Return to Times Past
Jason was sweating heavily. Millicent had insisted on wearing clothing from Earth. The dark suits and ties seemed absurd in this heat. Felicity had to be suffering even worse with her petticoats. Fortunately, Millicent had forbidden corsets and other foundation garments or Michael would have had to carry his wife to the door. Only Millicent seemed unperturbed by the sun and heat. She leaned over to Jason and said, “Halboor Sigmund will likely have information on your parents. But please don’t push him. I will pick the moment to ask. Your presence, in particular, is going to cause questions as it is.”
Jason muttered, between pants, “Fine…if it means we get the information, I will stay quiet.”
Jason felt a hand on his shoulder briefly and then Liam said, “There’s a good lad…the patient man wins the race.” Liam spoke louder, “Millicent please tell this London cabby there is relief soon.”
Millicent paused on the path from the ship. She opened her parasol looked at Felicity who seemed to be wilting and handed it to Michael. She waved at the large structure and said, “The locals have used climate control for many years. It will be warm, but not as uncomfortable as this.” She looked around and said, “I used to sail carts out here.”
Michael groaned and said, “How did you survive?”
The hallway had a smooth floor and walls. Jason could see no masonry lines. As they got further away from the door, the hallway grew dark. Then at the end was a lighted door. Liam opened it, gaped for a moment and then pulled it open for the others. Millicent went first. Jason followed and stepped into a massive courtyard. He wondered why it wasn’t hot and then saw far above them a ceiling of glass. The light was almost as bright as the walk from the ship, but there was not the stifling heat. The courtyard was filled with plants, fountains and statuary. It would have fit at Kew gardens save for the strange colors. Jason took a deep breath and smelled flowers. Millicent led them to the center of the courtyard and waited.
Jason wandered around the quadrangle. Michael and Felicity sat on a bench. Liam stayed by Millicent’s side. Jason paused and viewed a fountain that seemed to be made of floating glass bowls arranged in a descending spiral pattern. A leafy vine grew up the center support and seemed to extend tendrils to each bowl. It was the most serene thing he had seen in months. Over the sound of splashing fountains, Millicent shouted, “I can give them the tour or you can. Your choice. I am not leaving until we talk.”
A deep voice replied, “You should not have come here.”
Millicent shouted more loudly, “Who else can I trust?”
A tall broad shouldered man with bright red hair, pale pink skin and very green eyes came out from behind a sculpture. He glanced at Jason and the others and said, “And you should not have brought them.”
Millicent said, in a lower voice, “They are why I need to talk to you.”
The man’s shoulders seemed to slump a little, “Time changes things, Millicent. The galaxy does not find their genius so amusing anymore.”
Millicent gestured to Jason and the others, “They can do so much. They just need a chance.”
The man snapped, “They have done too much already.” He walked towards her and pointed at her face, “I saw you four years ago. I should not see you for another four years …at the best of speeds.”
Millicent smiled thinly, “Times change.”
A short thin man with pinkish skin and powder blues eyes stepped out. He smoothed his jet black hair back and said, “Yes they do, Millicent Morgaine. They change and now the Guild has much to discuss with you.”
The tall broad shouldered man’s shoulders slumped and he said in a low voice, “They have been waiting. You should not have come, Millicent.”
Millicent said, “The Bedouins of your planet survive worse.” She checked her notebook and said, “It is only 43.”
Michael grumbled, “43 never felt like this.”
Jason snorted a little , “43 Centigrade, Michael. Centigrade.” He did a calculation in his head and said, “Think 109. London would melt.” He opened his water bottle and said, “Drink some and make sure Felicity finishes it.” Michael shook his head, but took the bottle drank a bit and handed it to Felicity who drank deeply.
Millicent chuckled and said, “It takes a bit to get used to, but it has its beauty. There is nothing quite like the stars in a desert night.” She moved them forward that last 200 meters to a large ornate gate. When opened, a train could have easily driven through it with room to spare. At one side was a tall door recessed into a wall that seemed to be solid rock.
A voice spoke, “Please leave all weapons at the door.” And the door opened. They entered into the cooler environment. Liam and Felicity sighed in relief. The voice repeated, “Please leave your weapons on the table.”
Millicent looked at Liam and Jason and raised an eyebrow. Jason shrugged and left his cudgel at the table. Liam grumbled as he left his revolver, “I feel naked.”
The voice repeated, “All weapons, please. Your safety is assured.”
Millicent sighed and crossed her arms and stared at Jason and Liam. Jason put his hands out pleading innocence. Liam finally pulled out two knives and put them on the table saying, “They’re knives…they don’t count.”
The voice repeated, “No one will be allowed in until all weapons are put on the table.”
Jason chuckled as Liam pleaded at a furious Millicent, “It ain’t me.”
From the back Jason heard Felicity say, “Fine…seems like a lady can’t have secrets.” She placed three throwing knives on the table.
The voice said, “Thank you for your cooperation in keeping Tianna a safe haven.”
Millicent stared at Felicity and said, “You have been hanging around Rachael too much.” Felicity shrugged, closed the parasol, hefted it a little and raised her eyebrow at Millicent who quickly grabbed it and moved on.
Reaching an Understanding
Millicent clenched her fists, stared at Hallboor Sigmund. His shoulders fell in. His dark green eyes closed. She hissed, “I trusted you.”
The Kanvian Guild Agent strutted forward and patted Hallboor on the back, “Mustn’t blame him too much Millicent Morgaine. After changes in the hierarchy, the Guild is taking a new direction.” He walked up to her and looked up at her and said, “I assume you have spoken with John Smith.”
Millicent made a small motion with her hand at her team and hoped they caught on. “Why no, I have not had the pleasure. I am not sure where I would have met him. I made a detour from my usual trip.”
The Guild agent squinted at her and then at her team. Liam shrugged. Jason managed to look confused. Michael and Felicity were staring at a statue. The agent said, “John Smith was to deliver a message.” He nodded at her team, “They cannot be trusted. We will be taking over the planet for the good of the galaxy and their own progress.” Jason snarled, but she could see Liam stopping him. He smiled in their direction, “Smith was to deliver the ultimatum to you, Millicent.”
Millicent crossed her arms and tapped her fingers, “Well he didn’t. Besides, you can’t do that. Earth is mine. I have the right to plead my case before any such action.”
The Guild agent said, “The rules on such matters have changed with the hierarchy.” He stepped over to the group. “Morgaine, I would have thought Hallboor instilled better manners in you. Introductions..please.” He leaned over and extended his hand out toward Liam, “I am Bendiks Kaspar, of Kanvia…that means nothing to you I’m sure.” Liam ignored the hand and picked his teeth with his pinkie. Millicent almost smiled.
Millicent gritted her teeth and moved over to her former sponsor, “This is Hallboor Sigmund. He has been a great deal of help to me in the past.” Hallboor bowed to her group but kept his eyes on Millicent. She moved to each of her group and introduced them in turn. The Guild agent, Bendiks Kaspar, made to shake hands with each one but was ignored. She finished with Jason and introduced him, “Jason McNeill.”
Kaspar leaned into Jason and said in a harsh tone, “Where do you come from boy?”
Millicent filled in quickly, “A town of no consequence. Friends of his were in need of rescue and I helped.” She waved to the group and said, “They’ve joined me for passage back to earth.”
Kaspar harumphed. He looked at Millicent and said, “And where did you pick them up?”
Millicent shrugged, “I took their contracts on an outlying station – Tymbrimi space I think. I have a patron planning some work.”
Kaspar walked around Jason eying him, “You had another McNeill in a previous group.”
Millicent smiled, “Another gifted engineer. I left him at his home on Earth. The last I heard, he was married and enjoying the country life.”
Kaspar turned and his eyes narrowed, “We recalled him. We had indications he was violating Guild restrictions.”
Millicent felt Jason tense. Liam put an arm on him. She said to Kaspar, “A misunderstanding I am sure. I should have been consulted before that action. Or is the Guild no longer offering that courtesy?”
Kaspar sneered, “Your affection of humans is widely known.” He stared at the group. “Sean McNeill’s actions were serious enough we had to act quickly. And we were right. He was flagrantly violating rules for lesser races.”
Liam muttered, “Lesser races, my … I will clock you…” Millicent glared at Liam who went silent.
Kaspar smiled thinly at Liam and then watched Jason as he said, “We took he and his wife almost 20 years ago. They probably have reached their final destination.” He turned back to Millicent and said, “The McNeill’s proved Earth isn’t stable. We will be guiding this barbaric race for its own good. The council approved. The force is moving.”
Millicent turned to Hallboor and said, “You are on council. How could you let this happen?”
Kasper almost laughed as he said, “You missed the change of the guard, Morgaine. The majority felt the leniency of past council members has resulted in a decline in stability and profits. Hallboor Sigmund has retired by mutual agreement.” He smiled and waved his hands airly, “When the council decided to sanction Earth, we also decided to set up a station here. You should be honored, Millicent Morgaine – an entire Guild outpost waiting just for you.”
Tea in the Desert
Liam trailed the group as they were led into a large circular dining hall. The center was dominated by a circular table that could easily sit 20. It reminded Liam of the etching from “Le Morte d’Arthur” he had read in school so long ago.
Staff were setting the table so Liam and the others waited on the side as the final silverware was placed. Another person with the pink skin and green eyes of Sigmund moved next to him and said, “I was not present during introductions.” He turned and offered his hand, “My name is Anton Tiitus. I serve as Sir Hilboor’s assistant.”
Liam eyed him sideways but ignored the hand, “Suppose I ought to be civil… I’m Liam O’Hannigan. I serve as Millicent Morgaine’s …assistant.”
Tiitus looked at his stretched hand and then withdrew it. He turned and watched the table being set. He asked, “Was the reception not acceptable?”
Liam crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. He sneered and said in a high tone,“Was the reception not acceptabl?” He looked at Tiitus saying “This whole bloody trip has been one big trap. The garden is pretty and dinner looks tempting, but we are prisoners. That is going to affect my view of your reception.”
Tiitus smirked a little, shrugged and said, “Ah… I can see that would be off-putting. Sometimes circumstances override our best intentions.” He gestured to the table and said, “May I join you? I think we may have things to discuss later.”
Liam waved a hand and moved to the table saying, “Fine…whatever. I’ll play nice for now.”
A cold cream soup of vegetables was served. Liam had spent enough time around Millicent and in strange places, that he knew to try it first before rejecting it. The cool, crisp soup was refreshing after the walk across the desert. He ate his silently as Tiitus seemed to babble about nothing.
“I was here when Millicent Morgaine was brought here. Poor girl was dazed. Didn’t speak a word. Never smiled. Halboor spent hours with her, but nothing seemed to reach her.”
A new course arrived that looked like sandwiches. The filling was a salty vegetable paste. Liam craved a fine beef sandwich, but enjoyed the light sandwich with water and the crisps served in open bowls. Tiitus babbled further, “Halboor arranged lessons in cloud sailing. Finally she started to smile. She was beating the entire staff before long. She brought home several trophies from competitions.”
Liam took a drink and said, “I suppose if prison is like that, it won’t be all bad.”
Tiitus stared at him for a moment. He remained quiet long enough for Liam to finish a sandwich. Then he spoke again, “Halboor knew she would leave eventually. You can’t hide history. He and the staff…we tried to…”
Liam looked at him and said a sneer, “Make up for mistakes?”
Tiitus concentrated on his fruit. “I suppose. Some of us were appalled at the action. And more appalled with what they did to that child.” He looked up and said, “How do you find the ship?”
Liam eyed him narrowly, “It’s comfortable enough.”
Tiitus leaned back and pushed his plate away. “The cloud sailing had gotten her to open up. Then some Kanvian…same as that same pestilent creature that greeted you in the courtyard…took her away on the year anniversary of the ‘Guild’s Success’. They paraded her around to Uycarran refugees and Guild leaders.”
Liam muttered, “Bastards.”
Tiitus paused and said, “That translates well. Anyway, she came back and lapsed into silence again. Halboor Sigmund was furious. He threatened to organize a boycott of Kanvia if they touched soil here again.” He looked over at Millicent. “We missed the girl sailing in the clouds.” He took a crisp and some dip. “Again,Halboor tried everything. Finally he found something that worked for the long term. He had to pull strings and pay off I don’t know how many officials to get that ship. It was an old Uycarran family ship set for salvage. He brought it here and put it in the hanger.” Liam said nothing. Tiitus said, “The AI was so damaged, the Guild deemed it safe. Halboor brought Millicent to the hanger and said, ‘make it yours.’”
Liam forgot his food and water, “Did she fix it?”
Tiitus smiled, “I think repairs went in both directions.” He signaled to a server and desserts were brought. It was a light pudding with a vanilla and mint flavor. Tiitus said, “The ship became her retreat when times were bad. Despite Halboor’s threats, tours continued. But they were less brutal. Chiss became the escorts and they are …friendlier. After each tour she spent a month working on the ship. She seemed to find comfort in it.” He said with a smile, “We never tried to figure out why she enjoyed time on the ship so much.”
Liam ate his pudding and said, “Why are you telling me this?”
Tiitus finished his dessert and set the dish on the table. “I thought you might night to know where she got that remarkable ship you came in on.” He leaned back in he chair. “You should also know Halboor Sigmund objected to the action against the Uycarrans. And he objects to the action against Earth. He we was ousted for his opposition and Guild officers have been here constantly for the last year.”
Liam narrowed his eyes, “There was no warning as we approached.”
Tiitus snorted, “Do you think we control communications?”
“What is going to happen?”
Tiitus smiled, “Fill your drink Liam O’Hannigan. I would like to show you an amazing fountain sculpture.”
Liam eyed him. Tiitus filled his glass with a green liquor and nodded to the door back to the courtyard. Liam filled a glass of his own with the green liquor. He stopped by Jason and Michael saying, “Do not leave Millicent. I’ve got business to attend to.” And then followed Anton Tiitus to the courtyard.
When Staff Meet
Michael shook his head and snorted as Liam left with the Kalish assistant. The thought that Millicent would need protection was farcical. She needed his protection as much as he needed Felicity to sharpen his pencils. He took a drink and watched Millicent converse with the old man. As they talked, the tension of the garden left Millicent. The Guild bastard made his excuses before the meal. Millicent had spent the entire meal in conversation with Halboor Sigmund. Michael could see there was genuine affection in his eyes and Millicent was equally pleased to talk to him. Sigmund leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Suddenly she sat back and stared at her plate. Sigmund patted her on the arm and called over more drinks. He watched as Millicent poured herself a glass of the green liquor. She shook her head, biting her lower lip. At that moment, Felicity tapped his arm and said, “Michael, help me clean these dishes.”
Michael shook his head, “Sigmund’s staff are handling that.”
Felicity said slowly while gripping his arm tightly, “Michael D. Richards, are you telling me you are too important to clear your own dishes?”
Michael shook his head and thanked God Liam was gone or he would never hear the end of this. “Of course not dear.” He stood up and gathered his plate. He looked at Jason who winked and waved him on. Michael cleared Liam’s and Tiitus’s plates as Felicity gathered serving dishes.
Save for the appliances, the kitchen could have been the downstairs of a Belgravian town home. Felicity was speaking with the head maid as they scraped food from plates and saved leftovers. Other staff were putting dishes away. Michael moved over the cleaning area. Another large Kalish man was running the dish cleaning machine. He was big in a rotund way with shorter red hair. He took the dishes, scraped the food into a container and then placed a set in the dishwasher and closed the lid. The machine began its process which took less than 3 minutes.
The big man took the stack of dishes out, set them aside to dry, and started a new set. He glanced over at Michael, “Ain’t never seen dishes washed?”
Michael shook his head hard and said, “God no. Spent most of my early years at the sink washing plates. I hope never to clean a cheese casserole again.” The dishwasher grunted at the stack plates waiting to be cleaned. Michael found an apron and said, “What’s the process?”
The large man, “All the food is sent to the composter. This planet is so low on nutrients, everything goes into the soil.” He pointed to the machine, “No rinsing necessary. Cleans and sterilizes in minutes. Uses a fraction of the water hand washing takes.” He handed Michael a towel and said, “Just need to dry things.” Michael began his work.
The dishes and cookware kept coming and the two of them worked constantly. Michael would glance over at Felicity who seemed deeply engaged with the head maid and was writing things down. The dishwasher said, “Glad Miss Morgaine stopped by. She looks good. Mr. Sigmund brought her here after the Uycarran troubles. Quiet one. Didn’t say a word. Then just as she started to open up, them damned Guild would hall her off for some propo run.”
Michael asked, “propo run?”
The dishwasher spat contemptuously, “Propaganda tour. It’s when they decide what truth is.” Michael’s eyes got big. “I got no worries. I’m a dishwasher – can’t take me much lower. Anyway, Mr. Sigmund got her that ship to work on. It took years to get it to work, but she stayed with it. She never complained about chores and always helped us staff. I was sorry to see her go.” He stepped away from the cleaning station and leaned against a counter to admire the clean dishes. “Can’t say I blame her.”
Michael was drying and placing dishes as directed, when Millicent came in. Everything came to stop. The staff stared at her. Finally the dishwasher said, “It is a blessing to see you again, Miss Morgaine.” Ice broken, several of the older staff crowded around her and exchanged hugs and greetings. Millicent managed to ask about children or favorite activities. She glanced at Michael and seemed to beckon him.
When he was close enough, she said into his ear, “I am worried about the engine cooling cycle. Can you and Felicity run some checks on the engine? Here are the areas I am worried about. Halboor will help us out when we need it.”
Michael said, “Sure. I don’t think we are needed here.”
Millicent winked at him and said, “Excellent, now don’t tarry. Halboor will need a list of those engine parts quickly.” She then turned to the cook and said “How is that gamyon tree of yours? Is the fruit still as sweet?”
Michael glanced at the hand written note, “Prep for leaving. Expect problems.” He hurried over to Felicity and said, “We need to get back to the ship. Duty calls.” Felicity looked confused. She glanced at Millicent who managed to make a shooing wave. Felicity shrugged, grabbed Michael’s arm and said, “Then we best be leaving, dear.”
A Walk In the Garden
Jason sat at the table with Millicent and Halboor Sigmund. Liam had left with the assistant Tiitus. Michael and Felicity had cleared plates and were now in the kitchen with the rest of the staff. Sigmund played with his glass of green liquor, looked at Jason and said, “Millicent, I would wager our young engineer would love to see how we keep this place so cool.” He turned to Jason and winked, “And you might like to see her favorite hiding places.”
Millicent pushed the plate back and wrote something on a note. She folded it, tapped it on her hand and eyed Jason with a raised eyebrow. “I think a tour will enlighten you greatly, Mr. McNeill.” She turned to Sigmund and said, “I remember a particular fountain…”
Sigmund nodded and said, “We’ll meet you there. Anton will take care of Mr. O’Hannigan. Meet with the others. Besides the staff will be crushed if they don’t get a chance to say hello.”
Millicent got up and headed towards the kitchen. Halboor Sigmund took his drink and indicated Jason should take his as well and then gestured to the door, “Millicent has loaned you to me for a bit. We have things to discuss. Besides, the staff is quite fond of her.”
Jason frowned a bit, picked up his drink and said, “She does tend to grow on you.” He looked around and then asked, “Won’t Bendiks Kaspar miss our tour?”
Sigmund smirked a little, “Kaspar, like all Kavians, cannot be bothered with operations and machinery.” He eyed Jason as they walked through the door, “But I imagine your crew can handle a bit of …fuss and bother.” Jason said nothing. Sigmund said, “Come along boy, we will tour the garden while Millicent delivers her note and has her moment with the staff.” Jason took a last sip and followed him our of the dining hall and into the large courtyard. Sigmund walked around the courtyard until they stood before a tall, noisy waterfall. He pointed to the fountain and then to his ear and leaned in close to Jason and said, “It is not perfect, but they won’t hear much with this ambient noise. Stay vague. It will take days of processing for them to get anything out of this noise.”
Jason kept his face straight but said in a harsh tone, “Why should I trust you?”
Sigmund said simply, “Millicent does.”
Jason looked at him, “I am not so sure she should after to seeing a bloody Guild agent waiting for her.”
Sigmund shrugged and took a drink of his green liquor, “We went over that at dinner. She knew there was a risk coming here. She had no way of knowing how far out favor I am.” He eyed Jason with a raised eyebrow. “I did not invite these people and she knows me long enough to know I especially dislike Kavians.”
Jason said, “The Guild crushed her planet.” He said in a low voice, “They will crush mine. You are a part of that.”
Sigmund frowned and said, “Did vague not translate well?” He pointed at the fountain and said, “The Guild I was a part of sought fairness. That is a good goal. Surely you’ve seen those with technology, skills, knowledge exploit and pillage those without. I don’t even have to know your history to know it happens.” Jason frowned and stared at the fountain. “It is nature…for all races. The Guild I believed in was supposed to protect weaker races until they could compete.”
Jason said carefully, “It appears different from my reading of your history.”
Sigmund moved to a flower. He face was drawn and his eyes looked tired. “Goals and missions become subject to interpretation. Those in power shape them to their purposes. And those who are in charge become reluctant to step aside for newer thinking.” He sniffed the flower and said, “Some of us got scared. Some of us grew complacent. Others in the Guild, simply grew avaricious.”
Jason sneered, “Which were you?”
Sigmund turned back to him, smiled thinly and said, “If you cannot figure that out on your own, I see no value in helping you.”
A Glimmer of Hope
At that point Millicent came up and said, “I am glad you two are getting to know one another. Jason, you will be fascinated by the environmental controls. They manage the temperature and humidity in nearly two hundred zones throughout the complex. This garden serves as a humidifier as well as a source of negative ions. There is a herb garden that supplies seasons for meals.” She looked at Jason and Halboor Sigmund. Jason had his arms crossed and was frowning. Sigmund’s eyes a bit drawn and his smile forced. She said, “But perhaps you found more interesting things to discuss than the physical plant.”
Jason eyed Sigmund and said, “I am sure I have a great deal to learn.”
Sigmund said, “The boy has questions. Perhaps we should start a tour now that you have arrived. You can provide an understanding I may not have.”
Millicent smirked a little “He has always been a skeptical one.” She looked at Jason and then gestured to another door in the garden area. They walked along corridors lined with machines. Some cooled the air. Others added humidity. Some removed dust that held toxic chemicals and pollens. The noise got progressively louder as they moved further into the machinery. She stopped on a bridge overlooking the effluents from the complex heading to treatment. The noise of the crashing fluid and machinery was deafening. The heat was nearly as bad as the walk to the ship. Clearly no temperature control was done in this section of the operation. But it was the stench that was stupefying. The Thames on a bad day was not this fetid.
Sigmund smiled as he leaned in and shouted, “Guild agents never make it this far. You humans are far more resilient. Any nano bugs are quickly corrupted by the vapors in this location. We can speak freely here.” He turned to Millicent and said loudly, “Anton is working with Liam O’Hannigan. None of the Guild ships will take off when you leave. But you need to disable the communications tower before you leave or the orbital patrol will be ready for you.” He handed her a slip of paper and then his face got long and somber. “The ship in orbit has orders to shoot any unauthorized take offs.”
Millicent nodded and grimaced, “We will take care of it as we leave.”
He turned to Jason and said loudly, “Your parents are on a prison planet. Escapes are rare but not unheard of.” He put his hand on Jason’s shoulder, “Your parents are probably alive, but there are conditions you should know.”
Jason’s heart pounded and his vision became blurry. He shouted hoarsely, “Alive?”
Halboor Sigmund said, “Yes, but prison planets are harsh environments.” He handed Jason a data cube. “These are the codes to break into or out of the planet. They get you past the satellite protection. But that is just the first layer. Once on the planet, you will need to bypass the jail security. You could land, but you would be recognized immediately by the guards. I can’t get you past those.”
Jason stared at the cube of information, “I misjudged you.”
Sigmund put a hand on Jason’s shoulder and said, “You lacked information. With new information, you can reassess. That is someone who thinks.”
Jason looked at him and said, “You have been saying there are considerations.”
Sigmund’s face looked tight, “The Guild would not waste precious resources transporting criminals on an FTL ship. Your parents would have been transported in stasis so they could experience the full length of their imprisonment. Jason, they lost 15 years.”
Liam followed Anton Tiitus through a long series of tunnels. As they walked, Anton would point out various features or structures. Liam was certain the engineers would find it all fascinating. He was trying to keep track of the turns. They stopped in front of large doors that led into the hanger of the outpost. Anton smiled and said, “I think you will find the ships most interesting.”
Liam put his finger to his lips and activated the nano blocking device. He thought he could see small flashes of light. He said quickly and lowly, “I have a little toy that burns listeners. Are they going to notice?”
Anton eyed him narrowly and then said, “You people are full of surprises.” He then hissed, “They suddenly go deaf and blind around us?!What do you think?!” He pinched his brow and said, “It will make things easier but they are going to send back up nanos quickly to fill the void and probably some agents to check.”
Liam said, “Then best be quick. Why the hell are we here?”
Anton pointed to the door and smiled, “Making sure you have a safe exit.” He opened the door and they stepped in. He put his fingers to his lips to indicate silence. He waved to the ships lined up in the hanger facing towards a set of impossible large doors. “The Guild is using our hanger to store their ships. The conditions are too harsh for any ship to stay outside long. We do maintenance and stock their supplies. Having Millicent’s ship in here will be no trouble at all. The staff will be fascinated to see if it has changed since she restored it ages ago.” The five ships were about the same size as Canynge’s Folly, Millicent’s ship. They were sleek just as Millicent’s ship, but they also bristled with points and spurs on the top of the ship. Liam knew just enough to guess those were weapons pods.
Anton moved quickly to a room in the back of the hanger saying, “Let me show you the operations center.” The room was 30 feet long and had a large window. It had large dish shaped things and a pole that could have been a lightning rod if it was outside. Anton held open the door and let Liam in. Inside were three large stations like the ship’s bridge. Each was manned by a person like Anton, a Kalish with bright red hair, green eyes and slightly pink skin. Anton closed the door and nodded to Liam. Liam went around the room using his device. Little flashes went off at each use. After four tries there were no more flashes.
Anton smiled and then said, “Mr. O’Hannigan just knocked out the listening nanos. The Guild is blind and deaf in here. We will need to act quickly.” Anton handed Liam a cube and said, “Liam put this in the slot by Andrejs.” The man on the far left raised his hand and pointed to the slot. As they moved over Anton said, “The cube will install a program into the Guild ships that will disrupt their engines when they try to use them.”
Liam put the cube in and said, “Why have me do it?”
Anton shrugged, “They will figure out something and we can say you did it while we weren’t looking. If they find the cube, it will have your DNA on it.”
Liam smiled thinly, “I do like the odds for Millicent now.” Liam watched the cube glow a little as it started its work.
Then the door of the operations room burst open. Two Kanvians with deep power blue eyes came in. Anton checked his sleeve and sighed deeply and whispered, “That took less time that I hoped.”
One of the Kanvians pointed at Liam and snapped, “What is he doing here?”
Anton put his arms behind him and smiled, “I am giving him a tour of the facilities. I presume Canynge’s Folly will be joining your ships here? Is there a problem with us reviewing procedures with Millicent’s assistant?” Liam smiled back and stood so the agent’s view of the cube was blocked.
The second man stepped in front of the first and said, “We have been tracking all of the …guests. We were worried he got lost.”
Anton gestured to Liam and said, “He has been with me the entire time. I wasn’t aware I needed to report my tour to anyone.”
The first man sneered, “Guild Master Kaspar said all the humans were to be watched.”
Anton shrugged and then waved to the ships in the hanger, “Where will they go with you guarding the exit?” Liam glanced at the cube which was now dark. He leaned on the console. Andrejs glanced up at him and then stared back at the Guild agents. Liam pulled the cube out and slipped it into his pocket. Anton moved passed the two Guild agents at the door and beckoned Liam, “Come along, Liam. I will show you a short cut to your ship.”
The first Kanvian agent said, “He stays in the complex!”
Anton leaned up to the agent and said, “You are an idiot.They will be here for as long as you have them trapped down here. They have been traveling for ages and need supplies. Now get out of our way and let those of us who understand work do our job.”
The second Kanvian put a restraining hand on the first and said, “If that ship moves, we will shoot it out of the sky before we it makes it to space.”
Anton smiled thinly, “I expect no less from the cream of Kanvian space service.” Liam smiled broadly at the the two glowering agents as they left the operations room.
Outside the office they headed toward the two enormous doors that sheltered the space ships. As they walked, Anton tapped something into his sleeve. He stopped at one point and then showed Liam the message. “No talking. No device.” Liam nodded and they continued to the hanger doors. To one side, there was a smaller access door. Anton opened it and said, “There is your ship. Others should be along soon. Be ready.”
Liam headed out and then snapped his fingers, “I am a bit worried about the food and water supplies. Can we get supplies, if I send you a list?”
Anton smiled grandly, “Excellent idea. We will be happy to help Millicent. It is the least we can do.”
Liam stepped out into the sweltering heat and sun. He turned back and saluted with two fingers to Anton. Anton returned the salute and closed the door. Liam started towards Millicent’s ship. He saw Michael and Felicity heading up the ramp. Liam started a quick trot to join them.
Halboor smiled wanly saying, “You must leave now, Millicent. I had hoped for a longer time on your return, but circumstances change.”
Millicent’s voice cracked, “There is so much to say.”
Halboor reached up and touched her head, “You may yet get that conversation. But not if you stay. Things are in motion now. Go…”
Millicent turned to Jason, “Head to the ship. Try to look casual as you go. You will be operating the ring assembly. We will need it working quickly. Michael will be on operations and defensive systems. Liam will be assisting him.”
Jason nodded to her commands. He then turned to Halboor and held up the cube, “Sir, this …this means so much.”
Halboor put hands on both of Jason’s shoulder,”You get one try with those. Make it good. Go…Millicent will be right behind you.” Jason bowed a little and then did a fast walk back to the courtyard.
When Jason was gone, Millicent asked, “What will happen to you?”
Halboor shrugged and then smiled, “Anton has been saying for ages that the house needs a trip.” He leaned in and said, “I would like to meet the Guild agent that can follow a Kalish household in the desert.”
“You can’t do that forever.”
Halboor got a twinkle in his eyes, “Do you think the operations of this place will continue with the household gone? Those Kavian clowns will be having heat stroke in a week.” He up at the machinery and said, “Besides there might be a surprise or two for them if they explore too much.”
Millicent took his hands in a clasp and said into his ear, “I will have dinner under the stars with you next time we meet.”
Halboor clasped her arm and pulled her into a hug and said, “I will hold you to that child. Now go and stay safe until we meet again.” Millicent hugged the man who had been her surrogate parent. She hustled down the path that would take her back to the courtyard and to the ship. She wiped her face as she walked away.
Liam greeted her at the top of ramp. “Anton sends his regrets. He would have liked to talk with you. But both of us felt a short visit was best.”
Millicent put a hand on his shoulder, “Anton always seemed to know what I was up to.” She put her arm around him and guided him into the ship, “We got useful information for Jason. And it was a visit I had to make. I knew it was a risk coming here, but Halboor always gives good advice.” She stepped away and handed her parasol to Liam and said, “Status, Mr. O’Hannigan.”
Liam gave a sharp salute with his hand to the back of his head, “Everyone is on board and at their stations. Mr. Richards has been warming the engine. Mrs. Richards has been trying to convince the communications tower it is just tests. Mr. McNeill is doing God knows what to that deviltry in the engine room and says it will be on-line as quick as he can manage. I will be helping Mr. Richards at the operations station.”
Millicent said, “Excellent work, Mr. O’Hannigan. Now let’s give them a surprise or two.” They hurried to the bridge as fast as her dress would allow.
When they arrived, Liam took a place next to Michael. Millicent said, “Report, Mr. Richards.”
Michael replied, “The Guild ship just passed us on orbit. It won’t be around for another 90 minutes. The engine is warm and ready. ” Millicent nodded and sat at the pilot’s station.
Millicent said, “Contact, Mrs. Richards?”
Felicity said, “The communications team is most concerned we will be missing dinner. I have been reassuring them we just need a change of clothes.”
Millicent smiled and nodded. She took a deep breath and said, “Send them our regrets. We will be dining on the ship. Mr. Richards target two missiles: one conventional explosive, one EMP. You will fire to these coordinates on my command, not before.” She handed him the slip of paper from Halboor Sigmund. “Then you will load a full complement of high fragmentary missiles. Do not tarry.” She turned to Liam and said, “Monitor the Guild ships in space and the hangers. Give Michael any targets you find.” She then said into the speaking tube, “Mr. McNeill, I want that device working and us in transition just as quickly as possible when we leave the atmosphere.” Then said to everyone, “Buckle in. We are about to fire the first shots in this war.” There were shouts around the bridge and over the speaking tube.
Millicent started the main engine.
Felicity immediately said, “Canynge’s Folly sends our regrets. We will be dining on board.”
Everyone on board heard Bendiks Kaspar’s reply, “You will set down, shut off your engines and leave the ship by order of the Guild. You will do so or we will force you.”
Millicent said, “Lifting ship.”
Felicity replied in a sweet voice, “Canynge’s Folly sends our regards. And says.” Felicity’s voice turned harsh and loud, “Terra sempre Liberi”
Millicent quirked her mouth and then shouted, “Fire Michael. Your wife needs an exclamation point!”
Michael shouted back, “Missiles away.” His hands started moving over the panel, “Loading 10 high fragmentary missiles.”
Millicent poured on the acceleration and felt herself pushed into the seat. Liam shouted, “Two hits to the communication tower.”
Millicent shouted over the shaking and cheers, “Well done people. Mr. O’Hannigan watch the hanger.”
Liam had a smirk on his face even as the acceleration strained on him, “Don’t need to worry too much. Anton and me left a small present on their ships. Ain’t none of them gonna to work proper.” He then said, “Guild space ship is coming about.”
Millicent said into the speaking tube, “Mr. McNeill, we are out of the atmosphere. A jump soon would be nice.”
Jason said, “Thirty seconds to transition. Hard to work when I’m stuck to the seat.”
Millicent gritted her teeth and then brought the ship directly into the path of the Guild ship. “Mrs. Richards, tell that Guild ship to stand down or get out of our way.”
Liam said, “Ships closing in. 40 seconds to impact.”
MIchael said, “Missiles have lock.”
Millicent shouted, “Diamond pattern, launch on my mark. Jason…any time now.”
Jason called out through the speaking tube, “15 seconds count down.”
Liam said tensely, “20 seconds to impact”
Millicent said, “Michael, when Jason gets to 10, fire.”
Jason’s voice counted, “12, 11,10..”
Michael said, “Missiles Launched!”
Liam shouted, “Bastards pulled off and launched missles!”
“3,2,1 and Transition”
The bridge went quiet. Liam whispered, “We’re still here!”
Millicent breathed out, “Yes…we are.” And then there was shouting on the bridge and the speaking tube. Felicity got up and gave Michael a meaningful kiss. Millicent said, “Well done people. Well done. We had surprise but you executed well.” She stood up and stretched and said, “If it is all the same to you, I am going to change and shower a bit before dinner. I expect everybody will want a break.”
A Storm Gathers
In her quarters, Millicent sat at her desk, her head propped in her hands. After a moment she asked, “Charles, are you there?”
The aristocratic voice answered, “Mr. McNeill started waking me once he started work on the Omicron Device.”
“How much did you see?”
“Enough. I will review the logs when I am fully functioning.” The was a pause and he said, “You can be proud. They made good account of themselves.”
Millicent kept her head in her hands, “They did. I expected no less.”
“I expect ‘Terra simpre liberi’ will catch on, at least when they get back to Earth.”
“That girl…that woman never ceases to surprise me.” Millicent leaned back in her chair. “Halboor told me I shouldn’t have come. I guess he was right.”
Charles replied, “We both knew there was a risk that the Guild would be there. And I agreed you needed to see him once more. I understand he gave some help to Mr. McNeill”
Millicent said, “He did.” She rubbed her face with her hands, “I wish…I wish we hadn’t fired those missiles.”
Charles said, “The shooting would have started some place else. And only you were going to start it. The Alliance fears the Guild. The Guild fears you.”
She sighed, “Are we ready?Will anyone follow?”
“There is no answer to those questions now. And only time will tell if you get the answers you want.” The bathroom light blinked on and the shower started. “Now I distinctly heard you say you needed a shower and a change of clothes. You are covered with dust and God knows what else. Sewage? Clean yourself up and then go enjoy a small celebration with your crew.”
“Very well old friend. Very well.”