The plaza was already filling with people, notables in their Sunday finest. Men, in suits and hats all made from animals that had lived and died continents away, clutching fine hardwood canes. Women, parasols in hand, their raiment soaring to such heights of impracticality that many had maids about to help manage their trains and massive hats. All of them thronging on the square’s ancient cobbles toward the assembly building. It looked like a great religious edifice, but it was a secular one until noon, when the emperor himself would address the crowd.

Already, moving throughout the throngs, secret policemen could be seen–the only men in ill-fitting suits who looked like they’d seen a little sun. An occasional shout from above, too, as curious folk who had flocked to the upper-story windows in the Old Town were cleared out. The sharp-eyed might have seen the barrel of a bolt-action rifle, the glint of a high-power scope, from some of those now-darkened windows. There had been no sign of them, but it was an absolute certainty that some of those cleaned-out apartments and tenements hid the new repeating rifles, machine guns. The State Evidence Bureau–what an innocuous name for such a far-reaching and keen-beaked octopus!–was taking no chances in a repeat of the Peace Riots from the year before.

From the shadows in a bricked-up arch, Jan watched the preparations, quietly gnawing on a piece of tough meat from an Old Town street vendor. “They might think they’re prepared, but those preparations are ten years out of date. When the emperor is actually out there, spouting his nonsense, we’ll see who is really safe.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!