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There Will Be Dragons: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 18, 2003 22:37 EDT



    “What in the hell is that?” Paul said as he appeared in Celine’s workshop. The woman had an insect that looked something like a wasp on the end of her fingers at which she was petting and cooing.

    The workshop was cluttered with buzzing and chittering cages. From one a lizard-like beast about the size of a human hand, with large doleful eyes and opposable thumbs, stared out at him. It hissed and scrabbled at the lock, pointing and beckoning to be let out. Others were filled with a variety of invertebrates, spiders, insects and some things so Changed as to be indecipherable. From the next room there was a continuous howling and the screech of a large cat, sounding like the cries of a dying woman.

    “It’s my newest pet,” Celine answered, coaxing the beast into a cage. It was as long as her forefinger, black with red stripes on the abdomen, its wings covered in red and black lightning-bolt pattern. “It’s something like a hornet but with the ability to digest cellulose. When released in an area with cellulose products it begins reproducing, rapidly, and reduces them in short order. It’s armed with a stinger, purely for self protection of course.”

    “The Net would never allow its release,” Paul pointed out. “It would be classed as a dangerous biological and shut down instantly.”

    “The Net will not allow it yet,” she replied with a thin smile.

    “Nor would I,” he said, firmly. “This project is about the future of the human race, not letting monsters roam loose.”

    “One woman’s monster is another woman’s pet,” Celine said serenely. “Shall I show you my demons?”

    “Perhaps another time,” Paul replied. “I am…unhappy with the way the Council meeting went.”

    “I can’t imagine why,” Celine replied with a smirk.

    “I feel like killing Chansa,” he replied, trying to keep his temper. “If it hadn’t been for his untimely comment…”

    “It would have gone exactly the same way,” Celine said, lifting out a large creature that looked like a cross between a spider and a grasshopper. It had large, springing, legs on the rear but a spider-like fore-portion with gripping mandibles and long, glittering, fangs. “There my pet, these mean people won’t keep you closed up much longer.” She turned back to the man and shook her head.

    “The rest of the council is too short-sighted,” she said with a hiss. “All that they see is keeping the human breeders happy and satisfied for another pointless day. There is so much more to be had from the biosphere, but they cannot see it. Even you cannot see it. Humans are nothing more than an evolutionary blip on the map.”

    “Nonetheless, the first priority is to increase the human population,” Paul said, severely.

    “Yes, yes,” the replied waving her hands distractedly. “Although, I wish we could just evacuate Australia; it would make a remarkably good genetic proving ground.”

    “We’ll see,” Paul replied. “After the…next meeting.”

    “Indeed,” Celine replied with a smile, petting the hopper. “Soon, my pet. Soon.”




    Edmund looked up from his plate of stew as Myron Raeburn stamped in through the doors of the tavern; there was a cold drizzling rain outside and as always it caused the streets to turn into a sea of mud.

    Raven’s Mill had just… happened. Initially, Edmund Talbot had set off to find a place in the country, much like everyone else. His intent had been to retire from active reenacting and find a quite place to spend his final years. However, he was enough of a re-enactor to want a place where he could move about on the limited roads. At that time the primary Rennfaire in what had been the eastern North American Union was near the town of Washan, close to the Atlantis Ocean. From there a road stretched to the Apallia mountains, and over them, to reach the Io River. So he had wanted a place near the Via Apallia, but not too near. And he was enough of a paranoid that he wanted a place that was defensible. Last, it should have good water near it and a river nearby that was deep enough for boats, in case he had anything large he wanted to move. The spot he had finally chosen was the shoulder of a mountain, just a few miles south of the Via Apallia, near where it crossed the Shenan River. There, the hills made a sheltered bowl that cut off views of both the road and the river, and mitigated flooding for that matter. There was a small, permanent, stream that ran through the midst of the bowl and out a small opening in the surrounding hills. The land on the inside of the bowl, however, was flat. The spot in many ways was perfect. He had flowing water, was shielded from view and had the mountains at his back. Yet he also could venture forth with relative ease. The view had been of the small fields he had cleared and the surrounding hills.

    Peaceful and quiet.

    Shortly after moving in, he was contacted by Myron, who was also looking for a place to settle. They had known each other for years and when Myron suggested that they be neighbors it had sounded like a fine idea. Then had come a potter friend, then another smith. Then the parties had expanded until once a year, at least, there was a sizable contingent of re-enactors in the area. Then the inn down by the stream, then more roads.

    Before he knew it there was a town, a major Rennfaire and all the hassles associated with both. He dealt with the management of the town but he refused to manage the Rennfaire, although he did attend. It was a decent party, for all it sometimes made him want to stuff plugs in his ears.

    Lately, he had been wondering if it wasn’t time to go find a new place to dwell.

    “Hello, Myron,” Tarmac McGregor said. The innkeeper, broad and overweight with a thick beard and calm, ancient eyes, set down the mug he was polishing and drew a pint. “You look a tad damp.”

    “Wonderful weather,” Myron said, shaking off his cloak. The farmer was tall and slender with thin blonde hair and a heavy tan. He wore period clothing with the exception of a loose white smock that was stained with mud. He took this off as well and hung it beside the cloak.

    “Good for the crops,” Talbot pointed out.

    “Oh yeah, great rain,” Myron agreed. “Just the right amount; it’ll put the final touches on the grain.”

    Myron was the town’s sole farmer. He and his wife had met at Renn-Faire and discovered a shared passion for the almost lost art of small-scale farming and horticulture. Nearly five decades before the couple had plotted out a homestead near the growing town of Raven’s Mill and had settled down to be old fashioned farmers. They started out with a set of farm implements, some seed and livestock. And in the last half century they had produced two children while building the farm into a successful concern.

    One of the first problems that they had had to overcome was the question of market. By their third year in existence they were producing material far in excess of their needs, even if the needs were not supplied from the Net. However, at Edmund’s suggestion, they had spread the news of the availability of “real hand-grown, period foodstuffs” and shortly found that there was a tremendous demand; it turned out that there were many people who did not trust industry-farmed food and longed for a supply other than the Net. For those who truly did not trust the Net, or understood that ported material had undergone the same “unnatural” processes as replicated, there was even a small-scale and very unreliable ground transportation system.

    Over the years they had built up a fair reserve of energy capital from the sale of their foodstuffs and “Raven’s Mill General Foods” was one of the two most successful businesses in the area.

    “Right on time, of course.” Edmund sipped his beer, cold and frothy which was non-period, but Tarmac knew what his patrons preferred, and waved at the bench across from him. “Would you prefer a nice drought? Getting a bit Nazish?”

    The tavern was not rigorously period in its construction. Most of the taverns of even the high middle ages were low, dark, horrible places with logs scattered about for benches and a small fire in the middle of the floor that filled the room with smoke. The floors were generally dirt, perhaps hardened with animal blood, and covered in food -strewn rushes. Beer, at whatever the temperature of the room, was poured from barrels at one end of the room, overseen by the owner. Food, if any was served, was generally a pottage of leeks, turnips and perhaps a few scraps of salt meat. Often, if the patrons did not care to go outside in the weather, urination occurred along the walls or in barrels. In the worst sorts of places defecation occurred there also.

    By contrast, the Raven’s Mill Tavern was a cross between a “fantasy” period tavern and a 18th –21st century Briton public house. Instead of logs on the floor there were wood benches and rough-hewn tables that had been sanded smooth and lacquered to prevent splinters. The walls were white-washed plaster and had armor, swords and framed prints of replica medieval illuminations on them. There was a functional bathroom discretely tucked in the back.

    The barrels of beer and wine were still there, but behind a bar, and they were individually climate controlled. For that matter, more than home-made beer was available to the patrons.

    Each Rennfaire the “period Nazis” would set up a much more exacting replica in a disused building, ///although ///even there/// patrons were constrained to use a regular outhouse, even in bad weather.

    In the Mill Tavern, instead of toothless hags working the tables for the scraps, Tarmac owned a homunculus to wait the tables whenever his daughter couldn’t be pressed into service. Estrelle was a humanoform construct, a lovely one with rich golden hair cascading in a curly mass down to her rounded buttocks, corn-flower blue eyes and high, firm breasts. She had a heart-shaped face and a coded desire to frolic, be it with males or females. As a homunculus, her thought patterns were deliberately limited and strictly non-sentient. But her coding didn’t have to be all that complex. Feed people, clean-up the room, look beautiful, jump into bed at the slightest invitation.

    As Myron sat down, Estrelle oozed over and laid her hand on his shoulder. “Evening, Master Raeburn,” she cooed. The homunculus was wearing high-heels, a short, blue skirt and a red bodice that pushed her breasts up until the nipples were barely concealed. As she leaned over it her breasts rubbed on his other shoulder.

    “Yes, it is, Estrelle my dear,” he replied, patting her backside. “I’ll take whatever the fat guy is eating.”

    “Of course,” she said, running her hand down his back, “and for later?”

    “You’ll have to discuss later with Mrs. Garcia-Raeburn,” he said with a sad smile. As Estrelle walked away he shrugged his shoulders at Edmund’s frown. “You don’t have to say it.”

    “No,” Talbot agreed. “I don’t.”

    Edmund had definite Views on the subject of homunculi. He knew they weren’t “human” by any legal definition, that they were non-sentient and uninterested in such things as rights and freedom. Realistically, they were nothing but fleshy robots, no matter how human they looked and, often, acted. Despite that he had a hard time not thinking of them as some sort of biological slave.

    “They’re no more human than… cows,” Myron said, defensively.

    “And would you go to bed with a cow?” Edmund asked. “Never mind. I’m sorry I said that.”

    “I know,” Raeburn replied. “So let’s drop the subject. How was your day.”

    “Quite good, until I started getting visitors.” Edmund told him of the new spam under his identity and about his visit from Dionys, leaving out the details he had picked up from Carborundum.

    “So McCanoc is back, eh?” Myron replied, taking a sip of his stew. “And now you’re his project for annoyance.”

    “I figure if I just ignore him, he’ll go away,” Talbot said with a shrug.

    “Not that gadfly,” Myron replied. “He gets off on people trying to avoid him. Challenge him and then kick his ass is my suggestion.”

    “I… would consider that. The question is: Can I still kick his ass?”

    “Of course you could,” Myron said, looking up from his bowl in shock. “What kind of a question is that?”

    “Well, I assume while he was gone he probably uploaded and ran some decent fighting programs,” Talbot pointed out. “He’s not just picking fights with the weakest anymore, and he’s winning against some pretty decent knights. And… I’m not as young as I used to be. Assuming I’d win, much less kick his ass as badly as it needs to be kicked, is a major assumption.”

    “Cheat,” Raeburn said with a shrug. “He will if he gets the chance. Look at the armor he’s creating.”

    “If he hadn’t been such an ass, or if I’d been thinking quicker, I would have made it,” Talbot admitted.


    “Well, I just have this wonderful image,” the smith admitted with a grin. “Of him running around in Anarchia with this lovely, blue glowing, fantasy armor. And all the other bastards in there closing in on him and piling on to get a piece of it. I… doubt that he’d walk back out. Age and guile is supposed to be worth more than youth and strength. All things considered, if it wasn’t a point of honor now, I’d probably make it just to get rid of him. In all senses of the word ‘rid.’”




    Rachel had elected to wear a stylized version of 16th Century Chitan court dress, less the bound feet. Her mother’s limited efforts had not been sufficient to make her body anywhere near what was popular and she still felt like an over-weight ox. The thick brocade and multiple layers would hide most of it. And the makeup would tend to reduce the overarching massiveness of her nose.

    So it was in this dress that she translated into the garden Marguerite’s parents had created for the party and stopped, shocked, at the number of people present.

    The central lawn of the garden was at least a hundred yards on a side, with scattered beddings and statuary as well as a group of pavilions to provide shade for tables and a large refreshment area. However, even with all the available space, the area was packed with hundreds of people, humanoform and otherwise.

    There were beings that looked like giant floating fish and mer-forms, from mer-people to delphinoids to a weird ray creature that Rachel wasn’t sure was human at all. There were centaurs and dryads and even, far on the other side of the lawn what looked like an elf. There were weres of every major predatory species, from panthers through wolves and bears to what had to be a were-lion by his hair. There were unicorns, both Changed and genegineered pets, and thousands of pets, from fairly normal canines to “housecats” the size of small pumas to some really baroque hodgepodge creatures, all of which twined among feet, tripped the guests and importuned loudly for tidbits.

    The air was filled with flying creatures, birds, reptilian and beautiful jeweled insects along with every imaginable cute, fuzzy animal with gauzy wings attached. Rachel was reminded of her mother’s disparaging “Anything can have wings.” Which was true but in most of the cases the wings were nearly or entirely non-functional and the flying “pets” were held aloft by external power.

    In some cases there were clashes. In the middle of the lawn a centaur and a humanoform were apparently trying to capture their pets; the centaur’s jeweled minidragon was in hot pursuit of the humanoform’s golden dragonfly but if it wasn’t fast something like a flying pike covered in glittering diamonds was going to beat it to the prize.



    She looked around, shook her head and summoned her genie. “Genie, is there anyone here I know?”

    “The nearest person is Herzer Herrick,” the projection said, highlighting the teen, who was standing to one side of the mob with a drink in his hand.

    Herzer wasn’t quite who she had in mind, but he was, at least, a familiar face.

    She, Herzer and Marguerite had attended the same day-school from childhood through early teens. With no economic necessity for learning, most schools were not much more than socialization programs but their school had been an exception, permitting children to advance in learning at their own pace but using every modern technology to press information and the love of learning into young heads.

    Given the vastness of modern information and the dependence upon the net, determining what to learn once past the “baby steps” of reading, keyboarding and mathematics through integral calculus, the choice of emphasis and speed of advance became complicated.

    Rachel and Herzer had both found that they enjoyed learning and had a shared interest in history and ethnology. Rachel leaned more towards the day to day aspects of life in prior centuries, from Egyptian beer-making techniques to the operation of devices like the “automobile” whereas Herzer was fascinated by the way that things worked and were put together. He had eventually gained the equivalent of a bachelors in historic structural engineering. Marguerite had advanced at a slower rate as she spent more time on the socialization aspects. She had eventually settled upon a focus on social interaction and holistic living design.

    As Rachel walked over she noted that not only had the palsy apparently stopped, but he had put on weight, muscle-mass, since the last time she saw him. Now he looked like a sculpted Greek god. The cut lines looked…good on him, but they were hardly fashionable and there was no way, in three days, he could have gone from relatively flaccid to cut and defined without some really serious bod-mod.

    “Hello, Herzer, out of the operation and into bod-sculpting I see.”

    “Hello, Rachel,” he said with an embarrassed expression. “It’s what my body would look like if all the exercise I was doing had done anything but keep the palsy in check. And it’s all mine, genetically; I wouldn’t let the surgeon bot touch my genes.”

    “I hope not, after all the work mother did on them,” she said, tartly. Then she sighed in exasperation at herself. “I’m sorry, Herzer, I know how much it must mean to you to finally be free of that awful…”

    “Condition?” he asked. “I believe the term that was once in vogue is ‘spastic freak.’”

    “Now you’re being snotty,” she said, looking at his glass. “Wine?”

    “Fruit juice,” the teen said. “It’s going to be a while before I feel…comfortable poisoning my body.”

    She summoned the same and looked around. “I had no idea that Marguerite had so many friends,” she said. “It makes me wonder if she really thinks of me as a friend or just an odd acquaintance.”

    “Oh, I think she thinks you’re a friend,” he said, nodding at the crowd.

    “She just has lots of room for friends. Marguerite is a very charismatic young lady and she makes friends easily. But I don’t think everyone in this crowd is her friend; some of them are just acquaintances or friends of friends. Everybody wanted to be at this party.”

    “Where do you know her from?” Rachel asked. “We were in day-camp together, but she’s never mentioned knowing you.”

    “Oh, our parents occasionally get together,” Herzer said. “But she really asked me because she knew you were going to be here and she somehow got the impression that we were friends.”

    “So you’re a ‘friend of a friend?’” she said.

    “More or less,” he replied with a bitter smile. “I don’t have a lot of friends myself. Something about a revulsion to spastics.”

    “You’re better now,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “And you’re going to stay better. What you have to do now is either reintroduce yourself to people or meet new people. You’ve got plenty of time, centuries, to make friends.”

    “I know,” he replied sadly, hanging his head. “But I want it now. You know, I’ve never had…a girlfriend. I mean, I had a couple when I was a kid. But the damned complex popped up when I was ten and since then…”

    She carefully removed her hand and gestured around. “Lots of girls to meet here.”

    “Sure,” he replied, trying not to sound hurt.

    “Herzer, I don’t have a boyfriend for a reason,” she replied. “I haven’t met any that I like enough.”

    “Including me,” he grumped.

    “The ones I like don’t like me and the ones that like me I don’t want to be girlfriends with,” she said. “Story of my life.”

    “Well, I’d be happy for one that liked me,” he said.

    “Is that an elf?” she asked, changing the subject. Elves were rarely seen outside of Elfheim. The relatively early genetic engineering had been locked in by the Council during a flurry of legal controls imposed by the Net in the wake of the AI wars. Since then, many of the legal controls had been relieved but a few, regarding harmful biologicals and, strangely, elves, had been left in place. Now, it was impermissible to Change into full elf mode and even the template for them was locked; the only way to become an Elf was to be born as one. There were various rumors about why such a simple Change would be outlawed but if the Elves knew the reason, they were keeping their own council.

    The tall figure, with the distinct height, swept back hair and pointed ears of the elven race, certainly looked like one. Or an almost illegal replica.

    “Yes,” he said. “I asked. Another one of Marguerite’s friends. Via your father as I understand.”

    “Father does have some elf friends,” she said, considering the visitor more carefully. “I think that’s Gothoriel the Youth. He occasionally goes to the Shenan Rennfaire.”

    “Well there’s no way we can get a chance to talk to him,” Herzer said, looking at the crowd around the distant figure.

    “Oh, my word,” Rachel said as a massive figure appeared in the air and then hunted around for a place to land. “It’s a dragon!”

    There were only a handful of surviving dragons in the world. Dragons, by legal definition, were sentient beings. Non-sentient beings that looked somewhat like dragons were referred to as wyvern. No person could Change into a dragon since the AI wars, when dragons had fought primarily on the side of humans and, like elves, they were “grandfathered” as a species. Over the years their extremely low birth-rate had dwindled the species, long lived as it was, to almost nothing.

    After hovering for a bit, the dragon finally cleared enough space to land and then Changed into a red-headed girl in an emerald green dress. With a general wave she disappeared into the gathering crowd.

    “Not much of a chance to talk to her, either,” Herzer noted.

    “Or to get around Marguerite,” Rachel said. “Speaking of which, where is Marguerite?”

    “Not here yet,” Herzer replied. He let go of the float-glass he was holding and adjusted his 20th century “tuxedo” then grasped it again, taking a sip. “I asked one of the butler-bots. He says she is intending a special surprise for everyone.”

    “And it looks like she was waiting for the dragon to arrive,” the girl replied as two projections in 24th Century dress appeared at the entrance to the maze and waved a space clear.

    “GENTLEBEINGS,” a voice boomed through the crowd. “MARGUERITE VALASHON!”

    There was polite applause at this over the top entrance; by and large the culture preferred a more sedate introduction, but the applause faltered and then picked up as a blue glowing cloud, projecting Marguerite’s smiling face, appeared in the archway and floated out into the crowd.

    It took Rachel a moment to adjust. At first she thought it was just a special effect but then the reality caught up with her. “She had herself Transferred!” she gasped.

    “Apparently,” Herzer said in a sad voice.

    “What’s your problem?” she asked. “I mean it’s my friend that just got turned into a cloud of nannites!”

    “I know, but…”

    “You were sweet on her?” she asked. “A Transfer can take any form, you know. She’s still a girl…sort of.”

    “Like I said, I’d only seen her a couple of times,” he snapped. “I wasn’t…sweet on her. I’d hoped to get that way, though.”

    “Hopeless, Herzer,” she said, gesturing around at the crowd. She started to walk towards Marguerite’s apparent path, hoping to get at least a greeting in edgewise. “Marguerite’s got more boyfriends than my dad’s got swords.”

    “What’s one more,” he said, following behind her. “Speaking of your dad…” he continued as Marguerite turned towards them.

    “Rachel!” the Transfer cried. She’d formed into a semblance of herself, wearing a pale blue body-cloak. But there was a blue glow around her that designated a Transfer and her voice, either through deliberate choice or an inability to master sound yet, had an reverberating overtone that was eerie and just a shade unpleasant; it reminded Rachel of ghost vids.

    “Marguerite,” she replied as Marguerite shifted through the welcoming crowd. “How…surprising.”

    “It was a gift from my dad!” the Transfer said with a smile. She shifted into a delphinoform and hung in the air. “Look! I can mer any time I want!”

    Rachel smiled painfully and thought about her mother’s lecture on Transfers. Humans went through natural changes in personality as they aged; their bodies going through a series of programs leaving the person of sixty different from the person of thirty different from the person of fifteen. Because the changes were a combination of experience and experience influenced physiology, wildly random in their forms, there was no way to simulate them for a Transfer. So a Transfer, except for whatever experiential change might effect them, became “locked” in an age. From her mother’s experienced perspective, the worst possible Transfer, other than a child, was a teenager. People didn’t just get calmer and wiser, by and large, from experience. They got calmer and wiser because their bodies were programmed to.

    Marguerite, however, would remain forever sixteen.

    It was an odd thought. Instead of growing up in tandem, and presumably remaining friends, she suspected that by the time she was old, say, thirty, that it would be hard to stay friends with a sixteen year old Marguerite.

    Other than that she thought it was neat.

    “I love your dress, is that a re-enactor look?” Marguerite continued, hardly noticing her friend’s pause.

    “Imperial court dress,” she replied, “from the time of the Chitan Imperial Court.”

    “And your mom finally broke down and let you do some sculpting,” Marguerite said. “It looks good on you.”

    “Thank you,” Rachel replied, not looking at Herzer. “Have you said hello to Herzer?”

    “Charmed, miss,” Herzer said, bowing. “A beautiful transformation of one already a beauty.”

    “Speaking of transformations,” Marguerite said as she changed back to human form and ignoring Herzer’s comment. “You’re looking…better. Did Ms. Ghorbani…uhm…”

    “Fix me?” Herzer asked, unconsciously flexing. “She did the neural work. I had a friend help me with the sculpting.”

    “Oh, okay,” Marguerite said, dismissing him. “Rachel, I’ve got to go say hello to people. But I want to get together later, okay?”

    “Okay,” Rachel replied. She’d realized that Marguerite was just about the only person at the party she wanted to talk with, but she felt constrained to hang around. “Talk to you later.”


    She sighed and looked around, wondering how to ditch Herzer.

    “About your dad,” Herzer said, continuing where he’d left off. “I was wondering, could you introduce me?”

    “To my dad?” she asked. “Whatever for?”

    “Uhm, some friends of mine have gotten into the whole reenactment thing,” he said. “You know you’re dad’s sort of famous, don’t you?”

    “Yeah,” she said, shortly. She wasn’t about to go into how disinterested she was in reenactment. Her father had dragged her to events since she was a kid and every trip seemed to be like a continuation of school. Learning to cook over smoky wood fires was not her idea of fun. And learning to hunt and butcher was just grotesque.

    “I’d hoped to meet him; I’d like to see if he’d be an instructor for me.”

    “I’ll send you an introduction projection,” she said. “Oh, look, it’s Donna. I think I’ll go talk to her. Take care of yourself, Herzer.”

    “Okay,” he replied to her retreating back. “Have fun.”

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