Edward sits drinking the cappuccino and trying not to contemplate his life. Abigail joins him. She knows far more than he imagined. He finally has someone he can talk to who would understand and think him sane.
Edward recounts all the events that led him to this cup of coffee in this cafe. He has been through a lot. I have provided links to the sections of the story where he is impacted.
The Best Coffee In the Universe
As he was sampling that, Abigail sat down with her own drink – a small cup with a dark liquid topped with a bit of foam. She dropped a lump in and stirred with a tiny spoon. She saw him stare at the small cup and she said, “Espresso…it’s what’s in yours but without the cream. Stay with cappuccino until you’re feeling daring.” She stirred her drink and asked, “How is Millicent?” and took a sip.
Edward said, “Off to Prague I believe. Needed some materials for some fancy device and everyone needed a holiday.”
Abigail nodded knowingly, “Ah yes…she planned to show Rachael the Astronomical clock and the Jewish Quarter. You didn’t go?”
Edward said quietly, “I was asked, but I wanted to return to my life.”
Abigail set down her drink and knitted her brows and then said, “You weren’t in the group I met last October.” Edward grimaced and took a drink and said, “I was with someone else…Millicent…” he paused, “…I suppose the best word is Millicent ransomed me.” He waved his hands and said, “I am sure it sounds all ridiculously dramatic.”
Abigail was quiet for a moment then set her cup down and put a hand to her mouth and said, “Oh dear God. I am SO sorry about Athena. She…we didn’t know…” her voice trailed off.
Edward shrugged and smiled and said, “One hardly wears a sign proclaiming one’s weaknesses.” Then he squinted his eyes and looked at her sideways and said, “Although I wonder if signs are needed with that daughter of yours…” Abigail stuttered, but Edward waved it away saying, “It has been a long day and it isn’t noon. I know she meant well.”
Abigail took a sip of her espresso and said, “I’ve talked with Simone and Eleanor.”
Edward sighed and eyed the second cookie, but finished his drink. “Then you have an idea. There are few people who do.”
Abigail leaned forward, her eyes burning, “I worked with people who had collars. It is a barbaric practice. And some damn council, a thousand light years away , allows it to happen then has the temerity to say we are primitive.” Edward was speechless at the outburst. Abigail pointed to his empty cappuccino bowl and said, “You need a refill and you haven’t finished your sweet.”
He sputtered, “You know about all this business of Guilds and star travel.”
Abigail laughed richly and said, “Millicent didn’t tell you. Of course she didn’t, that is two that she owes me now. Edward, I am one of Millicent’s former contractors.” She looked him over and asked, “If you must know I was a part time student and bar maid in Mad King George’s reign.”
Edward laughed saying, “That’s absurd.”
Abigail smiled and sipped her espresso saying, “Any less absurd than being held captive and tortured by a creature from another planet on an airship that can travel between stars? And for nearly a year no less.” Edward stayed silent. Abigail continued, “You must have spent some time around Jason, Rachael and Simone while they were studying those lab books.”
Edward scratched his head, “I knew enough physics to get me by in my courses. But the conversations among those three never made any sense to me. They talk of light having a fixed speed. Then they talked of nothing going faster,” then he held his finger up as if proving something, “But wait! We are going to hide where it doesn’t matter and go much faster.” He shook his head held his hands up in resignation, “Those three were superior in theory than the rest of us.“ He rub his chin and said, “If they hadn’t ended up with Millicent, they would never have had a chance to show how much they truly know, I suppose.”
Abigail looked heavenward and said, “ Then you don’t understand and I get to explain relativistic theory to you.” She looked back at him and said, “I think I shall cable Millicent and explain her debts carefully and how she will be repaying…Edward, I was a contractor for Millicent. Everything you say will make sense to me. There may be things that are confusing and I will explain them as best I can. But, what I tell you needs to remain mum. It is a rule I lived by for twenty years. Only in the last few months have my daughter and lover known anything about my previous life. “ She leaned back and said, “So why don’t you start at the beginning.”
And like that, Edward began to tell his story: the seemingly innocuous contract, the visit by the strange woman who showed him the hidden clauses. Abigail snickered at that and explained that it was probably Millicent in disguise. He doubted but Abigail simply wagged her finger at him. She called over her daughter and passed an order and another cappuccino appeared. He spoke of Smith’s collaring. He left out details but he was certain she knew how it was done. He described the assault on Smith’s flat and how they fled. She asked some interesting questions and filled in details he hadn’t known. And he described the weeks on the Isle of Skilly: his desolation, loss and loneliness. She commented that he had held up remarkably well. Prisoners of war usually have comrades for support. He had no one and managed to retain a scrap of sanity. Finally he described Millicent’s bargain and his eventual release and recovery. Time had passed quickly and the room was getting crowded. The woman at the counter was looking worried and annoyed in their direction.