CHAPTER I: The Beginning
Shards of bright sunlight glistened through the patchy grey rainclouds that hung above the great city of Britannia. A sleek monorail carriage rocketed past the fenced-off remains of Saint Paul’s Cathedral; rain bounced off the old broken windows and decaying spires, seeping into the innards of the forgotten establishment and leaving sparkling puddles of grimy water to rest upon the checkered marble floor.
The streamlined monorail thundered down the curved rail, passing the decaying architecture of the old city of London, upon which Britannia was built. The old clock face of Elizabeth Tower was one of the very few pieces of architecture that had been restored by the Empire.
Its glowing white hands and archaic Roman numbers illuminated brightly through the haze of the drizzling rain. Behind the great, shining circular face, the silhouette of the bell known as Big Ben could be seen, standing still, awaiting its next ringing upon the hour.
The silver monorail skidded to a halt at the station in front of the Great Imperial Library. The flat, windowed doors hissed and slid open, allowing the passengers to flood out into the streets of the city.
Lorelei pushed her way through the other citizens to view the grand building the monorail had pulled up in front of. The Great Imperial Library shined in front of her; giant blue banners emblazoned with the insignia of the Empire hanging from its huge marble spires. Ahead of Lorelei were the grand oak doors that led into the establishment.
The great doors were opened by a doorman and Lorelei entered the hall. The great circular hall was capped with a glass dome, where rain pelted the panes of glass like little bullets. The white marble walls of the Great Imperial Library were entirely filled with bookshelves — these bookshelves were filled with books.
Lorelei walked up to the small reception desk, where a receptionist sat in her blue Imperial uniform. Her black hair was pinned up in a tight bun. Upon the lapel of her uniform lay a gold name badge.
‘Name,’ the receptionist asked, in a dull and monotonous voice. Immediately, she clicked a small button and awaited the answer as a screen in front of her illuminated her face.
‘Hamilton, Lorelei,’ Lorelei replied. The receptionist then pressed the H key. She scrolled momentarily, before arriving at Lorelei’s name and clicking it. The machine gave a small beep and a light flashed. The receptionist flicked the button again and the screen turned off.
‘Proceed,’ the receptionist droned.
Lorelei walked past the reception desk towards the mass of books that were kept in neat rows upon the vast wooden shelves. On her way, she walked by many low black desks with built-in screens. Some of these desks were occupied by well-dressed people, bent over, studying their screens. Many of the screens showed charts and graphs, facts and figures.
Lorelei walked briskly past the rows of desks to the back wall, where the books lay, organised by genre, then by author. In front of the shelves was a long silver tray, which wrapped around the entire room. On the silver panel, scattered randomly, were books, with their LCD covers reading:
Lorelei strode over to the elevator. It took her up two floors, where she stepped out onto the wide balcony that followed the same format as that of the floors below her: walls lined with dark wooden shelves, and a silver tray jutting out in front of it at waist height.
She then proceeded to the section labelled “History”, and selected a book off the shelf. In elaborate lettering, its LCD cover read “Britannia: The Story Of The Grand City Of The Empire; by B.A. Rogers (3rd Edition)”, followed by a pixelated font that stated
in bold green characters. Lorelei placed the book on the silver tray. She pulled back the sleeve of her leather jacket, revealing a sleek watch. She clicked a small button on the side of it, and a countdown of thirty minutes began. She pulled her sleeve over the watch again and opened the book. There was a bright flash of light, followed by the book closing itself. Lorelei was nowhere to be seen. The book’s cover switched from the light green letters of ‘vacant’ to the deep, dark red typeface that read:
Thirty minutes. The book which Lorelei had placed on the tray rattled. With a click and a flash of light, the book threw its cover open. When the bright light subsided, the book snapped its cover shut and Lorelei stuck it back on the shelf. Checking her watch, Lorelei noted that she had ten minutes to get to school.
She rushed back down to the ground floor, signed out at the reception desk, and heaved open the doors of the Great Imperial Library. The sun had been entirely engulfed with black clouds; the rain had grown heavier, and now it pummelled down onto the pavement of the streets and the roofs of buildings. A strong wind accompanied the downpour.
Lorelei wrapped her jacket around her and crossed her arms in front of her, in the hope that it would shield her from the chilling winds and the cold rain. Her wavy, chest-length tresses fluttered in the wind, the burgundy streak of hair muddling with the rest of the brunette. Droplets of water sprayed across her jacket, running down the black leather like tears.
She ran to the cover of the monorail station — a grimy little shelter made up of two rickety, cold metal benches, surrounded by filthy panes of glass upon which graffiti was scribbled. There were swirly tags of spray paint, mock-ups of the Imperial insignia, and enough swear words to make even the head of the rudest man on the planet spin.
Lorelei took one look at the discarded fast-food packages and cigarette butts that were thrown across the benches and chose to stand. At the end of one bench, an old woman sat. It took Lorelei a short moment to realise that someone was actually sitting there, for the lady was partially hidden amongst her many bags of shopping. When the woman caught sight of Lorelei, and Lorelei caught sight of her, she smiled. A sweet, warm smile, that seemed to combat the harshness of the winds and the rain. Lorelei smiled back.
The monorail came rushing down to the station were Lorelei stood. As the conductor’s carriage swung by her, a great gust of wind caused her long hair to fly from her shoulders and trail behind her. A passenger carriage lined up with the station and the doors slid open. Several people streamed out of the carriage, filling the streets. She stepped into the carriage and was greeted by the warm heating and the unnatural scent of cleaning fluids. She strode over to an empty seat and sat herself down.
From her view at the window, Lorelei could see the shining rail line ahead of her, wrapping around the whole of New Thames Lake and disappearing into the towering buildings of the business district. As the monorail began to roll along the sleek line, Lorelei remembered how Britannia came to be from her trip to the Library.
In the year 2017, the European Union proposed a new order, which it sent to the Oceanic Federation, the Conglomeration of Asia, and the United American Nations. The proposal was one that would see the four federations unite as one under the title of the Empire. After two months of decisions and referendums, the federations joined together to form what was now the Empire. Switzerland was home to the decided capital of the Empire: Geneva.
In the hopes to create a uniform, bright future for the Empire, some of the original capitals of the countries were renamed and rebuilt — the most recent and most successful of these redesigns was Britannia. The River Thames was altered into the huge New Thames Lake. Choice parts of the old city of London were left to be restored (such as Big Ben and Tower Bridge) as the rest of the city was demolished and rebuilt. And so Britannia was born amongst the ruins of London.
The monorail whined to a halt in front of Lorelei’s stop. She stepped out. The monorail then proceeded to zoom away along the line. With a groan, Lorelei entered the building in front of her — the stark, concrete building with the bronze sign above it reading:
Geneva. The Imperial Capital. It was here where all Imperial actions were carried out. It was in Geneva that the Treaty was signed to unify the federations into an Empire, which now encompassed the six inhabited continents.
William’s long black trench coat billowed in the wind, giving the man wearing it an appearance like that of a great raven. He strode across the streets of Geneva, past many great, shining buildings and monuments. William was headed to the Imperial Citadel – the vast, black building in the centre of the city, that was so tall it seemed to actually scrape the sky.
In one hand, William held a heavy, battered, brown leather briefcase. The edges of the case were torn and worn; its latches – rusting and dented. In the other hand, he held a cold bagel in a napkin, which he continually brought up to his mouth to take a bite out of. As he walked, crumbs of bagel bounced from his finely trimmed, chestnut brown beard and onto the ground. In a short while, pigeons would inevitably flock to nibble on the forgotten crumbs.
While continuing to walk, William brushed any crumbs off of his trench coat and threw his little white napkin into a nearby rubbish bin. He checked his watch and noted the time. He was late.
He rushed down the Genevan streets, towards the Imperial Citadel, which stood tall and proud in front of the great peak of Mont Blanc in the background. The Alps were covered in a beautiful sheet of white snow, which appeared glittering in the midsummer heat. The peaks of the Alps contrasted heavily against where William was headed. Black against white. The Imperial Citadel seemed to look like a spoil across the white sheet of the mountains; as if someone had spilt ink on a fresh piece of paper.
William ascended the front steps, giving a small group of pigeons a fright (they jumped and flew off to the roof of a nearby bank), and entered through the grand doors, which slid open by themselves.
The inside of the Imperial Citadel was rather cold. It was clear that the air conditioning was on; there was a low, hollow hum running through the vents and a chill hung in the air.
William approached the centre of the atrium, where a large globe spun. Its main body was a metal wire frame, resembling the lines of latitude and longitude. Upon this wire ball lay the continents in their places, which lit up a steady green. It spun slowly, symbolising the turn of the Earth.
William rocketed past the receptionists and into the elevator. He clicked his desired button and then sped up multiple floors. The walls of the elevator were floor to ceiling mirrors; he used these to make sure his brown hair was neat and that there were no bagel crumbs remaining in his beard. He then straightened his Canadian pin on his lapel.
Eventually, he arrived at Floor 40. The elevator made its mandatory ding and the metal doors slithered away, allowing William to exit into the corridor.
William rushed towards a door labelled CONFERENCE ROOM #77. The door stood ajar, allowing William to peer into the room. The conference had already started. He took a breath, then entered the room. The current conversation ceased as William sat down in the empty seat intended for him.
‘Good to see you could make it, Mr. Chandouineau,’ said an elderly man at the head of the table. William recognised the man as Arthur Rücket, the mayor of Geneva, and a member of the Swiss Cabinet. He wore a long, blue coat which featured the Imperial insignia in brilliant gold on the breast pocket. The lapel of the coat bore a pin with the Swiss flag on it.
‘Now, back to business…’ Arthur Rücket continued. William looked at the men and women seated around the table. Each person was wearing a pin in the design of the flag of their respective countries. It was a small conference today – only twenty-three other people sat around the conference table (William had once attended a conference where all one-hundred and ninety-six countries were present). The rest of the conference dragged on for another hour and a half, with the main subjects being finance and Imperial status.
Suddenly, the man on the right of Mayor Rücket (directly opposite William) stood. William noted that he wore the flag of Germany on his lapel. William knew the man as Harold Kradolfer.
‘Before we all leave,’ Harold Kradolfer began, ‘I would like to make a toast.’
Kradolfer clapped twice and the doors to the room burst open. Two suited men entered, carrying trays which held twelve glasses of crimson red wine each. Rücket halted them.
‘Whatever do we need a toast for, Harold?’ he said inquisitively.
‘Well, in case you didn’t know, the Imperial Museum in New Berlin – my hometown – officially opened today, and I thought I might commemorate the occasion with a bottle of wine.’
Mayor Rücket smiled at this response and allowed the waiters to proceed. Many of the people seated at the table chuckled; one even clapped. The two men began placing a glass in front of each country representative. Everyone raised their glass.
‘In the year of 2017 – Danke,’ Kradolfer said, as one of the men gave him the last glass and stood by the door with his associate, ‘in the year of 2017, the federations sat in this very room and signed the treaty to form the Empire. Almost twenty years on, the Empire still stands strong!’ A few ‘Hear, hear!’s were shouted. William smiled and raised his glass higher.
‘So strong that we now have an official museum in New Berlin exploring almost twenty years of history within the Empire!’
There was another round of ‘Hear, hear!’s and ‘Huzzah!’s.
‘And now we drink!’ Kradolfer bellowed. Everyone took a gulp of red wine – everyone, save for William. He was not a fan of drinking in the mornings, yet he still lowered his glass and smiled. William noticed that Kradolfer, too, did not drink.
After everyone finished their sips, Kradolfer sat. Conversations ensued about the Imperial Museum in New Berlin, and how great the wine was.
‘Herr Kradolfer,’ the Zimbabwean representative said after yet another sip, ‘wherever did you get this wine? It’s marvellous!’ ‘Yes,’ Rücket agreed, ‘it’s amazing! I detect a hint of… oh, what is that?’
‘It, uh, smells, like, um…’ stammered the delegate for the United States, ‘oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue!’
‘Almonds!’ Shouted the Swedish ambassador.
‘A bit bitter, though…’
‘Ah, yes,’ stated Kradolfer, smiling, ‘silly me, forgot to mention it. That’s cyanide.’
As if on queue, people seated around the table began to cough and splutter.
‘You will experience shortness of breath, headaches, seizures, flushing, and intense sweating, followed by your imminent demise,’ Kradolfer said proudly.
William sat there, bewildered at the spectacle around him. The ambassadors and representatives began to perish, one by one. William did not drink, yet he knew he would be killed if Kradolfer saw him with no ailment. He pretended to drop dead on the table, eyes closed, trying very hard not to breathe.
The delegates were dead.
‘Good work,’ he said, addressing the waiters. On his way to the door, he stopped at William’s seemingly lifeless body.
‘Such a pity,’ he chuckled, ‘so young.’
For good measure, Kradolfer pulled out a dagger and plunged it through William’s left hand. The dagger was a World War II Subordinate RLB – the quillons made to resemble the wings of an eagle and the swastika featured in the centre of the hand-guard.
William flinched in pain and tried not to scream as the dagger slid through his hand. Kradolfer saw the flinch and poked William in the face. He scoffed, assuming it was just dying nerves, and wrenched the dagger out of William’s hand, bringing a chunk of the mahogany table along with it.
The silver, double-edged blade was now stained with William’s carmine blood. Kradolfer pulled out a handkerchief, wiped away the blood, and put the dagger back in its ebony scabbard which hung from his belt. He left the room, locking the doors behind him.
After another moment, William gasped for air. He wiped his watering eyes and stared at the wound in his hand. It pierced all the way through, covering both sides of his left hand in blood.
The room was silent. The bodies of the representatives sat lifeless in their chairs; some of them had fallen to the ground during their final struggles for air. Harold Kradolfer’s plot had begun to hatch. The fall of the Empire had begun.