London, July 1862
A night’s sleep had not improved Millicent’s mood. Candidates did, on occasion, turn her down. The terms were severe, the job hard to understand and credibility was always an issue. But she had presented far more information than she should have to Michael for him to be lost in the process. That a competitor was lurking made last night’s outcome all the more annoying. If she did not successfully recruit Michael, there was a fair chance John Smith would trick Michael or otherwise ensnare him and Michael would not see his fiancée regardless. This relationship business really made things far too complicated for her. She had a moment of envy for Smith who seemed not to care a whit about his contractors other than as a source of wealth and power. She donned a blue dress and practical boots and put her hair up in a bun. Having set her appearance to rights, she headed down to the lobby. Liam O’Hannigan was sitting on a couch reading a newssheet.
“Mr. O’Hannigan, is that courier from yesterday available?” she asked immediately.
Liam folded the newssheet and set it aside. “Good Morning Miss Morgaine. Why yes, I slept rather well. The beds are quite good. Oh yes, I’ve had breakfast and a cup of coffee. It was quite good. Thank you for asking.”
Millicent put her head in hand in exasperation. “My apologies Mr. O’Hannigan. Last night was extremely frustrating and I am still in a mood. You are quite right of course. I am glad that the accommodations are meeting your expectations.”
“Better”, he winked at her.
“Sarcasm in the morning should be banned.” She said back. “The courier?”
”I think you asked her to be available. She’ll just be outside if that is the case,” he said.
“I have messages for each person we met yesterday. I would like to meet them for dinner.”
“Do you think Mr. Richards will say yes?” He sounded skeptical and raised his eyebrow.
“I don’t know. I am hoping so. Regardless, for his safety, he needs to meet me. I have invited his fiancée as well.” She looked at the door.
Liam looked a little surprised. “Really? You sounded rather hard about that.”
Millicent sat down on the couch next to Mr. O’Hannigan. “I am certain I will regret this. But, if they are a pair I need to see what she brings. Besides, there are certain precautions I need to take for both of them.“ She looked at him speculatively. “Liam, you have the right to know this job is not without risks.”
“Seeing you take on John O’Malley convinced me of that, Ma’am,” Liam sat back on the couch looked off into the distance, his eyes narrowed speculatively and a small smile crept on his face.
“John Sr. was a distraction; a trifle to be dealt with and I expect John Jr. will see to that. Liam, I have an enemy who has few scruples. I have purposefully provoked him and I expect he will lash out where he can. If your association is discovered, you may be targeted to get at me,” she turned to face him looking serious.
“And how might he target me?” he asked amused that anyone should care to harm him or care that he would be harmed.
“I can’t honestly say. He has defrauded, enslaved and tortured people he intends to work with. I suspect he has blackmailed them as well. These are the people he makes agreements with. It is hard to imagine what he might do to a competitor,” she said and then leaned back on the couch.
Liam whistled low. “You people don’t play about.”
“No. We don’t. So far I have avoided detection and I know where his lair is. You may know an associate of mine – Penelope – older woman and remarkably agile,” there was a crinkle in her eye as she said it.
“Oh Aye Ma’am. Twas’ a dull day until the end. She seemed to take out two younger folk. Then she had me drive like the very devil was chasing her. I dropped her at Charing Cross. Tis a good place to lose tails.” Liam said this quite appreciatively.
“Well, I know she was successful and is very thankful for your advice. But her losing the tail was a delay. Now is the time to get out if you wish. I’ll bear no ill will.” She smiled kindly and then went back to looking at the door.
Liam considered her for a moment. Then leaned back on the couch himself. “What happens at the end of all this?”
“I can’t say. I haven’t thought that far. I can’t leave this man loose, mucking about in my territory,” she said sounding a bit fierce. “If I can’t stop him, anyone associated with me could be at risk.”
“Let’s say you stop him. I am a betting man and my money’s with you. Then what?” he asked again.
“I suppose I leave with all my candidates.” There was a query in her voice as if the question didn’t make any sense.
“And what of me? What of Liam O’Hannigan esquire, taxi driver and procurer of information and couriers?” Liam looked at her now. His eyes were narrow and while his body was relaxed, his internal posture was not.
“I pay a princely sum and you get to work with nice normal riders and fleece the tourists,” she said with a smile.
Liam sounded irritated. “If I leave, I go back to a nice normal existence. If I stay, I am either subject to painful experiences performed by unknown vengeful competitors or I go back to a nice normal existence. Ma’am – you really need to work on your pitch.”
Millicent chuckled sadly “Put that way, I see your point. But, I have little else to offer.”
Liam replied sharply. “I disagree. I disagree strongly. But hand me those messages and I’ll find our poppet and send her on her courses. This conversation is not over.”
She flushed, but handed over the notes.
He looked at her business like and asked, “Replies?”
“Acknowledgements, I suppose. I tried to emphasize showing up was necessary regardless of their likelihood of signing. I will want you to pick up John and Rachael. Michael and his true love will meet us at a pub. So I only need to know that they were delivered, read and that the recipients will attend.” Her voice was tired and her face seemed a bit drawn.
“Now have a bite to eat and some tea and I shall be back shortly. The fee for the messages?” he said holding out his hand.
Millicent gave him 10 schillings. He handed 4 back.
“Tip in the afternoon,” he corrected.
“Right. You know these things,” she said.
“That I do. Keep that in mind our future negotiations. Off to breakfast with you. Today is a new day and I expect things to go swimmingly. That is only going to happen if you have had something to eat. “ He grabbed the paper and headed out the main doors.
Nonplussed by his abrupt manner, she stood up and headed for the diner.
She was greeted at the door by the morning Maître’d. He was dressed in a grey morning coat with light grey vest. A carnation graced his button hole. “Good morning, Miss Morgaine. Buffet this morning?” he said cheerily.
“Good morning, Alfred. Just a bit of tomato juice, tea and Danish. I think. I don’t need anything heavy this morning,” she said.
“Certainly ma’am. I have a table by the window. It is supposed to be sunny today. “ He led her to a round table with chairs all facing towards the window. She took one that was partly facing out and partly facing back to the entrance of the restaurant. She could see Liam looking about for the young courier of the day before. The waiter arrived with the juice and Danish immediately. The tea pot arrived shortly after and she set the tea steeping. It had been almost two days since she met with Smith’s candidates. She had eluded detection thus far, but that was certain to be more difficult with time. A bit of defense might be in order. She called over the Maître’d.
“Alfred. I have an odd question. Has anyone been asking for me?” she asked.
“Why yes Ma’am…” he said quickly.
“Please don’t point. I would like my stay to remain … discreet? Is that still possible? “ she put a finger to her lips and spoke in a hushed voice.
Alfred had clearly dealt with these situations before for various reasons. “I hadn’t told him yet. I can start to inform the waiters to keep you anonymous. I can’t speak to the front desk.”
“I would greatly appreciate that. I may have to change hotels if who I suspect is here. If you can forward today’s meal cost to the front desk in case I have to settle,” she asked.
“Of course Ma’am. If you have to leave, I hope your stay has been pleasant,” Alfred sounded a bit disappointed that she might be leaving early.
“Excellent Alfred. Always excellent. I have another favor. I think a distraction for my admirer would be helpful. Perhaps a bottle of champagne? I can slip out in the hubbub. ” She said with a twinkle in her eye.
“I will send the fruit cart as well.” Alfred added getting into the spirit.
“I have always appreciated how the staff anticipates my needs. Put the bottle on my bill. I do appreciate your assistance,” Millicent said.
“The man is here for breakfast. We prefer our regular patrons.” Millicent was certain Alfred’s nose went in the air just a little bit.
“I will be back after this. One simply cannot ignore such service,” Millicent said with emphasis.
The Matre’D bowed slightly and headed back to the wait staff area. Millicent sipped her tea. She had a view of Liam negotiating with Elizabeth, the courier. She could look at a reflection in the window and see around the room. John Smith was sitting at a table in the middle of the room looking at a newspaper. The subterfuge of two days ago was holding for the moment. Smith didn’t seem to know what she looked like and was still scanning patrons as they came in. That would change eventually, but she would like to extend it for as long as possible.
The bottle of champagne had arrived at Smith’s table and the sommelier (incorrectly) slipped the cork with a satisfying and loud pop and with much fanfare. The effervescent wine poured out with the graceless opening and the seemingly inept sommelier may have even spilled a good bit on poor Mr. Smith’s trousers.
“I didn’t order thisss” he hissed fiercely.
“Complements Sir. We understand it is your birthday. I am so sorry about the suit.” The man used his towel to wipe off the Smith’s trousers. The fruit cart arrived to add to the chaos and the waiter launched into a listing of the months fruits.
“We have ‘soaked peaches’. Citrus is just starting and we have…” said another waiter presenting the dish.
“I did not order fruit…” Smith protested.
“If you’ll just sit still for a moment and I’ll have that cleaned up in a…” the sommelier said, brushing his trousers.
Brushing herself off, Millicent got up and headed out of the restaurant. She gave the Maitre’D a half crown and a silent nod as she headed out. The man observed “It seems that man has some complaints, I should head over soon” and sauntered over to the growing disturbance.
Millicent headed upstairs to her room. She had three dresses in the closet. She had order four yesterday and they were due to be delivered in a week or so. She pulled out a steamer trunk and loaded the three dresses in her wardrobe without ceremony or even proper folding. She moved her undergarments into the steamer trunk, packing with speed rather than care. She took her shoes and worked them in. The boots remained and didn’t look as if they would fit. She laid them cross wise and pressed down hard. She was certain the pleats would be indistinguishable from the wrinkles when this was unpacked. Her ever present satchel held her notebooks and one or two useful devices. She pulled that over her shoulder. In short order, she was packed and ready to leave the room. She supposed Smith got the hotel from her friends at the University. She hoped they were ok. She would have to check later on.
Being pleasant and friendly had served her so well in the past. Now, it would be a problem. She had no doubt there was something watching the desk and waiting for her name sequence. In the closet, a hooded cloak remained. She put on the cloak and stepped out into the hall. She pulled up the hood and slipped into the coat as deeply as possible. She would leave the trunk to be stored and would pick it up at a later date. She proceeded down the grand stair case and headed outside quickly. Liam O’Hannigan was waiting outside at the base of the stairs on the street.
Eschewing formalities, Millicent began immediately. “Mr. O’Hannigan. It seems my foe has discovered my hotel. I will need to move.”
Liam looked at her cloak and wondered “How do you know?”
“I believe Mr. Smith was dining at breakfast. I’ve diverted him. But I have reasons to believe he has watchers in the lobby. I have packed my things and will settle the bill later. I need you to pack and get your things together as discreetly as possible. We will need to move to a new location.” She said in a low voice.
“I’ll pack straight away Ma’am” Liam said.
“I appreciate that. I am going to take a walk in the park and will be at Lancaster Gate for you to pick me up. I should be able to deal with any watchers that might follow me. Stealth is our mode now.” She paused, looked at the park, and then back at Liam O’Hannigan, “Are you still with me?”
“Ma’am. It has been a more interesting two days than all of last year. Besides you still need me“ Liam said straightening himself up a bit.
“You are a dear. Perhaps you are right – there isn’t enough of me these days.” She then poked him in the chest and said, “Remember! Stealth and take care.”
Liam looked at her oddly and said “I’m just packing Ma’am.”
“Just watch yourself” she said as she started to cross the street.
She crossed the street to Hyde Park and went along a path at a brisk pace. At a spot near Serpentine Lake and close to five pathways, she sat on a bench. Her head was hunched under the cloak. She pulled out her notebook. When she viewed the page that gave her information on what was nearby, a yellow dot appeared indicating that a drone was close. It seemed to be over the lake. Dammit, she thought, she had been so close. There was hope that there was no image of her face. She pulled out a device that produced electromagnetic waves. She closed and powered down her notebook. On the electromagnetic device, she turned knobs to the highest setting and then pressed the button. Her ears buzzed a bit and she felt a slight headache starting. Her nanotechnology robots were probably having a micro-fit at the moment. After a moment there was a small splash in the lake. She released the button. When she stood, she took off the cape and walked towards Lancaster Gate at a more leisurely pace. Along the way, she saw a charwoman working near the trash bins.
“you look like you could use a coat” she said looking at the charwoman.
“Huh? Ma’am what are you going on about?” the woman in worn and dirty clothes said as she cleaned some rubbish from the path.
“This coat. I don’t need it anymore. I am going to leave on that bench and it can be yours,” Millicent said.
“ Oh I don’t think I could take that. Cops would think I’d nicked it.” She said in some frustration.
“Wear it. Pawn it for something that matches you. I don’t care. It’s yours,” Millicent said quickly.
The charwoman eyed her suspiciously. “If you say so Ma’am. How do I know ye’ ain’t daft.”
“Does it matter? I’ll be gone and you won’t know where to find me. The coat will be on the bench, “ Millicent said and then proceeded to walk down the path.
“Ye have a point even if you are a bit of a nutter. “ The woman said looking around. She took the cloak and stashed in her bin. It would pawn for a good half crown.
Millicent left the coat on the bench and then turned sharply right to walk back towards Speakers corner. No one held court midweek in the morning. She walked along Bay Water Road to the Lancaster Gate. Liam was arguing ferociously with a bobby when she arrived. “I am so sorry officer. I took a bit longer than I expected. Is there a problem?”
“Ma’am, your man can’t park here. He’s blocking traffic,” the man in the blue said emphatically.
“It’s my fault. I took a short walk and it was longer than I expected,“ she flutter her hands trying to looked a bit peaked.
“Well move on and I will let it go now,“ the policeman said sounding a bit annoyed.
“Mr. O’Hannigan, the bobby was doing his job. Apologize and we’ll move on,” Millicent sounded prim and proper as she said it.
Liam got indignant. “Apologize? That lout was accusing me…”
“I said apologize and we’ll move on. Now,” there was a command in her voice.
Liam twisted his hat and turned one way and another. Then said “I’m sorry I yelled at ye.” And then muttered to himself “ye great lunking idiot” as he climbed up to his driver’s seat.
“We’ll move along now, officer. Mr. O’Hannigan – to the wharf please,” Millicent said with tenseness in her voice.
Liam replied “As me mistress wishes” his voice dripping with acid. Liam grumbled the entire ride back to the wharf. The traffic was heavy as it was rush time. The hack made its way along Bay Water and then turned left towards the Eagle Wharf area to her warehouse. He jumped down and helped her down.
“I may be awhile. Have you had breakfast?” she asked.
“I told you I had some back at the hotel,” he grumbled.
“You are still angry?” she asked.
“Ye didn’t need to make me apologize,” he said.
“”It was a role I played. I do appreciate holding that place until I arrived,” Millicent said archly.
“Do you? I wonder. Sometimes it’s ‘fetch this, do that’. I still don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I would have thought last night explained much.”
“You’re hiring smart people to build fancy things. You know there is more to life than all that University shit.”
Millicent looked startled and angry. The language didn’t bother her. The idea that she didn’t understand things did. “What has that go to do with anything I am having you do?”
“Nothing. Everything. I am just tired of being treated like a bloody servant. “
“Agh… I do not have time for this Liam. You have helped me immensely and I am going to need more. I need a driver and I need someone who I can trust. Right now that is you. Now I have things I have to do and I may be a while. Go get a cup of tea or a beer for all I care. But get your head straight by the time I come back. Things are getting dodgy and I need you full witted. “
“Back here. Full witted I say” and she stormed off to the warehouse.
Millicent pulled out her device to open the door. After a moment there was a solid click and she twisted the handle to get in. She glanced back. Liam was the still there fuming. She entered and shut the door behind her and exhaled sharply. “Charles, are you there?”
“Where else I would be?” Charles replied and the lights came on illuminating the ship.
“Sorry. Local expression. Is Mr. O’Hannigan still outside?” she asked.
“If you mean the disgruntled taxi driver you just had an argument, yes,” he replied.
“Please use your monitoring to inform me if he moves,” Millicent said and walked quickly to the ship.
“Problem with the hired help?” Charles asked with a sing song voice.
“I suppose so” she sounded exasperated. “And if you call him that in his presence, I shall have you run diagnostics on ship board systems for the next three legs,” she said sharply.
“Touchy subject” Charles said primly.
“Yes. Let’s change it. What is the status of those inoculations?” she said going up the ramp of the entry way.
“Progress. The rats haven’t died.” Charles sounded proud.
“That’s progress?” Millicent exclaimed and stopped three fourths of the way up the ramp.
“It is debatable regarding what I am doing. For the rats it’s progress.” Charles said.
“What about efficacy?” she asked continuing her climb up the ramp.
“Early trials are positive. Nanos with a signature different from mine are rejected. However the reaction is severe.” Charles said.
“I suppose that is progress. It works. How severe a reaction?” she said as she headed down the corridor of the ship.
“The rats have stopped dying and are now only suffering from seizures. As I said, progress.” Charles sounded a bit defensive.
Millicent rubbed her temples with her fingers and closed her eyes. “Yes, I suppose that it is progress. Can seizure damage be corrected after the fact?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve been operating on the assumption it is better to get it right first.” Charles replied tartly. He wasn’t used to his priorities being off.
“We are out of time. What about initial reactions on administering?” Millicent said.
“The usual – fever, aches, tiredness for a couple of days while the nanos propagate. Drink lots of liquids. Eat normally – especially protein,” he said putting on the air of a physician or chemist.
“I need ten doses for humans today,” Millicent said.
“Millicent, we would be guessing on dosage. If they do get a dose of something foreign, it may incapacitate them,“ Charles protested.
“How much time to address these issues? “ she said with a demand.
“The reaction, a few hours. I am waiting for results. Things are getting progressively better. Dosage?… I would need to analyze propagation rates of the revised vaccine. Days at least,” he said.
“We don’t have days,” she nearly shouted.
“We don’t have a time machine. I would need different sized rats or other animals. Even then, I would be projecting from a small animal to a large one,” the machine that was Charles nearly shouted back at her through the ship speakers. The sound rattled her bones.
“All right. All right. I need two doses now. Use me as the target height weight and height and add 10% to both,“ she conceded.
“This is risky. I can’t guarantee it will work or that they will recover from a reaction,” Charles protested.
“You’ve made that clear. But the situation has become dodgy. I can’t wait for things to be just right.” She paused and said, “John Smith was at the hotel this morning.”
There was a long moment before the walls replied “I see. That does seem to justify the rush. “
“I will be back for eight dosages later. Focus on the reaction,” Millicent said.
“Very well. The two doses will take about 30 minutes to create,” Charles said.
“I will be checking log files and my wardrobe. Anything of note?” she asked.
“The rat population is down.” Millicent smiled. “My surveillance drones on the targets suggest that the three with collars have made two visits to Mr. Smith.”
“How long before they are broken?” she asked quietly.
“Too many variables. A week? A month?” the sonorous voice sounded like it was almost next to her as she sat at the table with the screen.
Millicent sighed, reminded of the consequences of failure. That would be the fate of her friends or her contractors. She would put a stop to this for good. The log files showed Miss Stanhope escorting the three back to Smith’s flat in the morning and in the evening. They looked thin and drawn. Miss Campbell looked haunted and seemed to flinch at Stanhope’s touch. Millicent turned away from that information and viewed the front of the factory. Liam seemed to be gone and that alarmed her a bit for no good reason. He was probably getting a cup of tea or a beer. Needing a distraction, she brought up a display of the various systems on the ship. Everything was looking in order. The power supply was steady. Charles was not exceeding the solar panel’s capacity by much. She would be in good shape when it came time to leave.
She wandered down to the storage area. Her wardrobe for this planet’s era wasn’t that large and recent events had damaged at least one dress. She had ordered some new clothes yesterday, but they would take days to be finished. There were some working clothes that she needed – leather pants and shirt and gloves on order as well. But there was only one decent dress left in the hold other than what she was wearing. She had clothes for today and that would have to do. She went back to the monitoring station. Liam had returned with another newssheet. She felt relieved in a way she hadn’t expected. She returned to the logs of the surveillance drones at the apartment. No sign of the man who was in the restaurant. Perhaps he had just been a hired hand.
Her thoughts were disrupted with Charles. “The nanotech serums are in the environmental lab.”
“Right. Thank you, Charles,” she said absently.
“You will need injection equipment. Each person should get 33 milliliters,” he reminded her.
“That doesn’t seem like much.” She looked up from the screen.
“My nanotechnology have been quite efficient in the rats. I assume it will be plenty for humans. I expect side effects to be a bit debilitating after six hours. The nanos will start replicating reprogramming almost immediately and will be using the body for their replication. It is important your patients drink liquid and eat – especially protein. That will help. But it will be unpleasant for a day,“ there was a bit of sympathy in his voice.
“There is nothing for it. I will be back for the remaining eight doses this afternoon,“ she said and got up to go to the environment lab.
“If you can wait until tonight, I should have the reaction issue resolved,” Charles said hopefully.
“I will try. Now I need to get some agreements in place,” she said standing up.
Millicent grabbed the injection kit which included a syringe and needles. She also found a bottle of alcohol and some clean cloths. “Charles where is the best location for injection?”
“Intravenous would spread fastest. Otherwise, muscle or adipose will work, but be a bit slower and probably cause some considerable pain to the injection region,“ Charles said.
“Intravenous it is.” She loaded bandages and a rope into her satchel as well. The rope would act as a temporary tourniquet. The bottle of serum was also in the bag. She then headed out and down the ramp to the warehouse door.
Liam O’Hannigan was sitting on his hack reading the newssheet. He seemed to be marking the results for yesterday’s races at the Ascot.
“Mr. O’Hannigan, we need to speak,” she said abruptly.
“Aye, we do ma’am,” he said and straightened up.
“I am sorry if I have made you feel like ‘hired help’. I find this whole class system you live with distasteful. If I am somehow perpetuating it, I apologize,” she sounded contrite and was a bit embarrassed when it had been pointed out.
Liam looked at her for a long while. Then said “Apology noted ma’am. I’m not sure what that changes.”
She crossed her arms and looked at him. “That does seem to be the problem.” She threw her arms up. “What should change? I have things I need to do and I value your assistance and advice in getting some of them done. What should be different?” Her frustration at not understanding his point showed.
“Ma’am, you’ve hired me for a week or thereabouts. But, I’ve no idea of what your plans are. I get orders and that’s it. If you want more than servant, you’ve got to tell me more,” he said looking forward with his chin high.
Millicent eyed him narrowly. “You’re asking a lot. You have no idea how much.”
“Maybe. Seems like you’ve done this before. How did your other assistants work?” he asked.
“Circumstances were different those times. I didn’t need assistants. This time I have a competitor and I’ve needed to make more trips and act more quickly than normal,“ she said.
“Ah so you’re used to working alone. That makes sense. But you need an assistant now,” as if he had scored a point in a match.
“Yes, Mr. O’Hannigan. I need one now. Your value was obvious the first day. I am not used to sneaking and I’ve needed to find new places quicker,“ she put her hands on her hips.
“And if I am hearing right, it is because of this competitor,“ he said again as if he were making a point in court.
“You are repeating me.” She was getting annoyed. Time was marching on.
“Seems to me, competitors are like cock roaches – there’s never just one. What happens the next time you’re here on business? I suspect you will have to find a new partner to deal with the next competitor. I also suspect that if you’re gone long, a competitor will set up in your absence.” He put his hat in his hand and tried to sound reasonable.
Millicent was silent and stared at him for a long time. “What are you proposing Mr. O’Hannigan?”
“I think it should be obvious Ma’am – a longer term partnership. Details to be determined. But as a potential partner, I need to know what is going on now. And to be a good assistant, I need to know what you plan so I can act on my own. But if what you want is a servant, we can keep the current arrangements,” Liam said with a bit of tartness at the end.
Millicent almost gasped at the proposal. She turned away and paced. Her kind never worked in partnership. The isolation was strong enough that the rest of the Galaxy was a bit confused how they ever bred. This was counter to what she had always done. But his logic was valid. Smith was breaking other rules in his poaching. That breach may call for her to change the tradition of isolation and work with allies where they came.
She came back to him and stared at him and said, “My kind does not typically work with others. But circumstances are changing. I haven’t said no, but I am, by no means, certain to say yes. Let me consider your proposal. In the meantime, I need your assistance and you believe that will be best with further information. What is the time now? I have an appointment at 10AM.”
“It is 9:15 Ma’am. It will take 10 minutes to get to the furniture store,” Liam said helpfully.
“Anticipation. Fine, I see how information is rather useful. Very well, it might be best if I find out what you know all ready,” she said.
Liam eyed her suspiciously. “That can also be a way for you to keep me in the dark – fill in the gaps but tell me nothing really new?”
She threw up her arms and hands and shouted, “Damnation Liam. I am trying. Fine! Ask any question and I will answered unvarnished.”
Without hesitation, he asked “Where are you from?”
Millicent muttered under her breath “<sponsor> always said my temper and haste would by my undoing.” Louder, she said, “ That is not an easy question for me to answer, but I will answer it. I need to ask an odd question or two. Do you know constellations?”
“What? A couple I suppose. I had an Uncle who was in the marines. The Big Dipper, Orion,… he talked about the Southern Cross.” He looked confused.
Millicent took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “In for a penny…. There is a constellation known to your culture as ‘The Centaur’ and there is star in that constellation called Deneb. I come from the fourth planet that circles Deneb.”
Liam stared at her for moment and then burst out laughing “You’re nuts. I’ve tried to partner with a fucking lunatic.”
Millicent’s eyes went wide and her fists clenched in fury at the outburst. “Stop that.” She shouted. “I told you things were complicated with me.”
He laughed harder.
She set the bag down. “Fine” she declared. “The nanotech shot will be easier off the street” and rounded back and threw a haymaker into his abdomen with all of her six foot frame. The laughter stopped. The horse turned around and eyed the two of them. She glared back at it “Don’t you start too.” And the horse quickly faced forward. “Stay here. We’ll be right back,” she said to the horse. In the mean time, Liam had slowly collapsed to his knees. Millicent shoved him onto his back with her foot and muttered.
“’I want to know everything’ he says. ‘I need to know more’ he says. The bloomin’ idiot has to ask that question”. She grabbed him by the collar and dragged him towards the warehouse door with one hand. Liam stated to gasp as his stomach muscles began to function again. Millicent continued her muttering as she pulled him to the door like a large sack, “This could have been so much easier if I could worked you up to that question.” Liam rolled a bit trying to get away. Millicent dragged him up to the door and dropped him roughly and fished out her device. Liam tried to crawl away. “Oh no you don’t. Ask me a question and I give you an answer. You laughed.” She paused and shouted in his face, “You laughed, you bastard”. She lifted him up by his jacket and slammed him up against the wall. The door opened and she used both hands and threw him into the warehouse.
The sonorous voice said “Back so soon? What ?! You’ve brought the…”
She cut him off “Charles…diagnostics, three legs”
“Right” Charles said and was instantly quiet.
Liam gasped. “Damn. Nice punch. You’re still daft.”
She lifted him up and pulled his face level with hers which left his feet just barely touching the ground. “Mr. O’Hannigan please look up before you make a bigger fool of yourself. Charles. Warehouse lights – full.” The inside of the dark building was suddenly bright as outside. A shimmering vessel was now illuminated. Liam looked at it and his mouth opened. She let him down on his feet. He looked and took a step and then sat and continued to stare.
“What the hell is that?” he asked.
“My carriage? My store? My home? All three. It is how I move from one location to another. “ she said.
“Never seen anything like it” he gulped.
“No, few have and few will, if I have anything to say about it. Take off your jacket,” she said.
Liam obeyed, still dazed from the punch and now the strange sight. “I’m not saying you aren’t bedlam bound. Really? Now you expect me to believe you’re from another star? But that thing is strange.”
The sonorous voice “Are they normally this rude? I know you select your contractors, but he seems a bit out of the norm.”
“I’ve usually had more time to acclimate them. I am a little pressed. Try to be patient with him. Lord knows I am.” She said with exasperation in her voice.
“Who the hell is the dandy?” Liam said tartly.
The voice replied primly, “Millicent, you may take that from him, but I do not have to listen to such help from the…”
“Diagnostics,” she said. “Three legs.”
“from the likes of him.” The voice corrected itself.
“The likes of me?! Who is this poofter?” Liam exclaimed.
Millicent said to Liam quietly, “You get a civil tongue in your mouth or I will let him have his way with you.” She then said to the ceiling, “Charles. Be nice. He’ll grow on you. He’s confused.” She tightened the rope on Liam’s arm.“ She then thumped the hollow of his elbow.
The sonorous voice replied. “Like a fungus. I tolerate your contractors. Do I have to tolerate him?”
Liam squirmed under Millicent. “This overstuffed ass is talking big. ..I will show him fungus…What the hell are you doing?”
Millicent had his arm braced and the needle poised over his vein “Liam O’Hannigan. I trusted you with my origin. Listen to me now. My competitor is looking for people just as I am. Tell me. Did I coerce Mr. Richards into signing anything last night?”
“Not as such although your terms were harsh,” Liam said. “Why are you asking me? And what are you doing to my arm?”
“But he knows the terms. I didn’t trick him” she persisted.
“True” he said. “Let go of my arm” and he struggled a bit.
Millicent’s grip on his arm tightened like a vice. “My competitor is looking for people. He is willing to trick them. If they object, he enslaves them.“
“Right nasty bastard,” he said agreeably staring at his arm. “Say, I’m sorry about the crack about you being daft. Now about my arm.”
The sonorous voice said, “Nervous Mr. O’Hannigan? She’s really just trying to do you a favor?” Millicent thought that he might be trying to help but the harmonics in that phrase in his voice were down right creepy even for her. She would have a talk with Charles after this was over.
Millicent said trying to be reassuring, “Exactly. You will be in his sites now. There are many things he could do. One of them is enslaving you.”
“I won’t go easy,” Liam said. “The arm?”
“I am sure you wouldn’t” she said gently. “But you would. There would be no choice. Death would be preferable, but you won’t get that option.” She rubbed a bit of alcohol on his arm in preparation.
“I’ve taken a lot” but he was panicking now knowing he wasn’t in control.
“I’m sure. But I won’t have you be a toy for some sadist a thousand light years away. This shot will prevent that,” She said and brandished the syringe. Charles quietly said “Well done, girl…well done,” so only she could hear.
“Shot? I ain’t never had a shot.” His eyes were wide staring at the needle and his voice got squeaky.
“Few have. But you are going to get one if I have to knock you out.” She said harshly.
“Is it going to hurt?” he whimpered.
“Not nearly as much as the alternative” and she twisted Liam’s wrist meaningfully.
“All right, All right” he cried.
“Close your eyes!” and Liam obeyed. She slipped the needle in and made the injection. Once the serum was in, she pulled out the needle and quickly placed a swab on the bleeding spot and said “Hold this” and lifted his arm.
“When are you going to do the shot?” he asked eyes still closed.
“Done. You lumbering cry baby,” she said cleaning off the needle and putting the kit back in her bag.
“That’s it?” he asked looking at the swab on his elbow.
“For now. Drink lots of liquid and eat a lot today. You are going to feel like you will get the flu later today but you will get better.” She said packing items back in the bag. “Charles, did you add repair functions?”
“I had to. The reaction caused damage,” Charles said a bit annoyed.
“So Liam, you going to have a bad flu and likely never catch a cold again in your life,” Millicent said to Liam O’Hannigan. Liam looked at her oddly. She said “You want to know where I am from. You are finding out in pieces now.” She finished wrapping the bandage on his arm. She said to the open space, “Charles, how many purification canisters do we have?”
“Three, but they have not been camouflaged.“ the voice replied.
“Liam, you need liquids over the next day or two and a lot of beer and tea aren’t going to do. I suppose you don’t drink water.” Millicent said.
“Now I am sure you’re daft. Beer is safer,” Liam said with finality.
Millicent looked exasperated. “If you Londoners didn’t all die too soon, you would be in agony with gout and kidney stones. Wait here.” And she got up and headed towards the ship. Liam stared as he began to see how big it really was when she walked up the ramp. She came back with two sacks each the size of a bottle. She handed one to Liam. There was a bottle in it only it was silver in sheen. “The cap unscrews. Fill it with water. Water only! Shake it up. It purifies the water of disease and nasty chemicals. You need to drink three of these bottles today.”
“No one drinks the water – it’s London,” looking at her as if believing that coming from a star was saner.
“Where do you water your horse?” she asked.
“At the fountains…oh you can’t be serious,” Liam said and then waved his hands.
“Use those if you have to. If you don’t, you are going to be miserable for dinner tonight and that won’t do” she said and lifted her nose at the end.
“You are starting to sound like some Lady again” Liam complained.
“Arrgh. I am sorry. I do not have time for this. I’ve got an appointment to buy furniture. After that, I will buy you lunch and start from the beginning and let you ask questions. But I will break a finger for every bout of laughter,” she said seriously and jabbed him hard in the chest causing him to step back.
The sonorous voice said “Oh that could be fun. Can I watch?”
“No you may not. But send a drone to Eleanor’s location now,“ she snapped.
“Spoilsport” the voice sounded pouty.
Liam said, “Who is this wanker?”
“That’s Charles. You’ll get used to him” she said.
“hmph” he said and she could almost hear the same sound coming from the ship.
“Enough you two. Mr. O’Hannigan – out the door. Charles – serum and surveillance.”
Liam shrugged the jacket on and asked, “You weren’t serous about the fingers were you?” Behind him he heard a set of knuckles crack loudly. He quickly said “Best behavior…no laughing.”
“That’s the spirit, Mr. O’Hannigan. Now I have an appointment to keep and you will be learning to drink water.” She said feeling a bit brighter.
“Care to find out if I can force you?” she asked.
“You can’t!” he said his voice getting higher.
“You don’t know for sure,” she said in a low voice. Then said lively “Now to the furniture store. I will be finding out if Eleanor has accepted my offer. I expect her father to be a bit obstructionist.”
“What is so special about her?” he asked in conversation and trying to change the subject.
“She is brilliant with flying machines. And she is more trapped than John Jr,” Millicent said.
“What if Pater refuses?” Liam asked.
“Then I expect we will need to spirit her away. That’s why I need some eyes on the family. Do you get those eyes in place?” she asked.
“Happened yesterday night. That little bit about Daddy would have helped,” he said.
“I am seeing that and I am working on it. Please allow this old dog time to learn some new tricks,” Millicent said.
“You’re not that old,” Liam observed.
“That is another mistaken idea I am going to have to fix.” The horse eyed the two of them. Millicent muttered to the horse – “Thanks for staying. How in the world do you stand him?” The horse snorted and stomped her feet. “I suppose he is a bit entertaining.” Liam looked at her oddly and then the horse as Millicent climbed into the passenger seat. “Do not underestimate the intelligence of horses” was all she said.
“You’re daft,” was all he said as he got the taxi moving.
 Nanotechnology – atoms and molecule sized particles that can manipulate matter at the scale of 1 to 100 nanometers.