Federation-Apocalypse Session 191b – Debates and Discussions

Power

Don't be an idiot! LET HIM IN!

Back with the Rats and Mice of NIMH there were a lot of workers and materials heading to the surface – accompanied by tantalizing rumors about a bunch of really powerful mages running about the city, assisting the defense, granting people magical power, and using weirdly powerful children and pets as a personal guard. With those rumors running rampant, the locals were now recognizing the bunch of them on the streets – and there was talk of the Colony Council holding a special session in response to the attack and their arrival. Rumors associating them with that massive explosion in the swamp as a possible blowing up a minor obstacle in their path were probably the most dramatic… People were also wondering if all the locals in this realm had this kind of power.

The well-known answer of course was “no” (and that even the foreign master mages were more than a bit appalled) – but when had truthful-but-boring details like that ever stopped a juicy rumor?

(Marty, sighing) “I guess we’re going to have to explain things… and the party was just getting good too.”

More interestingly, they were now generating quite the crowd wherever they went! There were people watching them warily, others wanting to ask questions, some trying to keep the others from annoying them too much, and still others wanting to pester them will all sorts of nonsense!

Kevin cheerily played to the crowd. Core was no fun at all that way! Everyone there was too polite and well-informed and untrusting of rumor. Just as bad, in worlds where the people really accepted that there were massive power differentials between them and others, few of them had the nerve to stand up and pester the mighty!

Marty and Raphael, meanwhile fielded questions – while Raphael kept up his new hobby of improving a nice swath where he was walking by.

(Questioner) “So what brings you to our colony? Do these plant attacks foretell some great danger that threatens us all?”

(Marty) “Well, I don’t know. We were just looking around while we were ashore and heard about your city. So we decided to check things out.”

(Questioner #2) “Are the locals really a bunch of people that believe the one with the greatest power is the one that has a right to decide how others behave? No sense of equality or rights?”

(Questioner #3, pointing to Raphael) “How is he doing that?”

(Kevin) “Nah, they’re just realists! When there are major, innate, inequalities of power, the ones with the most power do have a bigger say in things! You do the same thing of course… You listen to the people with the best oratorical skills, or advanced degrees, and so on. You come closer to equality because the power disparities are smaller in your world! I, of course, hand out equal quantities of personal power to all my followers, which makes me extremely subversive of most social orders!”

(Questioner #2) “So are you here then to subvert our order by giving everyone the power to blow holes in the swamp? How does one build a functioning society with that?”

(Bystander) “Don’t annoy the powerful mage! He might blow us up next!”

(Raphael, to Questioner #3 who was pointing at him) “Doing what?”

As he reinforced and straightened a crooked door while improving the wood.

(Kevin, to Questioner #2) “By not doing it! After all, everyone here has the power to start a fire, or poison the water supply, or stab someone else. How is that really different?”

There were blank looks from those talking to Kevin. Evidently they thought that a fireball was – somehow – fundamentally different from a knife. They should see Marty using one!

(Questioner #3 to Raphael) “All the stuff around looks better as you move around! It’s centered on you! How are you doing that?”

(Rapheal to Questioner #3) “Oh, I just told my assemblers to fix stuff up. I should probably move to the other side before they have time to pull dimond out of the air to replace windows with. People get upset when that happens for some reason.”

(Questioner #2 to Kevin) “Well yes, but we have a series of laws and rules in place with people trained and employed to enforce them by society as a whole. It is the implicit threat of the anger of the majority and the enticements of belonging to the better protected and more productive collective that provides the carrot and stick needed for society to function. If a mere child can stand on a hill and destroy a city before any of the mages can respond, how does that lead to a better society?”

(Questioner #3 to Raphael) “Wait, what, like nanoassemblers? I thought this was a magical place? Or is nanotech so fantastic to be considered magic here?”

(Raphael, to Questioner #3) “Oh, you can sneak it in in many places! Other places it simply converts to something that does work, like raw magic. Those that don’t I have to change the rules to allow it, but that is not that hard these days.”

(Questioner #4, to Marty) “If a child can create holes like what the reports say, why haven’t the locals all gone extinct?”

(Kevin, to Questioner #2) “Kind of helps develop politeness and fairness doesn’t it? Although, of course, you have a basic error there! The important part is a balance of personal power, not how much people have! Society functions because people need each other – not because of force. It goes back to small tribes, where force didn’t work because there was endless wilderness to depart into and the specializations were so small that a handful of people could handle all of them!”

(Marty, to Questioner #4) “And the kid wasn’t a local. He was with us. The local magic is much less powerful than what Angkor there can give out. It can get there, but that takes a lot of dedication.”

(Questioner #2, to Kevin) “That may develop politeness to any particular mage able to destroy cities, but doesn’t do anything regarding the ones that love to do that sort of thing for the laughs. At least as violent as humans are, their ability to destroy cities is highly limited to having special weaponry that takes a society to build. These children of yours are utterly dependent on you keeping an eye on them to keep them from accidently blowing up our city.”

(Kevin, to Questioner #2) “That isn’t strictly true of course – their offensive powers are more limited than you think, and their defensive powers are as good or better – so having more of them around tends to result in less trouble, not more. Still, they are powerful, which is one reason why they’re rendered inherently obedient for the duration of their indentures! Secondarily… humans aren’t limited that way at all! As technology increases, city-destroying weapons become things that individuals – and children – can build in a garage… It’s survivable though!”

(Raphael, to Questioner #2) “That’s why you have abjuration. It stops cities from blowing up.”

(Marty, to Questioner #2) “And around here, Wards Major, speaking of abjurations.”

(Older rat) “Yes, and I think I’ve heard a number of humans claim that “I was only following orders” gave them excuses to commit atrocities.”

(Questioner #2 to Raphe) Are these the “wards” and “shields” I’ve heard the mages speak of?

(Kevin, to the Older Rat) “People do claim that! It’s not really an acceptable excuse though when they have free will! The kids, however, have a lot less of that until their indenture is over; for them it WOULD be a valid excuse – which means that the blame would fall on whoever they had been assigned to obey. If that assignment was an error, it would ultimately be my fault…”

(Young woman to Raphael) “Can abjurations stop the flowers and protect us from other cities?”

Marty frantically clapped his hands over Kevin’s ears as someone asked for defenses! After the last time, he didn’t want to see what Kevin did for an actual city…

(Raphael to Young Woman) “Depends on who you are listening to. Wards Major or just Wards around here are city wide enchantments of great power that can do many things from defense to improving a city. Shields can refer to many things around here and more in other places.”

(Older Rat) “Quite right, and here you have a number of children that have been given power that would ordinarily take a small army to match. You claim that their obedience to you is sufficient to keep them in check. I take it you have never had to deal with people in positions of power with boundless enthusiasm and a total lack of sense?”

(Young Woman to Raphael) “Alright, can we be taught how to build one? I can assure you our manufacturing abilities exceed anything the locals can do and we’re avid learners of new skills.”

Marty was still holding his hands over Kevin’s ears…

(Kevin) “Nope! I claim that they are personally much safer this way – and that they do a lot more good than harm. Yes, they may get over-enthused – but they’re doing things personally, instead of through a system of underlings, and that keeps the feedback prompt and fresh!

(Older Rat) “Ah, I think I see now. Forget I said anything then.”

Kevin cheerily give the older rat a brochure on the rescue services, disaster relief services, and so on.

(Kevin) “So far we’re ahead roughly… two thousand rescues for each foul-up with some millions of my Thralls operating in the Manifold. I think that speaks for itself!”

(Raphael to Young Woman) “There really isn’t that much physical to make for a ward like that. It mostly takes magical power some training and time to make one… I can train some of that, but I can’t really stay long enough to make a ward. I might be able to set up something that temporarilly mimics it and leave a starter kit for a local mage’s guild behind that could get it all done with the help of volenteers who train for it, but I would need some place to put it, zenni, and volenteers to start.”

(Young Woman, to Raphael) “Alright, how much space do you need, how many zenni do you think it will take, and how many volunteers do you need? And would there be anyone outside the city that you would like to hire and bring in to assist in that?”

(Older Rat) “I see… Well I can tell this is a very nice brochure and that you’ve put a lot of work into it and your services.”

(Kevin, to the Young Woman – and pointing to one of his currently four-legged dogs) “Oh Feanor here can do a Ward Major! It would take a city-wide festival, and will leave everyone tired for a couple of days.”

Argh! Kevin had wriggled free!

(Kevin) “Raphael is up for the Heartstone I think…”

It was hard to deafen somone wearing Smartclothes!

Marty grumbled to himself. Ah well.

(Young Woman to Kevin) “I think we would rather learn how to that ourselves thank you very much. I appreciate your offer though, but if we are to keep our independence and right to self-determination, then we can’t continually rely on the kindness of others and have to learn how to do that ourselves. (She glanced at Feanor – the dog) I would like to think that if a…. pet can do it, then an industrious people like ourselves can manage. Even if it is a godling’s pet and we are humble rodents.”

(Raphael, sighing) “Well at least he is doing it a safer way this time. … I was hoping to leave without him trying some large half controlled public works project that was thought up and made in a day instead of planned for years.” (To the audience) “I will happily leave everything you need to learn how to do it youself.”

(Young Woman to Raphael) “I would very much appreciate that.”

(Kevin to Young Woman) “Oh you certainly can! It will simply take a lot longer, and a lot of generations will die along the way. Whether that is worth it in the long run… is up to the people involved. Accepting my aid is always – necessarily – purely voluntary. I don’t try to make that choice for other people. Some may feel it’s worth it. Others… will feel there are far worse fates than entering my service. Fortunately, the paths are not mutually exclusive. Those who would choose to come to me… will find it in their power to do so. Those who do not wish to do so, will pass on to new lives, and may continue to build.”

(Raphael) “I think it might be best to leave the decision of that defenses and aid we do or do not leave behind up to your leaders – since it is going to be important for quite a while. Wards Major are hard to take down and redesign.”

Kevin considered a moment… Differing axioms perhaps? He seemed to have run into people with strong convictions about human rights and self-determination! If that older rat, or someone like him, had the final vote in the colony council, the rats and mice of NIMH might not want any help… That wouldn’t entirely stop things of course – especially since there were bound to be some who would want his help in preference to their current situations – but it would certainly slow it up, and he wouldn’t be pushing it either; he was a guest! On the other hand, he would – of course – make sure that anyone who would want to make that choice out of desperation got the chance. There was always a trickle; the want-to-work-for-Kevin boosts were fairly dramatic – and it was a decision that could be made up until a few hours before dying; all you needed was a bit of time for the soul-dedication ritual.

Still, it was a nice change to meet some people who were independent, industrious, and noble. Those were very admirable qualities that were – sadly – more common and less compromised in fictional worlds than in Core or with the humans born there. He hadn’t gotten much of any recruits last time either, not that they’d spent any time looking. They might not be able to stop it entirely – but they certainly didn’t have to endorse it!

Even if it did seem to be true that the Thralls did a LOT more good than harm out there).

Raphael had to agree – they did seem to do a lot of good – and hopefully the new link to real comunications for all of them would improve that ratio even more with easy training and passing of horror stories of how it went wrong – and more disciplinary action as the foul-up reports got passed along.

That seemed like enough controversy and mischief and meddling for awhile!

Except, perhaps, to discover if there was a reason why the Innkeeper was so hostile…

Wait! Kevin decided to just ask Raphael to find out! He was a master diviner! Maybe her kids were carried off by local slave-traders, or necromancers, or some such! It would be really entertaining to send some Thralls to rescue them!

Kevin looked expectantly at Raphael…Surely he could trivially find out pretty much anything! The puppies helped him look with big begging eyes too!

Raphael was willing… because it was more amusing than walking over and asking a question… and because Dreadpuddle could now whisper in the back of his head full time.

Marty wondered why they weren’t just aren’t asking her – but then she had been pretty mad.

Raphael launched an immensely powerful mind-probing effect, rather than trying to pull the information out of the cosmos.

Fortunately she didn’t really know how to use the Witchcraft Kevin had given her yet.

Kevin and Marty just listened in with their own telepathy – and the “converstation” got very confused.

(Raphael) “Why were you so hostile to Angkor?”

Kevin groaned. He KNEW that one! “I didn’t like the way he was treating those kids!”

(Spell) “Children should be loved and treated with respect, not like pets.”

(Raphael) “What convinced you that he was treating them like pets?”

Kevin, still cranky, figured they knew that one too! The staff had reported them sleeping on doggy beds, wearing nothing but collars, neutered, and being taught stupid pet tricks.

(Spell) “Finding them in the room sleeping like pet dogs on a doggy bed while still able to talk and……”

Kevin then abruptly realized that they were probably test questions. No doubt the interesting stuff would be coming up!

(Raphael) “Why is that more important than paying customers who are vastly over paying?”

(Kevin) Perhaps “Why did you react so much more strongly than most citizens of the city?” or “What special reasons do you have to be concerned with the treatment of children?”)

(Spell) “There are things that money simply cannot buy, and cannot be excused simply because one is rich and powerful.”

Raphael threw in Kevin’s questions.

(Spell) “She reacted much more strongly than the others simply because she is a bit more…. obsessed and fanatical with regard to children than the others. She’s been working towards setting up an orphanage. As for special reasons for being concerned with the treatment of children, she believes quite strongly in the roles of parents and adults in guiding them.”

(Raphael) “Why do you believe so strongly about the treatment of children?”

(Spell) “Fond memories of her own parents, horror at the deaths of her nieces and nephews at the hands of her sister, and a personal vow to not let that be a stain on her family.”

(Kevin) “Aw. That might be partially fixable if some of them were phantasms – which is fairly likely if they were killed that way. People with souls have a strong tendency to escape such things.”

(Raphael) “When did your nieces and nephews get killed?”

(Marty) Hmm. And ask why the sister did it, too. It might not matter, but then it might.

(Spell) “Four months ago, shortly after the colony was attacked by a group of chameleons and undead horrors that had tried to flood the place and collapse it.”

(Raphael) “Why did she kill them?”

(Kevin) Now there’s the rub… She has no way of knowing if some or all of them were Phantasms.

(Spell) “She apparently decided it was a mistake to have children in such a wild and dangerous world and took the….. “humane” route out of things. The guards had found her after she had finished with the last child and was about to start on herself. Afterwards she told the guards that the terrible visions of what was to come and befall the colony would only worsen. Lots of horrific of doom and disaster stuff.”

(Marty) Eep!

(Kevin) Definitely messy!

(Raphael) “What happened to her?”

(Kevin) Exiled and presumed dead perhaps?

(Spell) The trial determined that the cause was insanity as opposed to criminal intent. She was restrained, imprisoned, and the colony attempted psychological counseling as her condition worsened. Currently still in confinement with the psychologists refusing to go near her and the guards only stopping by to give meals and clean.

(Kevin) Also trouble. I fear that finding out if they were phantasms will be a job for straight divination – or experimentation.

(Marty) “Why don’t you have children?” might be a good one! Wait! I have another one! “Do you think your sister is a danger to the community?”

(Spell) She doesn’t have her own children due to infertility issues. She also believes that something is fundamentally wrong with her sister and that in her current state the sister now represents a threat to the colony as a whole.

(Kevin) “Why does she believe that her sister is a menace to the colony?”

After all, unless she’d developed supernatural powers she probably wasn’t a big menace from a cell!

(Spell) Her figure has become gaunt and emaciated, her eyes seem to glow with a soft white light, the smell of rot surrounds her, and her voice has developed a disturbing echo to it. The nearby area seems to radiate a good deal of malice and madness with the doctors reporting visions of their own when near her. Part of the reason why the colony had hired mages to come to the city was to let them have a look at her. The city has been trying to keep the whole thing quiet though.

(Marty) Well! That’s definitely not good. Do you suppose she’s acquired some kind of power package, or is possessed?

(Kevin) Ritual sacrifice of her children?… Oh blast!

He checked Kadia to see if they’d turned up there due to an offering ritual because she had some really warped ideas about what her “dark god” truly wanted! The endowment package provides quite a lot of power by the local standards! That would be REALLY awkward to explain! It could just be warped information from the Thralls managing Yellowstone – if there was anything to the theory at all.

Marty had another thought… If this was because of Dr. Brenner, he WOULD have his avatar in the Linear Realms concentrate on getting him, and good!

They weren’t in Kadia.

OK… Partially possessed by Chameleons perhaps? Possibly using a ritual death-powered totem forged using spirits that were going to this city anyway, and so were focused on it? Realms like this did tend to go in for side-quests… Chekhov’s Skulls would be an interesting variant on the trope if there ever was one!

(Raphael) It sounds like they might not have stopped her from killing herself.

Since on one else was suggesting any more questions, Raphael ended his spell. It didn’t seem too likely that the Innkeeper knew much more; it was likely that the rest of the important information was in the mental ward.

Marty had to agree there.

Kevin, impatient as always, and seeing that Raphael hadn’t immediately started a spell to check on whether or not the kids had been phantasms, went ahead and tried summoning them… That would only work on any that had been phantasms of course – but that in itself was information. Presumably there were a fair number of phantasms in NIMH’s world, and phantasms were EASY. They’d just be dissipated and need a little rebuilding – or they might be caught somewhere like Arxus had been.

He could edit things a bit to stabilize them later if need be; that would be a pretty small tweak!

Now if they’d been ensouled… It probably just wouldn’t work. It would take a much higher level spell than anything he was doing to find a soul out in the Manifold and drag it back – while if they were still around, something was holding them (and it would be good to know that) – and all they’d have to do would be to find it, and after that a resurrection would be fairly easy!

As usual, he poured massive energies into the spell. “Subtlety” was not his thing when it came to magic.

That resulted in four young children appearing in front of them – all looking more than a bit frightened and scared.

It also resulted in Kevin learning that the remaining two children had indeed been ensouled and that their souls were still in this realm – bound somewhere relatively nearby.

Kevin frowned… That was most likely to their crazy Mother… The old “Hag who Consumes her own Children” gag worked through a perversion of the mother-child soul-bond; it was the easiest form of soul-anchoring in existence – and perhaps the most destructive and maddening. It added unspeakable betrayal of trust, and of potential, and of responsibility to the exploitation of a soul-bond given by one too young to make an informed choice. It wasn’t like a powerful parent channeling power through the link to push their kids into being heroes, it was a way of draining them so that they remained too weak and unconscious to escape.

At least it wasn’t the “eat them before they’re born” variant that gives rise to the Vagina Dentata myth. That was about the only way to make “eating your children” even nastier.

With that, the party finally abandoned the private links…

(Kevin) “Hello kids! Don’t be scared, you’re fine!”

(Children) “Where’s mommy? Why was she hurting us? What’s going on? Who are you? Are you going to eat us? Why was mommy acting so strange? Did we do something wrong?”

(Kevin) “Oh mommy was just a little ill… She won’t be hurting you any more! I’m Angkor, and I meddle with things a lot! I don’t eat kids, You didn’t do anything wrong, and you may be staying with your aunt for a bit! This is Marty! And Raphael, and Limey, and…”

There were various other introductions.

(Marty) “Hi kids!”

There were many questions and much crying – but there were also lots of soothing witchcraft projections, and that calmed things down considerably.

Raphael did a little groaning about “throwing vast power into reckless meddling” – but he could hardly blame him this time.

Oh dear! They were still standing around in one of the main public squares after spending a minute or so in telepathic consultation – and then performing a spontaneous group resurrection…

The Colony Council was going to have a LOT to discuss.

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