Chapter 26 – Fallout and Recoveries

Refugees – Alfred Redman

Alfred Redman read his book on a screen in the non-descript office.  He found the method intriguing but unsatisfying. The book pages showed up on a screen he could call from his suit. When he finished a page, he pressed a button and the next page appeared. It was remarkable, efficient and atrociously sterile. He missed the heft of the book and the turning of pages.  The only positive he could discern was the amount of literature available at his beck and call. He could access the entire collection of Jonathan Swift. That alone would fill a trunk they did not have.

He glanced over his reader at his charge. Winifred Stanhope sat in a chair staring at her restored hand practicing its manipulation. Findley paced moving from one object to the next with nothing holding his interest. Winifred commented, “This office makes the British Empire seem positively efficient.”

Alfred pressed the button to view the next page and said, “Perhaps. Although, I doubt a foreigner from a hostile land without proper papers showing up to Whitehall saying she has important intelligence would be greeted by the Prime Minister.”

Winifred’s hand closed in a fist and she glared at Alfred saying, “I would hope Britain’s finest would at least pour them a cup of tea before they were shown the door.” Alfred snorted at the thought.

Another creature appeared at the doors and managed to look haughty despite its small stature. The creature had dangly arms, brightly colored hair piled up in an impossible structure all while wearing a suit that looked as much like a harlequin as any from Drury Lane. He cleared a long thin throat saying, “The Guild Master can see you. We have managed to find 10 minutes to listen to your tales.”  Brown clinched his fists but Winifred stilled him with a glare and a wave of her hand.  The three, followed the official who opened the door with a barely concealed sneer. They entered a much larger office. A large well proportioned man with light blue skin and jet black hair sat behind the desk. His eyes were a deep red. Other than the skin and eyes, he looked remarkably human. Alfred referred to the index in his suit and he was identified as a Chiss. As individuals, they were remarkably non-violent. However as a species, they have no compunction engaging in proxy wars to further their benefit. Not surprisingly, they control a majority of the seats in the Guild.  The room held no chairs save his own and so the group remained standing. Alfred took a position behind Winifred’s right shoulder. The Guild Master presented an unctuous smile and asked, “How can the Guild help lost souls?”

Brown snapped, “We are not…”

Winfred snapped, “Silence, Findley.” She smiled just as unctuously and said, “We’ve been stranded by a pair of ships. I am hoping the Guild will assist in getting us home.”

The Guild Master’s eyes drooped and he waved a hand, “There are charities better suited for such matters.”

Winifred looked at her hand and said, “The ships were piloted by John Smith and Millicent Morgaine.” There was a cough behind Alfred from the pompous secretary. The Guild Master looked confused. Winifred smiled directly, “But if that is no matter, I am told there are other ventures that might assist us.” Alfred heard a very distinct cough from the Tymbrimi behind him.

The Guild Master looked alarmed, “I am sorry Miss…”

Winifred smiled graciously saying, “Miss Stanhope. Winifred Stanhope. And my associate Findley Brown.”  Alfred pursed his lips at being left off the list, but that was Winifred.

The Guild Master recovered himself saying, “I am sorry I hadn’t understood your circumstances, Miss Stanhope. I might be able to help but I will need to consult with my secretary on the matter. Could you and Mr. Brown return…” he paused and looked past Alfred’s shoulder and then said, “in two days? I believe we might have more help for you then.”

Winifred looked at her hand saying, “We are in desperate straits. The two just left us and we have been making due on the kindness of your charities. We will certainly return in two days. But I simply cannot abide another night in those flop houses. Findley thinks he heard of some traders who would provide room and board in exchange for work.”  Alfred rolled his eyes at the lie, but behind him the secretary burst out, “I will see that you get proper accommodations and meals during your stay here.  It takes some time for us to …round up information but there is no need to contact anyone else. But we simply need some time to …review our resources.”

Winifred smiled at Findley and touched her heart dramatically, “I knew there was someone who would help.”

Meeting of the Minds

Liam stood behind Millicent in the crowded galley. Once again, Felicity had provided a decent tea spread with help from Oexab Lili and the station shop. The six principals were at the table with their assistants behind them…except for John Smith.  Iti Greeneyes occasionally reached down and helped herself to some of the food and drink. That relieved Liam and he took some of his own. Liam winced a little when he considered Alfred Redman would have refrained for the meeting. The food lost some flavor at that thought.

Currently the slug, Siobus At was complaining loudly that his contract was not being honored. John Smith, to his credit, was trying to placate him, “Siobus At, be reasonable – we can’t risk full training here.”

Sioubus At blustered, “You Ucaryanns scrimp on everything. Now she would cheat on training.”

Smith pinched his brow, “Sioubus At, the need for a hasty departure precludes Millicent’s team finishing Oiksair’s training. She will finish it and more at the Draco star base. There is bound to be a couple of your ships there.” He waved his hands airily, “From there you can assemble the remaining ships. Surely waiting a week or two on training can be managed. Besides, you will have one of our finest on board –Jason McNeill.”

The large belligerent being snarled, “That is another thing…why are we going to the pirate’s base first? He gets special treatment.”

Abu Silverbeam wore a brightly colored suit of blues and reds. His hair seemed to match although Liam had no idea how.  He flashed a smile that Liam would fear saying, “Because there will be more traffic at my base and more opportunities for sales.” Millicent, Smith and even Brian Tuireann glared at the small man. He shrugged and smiled at their frowns, “Let’s be honest here. It’s much cleaner and avoids confusion.” He waved comments away by adding, “And there is very little risk of exposure to the Guild. Our screening process is very thorough and unwanted guests are not appreciated.” He pointed to Sioubus At and said, “Your ships and system will be the next to get the Omicron Devices. I doubt Mr. McNeill is going to want to visit 15 of your planets so I expect Oiksair’s training to be very thorough. And if there are one or two of your ships at my base for him to practice on …so much the better.”

Millicent said, “Quite. These engines won’t do us much good if you can’t install and maintain them.”

The tall Ucaryann, Brian Tuireann smoothed his close cropped hair and said, “Sioubos At and Silverbeam bring up a good point. We can’t visit every planet in the coalition.”

Liam smiled as Millicent pressed a button and view of the galaxy showed. He had seen this in preparation. Tuireann fed her a line.  The spiral galaxy showed and a small blue dot showed in one corner. She said, “We are counting on training to make these engines part of the coalition. Simone Campbell, one of my contractors, built this simulation of the device spread.  The dots will change to blue at one month intervals as the devices are installed and training protocols are followed.”  The view showed one dot then two then 10, then a large swath of the galaxy.  It took five clicks or five months for the whole galaxy to be covered.  Millicent said, “We will need partners for this to work.  Everyone here will be profiting from this.  With each installation, we will leave a drone equipped with the devices. We can communicate faster than the Guild can imagine.

Clio Olo, said, “The Guild will pick up on what is going on. By the third month, they may have their own version…since they have some help.”  Liam winced and noticed Clio Olo carefully avoided Smith’s glance.

Millicent and Smith looked at each other. Millicent rolled her eyes and began speaking, “What do you think the reaction to the drive will be? That they will embrace it as the technology that should have been there all along?” Her eyes grew hard, “That isn’t what the Guild does. They will try to suppress it.” She pointed to the Tymbrimi and the glowering slug saying, “Silverbeam and Sioubos At, you and your friends will have the advantage because the Guild has little influence on you.” She waved around the table  “It is everyone else we need to worry about.”  She turned to Tuireann and said, “The Ucaryann and our AI friends shouldn’t need a whole lot of convincing to defy the Guild especially with such advantages.” She glanced at Clio Olo and said, “It is the other members of the coalition I worry about.” She looked at her notebook and said, “In my experience, the Guild will initially refuse to use the devices. That would be condoning illicit discoveries and these devices do not fit their narrative of a barbaric backward Earth.”

Brian Tuireann said, “Their complacency will change at some point. We can’t continue to expect them to ignore the proliferation of this technology.”

Smith leaned back and said, “At some point they will recognize the inevitable,” he pointed to the galaxy of blue points and said, “But our advantage will be overwhelming at that point.”

Sioubos At glared and then muttered, “Fine, the training must be complete and thorough.” He then gestured wildly at Smith, “But your negligence has forced this.  We might have had longer. Now we are rushing around hoping to marshal ourselves.”

Smith frowned and glared back at Sioubos At, but broke the gaze.  “You are correct, of course. I should have had better security measures.”  He looked back, “At least now we will have information on the Guild’s progress in matching us.”

Sioubus At said something that took a moment to translate. Liam could see Smith wince and then the translation came, “You try to make an omelet out of broken eggs.”

Liam could not disagree with the creature and thought Millicent would as well. But she said, “I’ve been learning about your efforts.” She paused, “I could not identify one act of defiance to the Guild other than assembling.”  She waved at Smith dismissively, “Yes, some annoying people escaped and they will probably speed the Guild’s efforts on the Omicron devices. It was me who barred Smith’s use of collars.  But none of that really matters, the Coalition needs to act or it is irrelevant.” She leaned back and said, “It seems to me, Stanhope’s and Brown’s escape with Redman is prodding some action.”

Abu Silverbeam smiled thinly at her saying, “Fine for you to say. You’ve been hiding in a far corner of the galaxy. We are the ones building the relationships. We are the ones avoiding detection while we plot. The Guild doesn’t tolerate people who cross lines.  Ask Sean McNeil about his experience testing boundaries…if you can find him.”  Liam winced inwardly. Millicent was right about the pace of this Coalition.  He had seen trees grow faster than this revolt seemed to. It was taking time he wasn’t sure Earth had. Guild ships could be arriving soon.  But this room represented the first allies in Earth’s preservation and she had to convince them.

Brian Tuireann fiddled with something on the table and said, “Millicent, it may seem like we are as slow as the Guild, but it takes time to get everyone informed.  Your device…” He pointed to Liam, “Their device changes that. But not everyone will be ready to act with the new time frame of the Omicron devices. And we need to stay below detection of the Guild until we have the strength to respond.”

Millicent crossed her arms, but she said nothing. Silverbeam slid his stare away from Millicent and took in the whole room, “Action or no, we need a new rally point. It is safe to say this station is or will be compromised. The Tymbrimi systems can be a central point to start.”

Millicent said, “What about the Guild in your systems?”

Tuireann smirked. Iti Greeneyes rolled her eyes and made a rude noise. Silverbeam’s smile become more genial, “The ones who survive our customs screening are getting a generous supplement to their pay.” He looked at his fingernails and said, “If any find renewed loyalty to their old masters…” He shrugged saying, “Apparently the Guild thinks our systems seem to have horrible safety records.” He leaned forward saying, “We will control information that escapes…especially if the Ucaryanns grant their marvelous AI friends a bit of freedom.”

Liam could feel as much as see Millicent, Smith and Tuireann tense. Millicent drummed her fingers on her crossed arms and then said, “I will consult with…Charles. It has to be his choice. It will be his risk.”

Smith pursed his lips saying, “I will ask, Camille. I have no doubt of her answer. She has scores to settle.”

Brian threw his hands up and said, “Fine. I will ask Iain. He will probably enjoy working with Charles and Camille again.”

Silverbeam nodded, “If the Ucaryanns are ready to risk, I can convince my cousins it’s time to venture a bit.” He looked at the three tall figures, “I hope your AI friends say yes…they were ferocious defenders of the Ucaryanns”

Tuireann snapped, “And they paid a price for that loyalty.”

Clio Olo, silent for so long finally spoke, “That is the cost of war…especially if one loses.”

Finding Fugitives

Rachael pushed herself along the smooth hallways to the next destinations. Her arms were tired and she knew she due for a therapeutic soak after visiting three poor houses.  John took long strides to keep up with her fast pace which was as much due to frustration as to a second wind.

They had been calling on soup kitchens for the indigent. As civilized as the rest of the galaxy claimed to be, apparently poverty was still something it held in common with Earth. She was appalled that, for all the technology and the Guild’s claims of Earth’s lack of culture and compassion, Tau Ceti still had people who could not afford food or a place to sleep. Apparently the station masters did not believe poverty was a concern and made soup kitchens and shelters difficult to find.

Typically, the kitchens were serviced by Kaum Legit or Menanggung.  And the kitchens welcomed every species including humans. That softened her cynicism about galactic advancement.  John muttered, “We are chasing a wild hare.”

Rachael snapped, “They stayed in one of these holes. Imagine…some poor foreign sot sneaks off a ship in the docks of London. Where will they find a bed? Where will they find a bed? You and I both know the answer to that. Alfred likely did as well.” She looked around and found the next stop and moved towards it. She muttered, “And he would not pick one close to our ships.”

John sighed, “Can we at least find a decent restaurant afterwards? The fare is boring and poorly prepared.”

Rachael snapped, “A little too like home? Need a bit of posh to cleanse your palette?”

John said nothing for several steps and then said with his most carefully cultivated accent and clipped words, “Yes. A little too much like home. Da’ didn’t make it home often. Or he forgot to buy the food. Our Sisters of Mercy served warm thin beet soup with stale bread on Tuesdays and stale bread and thin beet soup on Thursdays. If we went to Mass we got a cookie after the service to go with our thin potato soup and fresh bread.”

Rachael paused and looked ahead. “I am sorry. That was uncalled for.” She rubbed her eyes saying, “I am angry with them… I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

John paused and said, “You get snippy when you haven’t eaten. I want them too.” He gestured to the signs offering food and shelter, “Can you imagine Winifred or Findley tolerating this for long?”

Rachael pursed her lips and said, “Not for long. But foreigners without papers and hiding aren’t spoiled for choice.”

He wave expressively with both hands at the shelter saying, “So we have another cup of broth of something…probably not kosher.  And we hope they have some information.”

Rachael smiled, “Probably not, but according to Aggadic Midrash there were deeper meanings to the food restrictions…” Rachael continued her exegesis on being Kosher in foreign ports until they arrived at their destination. John looked almost relieved to get to the door. They were greeted warmly by a Menanggung, “Welcome strangers. Welcome please. How may this den help you?”

John took off his cap and said, “We are looking for three friends who hit some bad times. We thought they might have taken shelter here.” Rachael pressed a button and images of Winifred Stanhope, Findley Brown, and Alfred Redman appeared above plate on her chair. John added helpfully, “They were like us.”

The barrel chested, furry creature smiled with a small mouth and said, “As I said we welcome all. As long as you abide by our covenants, we care not where you are from.”

Rachael nodded to the images, “Did these people seek your help?”

The woman stared at the image for a bit. She scratched her head, “I do recognize her. They were hard to forget. The woman seemed to think we are fancy hotel.” She narrowed her eyes at Rachael and John.

Rachael sighed and said, “That sounds like her.” She grinned at the woman, “Trust me…we are not like that.”

The woman shook her head and then pointed to Alfred Redman, “He seemed to understand things around here. Anyway, we helped them about 5 days ago. After two days, they came with some Guild Office people, collected their things and left.” She shrugged and said, “I’d say their hard times are over.”

Rachael muttered, “Not for…” John gripped her shoulder hard. John asked in his crisp accent, “Did they leave a forwarding address?”

The barrel chested waved her hands, “No…made a point of it too…didn’t want solicitations.” Rachael shook her head and rolled her eyes.

John bowed and said, “Well, at least I know they are safe.” He looked around and asked, “And thanks you for your kindness. What does a meal cost here?”

The Menanggung woman frowned and snapped, “Nothing…it is a service for those who need it.”

John put his hands up and said, “Please…my apologies. My thoughts did not translate well. How much does it cost you to house a patron?”

The Menanggung scratched her chin and said, “It is hard to say. Our brochure says 2 credits houses and feeds one person.”

John smiled and lifted his arm and asked, “What is your name?”

The Menanggung said, “Asbuj, I am the night cook and greeter.”

John tapped his arm and said, “We sent 50 credits to cover our ….friends costs and your graciousness. I added your name.”

Asbuj flushed and said, “That…That is not necessary.”

Rachael rolled up to the woman and said, “My family fled their land and arrived on foreign shores with naught a penny. They found someone like you and made a new life. “

John took his hat off and said, “My family fled a famine and found a place like this.” He looked at patrons sitting at the table eating soup and said, “I needed a few meals myself. I can’t pay the Sisters of Mercy back, but I can pay you.” He put his hat on and smiled, “Our …friends may not have understood the grace they received. We do.” He moved behind Rachael so they could go.

Asbuj scratched her head saying, “You people are very confusing”

Rachael smiled, “Aren’t we all. But I like to think we all try.” As they rolled down the hall, she commented, “Nice idea…the donation.”

John kept his face forward, “Feels nice to donate now.” He said, “And God help us if we were judged by Winifred Stanhope, Findley Brown and Alfred Redman.”

Shopping for Necessities

The Guild Office had given Winifred and Brown suites at the local cultural liaison office. The purported reason was to succor wayward refugees. The façade amused and annoyed Alfred, but that was the way of such matters – appearances were to be kept. He scoffed at the idea that they would be paid to become cultural ambassadors from Earth. They were certainly no empathetic creatures to be pitied and paraded at parties, and yet that is what would be happening for the next couple months. It would take that long for the local office to get orders from the Guild home. The local wanted them close and Winifred was shrewd enough to demand money while they waited. Until she had a fashionable wardrobe and decent food, the local functionaries would get nothing. She revealed just enough to convince the local Guild Master he needed her information.  So they were housed at a local flat and paid as “cultural ambassadors.”  He returned to his former duties – shopping, tidying the apartment, and preparing meals. All of which drew him to this particular shop.

When he entered, he could see the Kaum Legit Clio Olo was working with another customer. The Kaum Legit flashed red and yellow briefly and then returned to a normal pale grey green. Kaum Legit must be poor poker players he thought. Alfred went to a station and began filling his order of goods. The Menanggung clerk attending him was jittery with nerves but managed to help Alfred complete an order despite shaky hands.  The clerk even suggested additional useful items.  Alfred wrapped up saying, “This has been remarkably easy. What is your name so that I can work with you again?”

The Menanggung replied, “Thlogh Ghu good sir.” He smoothed his hair a bit feeling a little more relaxed. “I am pleased you found my service acceptable.”

Alfred bowed and said, “Alfred Redman.”

Thlogh paused and then said, “Now I just need to get approval to accept your voucher.”

Alfred smiled broadly, “Of course you do.” He handed over the papers from the Guild office and a note underneath the papers.  The clerk eyes widened for a moment and said, “I will be a moment.”

Alfred shook his head. Right now, surprise and shock might be acceptable. He doubted the Guild suspected anything even if Winifred had her doubts. But as the nature of her knowledge became known, that would change.  The clerks of “Kaum Goods and Services” and Clio Olo had better get used to seeing him.  After a few moments the clerk returned saying, “Everything is in order Mr. Redman. Your next visit should be much smoother.”

Alfred rose and bowed slightly, “I am sure it will be,” and hoped the words were true.

Leaving Certainty

Eleanor sat stiffly at the controls of John Smith’s ship. Smith sat at the communications station. She looked at the controls and then over at the operations panel. She then looked straight forward and said, “Ship is ready for undocking…Sir.”

Smith continued his work at the communications station and replied, “Very good Miss Woodson. I’ll get clearance for our departure.”  He tapped the console and said, “Tau Ceti Control. Uycarran Glory is ready for departure.”

The station replied, “Acknowledged Uycarran Glory.  Releasing docking clamps.” There was clank and Eleanor sensed the ship move slightly. “We are controlling your ship. We will maintain control until you are in a departure zone. Good Trading Uycarran Glory. ”

Smith replied, “Acknowledged, Tau Ceti Control. Good Trading.”  He leaned back and closed his eyes muttering, “Good trading until we are back.”  He breathed in deeply, his eyes were still closed, “Miss Woodson, am I to expect you to be this reticent for the next seven days?”

Eleanor focused on the console, “I am here to help guide the ship. Other than that, I do not foresee pleasant discussion…Yes, I expect it will be a quiet week.”

Smith stretched and stood up saying, “So be it. If …when you live as long as I have, you may find there are actions and decisions you rue. For all of our wonders, we cannot go back and unring the bell.”  He paused, put his hands behind his back and said, “I do not regret abducting you…it got Morgaine’s attention. But I had not anticipated Alfred Redman’s …thoroughness. That was a mistake. And I gave Winifred Stanhope and Findley Brown free reign in your captivity. I left them to their own agendas and that was a mistake.”

Eleanor’s eyes burned but she did not look up from the console, “Was that an apology, John Smith?”

Smith snorted, “I do not apologize, Miss Woodson.” But she felt him turn and bow slightly, “I will concede I treated you as a pawn. You deserved better.” He headed for the door. “There will be nothing for you to do for the next hour. The station is damnably slow in this process. Follow me. You will be the first to see my little surprise.”

Eleanor sniffed, wiped her face and followed Smith out the door. In the living quarters area, Eleanor passed the damaged doors that Stanhope and Brown escaped through. At another door, Smith pressed some buttons. There stood Neville Carter-Frasier, leaning on a cane, but otherwise perfectly healthy. Eleanor exclaimed, “You’re alive! You’re moving!” She glared at Carter-Frasier, “You aren’t even in the medical bay.”  She turned to Smith and glared, “And not even a clue from you.”

Smith put his finger up as if to stop her, “Nor one from Morgaine or O’Hannigan. They knew as well.”  He smiled thinly, “It was important that Neville be dead or as near to it as we could manage.” He looked over the standing Carter-Frasier and said, “He has been up and about for two weeks. I have to say he has been quite accommodating in hiding.”

Carter-Frasier rolled his eyes, “He says it like I had a choice.” He looked around the hall is if he were seeing if for the first time. “I do not know how Winifred and Findley stood it for all those months. I swear I am batty after two weeks.”

Smith turned on his heel and waved, “Get Woodson caught up on the details. Woodson…no discussion of this with Morgaine’s ship …not until we are out of the system. I trust you can hold your tongue on that?”

Eleanor crossed her arms and glared at the receding back. Smith continued walking saying, “Excellent. Now I need to prep for reviving our fourth passenger.”

Eleanor looked at Carter-Frasier and mouthed “fourth passenger?”

Carter-Frasier shrugged and said, “He is reviving Camille early. She will be running the Omicron Devices and coordinating with Charles. Smith explained quite a bit over the last two weeks.” He looked at her, blushed, and then started walking slowly towards the bridge. He said haltingly, “You and I will be copiloting the ship…I know it won’t be easy. I will stay out of your way otherwise.”

Eleanor took a deep halting breath and said, “Rachael spoke …speaks highly of you. I’ve been angry with her for months because of that.“ Carter-Frasier stiffened and gripped his cane harder, but continued walking.  A breath heaved out of her shuddering, “Felicity forgives you.” He stopped. She turned away and clinched her fists, “Edward said you almost had no choice.” She shook as said, “I don’t understand that because he… he didn’t…”

Carter-Frasier said quietly, “He was stronger than me. And I was …angry. Edward never resented you scholarship types.” Eleanor looked at her hands. Carter-Frasier almost whispered, “The collar was there and the pain …it’s hard to imagine…but Simone probably told you that. You do almost anything to make it stop.” He choked out a laugh, “Winifred found my Achilles heel…my imperfection…I will never be as smart as you, or Jason, or Rachael, or John.” She looked over her shoulder to see his face. He was looking at the ceiling, “God …how we toyed with that giant of a man.”  He breathed deep and said, “Winifred used my …fear…resentment…to hurt you and Simone. And bury me in my shame.” He raised his hands and stared at them. He wiped them on his shirt as is to clean something off. “Edward was stronger. His honor is intact.”  His shoulders were slumped. He found a kerchief and wiped his face.

Eleanor whispered, “I can’t forgive you…not yet.”

Carter-Frasier made a wan smile, “It would have been nice, but I…can’t expect anything.” He returned the kerchief to a pocket and straightened and said, “But we have to function. I can only ask that you will be civil. You are more adept at piloting. I would ask you let me know what I need to know.”

Eleanor’s eyes were wet. She rubbed her face with her hands and sniffed deeply, “Oh …that I can do Carter-Frasier. I can certainly tell you what you need to know.” He nodded …hesitated and headed toward the bridge. She watched until the corner. Then she collapsed, crying, wailing and letting the waves of pain and loss cover her.