Jason arranged a table where everyone could sit and Rachael to pull up to easily. Neville Carter-Frasier would be joining this meeting. He had found his place in the group. Eleanor, Simone and Felicity took no exception and Neville was right -they were the only ones who had the right to object. Jason sensed a wariness and coldness between Neville and Eleanor and Simone. But, if they had found a working arrangement then that was all he needed to know. Michael was still angry. But, Felicity had moved beyond her injuries so even he made no comments. Jason noted that Felicity tended to stay between the two.
Conversation was lively after a week of cleaning and training. Everyone was anxious to catch up. Jason had checked with Giggledust and she assured him that there would be no more altercations with the locals or other crews – the new humans had earned their stripes. John tapped his glass trying to get everyone’s attention to no avail. Finally Rachael shouted, “Hoy, you lot. You can drink and gab later. We’ve got business.”
Conversation died down and the group faced John and Rachael. Jason raised his glass in Rachael direction. Rachael made a face in return.
She started, “We may not like it, but we will be heading in different directions in a week or two. The ships at this planet are nearly done and the crews have been trained. We need to spread the Omicron drives to other members of the coalition and the drives are the fastest way to get to our future customers. If you don’t like this sales strategy, talk to Millicent and Simone. It was their plan.” There was an awkward silence. Eleanor looked defensive. Simone stared at the table.
John added, “It worked for the early Church.”
Michael muttered, “That took 500 bloody years and a lot of martyrs. Ooof…”
Felicity said, “I think it is a fine plan.” Michael was rubbing his side.
Jason fingered his mug, “Those people were on foot, mules and rowboats. We are on anything but.”
Rachael said, “And everyone technical is separated. Even Simone will be with Oexab Lili and the Kaum Legit while Eleanor will be with Brian Tuireann and the Uycarrans.” Simone went red and Eleanor stared at the table.
Eleanor muttered, “Are you finished? We all get that we will be separate.”
Rachael grinned a little. Her then frowned a bit and said, “We are all clear on what we will be doing for the next couple of months. But Millicent is vague on her plans for this time and even less clear on what happens after that.” She looked around the table and said, “Barring objections from you lot, John and I have a proposal to fill the gaps.” She waited for questions or comment.
Jason looked at the two at the end of the table, “You’ve been managing us from behind. Might as well step out in front.” There were nods of agreement around the table.
John said, “Thank you.Here is what we know. We all have work and obligations over the next few months. We are going to be split into pairs of technical folk. We’ll have the drones to help stay in touch, but we will need a rendezvous point after wards. So first suggestion – meet back here and wait for the rest of the group to arrive.”
Rachael said, “Neville and I will be with Smith so I can’t say when or whether I will be back here. Same goes for Jason, Michael and Felicity…you will have your own courses.”
Eleanor asked, “Why not the Tau Ceti station?”
Jason glanced at Neville and said, “For one, Neville is supposed to be dead or as near to it as possible. Seeing him might raise an eyebrow or two.”
Rachael grimaced saying, “Winifred has had two months to talk wit
h the Guild Station Master. I suspect we will be noticed and detained immediately.” She leaned back and said, “The Tymbrimi and the Uycarrans have been working together since the end of the Uycarran war. This is as close to a home world that the Uycarrans have left. We will be as safe here as anywhere.”
Eleanor asked, “We meet here. Then what?”
John smiled thinly, “That is what we will need to agree to.”
Jason sat up and said,”You are waiting for Millicent, I assume.’”
Rachael pursed her lips and played with her mug. She looked at the table as she said, “What if Millicent can’t come?”
Eleanor stood and snapped, “What do you mean, ‘if she can’t come?’”
John stared at Eleanor saying, “Millicent is taking a large risk going before the Guild. The slave traders know it. Smith knows it. The Uycarrans know it. The Guild won’t let her go once she arrives.”
Eleanor sat abruptly. There were calls and objections. It made no sense. She was too important. Someone else could go.
Finally Rachael shouted, “Quiet!” There was a silence. “If you had been listening to anything she has said the last six months, you know this is the foreseeable outcome. Voice your objections to her.” She leaned on the table and said, “We have to plan for the worst.”
Neville said in the silence, “If Millicent’s not here, what do we do?”
John smiled thinly, “We spend some of our hard earned credit and return to Earth and defend it.”
Eleanor waved her hand and said acidly, “And do what? Throw rocks at the Guild ships?”
Rachael’s mouth quirked, “Actually, I was thinking of something just like that.”
Tea and Treachery
Winifred sipped the brew from a white crucible shaped cup. The liquid was warm and had flavors of flowers and spice. It reminded her of the teas of London. The Guild Master, Saamsuiluna Brandenthaler, sipped his brew as well. Brandenthaler had light blue skin and deep red eyes. The Gild uniform favored rainbow colors, but he had picked a sash that was light blue to set off his skin. His hair was black, neatly trimmed to the nape of his neck and slicked back. He commented lightly, “I have enjoyed our conversations Miss Stanhope. I would not have imagined one of such a backward people could sustain such conversation. Your thoughts on survivalism and economics have been remarkably enlightening. It makes me wonder if everyone on your planet is so cultured.”
Winifred smiled graciously, ignoring the patronizing remarks and said, “Sadly no. Only a few of us with breeding truly understand the burdens of power.” She smiled thinly over her cup saying, “But I am sure that is true everywhere.” Brandenthaler snorted and set his cup down, “Not everyone agrees with such an obvious truism.” He waved his hand dismissively, “Some societies and culture have ridiculously egalitarian notions.” He leaned back and folded his hands in his lap, “Naturally those cultures are less advanced and less prosperous. The Guild allows them their foibles. But we make sure such unnatural notions stay put.”
Winifred smiled and savored the cup, “Ahh…as it should be.”
Brandenthaler picked up his cup and played with it a bit. “A FTL cruiser returned from Guild Headquarters.” Winifred raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Brandenthaler took a drink and said, “The technology you speak of is deemed not possible according to our scientists. The scientists were intrigued but will not be pursuing it further.”
Winifred set her cup down and stared at him for a moment. “Do you believe I am lying or that I am insane?”
Brandenthaler pursed his lips saying, “About these devices…no. Perhaps a better interpretation of the Guild’s assessment is that our scientists are unsure of the technology so it is best left alone by everyone.”
Winifred put her hands out, “But others are already using it.”
Brandenthaler raised his finger and said, “And we thank you for bringing that to our attention. Such matters must be dealt with quickly and your information will help us.”
Winifred practically pleaded, “Morgaine and Smith have probably sold some of these devices.”
The Guild Master waved his hands dismissively, “A handful at most. We will contain those. Sometimes upstarts need a reminder of who is in charge.”
Winifred clinched her jaw and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She said, in a steady voice, “I realize that I am new to the area. However, I worry you may be underestimating these people. After all the ship AIs will be assisting them. And my people are most determined to keep Guild…assistance at bay.”
He laughed heartily, “Your people are naive younglings and we have dealt with the Uycarrans before. There are fewer now and they have no home world. Perhaps we will finish the job this time. Your race can’t even fly yet. Your planet is hardly a match for Guild Space Forces.” He stood up and stretched. “The Guild scientists want you to return on the courier ship to discuss these devices and how best to disable them and prevent their use. Expect to leave in two weeks for the Central Guild Hall.”
Winifred stood as well and bowed slightly, “Then I shall look forward to our discussions in the few days left.” She moved closer and leaned up and whispered in his ear, “Alfred has found a new entertainment for me. You are welcome to have her first.”
Brandenthaler stroked his chin and then whispered back, “You have made these months interesting.” He leaned back and said more loudly, “I have a dreadfully boring dinner with some Kaum Legit envoy. Would you accompany me?” and then said in a low voice, “And I will make sure you are treating your new assistant properly.”
Winifred laughed lightly, “I will be delighted and you have always made sure people are treated properly.”
The Two Oldest Professions
Winifred and Findley finally left for the Guild Master’s dinner party. Winifred was wearing a shockingly flimsy dress that was fashionable on the station. Findley settled for a standard unisuit. They would be brining the Guild Master back after dinner. Alfred had asked if an additional entertainer would be necessary, but Winifred said the one should be plenty.
Alfred prepared a meal tray and headed to the bedroom in the suite. Inside was a green haired Tymbrimi named Anya Silverrain. She was wearing a thin negligee that left little to the imagination. At the base of her neck was a mark indicating she had been collared once. She turned to face Alfred. He kept his face straight despite her lack of modesty. “You will want to eat up. They are bringing home the Guild Master.”
She smirked, “I was told he was a regular. A bonus for me.”
Alfred set the table down on a side table. He poured himself some tea and sat on a chair opposite the Tymbrimi entertainer. Anya served herself some of the soup and took a bit of bread and a healthy serving of water and then sat on the settee opposite Alfred and chewed on the bread. Alfred said, “We have been invited to the Central Guild Hall with the next courier. We leave in two weeks. Winifred is finding the delays and time lag …frustrating.”
Anya snorted, “She will be taking the Guild’s fastest transport and she is annoyed with its lack of speed.”
Alfred shrugged, “I don’t know how much you know, but she has experienced faster.”
Anya squinted at him saying, “I hear rumors.” She waved away the thought and said, “The Guild isn’t know for it’s speed or it’s openness to new ideas. I imagine she finds that frustrating.”
Alfred leaned back and settled himself in the chair,”Immensely. She has a habit of taking frustration out on her …assistants. We should work out a means for me to know that you are in trouble.”
Anya laughed, “You are worried about me! How sweet.” She hardened, “I’ve talked with the others about your pair. I have no illusions. I was indentured to the Mollocots for 3 years.” Her eyes seemed to stare into the distance and then refocus, “Your Stanhope is pedestrian and predictable. Mr. Brown is more of a worry, but I expect he will be on a short line with the Guild Master around.”
Alfred sipped his tea, “It would hardly due to embarrass the Guild Master.”
She smiled thinly, ”And I will gain my own leverage tonight. You have information for me?”
Alfred pulled out a small cube and placed it on the settee next to her. She held it for a moment and then the cube disappeared into some hidden fold he could not imagine. “I trust that will be delivered quickly. Things are changing quickly.”
She took some soup and drink a large swallow of water, “My sisters haven’t slipped up yet. If Guild habits stay the same, I should have your message sent and in the cousins hands in a matter of days.”
Alfred sipped his tea and said, “You Tymbrimi have such complex family relations.”
Anya smirked, “We like to think we simplified something else everyone made complicated.”
Alfred stood and said, “If you are in trouble, stare at that corner of the room. I will settle matters quickly.”
Anya giggled, “Iti is right. You are appealing. Maybe the three of us can meet after this is over.”
Alfred smiled, bowed and left the room hoping his blush was not too obvious.