At the University and The Dean’s Office
Millicent left the café and arrived at Henry Mill, Dean of Engineering’s office a bit after 5:30. Miranda looked distracted and upset as Millicent walked into the office.
Millicent said, “Miranda, I got a message this afternoon from the Dean. Henry said it was most urgent.”
Miranda saw Millicent and simply fell apart, “That horrid man, Smith came by again. He brought Winifred Stanhope and Neville Carter-Fraser.” She sniffed trying to control herself. Her voice quavered as she continued, “He asked where you were staying. Oh Millicent – I’m sorry…I couldn’t help myself. I told him. I tried, but somehow I was supposed to…” Miranda dissolved into tears. Millicent came around the desk and folded the matronly woman in her arms.
Millicent said into her ear, “Miranda, I know you didn’t have a choice. You had to tell him – he made you. “ She held the woman for a bit more and then pulled back as she said, “I know what he did. You were defenseless.”
Miranda straightened her shoulders a bit and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, “Well I held out with your student names. But I think Henry gave him those names. Oh God? What did he do? I have never felt so helpless…he could have done …anything.”
Millicent said, “He had a way to force you to do things and say things. Miranda, there was nothing you could do.” She put her hand on Miranda’s arm, “the good news is he can do that once. Your brain is a remarkable organ. It erects a barrier to that little parlor trick he pulled on you…and probably Henry. Now I need to go talk to the Dean. After we’re done, we are going out afterwards, so go freshen yourself and find me two runners.”
Miranda headed down the hall using a cloth to dab her eyes as she left. Millicent fumed at the shame Miranda felt and hated Smith all the more. That woman regularly reduced pompous professors and snobby graduate students to rubble. For her to have been stripped of dignity was unconscionable. Millicent suspected that Winifred had suggested to Smith how to handle Miranda for her own satisfaction. Millicent was finding Winifred every bit the match for Smith. She straightened her bodice and went gently through the double doors.
Henry, Dean of Engineering at the University, stared pensively out the window looking over the central quad. He spoke without turning around, “He brought Winifred Stanhope and Neville Carter-Fraser. I said no when Neville asked for the list of recruits. “ In a voice of mixed wonder and horror, he said, “I’ve never seen a man look like that.”
Millicent spoke quickly and quietly, “I am so sorry you went through that.”
He didn’t turn around but looked at his hands as if they were aliens. “God help me. I still didn’t give them the list after seeing Neville writhe on the ground. Smith pulled out some box, pressed some buttons and I wrote out the list and handed it to him like it was a Christmas parcel.”
Millicent stayed silent for a bit and then said, “You had no choice. He forced your hand, Henry. Please understand that. He could have made you do just about anything.”
The Dean turned around and leaned forward resting his arms of the massive desk and said a little wryly, “I may be an old professor who putters away at trivialities whilst wearing mismatching socks. But I know myself well enough to discern that. I have no idea how it works, but I had to comply.” He looked down at the desk as he spoke again, “The thing that makes me truly mad; truly angry is what he did to Neville. He knew I would say no and poor Neville got shocked as a result. If he knew he could get the list simply by pushing some button, why do that to poor Neville? Shocking him, or whatever it was, changed nothing. It was needlessly cruel.”
Millicent said, “I won’t claim to understand Smith…yet. But he was sending a message to you and probably to me about what he is doing. And, while you might see as it needlessly cruel, he was teaching Neville his idea of a lesson.”
The Dean put his head in his hands as his elbows rested on the table. He said, “What is happening? Why are people tortured because I refuse to cooperate? Why do I suddenly have people mucking with my head demanding information? ”
Millicent considered how to answer. The directives on interaction with locals was clear –“thou shalt not reveal thy origins.” But with each move and each interaction things got more complicated. She had to divulge more and more each time she interacted with the people she was protecting. Suddenly the rules about cultural interference she had defined for herself were too constraining. She said slowly, “I said before that this might be a competitor…”
“Is this a dealer thing?,” the Dean asked.
Millicent started by trying to keep things obscure and said, “Smith is a competitor. It is likely his first time in the area. We are from the same province. I had his accent when I started here. The list of items and people he is seeking is similar to ones I have dealt with in the past. It is possible my patron might be using us both. It is more likely Smith and I have different patrons, but one can never be fully certain. Patrons have been known to encourage competition even though my guild explicitly forbids it. “
“You asked for his list, which I never should have given you. He asked for your list now. This feels a lot like a playground spat.” He looked up, “But what happened yesterday wasn’t just a spat on a playground – was it?”
“Most of my guild operates within the rules. The places and cultures to collect from are so numerous we usually have no need to compete. I have registered my claim to here and guild rules support it.”
The Dean leaned back and said, “I feel rather like a piece of farmland or a mine.”
Millicent said, “The claim is more than just you, but the analogy is apt.”
The Dean got up and went to his liquor cabinet. He poured himself a sizable brandy. He got a second glass and looked a Millicent. She nodded her assent and he poured an equal amount. The two of them moved to the fireplace. The first sips were in silence. Then the Dean asked, “So a competitor comes along. Why is this so much more?”
Millicent took a sip from her brandy and stared at the fireplace and spoke, “As I said, the places and cultures that we deal with are so numerous that normally there is no need to compete. We each have our own territories. However, with valuable resources clashes do happen and in the past such exchanges have been violent and frequently …indiscriminate. I had hoped to scare him off. Clearly that didn’t work. I will defend my claim if he challenges me. But those I care about should be far away once the clashes start in earnest, “ Millicent said, her eyes narrowing at the last bit.
The Dean snorted, “You make it sound like the Clash of the Titans”
Millicent said, “Wasn’t yesterday’s experience enough? Fine, let me show you another little parlor trick.” She pulled out her own box and looked over at the research table. She dialed a nob and pressed a button – the globe began to spin. She dialed the nob again and pointed it to a set of beakers – and they began to boil. She moved another nob pressed the button and the gas lamp dimmed.”
The Dean’s eyes went wide, “What the hell was that?”
Millicent said, “Electromagnetic waves. You should talk to Professor Maxwell, he is the expert here on that. But I would be much happier if you didn’t mention these things.” She pressed one button and everything returned to normal. “Henry, think about what you saw just now. What if I could make this device much larger?”
“Good Lord. What just happened?”
“As I said, I modulated EM waves of the wire in the light, the air around the globe and the liquid”
“Just moving these…waves…did all that?” the Dean asked.
“Have a sip of your brandy. You’re hyperventilating.”
The professor took a big drink and closed his eyes.
“Smith. He has access to this technology.”
“This and more. As do I. Do you still believe that innocents won’t get hurt?” Millicent said.
He looked at her intently and asked, “Who are you?”
She shrugged. She had already told one person she shouldn’t’ have. She was not interested even now to tell the Dean. She prevaricated, “I have not lied to you. I am everything I said I was – a trader, a procurer for collections. But I have not told you everything and I can’t”
The Dean got up and paced around the room, “You know too much. You have sterling references. Yet you are remarkably unconventional: you keep me waiting; you drink brandy” gesturing with his empty glass, “you care not a wink for societal conventions and yet you wear the trappings. When I talk to my colleagues on the continent, they say your Flemish or your French or your German is perfect and only a hint of some exotic accent no one seems to be able to place. You’ve never told me of your homeland and I learned more about your practice in the last minute than in 10 years of trading. Now I find out you may have competition and that you may resolve your disputes like some bandits in the Western U.S.” He took a larger drink of brandy.
She sipped hers and looked at him. There was no question and so she gave no answer.
“Is there no way to resolve this dispute?” he pleaded.
Once Smith knew she had claimed this place, he probably wanted to make a deal. But when she tried to shoo him away by interfering with his contractors, he made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere and he made it clear the kind of finder he was. Making a deal now seemed impossible.
Millicent said, “He crossed lines, Henry. Would you want to deal with a trader who profited off of slavery? I don’t know what his plans are, but I know others like him. He sees this place like a mine. Its value is to be stripped, taken away, refined and sold by other beings. He and I are from the same…province. Most of us are ethical if strongly motivated by profit. But a few have very flexible ethics.”
The Dean stared into the fire. “And so we become Poland between France and Russia.”
Millicent drank more of her brandy, “This is quite good. I can protect you and some others. Prevent what happened to Neville. I need that peace of mind right now. When I know you and others are safe, I can make Smith wish he never crossed me.” She smiled darkly at the Dean. She got up and put the brandy snifter on the shelf.
He finished his, got up and put his snifter next to hers. “The maids clean them. If you told me where you’re from, I wouldn’t understand would I?”
Millicent put a hand on his cheek briefly and smiled a bit sadly. “Best not to ask such questions, Henry. Know this instead, yours is a remarkable race with a resilience and ingenuity that is unsurpassed. So much so that some fear you for what you could become. You have weathered ice, famine, and pestilence. You have managed so much with no help at all and have managed not to destroy yourselves. If you don’t change some bad habits, you might still succeed in destroying yourselves, but I am optimistic. I love this independence of yours and I will NOT see it broken by Smith or any that follow him.”
“So now you are our protector as well as a farmer and miner?”
“Yours absolutely as well as all my other friends here.” She shivered dramatically, “Such negative talk, positively spoils a fall evening. That will not do at all. Grab your coat. Have you become too jaded for pub fare?”
“I haven’t eaten in a pub since I got tenure,” the Dean said with a protest.
“Then it is far too long. We need a round of darts and some good beer to think properly. Come along, I know just the place.” She grabbed his arm and moved him to the door.
“Millicent, I can’t.” He shook himself free and spread his arms pleadingly.
“You can’t why? Because there’s work to do? Piffle. When I get my goods and my candidates signed, that budget issue is halved. You can’t because ‘it’s not done.’ Now I seem to recall a young post doc who was the “Close Out Champion” three years running at the King’s Cross. I also think he was able to debate the fine points of physics whilst consuming his second pitcher of ale.” She smiled at him widely.
He looked at her, “How could you possibly know about that?”
“Oh come now. Do you think I can’t read tourney boards in pubs.” Millicent put a finger to her chin and thought and said, “We’ll invite your wife. She needs to stretch a bit too.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am and I am persuasive too. I’ll bet you tonight’s meal against a dinner at the Savoy that she comes, she stays and she plays a round of darts.” Millicent said definitively.
“I shouldn’t take your money like that, but I’ll take that bet.” He moved to grab his over coat.
Millicent replied, “Jolly good. One less bill to pay. You’ll see I am right.” She leaned her head out the door and said, “Oh good, Miranda. You have the runners. We are all going to a pubcrawl and husbands and wives are invited!”