9 - The Factory

(Day 36, 1005 S.E)

“Yo Archie, Lemonade?” Archie didn’t want lemonade, he wanted a beer. But he was on the clock. Kind of.

Things at the factory had Gone Awry. The crew had stopped actually working several days ago, spent a couple days Looking Busy, and had now officially Stopped Bothering. Usually, the factory made solar panels. Today it made grumbling noises. They didn’t mind not working, in fact to them, slacking on the clock had become an art. No, apparently the paychecks had stopped along with the rest of the equipment. This wasn’t the Ol’ “Grubbins Automata will render you obsolete” scare either, production was at a full stop. The overseer was looking anxiously down from the lateral walkway, hoping to hear very soon about the resumption of normal operations, preferably directly from Carnibus himself.

The overseer banged the office door, dark thoughts about idle hands and devil’s playthings circling his brow. He tried four sharp knocks, the private code letting Alden Carnibus, solar magnate, Academy graduate, and Mark of Excellence recipient know that he was coming in presently. Fully expecting some sort of debauched activity in the works, he was instead mildly shocked. Mild ly shocked to see a note on the desk, and massively shocked to read to find “gone home, company dissolved” in neat academy -approved cursive.

It was times like these that made you wonder if all the extra responsibility of the overseer was worth it. He slowly left the office, which was suspended from the roof of the factory. It was attached to the walkway, so Carnibus could watch the workers at his leisure . He walked back down the walkway, above where the workers had congealed, sticky from lemonade and anticipation.

“Speech, speech” a couple workers jeered.

Archie craned his neck. The supervisor, a very short and unpleasant looking man, was doing his best to lean away from the crowd of workers, without falling off the walkway. Which, unfortunately for him, didn’t have railings, because Alden Carnibus thought that if you needed railings on the executive walkway, you didn’t deserve to be up there with the best and brightest.

“Ah” the supervisor began, trying desperately to read the room, reading to see if there were any medium sized objects within reach for tossing. “There is going to be a restructuring. That is to say, a tightening of the belt. Impossibly tight so to speak, in the sense that there is actually not much to tighten the belt around, because the company has been dissolved.” He dodged an adjustable wrench from one of the more excitable employees.

Outrageous, a breach of contract! Unheard of. It was fair to say that old Jardinian law was largely implied, but in this case was unambiguous. The importance of a robust contract labour was inherent in the, well, admittedly unwr itten constitution . Or maybe there had been one at one point, and someone had conveniently misplaced it. Perhaps this is what you get when you store ancient documents in damp public places. Still, things generally went well, as the great industrial magnates treated workers and customers alike with respect and dignity. Generally, until today it seemed.

It would be unthinkable. As a contract breaker, you might as well go live in the Great Expanse . Archie was floored. All his life, he’d abided the instability of contract labour, and now it was being thrown in his face? Unthinkable. Someone was going to answer for this. He’d a boxhome to pay off.

“Why couldn’t Carnibus explain this himself, ehhh?” questioned one fist shaker, while another shouted, “if we don’t have contracts, what do we have?”

“We demand Carnibus, the workers began to chant. Archie joined in. He found himself strangely excited by it all. With a flushed face and a vigour not seen since his days exploring the lush, lush jungle on weekend tr ips with his scout troup, Archie led the rush to the walkway stairs. The supervisor was suddenly struck by a deep and impassioned distrust for the barrier to the stairs, which was mostly just a rope. Swept aside by the piqued peasants (his eyes) or conscientious contractees (their eyes), he couldn't help but wish he’d sprung for a gate to the walkway.

Archie was out like a bowling ball down a waterslide. He reached the office and kicked down the door. He was unlikely to get another chance to Be Naughty, so he was taking advantage while he still had plausible deniability. The massive room above the factory floor was luxurious, and yet it was oddly offensive to contemporary taste. The large window, and beautiful Old J a rdanian spires and domes were obstructed by a stuffed tiger on a pedestal, and a gregarious potted plant of unnatural size, barbarousness and barbed-ness. It was a Festivian’s Toe Nibbler from the darkest parts of the jungle outside of Sodden or Paradise, Dearth of. True to its name, the plant had cost a determined naturalist two toes and a bottle of whiskey, not to mention the lives of several local guides helping with it’s extraction. The industrialist had been keeping it placated with French Fries (the french fry, an idea so ingrained in the subconscious, it was bound to pop up again later on.) It was Hungry now, and looking at Archie the way a cow eyes a particularly enticing piece of grass. The tiger appeared to be looking at him too, but that was a trick of the light. Probably. He saw the note, and snagged it before the Toe Nibbler got too curious.

Outside the office, the other workers had strung the overseer up by the ankles. Archie needed to find out more about the missing Industrialist, and his dissolved company. Tickling and minor injury wasn’t out of the question.

In the end, the supervisor gave up rather easily. No company loyalty these days. Archie tisked. An address in one of the better sections of Old Jardinian was alluded to, and then outright mentioned. In weeks previous, the overseer had been ma king a habit of coincidentally walking by the gilded gates of this particular villa in hopes of an invitation to one of the industrialist's famed dinners. This was utterly pathetic, but beside the point. It was in one of the oldest, and best parts of Old Jardinian. The terraces of Laudishian had housed and entertained the elite for hundreds of years, old money giving away to new, new money becoming old. It was a popular place, because even at home the Industrialists and Magnates liked to, in theory, look down with a watchful eye over their loyal workers and city. Not that they could actually see anything over their exotic shrub collections and water features but the tallest domes and spires. In the whole of the city of Old Jardinia, the opulent exteriors of the villas were only matched by the extravagance found inside.

Of course, the main feature of a proper Old Jardinian villa was a gargantuan atrium with a vaulted ceiling for feasting, and proper revelling. Many villas, like Alden Carnibus’, were a mixture of classical and contemporary styles, a gaudy and unnatural reflection of golden-age architecture proper. Social etiquette dictated a rigid schedule of hosting. Scores were kept, tallies of who was neglecting hosting duties. Nobody wanted to be party-shamed by their supposed equals, so catering and bartending became essential services. Of course, so did janitorial, pest control and hazardous waste disposal for the mornings after. Any born and raised Soddenite would nod approvingly at the debauchery observed in upper Old Jardinia , specifically Laudishan, though would concede there could be areas of improvement.

Both fortunately, and unfortunately for Archie, Alden Carnibus had been hosting the night before. The party had been scheduled months in advance for the fifth anniversary of Carina Molecular, his (among other things ) solar panel material research, development and production company. As such, Alden Carnibus was (had been until the dissolution of said company ) probably the richest per son in Old Jardinia, second most in the seven cit ies, a nd star of New Money in Old Jardinian. Still, Archie thought, his place looked the result of an antiquities museum eat en hastily, chased with mid-shelf booze and then thrown up , not unlike Carnibus’ office. Speaking of thrown up, there was plenty of that too.

He’d walked into an assault in many senses, especially on at least 4 of his 5. His expedition group, finding the gates unlocked, wandered in and tried the front door. Locked, they wandered around back down carefully manicured paths, past fountains with large stone leaping Vertitrout and cov ered discarded masks and costume wear; the prelude to mayhem. A large open plaza greeted them, with a pool area, a waterfall feature and various warm-weather ferns and palms. In the villa ’s great feast hall, open to the plaza and water features behind and covered by a large tiled roof was a memorable sight.

It featured, from least to most shocking,

“Woah” said Archie, gesturing for the rest of the group to investigate the scene. After a bit of panic, the ones with stronger stomachs took a closer look. Poking the snoozer, Archie could see she was still breathing and removed the mask. Archie held one of the stronger cocktails, still producing a blue noxious smelling cloud, under the passed-out reveller’s nose. The woman spluttered, blinked several times, and then her eyes crossed and she made a noise like a nonplussed ostrich might.

Archie removed the drink and she gurgeled her thanks. She took stock of the situation she had just woken up to. “Bit of a wild night” she offered.

“Ya” said Archie. “I bet. Say, bit of an elephant in the room here.”

“No, '' corrected the partier, taking his statement at face value, “ I think that is giraffe. Not well cooked, mind you.”

“Yes, maybe. I mean, ” Archie shook his head ” what has happened here ? With the head and such”, he qualified. He paus ed, and cocked his head, “ say aren’t you on that New Money in Old Jardinian show? “

Still somewhat blasted, and thus able to remain control over her emotions, the ex-snoozer recounted as much as she knew.

“Er, yes, that’s me, the ever suffering accountant.” She smirked. “Well I was taking my pre-feast nap in the guest quarters. Carnibus approached me, frankly might I add, with no concept of privacy. He broke the lock, walked in, looked left and right conspiratorially and posed theatrically, ready to speak. I said, lay it on me, expecting another multiple day New Money in Old Jardinian shoot. Lay it on me, he did indeed.”

“This is it, Au, he told me. Remember the good times we had at the academy, no? Well me neither. Never-the-less, the gravy train has cometh to a halt, or no wait, metaphorically derailed. Carina Molecular is done, dusted, we’ve been hung out to dry. We’re toasted camel humps, my friend. Now listen carefully. This is what I need you to do. I’m going to be late for the dinner tonight. I need you to announce we’re dissolving the company. Oh, and dissolve it for real too. He left with a final lament, something about an ascension, and giving the people a show, and finally being in control. I never figured him for a religious man” She shrugged. “And give us a show, he did.”

“Now I did manage the finances for the company, yes. But I knew nothing about the company besides how many heavy-duty solar panels were flying out the door, and what small portion of the proceeds we’d give to the workers. Alden ran a tight ship with regard to Strategy and Intellectual property”

She shrugged as if to say, couldn’t be helped. “A massive demand for the panels it seemed, what with the new solar farms. We were doing well, incredibly so. I had never had much faith in Alden while at the Academy, but he created himself quite the empire, didn’t he. I always had suspicions about another secret partner, the brains of the operation, following his meteoric rise after graduation. The problem was, he certainly wasn’t paying out this partner. Nothing about the flow of cash would give you any idea. I still have no idea why Alden decided to dissolve the company. Maybe there was someone was pulling the strings a little too tightly. Anyway, I was communicating this delicate matter to the shareholders, stakeholders, and steak-holders at the beginning of the dinner party. While it would be bad form to leave such a gathering early, Alden’s various hangers on knew they were about to lose a great amount of status in Old Jardinian. This is when they began to drink heavily. Everyone was incredibly nervous, waiting for Alden to show up. Myself, I had been drinking since my interrupted nap.” The accountant came up for air. “Now this is where it gets hazy. I had just about passed out. The servants served a main course, but nobody was in the mood to eat. Surely expecting some foriegn delicacy, they pulled off the dish cover to find,“ She gestured towards the table, ”Alden’s neatly decapitated head. Now this was surprising for everyone. I assume a with a general inability to process the sight in front of them, or perhaps attempting to salvage dignity, or absolve blame, everyone took off.” She gestured towards the impromptu yardsale.” Except me, I couldn’t walk, so I drank more and here I am now. I think he meant it to be poetic, in the end, though the meaning is lost on me.” She looked around. “Why are you here again. I don’t think you’ve said?”

“I’m Archie. These are the aforementioned and poorly compensated workers. We work, or I suppose, used to work for Alden” said Archie. “Mostly we’d hoped to find out why we’re out of a job just now, in the middle of a contract. I’d wager we’re all still as confused as before.” His remaining strong-stomached coworkers and compatriots nodded.

“I’m out of a job too I suppose,” mused the accountant, taking another look at the macabre dish on the table. “Listen, maybe someone at the Academy knows something about this. I'm an alumni. There’s a wing of the library named after my father, and a broom closet named after me. They were a little disappointed in my donations. Anyway, if Alden had some sort of secret partner, they would have met around his final year or graduation. And I’m sure he did. I’m Austera Ditt by the way.”

She shook Archie's hand, his grubbier than hers even after a scheduled night of debauchery.

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