The following day, outfitted in some of her ancestor’s clothes (and assured that she would look less out of place in these than the t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers she had brought with her) Lilah stepped out of 15 Plum Street into the sunshine wearing a long, blue-grey skirt with a simple ruffle at the ankle, a pair of black laced boots and a tightly fitted blue velvet jacket. Gilmore insisted she wear a grey felt hat with a small collection of blue feathers on the brim to complete the ensemble. She descended the steps to the waiting cab--a small, mechanical, horse-drawn carriage like the one she and Pottsworth arrived in that Gilmore called a ‘hansom’. Her pulse raced all the way to her destination, but once the cab arrived the sight that greeted her washed away any anxiety she may have had about her appearance.
Located just south of the heart of Dandytown, the “branch office” was not at all what she had imagined; rather than a typical office building, or even a nineteenth century one, the Cavalcadium was more like a college campus. All manner of people came and went, crossing a park-like pentagonal green in the midst of five impressive structures: a depot/hangar building from which an airship was just departing; a marble-columned library; a gold-domed “Hall of Knowledge”; a crystal palace concert/assembly hall; and an impressive, gothic, seven-story building with an even taller clock tower in the middle of it. This last building resembled a German rathaus made from dark grey wax that had melted a little. Gilmore had described the location of the administrative offices to her, and of the five buildings, the melty-rathaus seemed to most closely fit the bill.
On entering through its huge doors, Lilah was immediately overwhelmed by the bustling commotion of an enormous lobby. Voices echoed off the high-vaulted ceiling and she forced down a desire to turn around and run back to the comfort her new home and instead focused on the task at hand. She had to find the registrar. An information desk would be helpful, but if there were signs to tell her where to go, she couldn’t see them. Instead, Lilah deduced that a row of what looked like bank teller stations on her left was a good bet. Each one featured ornately carved wood and marble pedestals and countertops. A gas lamp flickered to the left of each counter. A few people stood in line at one station. At another, a plump older man spoke into a brass horn, nodding and smiling. There were seven such stations but only a yellow-skinned woman at the far end was free. As she got closer, Lilah saw that she was not just yellow, but covered in brown spots and decidedly not human.
“Don’t freak out, don’t freak out,” she whispered to herself. “Your ghost butler said there’d be all sorts of people.” Lilah laughed a soft, crazed laugh and shook her head. The feline woman (and her co-workers) wore a white uniform with blue accents. The organization’s symbol, a silver gear surrounded by runes and filled with a spiral, was emblazoned on the right breast of her jacket. As Lilah approached she smiled and asked how she could help her.
“I… I’d like to join the Cavalcadium?” Lilah asked, meekly.
“Certainly, Miss,” the woman replied, swinging into action. She pulled a legal-sized multi-paged form from a drawer, clipped it onto a clipboard and handed it to the stunned young woman. “Fill that out and hand it back in to us and someone will get back to you in four-to-six weeks,” she said pleasantly.
“Oh, ok.” Lilah took the form and thanked her. Confused, she walked slowly toward a row of benches a few yards from the information desk. The first page looked innocuous enough - name, date of birth, home world, current residence - but the second was downright cryptic. Questions such as “Equate the relation of Planck’s Constant for Blue Matter in a vacuum - be sure to show your work” and “Which genes in the Menehune genome are shared with the Common Brownie and what is the best method for genetically altering one into the other?” The questions both baffled and excited her and she was in quite a state when another woman flopped down on the bench near her, startling her enough to make her jump.
“Oh, sorry about that, Kid,” the woman said, cooly. She had light brown hair, brown eyes, and tanned skin and was a few inches shorter than Lilah. She wore khaki pants, a brown leather jacket, and a goodly coating of dust which puffed out into the light when she sat. “Oh, just applying, huh? Man, that form is somethin’, ain’t it?”
Lilah made a face. “Sure is. They said it would be weeks before they even reviewed it. Is that normal?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “Yeah. You’d be surprised. Takes almost a year for them to decide if an applicant is up to snuff.”
“A year!” Lilah cried. Several heads turned.
The woman laughed a little. “Yeah. Unless you got an in, like me, for example. My grampa was sort of a celebrity, so when I wanted to join at sixteen it was like-” she snapped her fingers. “Name’s Georgia Jones,” she said and stuck out her hand. Lilah shook it.
Jones’ jaw dropped and three people in earshot stopped in their tracks and repeated her name.
“Holy moly, Honey. You don’t need that stupid form!” Jones laughed a friendly, amazed laugh and standing, pulled Lilah up with her. “Come on. I’ll get you squared away.”
The dusty, older woman pulled Lilah along out of the bustle of the lobby and down a long hall, telling her that with a name like hers there’s no way she’d need to fill out a form to join. Her own grandfather had been a celebrity adventurer, she might have heard of him? Yeah, he was in the movies, she said, on Earth he was just fiction but here in Kazooland, boy… Slack-jawed, Lilah stumbled along behind Georgia Jones and before she could ask if she was talking about who she thought she was talking about they had arrived at a door marked “Registrar General” which Jones pushed open, demanding audience with the man in charge. A young receptionist in a purple sweater-vest seemed taken aback and was about to insist that the Registrar General was busy when Jones dropped Lilah’s name.
“Moreau… Walter?” he asked, stunned. “I’ll see if he’s free, one moment!” He scrambled up from his desk and went through a door behind him. In moments, a commotion could be heard and a roundish man with greying purple hair flung the door open and stared at the women. “Miss Jones! And… Miss Moreau-Walter! Please come in!”
Jones smirked at Lilah and they entered his office. In not fifteen minutes, the papers had been signed, the duties and obligations explained, and Lilah was an official member of the Cavalcadium. She rubbed her thumb over the shiny lapel pin bearing their logo and grinned. Jones patted her on the back as they left the office. “See? Loads easier than that friggin’ form from hell. It’s a good thing we bumped into each other, ain’t it? And now you’re stuck with me as your mentor!” Jones laughed. “Now, you need a kantan and to get on some committees and you’ll be well on your way.”
Lilah raised a brow “A kanwhat?”
Jones raised one back at her. “A Varchukantan Device, you… why have you never heard of one?”
Sighing, Lilah mumbled. “I’m fresh off the boat from Earth. I got here three days ago, or was it two?”
“Ya don’t say! I haven’t been back in years. Still there, then, eh?”
“Earth? Uh, yeah.”
Jones laughed again at her reaction. “A kantan is like a phone, or a walky-talky, or a closed-circuit TV all rolled into one.” She pulled a large pocket watch from her pants pocket and pressed the stem to open it. Rather than displaying the time, where the watch face should be there were a few flat brass buttons. She pressed the stem again and the lid of the open device displayed the waveform of the sound it made, a sort of summer-insect-like noise that repeated twice before resolving into the face of a woman in a white Cavalcaduim uniform. “Oh, hey. I’m just showing how this works to a newbie, wave hi for me!” Jones chimed and the woman reciprocated and said ‘hello’ cheerily. Jones thanked her and closed the watch shut. “You call an operator like that, ask for the party you want—gotta be a Cav. member on this network, though - and they connect you. There’s these we carry with us and ones for our houses. Where do you live?”
“Uh… 15 Plum Street.”
“So if I wanted to get a hold of you, I’d ask the gal to connect me to you by name. If you didn’t pick up your kantan I could try your house by asking for the address. If no one picks up or if I just ask to, I can leave you a message. Next time you connect, the operator knows you and she tells you that you got a message. Neat, huh?”
“A little overwhelming, actually.”
Jones nodded. “I can imagine. Say, it’s sorta weird that you don’t know anything about Kazooland, even if you came from Earth. Your family created the place, for cryin out loud.”
“Created…? I don’t understand, but please,” she said, raising a hand as Jones opened her mouth, “save the explanation for when my head stops spinning! My dad pulled us out of the Cavalcadium just after I was born. I think he was afraid of it for some reason. But he never told us it was here, or even that this world actually existed!”
“Huh. Weird. Wonder if he was afraid of the Beciles.”
“The… Be-… what…?” Lilah gasped. “What do they… have to do with…? Are they here?”
“Well,” Jones made a face as the young woman started to panic. “They’re sort of like, well, on Earth you’ve got the reds, Soviets, Chinese, DPRK, that kind of junk, right?” Lilah nodded. “They’re like them. They have their own country, they don’t get out much, and when they do, shit goes down.”
“They’re… here?” Lilah asked, her voice shaking. What little color she had in her face drained out.
“Whoa, whoa, not here, here. Look. If there’s any place in Kazooland that’s safe from them, it’s Dandytown, and the closer you are to the Cav, even more so.” Noting that her words weren’t calming the young woman, Jones took her by the shoulders and apologized for upsetting her. She guided her once more, this time down the hall in the opposite direction. “My buddy Daving in the library can probably help explain. He’s sort of a nut about them. Don’t tell him your name, though. He's weird when it comes to the Beciles, he might pester you about it.”
“Oh, stars, yes, I can tell you about the Beciles. What do you want to know?” Daving (a librarian at the Cavalcadium’s giant library deep in the heart of the rathaus) drawled, leaning over a table at the two women. He was dark skinned, slender and his features were pointed, almost sharp. “I’m kind of a fanboy for them.” He pushed a pair of gold-rimmed glasses up his nose for effect.
“Well, can you give my friend here the short story?”
He sighed dramatically. “I’ll give it a shot. Ok. Thaddeus Becile lived in Verk in a home that no longer exists on West Babage Street. He was a Cav member who discovered Green Matter in the 1890’s and tried to make a go of mining its ore on Earth. He and his rival in love, Peter Walter had a musical duel of sorts over Delilah Moreau at the grand meeting hall here in Dandytown that ended with the place coming down and Thaddeus getting booted from the Cav. And he lost Moreau in the process. Other Beciles have tried to re-apply over the years, but have never been permitted entrance. Thaddeus attempted to forcibly harvest green rock candy in Africa on Earth. His giant copper African elephants were defeated by Peter Walter’s automatons and giant steam powered giraffe. Becile Industries existed on Earth on the fringes of super-science, often dealing in shady, villainous activities to stay afloat. In 1948, Bertram Becile and Katherine Moreau-Walter were both drowned on the same day in Hawai’i. There are a few different stories about what happened, but it’s generally believed that he was trying to kidnap her. That and a horrendous accident involving Walter’s Blue Matter in 1950 that took the life of Peter Moreau-Walter and Norman Becile were the last straw for the Moreau-Walters. They made life so difficult for the Beciles that they retreated permanently to Kazooland in the ‘60s.”
“And they all live in their own country, right?”
Daving gave Jones a funny look. “Yeah, duh.”
“My buddy hear just got off the boat from Earth.”
“Boat…? Oh! Oh, ok. You’ll need a visual aid.” Daving opened a drawer in front of him and fished out a telescoping pointer. He pulled it out to its full length and a soft humming emanated from it as he drew a map in the air to his left. Wherever the pointer traced the air, a thin, golden trail of faint light was left in space and hung there, pulsing softly. “They live in Asininia,” he said and wrote an ‘A’ over a shape he’d drawn. Then he drew more shapes and letters. “Merveilles is between us, Verk, here, and them. Their king is Cedric Becile and his two sons are Eustace and Mortimer, though no one outside Asininia has ever seen either of them. They mine green rock candy to make into Green Matter to power their inventions, but the resources are getting low so they’ve been plotting to take over New Pieland for years now, which they think has strong veins of the ore. Which is here." Daving drew another shape and marked it ‘NP’. "Some say it’s only a matter of time or shifting alliances before they do, but New Pieland, Merveille and Verk are pretty tight, so no worries about that happening any time soon.”
Georgia noted the ashen look on the young woman’s face yet remained. She shifted her weight and posed a leading question. "And they can't just waltz in here, right?"
"Stars, no. Since they had that overt show of aggression toward New Pieland a decade ago, all travel to and from Asininia and Verk, New Pieland and Merveilles has been prohibited. Just as well, really. The low-budget airlines used to puddle-jump to it, talk about a long, nasty flight!”
Jones thanked her friend and lead Lilah out of the library.
“See. Nothing to worry about! This is the safest place you could possibly be if you’re concerned about them. Besides, they probably don’t even know you’re here.”
Lilah nodded her head thoughtfully. “I guess not. Thanks, Georgia. You’ve been so nice to me.”
“Eh,” Jones shrugged. “Least I could do. Now, we should go to the info desk and get you a kantan. Oh, and, when you’re lookin’ at committees to join, I sure could use some more warm bodies on mine. Cryptotech! Remember it.”
Lilah made a confused face as they walked together back into the busy lobby. "I'll give it a shot."
Mortimer did not care for the throne room his father had spent the greater part of his day in. Though the throne itself was a technological marvel, serving as a control center for the entire castle, the new king found it uncomfortable, physically and mentally, to sit upon. He spent more time in the labs, walking the halls, and even outside the castle walls than his father ever had. An ambitious project was started within a week of the previous king’s demise to combat the pollution that not only poisoned Asininia, but threatened New Pieland to the west and Mortimer was constantly on the move, working on various aspects of this goal.
This morning, Mortimer received word that the latest message he sent to their neighbor had been rejected. “Yet again!” he shouted. “How may I show them that things will be different if they will not so much as listen to me!”
The Becile worker who handed him the returned letter bowed. “I know not, Sire, other than time and persistence.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I suppose that persistence is one of our family’s strongest traits, and could prove useful… depending on how it is implemented, of course.” He coughed lightly. “Persistence and optimism. In the right hands…”
His thoughts were interrupted by his name being shouted from down the hall. “Mortimer, where the bloody hell are you?”
Mortimer clenched his jaw. “Here, Brother.”
Eustace Becile, thin and grey of complexion, stomped toward him clutching a few sheets of paper in his only remaining hand. He raised these and shook them as he approached. “What are you on about with this so-call budget of yours?”
Mortimer cleared his throat. “Is there a problem, Brother?” He gestured to the worker that he should leave and he bowed again and departed.
“You know damned well there is. This was Father’s last project, you cannot pull the funds from it for this ridiculous clean-up of yours!”
The older man looked down on him. Mortimer stood at over six feet and Eustace few inches shy of it. “Father is dead, Eustace, and I am King. And while I do not require you to refer to me as such, I would have you respect my title.”
Eustace threw the budget papers on the floor in front of him. “You do not deserve the name Becile, let alone your title!”
Calmly, the older brother took a slow breath, careful not to instigate a coughing fit. “Brother, I offer you the chance to take that back.” His green eyes darkened until they turned black.
Eustace flinched. “I take it back, Brother,” he spat.
As Mortimer’s irises regained their usual hue, he coughed lightly. “I thank you. Father’s project was indeed his last and it shall remain so. There is no need for such a heinous weapon to exist in this world. If we are able to reverse the damage done to our lands, we will have no need of other lands. Is that clear?”
Eustace smoldered. “Crystal.” He turned on his heel, making certain to tread on the papers as he did so, grinding them into the carpet, and stormed off to his chambers.
Waiting until he was sure that his brother was sufficiently out of earshot, Mortimer released the coughing fit he had been holding back and gasped for air as he stumbled away.