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The Outer Circle, or…

Archivist note: This article is from an older recovered archive and might be obsolete or in need of updating.

Most recent revision is shown below, by Galactic Baroque.


How I got kicked out of the B.R.T.R.C.C.A. ”by Arconus Arkright”

I had no business being there… by which I mean the meeting was for business people and I had no business. But Mr. Chalmers and his assistants had made such an extraordinary effort to track me down and invite me to join the group that I grudgingly agreed to attend. I was so glad I did.

The group met every two weeks at a spacious, richly-furnished townhouse belonging, I assumed, to one of the members. “The group”, I should mention, was the Babbage Round Table for the Renewal of Citizen Commerce and Authority (A.K.A. the B.R.T.R.C.C.A.). And yes, they actually met around a big, round table. But that wasn’t the table with which I was preoccupied. There was an unbelievable buffet at every meeting and each meeting’s buffet seemed better than the one before. As fabulous as the savory dishes were, it was the desserts that kept me going back to refill my plate. Nothing fancy, just simple and oh so delicious.

It was my fourth meeting. That night, on the sweets side of the table, there was yellow sheet cake with a thick layer of strawberry buttercream frosting; an incredibly moist crumb cake topped with streusel and a drizzle of cinnamon syrup; and my personal favorite, a deep dish peach cobbler with shortbread crust (not one of those undernourished, interlace crusts) kept warm in a large chaffing dish. I’m more of a tea person than a coffee drinker, but the coffee they served nearly made a convert of me. Flavorful, silky smooth, with only a hint of a bitter bite that only accented the overall taste. Vanilla, almond and hazelnut extracts were available to add even more flavor.

But all was not as it should have been the night of my last meeting… they had no ice cream to go with the warm cobbler. It should have been my first indication that I was not dealing with gentlemen.

The mood was palpably different that evening. Typically, the others — five to seven well-dressed businessmen — would barely sample any of the sumptuous spread. They just sat at the table listening to the words of some motivational speaker broadcast over a sophisticated looking wireless communicator. On the fateful evening of my fourth meeting, however, the other attendees (Mr. Chalmers, Mr. Burke, Mr. Jillerton, Mr. Speck, and Mr. Culverton) seemed almost giddy with excitement. Slightly tense, but also giddy. The members of the group didn’t seem like the type of men who should ever be giddy. For them, it was to be considered an unnatural state of being and a clear warning that unnatural events would be occurring in the near future.

“I’ve been thoroughly looking forward to this,” Mr. Speck said to me as he filled his plate with chipolatas and tiny potatoes. “Chalmers said we’d be moving forward tonight. I can hardly contain myself!” I fell back on the I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about-but-if-I-want-potatoes-I-have-to-listen smile and nod.

“What did Chalmers say to you?” demanded Mr. Jillerton. “He wasn’t discussing group business outside of the safe areas again, was he?”

“That’s all we need,” said Mr. Burke. “Having the Clockwinder or the Maceholder find out what we’re doing before we’re ready.”

“Chalmers did no such thing,” said Speck. “I just asked him about tonight’s agenda and he made some… broad hints. That’s all.”

“What difference does it make if the Mayor or Cleanslate know?” I asked with utter, absent-minded disinterest as I reached for a croissant.

“Exactly!” thundered Jillerton. “It’s as if the Clockwinder and the Maceholder don’t even acknowledge us… sometimes it’s as if they think they govern a city full of half-empty buildings, like *our* businesses don’t even matter… granting all sorts of special favors to their Gangplank cronies and that whole Piermont Landing crowd. Nobby families like the Steamweavers and the Mureauxs given preferential deals on all the best real estate in the city as if the rest of us didn’t even exist! It’ll end, though! We’ll see to that!”

At that moment it occurred to me that perhaps I should have been listening more closely to what was being said at the previous meetings. It also occurred to me that this was probably the longest conversation I’d had with any of these men since I started coming to their little supper club.

There was a ridiculous amount of food on my two plates (one for savory, one for sweet) as I sat at the round table, on the far side opposite the speaker device. My wrist-mounted pneumatic multitool sometimes got in the way when I wore it while eating, but recent experience had made me reluctant to take it off unless absolutely necessary.

Tall and lanky Chalmers entered the room with his usual quick, long strides. “Arkright! Good to see you! Big night… big night!” I got one of his usual, quick, bone-crushing handshakes and he moved over to the others by the buffet table, glad-handing and slapping backs. The conversation next to the food continued without me until things became somewhat heated (the conversation, not the food which was already warm). They were all trying to talk over each other as four of the men sat down at the big, round table (situating themselves close to the speaker-thing) and Chalmers stood next to it.

“You understand what I meant, Chalmers, I intended no disrespect,” said Burke, his voiced tinged with what sounded a bit like fear. “If we’re really moving to the next step, it seems only natural that the rest of us know better the man with whom we are dealing.”

A sly grin came across Chalmers’ face. “I’ll only forgive your impertinence, Mr. Burke, because, as it happens, you’re all going to meet… him. In person. Tonight. In this very room. In mere moments.”

There were, what looked like, brass ornaments on either side of the base of the speaker device. They turned out to be latches, which were unlatched by Mr. Chalmers. I had just finished my first helping of cobbler.

“Gentlemen, it is time for all of you to meet our leader, Dr. Flay, face-to-face… as it were.”

Chalmers lifted the cherry wood outer casing of the sophisticated-looking speaker to reveal an even more sophisticated-looking glass and metal container with a human brain floating in it.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” said an electro-mechanically produced, but familiar voice coming from the brain container.

Burke went pale. Jillerton leapt to his feet. Culverton issued a loud *GASP*. I started laughing hysterically. I almost choked on my crumb cake.

“A brain in a jar? Is this a joke? Are you serious?!”

Everyone in the room who had a face turned it towards me.

“Are you insane?!” Chalmers hissed at me through clenched teeth. “The doctor is a genius! He’s over 100 years old! He’s found a way to cheat death itself and you’re laughing?!?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It just seems so… trite. I mean, suitably diabolical, but trite.”

By this point, I was the only one in the room with legs who wasn’t standing and scowling angrily. Laughing at the brain was clearly a social faux pas of the highest order at the B.R.T.R.C.C.A. It very nearly put me off finishing my cake.

“Our friend is a free-thinker,” said Dr. Flay. As each syllable was intoned, a light on the front of his brain case would flash. Here was an old school mad scientist. “He has, of course, considered our position. I’m sure he has given a great deal of thought to the ideas I have presented at our meetings.”

I hadn’t. There was free food.

“He has, no doubt, witnessed the inequities promulgated by the current city administration. Perhaps he has concluded, as we have, that regime change is overdue.”

Of course not. There was free food.

“He is an independent citizen, free to go anywhere he pleases, and yet he does not choose to go elsewhere and fritter away his time at some lesser pursuit.”

Why would I when there was free food?

“The short-sightedness of our so-called leaders sickens me! All boundaries and restrictions… they limit Babbage’s potential… OUR potential! I’ve proven that even the limits of our organic bodies can be overcome! Our organization resources give us access to the most extraordinary advanced technology to be found anywhere!”

“Maybe on *this* planet,” I thought to myself.

“SOON, ALL OF BABBAGE WILL KNOW WHERE THE REAL POWER TRULY LIES!”

Oh, good. It was a crazy brain. I needed to leave, but I only had a few bites of cake left.

“Bah!” said Dr. Flay, “Can it be true? You sit here, meeting after meeting, stuffing your face, failing to comprehend our true intentions… or your own place in the new order we will create?”

It had all become quite ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “My place?” I am enough of a narcissist to sit and listen to people talk about me, even in negative terms.

“Our Mr. Epincott,” the brain droned, “saw you fall from the rooftop of a 4-story building, dust yourself off, and walk back inside. Jillerton, from his airship, witnessed you leap at least 30 yards from a Clockhaven pier and dive to the bottom of the Vernian unaided and without a single piece of equipment. Chalmers’ agents have observed you performing similar astonishing feats. You, with your abilities, will be our perfect weapon… our shining sword of victory! With you leading our army of mercenaries, no amount of physical opposition brought to bear will long stand against us.

“If it makes a difference, you will, naturally, be paid handsomely for your work on our behalf.”

I licked the tip of my index finger to pick up the last few crumbs of streusel left on my plate. I only needed a moment to consider the big brain’s offer. “Bugger that! I’m not helping you creeps!”

The others were shocked speechless. The brain in the fancy fish tank finally spoke: “Disappointing, but not unforeseen. Don’t forget, we’ve been observing you. We know that for all of your many ‘gifts’, you are far from indestructible. Speck! Chalmers! Burke! Maneuver 9!

There was a loud “click” from somewhere in the room and two arc pistols dropped from the ceiling into the hands of Chalmers and Burke. After a second “click”, a conventional pistol landed in the hands of Speck. How is it I never noticed an entire arsenal of weapons above my head before?

“If you will not help us, neither will you hinder us,” said Dr. Flay. “I’m afraid we can not allow you to jeopardize our plans by speaking of them to outsiders. You can, and shall, be replaced. Good bye, Mr. Arkright.”

Dr. Flay — his electronic photoreceptors obviously no substitute for real, functioning eyes — can be forgiven for not seeing things clearly. Burke, Speck and Chalmers, however, have no excuse for failing to notice me activating my multitool — the one that can, after recent enhancements, remotely trigger a downward cascade of ceiling-mounted weapons — heavy weapons that landed smartly on the heads of greedy idiots. Unfortunately, it didn’t prevent one of the greedy idiots from shooting me with a blast of several hundred megavolts of electricity from an arc gun.

And that’s how I died.

No, wait, not really. But I was very unhappy, in considerable pain and unable to prevent myself from staggering backward and knocking over the tray of pastry-wrapped foie gras appetizers. A tragic loss to my post-meeting doggie bag. I could only recall the wise words of one of my father’s old military comrades: “Any weapon that does not make you evacuate your bowels is a weapon you need not fear.” My waistcoat was singed, but my undergarments were unsullied.

The words “He still lives” came out of Dr. Flay’s electronic voice box. “Get up! Combine your efforts! It is the only way to destroy him!”

I had just about reached my limit with these fools. “You people really are the bitter end! Thinking you’re actually champions and liberators and not just a gang of zero-sum scoundrels who can’t tolerate coming in second place — or maybe I should say, ‘being number two!’ So convinced that you’re something more than a bunch of outsized egos compensating for, perhaps, other shortcomings… couldn’t help but notice there are no businesswomen here.”

“IMPERTINENT! KILL HIM!!”

Culverton was the first to rise and the only one to attack. I was quite ready to go home and, as Mr. Culverton learned, I was not above a hard kick to a soft and sensitive spot to end a fight quickly. Ungentlemanly? Perhaps. Unmanly? Perhaps. Do I care? Perhaps not. Definitely not.

I’ve debated with myself whether or not I should add a proper weapon to my multitool. Having never made a final decision, the only weapons handy were those of the B.R.T.R.C.C.A. I picked up two of the arc pistols and took aim. The “confederacy of dunces” would have been killed if I shot them directly. Instead, I just blew up their big, round table with twin blasts of lightning and sent the half-wits flying backwards, tipping over their leader-in-a-bottle who sounded most upset by the upset.

With the last sparks of lethal life left in the guns, I fired at the weapons scattered on the floor and reduced the Round Table’s arsenal by at least half producing a small, but dazzling, shower of pyrotechnics. I wasn’t sure what those “gentlemen” would get up to next but, surveying the damage to their little clubhouse, I suspected a takeover of Babbage was no longer in their immediate plans. Convinced that I would not be troubled by their nonsense, at least for the rest of the evening, I determined that it was time for me to leave. I had a feeling I would not be invited back.

“Thank you for a memorable dining experience, boys. That cobbler… dee-lish!”

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