why that might pose a problem. Ah well, we are an industrious folk and if magic simply proves a challenge to master, than so much greater the reward. I take it your visit isn’t simply a check up on our homeworld now is it? What else can I do for you?”
Kevin and Marty were more or less thrown by that one. They really hadn’t been up to anything but a bit of their usual gratuitous meddling while setting up a trade route.
(Cartwright) “Well, I am sure the people back home would appreciate whatever help you might be able to provide. Times have been a bit lean from what I’ve been told, and as you can see from the number of people willing to come to a colony like ours.”
(Kevin) “Well, I can send a few agents… Hm. Is there anyone it WOULD be acceptable to recruit? After all, the binding will restore health for the dying, ensure good behavior from juveniles on the verge of exile, and correct any genetic defects. That would make things a lot easier.”
(Cartwright) “Hmm, for that I cannot answer. I will have to speak with the Colony Council and see what they propose. There should be a Colony Council meeting this evening to discuss the repairs from the attack last night. I am sure I can slide this into the agenda. And beg my pardon, but if this is a side-trip, may I ask your final destination?”
(Raphael was quietly examining the map of the city with its planned sections and taking notes on his smartclothes for assistance later if he felt like showing off.
(Kevin) “Well, really we were just establishing a trade route for a platypus clan and doing some general meddling along the way! Mostly clean-up before moving on to… some trials, rescuing an entrapped goddess, a meeting with the unified church, the core military, and some aliens, building an improved galaxy, and some other bits!”
(Cartwright, quite definitely looking more than a bit skeptical) “Interesting life it must be then. Especially fascinating that you can find time to stop by our colony with so much going on.”
(Marty) “Well, we’re on a working vacation.”
(Kevin) “Besides, who says I have to limit myself to being in only one place at a time?”
There was a definite look of disbelief there.
(Kevin) “What, you want a demonstration?”
(Raphael, hastily) “Please be careful asking for a demonstration, he tends to go a little overboard giving you what you ask for.”
(Marty) “BOY will he go overboard.”
(Cartwright) “I have seen a number of interesting things these mages have been able to pull off with their magic, but long term…. multi-presence seems to one of the ones that never works well. They either rely on automatons or fancy communication techniques, although that fella with the temporal ability was interesting. Too bad he seemed to have lost himself in the process of his last working.”
(Kevin) “Magic is fun, but there are other ways!”
(Cartwright) “Dare I ask what “overboard” entails?”
Kevin fumed a bit, with smoke curling out of his ears for dramatic effect.
(Raphael) “While I could explain it perfectly, I would rather not go into technical details of how he rewrote the fabric of reality around those islands and caused a reality storm I had to stop.”
(Kevin, crankily) “It would have run down by itself given a little time!”
(Marty) “Yeah, I suppose so, but it did cause us some trouble.”
(Cartwright) “A reality storm? That doesn’t sound particularly safe.”
(Marty) “Just have to remember that anything happening to you in those things is controlled by your thoughts – I think.”
(Kevin) “Oh, they’re just when reality becomes thin enough to be shaped by passing personal thoughts! It’s no big deal really! Well, unless other realities start leaking in. That can get weird!”
(Cartwright) “I can see why that could be dangerous if you are unable to keep your own thoughts in check… So perhaps a demonstration is not the most prudent thing at the moment. With this many people around, things might get a little out of control… Does all magic have this issue, or is it simply this multi-presence ability?”
(Kevin, sotto voice) “Well, O was only thinking of gating someone to Kadia, so they can talk with me there while we continued talking here – or perhaps just sharing the view from some of my other presences with a bit of telepathy!”
(Raphael) “Its his direct reality manipulation on a large scale that does it.”
(Kevin) “And that’s not magic; magic works mostly within the rules of a reality. See, there’s psychic powers, then technology, then magic, then divine powers, then reality editing… Although some places mix up psychic powers with magic!”
(Raphael) “Magic rarely actually manipulates the fabric of reality in ways it is not meant to be manipulated so it is generally safe from those problems.”
(Cartwright) “In other words, magic has to obey some physical laws?”
(Raphael) “I am not sure if they are actually ‘physical’ laws, but it must obey some laws.”
(Kevin) “Oh yes – although they do apply in a lot of places. People always think that their imaginations are unique, but there are lots of common factors. And those rules are as physical as any other rule in the Manifold!”
(Cartwright) “Whereas divine power is pulling on the power of a “superior” being or the Creator God?”
(Kevin, with some surprise) “Nobody that I know really does that! The Creator – or Creators – have arranged things so that they’re pretty much impossible to identify. Divine power is just the power that comes with being a god – which is really just being a massed focus for belief!”
(Marty) “And becoming a god is a lot easier than you’d expect.”
(Kevin) “It does make it easy to do things like the multi-presnce trick, or set up afterlives for your followers, and things like that. The followers power and maintain that sort of thing, all you have to do it guide it!”
(Cartwright) “So that leaves psychic powers and reality editing. I suspect reality editing is simply throwing so much power at the problem as to be able to rewrite things as you wish? Hence things like gates and reality storms?”
(Kevin) “Full-scale reality editing is much rarer than being a god! It’s direct control over the structure of reality; it’s not so much an amount of power as another level of it. With a relatively little bit of reality editing you can create essentially infinite amounts of power. You just make a universe the way you want it, and pull it from there!”
(Raphael, with a censorious look at Kevin) “Reality editing simply… rewrites the laws, physical structure, and sometimes history of a universe. I am not at all sure about the ethics of using that power in other people’s home universes without a well-informed request!”
(Cartwright) “Interesting, it would definitely seem like you are more informed of such things than the locals are. They are largely ignorant of the abilities of technology beyond a certain point. Now admittedly, that seems to be because of a lack of the relevant fundamental laws in a few key fields.”
(Kevin) “To be fair, magic is really just a local technology; it’s just one that’s more dependent on thought-patterns and talent than on external devices.”
(Cartwright, interestedly) “Like the ability to read and write or do math then.”
(Kevin) “Oh yes – and there have been places where those are forms of magic, and can directly impact the world around you!”
(Raphael, with a censorious look at Kevin) “Magic is NOT technology. It follows different rules, but it is on the same level as technology out here and the edges are blurry, but they are NOT the same. I like to think of Magic as a series of loopholes and exceptions and agreed allowances to the base rules that are technology”
(Kevin) “So how is it different? They’re both ways of exploiting the local laws of nature to get what you want by creating mysterious implements that most people don’t understand, manipulating local forces, learning strange formulas, and carrying out mysterious rituals using exotic components. You call it electronics, they call it rune mastery… how are they really different? There are lots of “technologies” that don’t work in other universes – including some like Block Transfer Computation that transform space, matter, and time, through pure math… And BOY was the kid using that – Adric I think his name was – an irritating little prat! I was almost reluctant to pull him off that crashing time-traveling spaceship that was about to kill off the dinosaurs!”
(Raphael) “Bah, magic with a special exception that makes the local universe group it with technology is still magic. You can feel the level of human design in all that stuff that is not in actual technology.”
Kevin looked quite doubtful there, but it wasn’t really a big worry. After all, a good deal of Star Wars tech was definitely on the “magic” end of things as far as HE was concerned.
Oddly enough, Raphael actually agreed there, and has no problem with calling it magic since it did not work by default in the places with limited exceptions.
Mr Cartwright found all this fascinating – and more than a bit worrisome, since his visitors had just been discussing power levels pretty much up through the infinite and apparently operated on all of them…
Marty found it all rather amusing!
Kevin put down their world on the list for more relief expeditions – but priorities did go to worlds that supplied their own Thralls; they usually had more real people in them anyway.
The group said goodbye to Mr Cartwright, and wandered away to look for trouble elsewhere…
- Federation-Apocalypse Sessions 189-190 part I – Pets Versus Employees (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- [Emergence Campaign] Federation-Apocalypse Sessions 189-190 part II — Marty on Morality (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 187 – The Vengeance of the Demon God (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 185b – Orders and Laws (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 186b – A Fire Upon The Deep (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 188b – The Negatives of Power Leveling (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 188a – The Blossomary War (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 183a – A Darkness Upon The Deep (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 184a – Vampires or Lawyers? Vampires please! (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Federation-Apocalypse Session 177 – Family Matters (ruscumag.wordpress.com)