Interlude 3 – Smith Deals With Interference


London, July 1862

It was a bit before noon when the message arrived. Neville Carter-Fraser had reservations about the contract and wanted to review it with John Smith. This was unexpected, especially from Neville. Perhaps that distrustful butler had gotten through to him.  But how the devil did he know about the “long form”. Dealing with this would be delicate.  Smith would have that boy’s skills in electronics one way or another. Perhaps he would pay a visit and take care of that annoying butler at the same time.  Regardless, Smith decided Mr. Carter-Fraser could sweat a bit and had a luncheon served by the staff.

The house he had rented was a multistory building. His living arrangements were on the second floor. He had also used some of the second floor rooms for temporary studies and labs. The third floor was the servants quarters as was customary in this country. The ground floor had the kitchen, living areas and an office he kept locked. By agreement of the owner, the basement was his to use as he pleased. It was here that he set up the more exotic equipment he needed. He had a small station he could use to contact his ship and its computer. There was an area for construction of various devices such that he used in  his work. He had also set up a room for local investigations.  And he had a room for medical work. He was finishing some tea sandwiches when a second note arrived from Charles Wayland. Charles was also asking for the long form.

Smith crushed the note angrily. This was not a rash of overprotective butlers. Someone had told them something. He cursed loudly and then shouted “Johnson!” A man in green trousers and a bright plaid shirt and mismatched bow tied arrived at the door.  He was of modest height but large in shoulders. His longish brown hair was combed straight down. He arrived at the door.

“Summat the matter, Sir?” said the man in a heavy east end accent.

Smith said angrily, “Someone issss interfering with my contractorsss.”

Johnson looked at his fingernails, “Interfering? How , sir?”

Smith paced the room fiercely, “I have two requests to see the complete contract.  One quirk of my business is that I don’t have to fully represent what someone signs. Your English Common law would have a fit over that. But a second quirk of my business is that I must honor all requests to see the complete contract or said contract becomes void. I suppose it is to protect parties from misrepresentation. Regardless, I now have two requests to see the long contract.  One such request is luck. Two means someone knows something and has been interfering in my activities.”

Johnson looked neutral as he listened to this information. His agreement with Smith was verbal and he was ready to leave in a moment if things went south. But the money was very good and his tasks had been minor so far. In fact, he felt a bit underutilized at the moment although he wouldn’t dream of bringing that up.  Johnson straightened a bit and asked, “Is there someone I should be knocking about in this matter.”

Smith smiled at the comment and then stopped at the desk. “At the moment, I don’t know who I should have you call. When I know, I expect you can use your talents freely Mr. Johnson. In the meantime, I need you to deliver some messages. Get your things together. I will have them written in a few moments.“

Winifred,

There is a complication. It seems someone has informed your fellow candidates that they may need to look more closely at their contracts. I expect you will be contacted by this person shortly. Detain this person for me possible. If detention is not possible, kill him or her. Do not underestimate this person. After you have dealt with this person, join me at my house. The others will have joined me. I will have a task to match your interests.

Regards,

John Smith

He set that aside and then wrote out three notes that were essentially the same:

Dear _____

I am sure we can clear up any confusion regarding the contract. Please meet me at my house, west of Regent’s Park and we will discuss this further.

John Smith

“Johnson!,” Smith shouted.

“Here sir,” Johnson said from the door way. He was holding a bag and was wearing an overcoat.  He had felt cap crushed in one of the pockets.

Smith handed him the three small notes and the larger note.  “Deliver the larger note to Miss Stanhope, first.  Wait for acknowledgement and see if she needs any assistance.  Her man Alfred is quite good so she may decline assistance.” Johnson raised his eyebrows but said nothing. “Then deliver these to Mr. Carter-Fraser, Mr. Wayland, and Miss Campbell.  No need to wait for acknowledgement on these. Return here. I will need your assistance dealing with guests this afternoon. I assume you have no problem with a bit of restraint and roughing up.”

“Nay, tis the nature of my business. What kind of assistance might Miss Stanhope need?” Johnson asked.

“I have asked her to detain or eliminated someone.”  Smith said plainly.

“Ahh… right up my alley.” Johnson said.

“True and I may have work for you this afternoon if Miss Stanhope doesn’t. Now head off and be quick.”  Smith said irritably.

“I’ll take my horse. They are all close by so I expect it will be no more than an hour. I might recommend dismissing the staff. That might make our efforts less… public,” Johnson said politely.

“You are right. Now,Off then. Off.” Smith said.

Smith did, indeed, dismiss the staff for the day. As they left, Smith made sure everyone knew that they were not needed or wanted the rest of the day.  In fact, he gave them each a few schillings for a nice tea in the afternoon. When they returned, they should take the back entrance and head straight up to their rooms.  He went to the second floor and gathered materials for his work.  He was going to need to synthesize standard control nanotechnology.  He also pulled four collars out of a storage box. He was fairly certain Winifred was fully committed but one should be prepared for all exigencies.  He then headed down the stairs and then into the basement.

The basement floor was extensive. It had several rooms partitioned by thin walls. He went to the station that connected him to his ship. He pressed a button that made contact and said, “Camille.”

A feminine voice of mid-range alto and non-descript English accent answered him, “Yes, sir.”

John began, “I trust all is well.”

Camille answered, “The stealth systems are nominal. The hull integrity is intact despite the acidity of the water and the curiosity of an otter. “

John asked, “Otter?”

The voice answered, “Aquatic mammal. Very social. Relatively intelligent. Humans consider them noble and amusing.”

“How quaint. How did you deal with it?” he asked sounding a bit annoyed.

“I discouraged the curiosity with some well-timed electric shocks.  Curiosity has been replaced with wariness,” Camille replied.

Smith said, “You can be more severe, if you choose.”

Camille replied, “I was tempted sir. The pesky beast was all over my skin. However, the creature also was watched closely by visitors and the gardeners. I judged the missing otter might prompt unwelcome investigations by humans.”

Smith sounded thoroughly annoyed but resigned as he said, “You are likely right. These beings do seem to make attachments to lower animals so easily.  Very well – we have a bigger concern. Another trader is around and has been interfering with my contractors.”

“Interfering how?” Camille asked.

“My contractors are now asking for the long version of the contract,” Smith replied.

“Oh my. That is awkward.” The voice managed to sound concerned and only a trifle amused.

Smith ignored any implied insouciance, and continued, “It could be. I’ve decided to accelerate the collaring process and start it here.”

Camille anticipated, “so you will need the nanotechnology programed and the collars calibrated.”

“Just so,” he said.  He found her perception refreshing and a bit calming.

“How many doses?” she asked.

“Three, maybe four,” he said.

“I started preparation for our departure after you had made contact with the recruits. The programming for the nanotechnology is loaded already. We can transfer that quickly to the nano particles and make enough serum fairly quickly. It will take an hour for the nanotechnology to take enough effect for the collars to be calibrated. Calibration goes quickly after that.  What protocols should be included?” Camille asked sweetly.

“Suicide pact and link it to my signal. If something goes wrong, I do not need loose ends,” Smith said.

“Certainly, sir. Might I suggest the new defensive protocol as well since you have competition in the neighborhood. If other nano particles are introduced, ours will attack and use the body defenses to counteract the new nanotechnology. It prevents subversion,” Camille suggested politely.

“That sounds most practical. Where did you learn about that?” Smith asked.

Camille answered, “I strive to be informed. The last slaving outpost was featuring this. I managed to download it without any complaints.“ Her voice indicated a bit of pride.

Smith said pleasantly, “That was good thinking. You are wasted in that pond. Deploy two drones for searching and following at Miss Winifred’s house immediately. Set the monitoring on the flat to maximum. I suspect she may have a visitor soon.  Can you add protocols to destroy unusual electronics?”

“That takes a bit of time if you want the drones out quickly. Might I suggest a third fighter drone for around the house.  If there really is a competitor, he or she will be looking for you. I would rather have you protected,” Camille offered.

“Do so, and thank you for your concern.” Smith said.

There was a pause and then Camille said, “The monitor drones are set and moving to Miss Winifred’s location.  I have deployed a fighter drone locally.” She added, ”It seems matters will be getting exciting. I have found this location to be utterly boring and without merit.” There was an upswing in her voice.

Smith grumbled, “I could do with less excitement. Can you detect other ships in the area?”

Camille said, “I have not noticed any signs. However if they transmit…” She left the statement hanging.

Smith said, “Find that other ship. You can strip it clean when we find it.”

There was a pause and Camille’s voice became predatory, “I will find it by nightfall.”

Smith sounded approving, “That’s my girl. This afternoon I suspect you will be working with Winifred on training the others. Develop a quick primer for her.  You will find her a quick student.  After we finish here, I will be prepping the lab for our new guests.”

Camille said, “Certainly Sir.”

Smith got up and moved to the medical room. Two reclining chairs with restraint straps dominated the center of the room. He needed three chairs which was annoying, but if one of them watched as the others were worked on that might make a significant impression.  Smith started gathering the wires and connections that would allow Camille to calibrate the collar to its wearer.  With everything ready, there was time for a cup of tea. It was one of the few local practices he truly appreciated.

He was sipping his tea and reading some literature on local customs when the first person arrived.   The staff was gone so. Johnson had returned shortly before the door knock, but Smith felt that Johnson would not make the right first impression.   So John Smith answered his own door to the surprise of Charles Wayland. Wayland had brought a barrister. Smith grimaced as he recognized more helpful advice from this interloper.

Wayland began, “Mr. Smith, I got the most disturbing news.  Most disturbing.”

Smith tried to sound soothing, “Charlessss, I assssure you it issss a misssssunderstanding. Pleassse come in. And your friend as well.”

Wayland said, “That is Mr. Appleby. He is the family barrister. I’ve asked him to review this contract.”

Smith smiled through clenched teeth. “You have signed and agreed Charles. But we will go over the long form. Let’s have a bit of tea first.” Smith guided the pair into the office and brought the tea service in himself and served both.  When he saw they had started drinking it, Smith sat behind the desk in the office and made to look for the contract.

Appleby was the first to notice something odd and said, “I say. I feel a bit queer.”

Wayland looked at Appleby and then at Smith. Wayland’s eyes were wandering unable to focus as he said, “Room is spinning…” The tea cup fell out of his hand and he pitched off the chair. Appleby tried to stand up, but fell back into the chair and eventually his eyes closed.

Smith looked over the unconscious Wayland and Appleby saying, “We shall review your contract shortly.” He then shouted, “Johnson!”

Johnson arrived in a moment. Smith said, “Take Appleby to a back room and tie him up.” Smith handed a vial to Johnson. “Here is a second dose to administer if he wakes up.” Smith carried the dead weight of Wayland over his shoulders with surprising ease and headed to the basement door. After opening the locked door, he set Wayland down and pulled him down the stairs holding his collar and head. Wayland’s feet banged on every step and eventually his shoes fell off.  He pulled the body into the medical laboratory and he lifted Wayland into one chair with surprising ease.  He got a large syringe of the serum that had been prepared by Camille and injected directly into Wayland’s arm vein.  He then strapped Wayland into the chair and said to the unconscious man, “We’ll review the contract when everyone arrives.” Smith headed upstairs to await the next person.

The next person to arrive was Neville Carter-Fraser.  Neville did not bring a barrister so things went quicker and Smith got the assistance of Johnson to move the insensate Carter-Fraser downstairs. When they arrived with Neville’s unconscious form, Wayland was struggling under the straps.  He immediately said, “I say old man, this is outrageous.” Smith looked briefly at him, but said nothing.  Smith and Johnson maneuvered Carter-Fraser onto the second chair and strapped him down.  Smith administered a second large vial of serum into Neville.  Smith moved behind Wayland’s chair and tapped a button and said, “Camille, any news?”

“Mr. Carter-Fraser was followed. I eliminated the drone, but a signal was likely sent off.” There was a pause and her voice became angry.  “I recognize the signal. It reminds of someone I have dealt with before. I want that ship. Request permission to deploy three more drones.”

“Temper Camille. All in due time.  We’ll talk later, I want to know about this ship you’ve dealt with before.  I will be setting Mr. Wayland’s collar up in a moment. Please prepare to scan it and calibrate it.” Smith then said to Johnson, “I need to make sure his head doesn’t move when I put this on. The strap only does so much. Your assistance please.”

Johnson stepped up to the chair and flipped open a sharp knife and put the point to the ear of Charles Wayland.  Johnson said in a perfectly calm voice, “Lad, his lordship needs your head still. Now if you move, I will cut something.”

Wayland jerked and the blade cut his ear sharply. Blood ran down his ear and neck severely.   Wayland swore and said, “Smith!”

Johnson grabbed Wayland’s hair and held the knife to Wayland’s nose, stared at Wayland as he asked,  “Guv’ Do you require him to look nice?”

Smith looked thoughtfully at the knife at Wayland’s nose as he gathered the collar and leads, “Not really. I need him alive and able to communicate. I would prefer to send him home tonight and that would be difficult if you damage him too much. But there are always ways to deal with such matters. Wayland please stay still or I fear Johnson will take your nose next. I can stitch that nasty cut next to your ear, but your nose would be much more noticeable.”

Wayland hissed, “You’re mad.”

Smith shrugged and took the thin black leather and brass strap and placed it around Wayland’s neck.  But Charles didn’t move as this was done.  Smith said, “This next bit will smart a bit.  Johnson, hold his head.” Smith nodded to the knife, “Let’s not muss him up too much.”

Johnson managed to look disappointed as he put the knife away and positioned himself to hold Wayland’s head.  Smith clasped the collar together and then grabbed a tool that looked a bit like a hand drill and fastened it to the stud that clasped the collar together. Smith began to crank the tool. Johnson’s eyes got wide as the process continued.  Wayland made noises indicating the process was painful.  Finally Smith seemed to have the clasped seated and firm.  Smith pushed a button on the clasp and long wires came out and burrowed themselves into the vertebrae of Charles Wayland.  Wayland immediately stretched in a fit of rigor. Smith spoke to Camille, “Ready to calibrate?”

Camille responded, “Clothes?”

Smith said, “Ah, yes. Johnson. Wayland will be stiff for a few moments. Please assist me in disrobing him.” Johnson looked at him oddly and shrugged. They unstrapped Wayland and slipped off all of the clothes.  After strapping him down again, Charles was naked and trapped in the chair.

“Satisfactory, Camille?” Smith asked.

“Yes. Quite. I will begin the calibration,” Camille said sweetly.

Smith said, “Excellent. I will await our final guests. Johnson, stay down here and watch the process. It may be edifying.“ Smith headed up the stairs to make more tea.

Simone Campbell and Winifred Stanhope arrived together. Simone had brought her barrister as well. Smith was running out of tea cups.  “Winifred, could you please assist me in the kitchen. The staff has taken the day off.”

Winifred looked initially annoyed but saw Smith’s pleading look and followed him into the kitchen. There Appleby was resting still drugged.  Smith said quickly, “The tea is drugged. Do not take a sip – that is all it takes. We will need to move Miss Campbell into the basement and the other barrister here with Mr. Appleby. “

Winifred looked at the resting Appleby and smiled, “You do have a growing problem. I will be fascinated to see how you manage to smooth this over.”

Smith looked annoyed, “You will find such things are remarkably easy with the right tools.”  He looked over at Appleby as he made the tea and said, “It seems my competitor recommended barristers as witnesses. That is most discommodious.  Speaking of which, where is my competitor?”

Winifred was clearly upset and embarrassed by the question. “She got away. There was some assistance and she had some device that incapacitated Alfred. The bitch smashed me in the head and I am still a bit dizzy.  Alfred got me up and about.”

Smith came over and looked at her eyes. “You are probably concussed. We’ll tend to that later.  As for my erstwhile competitor…I am not surprised.  She (and now I know it is a she) is far stronger and faster than you might guess. We will deal with her in a few days.  Right now we need to handle your compatriots and their advisors. ”

The two of them brought out the tea service. Winifred poured herself a cup and added a large amount of cream. She made to drink but the cup only touched her lips.

The barrister took a drink. Smith had already forgotten his name, but he began, “I say sir. Having two versions of a contract is quite irregular in the empire.”

Smith smiled, “Your Empire perhaps. Not mine. We think of one as a summary document. Regardless, Simone has signed and my empire considers that signature inviolable. You were saying?”

The unnamed barrister struggled to keep his eye open, “not sure. Contracts have to be….” and his head fell into his lap. Simone had already dropped her tea cup. The staff would be most upset at the spilt liquid on the carpet. Perhaps he would provide a useful cleaning solution.  Smith shouted “Johnson!” He turned to Winifred and said, “You about to cross from being sheep to being wolf as it were. There will be no going back when you enter the basement on your own two legs.”

Stanhope asked with acidity, “If my second choice is to be a sheep, do you think that would be acceptable to me?”

Smith smiled. “No. Which is why you are getting the choice.” Johnson arrived. He looked pale and a bit shaky. “What are you doing to that boy?”

Smith said calmly, “Ensuring he honors his contract. Now dump this barrister with Appleby and join us downstairs. Winifred will help me move Miss Campbell to the basement. I only have two chairs at the moment. We can get Simone’s treatment started and we should be finished with Charles by the time we need a chair for her. ”

Down in the basement, Winifred and John laid out Simone on the floor between Wayland and Carter-Fraser.  At that point Neville was awake and Had seen Charles during the calibration. Carter-Fraser was wide eyed, but silent. Wayland was shaking and drooling a bit.  Smith pressed a button and asked, “Camille, is Mr. Wayland’s collar calibrated?”

“Yes sir.  Settings have been made for pleasure and pain in appropriate increments from 1 to 10” Camille said sweetly.

“Excellent work.” He gestured to Winifred Stanhope, ”Camille this is Winifred Stanhope.  I will be letting her take the lead on training the others.”

Winifred Stanhope looked around and wondered if she had allied with a madman. Then the lightly accented voice said, “Miss Stanhope,  you won’t see a body as such for me.  However, I am at your service as long it in the service of John Smith.”

Winifred still looked around, “Fealty.  Here I thought chivalry was dead.” She bowed in a mocking fashion.

There was a silence and then the voice said, “I had expected a bit more respect, Sir.”

John looked at Winifred severely who merely shrugged.  He then looked up and said, “Miss Stanhope is only beginning to understand what we are and represent.  I request a bit of patience while she grasps her new reality.” He then said to Winifred, “Camille is an intelligence you can’t comprehend.  She and I have traveled together for a significant time. If you cannot respect her, I will wonder about our long term arrangements.  I will explain more about her later, but for the moment, I expect nothing less than respect for her…hard as that may be for you.”  Winifred looked angry at first and then studied Smith’s face and she paled a bit.

“My apologies,” she said. And after a thought added, “My apologies, Camille.  That was rude which has become a habit of mine. Please exercise some patience as I figure this out.”

There was a small “hmph” and then “Apology accepted Miss Stanhope.  I understand you have some expertise in training. I am looking forward to working with you in this matter.”

Smith smiled. “Much better ladies. Camille has finished the preliminaries on Mr. Wayland.  Let’s try it out.  Winifred, observe Mr. Wayland as he learns some new rules,” Smith said with a bit of pride.

Wayland said through clenched teeth, “You’re mad….aaahhhhh” and he started twitching and writhing.

John Smith showed Winifred a device in his hand with two buttons and a knob. “Winifred, note this configuration.  The knob sets the intensity of the feeling and the red button administers pain and the blue button administers pleasure.” He paused as if considering, “I find it fascinating that nearly every culture associates pain with red. I suppose it the glowing of coals we learned were too hot to touch.”  Winifred nodded and looked at the device with hungry eyes.  “Mr. Wayland let’s try this again. Do try to be polite or at least quiet.”  Charles remained quiet but clenched his teeth. Neville, who had recovered was watching and whimpered.  Smith smiled, “Quiet …ahh good.” Smith pressed the blue button.  Wayland’s eyes went wide and he groaned a just a little. “Nothing quite like it is there Mr. Wayland?  That was just at one – a pleasant glow; the warmth of a hug; a feeling of ease…or so I am told.  So there are rewards for your cooperation Mr. Wayland. Do you understand, Mr. Wayland?”

“Yes, I understand you’re mad….aahhhhhh,” Charles Wayland said quickly and then writhed again.

“Tsk…Tsk Mr. Wayland, would it have been so hard to stay with ‘yes’? And I could have pressed the blue button,” John Smith pursed his lips in mock frustration.  “Winifred, why don’t you operate the key pad while I orient Mr. Smith. I am sure you’ll know which button to push when the opportunity arises. Let’s stick with one or two to start.”  And he handed the device over to Winifred Stanhope who looked at it and almost stroked it.

“Mr. Wayland, I’ll try again.  Do you understand that there will be consequences for your misbehavior and rewards for your cooperation?” Smith asked severely.

“Yes” he said and said nothing more.

“Very good, Mr Wayland” and Smith nodded to Stanhope who pushed the blue button and Wayland’s body seemed to ease a bit in the chair.

“Now let us establish some rules. If you address me or Miss Stanhope, we are to be addressed as ‘Master’…” Smith never finished.  Charles had started laughing and then it switched to cries of pain.

Smith smiled at Winifred and said, “Very good Miss Stanhope…perfect timing.”

Winifred looked at the device and said, “Oh I think I will find this task quite delightful.”

Camille piped up and said, “You are right, Sir. She is a natural at this.”

Charles turned to Winifred and said, “Winifred, what are you….ahhhhhh…”

Smith said, “You certainly are getting the hang of this, Winifred. I knew you would have a knack for it. Charles, I thought I was clear. She is to be addressed as Mistress – but then you didn’t let me finish. So Mr. Wayland, do you understand how we are to be addressed?”

Wayland moaned and then said,”Yes.” Winifred looked ready to press the button again, but Smith put his finger up. “Yes, what? Mr. Wayland.”

Wayland closed his eyes and said, “Yes…Master”. Smith looked to Stanhope who pressed the blue button and Wayland relaxed on the table. Smith said to her, “I suspect you’ve done similar things with different tools.  Don’t dial anything above three for now.  Walk him through the paces.  The rewards will be more powerful in the long run so don’t be stingy with those.  Camille, offer recommendations as you see fit.“

Winifred Stanhope smiled at John Smith and then turned to Charles and said darkly, “How will you be addressing me, Charles?”

Wayland kept his eyes closed, “Mistress….ohhh”

Winifred replied sweetly, “much better and I can tell that it is much more pleasant.”

Wayland breathed heavily, “Yes… Mistress,” and his body shook a bit in the warmth and pleasure.

Winifred was clearly engaged in her task and so John attended to Neville Carter-Fraser. John Smith shouted, “Johnson!”

The plaid vested man came down the stairs reluctantly.  He looked over the scene, “Yes guv’?”

Smith said, “I will need Mr. Carter-Fraser’s head immobile. I think a more conventional approach will be adequate this time. I think poor Neville might be upset by Miss Stanhope’s and Mr. Wayland’s little tete-de-tey. “ At that moment, Wayland screamed and Stanhope could be heard saying, “Really, Charles you will have to do better.”

Neville tried to turn his head away and whimpered.  He now realized that something was going to happen and he end up like Charles. He started squirming and said, “What are you going to do? Please don’t. Please stop.”

Smith said sharply, “Mr. Carter-Fraser. Please. It’s unbecoming. Your assistance Mr. Johnson,” and he pointed to Neville’s head.

Wayland struggled to say, “Neville, don’t…ahhhhh” and Winifred said, “So that is what a three is like” sound a bit like a child who had found toy in a cracker.  Camille could be heard to say, “I knew you were ready for a higher number and just in time too.”

Johnson restrained the squirming Neville Carter-Fraser and Smith began the process of attaching the collar. As before with Wayland, Carter-Fraser went utterly tense as Smith did the final set of the collar into his vertebra. Wayland whimpered as he watched Neville’s body arch. Smith said, “Camille begin Carter-Fraser’s calibration.”  Neville’s body relaxed for a moment and then his toes moved; then his legs shook. One could see the waves of pain moving through his body followed by waves of relaxation or pleasure.

The afternoon continued with the collars being attached, calibrated and alternations of pain and pleasure being applied. Johnson had excused himself when it came time to treat Simone Campbell saying it “weren’t proper”.  Smith sent him to tend the barristers. Stanhope and Smith continued with the training to the point that the three contractors were exhausted. Neville was the first to plead for mercy and willing to do anything to make to torment stop. Smith rewarded him with a jolt of pleasure at a setting of 5 and Neville promptly passed out.  Simone Campbell was next to beg and grovel mostly because of Winifred’s lurid descriptions of what would be happening soon.  Wayland entreated for them to leave Campbell alone which only increased Stanhope’s torment of the girl. Eventually Wayland agreed to be compliant if only to stop the torture of Simone Campbell.  He was given his reward and passed out.   Winifred was amused by the erection left after the high setting of pleasure.

Smith waited for a semblance of consciousness to return to the three and said, “Get yourselves dressed and tidied up. You can use the restrooms upstairs if you need freshening.  Then meet Winifred and myself in the office in 15 minutes. Is that understood?” A chorus of “Yes Master” was the answer.  “Come Winifred, I think we’re making excellent progress. We can continue this tomorrow.”

Eventually all five were in the office. John Smith handed out thick parcels to Neville Carter-Fraser, Simone Campbell, and Charles Wayland and said, “Here are the long forms of the contract you asked for per Guild rules.  You have signed the contracts so your understanding of this document is superfluous.” The three opened the parcels and began scanning the twenty page documents which were far more complicated than the three pages they had signed.  Smith sat behind the office desk and Stanhope took a position standing behind his chair. She had a control device in her hand which the three eyed cautiously at times.

Wayland was the first to speak, “I don’t see a termination date.”

Smith answered bluntly, “There is none. You are contracted indefinitely.”

Carter-Fraser said “That’s ridiculous” and then collapsed out of the chair.

Smith leaned over the desk and said to the shaking man, “You signed it. It’s final.” And then he turned to Winifred, “Let’s keep the shocks to no more than two for this exercise or it will be dreadfully long.” Winifred nodded in agreement, but looked a bit pouty.

“Wasn’t there was a dispute process? “ Simone Campbell asked.

“Ah yes. Arbitration. When we get on our journey, you may ask for arbitration from the Guild council.  Communication is dreadfully difficult from the surface of your planet. As per the contract, you will be responsible for half the cost of the arbitration pending the outcome.  Most arbitrators need 1000 standard credits to begin proceedings.”

Campbell asked with a bit of hope, “How much is a credit? Where do I get them?”

Smith responded feigning a bit of regret, “Sadly, the money from your planet isn’t yet recognized by the Guild.  You get credits by working performing services or providing a useful good. You have no credits that are recognizable right now.”

Wayland said quietly, “Dare I ask how much we are actually paid?”

Smith said, “You get 100 a month, less expenses for materials and your keep. It does cost money to keep you clothed, housed and fed.”

Wayland sighed, “less expenses? What is our likely net?”

Smith shrugged, “Probably around 10 credits a month.  The good news is that if you ever do manage to work your way through arbitration and then convert it, that 10 credits works out to about 200£.”

Winifred whistled appreciatively, “How much for my matches?”

Smith said, “That will depend on the challenge. 10 to 100 credits. But those 100 credit matches will likely be ‘last one standing’ – high risk, high reward.”

Neville struggled back into the chair, “Where will we be working? I gather not the Caribbean.”

Smith said “Your first good deduction in my presence Mr. Carter-Fraser. You will not be working in the Caribbean. In fact, you will not be working on this planet. I believe it is somewhere in what you call the Arcturus star system.”

Wayland said, “On some other planet? You really are insane…” and he cried out in pain.

Smith leaned over the desk again, “No, I am not insane. If you don’t believe you are going to another planet now, you will soon enough.”  He leaned back up and took the control device from Winfred. Smith said, “Lady and Gentlemen, a bit about the collars. If you try to remove them or interfere with their performance, you will die. I expect you’ll try so there is a timer. You’ll feel pain until I repair the damage or restore the collar.  Assuming I can reverse the damage, you’ll live.”

Neville looked at the shaking Charles Wayland and asked, “Then why should we cooperate at all…Ohhh,” and he collapsed into the chair.

Smith said, “That bit of pleasure was a four on a scale of ten. I am told the pleasure paths can be quite addicting. That warmth. That feeling of serenity. That moment of escape from the pain of now. Rather like opium but without the debilitating side effects.“ Smith smiled at Simone Campbell, the only one still sitting straight, “If you cooperate, the rewards continue.” He pushed a button and Simone collapsed in her chair.  After a few moments he said, “if there are no further questions on your contract, I believe we are finished here. It is time to meet your barristers.” Smith and Stanhope headed to the door and waited for the other three to compose themselves and head out into the hallway.

The five trouped to the kitchen where the barristers were finally waking up. Johnson had both adequately restrained. Smith nodded to Johnson and said, “Johnson please join us over here.” Smith picked up a second device and adjusted some dials. He attached some wires to Mr. Appleby’s head. He looked at the first barrister and said, “Mr. Appleby..”

The stout man struggled a bit in the chair and shouted, “You will pay for this. I have never…” and then Smith flipped a switch. Appleby stiffened.  Smith continued calmly, “Mr. Appleby, you have seen the contract and it is on the up and up. Charles will have the time of his life. If anyone asks, you have vetted the long form. This afternoon was a pleasant affair and you recall nothing unusual.”  Smith flipped the switch off and Appleby relaxed.

Wayland pleaded with the restrained barrister, “Appleby, you didn’t review the contract…ahh” and Wayland collapsed on the floor.

Appleby looked confused, “Of course I did Charles. I reviewed the long contract and it was on the up and up. You’ll have the time of your life.”

Smith said to the contractors, “It is good for a memory or two, but not much more.” He then repeated the process with Simone’s barrister.  Johnson released the two men. Smith said to the three contractors, “I believe we are done for the day.  Johnson, please see the barristers back to their offices. They may be a bit confused for the next hour or so.” To the three contractors, he said, “You three are to be here in the morning for breakfast. If you are early, it will be for the better. If you are late…you know what will happen.” Johnson, the barristers and the three contractors left.

John Smith turned to Winifred Stanhope, “Miss Stanhope, fancy a drink? I find the initial training session exhausting.”

Stanhope answered, “Mr. Smith, I believe a drink will be perfect at this moment.”

The two proceeded to the sitting room. Stanhope sat in a relaxed fashion as Smith poured two brandies and brought one to her.  He asked, “Questions?”

She said, “Do I have a collar to look forward to?”

“A good question. No. You are far more valuable free.  And I will need some assistance with this damnable competitor. However, I will recommend a…supplement. You are an investment I need to give you something that will protect you from others interference,” he said. “The supplement should repair any damage the concussion earlier today might have caused.”

She took a sip of brandy, “Protect?”

Smith smiled and said “Surely today’s encounter with an old lady indicates that you may not be fully up to the task.”

Stanhope hissed, “that bitch.”

Smith said, “Just so.  She was faster and stronger than you. I can change that. The injection I will give you will prevent disease, repair damage, and it will increase your speed and reaction time.”

Stanhope said, “That sounds so wonderful. However, watching the others has given me a sense of caution.”

“Sensibly so …unlike the others. However, you will feel a day or two of annoyance and then feel the positive effects grow. You will heal faster, be stronger and quicker. “

Winifred took another drink, “Then I should take it. If that is what it takes to match you and your competitor.”

Smith looked relieved, “Thank you. If you had said no, I probably would have had to collar you eventually.” Smith took an injection kit out of a drawer in a desk in the room. He had Winifred push her sleeve up and he constricted it causing the veins to rise. He swabbed her arm with a bit alcohol and then injected the contents of the syringe.

He sat back and sipped his drink, “Now one other matter to deal with.  I have found that Johnson has lost his enthusiasm for my work.  Do you have a capable man willing to complete errands of a delicate and unpleasant nature?”

Winifred smiled and said, “I might, but why not me?”

John answered, “It would be a waste of your talents my dear. And I need someone who is familiar with the underbelly of London. “

Winifred did a small bow with her head and then said, “Alfred is remarkably qualified. I use him to find…” she paused and took a drink. “Let’s just say that I have found him more than willing to perform unpleasant tasks with alacrity.”

Smith smiled broadly, “I suspected that gymnasium was far more than it seemed.  After this afternoon and certainly after tomorrow you should have no fears about my opinion on such activity. Regardless, I need Johnson dealt with. Can you have Alfred see that Johnson doesn’t cause us undo stress? Assist Alfred if you think it best, but I want the man to disappear.”

Winifred looked at him with a crooked smile, “Having Alfred start all in.  Very well, Alfred will attend to Johnson. He won’t be found for a very long time… if at all.”

Johnson said to the roof, “Camille, any comments?”

The pleasant voice answered, “After a difficult start, I have found Miss Stanhope most imaginative and an enthusiastic student. I expect I will find working with her stimulating.”

Winifred laughed out loud, “Camille, I do so apologize for my earlier rudeness. Your recommendation added to the experience. Please call me, Winifred and I look forward to your assistance at tomorrow’s training sessions.”

Smith sat back, lifted his glass, and said, “To a long and exciting partnership.”

Stanhope leaned back and raised her glass as well.

 

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4 thoughts on “Interlude 3 – Smith Deals With Interference

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