Jason woke up and groaned a bit. A wet cloth on his head covered his eyes. This position suited him just fine at the moment. He was only wearing breaches under the sheets. He moved a little and realized he ached tremendously. His joints seemed to creak with the smallest effort. He heard voices like he was listening through a pillow. He heard Candace said, “He’s moving.” Another less familiar voice said a bit harshly, “I told you he would recover, young one. Now go tell Stephan to get his equipment ready and you can let the others know Jason will be down shortly.”
Jason’s mouth was dry and his lips felt puffy as he croaked, “I am not sure about that.”
The harshness in the second voice became a bit clearer, “He’ll be down. Now go pass those messages.” Jason heard steps and then the door open and close.
The unfamiliar voice said, “It seems your father beat me to the punch. Now we need to see who won that little war your body just had.” He felt a prick on one his fingers and a squeeze. After a moment, he heard “Drink some water. You are a bit dehydrated and that is causing the headache.”
Jason lay in the bed and said, “I don’t want to move.”
The voice became a little gentler, “I know, but you must just as you did every day since you graduated this summer. Life can be unpleasant at times. You’ve faced it before with dignity. This is just passing aches and will be far easier to manage.”
He sat up a bit and took off the cloth and saw a tall woman in her 30’s with dark black hair pulled up into a practical bun. She was wearing the dress she had worn last night, but the sleeves were pushed up and she had a white apron on in front. He got the impression she had been in the room all night, but the only sign of tiredness or disorder were a few stray hairs poking out from the bun. He looked at the glass of water next to the bed and took a drink. It tasted so good, he finished it. She took the glass and filled it from the pitcher. “Country folk are much better about water. You can probably trust it more out here.”
He watched the woman he remembered as Millicent pace the room looking out the window on occasion but hardly looking at him. Jason had a dozen questions. He started with the obvious one, “What happened?”
She looked at her hands as she answered, “The inoculation I gave you was designed to protect you against efforts that could force your will. How much anatomy do you know?”
“A bit. It wasn’t my interest,” Jason replied with a shrug and regretted it.
Millicent smiled and nodded slightly at his wince and continued, “I gave you the equivalent of a vaccine. The substance in it would react with any potions that might cause you harm.” She looked away and her voice got quieter, “However, it seems your father developed his own and gave it to you. It saw my vaccine as the enemy. You had a rather violent reaction to my shot. It was touch and go for a bit. We kept you cool to reduce potential damage. I worked with Jolene and brewed something to lessen you body’s reaction and let the substances battle it out.”
Jason asked, “Whose won?”
Millicent turned to face him and with a little bit of a grin and said, “I don’t know for sure, but probably your father’s. Enjoy the glow for moment.” She looked back out the window and said, “But the truth is mine was never meant to work against an existing strain. I had hopes that it would for other reasons, but it seems it is not up to the task. You are safe which was my original requirement.”
Jason decided a bit of anger was appropriate and his voice became sharp, “I could have died and you call that safe?”
Millicent turned to him and snapped back, “Your father did some things he shouldn’t have. I could not have anticipated that.” She sat on the bed and looked at the table, ”And there are fates worse than death.”
Jason was a bit startled by the vehemence, but was not going to be intimidated. “How melodramatic. You sound like Stephan. What happened to my parents?”
Her tone became simple and she looked at him directly, “I told you last night that I don’t know. We are going to your parents’ house today and I hope to get some answers. Your small collection of items suggests they were targeted and probably taken.”
Jason paused when she said that. Then asked warily, “Are you here to find that out?”
Millicent stood up and said, “No, but I am curious.”
Jason waited for her to explain further and she just stared at him. She then pulled a bottle out of her satchel and extracted two pills. She handed them to him and said, “Take these. They will help with the aches and headache.”
Jason took the pills and said, “If you aren’t here about my parents, why are you here?”
She grinned at him and said, “I have an opportunity you may be interested in.”
He took the pills with water and finished it again. His eyes narrowed and asked, “The same as Stephan and my father?”
Millicent crossed her arms and tapped her foot saying, “You know far too much. Stephan and I will be having a talk.”
Jason suddenly worried for Stephan, “To be fair, I forced him a bit.”
She laughed heartily, “How did you master that? I’ve never know him to be forced to do anything.”
Jason stretched, winced again and said, “I found my father’s lab books and glanced at them. There were things I didn’t understand and I demanded an explanation or I would quit.”
She chuckled again and asked, “How good a dishwasher are you?” Then she looked thoughtful, “Wait, that water heater said ‘McNeill’. That was yours?”
Jason said defensively, “Yes, with help from Stephan”
She smiled broadly, raised her chin and had a satisfied smile, “Oh, you will work out nicely if you agree.”
“I haven’t agreed,” Jason protested.
“You haven’t said no and you haven’t heard the details,” Millicent rejoined gathering her satchel.
Jason changed the subject, “Why are the others here?”
She shrugged and answered, “A variety of reasons. Not all have signed on and I am hoping for some peer pressure. I am keeping an eye on everyone and make sure nothing happens. I hope they will start working together and get a sense of one another.” She looked at her fingernails and considered them, “This is something new. I haven’t done this before. Mr. Smith is forcing some innovation on my part and not all of it is bad.”
Jason stretched again. The achiness and headache had dulled. “I guess I will head down after all.”
She smiled and bowed a little, “Good. I would hate to have John come and drag you out of bed. He would protest fiercely and you would have one more reason to be angry with him.”
Jason rolled his eyes, “For someone who caused my pain, you are remarkably unapologetic and arrogant.” He moved to the wardrobe deciding that she had probably seen his breeches last night and his was not likely the only set she had ever seen. “I am supposed to spend ten years with that?”
Millicent opened her mouth, put a hand on her hip, paused and then closed her mouth. She then said, “Wait to hear the offer before you refuse. As for me, I will probably be gone after you settle in. This is not my only commitment. I do regularly visit my recruits to make sure things are acceptable on both sides.”
Jason slipped on pants, “How comforting.”
She changed the subject, “Tell me about the water heater.”
He looked through the wardrobe for shirts and decided on a plain white one. “I came up with the idea from heating the distillers in the labs. I built a design using brass tubes in a big stove. Stephan helped with the tubing and dealing with the flames. I developed a solenoid driven by water to switch the gas on and off. When water flows, the turbine generates enough electricity to throw the switch and turn on the gas. When the water stops, the gas stops. We are also using the electricity to provide a spark for the flame, eliminating the need for a pilot. Stephan says that is much safer.”
She commented, “Ingenious. Wherever did you get the idea for the solenoid?”
Jason faced her and straighten himself as he tucked in his shirt and said, “I worked with Dr. James Maxwell at the University. I applied some of his work.”
“You understand James’ work?” She sounded impressed.
Jason swelled a little with a bit of pride, “The math is a bit complex, but I have been doing well with that. But the practical applications were obvious: the faster the motion of the magnet, the stronger the field. It becomes a matter of regulating the fluctuation of the field strength. I’ve been assisting him on proving the validity of some of his equations.”
She leaned back against the wall and crossed her arms smiling said, “You are a gem. You would make your father proud and you are wasted in this world.” Without a pause, she looked him over saying, “Now that you are dressed, let’s go down and reassure the others. I fear half the women in this town would boil me in oil.”
Jason sighed, “You exaggerate.”
Millicent headed out the door and said with a light voice, “Miss Candace stayed the night. What wasn’t spent ministering to you was spent plotting my demise. Jolene chopped the kidney with a vigor that was unseemly. Stephanie hasn’t said a word since our introductions, but has glared at me with my every pass. You might be a genius with surface integrals but I question your powers of observation Mr. McNeill.”
Jason reluctantly smiled and headed out the door and down the stairs to the kitchen and into the dining room. There was a crowd there that seemed to be waiting for him. Candace greeted him with a big hug. Stephan said, “Lord, you gave us a worry there lad.” Michael said, “Good to see you up old mate.”
Millicent, in what seemed to be her fashion took charge, “he needs to eat people. Get him some of that excellent egg casserole. Stephan, I need you to join me in your office. I need to know what he knows.” Stephan looked stricken but headed in the direction of the office.
Jason sat down and Jolene set a large plate of egg casserole in front of him along with a sausage patty and a fried tomato. He also got a large glass of water. Jason looked around, “Is there any coffee left?”
John said, “I’ll get it.” Jason looked confused as the big man headed off. John never helped and certainly didn’t help him. He looked at Michael and Rachael, “What happened to him?”
Rachael grinned and said, “I rather like it. Don’t you?”
“Well yes, but what happened ‘to the manor born’ and ‘Pygmalion’ and all that?”
Michael continued, “It seems his previous friends felt his origins were a bit too tainted. He’s had a summer to contemplate that rejection while his ogre of a father has reminded him what his origins really were.”
Rachael said, “It’s hard to imagine how bad his father really is, Jason. John had to hide his books. And it seems his father set up fights so he had to regularly beat up other repair jockeys in some sort of strange ‘king of the hill ritual’. “
John returned with the coffee and said, “They exaggerate about my family life. I did not have to regularly beat up other jockeys. That was only once and the jockeys were far less enthusiastic about Pater’s suggestions afterwards. However, the rejection by my associates was real. It seems I could hide the accent, but not the address. After a summer working on the Airship green, I find I have more in common with Rachael than I do with Findley or Neville. She may not care for philosophy, but she knows her way around a shop. She knows how to drink and swear and I am finding that more pleasant than tea and discussions of the latest fillies at Ascot. “
Rachael went red and shouted, “Oy. Standing here you stuffed prig. “
John turned to Jason and smiled, “See? Much more pleasant that stabs in the back.”
Jason considered Rachael for a moment as she fumed. ”I see your point. You’re a little slow. The rest of us knew she drank and swore…”
Rachael shouted angrily, “I could be insulted back at the green, you arses.”
Jason continued, “and it makes life so much more fun at bars.” He looked at John, ”Things might work out, if you loosen up a bit.” Michael stifled a laugh.
Rachael appealed to Felicity, “Can’t you help me?”
Felicity said quite innocently, “She has been a perfect lady since I’ve met her, “ defensively.
Jason looked at Felicity, “You met her when?”
Felicity looked a bit sheepish, “two nights ago”
Jason asked clinically, “Have you played a game of darts with her?”
Felicity replied, “No, it’s been a bit busy.”
Jason said, as if summarizing in a court, “We’ll talk after you’ve experienced that.”
Rachael muttered under her breath, “Shitty, misogynistic bastards can’t stand being beat by a woman.”
Jason looked at Felicity and shrugged. He asked Rachael, “Had coffee yet? “ and winked.
She smacked him on the head, “We were worried about you, you clot. Candace spent the night in your room and the rest of us barely slept. No I haven’t had coffee yet. “
“Thank you” he said rubbing his head. “I seemed to have recovered. Have some coffee. It’s quite good. I think Stephan gets it from some fancy shop close to the University. I think Stephan and Millicent are figuring out whether I’ve been damaged. I don’t remember a whole lot after the shot. “
Jolene came in from the kitchen at that point, “You gave us a scare, lad. Haven’t seen anything like it. Miss Morgaine seemed to know what to do. However she and I had words about it later, “ she said with some vehemence.
Jason said somewhat protectively, “It seems my father may have given me something similar and it reacted badly. She wouldn’t have known. She didn’t know about me, until she arrived here. “
Jolene said, “Oh she knew about you. Just didn’t know you were Sean’s get. I say read that contract carefully before you sign anything.”
The group sat around the table and caught up on events since graduation. Candace sat down and listened. She yawned a bit, but paid attention. Jason had finished breakfast and was on his second cup of coffee when Millicent and Stephan had returned.
Millicent said, “Your father’s defense is still in place, but it will need to recover and that will take some time. The best I can say is…”
John, Michael, Felicity and Rachael said in chorus, “Drink water and eat protein.”
Jason stared at them. Millicent stifled a smile. Then said, “Precisely.” Then she continued, “If you are finished with breakfast, we should head to your parents’ house.”
Candace sat up and said, “I am going.”
Millicent said, “I appreciate your concern dear, but this is something Jason and I must do.”
Jason sat up and said, “Since my parents have died, people have been deciding what is ‘best’ for me. I am tired of it. I promised Candace I would take her. If we are going, she comes.”
Millicent looked to Stephan, “Stephan. Talk some sense into the boy.”
Stephan shrugged, “Can’t do it. I’m part of the problem. I hid his father’s lab books.”
She looked to John, Michael, Felicity and Rachael, “What about you?”
John looked at his fingernails, “It’s his choice right now.”
Felicity spoke up, “Miss Millicent. Maybe if you give us a few moments we’ll get to the right of it. Jason? Might you join Rachael and me for a walk?”
Rachael looked startled, “Why me?”
Felicity said, “Because you haven’t signed up and because I don’t know him.”
Millicent looked at the ceiling and pursed her lips, “Don’t take long. My patience is wearing thin. “
Candace looked at Jason worried. Jason said, “Rachel is ok, you don’t need to worry.” The three grabbed coats and headed outside.
As they headed up the main street towards the village square, Felicity asked, “How much do you know? You seem to know something.”
Jason held his hands out and said, “Millicent finds people to work on things in strange places. Stephan has implied it isn’t anywhere on Earth. He worked for a time and came back with enough to set up the pub. “
Felicity said, “And then some. Did he say how long?”
Jason said, “This was a confusing part. He said he worked for 10 years but came back home and it was 60 years. I don’t really understand that part.”
Rachael said, “None of us do. But we talked to a woman called Abigail and she assured us it was so. And she said it was harder that it sounds and it sounds pretty hard to me.”
Jason replied, “Stephan said he had nothing to stay for. I suppose that’s true for me.”
Rachael rolled her eyes. Felicity grabbed his arm and said quickly, “Then you better clear that up with Candace because she has more than eyes for you.”
Jason looked shocked and then looked at Rachael and asked,”Really?”
Rachael snorted and waved her hand at him and looked away as if he made no sense and said, “Oy vey. You are so dense. You were dense even in school, but I blame that on the homework and extra jobs. Here, you have no excuse. Yes…you blind idiot, she is sweet on you. And if you sign on, she isn’t going to see you again. So you better start opening your eyes you big dullard.”
Felicity still with her hand on his arm, glared at Rachael a bit but said, “Millicent needs to talk to you. If Candace is there, she can’t…won’t talk about anything important. Her rules are odd and seem a bit harsh at times, but I am beginning to make sense of them.”
The three stopped at the small square. He sat as the other two stood. He muttered, “Dammit, Dammit, Dammit! First time something nice happens to me and it goes sideways before I really get it.” He put his head in his hands, “What do I say?” He paused thinking, “Why do I have to say it? Maybe I should stay.”
The two women sat on the bench with Jason. Rachael looked down the road and around the town, “John’s dad is a bastard and John is better off away from him. He’ll got the job of a lifetime. Michael will get to design buildings, bridges, God knows what. Far more than a butler. You might make it building water heaters for a bit, Jason. But I’ve seen you work with math. You need to hear what she can offer. There’s nothing here for us poor shits.”
Jason thought for a bit, “Some of the stuff we brought back from my parents’ house…well you wouldn’t believe how tiny the machines are.”
Rachael laughed, “I might surprise you after what I saw last night.”
Felicity looked at the two of them, “You didn’t make any professions of love did you, Jason?”
Jason looked at the sky and dug his hands into his knees, “I enjoy her company, her laugh, her conversation. I hadn’t thought about it.”
Rachael muttered “men” then said, “Maybe Felicity and I can talk with Candace while the rest of you go to the house. I am not sure I want to see a destroyed house.” The three sat for a while in silence.
Jason finally said, “I guess we have to head back.”
Felicity cocked her head and said, “Millicent seems a bit upset. I think she is more bothered by last night than she lets on. And she doesn’t want to show it.” The three stood up and walked back along Main street in silence.
When they arrived at the bar, Candace and Stephan were missing and the others were sitting about a table. Jolene had sent Peter home because it was apparent the pub would be closed another day. Liam and the others had arrived as well. Liam and the Dean had started a game of darts. Rachael, Jason and Felicity took places among the group. Jason noticed that John had moved over to the darts game, while Felicity, Rachael and Miranda started talking with the Deans wife about something and giggling. There were two men Michael was talking to that he didn’t know. Stephan came out with Candace. She looked upset, but came over to him immediately. She took him away from the table and said, “Stephan explained some of what is going on. I guess you need to see the house without me.”
Jason said, “Candace, I am so sorry. Rachael and Felicity explained some things to me as well.”
Candace tried to keep a stiff upper lip, “Well you need to take that walk. I always knew you were too good to stay a dishwasher.” She held onto his collar and then she poked at his chest not quite looking at him, “You are a good man, Jason McNeill. Don’t let anyone change that. Maybe you can take me to the house before you go.”
Jason looked at the ceiling, “Rachael said I was dense…she’s right. You are a smart, bright and beautiful person who deserves a better person. Not some remote fool like me. I’m sorry I hadn’t noticed before.”
Candace smiled, “You noticed now and counts for something.” She leaned up and kissed him for a long time. Then broke it off and headed for the kitchen.
When Jason had returned to the group, everyone seemed extremely intent on their conversations or the darts game. Millicent asked, somewhat impatiently, “Are we going to your parents’ house now?”
Jason looked at her a bit angry, “Apparently so. I can take Candace another time.”
Millicent stared back at him and said, “That would be the smart thing to do.” Then turning to the group at the table and hailing those from the darts game, “I think we need to take a walk. Mr. O’Hannigan, I think you should join as well.”
Felicity asked, “And what of me?”
Millicent looked at her, then rubbed her eyes with the palm of her hands and lookinga bit tired, “Felicity dear child. At some point you need to accept parity with these people or it will be a very long 10 years. I will value your observations as any of this lot. Stephan, are you joining us?”
He looked to Jolene and then back to Millicent, “I’ve been once and made my peace. Let me know what details I can supply, but I will stay here.” Millicent nodded to Jolene and the troupe headed out of the heavy oaken doors. Candace watched through the kitchen doors, her face covered with tears.