Chapter 21 – The Start of a Journey


The Start of a Journey

Millicent  – One Day from Tau Ceti

She puffed as she sprinted the last 500 meters. The ship slipped through the nether space created by the Omicron devices. The ships were traveling as closely together as possible in these circumstances. They would drop out of the empty space of the Omicron devices at verified locations and compare information. This was the second jump into the empty space. The muzziness of the first flight was nearly under control for her. But not totally. Simone and Michael seemed to be the worst affected. Strikingly, they were also affected most by weightlessness.  Simone was researching, with Charles help, the body or muscle sense and awareness. For Simone and Michael, their middle ears were likely culprits. She had her own organs to manage such matters, but the principle was the same. If the causal systems could be isolated, a proper protection could be developed.

She stopped the treadmill and began her cool down stretches. The others, less Rachael, were doing their own prescribed physical training. Rachael was on Smith’s ship. Millicent asked, “Charles – summary of the physical progress of the crew.”

Charles replied, “Everyone is progressing at the expected rate excepted Jason McNeill.”

Millicent stopped for a moment, grimaced and asked, “Is he slacking?”

Charles said, “Not really. At least not any more than Mr. O’Hannigan.  Mr. McNeill started with his own nanotechnology and was already adapting.  The rest are probably playing catch up with young McNeill.”

Millicent leaned over and stretched her calves, “That could be good and bad.  Any progress communicating with his nanotechnology?”

Charles said, “I won’t say ‘no progress’. We exchange ‘hellos’ and the time of day. But his nanotechnogy has no interest in my suggestions.”

Millicent stood up and walked around. She quirked her mouth and said, “If I were negotiating, I would find a way to make my suggestion seem like it was their idea.”  There was a very long pause as she paced the room.  Finally she checked asking, “Charles?”

Then Charles said, “Millicent Morgaine. You are a genius.”

“Why you flatterer…what did I say?”

“First, I have a way to work with O’Hannigan.  Second, Jason’s nanotechnology might not be suggestable, but they are territorial. I just have to figure out how to get them to defend territory I want it to defend.”

Rachael – Improving Peformance

It was day two of Rachael’s three day shift on Smith’s Ship – the second of the journey.  Winifred Stanhope and Findley Brown were confined to their quarters or worse. She hadn’t seen them and that suited her just fine.   Alfred and Neville made Winifred and Findley meals so they couldn’t be too bad off.

Rachael reviewed the readings from the devices on this ship and compared them with the readings of Millicent’s ship. At each stop, the data was exchanged so she, Jason, and Simone could compare the two ships.  She asked the ceiling, “Camille, can you run a detailed resistivity check and storage decay check at the next stop and tell Charles to do the same?”

The aristocratic voice replied, “Worried your toy will break, Miss Weiz?”

Rachael smiled at the comment and said, “Not at all. If the numbers are remaining close to our baseline measurements, I want to start feeding more energy in. I would like to see what these things will do. The original estimate to our destination was 30 days. If we can change that to 25 days, so much the better.”

Camille drawled, “You have already shaved off 20 years to the travel time and the interval is nearly instantaneous.”

Rachael said, “Instantaneous to the outsider viewer.  But to me it is 30 days. What is it worth to you to spend 5 days less with me?”

There was a pause then, “Hmmph, more work for me. But you make a compelling argument. I’ll see that lazy collection of circuits on Morgaine’s does his work.”

Rachael smiled cheerfully and said, “I knew we could agree on something. Even it is a mutual dislike.”  She looked at the monitors and dials and sighed. That was it for the day. They would drop out of the jump in three hours. She couldn’t swim with the ship in transit and Smith’s gym did not have the specialized equipment that she and Charles had made over the past few months.  There were weights so she could work on her strength to occupy the time.

She switched into athletic clothes and headed to the gym. Redman was by the weights and bowed a little at her entrance. Smith and Neville faced each other in fencing clothes across the gym mat.  She rolled over to the weights and began her routines.  Half of the routines could be done from the chair. Redman assisted with spotting on occasion and the two of them watched the sparring of Smith and Neville between sets.

Smith and Neville spar

Smith shouted “Engarde” and moved forward. Neville had a tall frame and a reach to match. But he was no Stanhope or Brown in technique.  He attacked Smith and pushed forward. Smith blocked his initial attacks. Smith parried one attack from the left and spun back on the attack. Neville blocked and parried on the defense. He tried to turn Smith’s sword, but Smith through shear strength resisted the effort and pushed him back. He shouted “Halt…” In a more normal voice he said, “Better Carter-Frasier but with all the subtlety of an ox. Another round?” Neville leaned over puffing and waved Smith off.  Smith pursed his lips in mock disappointment and turned to Redman and said, “Mr. Redman?”

Alfred replied, “If I end up in a sword fight, it will be because my earlier efforts failed.”

He looked at Rachael and said, “I don’t suppose you fence?”

She snorted and said, “I didn’t before and not now.  Bar fights usually don’t have room long pieces of steel.”

He looked at her speculatively and said, “Surely Morgaine has taught you self-defense.”

Rachael lifted a 20 Kg weight a slowly in a set of curls and said, “I had some life training before. However, mostly I travel with Jason, John or Eleanor. We have systems worked out.” She switched hands and continued the curls.

Smith moved towards the equipment rack and put the swords back and said, “Miss Woodson as defender?”

Rachael smiled darkly and said, “She has Neville’s height and Liam has taught her to fight dirty with a saber. Her helplessness at her brother’s death has provided motivation.” She glared at Arthur Redman – the man who murder the brother. He stared back at her, but there was a crinkle in the eyes that indicated a moment of regret.

Smith said, “Interesting. But you are still dependent on others?”

Rachael set the 20 Kg weight down and flexed her arms. She looked at him and said, “I would be a fool think otherwise.  But, I try to be an asset in a scrap.” She looked over at Neville who was set his own equipment down and shrugged and she said to Smith, “You were holding back on the mat just now.” Smith bowed.  She looked over at Neville and winked and then back to Smith and said, “What say you to taking me and Neville on?” Neville paled and coughed.

An Interesting Challenge

Smith smiled at her and said, “Really? A dare, Miss Weiz?”

Rachael grinned back and said, “Call it an East Ender tradition. Make a lot bluster and those of us who survive …”

Smith stroked his chin and said, “Are the ones who thrive…You intrigue me. Shall we wager?”

Rachael leaned back in her chair, “You keep us from leaving the gym. If we get out, you will teach Neville to fly this ship.” She looked around at the room and his sabre and said, “I suppose a bit of caution is in order. Standard touches count as wounds. Otherwise, Stepney rules…which is to say there are no rules except you honor the bet.”

Smith said, “I might have trained Mr. Carter-Frasier anyway. If I keep you from leaving you will finish the journey on this ship.”

Rachael winked at Neville and said, “Deal” and held out her hand.

Smith shook it saying, “I’ll have Redman and Carter-Frasier work on ramps for your stay.”

Rachael smiled darkly and said, “I appreciate that, but Neville will be busy with his flight lessons.” Smith chuckled. Rachael rolled over to the equipment rack close to Neville. “I need to strategize with my partner if you don’t mind.” Smith waved at them as he selected a sword.

Neville said in a hiss, “I can’t beat him! And you are going to hate me.”

Rachael said, “Of course you can’t beat him if it’s fair. But it ain’t going to be.” She grabbed three jump ropes and started tying them together. “Smith is fast, but he can only fight one of us – that is going to be you. “

Neville picked up a saber to match Smith’s and said, “What if he goes for you?”

“Force him – attack him from behind. Fuck honor. Get his attention. Quickly if you please.”

Neville shook his head and said, “And what will you be doing while I nobly protect you?”

She picked up a weight and tied it to the end of the rope and swung it experimentally and said, “Giving you a chance to beat him.” She said, “I am going to cut to the left. Attack and keep him tied up. When he goes down, run for the door.” She quirked her mouth a bit and said , “And bob him a good one on the way out.”

“You are going to be miserable and Smith is going to have me cleaning vents for the duration.”

“Bollocks…I am going to spend tomorrow in my bed and you are going to learn to fly. Now give me some space and get at the ready.” She placed the rope and weight on her lap and moved to the mat. The mat would slow her down a bit, but made pivoting easier. She set herself facing Smith and the door and spaced Neville about three feet away. She said in a cheery voice to Neville, “Time for a bit o’ fun.” She nodded to Smith who nodded back.

A sparring match, a fight or something else

Smith looked at them, drew his sword dramatically and shouted, “Halt…stay where you are by order of the Guild Council.” Rachael frowned at the phrase but pivoted immediately to left and shot 10 feet to the left. Smith moved towards her initially. But Neville screamed loudly and charged Smith striking high and then low. Rachael grinned at the scream and continued to her spot.

Rachael pivoted back to melee and set her brake. She swung the rope in a circle. Smith’s attention was fully devoted to Neville’s vigorous attack. She swung the weight in a circular motion around her head once. She used the momentum of the weight to sweep towards Smith’s knees. When his legs were tangled she pulled hard on the rope and Smith dropped to the floor with a yelp. Rachael dropped the rope, pulled her brakes off and rolled towards the door shouting, “Neville , the door.” Neville stared momentarily at Smith who was rolling on the floor untangling his legs. He swatted Smith’s rump with the flat of the sword, and ran for the door grinning for the first time since she had seen him on the ship.

When they were both in the hall, Rachael said, “Camille, shut the gym doors for three minutes.”

Camille practically shouted, “I will not do that…Mr. Smith is need of assistance.”

Rachael pulled out a screw driver and a small ball of paste and held them up to the ceiling, “Camille, that door closes and stays closed. You do it or I will and I won’t be gentle.”

The doors hissed shut just as Smith as was getting up. Camille said, “You will find your shower is acting up.”

Rachael smiled mischievously and said, “I expected as much.” She eyed the doors and said to the ceiling, “You’ll have far more fun in the long run mucking with my showers than repairing my damage.” Neville panted a bit and said, “Why lock the doors?”

Rachael rolled back from the door and returned the paste and screwdriver to hidden pockets. She leaned back in the chair and said, “In Stepney, the fight isn’t over until you’ve lost the thugs. I am just playing the game with my rules.”

Neville wrung his hands and paced, “Threatening Camille is foolish. And I am having my doubts about that parting shot to Mr. Smith. ”

Rachael smiled darkly, “I didn’t need to exercise it, besides the damage would have been limited to the doors and I would have fixed it.”

Camille practically hissed, “You wouldn’t dare…”

Rachael pulled out paste and smacked it on the wall and said, “Analyze it.” She turned it to Neville and said, “As for Smith…it was a test and I’ll bet a cold beer you passed.”

Camille said, “Take that off my wall. You both will pay.”

Finally the door opened with Smith standing at the entry way. His sword was at rest. Alfred was behind him with the slightest of grins. Smith looked at the two of them evenly and said, “The weighted rope is effective, but difficult to hide.”

Rachael smiled and patted the chair and said, “Liam taught me that one. I’ve got a few other tricks hidden but they are noisy and leave a mess.”

He looked at the doors and said, “Did he teach how to lock doors?”

Camille protested “she threatened me.” Smith raised an eyebrow.

Rachael pulled out the screwdriver and the blob of clay and said, “John and I worked out how to jam doors substantially. If that ball had been explosive, that door would not open without a blow torch.”

Smith’s eyes narrowed and said, “Just what were you preparing for?”

Rachael said, “A bar fight? Or perhaps a bunch of aristocrats who plan to come to my neighborhood to cause trouble.” She narrowed her eyes and said, “Or a group of people who are afraid of me and can’t stand you or Millicent.”

Smith smirked and bowed slightly. He then raised his sword in salute to Neville and bowed saying, “Well played Mr. Carter-Frasier. It seems your lessons will begin in two hours after a shower.” He looked around and said, “I suppose a brandy after dinner will be in order as well.” He indicated that Neville should hand over his sword and said, “Mr. Redman if you’ll assist Mr. Carter-Frasier. Miss Weiz, join me while you dissemble that makeshift bolo.” Alfred and Neville headed off to the hall. Rachael could see a better bounce in Neville’s step and Alfred was clapping him on his back. She followed Smith in the gym. She picked up the rope and the weight and began undoing the knots. Smith returned the sabers to the racks.

Evaluations

Smith said, “I suppose I should be angry with you…He’ll soon be as insubordinate as you.”

Rachael said, “He’ll be more valuable. Besides, it’s bollocks. You didn’t fight all out. But, you know what I know. Neville will be working harder at fighting and now he knows what to do in a brawl.”

Smith smiled and said, “True…and I really needed to train him to pilot anyway.” He pointed to chair and said, “I assume there are other tricks for nasty encounters.”

Rachael shrugged, “Probably as many as Winfred’s hand.”

Smith crossed his arms and said slowly, “You will need them…your assessment of the Guild and its hierarchy is right. You are going to need to know how to escape.” He said, “You will start training with me on weapons, full contact combat, and planning escapes in ships and stations. That trick would hold the door, but back up would be close by.”

She said quietly, “There will be trouble, won’t there.”

Smith smiled darkly and said, “Better to plan for it and not have to use it. Call it a family tradition, but I always have an escape planned.” He moved to the door and said, “Now you’ll want to check on the device and get cleaned up for dinner.”

She followed and the doors closed on her chair as she left. She looked at Smith and said, “I may have been a bit abrupt with Camille.”

Smith looked at the doors which now opened and let her out. He said, “I expected as much since the doors stayed closed.”  He looked up and said, “I expect you two will work out something” and waved his hand airily saying, “Camille knows better than to hurt you.”

Camille said in a low tone, “I am told cold showers stimulate the circulation.”  Rachael gritted her teeth and headed to the cabin.

Jason – transporting Rachael back

Jason piloted the small shuttle between the two ships separated by two kilometers of space. Rachael sat in the copilot’s seat. Her gear and chair were stowed in small hold. He said, “I expect you’re glad to be back on the ship.”

Rachael said, “You have no idea. I will kill anyone who gets in the way of my warm shower and comfortable bedroom.”

Jason eyed her sideways and asked, “No hot water?”

Rachael muttered, “Long story.” She looked out the port to Smith’s ship and said, “Jason, we are going to need Smith’s help.”  Jason gritted his teeth but said nothing. She faced forward and continued. “Smith hinted that our reception at the Guild isn’t going to be good. He can help us…survive the encounter…if that is the turn of events.”

Jason burst out, “Dammit Rachael, he is playing both sides.”

Rachael showed a small smile and said, “Maybe. But he only trusts one side…ours. He might be a devil, but at the end of the day he’s our devil and we need to work with him if we’re going to survive.”

Jason focused on piloting the shuttle for a moment and then asked, ”Do we have to trust them all?”

Rachael blew out some air and then said, “Winfred and Findley are locked down now. Apparently Smith doesn’t trust them walking freely on the ship. Alfred Redman is a hard read.  Neville? …Well Neville’s finding himself without anyone to tell him what he has to be.  Given the odds, I’d rather have him with us than on the other side.”

Jason shook his head and then said, “Eleanor and Simone won’t be happy. Not sure I will be.” He straightened himself and said, “I’ll have to think about it.”

Rachael leaned in her chair and said, “That is all I can ask.”

Michael – on the bridge

Michael monitored the shuttle as it approached. The monitoring devices indicated there were two people in and that it was lightly loaded.  This was the second stop of the trip.  The star was a F type binary star commonly known as Andromeda. The ships were currently circling a gas giant and refueling.  The atmosphere on the planet, twice the size of Jupiter, but was blue like Neptune because of the high concentrations of methane and hydrogen sulfide.  He recorded the information and logged it his task book.  He got out his sketch book but was uninspired by the tenth massive stormy planet he had seen.

Felicity was on communications and turned to him and asked, “Done with observations?”

Michael said, “Camille and Charles are updating each other on monitoring from the last jump. Simone, Rachael and Jason will review the information later.  Rachael thinks we can boost speed by 10% safely. I just finished my observations of, yet another gas giant in an uninhabitable solar system.” He turned to her and smiled and asked with a bit of a leer, “And you?”

Felicity looked at the ceiling and said, “As you said, Camille and Charles are updating each other and hardly need me. Smith is practicing flight with Carter-Frasier.  Once Rachael returns, she, Jason, and Simone will be tied up in the labs for hours.”

Michael raised his eyebrows and said, “So?”

Felicity unbuckled herself and floated over in the low gravity and whispered in his ear, “Eleanor has agreed to cover communications.” She then floated off towards the cabins.

Michael shook himself and then said in a tight voice, “Charles? Can I deploy a drone to complete observations for say…two orbits?”

Michael heard Charles harrumph and then say, “Deploy two.  You and Mrs. Richards will spend the next leg cataloging the data and comparing mission data with Miss Woodson…Go. You and Felicity can  compare notes on other matters with Eleanor and Simone …try not to bump your head. Medical reports are so difficult to obfuscate.”

Michael unbuckled and shot after Felicity who was turning into their quarters and smiling back at him.

Winifred  – in her quarters

She wore the bright blue jumpsuit today and paced her room.  The ship was in a jump again.  Smith hadn’t needed to collar her to torture her. The lack of information and the lack of control was driving her mad. He had also taken precautions in isolating her Camille and the ship network. Winifred operated lights manually. She adjusted the temperature on her own. The furniture was fixed and other amenties that Camille had managed were now inert or manually worked. Winifred even had operate the shower manually.  On top of this, Smith had added one more indignity. He removed her mechanical hand and scoured her room of all her attachments. She was left with an inert replacement that was little better than a hook. The forced handicap was the most painful deprivation and one she would not forgive. She had lost that hand in his service and he had no right to take it.

After the pair of ships had left Earth, Smith moved Winifred and Findley into confinement.  He had found out about the rat early and had warned her. Once the missing drone had been discovered, there was really no option. Now, he said, he was out of patience.  Findley, he confronted more forcefully. Findley protested his innocence with predictable results. After a day of intense …discussion (she could hear the screams through the walls), Smith got Findley to spill his portion. It seems Findley had also taken a beam weapon back on Earth and given it to friends.  Smith was not happy. Findley tried to placate Smith by fingering Winifred as the instigator.  That earned derision and a loud “Of course she’s the instigator, Findley. You couldn’t plot a graph let alone subvert me.” And then he shouted at the wall, “Winifred. I am disappointed. You underestimated me. Wasn’t my offer enough?” He switched back to beating Findley and then there was silence. He never again visited her. She was bothered by that in a way that was difficult to define.

Contact with others was limited. Three times a day her food was delivered by Alfred or Neville.  Smith periodically sent her a book with a meal. She was surprised he had any of those, but he was a dealer in antiquities.  The isolation had some advantages. She went to the wall and tapped three times.  After a moment, there was a response of two taps.  If there was a positive in the sequestration, it was that she and Findley could plan without much worry of observation.

Neville arrived with her final meal of the day, if day had meaning in this environment. It was a supper of a chop, potatoes, some vegetables and the usual water. She was not even granted a decent glass of wine. Neville was less fidgidity and more upright than usual.  She eyed him carefully and then said, “You seem more chipper tonight. Boffing the Jew?”

Neville jumped and then, to her surprise, scowled at her. He said sharply, “Not need to be vicious just because you got caught. You would have done quite well without plotting whatever it is you were plotting.”

Winifred sneered at him, “This is just temporary. So choose your words carefully, Neville. I’ll remember whose loyalty I can count on.”

Neville set the tray down on the bench by the door. He looked at the tray and then her and said, “I am in a good mood now, Winifred. I am in a good mood without help. And you can’t change that when I leave this room. And for once, you need me more than I need you.” He bowed slightly, left the room and closed the doors quickly.

Winifred clenched her fists: one real and one phantom. She screamed and swiped the tray of the bench. Smith would pay dearly when she got off this ship.

Liam – in the gym

Liam faced Millicent on the gym mat. They were both crouching. Over the past weeks, Liam’s fighting style had changed from trying to throw the hardest punch to using opponent’s efforts against them. It felt odd at first; his hard fists had always been enough to keep him upright. But after a few days of landing on his back, he decided he could learn something new.

He waited for his opponent. Again, he had to learn this, but Millicent had thrown him enough times that he was perfectly willing to wait until dinner. Finally Millicent rushed Liam darting to the side. She threw punch at his face and he went low and threw his own punch low which got a satisfying whoosh of air. He used her momentum to pull herover his back and she landed with a thump. Jason whooped from the sidelines. Eleanor and Simone made audible “ohs”. All of which felt good until a set of legs clamped on his neck and he heard perfectly normal voice say, “Much better, Mr. O’Hannigan. If you are seeking escape, remember to finish the job.” She then pulled him on his back with her legs and bobbed up.

Liam groaned and said, “Ye couldn’t stay down for a moment or two so I could savor it?”

Millicent patted him politely on the shoulder saying, “It’s Mr. McNeill’s turn.” She turned to Jason who gulped as she crooked a finger beckoning him onto the mat while she said, “He took far too much satisfaction at that throw.”

Liam pushed himself up and headed to the side where Eleanor handed him a towel. She and Simone watched the sparring of Jason and Millicent. He headed to his quarters. He asked the ceiling, “Was I even close Charley?”

The aristocratic voice said, “I think the punch surprised her, but the flip was a courtesy on her part. There is a motion that would have reversed positions and you would have ended on the floor…again.”

Liam shook his head and said, “I am hopeless.”

“Against her?…she grew up in a higher gravity and spent years in training and practice. So yes, you are hopeless.”

Liam stopped considering the qualification and asked, “Against others?”

“You will be left alone after the first bar fight. You will be the odds on favorite after that and I intend to bet heavily on the first fight.”

“Crikey…sounds like Stepney on Guy Fawkes Day.”

“Then you know and that is why you’ll be safe on your own.” There was a pause in the voice as he approached his quarters and then Charles continued, “Millicent wants to meet you after she is finished humbling Mr. McNeill and the others. You have about 30 minutes then meet her in the store rooms.”

Millicent  – the store room

Millicent paced the store room. The goods she collected from Earth would return a tidy sum and go a long way to offset the additional expenses she had encountered.  The Omicron devices and licensing were where the real profit was to be made.  She adjusted her tunic one more time. She felt nervous and that was odd. Finally the door opened and Liam O’Hannigan entered with a clean ship suit and freshly pomaded hair.  She would have to work on that habit.

Liam greeted her with a warm smile and sat on a crate. He bowed a little and said, “And how may this humble servant help Madame Captain.”

Millicent clenched her jaw and said tightly, “I have been trying very hard to be less…imperious.”

Liam straightened a bit and waved both hands, “Bit of a josh…just figured ships business and all that. I’d try a bit of formal.  Guess it doesn’t sit well.”

Millicent relaxed a bit and continued her pacing, “I suppose it is ship’s business…mostly.”  She turned and crossed her arms and said, “I need your advice.”

Liam opened his arms and bowed in his chair, “And how can your humble squire assist?”

Charles groaned this time and said, “Oh please…spare me.”

Millicent smirked and said, “You’re right, formal isn’t a good fit.” She straightened a bit and said, “I think it is time to tell everyone else about the coalition.”

Liam pursed his lips and said, “I won’t disagree, but what changed?”

Millicent waved her arms around and said, “We are in transit and stuck on our respective ships. We can’t even communicate with Smith when we are in transit.”

Liam said, “Except for John and Rachael.”

Millicent crossed her arms, “Who are keeping their own secrets from both ships.” Liam simply grunted. Millicent added, “Winifred Stanhope and Findley Brown are locked down. Charles assures me that Camille is most upset with them.”

Liam cocked his eyebrow speculatively, “Enough to make ‘em go away.”

Charles muttered, “Barbarian…However, you guess right. Camille wanted to. Smith and myself convinced her not to.”

Liam looked at squinted eyes at the ceiling and said, “We still have a mess.  When did you find a heart?”

Charles said, “I’ve no love of those two. I’m just keeping Camille from doing something she would regret later.”

Millicent said through pursed lips, “That remains to be seen. But those two are locked down and on bread water so to speak.  They have no outside access and no access to the network.  In total, our risks of information leaks are greatly reduced.”

Liam said, “and a whole lot higher when we get to this station.”

Millicent said, “I am going to trust they speak to no one about the matter.”

Liam snorted, “It ain’t going to matter. Someone is going to figure we’re a bit Tyne[1] after a couple of questions.”

Millicent paced and waved the comment away, “An hour after we arrive, I will be meeting with the first group of this coalition. I expect within a day, I will be selling the first Omicron devices.” She turned and crossed her arms, “I will be meeting with traitors and encouraging economic chaos. Our crew not answering questions correctly will not be the worst of our security issues.”

Liam leaned back and held his head in his hands and said “Your mind is made up. So what is the advice I am supposed to give you?”

Millicent paused and then said, “I am not sure how to tell them. I could have you do it or I could tell parts without the whole.”

Liam crossed his arms, frowning and said, “I won’t be speaking for you. That’s your job. I didn want to hide it in the first place. You get to unhide it.”

Charles said, “Pains me to say it. Mr. O’Hannigan is right. Your veracity will be tarnished as it is. Having Mr. O’Hannigan deliver the message will not make matters better.”

Millicent sat on a crate and then drummed her fingers on a side crate. Then said, “I could leave out portions.”

Liam said, “They’d figure out the rest and wonder what else you’re hiding.”

Charles said, “He’s right again.  I can’t figure out how you only tell part and not have them infer the rest.”

Millicent closed her eyes and said, “Fine…I’ll tell them everything. This isn’t going to be easy. I haven’t discussed this before.”

Liam and Charles said simultaneously, “You’ve never had to.”

Liam narrowed his eyes and then they both said, “But now you have to.” He pointed a finger to the ceiling and said, “You’re doing that on purpose you rusty bucket of bolts.”

Charles fired back saying, “I could say the same you misbegotten knuckle dragging excuse for a primate.”

Millicent stifled a laugh and shouted, “Stop it you two…Charles, assemble the group in the environment lab in an hour. I’ll tell them then.” She paused and said, “I would prefer you to be in the front,  Liam…it would be …easier.”

Liam stood and was about to bow and then saw she was holding her hands tightly and looking him with a tight expression. He moved up to her and said, “Sure lass, I’ll be up front…backing you up. You can count on that always.”

Liam at the meeting

Liam headed to his quarters. He sat and looked up at the ceiling and said, “She’s worried, ain’t she.”

Charles replied, “Millicent tied her fortunes to the Guild long ago.  Now she is about meet with rebels. This break doesn’t come easily for her emotionally. Plus the Guild isn’t known for its understanding ways. But there is more to consider. Camille and I can’t figure out what Stanhope accomplished.  Nobody can know for sure what she hoped fo, but it is possible that she made difficult matters even more challenging.”

“Why does Guild have power?”

“Same as anywhere: money, power, and fear applied in liberal doses.”

Liam snorted and poured himself a glass of water.

After an hour, he headed to the environmental lab. Everyone but John was there. John was taking his turn on Smith’s ship. Rachael was parked near the front. Felicity was sitting at the far end of the long table with her notebook open and ready to take notes. Michael stood behind her. Eleanor, Simone, and Jason took places along the table. Millicent nodded at Liam and indicated he should be in front. He took a position to her right and a little behind and clasped his hands at his back.

Millicent was wearing her dark blue tunic and slim trousers. Her hair was braided. She clasped her hands behind her back and stood a bit rigidly at the front and began.

“We are over halfway to our first destination. We have a little over a week in our time left although Rachael is telling me that we might trim that down a bit. Charles has estimated that three days of regular time will have past when we arrive at the station. Not the three weeks we have felt. Not the normal six months of transit. Not the 10 years of relative time it normally takes – three days of regular time to cross 1500 light years.”

Jason and Rachael whooped and pounded the table while the rest applauded politely. Liam glared at Rachael who shrugged and then got Jason to stop.

Millicent said, “We have revolutionized space travel. And when we arrive at Kepler 35, we are going to make a very tidy profit selling your devices.”  There was more whooping and clapping.  Millicent calmed the crowd on her own this time. “But I have told you there will be opposition from the Guild.” She paused and said, “and Smith has said the Guild is ready to rein in your planet’s propensity to innovate.” There was silence in the pause this time. “I have suggested you speak before the Guild to plead your case.” She walked around and looked at them and then said, “You won’t be first to make that plea.” Liam watched her took a breath and closed her eyes. He wondered if her planet had sent someone to plead its case.  Who had it been? Her voice tightened as she continued, “But the history of successful pleas of mercy before the Guild would be a very thin book.” She began to walk around the room as she talked. “I hope that you will still make that plea however small its chance for success. I will be right there pleading with you.”

Jason muttered, “Why make a pointless stance?”

Millicent stopped behind him and put hands on his shoulders and said, “Because it won’t be pointless to others. And because there is a part I haven’t told you.” Liam saw Rachael try to hide a smile. Millicent said, “Yes, Miss Weiz there is something I haven’t told you. First, there is a substantial coalition of planets and traders who are tired of Guild restrictions and interference.” There was muttering in the room until Liam shouted, “Hoy…let her finish!”

In the silence, Rachael asked “How long have you known about the coalition?”

Millicent eyed her narrowly and said, “What a very astute question.” She turned to the group and said, “There has always been a low grade opposition like there always is to any government. However, Smith brought more than a summons to me. He is the one that told me about that sizable coalition.”

Eleanor hissed, “Then they will be little better than the Guild.”

Millicent stared at her and said, “This coalition is an alliance of the moment. Most are good, honest people and councils who resent the restrictions but try to work in the system to make things better. It also has those who simply don’t like the rules and see this as an opportunity.”  Eleanor said nothing but jutted her chin out further.  Then Millicent said, “Most of the coalition leaders are descendants of my planet.”

Jason muttered to Eleanor, “I’d chew that foot carefully before I opened my mouth again.” Eleanor smacked the back of his head hard but never took her eyes from Millicent. Rachael looked at her fingernails and said, “That explains a great deal. Liam, how long have you known?”

Liam coughed and then started to answer, but Millicent put her hand up and said, “I told Liam from the beginning and swore him and Charles to secrecy.” There were loud protests.

This time Rachael shouted, “Hoy, you useless chickens.” Rachael leaned back and said, “That was probably a good idea given Stanhope’s efforts. I assume the Guild doesn’t know the extent of the opposition.”

Millicent clenched her hands and said, “You should know some history. My planet made an attempt at opposition.” She pressed a button. A planet that looked like Earth, only with more ocean, appeared on the screen.  If one looked closely, there were large cities and maybe even a structure in space. Then she moved her hands over the screen and the oceans were gone – replaced with craters and an atmosphere full of dust.  The gasps were audible.  “That is what happened after the opposition. The children below a certain age were taken as wards of the Guild. I was one as was John Smith.” Millicent stared at Eleanor who then looked at the table with her hands folded in front of her on the table. Simone put a hand on Eleanor’s. Millicent said sharply, “No…the Guild doesn’t know the extent of the opposition yet because everyone fears this,” and she pointed to the dead planet.

Rachael looked at the planet and then looked at Millicent and cocked her head a bit and said, “You said most of the leaders come from your planet. Why should your people be leading? Does that matter?”

Liam said in a light whisper, “Tell ‘em everything Millicent. Everything.”

Millicent took a deep breath and said, “The coalition is diverse and is lacking cohesion. Smith came as representative of the coalition to ask me to be the leader.”

Eleanor shouted, “What?”

Liam shouted, “Hoy…listen to the woman.”

Millicent looked at Liam squinted her eye. He couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or grateful. She continued,  “My family is…was frequently ostensibly head of the council on the planet.” Charles supplied, “Her parents headed the council three times. Her family on both sides held the position going back centuries,” helpfully. Millicent snapped, “Quiet, Charles.” Liam smirked.

Jason stared, “Blimey, you’re royalty.”  Liam winked at the lad and said, “just what I said.”

Millicent continued, “and Smith’s family might be viewed as the ‘loyal opposition’”

Charles said, “The Guild did something no one else could accomplish…united the planet. Once hostilities started,  the two families led opposition against the Guild. Millicent’s family rallied government troops while the Smith family led ‘irregulars’. ”

Eleanor finally asked, “Why you? Why do you have to work with Smith?”

Liam gently, “Are ye deaf, woman? No one trusts Smith. But Millicent doesn’t have pull with the rougher elements. Millicent provides the face and honor. Smith supplies sneakiness.” Liam said quietly, “And Millicent becomes the queen everyone can rally to.”

Eleanor looked at the bleak planet on the screen in the middle of the table and said quietly, “So we work with Smith or face this.”

Millicent shrugged weakly, “If Smith is right, a fleet has already been dispatched. Maybe your plea will work.”

Simone asked, “Did your planet appeal?” Millicent closed her eyes and stayed silent. Her fists were clenched tightly behind her back.

Charles asked, “Should I tell them?”

Millicent stiffened and then said, “Give ‘em the whole damn history if they need it to work together. I’ll be on the bridge,” and she marched out of the room.

Charles put four faces up on the screen. “Smith’s grandmother and great uncle along with Millicent’s grandmother and grandfather made an initial plea before the council for more freedom and fewer restrictions. The Guild declined their plea and held them on a prison planet and launched a campaign to ‘restore order’. Time and travel being what it is, the delegation died in prison before the fleet arrived to destroy their homeland.” An image of the blue green planet showed again. “The Guild offensive against the planet went poorly. They were never able to subdue the planet enough to generate economic value. Facing rising costs and growing opposition in other parts of the galaxy, the Guild decided to resolve the matter permanently.” The image of the brown and pitted surface returned,  “The Guild lobbed asteroids at the planet until there was no more opposition. You have heard what happened to the survivors – fit adults were used as slaves and children were assimilated into other cultures. The history of the planet was expunged from records except as a warning to those who cross the authority of the Guild.”

 

[1] Tyne and Wear – Queer, strange

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