We introduce John Smith and Winifred Stanhope. Winifred is the perfect accomplice for Smith: she is devious, cruel, and ruthless. In the Omicron Matter, he starts losing control over her direction which cause no end of problems.
This section reads well after a rough start. I cut ruthlessly and I ended up cutting out the transition dialogue and fencing match to this critical point. The story would read better with that back in place, but I am trying to stick with my limitations. You can read the full section in the second half of John Smith Signs His Candidates.
For your reading pleasure. Look for more on Tuesday (if I get the section edited today!)
Smith Meets Winifred Stanhope
Winifred Stanhope called a halt and took off her helmet and saluted with a raised sword. “Mr. Smith, you technique is a bit rough but you are very quick.”
Smith took off his helmet and saluted in return. “Miss Stanhope, your technique is excellent for one who proclaims to find the ‘rules’ boring.” After the usual screening by the butler, Winifred had brought him into the home gymnasium. Smith had explained the travel offer, but Winifred Stanhope was not interested. Smith mentioned that his client occasional had fencing bouts . Would she care to try her skills against him? The match followed.
As they cooled down, Smith said, “Some of my clients matches are ‘less regimented’ than our little dance here.”
She eyed her blade speculatively, “Really? Now I am intrigued. Tell me about these ‘less regimented’ matches.”
John Smith considered her for a moment. This conversation was playing out like a fencing match: his proposal, her parry and riposte. Her attack, his parry and riposte. “All the matches are betting matches. The bets are on just about every aspect: numbers of hits, length of the match,” after a pause, “first blood.”
She smiled at the last statement and ran her finger along the dulled blade. “I am fascinated indeed. What are the wagers? Anything other than money?”
Smith smiled and bowed. This conversation was going in a very positive direction, “That depends on the bettor and the match. Money is the most common wager, but there are other stakes. Contracts, houses, or slaves.” Winifred raised an eyebrow. Smith said, “It is a primitive culture. Matches are also used to settle disputes. Those matches are usually ‘last one standing’.”
“You make it sound positively ‘gladiatorial’.”
Smith shrugged said, “The best matches are. Good competitors are quite valued. If you had a patron, he or she would doubly value you because of your skills in mechanics.”
Stanhope put her sabre at rest on the ground. She eyed him and then said, “Why ever should anyone wanting my fencing abilities care about my engineering skills? Or visa versa?”
Smith was definitely feeling on the defense. “ Matches may also be contests involving new weapons – not just swords. Similarly, others may be interested in period conflict and would appreciate your skill in recreating some historical devices especially around the contests. You would be asked to design new weapons.”
She looked at him evenly, “This is not sounding like a summer jaunt to the Caribbean, Mr. Smith. How long is this contract really? I am entertainment, producer of garden fancies, and new weapons? And in six weeks?”
He cleaned his sword and returned it to the rack. He looked up at wall full of devices domination and restraint: whips, manacles, masks and more. He fingered one carefully oiled and supple whip and asked, “Your new job in the fall – what will you be doing?”
She sighed, “I expect I will start drafting small gears and levers to go with new machines that will go into factories that make clothes or armaments.”
He moved to a mask that seemed to cover the head by held the mouth open and said, “But you won’t be designing the machines that use those gears or levers; nor will you be even close to designing the armaments that are produced. You’ll be expected to use tried and true materials and principles as well – nothing chancy.”
“I will be just out of University. No one would let such an inexperienced person have any responsibility,” she said somewhat bitterly.
He moved to a third object – a set of straps and examined as he said, “With my client, you would have sole responsibility for design and production. I could guarantee that you would work with materials that are unlike any you have worked with before. But the duration will be longer than six weeks.”
“Your client might be a fool to let someone with such inexperience handle matters.”
“My client has other interests than producing goods at the lowest cost.” He faced her and waved at the assortment of implements. “So many interesting devices, yet so little opportunity use them. A collection, I assume. I imagine it’s hard to find …partners willing to submit to such activity.”
Miss Stanhope eyed him carefully and said slowly, “I think of it more as a hobby and finding ‘partners’ as you call them is no problem. Alfred is resourceful.” The voice was normal, but her look had a bit of anger in it.
Smith smiled continued, “Perhaps I overstep my bounds or assume too much. If the contests I have suggested can occasionally be fought to the last one standing, such diversions as these,” he said waving to the wall, “might not raise an eyebrow. Why, there might even been things not imagined on this wall. New dimensions to your collection…excuse me, your hobby. I have some samples back in my office, but I hadn’t thought to bring any.”
She stared at him and then at the wall. She bowed slightly, “Why Mr. Smith. For the first time in this conversation, you surprise me. Anyone who discerns the nature of that wall is so heartily disturbed that they run for the door…if they can, or so heartily offended that they march for the door never to be seen again. You seem not the least bit disturbed.”
“Miss Stanhope, in addition to your services as engineer and fencer, I can guarantee an audience for your creative skill in this area,” he waved to the wall. “My client and his friends are quite exotic.” He said quietly, “I offer you a job in leadership, adventure, limitless designing, and an opportunity to sate some of your more base interests. Do I have your interest?”
“It is undivided. But I find such things have costs.”
Smith moved closer to her and said, “The duration of employment is far longer than I indicated before. And the location is so remote that you will lose contact with everyone here. Some find such terms a burden. However, one such as yourself is richly compensated. At the end of your contract, you would be wealthy beyond imagination. “
“Mr. Smith, you most certainly have my interest. Who else is getting such an offer?”
Smith shrugged, “ So far I have signed Neville Carter-Fraser, Edward Wayland, and Simone Campbell. But they have a different agreement than you. I am also looking at Findley Brown“
“Ah Findley Brown. He has similar hobbies as myself. He is a believer in firm discipline. Apparently he has less opportunity indulge in it. The others are engineers but dreadfully boring. Why would my contract be different?“
“Your talents would be wasted as a servant. Your vitality is far more interesting without restraint. Those other recruits are, as you say, dreadfully boring. They will find their contracts far more restrictive. In fact, with these new recruits, I may need an assistant experienced in training and I think your experience will be invaluable.”
“Training?” she asked.
Smith looked at her, “Bluntly put, I need the others submissive by the time we reach our destination. I will have tools to assist, but I think you know how such a goal will be reached.”
Winifred Stanhope considered him for a moment. She put her sabre on the holding rack and moved over to the wall of bondage devices. She pulled down a simple riding crop and flicked. “They don’t know, do they?” She asked shortly.
“Of course not, Miss Stanhope. The herd never knows where it is being led until it is too late. I do hope this won’t be an issue. You do not seem one who deals well in the herd. Better to have you leading it. ”
She returned the riding crop and lifted a set of restraints and eyed them speculatively, “You are quite right, of course. You may want to consider Mr. Brown’s assistance as well. He is an excellent man with a sabre and his work with restraints is simply an art form.”
“Your fencing team is truly remarkable,” Smith said.
“Findley and I were quite in sync as captains,“ she smiled innocently and then put the manacles back in place. “He is not perfect. His engineering skills are serviceable if unimaginative in large machines. I find that he lets his temper control him a bit too much. He is easy to goad and gets careless when he is angry. However, if we channel that anger, I think you’ll find him quite competitive. And I found his techniques in our private sessions with guests breath taking. ”
“Miss Stanhope, here is my offer. You will travel to destinations far beyond your imagination and will be unlikely to return. You will be asked to work as a competitor in games that could be injurious or even fatal. You will be asked to build and design items as required by your patron. I will see to it that you have prime authority over others in your group. Unlike the others, I will add some clauses that will allow you to buy out your contract from your patron. The pay is substantial but you will be expected to cover your own expenses.”
“Bring a copy of the contract for me and Alfred to review. He is a remarkably astute reader and can spot loop holes. Bring some of these samples you talk about and some examples of work I might be expected to do. I will consider. I am very much interested in the details.” She called Alfred, “Show Mr. Smith out. He will be returning with information…And send the new girl, I find this match has left me quite spent.”
Smith left smiling and Alfred nodded politely as he left. Smith would not waste her on a standard contract. Hers would have more independence. She understood the weaknesses of others and she seemed perfectly willing to exploit those weaknesses to her benefit. Finally he had found an inhabitant that could work with the galaxy. He hailed a taxi for his row house. He needed to write up the new contract and find some samples to intrigue Winifred Stanhope.