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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Kaltorak

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Wow. I just finished reading Ox-Head and Horse-Face! I usually don't like reading so much text, but this is certainly an exception. I hope to catch up soon, but for now let me just say that I'm enjoying the story a lot. As a person who doesn't dream a lot, I wish I had dreams like Clark! lol. Nice to see you made peace with those nasty British! The AI usually capitulates when it doesn't need to in those battles! Well played! Hopefully I can catch up next week and not feel so behind the times on this one!
 

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naggy - As it stands, whenever someone in a work of fiction offers you a once in a lifetime offer, even if you're pretty sure they're good people and it's an offer you can't refuse? Never say yes. It's like splitting the party up in a horror movie. ;) Although given what's about to come...

scholar - Bolivia has actually eaten a lot of terrain. Their industry is/was decent, as well. I'm going to do a state of the world pre-post next chapter, but it'll only be a hint that gets fully resolved at the end of 1936. As it should be. ;)

Enewald - Simply because I can! ;) Actually, it's because of plot-related reasons and to have a base from which to colonize Oceania if I get the chance. Also, my attempt to starve my population by hoarding money and encourage a glorious anarcho-syndicalist revolution has been about as successful as turning gold to lead! :( ;) Which works fine, plot wise... Anyway. Although you can't see it this chapter, I'm hoping the next few updates'll bring in a sea of social reforms. It depends if I can raise demand enough; I'd figured by playing an autocratic regime, the desire for social reform'd be increased, not decreased. No matter how bad my militancy gets, people seem satisfied with just a free press. :eek:

Kaltorak - I'm glad to see you here! I have a tendency to write excessively. I guess it's just how I am - I'm boisterous and loud in real life, but also shy and homebodyish. Contradictions r' me, heh. Anyway, it means a lot that you're enjoying Letters - Ox-Head and Horse-Face was one of my favorite chapters to write, having a bit of an interest in such things.

As for dreaming, a recommendation I always make is to write down whatever you remember from when you wake up. It can be a single word to describe the feeling. 'Red', 'danger' 'happy' 'float' whatever. After a few weeks or so, it might be sentences, then whole paragraphs, then you might find yourself recalling roughly 80% of your dreams. This is just what helped me, of course, and as to what they contain, that's always random, or perhaps not. Eris plays pretty xylophone music with our thoughts and dreams. ;) Don't worry about being caught up or not. So long as you enjoy it I am pleased to have you along for the ride. :D There's more of that goodness this update, but get to it when you have time. Letters'll be here when you've got free time, happy to be read and enjoyed.

Say, I'm thinking of devoting these pre-post rambles to even more grade-A Communitarian! ranting. What do y'all think? I guarantee that it is fine and heady stuff! :rofl:
For example - DW is incredible. Slow as molasses on my ancient machine, but who cares? At this point, the ten years from 1890-1900 took several hours of whack-a-Boxer. How many I won't say. And it looks and plays beautifully. There's a bonus image at the end of this AAR, by the by. It looks far less appetizing than I'd intended, but ah, well. Such is life. :)
 

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Millenarian Fair, Beijing Beihai Park '90 Qiannian Jie'95 {1890-95}

It had been a long time since he'd dreamt so vividly. The sea of colors outside his window was an astounding vision that would have been impossible to see in the natural world; a sky such an unusual burnt sienna that it looked as if it had been set on fire overlooked the balcony - wasn't this the same balcony that the Emperor would stare off of with such an unapproachable face?

The thought drifted to the top of his consciousness and then flew away on unsteady wings - he reached out to grab it and fell off the balcony, landing in a sea of flowers and bushes that had gently caught his fall. Brushing the dust off of his skin, he was drawn to how quickly it came off in layers; but no how much sloughed off, it didn't seem to hurt. A sudden sense of urgency wracked his brain, and he pulled himself up from the soft embrace of the earth; it did not want to let him go however, and as he left, he uprooted several peonies, a withering cascade of pink petals falling to the ground.

Jolting laughter seemed to call out to his ears from all around him, and an unkindness of ravens howled out their all-too-human cry. Covering his ears, he was unable to shutter out laughter which turned into a susurration of trumpets, each one blaring it's tune louder than the one before it until falling into an unrecognizable cacophony - and dying off.

He felt, rather than saw, the cold metal against his shoulder. Unable to turn his head he could not distinguish whether it was a blade or something else - a million possibilities blurred in his mind, from the sensible(garden shears) to the ridiculous(a lance of cold iron, wreathed with rime and decorated with inlay of bone) - before being dashed to pieces as the sensation broke into a million chortling birds, their black feathers blotting out the sun in it's dying sky.


"You sure are easy to impressive, Chief. Or should I call you sport, now? Is that more in the style of the times..? Do you still use 'in the mode of' as a form of relation?... Whatever. Get up. Quickly, before my boot meets your gut. As usual, the two of us don't have much time for this little heart to heart session and since I get you first, I don't want to waste a second of my valuable time."

He could not deny it any longer. The voice he had attribute to 'Gentleman' in his head was coming directly from in front of him. Although at first his vision had fooled him into thinking that the speaker was something impossible, a medieval-style night riding a horse simultaneously malnourished and grand, he could now see the speaker was a proper man of means, wearing a suit the color of charcoal and watching his pocketwatch intently with glassy eyes. Where the metal object had disappeared to - if it had even existed - was unknown.

Stammering, he opened and shut his mouth before speaking. "You... You're real! I wasn't crazy, you actually exist! But that means... Why are you here, talking to me, now?" His stuttering talk was greeted with derisive laughter, although after some few seconds 'Gentleman' finally spared him a sympathetic look, eyes leaving the still-ticking watch.


"In the flesh. For once, I'm real and you're probably a delusion or something. Weird, ain't it, slick? And I wouldn't pronounce you perfectly sane just yet, that's up to you. So let's discuss you - you're going to be involved in some pretty terrible things soon, since you made a pretty horrible decision." 'Gentleman' tapped his pocketwatch - which had become an umbrella - against a pool of water, and two glasses of something a rich and tarnished ebony materialized in their hands.

"Really, selling out your own doubts for something no one could possibly give you? I've been with some stupid people before, but- eh, what you do with your life is your business, I suppose. Free will and all that." Pausing in admiration at the taste of the fine brew, which tasted of burnt coffee, hazelnut and crushed chocolate, 'Gentleman' drained his cup in one draught and cast it into the water.

"Even still, there's no excuse to stop thinking, and remember that in the future, 'kay? Good. Let's start with the immediate - first? You're going to see some things that'll probably shock you to your core when you wake up. Take five deep breaths, and get a grip. Otherwise you'll end up in a sorry state, and I'll need to pay some unpleasant people a good some of money. And I don't like losing my bets, understand?" The derisive laughter started up again as if on cue - and he realized that 'Gentleman' was laughing at himself.

"Second, you've got to survive for a bit longer. Naturally, we'll keep in touch. Strange bedfellows, huh? But you'd know all about that! Heh. Oh, and for anyone else who might be listening - you've probably got a pretty good clue as to how things are working out right now. Keep it in your headcase, all right? Swell." Smiling at no one in particular, 'Gentleman' tapped the umbrella once more against the hard concrete plants in the garden as it shattered back into it's watch-like form, sending pieces of time across the flower beds.

The last thing he remembered seeing before he woke up was that too-wide grin instantly turning into a horrified wail of gnashing teeth as the dreamscape dissolved around them, pain permanently etched onto every feature.


Clark slowly climbed out of the bed, his skin drenched in sweat and pulled tight over his bones; although he looked to the mirror just as any day before him, inside he felt as if his entire body had been thrown into one of the new industrial meat grinders, and the skin he was wearing was casing sewn up over his body to hide the fact that nothing of substance was left. He turned to Mei Ling with an embarrassed grin on his face, words half-formed to joke about how clammy his hands must feel.

He didn't understand why she didn't respond at first, then slowly understanding began to dawn on his face. Sinking to his knees, he cried until his eyes were nothing more than blood-shot red sockets. Finally, taking a deep breath and trying desperately to remember and cling to those words that seemed such a small comfort, Clark slowly closed his fingers around Mei Ling's still ones and said something he was sure that she would hear, even from so far away.

Pulling the blanket gently over her prone form and slowly rising to his feet, he made his way out of the bedroom and cranked the generator on the hand-powered phone. Try as he might, the phone did not connect to any line; without further options available to him, he left the small suite and made his way towards the palace.

-

"I will tell you again, sir. Imperial Mother Cixi was not here yesterday, nor is she here today. Insisting that she was capable of being in multiple places at once is most impressive indeed, a feat that I would find highly useful myself if allowed to hunt down the rebels that even now are a pockmark upon the face that the Qing wish to show to the world." Ronglu spoke precisely as always but couldn't help but let a thin veneer of annoyance slip into his words. The shabby man in front of him - a shade of the Clark Osskisson he had met last night - was insisting that not only could he not make phone contact with the Palace Staff, but that he had met with Cixi last night - something Ronglu certainly would have known about. Worse still, he refused to explain his reasons for appearing so implacably in the palace.

Clark stared at Ronglu for a long time without saying anything, his eyes unfocused and drifting around the room like a dragonfly, looking for something, something that was no longer there. Finally they focused back on the officious man in front of him and seemed to realize that he was addressing them. "... It's my wife. She passed away last evening, and I am not sure who to see. It was just that... I, I had a conversation with Cixi, and -"

Ronglu felt his anger disappear in an instant as the grown man before him broke down into tears, his throat wracked with dry coughing as he tried to say more and could not seem to find the strength to finish a single word. Expressing as much sympathy as he could without breaking from his duty, he placed his hand on Clark's shoulder. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Although I still cannot say with any certainty that I remember more than showing you around the palace, if there is anything I can do to help, please. Let me know." Clark stopped bobbled his head forward in a weak nod.

"You'll need to see an undertaker. Do you know the ceremony that Hong Mei Ling will be presented with?" Clark was still reeling and grappling for his words, but at least had began to speak clearly again.

"... We never talked about religion or ceremony. I don't think it was particularly important to either of us. I don't know if there was any one style that she would have liked her funeral to have been held in." Mei Ling had always been superstitious, perhaps - but she had practiced a general superstition that had no name or orthodoxy, and since Clark had always preferred to ask about her personally when the chance had risen... He felt stupid, but as the blood rose to his face he had no other remarks to make.

Sighing, Ronglu rubbed the temple of his head. He had wanted to ask if they had even been properly married, but somehow felt he could foresee the answer. "You must forgive me, but I'm afraid without more information I cannot help you in this matter. Once again, I must repeat that I do not recall you visiting here last night, or indeed any reports that you met with Imperial Mother Cixi. I am truly sorry." Clark looked like he was still withholding tears.

"I'm not trying to, to cast aspersions at her or anything. I understand that everything that has happened - I just... I want to have closure." The words seemed hollow, coming out of lips so dry that they seemed like parchment. For awhile, Clark was unsure why Ronglu had assumed a look of recognition, and then realized the clap of feet upon the palace floor meant visitors were coming.

"My Emperor," Ronglu began, his shock at the Tongzhi Emporer's swift appearance replaced with a look of pride to be of service. He slid gracefully out of the way to allow the Emperor, his wife, and their attendants through - however the Emperor Tongzhi, reading glasses piercing into the nape of his nose was staring at Clark as if trying to place something. The woman to his side whispered something into his ear, and the Emperor smiled.

"Uncle - I would like to propose a transfer of sorts. Xiao Zhe and I would like to receive this man as our honored guest, as more pressing concerns have taken place recently. Your presence is required on the field; more society rebellion members have shown their faces and it seems a firm hand is necessary to ensure that they do not trouble our hard-working people again. It is always amusing when the little nobles decide to throw themselves into a fervor, is it not?" Several attendants laughed on cue - but Ronglu ignored them and smiled courteously.

"As always, it would be my pleasure, Emperor Tongzhi. This young man has had a rather terrible morning - perhaps there is something the Son of Heaven can do to help such a man that I can not. As for your orders, when I return the streets shall be clear and ready for a fair the likes the world has never seen."

Keeping the same professional smile that he prided himself on, Ronglu disappeared and left the confused Clark surrounded by bemused Qing attendants and the current royal family - a woman whom he had never met, and a man whom he could only assume was her husband - and the current Emperor.. Soon he had found himself ushered along into one of the many rooms used as a reception area, sitting at one end of a long table and being served fresh food and hot tea.

Although the royal family sat far away, it was easy to make them out. The Emperor had a sort of gentle presence around him; although in a way it would be easy to mistake it for weakness, it reminded Clark of the strength of the hedgehog. When he was a child, Humphrey had always delighted in bullying the animals - but they had always endured, and in the end it had been Humphrey who had winded up lacerated and confused. As for the Emperor's wife, she was an epitome of court grace and wit - and Clark was struck at how constantly they talked to one another. Gripped by a sudden pain, he felt his teeth gnash together as the Emperor spoke.

"I do not think we've met before, Clark Osskisson. I've heard of your sorrows - and we wish to empathize with you. Please, whatever happens, do not blame yourself or Mother. Though she is strict, she always intends for the best, and I know that if she had been or was here, she would be sharing in the same sadness that you are right now." Clark's eyes lit up, not at the Emperor's words, but at the faintest possibly someone knew Mei Ling and he - he'd seen the Imperial Mother. However as the Emperor finished his sentence, even that small spark of hope was extinguished.

"Thank you, Emperor Tongzhi. Your kind words remind me of my time with the Yixin, the Prince Gong." There was some nervous laughter among the attending courtiers, but the Emperor showed neither pleasure nor anger at those words, instead smiling politely.

"Although I cannot say I find any similarities between myself and the former Tianmen Emperor, I am sure that he would be glad to know there are still some who remember him in a positive light. He will likely be in attendance at this coming fair - and I am sure would be glad to see you." Clark paused and then hazily remembered the upcoming fair, set to happen years before the coming of the millennium in the Gregorian calender. It seemed irrelevant.

Xiao Zhe whispered something to her husband, then spoke cordially to Clark, voice just tinged with an inflection of sorrow. "Mister Osskisson, my husband and I know from Ronglu that you aren't sure of Hong Mei Ling's affiliation, and somewhat vague legal status. Although it is not commonly done... Due to services rendered to the Qing Empire, we would like to honor her with the possibility of a state funeral."

Clark felt his lips go numb before the weight of those words spurred him back into motion. "I... I am not sure that she would appreciate such a funeral, given the circumstances of some of her activities." He hadn't touched his food, and suddenly felt like even the delicious scents assailing his nostrils were offensive.

Laughing, Xiao Zhe shook her head. "This isn't something we're forcing upon you, merely an option you can take. Given how nebulous things are, however, it might be easier to accept our offer - and we hope it would give you some closure, Clark Osskisson." She smiled warmly, trying to remove the lost, dazed look from Clark; but he continued to stare into space with the look of a man who does not seem to recognize his own actions.

"What do I need to do to get this privilege guaranteed?"

Perhaps he'd said those words more bluntly than he'd intended. Regardless, he felt some small sliver of regret at the shock shown on Xiao Zhe's face; she had not expected to be rebuked in such a manner. Indeed, most of the court looked shocked at his words. She quickly hid her shock and continued talking, trying to hide the slight motion of her teeth biting into her lip. "There is no cost, Mister Osskisson - this is something the Qing State would like to other you out of sympathy to your situation."

Cut the shit, huh? You can tell she's laughing at you behind that fan. Chances are this whole thing is really funny, from an outsiders point of view. It's all right. Let'em laugh.

"There's always a cost, Empress. I am not trying to offend you, just ask whether or not there is something I can do to repay this small boon the Qing court is offering me." Once again the buzz of conversation filled the chamber. Xiao Zhe was nervously whispering to Tongzhi again; who seemed to be just as confused as she was.

Of course, to Tongzhi this had come out of the blue. His wife had a keen sense of pity for this sort of thing, victims of tragedy and those who could not look after themselves. One of her goals had been increasing social securities and services in such a manner so as to better protect the Chinese people from the new ways of society that Western inventions and mannerism brought, something he had of course supported. Part of him wanted to lash out at the cruelty she was shown in return - but she had hastily suggested that it was just the sorrow of losing his own spouse that had made Clark so bitter.

"Mister Osskisson, there is no hidden cost to this, as my dear Xiao Zhe has so emphatically stated. However, if you wished to assist in some manner in return for the boon we grant you-" Clark winced at this word, as if it were a personal attack against him, somehow. "-then I can think of an excellent use for your talents. There have been many small rebellions showing their face around China, mostly artisans and the upwardly-mobile who cannot appreciate the prosperity that China has brought to them, or the Qing method of rulership. Even in a day and age where the Qing court is extending privilege after privilege to all of it's subjects, there are still those who want more, faster, now. Perhaps you could write several articles extolling the current administration as someone who has had the opportunity to watch it's metamorphosis first-hand?"

It was unnecessary, of course. Just something he'd snatched out of his mind to placate Clark's ramblings. He had read several of Clark's missives as part of Cixi's insistence that he know everything about previous rulers of the Qing Empire; there had been nothing particularly special about Clark or his writing style, and indeed it had seemed odd to the young Tongzhi that his predecessor had placed so much importance upon getting foreign hands to write idle compliments. Nevertheless, some life restored itself to Clark's face at these words, and he nodded mutely. "Good! A courtier will begin plans for the funeral arrangements shortly. We look forward to reading your work, Clark Osskisson!"

And in roughly thirty minutes of whirlwind activity, followed by a quick but sumptuous breakfast that he had left untouched, the preparations for the funeral of Hong Mei Ling had been set into motion.

-




Mei Ling,

This seems like a pointless tradition to me. Perhaps I can't appreciate anything right now - perhaps, as some removed corner of my mind whispers to me even now, I shall appreciate this far later when I wish for any way to contact you, even as it becomes more and more impossible. Maybe by doing this... I don't even know what to say.

So instead, let me tell you how much I miss you. Even as attendants came to take you away I couldn't bear to see you go - and although we all go eventually, the fact that I couldn't be with you as you left with that serene look on your face was enough to finish killing me inside. So, I turn to what I always do when I'm not with you - I write. Actually, that's how I'm sending this letter to you. Isn't that rather funny?

Although the Emperor and his Empress insisted that this was something they were doing for me, I knew they were lying from the start. After all, they wouldn't be doing it for 'me' if they were trying to bring me some small comfort. This would all be for you, to celebrate your attempts to change what is by it's very nature a corrupt and useless society, one that is similar to the one from which I came in every manner except that of the language spoken - the glorious life you lead which now goes on a road untraveled.

Perhaps you'll laugh or find it silly that I then, nevertheless agreed to this little scheme of theirs - indeed, I'm even turning my writing to the method of suppressing the masses from their delusions of rebellion. I am told that they are disillusioned artisans, the petit-bourgeoisie and non-hereditary Han nobles; but that is not what I see. No, that is anything but what I see. They are just poor people, unsure of the future and unable to do anything to change it.

Will you hate me for doing this thing to your memory, just so that you can have some small measure of dignity? I don't know - I can't know, without you showing your face to me one more time - please, Mei Ling! Come back to me!


The rest faded into illegible scribbling that wouldn't have made sense to any reader besides Clark - perhaps it no longer made sense even to him. His tears had stained the formal ink of the paper, but perhaps that made the letter even more significant to him in his mind. He might have stayed in his room, clutching it to his chest as if it were her for all time had a jaded voice pointed something out.
You're not alone, Chief. He's been outside for some time.

Clark did not panic, instead gently setting the letter to rest on the bed. Then he languidly made his way towards the door. Images of the news he had helped to write rang out in his mind; and as it did, the calming words of a voice long unheard acted as a balm upon his frayed nerves. Don't hate yourself for things you've done; otherwise you'll carry that hate and let it multiply. If you feel regret, turn it into action, instead of dwelling in the past.

Moonwatcher's words did not stay for long in his mind however, as Clark approached the figure wearing a loose-fit grey business suit. His hair was mostly gone, and the burnished red on his nose and throat looked like a terrible welt or perhaps some sort of disease. The stranger did not turn to face him, instead staring out across an ornamental lake, looking into the water reflectively.

1chap16.jpg

They torched the few wooden boats still in the harbor.

"It was hard to get in at all. But I felt I had to atone for my actions somehow..." The stranger laughed, then produced a pipe from one of his suit pockets. He offered the pipe to Clark, who smiled bitterly back at him and shook his head.

"My apologies, friend. I tried opium some many years ago, none too far away from this very place. It wasn't for me. Please, indulge yourself however." The stranger needed no second bidding and lit the pipe with a safety match; then after some time, began to speak.

"It's possible you already know who I am. If not, well... My little sister told me all about you in a short meeting we had. I never thought I'd meet you - and when I did, I'd always assumed you'd be wrinkled prune of a man much like myself." He laughed, but it apparently caused him some pain, and he quickly stopped. "... I'm Hong Minsheng, brother of Hong Mei Ling as well as her executioner."

The two said nothing for some time. Perhaps Hong Minsheng was expecting Clark to lash out verbally or even physically, but Clark did neither, instead staring into the ponds surface quietly. After a time, he even chuckled. "You know, I heard a lot about you, but had never expected your propensity for meaningful lies to be as high as my own. No, Mei Ling spoke of you, as well - but I know that regardless of any ills you may have said or done, Mei Ling loved and respected you - and you cannot be her executioner. She died quietly, in her sleep."

Hong Minsheng's face twisted into a wretched mix between a snarl and a laugh made all the more disturbing by the pain coming from his every wheezing breath. "So that's what they're saying, ha?... Ha, haha. Don't make me laugh. I might not have done the deed personally, but I'm as good as her killer... and what I've set in motion will be your end, too. Ask me this, if you know so much - why is it that nobody except you and me seem to remember the events of last night? Why do so many tiny events lead up - precisely - to this very day and time, a foreseen combination?"

Getting increasingly agitated, Hong Minsheng strode back and forth as if with some unknowable purpose, grating his teeth together. "I sold you both out to the British - if I hadn't done that... If I hadn't done that, I-" Clark clapped him on the shoulder and shook him thoroughly, cutting him off before he could say any more that would jar him out of the acceptance of everything surrounding him as fact.

"Get a hold of yourself, man! Mei Ling died in her sleep, and the British and you and whatever cockamamie schemes you may have dreamt up in that raddled mind of yours are completely irrelevant! If you came here to grieve, I'll gladly accept you, as a brother to her and as a friend to me - but don't say such uncomfortable, such obviously untrue things!"

Hong Minsheng stared directly at him, and Clark looked back into eyes so deadened that the pupils were almost gone, receded into the inky brown surface of his irises. Then, Clark let go and took a step back, reeling from that stare as the stranger - whom he could not of known, obviously - took another drag from the long pipe and bowed his head slightly, apologetically. "I'm sorry, I must have mistaken you for someone else. Please pass on my best at her funeral. She was an incredible sister and I... I have not always been the best brother to her. Thank you for your time and understanding."

Then, scratching the bridge of his nose aggressively, as if trying to peel off the few layers of skin still remaining, Hong Minsheng left Clark confused and alone as the wind blew in a flier for the upcoming fair from the city proper. It landed right at his feet, as if advertising a world that did not exist to him, one so far removed as to be almost a fantasy.

2chap16.jpg

China's first - and only - Universal Exposition.

-

The funeral had taken place days before the festival, obscuring both in a sort of carnival-like mix between sorrow and wonder. The phantasmagoriac nature of both had lent itself to something akin to a waking dream. Clark had worn a borrowed suit to the funeral, his normal clothing now so mixed with patches and hand-woven alterations that it was hardly appropriate for day-to-day life, let alone a public function. And that's what the funeral had felt like.

Many people had been there, although Mei Ling's family had been noticeably absent. If it had just been her parents(were they even still alive?), it might have made sense, but... It didn't seem quite right. Regardless, one Hong Minsheng had been scheduled to arrive, but did not appear, nor was he recognized by anyone in attendance. The Tongzhi Emperor himself presided, lending an air of solemnity to the entire affair - or would have, if the Emperor himself presiding over the funeral of a relative nobody hadn't been grotesquely comical. Cixi had been there as well, dressed all in white - but she had drifted just out of his field of view whenever Clark had tried to talk to her.

He... hadn't kept his emotions well in check, certain that he could make her out at various times - laughingly trying to pick a fight with the attendants in charged with reception, sitting down next to him and acting generally bemused at her own funeral. This vague phantasm seemed so real he could even believe he heard her - but then the coffin was lowered into it's catacomb and any delusions he could find comfortable refuge in were erased along with it.

Afterwords, not too many people had been keen to talk on him. Not that this particularly bothered Clark - he'd focused on his writing, churning out article after article. Perhaps in some ways, it was a kind of disassociation from reality, one that allowed him the comfort of the dueling voices in their head - although more and more they'd dropped their respective deadpan humour and depressive wisdom in favor of trying to console him, somehow.

It didn't work.

Then, he'd received the invitation on fine gold inlay. The Universal Exposition was supposed to be an event celebrating the industry of China, her transformation into a modern country and economy with an increasingly modern bureaucracy and armed forces, with a tertiary focus on the rest of the world, especially those countries residing directly in the Qing sphere of influence. Although he hadn't known why he went, his feet carried him to the hill that been flattened and turned into an epicenter of festivities. Signs in multiple languages assured the stream of visitors that this was indeed the World Fair... But not everyone seemed to be arriving for the festivities.

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A guard had been erected outside the perimeter, keeping a wary eye on the human powderkeg of protestors.

Getting in was fairly easy for Clark, however - having the invitation meant that the bearer was in some way connected to the huge apparatus of state. Not only was admission free, but the associated costs of certain attractions was waived for all but food. So, Clark tried to distract himself at the booth devoted to the Western world, the tiny map of his homeland butchered into four neat slabs; the British Dominion of Canada, the Empire of Mexico, the American Union State, and the rebellious New England Corridor.

Somehow, it wasn't very amusing. Neither was the woefully underfunded exhibition on Africa, the only section that was at all researched being an exhaustive presentation on Egypt - but that had been marred by the disputes, still ongoing, between archaeological professors, each one laying claim to a section of the world and every treasure they touched as if playing a game of 'Finders, Keepers'.

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Even wracked with depression, he had found the obsequious Portuguese diplomat amusing, however.

That proved only a momentary distraction, however - the 'Exhibits of the World' were just a backdrop for the real meat of the Exposition, a chance for treaties to be rewritten in a light favorable to China. France had began to organize a series of games meant to emulate the ancient Olympics - taking place in 1896 and to be rotated every four years, they were to emulate the virtues of ancient Greece, as well as promote international harmony. What had Yelu said about Greece when Clark had excitedly brought up the new parliament..? It had been so long, Clark could barely remember; but it brought a thin smile to his lips.

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The first Olympic Committee refused to admit a Chinese delegate until pressured with economic sanctions.

But even that was not what everyone had really gathered for - the Emperor himself had promised to make an announcement of deep importance at the end of the Fair's first day, one that would bring glory to the Qing Empire, and to the world. A nervous energy similar to high-tension wire hung in the air, waiting to be clipped with golden scissors. Even the protestors so inadequately contained outside the boundaries of the Fair proper were waiting with bated breath for whatever this revelation could be - regardless of it were cataclysm or providence.

When the Emperor and his Empress made appearances however, Clark reasoned they had to take a lot of observances that palace life might have hid from them, however. For one, the crowd protesting outside had not been made up solely of 'rebellious aristocrats'. The victims of modernization had come in droves from all over China, using the state-of-the-art rail network that was one of the features so prominently on display at the Exposition to make their voice heard.

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The dispossessed spoke with their fists and their voice, muted only by the nervous military units on constant standby.

If this had any effect on the Emperor, however, he had not shown it, wearing a a deep and calm smile as the Imperial Family were brought in on a palanquin car - he motioned for it to be stopped before it had reached the Imperial podium, and he and the Empress Xiao Zhe took the last few ceremonial steps themselves, to the cheer of the crowd. Perhaps outside, the roar of deafening hatred was even louder - but in this tiny universe all their own, it was impossible to tell. An announcer read off the list of titles, royalties, consignments, and orders - then another announcer replaced the last one, and repeated the previous announcement in a new tongue.

Cixi had continued to ride the palanquin to the podium, sitting in it far behind her son and watching with an appraising eye. Perhaps she was watching to see if he screwed up, Clark wondered from his distant seat in the large amphitheater. Regardless, her expression was icy cold and unreadable as always. When the Emperor spoke however, it was without any fear or pressure of any kind - it was if he had built up this moment so many times in his head, that even if the world were to fall down around him, it would not bring his spirit down.

"Dear citizens of the Qing Empire, loyal friends and allies, visitors from far-off lands! China is proud to welcome all of you as her sons and daughters on this very day. You have come to witness the miraculous transition China has made from being a weak, back-water country wracked with corruption and inefficiency, to the harmonious state which celebrates all of its diverse citizens, whether they be Manchu or Han! All are Chinese, today!"

The crowd murmured a bit - not quite sure where the Tongzhi Emperor was going with this. He pressed on, undaunted. "Today's festivities mean nothing without perspective, so let me grant it to you - recently, Chinese engineers have accomplished that which had been previously thought impossible. A passage has been cleaved between the very heart of northern and southern America; and now, a great many ships bringing the fruits of labor and trade go from continent to continent, bringing with them peace and technology as their envoy. To do this, China has decided to lease land from the great nation of Colombia - today, we have brought Dr. Tomas Herran forward to ratify this treaty in perpetuity-"

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That Panama will be a hallmark of Chinese-Colombian relations for all time!

Although the cheering crowd surged in appreciation, with one British diplomat to Clark's side mentioning that it was a 'bloody good example of diplomacy', Clark noticed the sleepless circles lining Dr. Herran's eyes and the look of resigned dignity on his face. This was capitulation, nothing else; and whatever the Colombians had gambled, they had lost. As Herran displayed a piece of paper which was too far off for any of the crowd to read, the cheer grow louder and more raucous, only to die down as the Emperor spoke again - and when he did, the response was impossible to put into words.

"As of now, all citizens who take an oath of loyalty will be exempt from all previous decrees and laws regarding culture, language, hair, or education!" He continued on to talk about how there was no guarantee that protection from such laws would be swift due to judicial reconstruction, elaborating on other features of the new code - a redoubled attack on footbinding and experimental bicameral legislature, to be subservient to the Qing Emperor - but practically no one heard these over the furor that had descended on the stadium.

Several Manchu officials looked as if they planned to assassinate the Emperor where he stood. Others seemed cheerfully oblivious to the possible consequences of the decree, and still others seemed both aware and complacent. The audience itself had mostly gone wild, and although some of the foreign crowd were unaware of the heavy implications, they were soon caught up in the frantic energy the Emperor had inspired. The Empress beamed at the crowd as if to reinforce this new legislation with a smile - and outside, as the Emperor's words were relayed to the crowd through a human chain of interpreters, the associated rebels broke into impromptu celebration.

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Clark smiled for the first time in what seemed to be forever. For a minute, he wondered if perhaps Mei Ling had seen this from wherever she was.

But inwardly, he couldn't help but wonder. This was no small change - it was something that would be opposed to the end by a stream of Qing officials... And if there was any sign of weakness, anything that could be seized upon, it would be throttled before the moment it first touched the ground. Although he swore he had seen the faintest flicker of a smile upon Cixi's face at her son's words, could she really permit such a drastic overhaul of events?

One thing remained certain. Even if the factions had switched, even if all had descended into a momentary chaos that would be replaced by a strict, bizarre new order - China was at a state of internal war, and win or lose it had just taken the first steps to cementing it's place as victor - regardless of who emerged the winner of this power struggle.

-

On his way back to his royal accommodations, as the dusky air was replete with fireworks and singing, and local dancers displayed their acumen for a crowd that truly did represent much of the world, Clark recognized one of the Manchu nobles enjoying the festivity and engaged in conversation with a well-fed man who also looked vaguely familiar. Despite a slight limp and being visibly older then when they had last met, the former Tianmen Emperor smiled upon seeing him, and walked over while his guest supported him; Clark recognized him vaguely, and tried to put a name to his face while Yixin addressed him warmly.

"Well, Clark - he's done it. My successor has taken the machinery we built and the ideas we put into place... And he has turned it into a reality. And here you are, looking almost as if you stepped out of a picture yourself. How have you been, my old friend?" He beamed, unable to offer more than a handshake without destabilizing himself. His associate was able to do more, however, engaging Clark in a bone-crushing hug.

"Konrad Ludwig, Mr. Osskisson! We worked together briefly. After the Emperor - ah, retired -" Both Yixin and Konrad laughed, a little unpleasantly. "- I found myself out of a job. Learned medicine to keep afloat, and ended up meeting Yixin in Mongolia, and getting appointed as his physician. Good luck, isn't it?" Only the slightest hint of his native German remained in his accent - amazing, considering that he had once needed translators to convey even the simplest of thoughts.

Clark was both surprised by their familiarity - and a little warmed from the icy withdrawal he had sunk himself into. Smiling weakly, he shrugged his head. "Ah, well. Evading the current government and expecting little from life. Today caught me as much by surprise as either of you. I've... Had some events come up in my personal life, as of late, and this reminded me that there is still some good in the world. Perhaps it was silly of me to forget." Clark held back on saying more, unsure if either of them had met Mei Ling.

After all, it wouldn't matter if either of them had - and as Konrad and Yixin regaled him with their adventures, he found himself being pulled - almost guided- away from the fair, and encouraged to take the train back to Mongolia with them, to visit Khovd and spend some time in it's mountainous retreat. In the back of his mind, Moonwatcher was telling him to go ahead - even as she warned him that it was exactly what they wanted. Perhaps it didn't matter - perhaps it was what he needed, to reflect on Mei Ling's death, and to come to terms with his own life.

So he accepted gratefully, and as he did, the Imperial Mother let out a small sigh of relief. Her promises were fulfilled, while simultaneously getting both Osskisson and that bothersome Prince Gong out of her sphere of influence once more. Now, the chips could fall where they may, and the enemy could reveal themselves - and when she did, she would be ready for them.

-

Whaaaaat? Holy heck, what a mystery! Speaking of which, the next chapter (which should be much earlier, I've hired a whip-bearing squad to stop me from playing DW - er, slacking off) might borrow some elements from mystery. What does that mean? Only time will tell. As a bonus for your patience, I've made you all something special. I only wish I could give you all this in person; and although the photo is very grainy, I can assure you it's every bit as delicious as it looks.
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This restores all health, gives you a 9/9/9 monarch, and lowers Badboy to 0 via the spirit of friendship and love.

If anyone wants the recipe, do let me know. This one is almost z'herbes, but I had some leftover pork sausage (yummy, yummy chorizo) and that got thrown in. I'd have loved to add some shrimp, but no luck. By the way, I kind of love the solstice and holiday season - but I hate the fact that so much time has to be spent away from my writing for it! I mean, you guys are kin too! Kin who'd probably appreciate my delicious gumbo more than certain other folks who take a few little sips and then proclaim it 'nice' but too spicy. Too spicy!? Who could ever say that, about anything? Crazy talk, I tell you.

Next episode - The Triumphant Return of Konrad Ludwig!
 

naggy

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Kaltorak

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So a few more down.. just finished The March of Time. I liked the feeling of tension building up towards westernisation. Friction not only between the government and its peoples, but even the characters.

Clark's fortunes have really taken a big turn! I feel a little sorry for Yelu, left away from his friend and his family to cut down Koreans amongst other things. Hopefully he won't have to see the same things in Tibet. And now a new character to get to terms with, the long lost brother. Oh and those internal dialogues that Clark has sounds almost stereotypically schizoprenic lol. He can't be because of most of his other behavior, but it is funny to think of it.

On the dream front, I fear I'm not making a lot of progress. Not sure what it is.. most of my nights are just blank. Of course there are exceptions, but they are rare. I'm going to try to be better with the focusing on one word technique, we'll see what happens. Enjoying our grand Chinese adventure and look forward to some more soon.
 

Rensslaer

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Communitarian!

Sorry my readership has dropped off recently! Also sorry to see the story left unfinished, for now. You're at 1893, so you're close to the end of Clark's run, I expect.

Having read the most recent update, it's obvious I've missed ALOT in between here and where I left off. I'll have to go back and read the rest.

Rensslaer