The storefront where Abigail Beatrix Cormac sold antiquities and curiosities stood quietly in the most unassuming parts of Gearford’s Rowe District, rather close to the marketplace in the Saks. This was where Lucas was to meet his compatriots.
Normally, one would see the patrons of the millinery shop or the haberdasher on either side about, but Lucas noticed neither today. They were closed, as was most things in Antiford today, and the small street was only busy with folk on their way to the festivities in more open parts of town.
Lucas walked up to the door and rang the bell. He took the moments waiting to brush some of the dust off his patriotically blue-and-yellow jacket. He straightened his top hat and inspected his reflection in the darkened window.
Phinneus opened the door. “Get inside, ya peacock.”
“Phin,” Lucas said.
The two shared warm smiles and a handshake.
Lucas took off his hat and looked about. “Where’s Ms. Cormac gone off to?”
Phinneus picked up his jacket from the coat rack. Before he was able to speak, Abigail descended the staircase in the back.
“I was just taking care of a few things,” she said.
“Wonderful to see you today,” Lucas said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Hard not to see you.”
Lucas smiled and opened his arms as if to show off. “And where is Mr. Asan?”
Phinneus looked grim. “He’s not going to be able to travel to Gearford today.”
“There’s been some raids on our compatriots all over Whitehaven. He’s a little scared to be active right now,” Phinneus said.
“I’ve had informants go missing lately around town. It could be related,” Abigail said.
“We’ll have to discuss this at the meeting,” Lucas said. “Figure out what’s going on.”
There was a grim pause.
Abigail grabbed a parasol. ”Shall we get onward?”
“Fine idea!” Lucas said.
“Okay,” Phinneus said.
Phinneus donned his hat and opened the door for his friends. They entered the fray of ever-increasing crowds travelling towards the Saks. There were festivities in every district, but if the Saks weren’t out of the way, it was really the place to be today.
Lucas produced a small brown bag from his pocket. “Would either of you like some chocolate?”
“No, thank you,” Abigail said.
Lucas started munching on a piece.
“How is that not completely melted?” Phinneus asked.
Lucas shrugged and kissed the chocolate off his fingertips.
“I told you he’d be disgustingly cheerful,” Abigail said.
“I never said I doubted you.”
Lucas looked back. “And why shouldn’t I be? It’s Discovery Day!”
Phinneus nudged Lucas. “I suppose it is nothing to do with... not having to run the festivities in Astam, then?”
Lucas shuddered. “Don’t remind me about last year. I don’t even slightly envy anyone tasked to coordinate the holiday’s festivities.”
Abigail chuckled to herself.
“And what about you?” Lucas asked Abigail. “Business as usual?”
“That’s a bit hard to answer actually, but there’s certainly a lot of people who wish to experience Discovery Day under the influence. I’m walking with wet pockets today.”
“I wish I could say the same,” Phinneus said, “Boric is asking me to fund some crazy scheme, and I’m probably going to go for it, so I’ll be a little reserved today.”
“How is the ol’ Yeti?” Lucas asked.
“Well enough. Might be getting restless, I think.”
The three were interrupted, not by a word, but by a sight.
They had reached the marketplace between Portobello Avenue and Rathbone Boulevard. Where there were normally vendors as far as the eye could see, there were performers, stages, and festival food. The bright blue, white and yellows could nearly blind a man on a sunny day like today. The public water pumps were running a constant, and the public servants metering them were a little friendlier, a little more relaxed than usual. And there were even vendors selling ice for drinks and ice in sealed pouches to place under your hat. This was the richer part of town, after all.
They spent their time tasting candy floss, sampling chanka-waffle sticks, playing gallery games, and meeting up with many of their friends. Any Antifordian Lucas knew who wasn’t back in Astam Junction was here in Gearford.
Discovery Day in the Saks district always included a mid-day presentation. Phinneus and Abigail had explained that back in the royal days, when Gearford was still called Optilocus, it was rife with trivial pomp and circumstance. Not that they believed the Technocracy to ever say anything of importance in the fourteen years of their running the show. However, the technocracy had been spreading word through the media outlets that this year would be particularly important. This was what brought Lucas away from his hometown and to join his Gearfordian compatriots.
As the time for announcements drew closer, the Order of the Badger found themselves seats close to—though not at—the front. It was utterly important, time and time again, that they experience these things first-hand. When reading about such announcements afterward, the shadow of the Technocracy’s control over information was obvious. They often analyzed the difference between the subtleties and words they heard and implications and words the press seemed allowed to print to discover what things the Technocracy wanted filtered away.
With precision and accuracy, the Antiford National Anthem began at the top of the first hour past noon. This was the signal to all for the beginning of the government’s presentations.
The marching band was twice the size of any other year, its members comprising of musical corps and academy cadets from Gearford. It flanked both sides of the stage. They played the national anthem with bombastic energy. It was difficult not to feel patriotic. The anthem accompanied the procession of officials out onto the stage. An enormous flag lifted above the back of the stage, and a handful of upper-level technocrats walked out, waving, and made their way to their seats. These were some of the most powerful people in the nation, though common folk might not ever recognize them.
The music faded. The procession had finished like clockwork on the last note. After a pause, one more gentleman entered the stage. The order recognized him as a technocrat from Mistfell. This gentleman paced himself, leaning on a cane as he walked over to the patriotically embellished podium, stage center-left.
“Good afternoon! My name is Gilbert Melker Wrathchild. I am authorized to speak on behalf of the Technocratic Council. I welcome you all to Gearford’s celebration of our two-hundred and thirty-ninth Discovery Day.”
The crowd cheered, as if on command.
“While we gather in celebration, we must remember the last four years. We must remember how they have been no less a challenge and threat to everything we hold dear.
“An audacious surge of crops and livestock stolen by the demon tribes.
“Skirmishes from unknown vagrants in our Hoganmar villages.
“To the south, an insurgent self-declared Emperor acts on his dreams of dangerous, militaristic designs in the same volume he consumes mutton legs.
“And—no less—here at home, dissidents who conspired and fueled the brazen assassination of the beloved and respected Button.”
Abigail shared an incredulous grimace with Lucas and Phin. It was an even more skewed interpretation of the past few years than the Technocracy had previously attempted to pass off as fact before.
“I am here to announce that The Technocratic Council will not stand idly by in these challenging times. The Council is determined to move Antiford rightfully first in her role as the Leader of Araz, and that if Antiford is to lead, She requires a strong leader. She requires one who represents the best in Antiford. She requires a strong technocrat speaking the words of The Council. She requires... a prime minister!”
The crowd grew ever curious, ever excitable. At this point, he was practically yelling into the megaphone to be heard over the buzz. He gestured with his open hand to accentuate his words.
“On this day, the thirty-first of Firch, we have an individual that, through his leadership, will bring greater glory and honor to Antiford. Ladies, gentlemen... on behalf of the Technocratic Council, it is my honor and duty to introduce the Prime Minster of Antiford…”
Wrathchild gave the technocratic salute and yelled into the megaphone so loud that the following name could be heard by all in attendance.
“Mister Mordecai Newton Marigold!”
As the last syllable echoed out, Marigold was stepping from behind the curtain onto the stage, precisely on cue. Wrathchild’s salute was repeated by those standing in the crowd. A chant of “Marigold” almost caught on, though it was overtaken by general applause. Their new prime minister bowed and waved as the marching band played a new, modern anthem with hints of the national anthem within it. This was likely to be the prime minister’s personal anthem. This was the reason for the expanded band today.
Thirteen rockets fired off from the city’s rooftops and exploded into the colors of the Antifordian flag.
On the stage, Mr. Wrathchild congratulated the new Prime Minister and was dismissed. He took his cane and receded back to be seated among the other technocratic guests on stage.
Phinneus was busy trying to analyze that group for any sign of their opinions. It seemed that there had been a mixed reaction to the speech. However, anyone keeping focus on the new prime minister had a smile on their face.
Marigold tried to speak, but was drowned out by applause, and so stood there and kept waving and smiling.
Mordecai Marigold, or at least his family, was not unknown to the public. Those who knew his family through business dealings had a great deal of positivity toward him. Lucas worked with him from time-to-time due to his position in the railway industry. And his in-laws, the Thompsons, dealt with him even more so. Others had dealt with his family through their agricultural businesses. This man was a powerhouse of politics.
Marigold pulled out a larger megaphone than Wrathchild had been using. “Antifordians!”
The crowd roar died down.
Marigold put the megaphone back behind the podium and stood beside it rather than behind of it so that we could all get a look at him, dressed splendidly for the occasion. His brooch, a marigold flower, stood out distinctly against his blue jacket. He stopped for a moment to check his fob watch.
He continued speaking at an easy to follow, orator’s pace. “Antifordians! I stand before you as your Prime Minister… Now, an important aspect of this position is that I am a member of the technocratic council itself.”
The crowd gasped.
The Order of the Badger sat bewildered.
“You may ask, why is one of council revealing themselves? We need a strong voice, both here and abroad. We need to foster and develop our love for Antiford, not just on Discovery Day, but all year long!
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, to help everyone contribute to our great society. I plan on reaching out to our neighbors to the south and ensure that the peace we have enjoyed over the past decade continues with their new leader, Von Kresser. You might have heard he’s a force to reckon with, but there’s nothing like Antifordian diplomacy and determination. I’m certain to make a fast ally.
“We will, together, continue to make Antiford the world leader in technology, textiles, and proper, technocratic, life!
“There are many of you who have worked for my family or even directly for me. You have the benefit of a first-hand experience to fuel your belief in what I’ve just said. What about the rest of you, though? Surely, the Antifordian spirit is one of a scientist. One needs evidence! Well, we shall provide this evidence in spades only momentarily.”
A curtain pulled back to reveal an engine of moderate size, and much smaller than ones used in the average locomotive . Several technicians stood around and started it up. It was as loud as any locomotive engine would be, but billowed a thick, dark cloud of smoke whose smell was distinctively pungent. The odor lingered until a light breeze finally dissipated the smoke. It was alien to many in this crowd, though not everybody.
“Paorrian engineers have been working on a completely new engine technology. A brand-new fuel. And, the technocracy wasn’t standing idly by while this happened, no! We funded our own research into flusseline and flussel-power!”
The engineers slowed the engine to a stop, cleaned up the area, and wheeled the engine back behind the stage.
“Let’s give it up for our engineers!”
The crowd cheered wildly. He walked back and forth across the stage, gesturing for more applause, working the crowd.
“The plans for the Antifordian flussel engine will be available publicly in the coming month. But, I’m thinking you’re skeptical of replacing all of our current motors with a new fuel. Where does this flusseline even come from? ...Well I share your sentiment. What works for other nations may or may not work for Antiford herself. Only time will tell.”
Marigold paused for a moment to look down at his watch once more. The crowd stayed silent while he returned to the side of the podium.
“Those who wait for time are bound by her demands. This is not a fate we find acceptable and nor should you, dear Antifordians. This is why I’m extremely proud to share another new technology—developed by our own citizen, one Dr. Mesp. An Antifordian technology that we are proud to publicly announce will push steam technology into the twentieth century!”
Another curtain pulled back. The technicians wheeled out an orb. A slight blue glow escaped a small circular window in the sphere’s design. There was a steam engine next to the orb, connected, but sectioned off with heavy-duty flow-control valves.
“It is called asymr.”
The technicians hurried around the engine to make sure things were ready.
Marigold pulled on a symbolic, large lever while the technicians opened the actual valves.
He walked back away so the crowd could look at it. “Add this one component to any steam engine, and we can guarantee vastly improved efficiency!”
Flusseline, also known as diesel, was known because of developments across the globe over the past year. But this... This! It looked like magic to everyone. Asmyr was like nothing anywhere on Orr. The technocracy had actually managed to help develop something innovative. Phin and Lucas were on the edge of their seats, trying to calculate what this might mean for their businesses and engineering projects.
“The Technocracy has tested and explored this breakthrough thoroughly and will be working with industries across the country to introduce this marvel of excellence slowly and correctly.”
The technicians reversed the valves and stopped the engine. They wheeled it back and Marigold took center stage once again.
“So, ladies and gentlemen… Antiford is has a great deal of work ahead of her, but we always succeed when we all contribute. When we are united. We are strong because we engineer, because of our Technocracy.
“Remember how I said that we would be meeting with Emperor Von Kresser? Well, I won’t be going to the Prush Empire alone. We will be working with our citizens who have developed strong relationships with our southern neighbors recently.”
A deep, bellowing echoed from the east. The Prime Minister checked his fob watch with a smile.
“And… hopefully the Emperor sees reason enough not to push his wars north of the Prodigious.”
A strong wind swept through the crowd, warm, but constant. Murmurs swept from east-to-west as people caught sight of what was flying in from the ocean.
“Because we aren’t going to let our guard down in such a time as this.”
Marigold motioned towards the sky, directing everyone’s attention.
High above the rooftops, two airships cast their shadows on the crowd. The sound of these behemoths waned as they slowed, and the ships slid into their places above the marketplace for everyone to get a good look.
Phinneus stared at the two, nearly identical sky-ships. He recognized much of the design, not from currently commissioned airships, but from the monstrosity he’d encountered at Barroh Camp a few years ago. Combined, they might have matched the size of that ship, which was easy enough to imagine as these two ships hung in the air side-by-side. Perhaps it was the failure of that ship’s maneuverability that prompted the change in size. Still, these were larger than any other ship. It was hard not to trick oneself into seeing them as closer to the ground.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, Fellow Technocrats, You are all witness to the unveiling of both the SS Charles Button and the SS Aegis Rose. Antiford’s first... asymr-powered… Ruk class airships!”
With precision timing, thirteen cannons on each airship launched confetti all over the city.
Marigold lifted a piece of the confetti he had already from his jacket pocket and waved it in the air. “To celebrate these great achievements, your water rations are double today. Just reach for the sky!”
The crowd roared up. Deafening applause echoed across the Saks district. Many were simply going crazy about the prospect of binging on water. When the confetti reached the ground, everyone discovered what Marigold meant, they were actually “one per person” water vouchers.
Lucas, and many other engineers, were wild with thoughts of what they could do with asmyr added to their own machines.
Abigail looked at Lucas, concern on her face. This snapped him out of his trance. Off focusing on the propaganda and back to analyzing why the technocracy just made so many bold moves. Phinneus caught on as well, snapping back from his fascination with the two Ruk classes.
“Thank you, Antifordians!” Prime Minister Marigold said.
He stepped back, returned to his colleagues. The marching band played upbeat, vibrant, joyous music. It amplified the sweeping celebratory feeling.
The Order of the badger sat, dumbfounded and overwhelmed.
Their world had changed.
Their country had changed.
The fight had changed.