While Millicent and Jason were reaching an accommodation, three people had arrived at the lot. Findley Brown was on one side wearing his usual coat, tie, and bowler and an insufferable smirk as he stared at the group of seven milling about. Neville Carter-Fraser was on the other side wearing a coat, vest and a top hat. He was watching Findley by glancing at him every few moments. He wrung his hands and jumped with each of Findley’s movements as if Findley might strike him. Neville’s face held a touch of despair when he finally looked at Millicent. In the center was a tall man who was Millicent’s height. He wore a long black coat, a striped vest and a bow tie. He had a handle bar mustache that had been carefully waxed. He clapped his hands slowly at the end of Jason’s and Millicent’s conversation as he surveyed the tableau. He said in a melodious voice, “So this is how the magnificent Millicent manages her contractors. It is a wonder they ever get anything done. I can’t imagine handing over such an obstreperous product to one of my clients. I find a bit of training and reinforcement makes these,“ He paused as he searched for the word, “humans remarkably pliant. Isn’t that so, Neville?” He patted Neville on the shoulder lightly and left his hand on the shoulder in a fashion that should have looked comradely. However, Neville’s flinch made it look more like a subtle torture.
Neville replied quietly in a shaky voice, “Yes…sir”
The man who must be John Smith clucked his tongue said, “Oh Neville, that wasn’t what we agreed to back in London…Findley?”
Findley grinned evilly and touched something in his hand. Neville screamed and fell to his knees, “I’m sorry master. It won’t happen again.”
“Much better, Neville,” Smith smiled and replied, “Findley, reward Neville for that good response.”
Findley grinned again and pressed another button. Neville’s pain had disappeared and his eyes closed and he sighed easily. He said, “Thank you master.” Findley pressed a button again and Neville shuddered some more and started moaning. Everyone watched wide eyed as Neville curled up a bit on the ground sighing.
Smith raised his hands in a calming fashion said, “Relax everyone. I assure you, Neville is thoroughly enjoying it now. Aren’t you Neville?” and he nudged Neville with his toe. Neville merely nodded.
Millicent dropped the bag of strange bit from the yard and moved toward Smith shouting, “Stop it. Stop it now. You’ve made your point.” Pausing as she watched Neville crawl and struggle back to his feet swaying a bit. Millicent said, “Tell me Smith, how do your addicts even think? Oh I imagine with the fear and the pleasure, they fetch and work and perform whatever acts you want them to. ‘Pliant’ as you say. But creative? How, if they are waiting for the next jolt of pleasure? “ She looked at Neville sadly, “Neville, did you start any electric projects under your new …employer?”
Neville looked at Smith for direction. Panic filled his eyes with the fear he would say the wrong thing.
Millicent persisted, “Neville. Has Smith told you where you’ll be going and for how long?” Neville’s lip quivered at the question and he away. Millicent looked at Smith. “You call him ‘pliant’. I say you’ve made him useless.” She turned her attention to Findley Brown, “Mr. Brown, do you see Smith is training you just the same as Carter-Frasier? Just a different little reward. The control must be intoxicating – almost better than sex. Does that button do it for you Mr. Brown?” Jason stared at Findley in shock as Millicent bluntly assessed him. Millicent turned back to Smith, “Neville’s collar is bad enough. That you’ve put Mr. Brown in charge of the matter is even worse. It’s like asking child to run an airship. Or asking a fox to mind the hen house. But I suppose he is meeting your expectations keenly. You just need someone to beat the workers and do the occasional fight. All aggression with just a hint of intelligence? Neville is just training Findley for later. They call it cock fighting around here.”
Smith clenched his fists, curled his lip and glared at Millicent. Millicent smiled back. Then she said with her own curled lip and said, “I’ve seen your type, Mr. Brown. Smart enough to lord it over servants. But otherwise rather dull.” She turned to Jason, wrinkled nose as if she smelled something distasteful and asked, “Jason, did I read him right?”
Jason started to speak, but Michael spoke up first, “That’s my take on him, Millicent. He had Jason carrying his books in University until a few upper class friends corrected that.” Rachael smirked as if remembering a bad joke.
John looked at his fingernails commented, “Findley constantly had me helping him with math. Too busy to do his own work I suppose. Improbably, I thought it would help me after school and get in the factory here. I seemed to have misread loyalties. I was expecting an friend and he wanted fealty. ” He shrugged and then said, “That didn’t work. But I think some of my best work had his name on it. It was nice practice for harder work.”
Findley screamed incoherently and rushed at Jason who had said nothing. John and Liam stepped in front of Jason and grabbed both arms of Findley and lifted him. Liam said in a thick Cockney accent, “Not today arsehole.”
Jason stepped up to Findley now restrained by Liam and John and whispered, “You fool! What have you got yourself into?”
Findley struggled a for a moment in the two men’s grasp. Jason stepped back and felt his stomach go hard. Was Smith unleashing Findley as he wanted to be or was his molding and guiding Findley in this? Findley calmed down and shrugged himself off Liam and John, “Something way beyond Dunstable. Your recruiter there is on her way out. Smith is the future. Earth is the orchard to be picked and I would rather be the guide than the fruit. I will have real power. People will bow to me. Just like Neville and Simone and Charles. This town owes my father. He put this town on the map. What does he get, complaints, criticism, and he takes it. Well I won’t. ” Jason stepped back as if he had smelled something bad.
John grabbed Findley by the shoulder and turned him to face Neville Carter-Fraser who looked distraught, and said loud enough to be heard, “And what of Neville?”
Findley sneered, “Weak, but useful. Someone to be used. A tool like you.” He said it louder, “like all of you.”
Smith smiled and said, “Tsk, Tsk Mr. Brown. They are baiting you. Miss Stanhope is quite correct. You will have to learn some control.” Findley quickly returned to his spot next to the tall Smith in the middle. Smith continued, “Findley is mine and I didn’t even have to use the collar. As for Neville and the others, Morgaine,” Smith shrugged,” It was your interference that made the those necessary. But my client won’t mind too much. He has exotic tastes and Neville can supply those nicely.” Smith stroked Neville’s cheek gently. Millicent stared in anger as the others watched in shock or turned away in embarrassment. Smith crossed his arms and continued, “The galaxy is changing, Morgaine. You set too many restrictions for contractors and clients. You are far too secret about your sources. This is a big world. You really should have shared, Morgaine. Times are changing old girl. Your precious guild rules won’t matter shortly.”
Millicent clinched her fists and said through bared teeth, “Your rabble has said that for ages. You whine about restrictions and ownership when they don’t favor you, but lay waste when it’s your license. As for my rules, my clients have been doing very well. The plutocrats have never had strength on the guild council.” She pointed at Neville’s collar and Neville flinched as she said, “Your clients will be like America – torn apart, ravaged over a strange notion of supremecy.”
Smith tsked and put his hands behind his back and smiled as he said, “You’ve been gone a long time, Morgaine. Minds change, politics shift, people move. They die.” The last was said sharply. He smiled broadly, “The rules are going to change. And this planet will be the first to see it.” He touched the collar. “I can buy this on the open market now. My penalty? A reprimand. I didn’t really need them though. They would have come without them if not for you.”
“I told him the truth, Smith. You turned him into an addict. And you have the audacity to blame me?” Millicent said with her chin high and her hand across her chest.
Neville looked confused, “When did she talk to me? And why is she calling me an addict? What are you doing?”
Smith said hastily and quickly, “Shut up Neville. I will explain later. Be quiet or expect Findley’s help to stay quiet.”
Millicent looked at the sky laughed and said, “Now whose losing control? You’ve collared him and you still can’t tell him the truth. Your recruits really are merchandise to be tamed and sold.” She turned to Findley and said in an aside, “Careful, Mr. Brown – ask for the long contract. Even Smith has to give you that.”
Findley said defensively, “I know we are leaving for good. I also know I will be designing weapons and probably using them in fights. I might be injured or die in those contest, but I will be in charge of my life. People will obey me, “ he said glaring at Jason.
Smith smiled approvingly nodding at Findley said, “They have such a cruel streak. They are perfect for the games. You really should have shared Millicent. Have you studied their history? It is positively red with aggression, cruelty and barbarism. They are meant to fight and serve others.”
Millicent snapped, “This is my planet you $#%&@!”. Jason couldn’t understand the word, but Smith flinched and looked angry. Millicent continued, “Leave it. Leave my recruits alone. I will see you in Guild Hall for this abomination,” she pointed at Neville.
Smith changed moods almost immediately and laughed, “Your sponsor can’t help you much longer, Morgaine. This planet has been noted by the Council as worrisome. I am here collecting data and these are two of my data points. As for your recruits…and not all of them have signed… I might leave them alone for a price. Eleanor Woodson is such a brilliant young lady. I might trade her for …a joint license agreement.”
Millicent’s eyes got big. Several of the group voices grew loud asking about Eleanor. Millicent silenced them with a gesture and a sound and asked quietly, “What have you done with Eleanor Woodson?”
Smith frowned for a moment at the sudden silence and then smiled, “So you can control your contractors.” Smith picked some lint from his jacket in an appraising fashion and said, “She is in my custody at the moment. That nanotechnology of yours was quite a problem. She recovered but was a bit worse for wear. Of course now, Winifred Stanhope is using her own proven methods. I find her quite enthusiastic in these matters. I expect Eleanor will be begging to sign anything just to have Winifred out of the room by the time I get back.”
Millicent said viscously, “You will release her or on your head be the consequences.”
Smith laughed again, “Consequences? What consequences? Old girl, your precious Guild is light years away. That ossified council can’t find its own ass to wipe without a consensus. I have Eleanor now and I will find my own uses for her. You really should share. It’s best for everyone. I have some other deliveries I am waiting for anyway. I will wait a week for your negotiations.”
“I will sign nothing with you,” she snarled back.
Smith rolled his eyes and raised his hands and said, “Then Miss Woodson is as good as mine. In a week’s time, Miss Stanhope will have broken her. Don’t be so stubborn, Morgaine. This really can work for both of us.” He turned around, started walking back down the street and looked over his shoulder, “Mr. McNeill. Morgaine really doesn’t know anything about your parents. Now my employers might be able to help you. I’ve got a space or two if you agree to terms.”
Jason’s mouth opened and then he rushed at Smith. Liam and John restrained him now as he shouted, “What do you know? Tell me what you know. What happened to my parents you bastard?”
Smith glanced at Millicent, “This is why I prefer training and restraints. They can be so unruly.” He nodded to the struggling Jason caught between John and Liam, “He has no discipline. I’ll work on Mr. Brown while you work on Mr. McNeil.” He put his finger to his chin and looked as if in thought, “We get them together later. It will be marvelous fun.“ To Jason he said, “No freebies Mr. McNeil. You want information – you join me.”
Millicent hissed, “Are you through or should we start the get together now?”
Smith signaled to the other two and headed away. He shouted over his shoulder as he waved his goodbye, “I’ve had my bit of fun for today. You can reach me through Neville if you don’t already know my location. That pub of yours seems remarkably insecure. Eleanor awaits your response. Come Neville, Findley. We’re leaving. Findley, you’ll want to start packing for the trip.” The three walked down the street towards the center of town.
Millicent clinched her fists in frustration. John and Liam restrained the now furious Jason. Millicent turned and faced her group and began, “I need to get back to London tomorrow to deal with Eleanor.” Jason seemed to calm down a bit as Liam whispered in his ear, “..lad, she is going to need you and everyone here. Pull it together…” Jason nodded to Liam and John who let him go.
Jason squared his shoulders and asked Millicent, “If you were going to sign on Eleanor, why didn’t you bring her?”
Millicent sighed and said, “Because she wouldn’t sign and because her father is keeping like a prisoner for all practical purposes. She had similar objections as Rachael and a couple of new ones. Although, frankly, Eleanor’s life bears far more resemblance to John’s than Rachael’s. She can’t leave except with her family’s permission.”
Rachael asked, “Couldn’t you have protected her? Like you’re doing to me now.”
Millicent said, “I did what I could with the injection of nanos. That has kept her from Neville’s, Charles, and Simone’s fate. But Eleanor’s fathers and brothers escort her to her workroom and back. They accompany her on her walks. They are very old world in their views. I had planned on spiriting her away when the oppression became too much. Smith apparently beat me to that.” She thought for a moment. “The Senior Woodson must be beside himself. There is an edge there of some sort. “ She shook her head and said somewhat acidly, “If you all are finished second guessing me, let’s finish here to help Jason and head back to the Pub.”
Michael protested, “Finish here? How does that help Eleanor?”
Millicent said as firmly and gently as she could, “Jason’s father was apparently far more valuable than I had imagined. Smith’s comments suggest that he is alive and that someone I know is keeping him. The closer we get to knowing what happened to Sean, the more we perturb Smith. And I really want to perturb him greatly.”
Michael persisted, “And that helps Eleanor how?”
Millicent looked at the sky and sighed, “In the immediate little, but there is something here Smith wanted. I want to find it. We WILL free Eleanor, but the light is fading and we have a jump on Mr. Smith and his gang. I WILL not have it wasted. Do you object?” There was steel in her voice now. Liam whispered something in Michael’s ear and he looked annoyed but said, “If we are rescuing Eleanor, I have no objections.”
Rachael watched the three figures walking away. She asked, “What was he doing to Neville? Is that what those shots protect us from?”
Millicent faced in that direction, her shoulders slumped, and said, “Neville’s his now. I can’t do anything for him.”
Rachael eyes got narrow, “No one deserves that. Not even Neville.”
Felicity stomped her feet in frustration, “He’s keeping him? Like a slave? A pet? That’s horrible.”
Millicent said in a tired voice and shaking her head, “Felicity dear. Yes it is horrible. What is happening to Eleanor is horrible. What is happening to Neville, Charles and Simone is horrible. And I will say even, what is happening to Findley Brown and Winifred Stanhope is horrible. Smith is at the center of this and I have got to stop him. And I am not sure how.” She looked around and then looked at her hands, “Perhaps I could have stopped him alone when I was younger or he was more foolish. If even part of what he says is true, he means to use Earth as a source of slaves and materials to other planets. I’ve tried to hide you all over the years, but someone has found you and Smith is their vanguard.” She said quietly, “And It sounds as if I shan’t be getting any help from elsewhere.” There was a quiet pause. Millicent looked at the silent group. What could she expect them to say? She waved her hands in front of her face as to clear away such thoughts. Maybe if she focused on this problem, solutions for Eleanor and Smith would present themselves. “Enough of this maudlin wool gathering! Smith is gone and we can’t do anything about Eleanor here. But we can figure out what happened to Jason’s parents. Right now I need to understand what happened here. Go! Finish. Rachael and Liam meet me with Jason while the rest of you work. Go! Shoo.”
The rest headed off to their tasks while Rachael and Liam gathered around Jason. Millicent guided them to what remained of the porch. At the foot of the rotting stairs she started talking, “Jason. Smith probably knows something, but signing with him is worse than playing with fire. There is no doubt you would be burned. “
Jason looked at the hulk of the house. Then chuckled in a sad sort of way, “Let see how my day has gone. I woke up this morning from the hangover to end to the world because someone gave me a shot that didn’t sit well. I find out a girl is in love with me just in time to leave her. So it figures that the first person who knows something about my parents’ disappearance uses it to blackmail me.” He turned to Millicent, his head down,and said, “I suppose it is foolish of me to believe he would tell me anything without a quid pro quo.”
Millicent said, “Even Winifred and Findley have given up something. They just don’t understand what they have given up.”
He stepped up onto the porch causing Rachael to gasp in alarm for fear of the rotted boards. Jason asked to the hulk of the house, “What would I risk in knowing something?” The boards creaked under his weight but seemed to hold.
Millicent said, “At the moment, you are risking broken bones. Those will repair themselves – fairly fast if your father’s work is any good. If you sign with Smith, you risk a great deal more and it may not repair itself. What does your Bible say? ‘For what does it profit man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’”
Jason used a foot to feel for firmer boards and took a step forward toward the door. “I am not all that religious, but I think you stretch the context of that verse.” He held his arms out for balance but it looked as if he were trying to fly and he took some steps along a firmer joist. “Is my soul all that big a loss in the grand scheme?”
Rachael spoke, “There is another passage in my wisdom books ‘Do not envy evil men and do not desire to be with them’. Look at Neville. Look at Findley – are you willing to become that? Is knowing something sooner about your parents worth that? Is that what your parents would want?”
Jason reached the door and turned the nob which was locked. He shook it but it held for some reason. “Just my luck today – a door of fine oak. What would it take to get through that door? Would I have to break it? Could I just batter down? If I got to the other side, would I just see more dry rot and rats’ nests? If I could see dusty furniture would something become clear? ”
Liam said, “I think, lad, if you stay up there you’ll see the underside of the patio.”
Millicent said, “Another wise man said, ‘Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.’ Smith offered you something of your past. Consider what you just saw. Do you believe that he will easily give anything you need to know?”
Jason looked at the closed door. The boards creaked loudly as he shifted weight. He turned around, “I would be a fool if I did. Will the truth be found sooner with you?” He considered the distance of about eight feet between the door and the top of the small stairs. He asked, “You say I should be a bit stronger and faster than average with these nanos my father gave me?”
Millicent looked at the distance of the boards said, “I can’t be sure. Mine will do that with time. At a minimum any broken bones will be healed quickly. A cautious scientist would test the hypothesis in safer circumstances.” She stepped backed away dramatically and said, “Clear out of the way, Miss Weiz. I think Mr. McNeill is going to try something foolish. But, I would rather witness that than something else. Go ahead, boy. I am fair passing at setting bones.”
Jason smiled at Millicent, “Hardly words of encouragement.”
Millicent smiled and bowed, “I am not your parent. I can’t say you would find your parents quicker with me, but what you find will be the truth. “ She eyed the porch and Jason speculatively, “See if your father left you a legacy. You might be more than anyone thinks.”
Rachael looked alarmed. Liam looked confused but pulled Rachael back a bit. Jason grinned openly now. He squatted down experimentally and the boards creaked loudly. He shifted both feet so they were over joists. He squatted and then pushed with all his might out straight out and swinging his arms forward. As he started the jump, he looked as if he were flying with his hands in front of his stretched out body. His tall frame covered the eight feet of the porch, the four feet of stairs off the porch and another two feet where he landed in a pile and rolled a bit. Rachael screamed a bit. He rolled over and flexed his wrists and moved his legs. “Blimey. I did it. No broken bones either.”
Rachael kicked him, “Idiot bastard, scaring me like that.” And then she turned to Millicent shook her finger at her and said, “and you encouraged him!”
Liam helped Jason up to his feet. “Never seen like that. That was near on fifteen feet.”
Jason dusted himself off, “I saw what Smith was. If his ideal recruits are Findley Brown and Winifred Stanhope, I am hardly a good fit. I would rather work for the person who chooses Rachael Weiz, Michael Richards, and Eleanor Woodson.”
Millicent raised her eyebrow asked, “And what of John O’Malley?”
Jason looked at the sky helplessly raising his hands, “Four years…four years he ignored us. Four years he played those stupid class games. Am I supposed to pretend that it didn’t happen?”
Millicent almost pleaded, “Speak with him Jason McNeill. His life and yours have been similar. He made poor choices in University, but he is learning that each day.”
Jason sighed and said, “I will try, but I won’t promise.”
Liam clapped his shoulder and said, “Good lad. John is decent folk. Just lost his way a bit.”
The three turned back to the house. Millicent continued, “Smith didn’t know I would be here. He was looking for something and we surprised him. We need to understand this location. I make no guarantees on your parents. If they are alive …well you saw Neville.”
Rachael asked, “What is going on with Neville?”
Millicent said quietly, “Short answer – he gets pain if displeases and he gets pleasure if he pleases. But it goes far beyond that. The pain and pleasure are integrated into the entire body. If pain is administered, it would be as if every nerve were on fire. If pleasure is administered, it is if you experience a height of pleasure from every point on your body. While the pain is bad enough, you can imagine that victims quickly become addicted to the pleasure cycle. They will do just about anything for a pleasure cycle after a point. And withdrawal from the pleasure cycles becomes worse than an opium withdrawal. The victims may not want the pleasure cycles to stop and become willing wears of the collars. Smith is like a pimp forcing his girls into an opium haze. Before long, it is likely that Neville will do just about anything for a pleasure cycle. Charles Wayland and Simone Campbell are going through the same experience.”
Rachael clinched her fists and said, “This is allowed?! In the galaxy?”
Millicent said, “In most places, no. Treating sentient species in such a fashion is abhorrent. But there are pockets where the practice is acceptable and even encouraged ‘to keep people in their place’. Don’t sound so shocked, Rachael. Your planet is hardly virtuous in this matter. America has slavery now and it has not been that long since Great Britain forsook that peculiar institution.”
Rachael harrumphed but said nothing further. Millicent addressed Jason, “My first question – will you sign a contract with me? If you want, I will add a clause about time spent searching for your parents. But I have my own motivations for finding them, so you needn’t worry if you didn’t have the clause.”
Jason looked at his hands and legs and then over at the ruined house. “Yes. I’ll sign it now.”
Millicent smiled warmly and said, “That can wait until we return to the pub. Stephan will be annoyed and Jolene will be put out about the water heater.”
Jason looked a little shocked for a moment, “I had completely forgotten about the second heater.”
Millicent said, “Indeed. At some point you will need to say your goodbyes, but that can wait. I will return to London tomorrow. I will expect you to join me. But we will return here before our final journey.” She turned to Rachael, “I want you to finish the design of the ‘grabber’. I may have a toy or two for you to use to help. I also want you to work with Jason on decoding these puzzling pieces. I want to know if a machine was involved and what it did.”
Rachael said, “I haven’t signed on yet.”
Millicent said gleefully, “Careful child. You said ‘yet’. I will pay you on a daily basis. I expect a pound a day will be adequate pay and allow you to cover any expenses.” Rachael gasped at the amount. Millicent commented, “that is not too far from my normal compensation and you will work for it.”
Rachael sputtered, “That is too much. It’s probably more than the Dean gets.” Jason grinned at the thought.
Millicent looked thoughtful. “Not by much after all his compensation is taken into account and I have compensated him generously over the years. You would be wasted in an airship company or an armaments factory. I will make sure you see the Prague Astronomical Clock before we leave. And it will be a chance to see a true Jewish town.” She smiled and said, “My mouth is already watering for the delis.” She turned to them both and said, “You two work up a plan for decoding this place. There are the structures, the damage, the pieces, the pond and who knows what else. Open your minds to things that might not be possible. I have seen some evidence of new technologies here.”
Jason said, “Why are you doing this? What makes my father so special?”
Millicent said, “That young sir, is exactly what I don’t know and we need to find out. Stephan mentioned notebooks?”
Jason shrugged, “Stephan has them. He says there are things in there I shouldn’t see.”
“I am sure he was right at the time, but that restriction will be removed when you sign with me. Share them with the group. It will be a learning experience. Now let’s see how your compatriots are progressing.”
 Matthew 16:26
 Proverbs: 24:1