A Quiet Fight – Fight or Flight?


steampunk-computer

Fabio Freitas E Silva | Dreamstime.com – Steam punk vintage computer

Abigail had a workshop in the basement of the cafe. Her specialty was small mechanical engineering. While traveling with Millicent, she had made substantial profit with her music boxes just as Stephan had made substantial profit with his metallurgy skills. Even though her tools were small, Stephan could do work with them. His problem was determining what to do. Abigail had a device that could detect the Uycarran ships when they travel. But they could not be detected when stationary. Stephan was inclined to finding the ships first. Abigail, while not dismissive of his thoughts, wanted more action.
She pointed to Regent’s Park on the screen. “We know where they are. We just have to find them. Three ships that size are going to leave a mark somewhere. We need to be able to fight them.”
Stephan paced the room, “We don’t have weapons.”
Abigail took a rifle off the wall and dropped it on the table, “How many of these do you want? We’ve got the materials: magnets, steel and power sources.”
Stephan waved his hand at the shinning rifle, “None of those are going to be high grade enough.”
Abigail leaned on the table, “That is bollocks and you know it. You could forge the steel. At the University if you have to. There is enough Neodymium at the University and the Museum to create dozens of rifles.”
Stephan leaned in and said, “Power sources?”
Abigail said slyly, “My trips to Africa haven’t been all for coffee. Nigeria has high grade Uranium. I’ll have to separate it, but it is very enriched.”
Stephan put a hand to his hand and snapped, “Jesus Abby…you keep that around here?”
Abigail said in a low angry tone, “Behind lead and in a safe.” She crossed her arms, “Face it Stephan. This isn’t about weapons. You don’t want to fight.”
“We can’t win”
“We won’t if we don’t try.”
Stephan stormed out of the room shouting, “I could never argue with you.”
She shouted back, “Because I was always right.”
Stephan slammed the door and the frame rattled. He headed for the dining room. Jolene saw him, handed her apron to Stephanie and then grabbed two coats off the tree. She said, “Let’s take a walk. I’ve always wanted to see the University.” Stephan grumbled as she helped put on his coat, but joined her in the walk.
Outside, she put her arm in his as they walked towards the University Quad. The tulips were just beginning to show. They walked in silence past the bare trees just beginning to bud with spring. They stopped in front of the Science and Engineering building. Stephan said, “This wasn’t here when I attended.” He shrugged, “We only had the one building and two dormitories.” He looked back at the rows of adult maple trees. “These weren’t here either…I think it was a pasture.”
Jolene said, “I think they look good.”
“London was smaller and easier to understand. There were the docks; there were the tenements; there was the palace; and there were the homes for the Lords visiting the king.”
“The king?”
“It was the king back then.”
Jolene sat on a bench that looked over a fountain that was also new to Stephan. “It was rougher. It was dirtier. You didn’t know there were problems because people accepted the conditions as normal. England traded slaves for rum and women stayed in the house.”
Stephan harumphed but sat down next to Jolene. They watched birds land on the fountain, bathe and fly away. She asked, “This doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen you face down a half dozen thugs in our bar armed with a chair. You’ve thrown Chester and Cedric out. Why are you avoiding a fight that will have to happen?”
“The thugs were drunk and poorly armed. That isn’t the case this time. They have ships that could incinerate a Man o’ War and not shake for a cup of tea.”
She put her hands in her pockets, “You’ve never talked about your travels…before.”
Stephan rubbed his hands in the cold, “I couldn’t. I wasn’t supposed to talk about what we might be.”
She frowned, “You couldn’t before. Millicent’s conversation has changed that a bit. Besides, aliens don’t seem to be hiding as much as they used to.” She looked at him, “To hear Abigail talk, life out there was pretty good. You could drink the water. The pay, working conditions and food were pretty good. You saw new things and made discoveries.” She looked at him intensely, “Why did you come back?”
Stephan leaned into her. “Don’t suppose I could say you?”
Jolene gave a loud snort, “Ha. I know better now. Seeing as I wasn’t born when you left, that excuse is off the table.”
Stephan gave his own mirthless chuckle. He watched a robin poking in the ground for grubs. “Some of it was missing home – Food that I remember; plants that look normal; seasons that change.” He leaned back, “I was tired too. It wasn’t all sweetness and light. When we traveled, we encountered bandits. Or locals that were angry with some slight of Millicent’s another trader. Or other traders who were not happy with our work. We got shot at. Not often, but enough to keep me edgy.” He frowned a bit, “And then we saw how other species and worlds lived. Some were simply amazing…wonders that have to be experienced. But there were other places that were dark, dirty and mean…like London was. Slaves were traded. People starved. Hatred for this or that. Millicent kept us safe. But I had thought all that knowledge and technology would make people better. Or that a different race would see beyond trivial differences. After a point, London and England started to seem safe and enlightened.” He stared at the fountain. “There isn’t a whole lot Earth can offer other planets. Just the people and the land.”
“Is that why you think the …visitors are here for slaves?”
“Stands to reason. I don’t know for sure, but I can’t think what else they would want especially when they are skulking about. Not even Smith did that.” Stephan found a stick and threw in the direction of the fountain. “What is Cedric and Chester’s angle on this. Arrogant assholes.”
Jolene stayed quiet and slipped her hand into Stephan’s pocket. “You’ve taken Chester and Cedric and their gang in Dunstable.”
Stephan sighed, “Aye. Hell, I could probably take those idiots even with their special weapons.”
Jolene asked, “So if you could find them and break them up while they are away from the visitors what would happen?”
Stephan shrugged, “Without local support, the Uycarrans will steal what they want and leave. Or make contact with another group.” He eyed her, “Finding the local support will be hard.”
Jolene, “Isn’t that what Wynn and Edward are supposed to be doing?”
Stephan stroked his beard, “Still, if we can start getting locals while they are hiding, that would take the wind out of the Uycarran sails.” He looked at her, “You are a dangerous woman.”
She took her hand away and looked her nails, “Stephan Miller, I take umbrage to that remark.” She buffed the nails, “I have merely pointed out your prowess against London posh dandies. And pointed out that if we find them, they should be no problem regardless of some strange weapons. Now if you reach some conclusion beyond that, I bear no responsibility.”
He put his arm around her and said in her ear, “We can talk about conclusions back at the cafe.”
“Really…we will scandalize Stephanie. Besides, you owe an apology to Abigail. She was right.”
He stood and pulled her up, “If that is my penance, I accept it.” He moved back towards the cafe at a brisk pace, “If Wynn and Edward can get the information, we will show those posh bastards what a proper fight is.”

Back in the cafe, Stephan returned to the basement. Abigail was working on the induction rifle, “Your wife talked sense into you.”
Stephan sat across from her, “She opened my mind to something that might be practical. If Wynn and Edward can get us a better sense of who is in this gang, we can attack the gang. We can’t attack the Uycarrans directly and expect to win.”
Abigail closed up a panel and looked at him, “I don’t know about that, but locals are far easier to deal with. We have no evidence we could turn over to the police. Not trial is possible. How far are we willing to go with this?”
Stephan ran fingers through his head and asked, “How many died in the Wellington Barracks?”
Abigail leaned on the table, “Beatrice says 136 so far. There are 60 who are still in hospital with major wounds. We both know what chance they have in London hospitals.”
Stephan looked up, “Seems to me, they acted in severe violence against the crown. I think we can be allowed to exercise severe measures.”
“Will the others go along?”
“Wynn yes. Jolene won’t like it but will see the reasons. Don’t know about Edward. They are or were his friends.”
“What about Kimberly and Stephanie?”
“They shouldn’t be here.”
“They are. Stephanie will probably follow Jolene. Kimberly…” He raised his hands, “She defends herself well enough. Is she willing to kill? Don’t know.” He asked,“What about your niece?”
Abigail glared at him. He smiled at her discomfiture, “We can provide Beatrice a list of names and she can tell us what she can do. If she says nothing, we ask her to not look too closely when toffs start disappearing…”
Stephan said, “We are talking about London gentry. You think London police are going to ignore that?”
Abigail shrugged, “Their deaths will be mysterious as the barracks attack.”
Stephan stood up and stretched, “The gang will go to ground after two or three die.”
Abigail wrinkled her nose, “We can hope there are clues. In any case, weslowed them down. We also are going to find out the Uycarran commitment on this. The Uycarrans could hunt us down just as easily.”
Stephan rubbed the back of his head, “That is what is keeping me up at night.”
Abigail said, “We are going to need more weapons. If we pick off two or three toffs, the rest will go to ground soon enough.

Author’s Note

I’ve skipped some sections in my book – Chester selling weapons, the New Order celebrating and planning. But I’ve been building reluctance into Stephan.  I thought I needed to look at how he decides to work instead of hide.

I hope the New Year is finding people full of hope and creativity.

 

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