One Miserable Reisday
It was still Dodar, though pushing toward Aderfod, and it was cold, with dry frigid wind. The sun was eye searingly bright, and the wind blew around sand from the desert across the Saks District. It was the kind of day that Annabelle's grandfather would have said was a gesture of love from Areis to his nephew Gorrn. Her mother's father had been a cynical man, although he firmly believed. Annabelle thought that it was probably just as well that he had died before the Technocracy took over. A dark thought, but one that fit the day.
Annabelle would have stayed indoors, but she had a job from Veradet. She had wrapped her scarf around her face to keep out the dust out of her mouth and nose. She wasn't the only one, in this weather. Most of the people were hurrying about, trying to get their errands done quickly. There was one man who seemed to be determined to stay out though, as he engaged everyone passing by in conversation, even, briefly, those who tried to rebuff him.
Annabelle had to admit she was curious. He looked utterly ridiculous. He was wearing a suit that was very plain and cut in a older style, the type worn by mill workers, but the fabric was so very nice, and the creases were crisper than any man could maintain while doing any kind of hard labor, or even walking through the streets and getting crammed onto the trolley day in day out. It was a subtle thing, and Annabelle didn't even register these details on a conscious level, only knew that there was something off about his suit.
He stuck out his hand and said, "My name is Morgan Bartlett, newly appointed member of the House of Engineers. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance Ms..."
"Annabelle Bardeneen," she replied, shaking his hand. "What's your thing?"
He frowned. "My thing?"
Annabelle huffed. "Members of the House of Engineers are appointed because they're engineers, not based on their ability to govern. So what do you do? Airships? Steam bikes? Weapons? Automatons?"
"I'm a chemist," he said. "Top of my class at The College in Rowe, so when on of the previous members died tragically...he was a few classes ahead of me, and had served as my mentor...but that's not important. The important thing is that I need your input. I've been tasked with representing the people from this part of Gearford, and that means you."
Annabelle sighed. "You really want to represent the people?" She had a hard time believing that. He seemed chipper enough, but the Technocracy had always been about protecting the interests of businesses, inventors and scholars. The House of Engineers had a history of passing laws that allowed businesses to disregard the safety and well being of it's workers in favor of profits, innovation, and superior quality goods, even during the monarchy.
Because of the war and the need for new weapons and ships, the inventors had the Monarchy by the balls. And it hadn't been enough for them. Granted, the king at the time was a terrible king who had no sympathy for the people, but killing him and letting his younger brother take over would have solved that.
"Of course," Mr. Bartlett said. He sounded genuinely confused, as if he didn't know why she doubted him.
Annabelle studied him, trying to figure out if he was genuinely this stupid or if he were playing some sort of long game by pretending. The truth was, there was no reason for him to pretend. He honestly thought he could change things, never mind that it was the Council who actually controlled the country, and they only kept the House of Engineers around as an homage to their roots. Finally she said, "well, that already means you're doing a better job of it than whoever we had before."
She was about to walk away when he said, "Please, Ms. Bardeneen, there must be something you want to see changed."
Annabelle considered for a moment. It wouldn't hurt for him to try, surely? Any effort he made would inevitably go nowhere, and if he made too much trouble, he was likely to disappear. Still, he had volunteered for the job. She tried to think if there was some practical thing that she could ask him to try and fix, if only to keep him busy. Now, of course, she worked for and lived with petty criminals, and asking for something that would make life easier for vibranni in general was probably too much to ask for. She thought back to when she worked for the mill and remembered one small detail.
"Very well, I'll give you something you can look into. Are you aware of the color marketed as 'Clarussian Blue' ?"
He frowned. "I'm aware of the color. Quite popular, from what I've seen."
"Have you ever actually taken a look at the dye they use to make that color?" Annabelle asked. "And what it does to the workers who handle it?" You could always tell the workers from the dying rooms by their palms and arms being miscolored and blistered. It had been over a decade now, and still, it kept being made, because it was so popular. When Annabelle was younger, she was sure she was going to be fired once, when the supervisor caught her using a scrap of fabric to cover her arms when she was carrying, claiming she was ruining the color. Her arms itched just thinking about it, and she scratched reflexively.
Mr. Bartlett looked slightly thrown off guard. "Er, no? Does it matter? It isn't as if they're drinking the stuff, right?."
Annabelle squeezed her hands into fists and took a deep breath, reminding herself that Constable Blaylock couldn't get her out on a technicality if she assaulted a technocrat, even one who had no real power. Plus, he seemed genuinely baffled, as if he couldn't understand why it was so important to her.
"Just...you're a chemist. Chemist at it. See what it does to workers' skin. There has to be a way to force mill owners to come up with a way to protect the workers from having to touch the stuff."
Mr. Bartlett frowned. "In the lab, we use tools."
"Then make a law that says factories have to use tools as well," Annabelle suggested. "I don't know. You're smart. Prove the system. Fix it."
"The council…" He studied Annabelle for a moment. "I'll look into it. See what I can do."
Annabelle sighed. That was more than anyone had gotten out of any technocrat before. "That's all I can ask for. Good luck running the country." She walked away. Nothing would get done, she was sure, even if Morgan Bartlett actually tried to change things. But there wasn't complete anarchy, and Annabelle still had errands to run.