London, June 1862
Smith looked at his notebook that contained the map. There were five candidate names that he had obtained and he entered their addresses in the notebook. The locations showed up on the map as small dots on the map generated from his images on his arrival. His map was far more accurate than any he might obtain locally. He did not understand how anyone got anywhere on this planet.
- Neville Carter-Fraser – Cricket and Crew, skills in chemistry and electronics, Near Regents Park, South
- Charles Wayland – wrestling, skills in aeronautics and chemistry, Near Hyde Park North
- Simone Campbell – gymnastics, skills architecture, materials in in Brompton, South of Hyde Park
- Winifred Stanhope – leader, fencing champion, skills is small mechanics near Vauxhall and Kennington Cross
- Findley Brown – skills in large mechanics, fencing champion, Dunstable
He hailed a hack from a main road near his row house which was to the west of Regents Park. The closeness to the park allowed him to hide his craft “in plain sight”. It rested near one of the islands submerged save for a small entrance. His night time arrival had disturbed a few local fowl and possible one vagrant. But the craft had a mode that “disguised” it so it blended in with the murky water. He was able to communicate with the craft on a regular basis. In those rare moments when he actually needed something from it, access was a bit tricky, but possible. He had shifted most of his working equipment to the apartment in the office, the library and the basement.
He climbed into the hailed cab and told the driver the address. The driver snapped the reins and the carriage moved. Smith found the ride rough but serviceable. He noted that just having rubber on the wheels and leaf spring suspension would make this transportation far more pleasant. If he found he needed to visit this location frequently, he would probably find a way to add those enhancements. The possibilities for improvement here were limitless. There was sanitation, energy, food production, even monetary enhancements to stabilize the local currencies. Most other civilizations in the galaxy had assistance along the way while this one was muddling along on its own. Frankly, he didn’t see the fairness in this and besides there was a tidy profit to be made. Its possibilities as a destination could be exploited with better facilities. And before that, these flexible, inventive people would make marvelous servants throughout the galaxy.
But first he needed to gather some subjects for his patron. The list sought people with engineering backgrounds and, hopefully, with some experience in combat or weapons. The first person, Neville Carter-Fraser, was an engineer with some experience in electronics. So far as he could tell, his only athletic experience was cricket and crew. Well, one couldn’t always get both skills. The cabby pulled up to the address and Smith got out.
“I expect to be about an hour. Do cabs come by here often?”
“Well guv’ up the road a block is Marybone Road and cabs frequent it,” the cabby said reluctantly.
“Then here is your fare. Thank you for your sssservice, “ and Smith headed to the row house with garden in front.
The cabby looked at the change, pocketed it, and muttered, “Cheap bastard can ride with someone else.” He snapped his reins and headed off towards the park.
Smith wore a brown vest and brown jacket with a white shirt and a top hat. He came up to the double doors and pounded the knocker. After a moment a short, stout man with a receding grey hairline appeared at one of the doors and said, “Carter-Fraser Residence.”
John Smith replied in his best tone, “I am looking for Neville Carter-Fraser. The Dean at the University recommended him to me for a short time job opportunity. My card.” Smith handed over the customary card of this culture and smiled.
The balding grey haired butler looked at the card and said, “One moment sir.”
Smith tried to relax and look at the flowers in the flower boxes on either side of the door. After a moment, the butler came back, “If Sir will follow me,” and he opened the door and let Smith in. The entry way was dominated by a marble sculpture of some ancient goddess and a profusion of cut flowers. Smith was certain this world might have technology advances worthy of selling, but it’s inhabitants to a man were ridiculously superstitious to claim civilization.
The two arrived in a room with overstuffed furniture that was dark leather as was typical of well to do households. Neville, his intended recruit, was tall and thin. He had no jacket on at the moment, but sported a pinstripe vest over light grey pants. These were accented by a purple and blue striped tie. Neville nodded to the butler and said, “Thank you, James. Some tea please.”
“Certainly, Master Carter-Fraser”. Smith smiled inwardly. At least some on this planet understood the importance of place. Although Neville might not yet know where he properly fit at the moment, but such a matter could be explained later.
Neville started, “So old man, you have a job. I’ve already said yes to Barrett and Jones Engineers.”
Smith smiled, “I am hardly surprised at one so qualified having a position already. The Dean said as much. My position is a short term offer – a bit of consulting abroad. The local chieftain wants a proper engineer to light his home.”
Neville sounded skeptical, “That’s hardly something you need a degree for. Workmen could do if you have gas.”
“True enough Mr. Carter-Fraser, but he has recently come into a great deal of wealth and he wants to electrify his house in the New World. My client wants an ‘expert’ to set up generation for his lighted dining room and guest rooms. I think you could bring over a water wheel and have the workmen do the main work.”
The young thin man looked confused, “Call me Neville old chap. I am not sure what a water wheel generator is although it sounds like a lot of work.”
John Smith cursed under his breath for the slip and tried to recover. “One moment,” he said and he pulled out his small notebook and made a quick view of the current history pages and realized his mistake. He took a deep breath, “I am sorry, Neville. Call me, John. I was thinking about another longer term job. The one I want you for is looking for a bit of electric fancies in his garden. Simple stuff: a Jacob’s ladder, a spark cage, maybe a coil or two. He likes to thrill at parties and thinks electrics are the thing. I can supply the equipment. You supply expertise to put it together and demonstrate its use. He lives in the tropics so there are a fair number of thunderstorms to a source. I think it is three or four days of work, but you’ll have to decide that. He will want you for six weeks.”
Neville looked a bit relieved at the changed scope. “Six weeks for three or four days of work? That seems a bit long.”
Smith replied, “It is a very pleasant climate and the local traditions are,” Smith paused and then leaned in conspiratorially and said, “exotic. The pay is quite generous. 200£, 100 of that is up front.” James arrived with the tea and began serving.
Neville brightened considerably. “Six weeks. I start at B&J in August. I might be able to delay them until September.”
James placed the filled cups on saucers and placed them in front of Smith and Carter-Fraser. Smith took a sip and smiled, “I have a contract I will want you to sign.”
James cleared his throat, “Sir, I can have Mr. Jones here tomorrow – to help you review the contract.”
Smith scowled in concern. He did not want a barrister seeing loopholes. He spoke up, “It is a simple contract. Just three pages. I can explain the clauses. I would like to get this settled today. My client is expecting a cable tomorrow morning.”
Carter-Fraser almost pleaded to the butler, “James, it is a cherry deal: six weeks away in the tropics”
Smith corrected, “eight weeks – two weeks for travel there and back.”
Carter-Fraser continued, “eight weeks. I do three days or work”
Smith corrected again, “five at most”
Carter-Fraser continued, “and I get 200£.”
“It sounds simply wonderful, sir. Hard to believe such luck in getting a job like that,” James said quietly.
Smith, not pleased at all with the butler, took a more aggressive stance. “if this works out, my client will want the latest additions to his island estate regularly.”
Carter-Fraser asked, “Island Estate?”
Smith said, “As I said Neville, the local culture is exotic,” his trap was now baited. Could he get this impressionable boy to bite while his guard dog watched?
James said, “I think it best to wait for Mr. Jones, sir.”
That butler was troublesome. Time to add more urgency. “Well, I have other candidates to see today. If the position is still open tomorrow, we can review it with Mr. Jones if you think that is best.” James looked daggers at Smith who simply smiled back.
Neville asked worriedly, “Who else are you asking?”
They would know eventually, so Smith saw no harm is saying “A Charles Wayland, a Simone Campbell, Winifred Stanhope and a Mr. Findley Brown. I understand Miss Campbell has a bit of electronics.”
Neville muttered to himself, “All good connections. Winifred is a bit fierce, but very good.” Then Neville acted in a most predictable fashion. “Nonsense. I’ll read carefully, James. Truly. I can sign today.” James grimaced.
Smith smiled and said, “Wonderful, let get out a contract.”
James muttered under his breath, “How convenient.”
Neville said, “Excellent”
Smith laid out two sets of three sheets of paper for Neville, his name already on one of the lines. He began to read the terms. “The first section identifies the parties: you, me and the client – first party, second party and third party. The second section outlines the work: electrics to be installed, tested and instruction given. Demonstrations are also required.”
James asked, definitely out of place, “Is there a limit?”
Neville, sounding irritated, “It’s for the garden. How big could it be?”
Smith agreed heartily, “Nothing really,”
James muttered under his breath, “should say so if it is.”
Smith continued, “Next paragraph lists start date and end date.”
Neville pointed to the contract, “It even lists the end date, James.”
James said, “How reassuring,” sounding unconvinced.
Smith continued, “The third section lists compensation. 100£ upfront and 100£ on completion of your contract.”
James asked, “Who decides the work is complete?”
Neville, annoyed, said, “It is a simple set up. It will be obvious.”
James responded, “Master Carter-Fraser, nothing is obvious.”
Smith tried to be smoothing, “Just so. This next paragraph lists the dispute process and liability.”
Neville looked a little alarmed, “Why is that necessary?”
James said under his breath, “this entire contract could be disputed”
Smith tried to be reassuring, “Disputes happen. This defines how those will be settled. You and the client will use an arbiter to settle the conflicts. It is a standard in the local culture.” Smith added, “For such a short time in a small matter, arbiters are hardly ever called in.”
James asked, “Who hires the arbiter?”
Smith clenched his teeth. “They are considered neutral parties and paid by both parties a percentage of the settlement.”
Neville said, “That sounds perfectly fair,“ as James looked at the ceiling. Smith smiled at the naiveté of this young man. If the settlement exceeded his available funds, he would be held liable and the third party would be made a trustee of him until such time as payment to the arbiter could be made. The collusion of arbiters and patrons across the galaxy was notorious. The Guild had considered acting on this matter in recent decades. But like all action in the Guild, this was held up by procedural maneuvers from members such as his sponsor. He had learned to love consensus driven decision making.
Smith asked innocently, “Interested enough to sign up?” handing Neville a pen.
“Absolutely,” he said preparing to sign.
Smith said, “I need you initial at these points, “ showing lines in what appeared to be random spots on the contract. Neville did as he was instructed. Smith continued to look apologetic as he pulled out a lancing kit, “My client’s customs are a bit exotic. It is an old world custom that agreements be signed in a most unusual fashion. If this is to be binding, I’ll need a spot of blood by each of your signatures.”
Neville looked simultaneously shocked and eager, “Really? A contract signed in blood?”
James protested loudly, “Master Neville!”
Neville dismissed the old butler, “Oh James, don’t be so stuffy. How positively native. I do believe this will top anything the boys at the club will have. Let’s sign this in blood old chap.”
Smith smiled darkly and took that lancet and drew some blood. He had Neville put a drop by each of the initials and his signatures. The blood signature would make the contract fully binding in the courts of the Guild no matter what Neville might say in the future. He waited a moment or two to let the spots and the ink dry. Smith rolled up his copy and left Neville’s on the table. “Well sir. I shall see you in three weeks for our adventure.” Smith got up and bowed to Neville. James escorted him to the door.
James said as he left, “I don’t trust you.”
Smith smiled back at him and said, “You don’t have to. Neville does. Have a pleasant day, James. Neville is in good hands now.” He headed out the door and walked down the block to the Marybone Street and hailed a taxi to the next location.
Other stops went in a similar fashion. The contracts were signed without a hint of guile. This further proved to Smith that the galaxy was filled with users and those who would be used. He was merely getting the two together. The next candidate was one of those he was counting on for some contests and a bit of leadership. She was the captain of the fencing team. When her name came up with the other three, there was something like respect. The taxi arrived outside the Soho row house. He paid the driver and got the usual reaction. He left the muttering cabby and headed to the door and banged on the knocker.
A younger butler, a bit shorter than Smith’s five foot, ten inches and wearing a vest with no coat arrived and simply asked, “How can I help you?”
John replied, “I am looking for Miss Winifred Stanhope. I have a short term job opportunity that she might be interested in” and handed over his card. In the background heard a young female voice ask, “Who is it Alfred?” Alfred, never letting his eyes off of Smith said, “John Smith comes with a short term job opportunity.”
A medium sized woman in fencing suit and holding a rapier appeared at the door. She said, “a bit unusual. Most recruiters stayed at the University.”
Smith answered as smoothly as he could, “I recognize it is well after such candidates as you have signed with other companies. But my client is most anxious to have the top graduates help with his work. It is a small job – a renovation really. Your abilities in mechanics will be most helpful. And I think he would admire seeing you practice your fencing skills as well.”
Miss Stanhope looked intrigued and amused, “How could anyone find fencing to be of interest?”
Smith paused for a moment. “What an interesting answer for someone who was the captain of the fencing team. My client and his friends are fanciers of the sport and are always looking for a worthy opponent.”
Miss Stanhope leaned up against the wall and waggled the rapier between two fingers, “Truthfully, I find the sport a bit tedious with all of its rules. Sword fighting was about duels and combat. Neither of those is long on rules. But if your clients like that sort of dance across the mat with dulled meat pokers, I am sure I can provide a bit of entertainment.”
Smith studied her for a moment, “I gather you desire something with a bit more excitement.”
“Don’t we all, Mr. Smith? Don’t we all?”
Smith said, “Not all of the contests are so… regimented. The location of this work is a bit far away and exotic in its entertainment interests. I should probably test your skills with the sword, if we were to open you up to the more… freeform contests.”
Miss Stanhope said, “A test already? You’re hardly making a good case for me taking this job. Tell me about this short term job of yours.”
Smith took a deep breath. He felt like the conversation was getting away from him. “The client issss having his garden enhanced. He is look for some automatons to liven the environment. There is a stream and waterfall nearby so I think the design could use that as the driver. The work is on an island in the New World.”
Miss Stanhope said, “It sounds interesting which is something I don’t say often. But the work hardly seems ‘short term’. Do you have the automatons built or do I design those? Is the driver mechanism in place, or do I design that? What kind of suppliers are we talking about?”
“My client assssures me that it will be only six weeks; eight with travel.”
“There is no way I could come close to finishing that project in six weeks. But perhaps there is more you need to tell me. We can save that for later. You wish to test my skills? I haven’t said yes, but I am tired of working on form and Alfred has chores to attend to. Alfred, show Mr. Smith to the gymnasium.”
The young butler in the grey waistcoat said in a formal tone, “Follow me, sir.”
John followed the quiet butler through the house. Miss Stanhope had headed in another direction. The two men took a set of stairs down into a basement which held a hallway with doors on both sides. Alfred pointed to the right side and said, “There is the changing room, sir. I believe there are a variety of suit sizes. The gym is to the left.“
Smith left his clothes on the counter and put on the traditional white fencing suit. He grabbed a protective helmet and headed into the gymnasium. The walls were lined with swords, shields, and older implements such as halberds and pikes. One wall, though, was covered with various implements of punishment and torture and these devices did not seem as historical. The Stanhope residence was becoming more intriguing by the minute. He took a ‘cat o’ nine tails’ and looked it over.
It was at the moment that, Winifred Stanhope entered and asked, “See anything to your taste, Mr. Smith?”
Smith smiled, “Thissss one has a nice balance and heft. The leather on the straps is smooth and supple; damage would be minimal while still being painful. All of these devices are in remarkably fine condition for items that aren’t used.”
“Alfred and I regularly oil them. Of course, there is an assumption in your statement I think even you question Mr. Smith. One does have entertainments. Rapier or Sabre?”
Smith rose his eyebrows in a look of smile. “Ah… entertainments. The sabre, I believe. It looks more like a real weapon.”
“I would have guessed you preferred a full edge,” and handed him the weapon. He tested its balance and weight. They donned their helmets and took positions on opposite ends of the mat. She raised her sword in obvious salute. He returned the salute and assumed a stance with the sword forward and balanced. The two moved closer together cautiously. Stanhope made the first attack to his side. He blocked that across his body turned his hand up. She moved to the side and then moved the sword up and touched his suit near the middle. “Touch” she said. He nodded and they moved apart and took stances again. This time Smith attacked at her shoulder. She deftly blocked it and rolled her sword down and his out of the way. She then attacked on his sword side with a slashing movement. He jumped out of the way and then and moved his sword toward her open side which she blocked again. This time he moved forward and pushed her back. She stumbled and he brought the sword up to her chest and said “Touch”. “Hmmph,” she said and then moved into position. This time she moved counter clockwise on the mat out of the narrow lane of the match. She rotated the sword at him in a form of taunt. As Smith expected she attacked ferociously. He blocked the slashes high and low. He could hear her effort with each swing. She saw a small opening to his side moved quickly and he felt the tip through the padded suit. “Touch.”
Stanhope called a halt and took off her helmet and saluted. “Mr. Smith, you technique is a bit rough but you are very quick.”
Smith took off his helmet and saluted in return. “Miss Stanhope, your technique is excellent for one who proclaims to find the ‘rules’ boring.”
She eyed her blade speculatively, “tell me about these ‘less regimented’ matches.”
John Smith considered her for a moment. This conversation was playing out like a fencing match: his proposal, her parry and riposte. Her attack, his parry and riposte. “All the matches are betting matches. The bets are on just about every aspect: numbers of hits, length of the match,” after a pause, “first blood, and in more extreme matches – who remains standing.”
She smiled at the last statement and ran her finger along the dulled blade. “I am intrigued indeed. What are some of the wagers? Anything other than money?”
Smith smiled. This conversation was going in a very positive direction, “That depends a bit on the bettor and the match. Certainly money is the most common wager, but there are others. Wagers have been over contracts, houses, slaves or to settle disputes. The latter is the most likely to be ‘last one standing’.”
“You make it sound positively ‘gladiatorial’.”
John cursed himself for failing to research this culture better and asked, “I am sssssorry?”
“Smith you know – Ancient Roman Entertainers who fought to the death in coliseums. “ She looked at him with interest.
Smith winced at his slip and said, “It sssounds remarkably like that. Good competitors are quite valued. If you had a patron, he or she would doubly value you because of your skills in mechanics.”
Stanhope put her sabre at rest on the ground. “Why ever should anyone wanting my fencing abilities care about my engineering skills? Or visa versa?”
Smith was definitely feeling on the defense. “Matches may be groups. Matches may also be contests involving new weapons. Similarly, others may be interested in period conflict and would appreciate your skill in recreating some historical devices especially around the contests.”
She looked at him evenly, “This is not sounding like a summer jaunt to the Caribbean, Mr. Smith. How long is this contract really? I am entertainment, producer of garden fancies, and new weapons? And in six weeks?”
He opted to redirect the conversation, “Your new job in the fall – what will you be doing?”
She sighed, “I expect I will start drafting small gears and levers to go with new machines that will go into factories that make clothes or armaments.”
“But you won’t be designing the machines that use those gears or levers; nor will you be even close to designing the armaments that are produced. You’ll be expected to use tried and true materials and principles as well – nothing chancy.”
“I will be just out of University. No one would let such an inexperienced person have any responsibility,” she said somewhat bitterly.
“With my client, you would have sole responsibility for design and production. I could guarantee that you would work with materials that are unlike any you have worked with before. But the duration would be longer than six weeks.”
“Your client might be a fool to let someone with such inexperience handle matters.”
“My client has other interests than producing goods at the lowest cost.” He stopped in front of the wall holding the implements of torture and punishment. “So many interesting devices and yet so little opportunity to try them out. A collection, I assume. I would imagine it’s hard to find …partners willing to submit to such activity even when paid.”
Miss Stanhope said, “I think of it more as a hobby and finding ‘partners’ as you call them is a challenge. ” The voice was normal, but her look had a bit of anger in it.
Smith continued, “Perhaps I overstep my bounds or assume too much. If the contests I have suggested can occasionally be fought to the last one standing, such diversions as these,” he said waving to the wall, “might not even raise an eyebrow. Why, there might even been things not imagined on this wall. New dimensions to your collection…excuse me, your hobby. I might have some samples back in my office, but I hadn’t thought to bring any.”
Miss Stanhope bowed slightly, “Why Mr. Smith. For the first time in this conversation, I do believe you have surprised me. Anyone who has made the leaps of logic you just have is either so heartily disturbed that they run for the door…if they can, or so heartily offended that they march for the door never to be seen again. You seem not the least bit disturbed.”
“Miss Stanhope, in addition to your sssservices as engineer and fencer, I can guarantee an audience for your creative skillssss in this area. My client and his friends are exotic in nature and culture.” He said quietly, “I offer you a job in leadership, adventure, limitless designing, and an opportunity to sate some of your more base interests. Do I have your interest?
“It is undivided. But I find such things have costs.”
“The duration of this employment is far longer than I indicated before. And the location is so remote that you will lose contact with everyone here. Some find such terms a burden. However, one such as yourself is richly compensated. At the end of your contract, you would be wealthy beyond imagination. “
“Mr. Smith, you most certainly have my interest. Who else is getting such an offer?”
Smith shrugged, “ So far I have signed Neville Carter-Fraser, Charles Wayland, and Simone Campbell. But they have not signed the same agreement that you would. I am also looking at Findley Brown“
“Ah Findley Brown. He has similar hobbies as myself. He is a believer in firm discipline. Apparently he has even less opportunity indulge in it. The others are engineers but dreadfully boring. Why would mine be different?“
“Your talents would be wasted as a servant. Your vitality is far more interesting without restraint. Those other recruits are, as you say, dreadfully boring. They will find their contracts far more restrictive. In fact, with these new recruits, I may need an assistant experience in training and I think your experience and interests will be invaluable.”
“Training?” she asked.
Smith looked at her, “Bluntly put, I need the others submissive by the time we reach our destination. I will have tools to assist, but I think you would know how such a goal would be reached and some assistance will be better.”
Winifred Stanhope considered him for a moment. She put her sabre on the holding rack and moved over to the wall of bondage devices. She pulled down a simple riding crop and flicked. “They don’t know, do they?” She asked shortly.
“Of course not, Miss Stanhope. The herd never knows where it is being led until it is too late. I do hope this won’t be an issue. You do not seem one who deals well in the herd. Better to have you leading it. ”
She returned the riding crop and lifted a set of restraints and eyed them speculatively, “You are quite right, of course. You may want to consider Mr. Brown’s assistance as well. He is an excellent man with a sabre and his work with restraints is simply an art form.”
“Your fencing team is truly remarkable,” Smith said admiringly.
“Findley and I were quite in sync as captains,“ she smiled innocently and then put the manacles back in place. “He is not perfect. His engineering skills are serviceable if unimaginative in large machines. I do find that he lets his temper control him a bit too much. He is easy to goad and gets careless when he is angry. However, if we can channel that anger, I think you’ll find him quite competitive. And I found his techniques in our private sessions with guests breath taking. ”
“Miss Stanhope, here is my offer. You will travel to destinations far beyond your imagination and will be unlikely to return. You will be asked to work as a competitor in games that could be injurious or even fatal. You will be asked to build and design items as required by your patron. I will see to it that you have prime authority over others in your group. Unlike the others, I will add some clauses that will allow you to buy out your contract from your patron. The pay is substantial but you will be expected to cover your own expenses.”
“Bring a copy of the contract for me and Alfred to review. He is a remarkably astute reader and can spot loop holes. Bring some of these samples you talk about and some examples of work I might be expected to do. I will consider. I am very much interested in the details.” She called Alfred, “Show Mr. Smith out. He will be returning with information…And send the new girl, I find this match has left me quite spent.”
Smith left smiling and Alfred nodded politely as he left. Smith would not waste her on a standard contract. Her contract would have more independence and she understood the weaknesses of the others. She seemed perfectly willing to exploit those weaknesses to her benefit. Finally he had found an inhabitant that could work with the galaxy. He hailed a taxi for his row house. He needed to write up the new contract and find some samples to intrigue Winifred Stanhope.