Daniel Ottalini: Brass Legionnaire

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Daniel Ottalini Brass Legionnaire
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Brass Legionnaire: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Daniel Ottalini

Brass Legionnaire

Chapter 1

Working his wrench with the deftness of long experience,Julius Brutus Caesar tightened the bolt on the exposed sprocket. When it wasconnected to the rest of the engine, the engineers could begin the finalassembly of yet another mechaniphant. Not for the first time, Julius wonderedwhy on earth someone had wanted to invent such a mechanical monstrosity in thefirst place. Although it was impressive, he had to admit. Standing over fifteenimperial feet tall, with a protected driver’s seat and razor-sharp chain tusks,it was perfect for crashing through the center of an enemy’s battle line,especially when combined with other mechaniphants in a thunderous charge.

Julius shook his head to clear his wandering mind andstudied his work in the light from the gas lanterns burning all around thefactory. 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, justbelow the steam pipes haphazardly crisscrossing near the ceiling amidst spindlygantries and support struts. The whole factory was a safety inspector’snightmare, but of course the inspector had been bribed, so the whole situationwas swept under the rug, so to speak.

Much better, he thought as he carefully cleaned hiswrench with a dirty rag pulled from a pouch on his utility belt. A loud whistleblast signaled the end of the work day. Tucking the rag back into his belt,Julius trudged across the factory floor toward the massive steel doors, theirpaint peeling around splotches of rust. The air smelled of bitter industrialcoolants, welding smoke, and various other chemicals despite the fresh air thatcarried the sounds and smells of Brittenburg through the windows overhead.Julius nodded greetings to several other workers as they all moved toward thepay office. Being Friday, it was payday. He hoped the overtime he’d beenworking would make a difference this period.

Julius’s father had been injured several years ago in thesame factory, when part of a mechaniphant collapsed during construction. MarcusCaesar had required hospitalization as well as a complete leg replacement. Themedical bills continued to pile up, and it was all Julius could do, as the mainfamily breadwinner now, to stave off eviction from their small Sludge Bottomapartment. With three other family members to support, Julius had thrownhimself into his job at the factory, hoping to impress his supervisors enoughto be promoted and get a raise.

The workers quietly queued up before the office window,waiting while the paymaster checked his charts and notes before grudginglyhanding 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 don’t bother counting; I added inwhat you earned in overtime. So no complaining!” The paymaster’s gruff rumblecontrasted with his thin, weedy appearance. His lips, nearly concealed by athin, droopy mustache, barely moved as he talked.

Ignoring him, Julius did a quick count of the coins. “That’sall?” he asked incredulously. It was barely more than he had earned in the lastperiod. “I was here for thirty extra hours this week!”

“Oh, yeah?” the older man sneered. “Well, money don’t growon trees, you know. Since you’re our resident emperor, how about you justcommand money to appear? Ha! Ha-ha-ha!” He doubled over, his laughter ending ina wheezing cough.

Julius glared. “You’re a real Plato, aren’t you?” he mumbledas he scooped up his denarii and walked through the steel factory doors intothe murky sunlight of a Brittenburg afternoon, once again cursing his familyfor naming him after the founder of the empire.

Outside, the cobblestone streets of Brittenburg, otherwiseknown as Majoris Brittenburgia, factory city and capital of the Imperial RomanProvince of Germania Inferior, were filled with people, machines, and animals.Julius navigated past booksellers, out-of-town merchants, a pair of barbarianswith matching trousers and face tattoos standing next to an aviator in a longleather flying jacket, goggles hanging around his neck, and a group of schoolchildren being herded along by a matronly woman and a portly teacher. Julius’shome was on the west side of town, almost right against the massive curtainwall that was both defensive fortification and bay dike. The area was dark,dank, and affectionately known as Sludge Bottom to the rest of the city.

On a whim, Julius stepped over the electrified rails of the motortrollies andentered a bakery, the opening door triggering a mechanical bird in the cornerto squawk, “Customer! Customer!”

An older woman wearing a smock over her gray dress walkedout of the back. Recognizing him, she waved a greeting. “Hello, Julius! Pickingup groceries for the family?”

“Naw, just grabbing a snack.” He looked carefully throughthe clouded glass display windows. “Are those honey nut tarts?” he askedexcitedly. The heavily glazed treats were a traditional Brittenburg desert andsnack food, popular with everyone from the lowest plebeian to the governorhimself, who was rumored to have devoured trays of them on his own.

“Absolutely! You know how hard they are to keep in stock.Ignacious is starting another batch to make sure we have enough for tomorrow.”She handed him the usual loaf of bread with one hand and a small, delicate boxwith the other. “Take the runt of the batch for free; it will go stale,otherwise. And make sure your sister gets at least a bite!” she shouted at himas his smile went from overjoyed to smirk in a heartbeat.

“Crumbs count as a bite, don’t they?” he quipped as he paidfor the loaf of bread. It was still warm and he wrapped it in paper against thechill in the air. Fall was coming to the city, and with it, the rainy seasonthat made living in Brittenburg all the more challenging.

A horn called nearby as he paused at a street corner to tearoff a chunk of bread, and he found himself wandering closer to see what thefuss was about.

A short, stocky man with an amplification device stood on araised platform, haranguing the crowd. “Patricians and plebeians, servants andrepublicans, my countrymen! The Imperial Army is recruiting! We have need ofgood, strapping young men to join the newest, most extraordinary legion, theXIII Germania! The Imperial Senate clamors for war. Will you join yourcountrymen to bring punishment and pain to the barbarians and bloodthirstyraiders, those dastardly pillagers and savages who steal children, destroylivelihoods, enslave our women, and kill our men? Will you join with me?” Hisvoice echoed around the square.

The crowd cheered. A throng of young men rushed toward theclouds of steam that marked the location of waiting wagons, eager to enlist.Although the Empire had long ago eliminated compulsory military service for allmale citizens, many families continued to see military service as a constant,required duty. The military paid well and consistently, no small feat for anempire stretching over half the known world.

For a moment Julius considered enlisting. He was the rightage and in great shape, both mentally and physically, but he doubted hisability to complete the training necessary to earn a place as a legionary inthe Imperial Legions. Instead he watched as, one by one, men were led into asteam wagon where, presumably, they would be examined to see if they were fitfor duty. He didn’t realize he’d walked closer until the recruiting legionnairewas suddenly right in front of him.

“Good day, son; looking for a little excitement and a chanceto see the world?” the man asked, his tone chipper.

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