The Petroleum Conspiracy - I

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By Panthaleon

Literature Text

Chapter I: The Land of the Future

When Anthony left the dining room, the smoking furnaces of Copperton had long
since disappeared behind them. He made his way to the smoking salon, the setting sun glowing in his back. He could hear the low humming of the engines , which always escorted the people on board wherever they went.
The smoking salon was furnished with with elegant fauteuils, gathered in small groups around shiny lacquered tables. kerosene lamps on the walls created a cozy gloam. They emitted enough light to work, but left everyone their privacy.
When Anthony entered, the two gentlemen in the corner raised their view from some papers and greeted him with a nod, but didn't pay him any more heed than the etiquette requested. After that, they went back to their charts and letters. Judging by the fine suits Anthony took them for businessmen.
He picked a chair at the back of the room and sat back, leaning onto the pillow of crimson brocade. He looked outside the window, to the starboard side. Below, he could see the tops of spruces and fir trees passing by. The forest went on as far as the eye could reach. They reminded him of the ocean by night, waving in the wind. In the west, the sky was still glowing red, while in the east, night had already set in.
Anthony pulled forth his notebook from the coat he wore and readied his stylograph

14. September, 1893, day 12
I have now left Copperton. It was good to get some air and to stand on solid ground again after the long journey from Yorek al Dan.
The city itself is a marvel of technological advancement and industrialisation. It is hard to believe that only a few decades ago, this city only consisted of a few wooden shacks, clutching to the mountain side. Today the steelworks here can almost compete with Chesterburough.
However I found myself facing a grave obstacle, as there has been a major accident on the railtrack some eight hours forth from the town, stopping any traffic bound east for the next days, maybe even weeks.
Therefore, I decided to complete the last stage of my voyage on board of the Lady Throstle, a Meissner-class airship, which, though expensive, is so much more elegant and a true child of the future. There are near three dozen of passengers on board, and another score of crewmembers.
I used this opportunity to get a better a better understanding of the functionality of this construct. The captain was delighted when I asked for permission to visit the engine room. He insisted on showing me around the belly of his precious himself. I was able to grasp the sheer amount of technology combined in the engines of this vessel. Modern designs like the Meissner-class do not run on steam as the older Perlot- or Ahlburg-class, for example, but have generators and propellers powered by Petroleum or, to be exact, the Kerosene produced from it. This fuel is a lot more efficient than coal, I learned, and therefore less is needed to propel the aircraft, leaving more room for other cargo. Unfortunately I understood only a small fracture of the captain's detailed mechanic explanations and I wasn't able to keep all the curious details he bestowed on me, when he talked about the complex structure of the hydrogen envelope. While he went on about gas chambers, double layered membranes and temperature regulation, I could only marvel at the great minds behind these constructions.
But as fascinating as Copperton and the Lady Throstle may be, they are only foretastes of the things yet to come. Tomorrow I am finally going to reach the Occidental Ocean and with it, the city of the future: Dusk.

“Good Evening, Sir, may I sit with you?"
The question pulled him away from his diary. He looked up. Above him loomed a stout, middle aged man. Anthony had sunk deep into the cushions of his seat and from his point of view, the man appeared half a giant. The grandfatherly eyes looked down on him, enquiring. The waistcoat, which stretched across the gentleman's belly, was half covered by his noble frock coat and from his upper lip sprouted a proud, bushy mustache. It was of a maroon colour and salted with grey, just as his receding hairline.
“Yes- yes, of course. Please, sit”, stammered Anthony eventually, who had entirely forgotten to answer.
The elderly gent lowered himself down into the armchair opposite of him. He leaned back for a moment and savored the comfort of the supple cushions. Then, he straightened up again and produced a flat silvered case. From it he drew a cigar, as thick as his thumb and of an earthly brown colour.
Anthony directed his view back at his diary and skimmed his last entry once again. Then, he closed the book and stowed it away, back inside his coat.
“Ach, pardon me, I didn't mean to interrupt you”, the big gentleman apologised.
“No, don't worry. I am finished.”
“Well in that case... Might I maybe offer you a cigar?”
“Oh-...”, Anthony hesitated, but he decided that it would be rude to decline. “That would be most kind. Thank you.” Anthony accepted the roll and leaned forward, while his opposite held out a burning match to light it for him.
He took a gentle drag and leaned back when the tip had caught fire, but then suddenly his lungs erupted and Anthony started coughing heavily. He beat his chest and screwed up his watering eyes, trying to escape the pungent smoke. The portly gentleman chuckled amused.
“You don't smoke very often, I presume?”
“No, ah... no, sir, I'm afraid I don't”, answered Anthony after recovering. He shook his head and involuntarily had to laugh.
“Practise, it's all just practise,” the man ensured. Then he offered the younger man his hand and introduced himself in almost fatherly tone: “Moritz von Hessberg”

Anthony blinked away a tear and gave him a pained smile, then he answered:
“Dr Anthony Parston, pleased to meet you, Sir”, and shook the offered Hand.
“Doctor?”, von Hessberg asked sceptically, “Forgive me the blunt words, but I took you for younger.”
Anthony couldn't help but laugh. “Well thank you for the compliment! I finished my studies only two months ago.”
“Well, you do not say! Well then you have my best wishes! Congratulations!”, the large gent shouted out, before leaning forward again, adopting an interested posture, gesturing with his cigar. “But tell me, Doctor Parston, if so freshly freed from your academic chains, what chases you to the Wild West so quickly?”
For a long time, Anthony had waited for somebody to ask him this question. He made a wide gesture with his hand, reaching for anything and everything. “The big, wide world! Every child between Lewington and Pasain knows the stories of the outlandish Stygg, every Man in the Old Countries dreams of great riches in the petroleum business. I simply want to see these miracles of the west with my own eyes before I settle down and bind myself. I want to experience something new, go on an adventure, so that I can tell my children one day: 'I was there.'” He let the words float through the room for a few moments, before looking at his companion. Moritz von Hessberg looked impressed. He seemed to think about the words for an instant, then he smiled.

“Well then, to the miracles of the west, Doctor!” He lifted his cigar as if to clink glasses, but then he frowned in discontent. “This would be a great situation for a Whiskey. You do drink, do you?”, he asked while making his way to the liquor cabinet on the other side of the room. The vivacious man was as loud as he was friendly. The older man didn't seem to care that there were other people in the room as well.
“Yes I do, Mr Hessberg,” he answered, slightly embarrassed to raise his voice. He looked at the dead and hardly used cigar in his hand and added to himself: “Well, I drink at least more than I smoke.” He discarded the cigar in the ash tray on the table.
The old gentleman returned shortly after with two glasses, filled with an amber fluid. He handed one to the young, dark haired man in front of him and returned back to his seat to enjoy his whisky. Anthony knew the taste of the drink and had gotten used to it, but still he couldn't truly enjoy it. His companion didn't seem to notice.
“Mr von Hessberg, I take it you are from Branken?”, he asked.
“You are correct, son, I go by the name Moritz Theodor, Count of Hessberg, born and raised in the Brankian Kaiserreich. But tell me, what gave it away?” the man grinned.
“Well, nothing big really. Just the name, the mustache, and the hard consonants.”
Von Hessberg guffawed, highly amused by Anthony's deadpan.

“So, what brings- “, the young doctor started when a sudden force shook the dirigible and made Anthony quickly grasp the arm rest of his chair, the ground quivering. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His body tensed from head to toe, his fingers dug into the soft cushions of the chair.
“I see you are not quite used to traveling on an airship? Don't worry, it was just the wind. It's like the waves of the ocean when traveling on a paddle wheel steamer”
“In the Old Countries, we have a rather well developed railway system which provides  easy transportation”, Anthony took another deep breath trying to relax, then picked up his glass and sipped his soothing Whiskey, “Also, I don't quite like the idea of falling four hundred meters onto solid ground in case of an accident.”
“Airships are safe!”, the Count insisted albeit not angry, stilll rather vividly, “At least as long as you don't poke holes in them obviously, which, again, makes them quite similar to Steamboats”, he noted.
“Well, I guess I'd better get used to it then”, Anthony decided.
“Oh yes, you'd better do so. You won't get very far out here when you try to keep both feet on the ground. Both literally and figuratively.”
“What exactly do you mean, Sir?”, Anthony answered, slightly confused.
“Look outside, son. What do you see?”, Moritz von Hessberg asked.
“Um, Trees?” He didn't really know what the Count was getting at.
“Exactly, doctor!” The old man's energetic outburst once again took Anthony by surprise. “You see, the West is truly a wild place, full of mountains, rivers and thick forests. But we don't have the sophisticated railway network you have in the East. It just would be far too costly to build. However, we still have  many remote lying mines, farms and oil fields which want to get their wares to the cities. Airships quickly jumped in and filled this gap”, the Count explained patiently.
“Oh, I see. That makes sense.”
“Furthermore, Kerosene is a lot cheaper here than in the Old Countries, which makes it affordable even for common people to maintain a ship”, von Hessberg added.
“I always took it for imperial propaganda when the newspapers wrote about the airship fleets of the West.”
“Well, the common ships probably aren't as glorious as the papers want you to believe, but essentially, they are telling the truth” The old man smiled proudly.
“And what about the pirates, are they real as well?”
“Pirates, do you mean airship pirates?”, the Count chuckled, “I am afraid they were made up by the papers to make it more interesting”
“I see, I see. Although it would make quite a story if I could see one”, Anthony replied, slightly disappointed.

“So, back to back to what I actually wanted to ask you: What brings a Brankian Count to the Wild West?”, Anthony asked, returning the earlier posed question.
“For the same reason every man comes West: for money.” The man grinned.
“For money, how come? I didn't expect the nobility of the Old Countries to be taken in by the oil rush.”
The question seemed to delight the Count.
“I think it's better if I tell the story from the beginning. I don't want to bore you with the family history of the Reich's aristocracy, it bores myself as well, but know this: the old system is falling apart. When I was younger”, he leaned forward, as if to tell a secret, “A long time ago, I know,” he chuckled, and then reclined and continued.
“Well, I went to study at the old scientific academies and I did my duty in the military, as all the other Counts and Princes before me, planning to spend the rest of my life playing war and going hunting, living like a parasite off the work of the commons. But today, in the modern society, you can't do that anymore! You have to go and make a living!”, he took a sip of his whisky and basked in the taste for a moment before he went on.
“The withered Lordlings don't want to see that, but I did. So I decided to come West, to get a sip of that sweet black gold hidden below the steppes around Dusk. However, I didn’t try it the same way as everyone else.”
Hessberg was getting worked up, he clearly enjoyed talking about the decaying aristocracy and his own ascension to power.
The Brankian Count squinted at his interlocutor. “Who do you think makes the most money in this oil rush?”, the stout man didn't give Anthony enough time to respond, “The lucky one that falls into a huge oil pool by accident? No. It's the man that sells the drills and pumps.”
Von Hessberg took a puff from his long unattended cigar and and continued his story.
“In addition to a clear plan, I had three crucial things when I came west: I had money, a known name, and important friends. It is easy to get into the business with these tools”, he winked slyly

The Count made an expansive gesture with his right arm, pointing with his cigar.
“Today I own a substantial share of the factories in Copperton and at least half of the oil pumps around Dusk have been built by one of my companies... So that, Doctor, is what brings me here.” he smiled and emptied his whisky, only to get another glass.
„That's an impressive Story, sir.
„Well thank you. Though it's not the kind of success story the Proletariat wants to hear”, he answered unhappily,”And there are some quite loud voices throughout the aristocracy of the Old Countries who still say it's an inappropriate employment for a Blueblood.” and quickly he added: “I don't mean to offend anybody, obviously. You don't happen to be of noble birth, do you? What do your parents actually do?“
“No, you need not worry. My father is a Physician, and so was my grandsire. He is one of the leading surgeons at the St Elisabeth hospital in Lewington, though,” Anthony explained with pride, and his interlocutor seemed impressed. “My Mother on the other hand comes from a family of shipowners and merchants, which isn't very aristocratic either.”
“How true, Doctor, but it's so much more rewarding.”
“Indeed, and you actually do something with your life. You create something, change something. It's not just about the moment, but about events that can have an impact on an entire lifetime.”

“You sound wise beyond your years, son,” said the Count, clearly rejoicing in their conversation. “Tell me, do you know where you will be staying during your time in Dusk?”
“I was planning to move into a Hotel, why?”
“A Hotel? I wouldn't recommend that. Your room would either be abusively expensive or infested with rats. Maybe both, if you're unlucky. Listen, unfortunately my daughter hasn't been feeling very well lately and there are hardly any proper physicians in Dusk. If you could take a look at her I'd be more than willing to house you while you're here.
The offer took Anthony entirely by surprise. I had trouble to find the right words and just burst forth: “Sir, that would be more than kind. Thank you very much for this offer, I- I don't know what to say. I'd be very happy to take a look at your daughter.”
“Oh, I'm sure you are, she's a lovely girl”, the old gentleman ensured and chuckled.
Anthony raised his whisky. “Well then, to the Wild West and the aristocracy?”, he asked.
“To the Wild West and the aristocracy!”, proclaimed the Count, and took his glass to follow the Doctors example.

Although Anthony's journey would end in Dusk, his Odyssey was just beginning.
This is a work in progress. Details may be subject to change.

In 1893, the young Doctor Anthony Parston travels to the west coast of America, to the pride of the Empire: the British Crown Dependency of Dusk. He is thrown into a world of innovation, fueled by the rich oil wells around the City, which among the Spanish settlers used to be known as ciudad de San Francisco de Asís.
North of Dusk, live the outlandish Stygg, who have come from the West to settle in America. Soon however the people of the British Colony shout for war against the Outlanders when an unexpected incident threatens the already strained relations between the nations. Suddenly, Anthony finds himself in the middle of a brewing global war.

© 2013 - 2021 Panthaleon
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MortalKomic's avatar
This is fantastic so far, I'm curious, when you say Wild West and "back east" your referring to the US and Europe correct?(just wondering if fantasy world)
Panthaleon's avatar
I thought about setting it in the real World, but I came to the conclusion that it wouldn't work out. So it's set in a fantasy world, but I am trying to make it very familiar (for example: Branken pretty much equals Germany or Prussia) :)
I made a simple map with paint and I guess i'll upload it, just to make it easier for the readers.