December 1st, 1994, Dandytown
“Let it be known,” an extremely tall, grey-haired humanoid man said into a large microphone seated in an even larger shock mount. He had two short but sharp black horns protruding from the top of his skull and wore official Cavalcadium robes with markings indicating he was an official representative of the order. “That this day the sovereign nations of Verk, New Pieland, Merveilles, Snornia and Meh have one and all agreed to the following edict,” he said. His voice resonated from glowing cubes hanging in the air all over Dandytown. The announcement was also broadcast in each of the countries named. He stood on the steps of the Cavalcadium administration building before a large crowd on the pentagonal green. “First: That all natural dragons (to wit, those that were brought to life as such and were not constructed, transmuted or otherwise reconfigured from another life form) including naturally born dragon-hybrid creatures, hereafter referred to as “real dragons”, are hereby designated a protected species under the Kazooland Endangered Species Act. Any person or persons, including but not limited to individuals, businesses, or nation-states, are advised that threatening the life of a real dragon is designated a High Crime in Kazooland.” He cleared his throat and paused to let the murmuring of the crowd die down before continuing. “Threatening the life of a real dragon shall be defined as any attempt to bring physical harm, disruption of a nest or immediate habitat, and the abduction of individuals or their eggs. Judgment of and punishment for infractions will be meted out by a council of nine assembled from representatives of Verk, Merveilles, and New Pieland.” He went on with the edict, delineating the punishments and how and when the council of nine would meet.
“Wow, so the dragons finally got a lobby together, huh?” said Georgia Jones. She stood next to Lilah and Morton Greene on the green (which was currently a seasonally-appropriate brown). All three of them wore scarves to guard against the chill in the autumn air.
“It only makes sense,” Morton said, rubbing his gloved fingers to keep them warm. “Many decades have they suffered encroaching mining operations and other abuses by non-dragons and artificial dragons alike.”
Jones nodded. “Oh yeah, you’re from Meh, right? Is this a big issue there or what?”
“There is a goodly colony of what I suppose they are now calling “real dragons” there, and sadly, no, the issue is not often raised. Most believe that dragons are indestructible and do not need to be afforded any protection from industry. One would think that anyone who has seen how small and helpless a dragon egg is (compared to a full-grown adult) would think differently.”
Lilah looked up at him and smiled proudly. She took one of his cold hands and squeezed it. Jones scoffed. “Yeah, it’d be nice if we didn’t need this “High Crime” BS,” she said, making air quotes with her fingers. “All these countries joining up and makin’ rules and councils and crap when it’s really just one damn culprit when it comes down to it. But Asininia’s like the friggin’ boogey man, no one’ll touch ‘em with a twenty foot hypercattle prod.”
Morton hummed in agreement and pursed his lips. “It’s true that country does not get along well with others, but it makes more trouble for itself through its own actions than has ever been brought directly against it.” He looked down at his fingers as he noticed they were being squeezed a bit too tightly. “Delilah, are you alright?”
Her face was a little pale and her shoulders were hunched up and tense. She blinked and shook her head. “I’m just cold. Still not used to winter, I guess.” She smile up at him and gave Jones a reassuring nod. “Come on, let’s all go in and get something hot to drink.”
Two months later, Earth, February 2nd, 1995
Peter Moreau-Walter entered his family’s home, as he usually did when he came back from Cal Tech for the weekend, through the front door. The doorman greeted him and took his coat as per usual. He walked down the long hall and took the stairs to his room because they were closer than the elevator. His feet made little sound on the heavily-reinforced and well-padded stairs, designed to accommodate the comings and goings of heavy automatons. As he reached the top of the first flight the sound of raised voices made him stop short. His mother’s high, whining, sing-song tone put him on high-alert and sent his pulse racing for a moment before he heard his father respond to her. They were just a few paces away to the left in the family TV lounge and in the middle of what sounded like an argument of attrition that he’d heard before. Eliza would want something she either couldn’t or shouldn’t have and Alex would calmly talk her down, but it took sometimes upwards of a half an hour to do so. Peter was about to turn to descend and take the elevator to his third-floor rooms when a phrase froze him in place.
“Alright, Ellie,” Alex said. “If that’s what you want.” He sounded utterly defeated.
Peter climbed as high as he dared in order to better hear, his hands trembling.
“I just can’t live like this anymore, Alex. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t…” Eliza repeated in an exhausted tone, the words tinged with the soft hiccupping of the end of a long crying jag.
Alex shushed her and Peter imagined he was holding her and stroking her hair. “I know. I know.” Peter waited a few moments more, but didn’t hear anything further. He slowly descended the steps with his mind racing.
“What did Dad give in to?” he wondered aloud. He found the nearest communications panel and pressed the button for his sister’s room. “Deelie, you around?”
“Peter?” Pi’s voice replied. “Miss Deelia is in the shower presently.”
“Tell her to call me when she’s out. It’s important.” He released the button and bit his lip.
Later, Peter and his younger sister Deelia sat in the lounge in her suite of rooms and talked about what Peter had overheard. “...And now I feel bad because here I was trying to avoid her because I didn’t want to have her ask about my love life again…”
“Yeah, it does get super annoying,” Deelia agreed. “I’m not even old enough to have a proper boyfriend and she’s always on me about it.”
Peter grinned and blushed. “Well, I finally do.”
“What!” Deelia cried and smiled wide. “Get out! Seriously?”
“Yeah. Her name’s Astrid.”
“That’s a cool name. Is she German?”
“Nope. Korean! She’s a chem major.”
Their light mood was abruptly dashed to pieces as the communications panel on the wall chirped urgently.
“Deelia?” Alex’s voice asked.
She held a hand to her chest and took a breath before answering as calmly as she could. “Yeah, Dad?”
“Is your brother home yet?”
She glanced over at him and he nodded. “He’s right here.”
“Good. The both of you meet me in the teal parlor.”
“Ok,” she agreed. When the channel was closed she let out a dramatic sigh. “Guess we’re gonna find out what’s going on, huh?”
Peter stood and clenched his fists. “Why do I have a terrible feeling about this?”
Deelia stood and smoothed out her skirt. “Because nothing good ever happens when it comes to mom.”
April 22nd, 1995, Dandytown
A lovely Yulemas and exciting New Year’s Eve (in which an unexpected invasion from a rouge group of aliens from Hypexion V had to be partied into submission. The cleanup afterwards was arduous but amusing) had passed in Kazooland. Georgia Jones found herself called away on a mission to one of the far-flung forebodingly-shaped islands of the outer-reaches (the one shaped like a human spleen) to follow a lead on the mythical Vortsnoodler. Returning successful in mid-March, Miss Jones was to this moment yet scrutinizing the object (musical instrument? ear pick? death ray?) in order to ascertain its function. Young Morton Greene spent most of his waking hours (when he wasn’t attending mandatory classes or meetings involved with his seemingly-eternal Cavalcadium membership application) with Delilah Moreau-Walter. It had been a very good winter for them both.
On a cloudy afternoon, Lilah stepped lightly up a wide staircase between the first and second floor of the gold-domed “Hall of Knowledge”. She checked a gilt-lettered sign on the wall that pointed to rooms 201 through 230 to the left and 231 to 260 on the right. Turning left, she walked quickly toward room 223 and in short order found what she was looking for.
Georgia Jones emerged from a meeting with five other people who spoke in hushed tones if they spoke at all. Lilah slowed her steps as she noticed the grave look on her friend’s face which turned to one of surprise as she caught sight of her. “Hey, Lilah!” Jones said, loudly. The furry brown man in the tweed suit who had been hissing urgently at her clammed up and fumbled with his briefcase as he excused himself.
“Hey!” Lilah greeted her. “I had a heck of a time trying to find you. Are you on another committee?”
“Uh, yeah, just an ad-hoc thing, really,” she said awkwardly.
“Something you can’t tell me about or something you don’t want to?”
“You’re gonna make me choose?”
Lilah pouted. “Would knowing upset me?”
“It’s not confirmed and they don’t want anyone, let alone the media, to get up in arms…” she said quickly. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t get you up in them, so to speak,” Jones added quietly and pulled something small from her pocket and held it out for Lilah to take.
When she saw the tiny gun-like device, Lilah took a step backwards. “Is it…?”
“It’s not confirmed and I cannot say anything more so don’t make me. Just take this. I know you hate weapons, but it’s a stunner.”
For a moment she was speechless. “It’s a stunner with a ‘murder’ setting, Georgia.”
“I know, I know, but it’s got a safety, look,” she pointed to the setting. Turn this here, then push down, turn another click right, release it, then turn it another click right and it’s engaged for that setting. Otherwise, it’s a stunner. Just take the damn thing, Lilah, it’d make me sleep better at night.”
With a trembling hand, Lilah took the tiny gun from her friend.
“I tell ya, I’m also glad you have that Morton to keep an eye on you. Between the two of us and that thing, you got nothing to worry about.”
“Morton…” she said dreamily. “Oh, that’s what I came to see you about! I’m going to ask him to move in.”
“No kiddin! Oh, even better.”
“You think so?”
“Of course! You two are a perfect pair!” Jones clapped her on the back as they turned and walked down the hall together.
April 23rd, 1995, Dandytown
Dark clouds threatened but Morton and Lilah walked the promenade around Lake Midori in spite of them. A light breeze blew but the temperature was warm and humid. The two walked slowly arm-in-arm and chatted quietly about Morton’s application to join the Cavalcadium. Things were looking up. “Once I am accepted I shall begin the search for a more permanent living-space,” he said. “My stay at the Vesper Arms has been a good one, but I do not wish for it to go on ad infinitum.”
Lilah giggled. If this were Earth, she would have said ‘nonsense, you’re moving in with me!’ but such things were not so casually said in high-Verkian society. The quasi-Victorian social norms made saying something like that far too forward. Not that it wasn’t a woman’s place to order a man around, but decorum dictated that such an invitation be said in a more elegant way and she did her best to emulate the style. “Perhaps,” she said, grinning, “accommodation could be made for you at 15 Plum Street?”
Morton Greene blushed, tried to hide his own grin as he stroked his goatee, and cast his eyes down to the cobblestone walk. “Oh?” he asked, innocently. “Is there a spare room at 15 Plum Street?”
“Oh, certainly, but it would then be considered a boarding house and you’d have to share some space with a housemate.”
They stopped walking, having arrived at a distant turn of the path that took them far from prying eyes. Tall shrubbery obscured them from the few other pedestrians and traffic on the far side of the lake. “Well, I’m not sure,” he said, taking her hands in his. “Is this housemate very pretty?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Passing, I’d say.”
“Hm. Smart then?”
“Oh yes. More clever than you, in fact.”
“Is that so!” Morton laughed. “You’re probably right.” He pulled her hands up to his chest and kissed them. “Then I would be quite amenable to such an arrangement.”
Lilah’s heart skipped a beat and just as she was opening her mouth to say ‘it’s settled then,’ they were interrupted by two men in long, black coats, one tallish, one shortish, who seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“Ah! Found em!” one of them cried. “Ey, Kahuna! We been looking foah you all ovah da place!”
The other elbowed his shorter friend. “Youah Majesty!” the other bowed deeply. “You mus’ go back to Asininia fast kine! You braddah Eustace has run in da muck!” He was elbowed again and quickly corrected. “Runnamuck. He stay lolo, brah.” Both men wore dark goggles over their eyes, appeared to have sharp, pointed teeth, and shocks of bright, green hair.
All of the color drained from Morton’s face. Lilah turned her head, took them in, and her mouth slowly opened. As she turned back to face the man she loved, she saw a lost look fall over him like a veil. He released her hands and she knew by this gesture that it was true. Her brain screamed with rage and betrayal. “I can’t believe I fell for such a stunt!!”
She took a step back as he slowly reached for her. “Don’t you touch me, Morton! No. Mortimer Becile!” she shouted and drew the tiny stun gun Georgia Jones had given her from her purse. “You couldn’t have just murdered me and been done with it? Was it just so much more delicious to rip my heart out this way? Or is that next on the agenda? Perhaps you were going to marry me and eviscerate me at the altar?”
“I’d never…! Lilah, I love you, I…”
“Bullshit! You know damned well what you people have done to my family time and time again.” The images of three singing automatons danced across her mind’s eye and without taking her eyes off of him, she twisted the stun-gun’s dial from ‘stun’ to ‘murder’. “My father told me to let it go--to let the circle of hatred die with them, but you people just keep it going! Well, if that’s the way you want it, Becile…” Lilah raised the weapon and pointed it at his head.
“Lilah, please!” he cried.
The two Becile workers whispered to each other. “Brah, we go already? Bettah get um outta deah ‘for she smoke um.”
“Yah brah, uddawise dat Eustace going make pilikia.” the shorter agreed and pulled a small, black sphere from his pocket. “Fiah in da hole,” he whispered and lobbed it at the couple. A large cloud of green smoke engulfed them, sending Mortimer into a coughing fit.
Lilah shouted angrily and tried to catch him, but when the smoke had cleared there was no trace of him. The gun fell from her shaking hands and she dropped to her knees.
The rain didn’t come until well after Lilah had gotten home. She wasn’t quite sure how she’d found her way, and was surprised to see her feet cross the threshold. Gilmore was saying something to her, but she couldn’t really hear him over the roar in her head. Up the stairs, down the hall to the room that she had been prepared to share with her lover just an hour or so before. She fell onto her bed, fully clothed in thick layers of Victoriana and curled into a ball. It felt disturbingly familiar, except the last time, someone who loved her had carried her up the stairs. Her thoughts were disjointed, looping over and over and back to the feeling of his hands releasing hers.
Gilmore knocked several times before passing through the door and calling to her, his voice high with concern for her well-being. Would she need a doctor? he wondered.
She said no, but he didn’t budge so she sat up and rubbed her face and asked for tea.
“Oh, and Gilmore, should Mr. Greene call, send him away. I’ll not see him.”
Usually, he would reply with “very good” but instead he said “understood,” relieved that his mistress had asked for tea, a sure sign that she wasn’t ill, but distressed that Mr. Greene had hurt her so. The rain poured against the windows.
Halfway across town, Mortimer Becile leaned against a wall in an alley and coughed until he lost his breath. He choked and sputtered for a minute before the fit passed. The two Becile workers who had dragged him away were nowhere in sight. The weight of what had transpired settled into his mind and he slid down the wall, sat on the ground, and looked up at the night sky. The clouds that obscured the stars were low, waiting, and illuminated by Dandytown’s many lights. Carriages and automobiles trundled by at the mouth of the alley and the sounds of the city reverberated strangely in the tight space between buildings.
His thoughts spun wildly in his mind. Should he run back to her and beg her to forgive him? Why had she reacted so violently to his name? What past tragedy had befallen the Moreau-Walter family that would have caused such vehemence? ‘You know damned well what you people have done to my family time and time again!’ she had shouted. She couldn’t be so enraged about the incident with the robots a few years back, could she? They were just robots, no one had been killed except his own father and she either didn’t know that or didn’t care. Whatever love she had for him evaporated with just one word--his wretched name.
“Dem da break, ah, Mista Becile?” a high, squeaky voice from somewhere to his left snapped him to attention. Two tiny creatures, long-eared, brown and messy, and only inches high were peering up at him. The sight was uncommon, especially in Dandytown. Browies were infamous thieves, tricksters, and shape-shifters, but it explained to Mortimer what had become of the workers.
“Brownies…” Mortimer snarled. “Wonderful. What will Eustace think of next?”
“I tink you going fine out!” the shorter of the two crowed in a diminutive voice and laughed. Its companion smacked it on the back of the head.
“What my elusive college mean,” the other attempted to speak at Mortimer’s education-level. “Is many ting have convert. What was is not how is. And we need bring you to dat place. Where from you is. Again. Yes.”
“Has something happened?” Mortimer asked, not a little suspicious.
“Prolly!” the shorter one said confidently.
“Well,” Mortimer said with a sigh and pushed himself up from the pavement. “There is nothing for me here, now. I’ll come.”
The Brownies cheered, scrambled up his leg, hopped into his jacket pockets and the three of them left the alley as it began to rain.
Morton Greene easily boarded a flight to Meh. He hung his coat on a hook to his right, settled into his seat and watched Verk disappear under the clouds. He shut his eyes. With the Brownies well hidden in his jacket pockets and their eyes diverted, Mortimer called the steward and asked for paper, pen, and an envelope. As he waited to receive the items, Mortimer drafted a letter in his head.
I am sorry.
I did not intend to hide my identity from you. When your surname was revealed to me on that day in November, I admit, I was terrified that you would discover the truth. As my feelings for you had already firmly gripped my heart, I set my mind to cast my own name aside forever if it meant that I could stay by your side.
It was Morton who fell in love with Lilah and Mortimer who remains quite desperately in love with Delilah. That you so easily threw that away has broken my heart, but I see now that the bad blood between our families has more sway than my pleading.
I return to Asininia and give up any hope of a bright future for myself and will focus instead on my people.
I cannot muster the courage to say more, save that I wish you well and that you will be in my thoughts, always.
By the time the steward returned with the means with which to communicate his feelings, Mortimer was despondent. Pressing his fingers to his eyes in a vain attempt to stop the tears, he muttered that he had changed his mind, but thanked the man for attending to him. The steward bowed and took the writing implements back.