Hundreds of cheering people fill the spherical chamber, crowded on benches and steps that terrace up to the equator. Above rises a colossal brass dome ribbed with steel, festooned with banners and bunting in crimson and sky blue. The centerpiece of the hall is a large table with a map engraved in the bronze surface, detailing a coastal region with a wheel-like city at the center marked Fortuna. A simple podium stands nearby.
Waiting for me at the table are two men and a woman. The consuls, I suppose. The woman is short, stocky and spectacled, her brown suit practical and a bit worn. One of the men is sharp and lithe in a long black tailcoat and bowtie with shocking blue eyes . But I can’t help but shiver at the second man. Older, stern, conservative. A pale gray suit matches his eyes and hair, but his skin is tanned and leathery from the sun, and his applause is measured and slow. Is he judging me?
Valeria kicks my leg. “Move.”
I move, and people reach from the aisles to shake my hand. Most of them are dressed in the best that they can afford, which apparently isn’t that great for many. I see threadbare coats, faded shirts, ill-fitting jeans. But all of them boast the angel pin somewhere on their outfits.
As I approach the table, the short woman draws me into a tight hug. “I’m so proud, Alex! This is a great day for all of us.”
The younger man embraces me as well. “Knock ‘em dead, Lexy,” he whispers, lips brushing my ear. He passes me a speech.
The old man is silent and stony.
I take to the podium, speech in hand. Oh, good, it’s short.
I look to the consuls, and Valeria mouths to me.
Hard sell. Here we go.
“It seems like just yesterday we lived in a different world. In many ways, yesterday is aeons past, and tomorrow will never arrive. How many days did we feel that the present was eternal, that change could never come in our lifetimes, that the city and the nation that we dreamed of was merely a dream?
“Yet it was the distant past and the unattainable future that saw us to this day. When our steps flagged and our strength waned, we remembered the pain of our parents and grandparents, and we longed for our children and grandchildren. The past and the future were our constant companions, and they must continue to be. We honor the memory of Our Fallen Star and all the sacrifices we made to save ourselves from poverty, slavery, suffering and despair. We hold our wishes for prosperity, liberty, joy and hope as the light that guides us into the dark days yet to come.
“And like a flash of lightning from on high, we have changed our world. With clear eyes and the highest standards we walk arm in arm into the desert, ready to make it bloom.”
“As Prime Innovator, Consul Calla Peck will show us how prosperity is the entitlement of all those who strive for it.
“As Prime Defender, Consul Charles Sterling will ensure our liberty against foes within and without.”
“As Prime Coordinator, Consul Virgus Ricimer will guarantee that the tools of industry build a joyful tomorrow that honors our past.”
“And as Proconsul, Valeria Baculum will reach out to all the voices of our nation and bring their hopes into reality.
“You have honored and humbled me by choosing me as Electus, and I can only hope that I live up to the promise I make today: It’s a new day under a new sun, and I will rush out to greet it. May angels guide you, and may angels guide Free Fortune!”
The crowd erupts into cheers and applause, calls of love and adoration.
What a bunch of rubes.
The five of us sit down at the table and Valeria runs us through the items in the dossier. I tune out much of the discussion, nodding in approval when they look to me for confirmation on a unanimous decision. While the Consuls go back and forth on grain storage and wealth redistribution and defensive readiness, I frame my chin with one hand and scan the room.
The map on the table shows Free Fortune with open plains and forests to the east, desert to the south and mountains to the north, and ocean to the west. Inscriptions mark them respectively: Pecunia, Baculum, Gladio, Calix. Surrounded on all sides. The audience, so enamored with the speech seems as uninterested as me in the actual policy-making. They wander, whisper, file out of the room. Some are taking notes, but the majority can’t be bothered to be involved.
Someone’s watching me. The old man, Ricimer. That gray stare cuts my concentration, pulls me back to the table.
“…some time before the Houses can make a move,” Heffer says. “They’re probably still reeling from our victory.”
“We shouldn’t let our guard down,” Valeria replies. “A lot of resources went into keeping Arius stable and in power during the Turn. They won’t cut their losses and forfeit so easily. Consul Sterling, still nothing from the prisoners?”
“Not yet, but they’ll crack. They’re soft and pampered, I doubt they’ll stay resilient for long.” It’s a lie, but not one that’s meant to convince anyone at the table. Curious.
“What’s the state of our defenses, Consul Sterling?”
He blinks at me. “Uh, fine, Electus.” He wasn’t expecting me to be formal. Oops. “We have troops on the walls and scouting the suburban perimeter every thirty minutes.”
“Make it twenty. Can’t be too careful.”
“Uh, yes, sir.” There’s a bit of a question in it, but the look says “later.”
Valeria coughs. “We should move onto the matter of CASH distribution.” I see several audience members perk up. “In accordance with our guarantee to provide safe access to CASH for all citizens who want and need it, the Consulate recommends decentralized and unregulated CASH production, as well as Chariot-run and funded CASH clinics to monitor use, prevent abuse, and treat any withdrawals or overdoses that will unfortunately and inevitably arise.” She looks at me.
“I disagree.” The other three stare at me, and the audience murmurs. “At least for the short-term, we should keep CASH production in-house and under control.”
“Folks on the street need easy access to CASH, especially after the Broken Bank Incident,” Sterling protests. “I’m not saying it should be running in red rivers through the gutters, but it needs to get out there one way or another.”
“I agree with the clinic idea, but we don’t have enough experts to make the stuff.” Ricimer’s syllables are clipped and military. “All the folks with alchemical expertise are locked up for war crimes.”
“We have the formulae from Arius’ records to synthesize the chemicals,” Heffer cuts in. “Besides, we have expertise already. Plenty of people have already been making home-brew batches for years.
“That amateur cut CASH on the streets does more harm than good. You let this stuff run around, people will get hurt.”
“You’re one to talk, about hurting people, Ricimer,” Charlie shoots back.
“Consuls.” Valeria puts a hand on the table. The air is warm and thick between us. “WE have no consensus at the moment, so I motion that we deliberate further.” In private, she doesn’t say.
A long pause while we look at each other, my Motley crew.
“Quite the first day,” I say. “Anyone bring sandwiches?”
And that does it. The group laughs nervously, but the tension is broken. The rest of the meeting goes without incident, and I bang my rod against the table to adjourn for the day. Not bad for a new government that I know next to nothing about.
The crowd starts filing out, and the Consuls and I start to head out as well.
“You did very well, Alex.” Valeria’s hand on my shoulder, warm and reassuring. “We fought hard for this day. Make sure we keep it.”
We head for the stairs with the rest of the audience, and some of them are clamoring to reach me.
“Electus, I love you!”
“Sign my poster!”
“PIcture with your biggest fan!”
A camera bulb pops.
“And then this fool starts wailing on him,” says Charlie, gesturing with his drink, “whipping him like he’s the driver and not the cog. And he’s going ‘I! AM! NOT! A! NUMBER!’ I didn’t know if I should stop him or cheer him on. Lexi, you were beautiful, a vision from heaven.”
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