Chapter 1

Working his wrench with the deftness of long experience, Julius Brutus Caesar tightened the bolt on the exposed sprocket. When it was connected to the rest of the engine, the engineers could begin the final assembly of yet another mechaniphant. Not for the first time, Julius wondered why on earth someone had the desire to invent such a mechanical monstrosity in the first place. Although, he had to admit, it was impressive. Standing over fifteen imperial feet tall, with a protected drivers seat and razor-sharp chain tusks, it was perfect for crashing through the center of an enemys battle line, especially when combined with other mechaniphants.

 

Julius shook his head to clear his wandering mind and studied his work in the light from the gas lanterns burning all around the factory. He wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, product of his exertion despite the large open windows far above his head, just below the steam pipes haphazardly crisscrossing near the ceiling amidst spindly gantries and support struts. The whole factory was a safety inspectors nightmare, but of course the inspector had been bribed, so the whole situation was swept under the rug, so to speak.

 

Much better, he thought as he carefully cleaned his wrench with a dirty rag pulled from a pouch on his utility belt. A loud whistle sounded. Tucking the rag back into his belt, Julius trudged across the factory floor toward the massive steel doors, their paint peeling around splotches of rust. The air smelled of bitter industrial coolants, welding smoke, and various other chemicals despite the fresh air that carried the sounds and smells of Brittenburg through the windows. Julius nodded greetings to several other workers as they all moved toward the pay office. Being Friday, it was payday. He hoped the overtime hed been working would make a difference on his check.

 

Julius's father had been injured several years ago in the same factory, when part of a mechaniphant collapsed during construction. Marcus Caesar had required hospitalization as well as a complete leg replacement. The medical bills continued to pile up, and it was all Julius could do, as the main family breadwinner now, to stave off eviction from their small Sludge Bottom apartment. With three other family members to support, Julius had thrown himself into his job at the factory, hoping to impress his supervisors enough to be promoted and get a raise.

 

The workers quietly queued up before the office window, waiting while the paymaster carefully checked his charts and notes before grudgingly handing over a small handful of copper and silver coins to each worker. "Caesar, Julius B.," Julius told the attendant as he stepped up to the window.

 

"Here you go, Julius, and dont bother counting; I added in what you earned in overtime. So no complaining!" The paymasters gruff rumble contrasted with his thin, weedy appearance. His lips, nearly concealed by a thin, droopy mustache, barely moved as he talked.

 

Ignoring him, Julius did a quick count of the coins. "Thats all?" he asked incredulously. It was barely more than he had earned in the last period. "I was here for thirty extra hours this week!"

"Oh, yeah?" the older man sneered. "Well, money dont grow on trees, you know. Since youre our resident emperor, how about you just command money to appear? Ha! Ha-ha-hah!" He doubled over, his laughter mingled with coughing.

Julius glared. "You're a real Plato, arent you?" he mumbled as he scooped up his denarii and walked through the steel factory doors into the murky sunlight of a Brittenburg afternoon, once again cursing his family for naming him after the founder of the empire.

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