1893, one week after the Charles Button incident.
The nation of Antiford was in a horrible frenzy. The newspapers were plastered with the image of the martyred leader, Charles Button. A man of industry, covertly protecting and nurturing the fledgling administration to greatness, it read.
The elderly and the subversive knew better, but so many of the average citizen bought right into this nonsense.
The truth was that power corrupts thoroughly. The leaders of the nation were kept anonymous for their protection and to control the population better. With none to challenge them, the Technocratic Council was a juggernaut of corruption and hypocrisy unrivaled in all of Orrian history. They got what they wanted and threw the people a bone now and again to keep them happy enough to avoid revolution.
The previous administration, the monarchy, was seen as setting a low bar to beat. Many aren't sure how much of that is truth, and how much is propaganda and control. History is written by the winners.
The other victim of power was young Lucas Buford. Growing up abused by those in power, he was unable to see when he himself abused power. Fear, panic, and a little hubris fueled him to misuse the power he'd attained being part of the Order of the Badger.
The other members is this powerful triumvirate were swept up by the momentum of action born out of all these power abuses. Their role had mostly been that of surveillance and knowledge until now. Never before had they truly called to action. It was always too risky. So many good people go missing when they get too close to the hidden truths of Antiford.
But, life continues onward, never backward, so the Order needed to act quickly to regain control over the situation they found themselves. In a small office, in the back corner of a factory, in the Barret district of the capital city of a disturbed nation of the thirsty, stood the Order of the Badger, fighting amongst themselves.
"Lucas, I cannot stand for you to remain in this organization any longer!" Phinneus shouted.
"Knock it off, commodore!" Lucas blasted, "I sat there taking your crap in my office already."
"Well I am not sure it sunk in, since you have the gall to come to this meeting!"
"I'm sick of your pompous attitude. This meeting place is my property, or haven't you forgotten."
"We did not need to meet here," Phinneus closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, "I'm going to punch your lights out!"
"Bring it old man, have you seen this right hook?"
Abigail had been walking over to the other two; they were too heated to notice. She threw her parasol between them and subsequently knocked each on the head with an authoritative swiftness.
"Stop acting like children," she scolded, "We have work to do."
The men were still reeling from the uncomfortable smacking.
"Tell that to commodore smug."
She glared at Lucas. "You made a terrific mistake."
Lucas defended, "You were there!"
"Don't think I'm not upset about having my cover blown for a common bounty hunter."
Lucas looked down.
Phin had a scowl upon his face, "You have jeopardized everything!"
"Smashing in doors, threatening violence? Are we the mob now?" Abigail shot back at Phin, "So, what are we doing about all of it?"
Neither sir spoke a word. After a minute, Abigail turned and started walking away.
"Wait," Lucas halted her, "I apologize for my actions. I was being-"
Abigail spun around, "I'm glad you're sorry, but I'm neither ready nor interested in hearing it."
Phin collected himself, "There's a power vacuum."
"Yes, quite right," Abigail concurred.
"And generally, we've seen them promote from the inside so that the power gaps are at the bottom of the hierarchy," Phinneus thought aloud, "So, they're going to be pulling into the public-facing organizations."
Lucas sat. "Which means we have a chance to get one of our own into the technocracy."
"Anyone know which sector they're due to pull from next?" Abigail asked.
"Textiles, mills. They've not pulled from them since the first few years of the administration." Lucas answered.
"I'll get confirmation on that from my sources," Phinneus said to Abigail, "That means we've got three candidates."
Abigail finished the thought, "one of which is our trusted Mr. Bartlett. Lucas, you focus on helping him raise money and favor. We'll take care of the competition."
"I don't have a lot of capital to throw around, Ms. Cormac," Lucas explained.
"Well I'm certainly not trusting you to covertly remove someone right now, so dig deep Mr. Buford!" she said frustratedly, "Anything else, Phin?"
"I've started looking into the late technocrat, and a lot of his life is obviously fabricated. I'm sure whatever is hidden is important, so I have to follow up on that."
"Okay, after you finish with that I want you to intercept one of our competition on his return from Claurusia, a Mr. Cadwell."
"It'd be a shame if they got caught up in a devastating storm," Phin slyly implied.
They went their separate ways to work trying to recover the future of their nation from the jaws of the paranoid technocracy. It was a desperate time for the Order, but one that would push them to be more actively involved with their mission.
1893, five weeks after the Charles Button incident, after Phinneus's Mission to Barroh Camp.
Lucas's hunch was strongly confirmed by both Phinneus' intel and by the actions of the technocracy themselves. The big three textile mills were completely nationalized and merged into one government-run entity, Antiford Textiles. This left the three candidates they suspected with two jobs. One owner would have control of the new conglomerate, the other would have a position above them, interacting directly as the party's policy maker on industry. The other, would simply be left with a forced retirement.
The industrial guild was looking to have a soirée in honor of the late Button, seen as one of their club. Many in the guild were exceedingly proud to have had one at the top in their ranks. It legitimized the club of rich men plotting and drinking.
Lucas hated the meetings and the men snubbing at him for finding his fortune at such a young age. He'd not been in the club three years or so, but he wasn't completely without allies. His attendance wasn't mandatory, but it would be political suicide to refuse, and the order relied heavily on some of the knowledge it gave him.
Naturally, Lucas scrounged the funds he could in order to host the soirée himself. His home in Astam Junction was remodeled to accommodate larger fetes, and the interior walls were built particularly thick, so that a thin person could easily move about inside them. This allowed him to place phonographic audio devices all about the place, which fed into a small listening center upstairs behind his walk-in closet.
The Order's mission for the night was to find out how to convince the guild's member's to favor Mr. Bartlett for the position, as there were likely other secret party members among the guild's ranks. The guild's goals were to grieve their comrade and gossip. Lucas's goal was to try and sell some automatons to recoup the costs.
While Lucas greeted guests, Phin walked into a secret room behind Lucas's walk-in closet to where Abigail was listening in on the goings on.
Abigail turned to greet him. "Mr. Cromwell."
"Ms. Cormac. How's the sound?"
"Like listening to a bunch of whispers under a jar. You can mostly make out what's being said, though."
"If only I still had the ship's radios... If only I still had the ship."
"It is unfortunate, but at least you have several more."
"At least Boric and I are alright."
With the loss of his ship he was unable to perform the intercept mission. This wrench in their plans meant that Mr. Cadwell was still alive.
Phinneus wanted to change the topic, "How did your mission go?"
"She's already arrived, a complete shadow of her former self". Phinneus saw a slightly sinister smile creep onto Abigail's face as she pulled one of the many earpieces so that it sat between them. A woman's voice, stuttering and jumpy could be heard.
"You are completely frightening."
Back in the lobby, Mr. Bartlett arrived.
"Mr. Buford! So good to see you."
Lucas shook his hand, "Always a pleasure. Frightful news it all is."
"Agreed," the fellow businessman and subversive said.
"I do hope they catch the bastards responsible," Lucas said with a straighter face than he expected.
"Yes, indeed. How are things?"
"Well business has been a bit shaky, so I'm doing the foolhardy thing and investing more money into everything."
"Hope it pans out. I understand pouring money into things."
"Well, I must be off to see how the refreshments are coming along."
Lucas poked his head upstairs and into the listening room, "How are the guests getting along?"
"Well enough, nothing pertinent," Phinneus answered.
Abigail put down one of the earpieces, "you need to get them tipsier if we're to get anything out of them. They're only telling secrets I already know."
"I'll work on it," Lucas said before making his way to actually check on refreshments.
The wait staff was not happy. The guests were a collage of refined pallets, in other words, difficult, picky, and prone to complaints. And that they had to work with automatons was a great source of complaint. Certainly some found it intriguing, a feeling Lucas hoped to inspire in his guests, but most felt like the machines were more work than doing the serving themselves.
Meredith was on hand, rewriting bad serving scripts. This was one of the most difficult jobs Lucas had put her to task for, but he trusted his lead programmer and was paying her quite a bonus for it.
"Sir, one of the wait staff, I believe, keeps intentionally sabotaging the scripts. These are clearly fork marks, and it's throwing off poor Augusta real badly," she said.
"I'll get to the kitchen and find out," he assured.
When he reached the kitchen, the staff was in uproar. Staff was yelling at one another, platters were dropping to the floor, and one of the chefs was on the floor with a few empty bottles of the most expensive wine.
The past few months drove him to insanity and this kitchen was a visual representation.
A knife flew through the air and lodged itself into lucas's mechanical hand.
The room went silent as everyone noticed their boss, knife in hand.
"I HAVE HAD ENOUGH," the veins on his forehead pulsed, "Someone pick Arneau off the floor and sober him up. You!" he pointed, "How much wine do we have left?"
"That was the last bottle, sir."
"You're going to take this note into town and buy the best of whatever you find."
"The rest of you, IF I CATCH WHOEVER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SABOTAGING THE AUTOMATONS, YOU'LL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!"
Lucas grabbed some tequila from the back room and turned to one of the waitresses, "Sweeten this up, make it interesting, and start getting our guests loose."
Outside in the lobby, the men were talking big talk about how well they were doing in their respective industries; The stock market would have disagreed with all of them.
As the evening turned to night, the guests were fed and drank mightily.
Lucas popped in upstairs for suggestions on who was backing which candidate in the upcoming election, and Lucas then convinced them to change their minds.
Both Phinneus and Abigail were listening to multiple conversations at any one time.
"Don't you dare tell him, but he is pretty good at convincing these people," Phin said.
Abigail stuck her ears out of the listening devices momentarily, "Yea, yea, trying to listen to gossip right now, thank you."
Lucas stood in his parlor surveying the room for a moment. He had set up Mr. Bartlett to talk with Mrs. Thurgood, who had been taking a long sabbatical from business, but who still had large sway. Ms. Harcourt was convinced no one noticed her long conversations with the cactus in the corner; Lucas almost felt bad for her. More than that, Lucas wanted never to upset Abigail again. The last candidate, Mr. Cadwell was having a lively conversation with a few of the glass industry gentlemen.
Lucas needed to do something to stop his good time, so he went up to his compatriots.
"Guys, I need you to convince Ms. Harcourt to attack Mr. Cadwell."
They looked at him as if he'd been a hobgoblin asking for sand.
"Please, trust me on this."
Abigail shrugged. "Well, if you can get the listeners to go in reverse, I've been hearing her loud and clear through the walls."
"They don't work that way."
Phinneus scoffed, "Of course they don't"
"Not helpful," Lucas said.
"Get back down there," Phin gestured for him to leave, "we'll figure something out."
After Lucas left, Abigail asked, "So what's this plan?"
"Well you can fit into the walls, can't you?" Phin said.
"Not in this outfit!"
"You can change, we are in a closet after all."
Abigail sighed. "Well at least take notes, you haven't written barely a thing down and I don't want to miss their drunken slip-ups."
She changed into some dark clothing and tip-toed downstairs, trying desperately not to be seen. She managed to sneak quietly into the closet that led into the labyrinth of wall pathways. Each time she approached what was a door outside, inside she climbed down below the door and then back up, squeezing between the pillars holding the floor up. She eventually made her way to a most recognizable voice, still arguing with the cactus.
"I don't think it's appropriate to talk that way, is all-" Ms. Harcourt said.
Abigail chuckled and worked her magic, pretending to be the cactus.
Meanwhile, Lucas was outside, watching the former CEO of a textile mill run up to her compatriot and rival to attempt to snog him, or bite his ear, or something sudden and revolting.
"I do say!"
"Someone get her off of him!"
Lucas rushed over to break them up. "Mr. Cadwell, what are you doing!"
"What?" Mr. Cadwell look at him, confused even more than he had been.
"He said he loved me!" she said.
The head of one of White Haven's largest glass factories interjected, "You two should step outside and settle whatever is between you two."
"But, I..." Cadwell got his senses back a little, "Now see here, Mr. Perry, I have had nothing to do with this lady!"
The damage of awkwardness was already done, it was far less appealing talking to either of Mr. Bartlett's rivals. No one wanted to deal with hearing Cadwell being upset, nor did anyone have doubts about avoiding Ms. Harcourt any longer.
A few days later, one week before the election.
Lucas had sent word to a Mr. Kade Asan, White Haven's head representative in the house of engineers. He was not invited to the gala, but would certainly be involved in the vote.
The order had helped him get elected to office using some advertising tactics Lucas thought up for business matters.
Phinneus had faith in his fellow order members, but he had an itch to verify things for himself whenever possible, old habit.
The train stopped in White Haven, you could go no further west by train. The trains here only go back east or south to Conwell. So, Phin knew rather simply, by it being the end of the line, that it was time to get off the train.
It was a grand old city, the agricultural jewel in the dustbowl nation. The dust in the wind was more palpable than over at the coast. Phinneus was far too used to breathing the light, clean air of the skies, and had want to return there once he'd built himself another airship.
He had sent his own letter, of course, wishing to discuss Lucas's. They were to meet by the courthouse and make their way to dinner. It was growing dark every street he traversed and by the time he made it to the courthouse, the street lamps were being lit.
Phin looked around. This part of the city was far more densely packed than the outskirts the train station dropped him off at. Eventually, he spotted someone in a nearby alleyway.
The soft glow from his pipe dimly illuminated his face, revealing a large mustache and thick eyebrows. The two walked toward each other to meet.
"Mr. Kade Asan?"
"Hello," Mr. Asan said, putting out his pipe, "you must be Mr. Cromwell."
"It is very nice to finally meet you in person."
They shook hands.
"Likewise. So, shall we get to business?"
"I am starving, actually," Phin admitted.
"Good, there's a great place for steaks around the corner," Mr. Asan said, "And don't worry."
"About being so quiet. The average person, here, is far more sympathetic to your cause than you may believe. The technocratic grip slips quite a bit in White Haven."
"And why is that?"
"Without us there is no food or water, my friend," Mr. Asan said with amusement.
Phinneus smirked and recalled the words upon Antiford's flag.
Mr. Asan reminded him of the late order member, Hector White. Phinneus was no stranger to the White family, their opinions, nor their influence on the city.
Once they had sat down and ate enough to satiate their appetites, they slowed, sipped their drinks, and began the serious business.
"So, Mr. Cromwell, I wondered why the order would send me one letter after another."
"I had to be sure you understood the plan, and Lucas was being vague, as to not arouse suspicion should the letter be read before reaching it's destination."
"Yes, that much I gathered," Mr. Asan concurred, "What exactly is my part in all of this?"
"We need your help to ensure that, our friend, Mr. Bartlett is the one elected."
"Oh, and how am I supposed to do that?"
"You are involved with the election committee. I'm sure that you can find a way."
"I normally try to avoid the corruption and tomfoolery within the election committee, but... I am a man of my word, and I am in your debts."
"I need a guarantee, this is far too important," Phinneus stressed.
"I shall try my best."
"Very well, please succeed," Phin said, standing up to leave, "There are not many opportunities like this. We are counting on it... We'll all be counting on you."
"Thank you," Mr. Asan said, also getting up from his chair, "for not letting me sit idle during these most important times."
"I'll see you in a few weeks then."
The gentlemen shook hands and parted ways.
Phinneus Cromwell returned to Gearford to wait the weeks until the election. The order had done all they could.
Mr. Asan prepared to return to Gearford, to the election committee for the House of Engineers.
1893, after the election, seven weeks after the Charles Button incident.
In the back room in the little gem of Gearford known as the Black Leaf and Earl, sat a powerful, subversive bunch.
Phinneus Caractacus Cromwell, Abigail Beatrix Cormac, and Lucas Merriweather Buford were joined by their friends, Mr. Kade Asan and Mr. John Bartlett.
"So, when they stood up at the podium," Mr. Asan described the events of the House of Engineers session, "well, I'd forgotten to switch the envelopes! The court legitimately voted for you!"
Mr. Bartlett laughed, "Well you three have been stacking the odds in my favor, so I'm not surprised it wasn't necessary."
Phinneus raised his glass to Mr. Asan, "We always appreciate our friends from White Haven. You are one of a kind, sir."
"Thank you very much," Mr. Asan exclaimed.
Lucas raised his glass to Mr. Bartlett, "And to our trusted new representative in the House of Engineers. The more power we take, the more we can help the people!"
Abigail stared at Lucas through her glass, "You know, your screw up turned out to be quite advantageous-"
Phin interjected, "And pretty damn disruptive."
Lucas looked at his compatriots, "Well, I guess it's turned out okay. It's all about the plans you make and subsequent execution."
"Well in that case," Phin said raising his pistol to Lucas.
Abigail joined him, taking a knife out of her parasol and pointing it at Lucas's throat.
Asan and Bartlett shared amused looks.
Phin laughed heartily and put his gun down, "Nah, I think I might be close to forgiving you."
Abigail put her knife away, "We really must do this more often."
Mr. Bartlett smiled, "Well, friends, I say that this has been a fortuitous month. Here's to your order."
"The country needs you more than ever," Mr. Asan said, cheerily raising his glass.
They all raised their glasses. "To the Order of the Badger!"