Millicent is the core of the story. She didn’t start out that way, but she end up at there. This is the first chapter I wrote about her. To be honest, it needed a fair bit of work and still needs some. As an introduction, it won’t grab you by the throat and say “read me”. But her wit and style are on full display. She evolved as I wrote. The Omicron Matter has allowed me to build some complexity into her past that I especially like. She is hiding from her past.
Again, I cut ruthlessly although I have fewer regrets about the cuts in this chapter. We miss her arrival on Earth, her adaptation to Earth and her walk across campus. I had to shorten some of the dialog which was painful but probably for the best. The full version, “The Finder” can be found on the link
For your enjoyment. Look for another reprise on Thursday
The Finder Meets the Dean
A short ride later, she arrived at the University and paid the coachman to wait. She proceeded to the main building. The architecture was reminiscent of medieval castles being adorned with turrets, having arrow slits as windows and parapets at the roof. Gargoyles disgorged rainwater in the all too frequent rain of this city. However the gargoyles on this building were frequently caricatures of past politicians rather than demons. Students parted before her as she kept a quick pace somehow recognizing that she held authority that was not to be blocked.
The finder entered quickly the Dean’s office quickly and decisively, greeting the secretary, “Miranda, it has been far too long. ”
The matronly secretary looked up severely at first and then immediately warmed. “Millicent! Millicent Morgaine! It is always a surprise. Dr. Mill will be quite peeved that you did not warn of us of your arrival.”
The tall woman sat with a hip on the desk in a comfortable fashion and said, “And you’ll savor every moment of it. Let’s not warn him now. How are your children?”
The two women made small talk for a few minutes. Millicent Morgaine found out about the marriage of the last of Miranda’s children, the arrival of grandchildren and the unsuitability of the current government. Shortly, a man and woman came out of the inner office angrily with a baritone voice calling out after them. “Come back with real cuts and less palaver about how important you are. Or I will make my own. Find a damn patron if you need more money.”
The two slammed the large door decisively and stormed off. Millicent observed the situation, “I can’t imagine that helped their cause.”
Miranda sighed and said, “He is dealing with department budgets right now. More cuts from the pack of fools up in parliament. We have amazing people doing incredible things but it ‘cutting taxes to stimulates growth’. More like it stimulates the growth of fat cronies of the PM. Regardless, it is Dean Mill that gets to tell our people they have to do more with less.”
Millicent got up and straightened her skirt and said “Well then I shall disturb him presently. Perhaps my presence will brighten his mood.” Millicent said mischievously. Millicent went through the right side of the double doors. A balding head was hunched over a large desk. On one side, was a hand crank adding device. A gas lamp illuminated stacks of paper. A cold cup of tea sat at one corner of the desk. Dean and Professor Henry Mill concentrated on his accounts without acknowledging her presence. She took a moment to survey the room. A set of diagrams on the drafting table showed a steam powered motor that lifted a room up to the second story of a building. A table on the other side of the room showed tests of tensile strength of various materials such as hemp, steel cable, chains and so on.
“Ingenious…but what happens if the rope breaks?” Millicent commented.
The Dean did not look up and said and grumbling voice, “Hmph… I am working on an alternating ratchet stop system…Who let you into the room?… Millicent?! Must you always surprise me? Is it too much to ask for an appointment?”
Millicent moved to the table with the moving rooms and said, “Alternating ratchet systems are unreliable. It is a good start to prove it works, but you will need something else. Thing about this idea… what if you engaged brakes once movement exceeded a set speed? Oh it is always a pleasure to see you as well. Attach a device to the axel of your main pulley based on something like this.“
She quickly drew a sketch on the chalk board opposite the drafting table.
“As the pulley moves the weighted spheres will go outward pulling the stay up. The faster the pulley moves, the harder the pull. You now have a dynamic brake. Put the ratchet on that”
The Professor glanced at the diagram and stroked his greying beard. He asked, “What happens when it slows down?”
“Your ratchet keeps the brake in place until the room stops or goes slow to the ground. You’ll probably want a backup for that ratchet,” Millicent said.
Professor Henry Mill considered the device. “I am not convinced you never went to University”
“Oh I’ve gone to what you might call a university. How are you doing old friend?”
He responded, “You know you could be a professor here. I could find you a position as an adjunct in mechanical engineering. ..Ah well, you certainly aren’t strained for money”
“Hardly. Your family is well?” She asked.
“Small talk doesn’t suit you Millicent. Every time you visit it is for something. The only matter, it seems to me is what you are looking for. Some arcane machine? A set of encyclopedias?” The professor sat and leaned back in the chair.
“Henry, you do me a disservice. I can make small talk quite well. You just don’t suffer it from those who should know better. We really should visit a pub some afternoon for a pint and darts. “ Millicent sat opposite the dean.
Professor Mill snorted at the thought.
Millicent pulled a list out of her satchel and continued, “Here is a list of my latest requirements. Most of these you’ve seen before – some boilers, machining equipment, milling machines (that is new), laboratory glassware. I also have some job openings. I need engineers who are willing to travel extensively. “
The Professor examined the equipment list. He commented, “You are a bit late for engineers. The best have already signed contracts. Those not on holiday have started work. “
“Have all your graduating students found commensurate work?”, she asked and raised her eyebrows.
“Of course not – the economy is not that good,” Professor Mill donned spectacles to review the list.
“So your view of excellence and mine may differ. You English seem far too caught up with linage. Find me someone with good practical scores, was on scholarship, has loose family ties and needs a job. This fee will be different. I’ll front some money for your efforts, but if I find people who sign, that £100,000 deficit of yours will disappear.“
He looked over his spectacles at her. He put the paper down and then eaned back from the desk and put his hand across his belly. He had gained a bit of weight as of late – too many meals in the office and not enough walking. He looked outside at the courtyard. He asked, “Millicent Morgaine, who are you? No care for family or status. Knowledge that you shouldn’t have about budgets and engineering. A woman of considerable means and no history or address. “
Millicent waved a hand and said, “I am someone who can ease your considerable deficit if that list is completed and I get the right people.”
“What do you need these people for?”
“A long project overseas. The remoteness makes filling the position…difficult.”
Henry Mill resumed his gaze on the courtyard and said, “It seems you are not the only one seeking such items and people.”
News of a Competitor
Millicent’s attention suddenly leapt. “Really? What do you mean?”
Smith turned back to her and continued examining the paper list and said, “A gentleman arrived here a month ago with excellent credentials. Went by the name of ‘John Smith’. He asked for, among other things, engineers with specialties in electronics. It seems the market for parlor fancies has increased significantly. Funny thing, he also said ‘loose family ties’ was helpful. Not necessary, mind you. He still wanted top notch.”
“And what did he offer in return? Idle curiosity, mind you,” Millicent crossed her hands on her lap and asked in a steady tone.
Dr. Mill smiled thinly and said, “Of course, idle curiosity. He showed me some fascinating initial work on transforming crude oil into a more flammable substance. “ He pulled out a pad of paper with a formula and a diagram of a distilling device. “Just enough, mind you, but not enough for me to do anything on my own. He hinted that mechanical devices might use this substance for fuel.”
Her fears heightened. This could only be another finder. A competitor on HER grounds? It was appalling and highly irregular. Things like this happened, but over harvesting had devastated more than one culture. The biggest loser in such competition was inevitably the home world. The participants typically lost a great deal in such competition or at least one did, but not as much as the planet they were fighting over. For that reason, her Guild had required agents to register sources and other agents were only allowed to work with permission. Not everyone played by the rules.
She leaned forward and said, “Did he say how to contact him?”
“Do you?” he replied tartly. “No, of course not. He did not. I provided him with a set of names and received an initial fee, but he never followed up with the complete formula he had dangled in front of me. “ He put the sheet of paper back in the drawer and then leaned back.
Millicent sat up and then said quietly, “This is a matter of some concern to me and I ask a favor now. I still need my own list completed and I would like that list of engineers who match my qualifications. But I would greatly appreciate seeing the list of people you gave him.”
“Doesn’t that violate confidentiality and all that?” Professor Mill inquired. “Were I to try and do business with him again, I will have violated his trust.”
Millicent looked at her fingernails and said, “He didn’t keep his side of the bargain so you are hardly bound.” She stood up and began to pace and crossed her arms as she spoke, “It is hard to explain, but this is a serious business conflict on his part. It brings into question his ethics. Because of the nature of …my business, I wish to check on the people on his list. I have my worries about his practices.” Millicent tried to project a confidence she did not feel.
“I see. Why do I feel like a shuttlecock in a badminton match? If he comes back and finds out I gave him your list, what is my penalty? I know little about you; I know nothing about him. Am I to expect plaid coated ruffians waiting at the door? A note from a solicitor to appear before the bar? Is this violation of his enough to protect me from mischief? ” Dr. Mill fidgeted with an inkwell as he fretted over the possibilities.
Millicent faced him, her brows knitted and said, “Henry, please trust me on this matter. If it makes you feel any better, you are under my protection as a supplier. Should he return, mention that you already do business with me. I assure you the penalties for interfering with suppliers are quite severe in my Guild. However, I am less sanguine about the candidates you provided to him.”
Henry considered for a moment. He then opened another of the many drawers in his desk and pulled out a slip of paper. He then copied five names on a new sheet. “Here is the list I gave him. Miranda should be able supply addresses for them. They will be slightly different as you specified ‘scholarship’ students.”
Millicent snatched the paper quickly and said, “Henry, I am most grateful. With a bit of luck, you may never hear from this gentleman again. In any case, I will leave a means of contacting me quickly with Miranda. Should he arrive again, I can be here within an hour. For you information I will be staying at the Savoy next to Hyde Park. “
Professor Mill leaned on the desk and said, “A contact address? This really is a concern isn’t it? This isn’t just some dodgy dandy asking for recommendations.”
“I hope it turns out to be a tempest in a teapot and I do appreciate your letting me know.” She put on a warm smile, “In the meantime, I look forward to your usual excellent results with my little acquisition catalog”
Professor Mill sighed dramatically, “How is it that you convince me to do the things I do? The list will be easy. I will review last year’s graduates and see who seems to fit. The items may take a month to round up but I should have prices for you by the end of next week”
Millicent tucked the list of names in the satchel saying, “My sparkling personality and extensive bank account surely makes things easier.” She held out her hand and said, “I will transfer the necessary money into your account for bargaining purpose. Always a pleasure doing business with you. Let me know if you would like more tips on that item you’re working on”.