Smith and Others On the Train to South Hampton
John Smith sat in the train carriage rumbling from Bristol to Southampton looking at the snow covered countryside passing by. He and the remaining contractors joined Alfred Redman and Winifred Stanhope in Bristol. They had found suitable lodging for the entire group.
Smith flew the ship to Bristol. He and Camille used a forgotten warehouse on the wharf to hide the ship. Camille would run diagnostics while they were gone. Smith had also procured iron, coal and some other metals so that she could replenish her depleted arsenal of drones. After the affair in Paddington, there were precious few left.
Winifred was displaying significantly more control of her hand and her temper. Enough so that he and Camille showed her the additional features on her hand. After some practice, she was able to open the knife discreetly and not burn herself with the hand warmer.
All six sat in the same carriage. It was crowded, but it allowed free conversation and he could keep an eye on Edward Wayland in case Mr. Wayland still harbored any delusions of freedom. They had been on the train two hours and probably had another three before arriving at South Hampton, when Neville Carter-Frasier, surprisingly, said, “Sir, I have a question.” Smith nodded and Neville continued, “Why do you need to meet with Morgaine? Surely those miscreants have nothing we want.”
Smith gave Neville a small reward through the collar and Neville closed his eyes briefly. Smith answered, “Good question Neville. Those ‘miscreants’, as you call them, managed to rescue Eleanor Woodson, drove us out of a very nice house, and currently hold Simone Campbell. And Miss Campbell is alive despite my or Miss Stanhope’s efforts. So those ‘miscreants’ should not be dismissed lightly.” He looked around and saw he had nearly everyone’s attention save Edward Wayland. Smith delivered a small jolt, Wayland jerked and then faced the group. His eyes had dark circles underneath. Smith continued, “Second, Morgaine possesses some knowledge I want. And, if it is what I think it is, we will need those miscreants to help build the device.” Smith looked at his nails and said, “And I want Miss Campbell back or compensation.”
Winifred’s eyes flashed, “So we will be getting her back?”
Smith said in a tired voice, “Doubtful. I will put in a pro forma demand. But Morgaine objects to my control devices.” Edward snorted. Smith glared at him and Edward flinched. Smith decided to do nothing this time and continued, “She objects to my control methods so I expect she will offer to buy Miss Campbell’s contract out.”
Winifred leaned back, clearly disappointed, and said, “Why bother? They seemed to have neutralized its effects.”
Smith said, “I doubt her solution is permanent. Plus Morgaine will find she needs to get back the Guild and plead her case. If she is going to meet with them, she needs everything in order back here. And if I lodge a complaint about interference, her pleas for… forbearance on other matters will be ignored. ”
Findley Brown asked, “Why do you think she needs to see the Guild?”
Smith said, “Because the Guild is planning to take over the Earth.”
Neville said excitedly, “Then you’ve won!” Wayland’s eyes flashed darkly and his fists clinched, but he said nothing. Findley Brown’s and Winifred Stanhope’s eyes narrowed speculatively.
Smith looked at Neville and said, “Morgaine was right. I probably never needed to put a collar on you Neville.” Smith provided another slightly larger reward and Neville sighed a bit. Wayland rolled his eyes but said nothing. Smith added, “But I find the collar far more reliable. In any case, Neville jumped to a wrong conclusion. However, I do appreciate that you ventured to think it out.”
Alfred Redman cleared his throat and said, “I am afraid I jumped to the same conclusion. If Morgaine has to return to the Guild, then you will have free reign here.”
Smith leaned back and said, “If the Guild takes over, they will distribute resources across multiple finders. I will certainly profit, but there will be all sorts of odious restrictions. So in this, Morgaine and I are on the same side. You are far more valuable without Guild over sight. Our reasons might be different, but neither of us wants outside control of Earth.
Edward asked quietly, “What does Guild control mean?”
Smith smiled darkly at Edward Wayland, “No relief for you.” Then to the rest of the group, “I suppose you could think of India and the British Empire. They’ll set up a bit of local control and the finders will sell your resources and goods at a handsome profit.”
Redman asked, “Resources like coal or iron?”
Smith said, “Hardly. Those are more valuable to use here setting up factories and transportation. There are a few odd minerals, some odd flora and fauna. The real value is the working bodies. You have plenty of those. And you should be very glad you already have a contract. Those that aren’t sent to the rest of the galaxy as pets or slaves will be working very hard to produce something for somewhere else.
Winifred gets advice from Alfred
Winifred settled into her hotel room in Southampton. The two “assistants” Alfred had procured had been brought along to Bristol. The teen boy and girl were paid a half crown daily each for their entertainment services. With all of the movement and activity, Winifred decided that, for a half crown, they could make themselves useful in other fashions and so they were hanging and straightening her clothes from the journey.
She left the two to finish the task and found Alfred’s room and entered without knocking. He was hanging the last of his clothes and ironing shirts. A number of weapons were laid out on the bed. Winifred looked at the arsenal as she leaned on the door post and said, “I knew you were a man concealing many things. I had no idea how useful they were.”
Alfred paused but did not turn from his task of hanging a shirt. After that was done he returned to the ironing board and then said, “Miss Stanhope, one customarily knocks and waits at best. At a minimum, one should announce oneself. It avoids unintended injury and …embarrassing encounters.”
Winifred laughed, “Is that what you call your assignations – embossing encounters?” She moved into the room and found a chair and sat. She said, “I need your thoughts. Smith has begun to worry me.”
Redman smirked and said, “Only now? A man of his power and capabilities should have worried you from the start.”
Winifred pulled a cigarette out of a case. She lifted the case towards Alfred who took one and lit hers and returned to ironing. She inhaled deeply and said, “I knew he was powerful. But his talk of this Guild and its taking over is worrisome.”
Redman ironed and said quietly, “Its goals may not inhibit yours. They may even be aligned to a degree.”
Winifred said, “I can see that, but I know nothing of this Guild. If they take over…”
Alfred added, “Which seems likely”
Winifred waived her hand irritated and said, “Fine…when they take over…They put someone in charge and use the rest for labor or export. I don’t know what they will be looking for leaders.”
Alfred ironed his shirt and got rid of some ash, “But the actual ‘taking over’ is of no consequence?”
Winifred got up and paced the room, “You yourself have seen the tools they wield and the knowledge they have. It is inevitable. If we can’t beat them, I would rather be with the group on top.”
Alfred put the iron up and leaned back on the wall, “You should have spent more time John O’Malley. He is the man to deal with logic. But let’s examine your choice. You assume the Guild will be on top at the end of events. They will choose someone to place in power. So how do you maximize your likelihood of controlling who is in power?”
Winifred put her hands out in exasperation and said, “That is what I just said in fewer words.”
Alfred continued unfazed by her protest, “Smith has said he doesn’t want Guild control. Morgaine will likely not want Guild control of Earth – she can’t stand Smith here.” Alfred stood up and pointed his cigarette at her and said, “As an exercise, let’s change your assumption. What if the Guild fails to take control of Earth? Now what is the outcome?”
Winifred paced, “I don’t know. Things would stay the same. Things could change. Given what might have to happen, things will like change.”
Alfred said, “So change is inevitable. So …do you have more influence if you oppose the Guild or support it?
Winifred said, “If I oppose the Guild and it wins, I lose influence. If I support the Guild and it loses, I lose influence. This is not helping.”
Alfred tsked and said, “Lass you’ve been hanging around Neville and Edward too long. So very negative. Flip those statements into positives.”
Winifred shouted, “Fine. If I support the Guild and it wins, I gain influence. If I oppose the Guild and they lose, I gain influence. How does this help!” She took a drag hoping the nicotine would calm her. She paced the room for a bit and Alfred said nothing but returned to his ironing. Finally she said, “So all this hinges on whether the Guild wins or loses here.”
Redman smiled at her from the ironing board, “I knew you’d get it.”
Winfred folded her arms and said quietly, “Condescending bastard,” but there was a smile as she said it.
Redman put his hand on his chest and said dramatically, “You wrong me. I would never mock my betters.” He picked up the shirt and hung it in the wardrobe and turned to her and said, “Now you need to find out from Smith if he wants this Guild to survive and make your choice accordingly.”
Winifred said, “What if he doesn’t want it to?”
Redman said, “I suppose you’ll have a choice to make. But I’ll say this. Do not underestimate Smith. Certainly don’t underestimate Smith and Morgaine working together. Those two could rule Europe tomorrow and Europe would be better for it.”
Winifred laughed, “Morgaine despises Smith. She would never work with him.”
Redman looked at the shirt collar with a squint eye and then spit on it and ironed a wrinkle out of it. He focused on his work as he said, “And yet they will be meeting to discuss a business deal. Your father scorns three fourths of his business associates. Half of those, he doesn’t even respect. He still manages to keep you clothed and entertained. Smith is cut from the same cloth.”
Winifred leaned on the doorway and finished her cigarette. She put the butt in the box and said, “This Guild controls Smith and Morgaine now. It seems risky for Morgaine and Smith to change course now.”
Redman put the iron at rest and said, “Smith will never venture anything he can’t come out on top of. And I will warn you a second time, do not underestimate Smith, especially if you plan to cross him.”
Winifred left the room in search of John Smith.
Edward Wayland in his hotel room
Edward Wayland stared at the ceiling as he lay on the bed. He was not chained to the bed which was a small improvement. They were in Southampton now. He could try to run. He had tried on Skilly. He had hid on the island for a day. But then the collar performed its magic. The jolts started small and came hourly. Then the intensity and frequency began to increase. After three days he crawled back to the cottage begging for it to stop. He would have done anything to make it stop and he did.
After some nominal obedience, he got the reward cycles. But the humiliation Winifred and Smith made him suffer for those moments made the pleasure taste sour. He tried to escape once more. The second time he tried a more permanent escape. He had gotten within sight of the high cliffs of the island when he received a jolt so strong he passed out. He awoke to see Smith staring at him. Smith said nothing and left the room without administering any pain. The humiliation stopped, but Smith shocked him for the slightest transgressions. He was given rewards only for real cooperation and he gave precious little of that. He learned to be mostly silent and expressionless in Smith’s presence. He passively executed requests but displayed no enterprise beyond that.
Neville was in the room with him. He was pomading his hair and humming. As Neville tied his tie, he called over his shoulder at Edward, “If you were the least cooperative, it would make life so much easier …for everybody.”
Edward stared at the ceiling and said, “I do everything I am asked to do.”
Neville grunted and undid the tie to start again. He said, “And nothing more. Camille’s drones display more initiative than you.”
Edward responded with a smile, “Camille’s drones have more freedom than I do.”
Neville finished the tie and said in protest, “You would have more freedom if you just cooperated.”
Edward looked at Neville and then went back to staring at the ceiling and asked, “Neville, why do you cooperate so much? Is the pleasure cycle that good? I’ve gotten some. They are good, but not that good. This doesn’t feel like you are being trained anymore. You’ve switched over somehow. Why?”
Neville stuttered and said, “How can you ask that? Winifred, Findley you and I have always the group. The one everyone wanted to be a part of. ”
Edward smiled at the ceiling, “Even John O’Malley. You forgot him, but then I always did as well.” Edwards sat up and looked at Neville and said, “You could have been great at electronics. Now we know how important that is. But now you’re biggest worry seems to be pleasing the masters and the mistress. You follow Smiths, Findley’s and Winifred’s whims like they are the golden path. What happened to Neville?”
Neville straightened his coat and looked at his shoes and then said, “Maybe the Neville you are thinking of never was. Winifred is sheer genius with small works. You were brilliant in chemistry. Findley was a master in physics when he bothered to apply himself. Even John was great in hydraulics. I was always second rate. Winifred, Findley and Smith have me do things and I am learning. I’m useful to them.”
Edward said, “Bollocks. Smith and Morgaine have found the cream of the crop. Between those two, they have picked the top of the class. And Mr. Carter-Fraser that includes you. Your knowledge of electronics is invaluable right now – more than my chemistry or Winifred’s small mechanical works. Only Findley Brown’s expertise might be more import, but he is a lazy sot. Don’t forget that.”
Neville said softly, “Even John O’Malley seemed to fit better than me.”
Edward replied, “That’s because he was selling himself out, just as you are doing now. But he still had enough of himself left that occasionally he let us know he wasn’t all that grateful to be in our presence.” Edward looked down for a second as he thought and said, “In a sense, I understand that he was using us, but it was to better himself. And we liked the fawning. Findley and Winifred certainly seem to like your fawning. Smith is getting an electronics expert. Ask yourself what you are getting out of this deal. Because they are using you. You need to decide if you are ok with that.”
Neville stayed quiet.
Edward leaned back on the bed and said, “I won’t be used. So no, I won’t be cooperating even if hurts a bit. Give Winifred, Findley and the toys my regards.”
Smith Explains the Rules (pt 1)
Smith was jotting notes in his notebook when Winifred Stanhope arrived. She came in purposefully and sat herself down on an armchair. Smith glanced up but returned to finish the notes in his book.
When he was done, he looked up and smiled at Winifred and said, “To what do I owe this pleasure, Winifred?”
Winifred smirked back and said, “Alfred has said I need to look to the future more frequently. Since my future is tied to yours, I would like to know a bit more about what is going on.”
Smith folded his hands in his lap and said, “Mr. Redman continues to be your best asset. What is going on, you ask. About what?”
Winifred said quickly, “Try to be less condescending. This meeting with Morgaine is about more than a business transaction. You’ll trade some goods and possibly Simone’s contract. She’ll hand you the plans to some magnificent technology. You could have managed all that with couriers in the time we spent on Skilly.”
Smith said, “I expect she’ll want a great deal more for the license to sell that ‘magnificent technology’. But you are correct, there is much more.” Smith got up and pressed a button on the fireplace. Shortly an attendant arrived and he ordered a tea service. He looked at Winifred who nodded assent while rolling her eyes. The attendant scurried away quickly.
Smith said, “I find such conversation is more pleasant over a drink and it is too early for something harder.” Winifred took a deep breath and closed her eyes, Smith noted. Good. She is learning to control her temper.
She said, “You are dawdling and I find it annoying.”
Smith sat in his chair and stared back at her and said, “I am controlling the pace of this conversation. Your annoyance is of no consequence to me. I could have given you that information when you walked into the room. Then you would have left to do who knows what. Instead, we are going to enjoy a proper tea.”
Winifred snarled, “You are losing your mind. The overrun of the house and the weeks on Skilly have finally addled you.”
Smith said, “You were doing so well at holding your temper in line. As for my mind, it is as sharp as it was when I gave you a different contract from the others.” Smith made a steeple with his fingers, “I am making a point. That you are annoyed means I am making it well. You want to know what my meeting with Millicent is about? It is about information and knowledge and who controls it. She and I know better than you possibly can, that those who have the most information and knowledge will ultimately rule one way or another.”
Winifred said, “Those of us who want that information might revolt if we don’t get we want. You try my patience John Smith. Seriously? Are we waiting for tea?”
Smith said, “Your patience is being tried for 10 minutes. Morgaine and mine have been tried for decades. We are waiting for tea if you want your information.” Winifred clenched her teeth, but said nothing more. She got up and moved around the reception room of his. The window overlooked the docks. Her hands, clasped behind her back, were clenched tightly indicating her frustration. Smith smiled at the thought. Finally the tea arrived. The attendant served the tea and left the room hurriedly. Smith watched as Winifred sat down and used her robotic hand to prepare her tea. She lifted it up to her nosed and inhaled the scent in and said haughtily, “I do find Darjeeling so aromatic.” She took a sip and set the cup down and said harshly, “There, we’ve had tea. Can we dispense with further bullshit ?
Smith said into his cup as he drank, “Language Winifred! This isn’t your basement chamber of amusement and I am not one of your street urchins.” He set his cup down and said, “What is this about? It is about the control of knowledge and information. Your annoyance at that little restraint put on you was telling. And you have no idea how big a restriction you really work under.”
Smith Explains the Rules (pt 2)
Smith got up this time and walked to the window and said, “Millicent and I come from the same planet. One that was very much like yours. Full of bright, inventive individuals. We were a world full of traders. When we finally got space travel, the galaxy was our market. Some of us were more rapacious in our dealings, “ he turned and took a small bow. “Others took pride in their honorable, if less profitable dealings…think Morgaine. Regardless of our differences in style, we were very good at controlling the markets. So much so that other traders in the galaxy formed a Guild as an economic defense. It took time, but with all the other members acting together, our home planet of traders suddenly found itself isolated and near economic collapse. We were offered limited membership in the Guild…the instrument of our collapse. If we refused, the Guild would take over and scatter us as a people and mine the planet to its core.”
Winifred was quiet now. She took a sip of the tea and said nothing. Smith nodded and continued, “You asked what this is about? I have been sent here, ostensibly under Guild request, to negotiate the transfer of control of Earth from Millicent Morgaine to the Guild.”
Winfred said quietly, “We are not the traders you and Morgaine seem to be.”
Smith smirked and said, “Hardly. The simplest child of my planet would not have been fooled by those absurd summaries I gave Neville, Edward and Simone. I learned to write contracts like that at my mother’s knee.” Smith sat down and drank some of his tea. “No…The Guild isn’t here to shut down your pathetic abilities to trade. It is worried about something much more important. You are far from the centers of politics and trade in the galaxy. That is how Morgaine and her family have managed to keep you hidden for so long. It is your abilities in science and technology that frighten the Guild.”
Winifred laughed, “That is absurd.” She held up her robotic hand and said, “This would be a hook if I didn’t die of gangrene.” She pointed to the notebook and said, “I don’t begin to understand how Camille exists or works. Your ship could burn the entire navy by itself.”
Smith said, “All of that is true. But like an older sibling who has a prodigy toddler, they can see the future. Right now they are better because they’ve been around longer. But you are catching up fast. Too fast as far as some are concerned.” He pointed to her robotic hand and asked, “How many additions have you designed now that you know its special capabilities?”
Camille, from the notebook answered for the sputtering Winifred Stanhope., “Three new designs are in testing stage. Two are still in design.”
Winifred glared at the notebook and then back at Smith, “I’ve come up with some new ideas. So what?”
Smith looked at his cup of tea and said, “The Guild fears your planet’s ability to learn and innovate just like it feared my planet’s ability to trade. It wants you controlled before things get out of hand.”
Winifred took a sip of tea and said, “And you’re here to offer terms to Millicent from the Guild.”
Smith smiled. It was a statement but it could have been a question. He steepled his fingers again and said, “You’ve never asked about the magnificent technology.”
Winifred rolled her eyes and said, “Tell me about this technology that is so wonderful.”
Smith said, “Jason McNeill’s parents managed to create not one but two devices that violate the Guild’s rules for advancement. Millicent Morgaine has the plans for two Omicron devices if the Guild’s readings are correct.”
Winifred raised her hands in exasperation, “Enlighten me. What is an Omicron device? And how did two country bumpkins from Earth manage to get the Guild in such a tizzy?”
Smith sighed dramatically and said, “We are going to have to work on your diplomacy and acting skills if you are to be any sort of ambassador. An Omicron device is a device that violates Guild approved rules. Sean and Martha McNeill developed a means to travel between the stars almost instantly and they harnessed a source of unlimited energy. They did this without Camille and without any of the gadgets you’ve seen.” Smith got up and walked to the window in the room. To put this in perspective, “I was dispatched here 20 years ago in relative time. With their fancy device, I could be back in front of the Guild in a month. With their device and energy source, they have made travel between the stars as inconsequential as a trip to Epping.”
Winifred sounded appalled for the first time that Smith could remember saying, “And the Guild wants to stop this?” Her voice rose in outrage.
Smith turned from the window and said, “Now you finally show signs of understanding. Yes, the Guild wants stop it. They stand to lose a great deal of money and power if the designs become public. Previously only authorized Guild personnel could use technology to travel so fast and it was tremendously expensive to do so.” He returned to looking out the window and said, “They will quash the technology and its creators. And they will use the same method on your planet as they did mine and Morgaine’s”
Winifred cocked her head and asked, “But your planet took the deal. You and Morgaine work for the Guild.”
Smith tightened his hands and said tersely, “Yes, Millicent Morgaine and I work for the Guild. But our planet didn’t take the deal.” He paused, collected himself and said, “I am told our parent’s generation put up a magnificent fight. That it took the Guild took months to rout all resistance. But the planet was too weak at that point and its collapse was inevitable. The Guild came in. Children below the age of adolescence were taken away. We were raised by The Guild and The Guild trained us to love the Guild, its ways and rules and made us itinerant traders and finders. Anyone older the adolescence was forced into factories and made to bleed the planet dry. My home planet, Morgaine’s, became the object lesson to any world that would oppose the Guild.”
Winifred said quietly, “And they are coming here. We don’t even know that people exist on other planets and now they are coming here.”
Smith said, “You wanted to know what this is all about. After we get the small business out of the way, I will be discussing old times with Millicent Morgaine and telling her about the Guild’s generous offer to help your backward planet.”