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Inferno - Turn 3- 1868


New Members of the Inferno Club

Miss Sue was not present at the meeting, but her membership was announced by Benson, the Club's butler, in response to a note from House Gemini.

Announcements

Sir Derek Ross thanked those who supported his candidacy as Saluter in the last election.

An announcement from Captain Hazelmere

"Ladies and gentlemen, it has come to my notice that members of this fine establishment have the occasional need for a fast, secure and confidential transport service to other parts of the world. I am currently looking for funding for such a service, which would be self-financing as a public courier service but would be at the disposal of members of the Club on a preferential basis. I expect the operation to be self-financing in the longer term. Many thanks, Cptn J Hazelmere."

A speech by Mr Darkenford

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who voted for me. I will try my hardest as Water Elemental to do what is right for the members of my element, and of course the Inferno Club."

A speech by Mr Harcourt

"Security measures are to be announced next year and instituted the year afterwards. These will be mystical in origin. Should interested parties wish to examine what I am doing then they should present themselves to me at the next meeting and I will demonstrate.

"I am investigating last year's invasion of these hallowed halls by communist peasants. I would suggest that those responsible present themselves to me and then to the Inquisitor for judgement. If I find out who polluted our meeting in this manner, which I will, and they have not surrendered themselves voluntarily then I may have to take extreme measures in their apprehension."

A speech by Mr Petrovich

"Dear Co-Members of the Inferno Club, the members with steam mail already know me: my name is George Petrovich and I am a Member of House Scorpio and also at just 19 years old, the youngest member of our Society.

"Some years ago I healed the Tsar from his terrible nightmares and so I became his closest advisor. It's my intention to use my influence upon him to modernise Russia and so to bring Russia in the group of civilised countries. But this will ask a lot of time and energy. All of this I do in the spirit of enlarging the influence of the Inferno Club in the world.

"But last year someone introduced a couple of Russian nobodies to our most esteemed New Year's Meeting. The Vizier even called the Council to vote on the matter of aiding those terrorists.

"You may ask yourself 'What is wrong with those communist agitators? It's not my problem but just the problem of the Russian Elite and George Petrovich.' Just wait what will happen if the communists would take over Russia, before you know all of the civilised world would be in turmoil.

"Thanks for listening. Have a nice evening further and may the Lord bless you."

A message from Mr von Seyffert

"Fellow Illuminati, as Vizier, I'm calling for a Council Vote on the matter of the Russian Revolution. The Vote will have two parts: 1st. Whether we should help the peasants or not. 2nd. Whether we should make our decision binding on all club members or just a recommendation.

"I have called for the vote to be held one year from now, so I urge all club members to talk to your Elementals and tell them why you think they should vote one way or the other.

"Your humble servant, Georg von Seyffert."

A speech by Dr Bang

"Fellow Members, there are some of us here this evening I am sure, who are worried what this vote actually means. I feel that there are several points which must be addressed. First, Is this an issue upon which the club must act, or is it an issue for individual members? Second, Is the club as an organization at risk? And third, what kind of precedents will this vote set?

"I would like to express my own personal opinions on these points. I shall start with my second point: I do not think that this cell of the Inferno Club is currently at risk from the situation in Russia. This is very important, for if the club is not at risk then there is no need for the club as an organization to act. If this is the case then individual members should be free to act in any way they see fit provided it does not endanger the club. (I'm sure House Libra will keep an eye on us all).

"However, as a vote has been called we must carefully analyse what the consequences of it might be. We must not set dangerous precedents with this vote. Demanding that all members tow a party line, or forcing members to pick sides will cause more damage in the long term than we can currently imagine. The count of the vote will prove most interesting with perhaps the number of abstentions being the most significant. I beg you all. BE CAREFUL."

A speech by Mr Fielding

"You will all, I dare say, recall the message from the illustrious Number One at last year's gathering, in which he remonstrated that the stronger amongst us prey on the weak. While I have my own views on the validity of that perspective, it is to our enlightened superior's latter statement, in which he posited the observation that transgressors need not fear the Inquisitor, that I refer this comment.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am the Inquisitor of the Inferno Club. I consider that a binding responsibility and I will not shirk those duties as laid out in the Infernal Charter. Until such time as the document is changed, by due process of Infernal law, I will undertake to prosecute every infraction that is brought to my attention. I do not regard the blessings of our shadowy elders to conduct affairs other than in accordance with the rules to be any defence, not any protection from just retribution. Be warned that if you are found in breach of Infernal regulations, you will suffer the appropriate consequences."

A speech by Colonel Maguire

"My esteemed colleagues, firstly let me apologise for my delayed arrival within your ranks. Unfortunately I had a commitment to fulfil my posting as Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the Eastern lands, which made it impossible to attend until now. Now that I have arrived, though, and taken up residence once again in this green and pleasant land, I intend to become an active and effective member of our organization.

"Secondly, I would like to take this opportunity to informally offer my services as an advisor and consultant on all aspects of military technology. I will be approaching individually a select few companies whom I consider to be the major players in this rapidly evolving industry at a later date. Until that time, it should be know that due to me extensive connections within the highest orders of British and European military, engaging my services as a consultant on your project is a sure way to ensure them large and eager markets within those organizations.

"Thank you for the use of your precious time, and I look forward to meeting you all personally."

A message from Sir Hugues de Payen

"Blessings upon you all, in the name of our great Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Know, ladies and gentlemen, that I wish to address you at your next meeting, in my capacity as Member of the Twelve for House Aries, on a number of matters of great concern to myself and to my House. If any of you have particular questions you wish to ask me, you have here warning to prepare them: but be warned that I will answer such questions only in plain public view, so that all may hear. I and my House have nothing to hide. Hugues de Payen, Chev."

A few descriptions

Miss Valiente drifts through the meeting, speaking to few people but drawing many distracted gazes from the male members of the Club. She is always pleasant but often vague and distant. She dresses well but not expensively.

Captain Hazelmere spent most of the meeting talking earnestly with other members about his proposed courier service, for which he is seeking financial backing.

Mr d'Aventine, who this year arrived with Miss Wells on his arm, was seen to be spending most of his time speaking with members of the Fire Houses, starting with the Comtesse de Montvalon, and also to Miss Valiente and Miss Kincaid (who seemed to find walking a good deal easier this year than she had done at previous meetings).

Mr Giffard was noted to be in heavy disguise on arrival at the Club, presumably to avoid seizure by British Government agents.

Miss Grey was even more than usually charming and delightful, her lambent gaze quite compelling of attention.

Other proceedings

Mr Stone spent much time speaking with the Russian peasants about his inventions, which they seemed to regard with a mixture of hope and suspicion. Miss Grey also spoke with them, offering her sympathy, and they seemed very taken indeed with her. Mr von Seyffert fired a quick succession of questions at them, some answers clearly meeting better with his satisfaction than others.

The Infernal Mail System was very busy this meeting, spewing out notes to Mr von Seyffert, Dr Bang, Mr Darkenford, Mr de Bonvoisin, and the entirety of House Pisces, among others. Each note comes in a small white envelope with the addressee's name and House astrological symbol on. Each message is mechanically typed by some sort of printing machine, in a typeface looking like that in which 0001's messages are displayed in this report. In fact, this is true of all messages sent and received by Infernal mail, even those which were handwritten when submitted to the system.

Important Notes (Read Me!)

Several of you didn't send payment with this turn, despite being out of credit! People who sent good excuses, in particular overseas players, we're generally happy to be understanding of real-world administrative difficulties making payment. But do please try and remember that we are trying to make a living from running this and our other games, and we can't afford to do so unless players are organized about sending payment in advance for the turns they play. In future, anyone who lets their credit fall below zero will not have orders processed until it has been restored, unless they have a very good excuse. Sorry if this sounds a bit mean, but we simply have to run our games in as businesslike a way as possible if they are to survive.

We're planning to hold an Inferno meet, here in Oxford, on the 23rd of January. Not in-character (unless you really want to), just an opportunity for you all to get together and chat / plot in person, and to meet the faces behind the names. More details nearer the time, but it'll probably take place in a room of a pub, and accommodation can be arranged for people who've a long way to come. If you could give an idea of whether you'd be interested in attending, so we can get an idea of numbers, that'd be very helpful.

A brief note on Ruth, which wasn't described very clearly in the rules. Your Ruth is not a measure of how 'good' / 'evil' you are. You can be a living saint and have a Ruth anywhere from 1 to 9; and you can be utterly dastardly and have a Ruth anywhere from 1 to 9. What Ruth measures is how scrupulous you are - to what extent you believe that the end justifies the means. Having a low Ruth might mean that you consider human lives worth nothing in the quest for personal power; or it might mean that you consider human lives worth nothing in the quest for the greater good.

On a related note, you should bear in mind that NPCs within the game are not 'the GMs'. Each of them, even Members of the Twelve, has their own agenda, and if you ask them questions they will give your character the answers which suit them - which might, in some cases, be misleading or even outright lies. You will have to form your own opinions as to the extent to which they can be trusted. Only questions asked out of character will ever be answered by the GMs and thus be definitively reliable.

A couple of people have asked whether characters in Inferno can die. Sadly, this is all too true: they can and will. It's a dangerous world, and most of you are doing dangerous things. If you stick within your limitations you should generally be safe, but if you set yourself up against forces more powerful than you (which might include other PCs, if on their power-bases) then you're asking for trouble. We kill without compunction, although characters with high Belief are more likely to get away with the outrageous.

I've started copying people back their own messages - so that you can be confident that the message has indeed been delivered (thanks for the idea, Bart). If you just want to send a message to an individual, though, do feel free to mail or email them directly, it doesn't absolutely have to come through me here.

Another reminder that each of your actions should be expressible as a phrase. It's a great help while GMing if you put this phrase at the beginning of the action, eg. "DO SUCH-AND-SUCH TO SO-AND-SO - I attempt to blah-di-blah-di-blah."

Your turn should be with us by: Midnight Monday 23rd November 1998


Inferno News 1868

(with thanks to the London Times and various other worthy publications)

PICTURE THIS - A DAY IN DECEMBER? When will the painter's art be made obsolete? Surely in the last third of the nineteenth century we should by now have been able to devise some mechanical means of forming likenesses. That we are still in thrall to the portrait-painter's 'flattery' is something of an insult to the scientists of this country. What we need is some technique which might fancifully be described as 'drawing with light' - or 'graphophoty', if we consult the Greek. Of course, there is the parlour curiosity known as 'Kirlian imaging', whereby swirling veils claimed to depict ghosts and other spirits can be formed on darkened glass plates by a skilled operator - but this is merely a toy to impress the gullible. We at The Times have attempted to form Kirlian images on numerous occasions, with no consistent success, and have concluded that the patterns occasionally observed have no external meaning. But, for a true graphophoty - ah! Then the treasures of the world would be exposed to our vision. [By our Science correspondent.]

NEW MEDICAL ACADEMY FOUNDED The Bonvoisin-von Poelzig Medical Academy was founded this year, in London's Gethsemane Grove. The institution is funded by Prussian arms dealer and philanthropist Mr Albert de Bonvoisin, and is administered and directed by Bavarian nobleman Baron Klaus Wolfgang von Poelzig, holder of a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg.

FIRE-BOMBS ACROSS LONDON In a horrifying burst of enemy activity, a small gang of French ruffians and ne'er-do-wells attempted to bomb four targets in London: the warehouses at London Docks, the Naval headquarters at Trafalgar House, the Houses of Parliament, and Professor Moriarty's Gentleman's Club. Fortunately for national security, only the last-named of these devices actually succeeded, the others being foiled by alert security. In a confusing twist to the tale, though, after intensive questioning of the Frenchmen, detectives are looking for 'an explosives expert from the North of England' in connection with the affair.

***** CONSERVATIVE HQ BLOWN UP In the latest in a long string of French atrocities, the headquarters of the Conservative Party, at Smith Square, London, was destroyed by firebomb, just three weeks before the General Election. A man seen running from the scene was arrested, and identified as Armand Alegue, a French anarchist.

SUE'S COMPANY The reclusive Miss Monique Sue, cousin of the late Eugene, has undertaken a revolutionary profit-sharing scheme whereby twenty per cent of the shares in all her companies have been distributed to the workforce. The Times cannot but condemn such evidently wrong-headed management practice. The workers will be getting ideas well above their station if they start to think of themselves as part-owners of the business. Will they expect Miss Sue to wash their feet with her hair next? We hear reports that Miss Sue's agent, Mr Dieter Bergman, has been endeavouring to set up business on her behalf in Britain - we can only suggest that he not attempt any such scheme on the noble British worker, who is far happier knowing that the owners of the company are administering matters on his behalf, and that he has simply to compelte the tasks he is given in order to earn his wage.

'GENTLEMAN'S CLUB' TO BE REBUILT Surveying the wreckage of his club, plucky Professor Moriarty vowed that it would be rebuilt all the more glorious.

***** PRUSSIAN BLUE Reports have reached us that erstwhile Court favourite Pfalzgraf Georg von Seyffert has been toppled. This powerful industrialist, who was believed to hold the Kaiser's ear in the palm of his hand, has now been denied access to Court, and the baleful influence he exerted over Prussian foreign policy is now a thing of the past. Baron Brodenbach is now firmly back in the driving seat, and has already announced that the Seyffert-urged policies of appeasement of the Dutch rebels are to cease.

ARCHBISHOP'S MESSAGE LOST In the weeks leading up to the election, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a number of sermons stressing the importance of Christian values and the like, and encouraging prospective MPs to declare their faiths: but the war fever gripping the country meant that his please generally fell on stony ground.

ANARCHISTS REPUDIATE ALEGUE French anarchist groups have denied support for Armand Alegue, the Smith Square bomber, claiming instead that he was an agent of the French Government who had infiltrated their number. 'We would hardly have wanted to make it more likely that the Conservatives would win in Britain, would we?' muttered an anonymous spokesman.

TAMWORTH-SMITH THINKS TORY The popular hero explorer was among those pounding the streets in the Conservative cause in the weeks leading up to the election. 'It's a cornerstone of democracy that you don't let foreign governments assassinate your most senior politician,' he told The Times.

***** IT'S A LANDSLIDE! The Conservative government was returned at the polls, with an increased majority, which came as a surprise to no political commentator. Even though the Liberals had swung behind the war drive in the closing weeks of the campaign, John Bull seems to know that Lord Shaftesbury and his merry men are the fellows who will sort out the egregious Napoleon.

THE WIGHT STUFF Among the new faces swept into Parliament by the Conservative landslide was Mr James Edwards, MP for the Isle of Wight. Mr Edwards, who only two years ago was earning his living as a music-hall entertainer and who still has what we may delicately call a rugged Yorkshire accent, may seem an incongruous figure to be sitting among our leaders, but all the more credit to the broad church that is the Mother of Parliaments.

HOP OFF YOU FROGS! The Ham & High says: Up yours Napo!! We gave you a kicking at Waterloo, and we'll do it again!!! The bulldog spirit lives on in 'Stormin' Lord Shaftesbury!!!! You know where you can stick your baguettes, Johnny Frog!!!!! (from the Hampstead & Highgate Gazette)

AUBERON WYLDE ATE MY HAMSTER! is an attention-grabbing headline, but what we really mean is Vote Conservative! (from the Hampstead & Highgate Gazette)

TABLOID MOGUL KNIGHTED The proprietor of the Hampstead & Highgate Gazette, Britain's biggest-selling popular newspaper, has been granted a knighthood in the Birthday Honours. Arise, Professor Sir James Moriarty! The Times asks: is printing blatantly partisan political propaganda the only way to gain preferment under this new Government?

NEW GOVERNMENT 'JOLLY NICE CHAPS' say we at The Times, in fact we fail to imagine how they could possibly be better. Make sure that you vote for them next time as well!

MEDICI BANK IN TROUBLE The bank, owned for centuries by Florence's ruling family, is apparently in financial difficulties, with large amounts of money owed to other banks in the city. No doubt the recent political troubles in Tuscany have reduced confidence in its financial stability.

ARMENIAN ATROCITIES Evidence is emerging that Turkish garrisons in the province of Armenia have been carrying out the most diabolical acts against its unfortunate inhabitants. 'I don't like the sound of these here boncentration bamps,' said one eye-witness. Already angry voices in Russia are crying out for the Tsar's forces to liberate their co-religionists from the infidel scourge.

***** SWANSONG FOR LUDWIG King Ludwig III of Bavaria, the king who loved to build ornate castles, has been slain by an assassin's hand. He is succeeded by his younger brother, who was crowned King Otto in a brief but moving ceremony during which seven tons of crushed raspberry leaves were scattered over Munich from a flock of hot-air balloons.

ELECTION 'RIGGED', WHINE LIBERALS The defeated Liberal party has produced so-called 'evidence' that in certain key constituencies the ballot was illegally manipulated in favour of the Conservatives. The Times says: so what? Quite frankly they are the best party to handle the country in time of crisis, and no doubt would have won just as convincingly had these manipulations not taken place.

***** IT'S WAR WITH FRANCE 'It is the hardest decision I have ever had to make,' said Lord Shaftesbury, the cold rain falling all about as he lifted his head to the skies, 'but I make it for the benefit of the British people. This country is now at war with France.' The war started slowly, with internment of enemy aliens, trade embargos, withdrawal of embassies and the like. Both sides mobilized extensively, and their navies - the two largest on Earth, although Britain's is of course more than three times larger than France's - jockeyed for position. When the move came, it came suddenly: British forces in the Far East invaded the French territories of Cochin-China, and simultaneously a massive amphibious landing pushed into Algeria. Fighting has been fierce, but by year's end it looks as though Britain will prevail in both theatres, provided that the French do not open up another front elsewhere - or, unthinkably worse still, attempt an assault on Britain's home soil.

ROYAL PHYSICIAN IS SLASHER! In a scandal that has rocked Buckingham Palace, the Prince of Wales's personal physician, Dr William Gull, ha been arrested as 'Jim the Slasher'. The cold-hearted killer was caught red-handed by two private citizens, Miss Charity Wells and Mr William Tamworth-Smith. Detective Inspector Pascoe, though, poured cold water on the excitement, saying that Dr Gull was being charged with only about half of the killings - there is still another Slasher out there! Dr Gull, who was quite maniacal by the time has came to trial, was convicted to nine consecutive life terms, and will serve out his sentence at a secure penal establishment for the insane, on the North York Moors, near Whitby.

***** DUTCH CAP IT ALL In a triumph of military intelligence, Prussian forces pounced on Dutch resistance leader Niels Graaf's headquarters, just one week before a planned rebel rising. Graaf himself was lucky to escape capture, but a large quantity of arms plus many rebel soldiers and details of their plans were seized. With their head cut off, the other rebel groups milled around foolishly and uncoordinatedly, and the Prussians have been able to impose a much tighter security on the troubled province of Wilhelmsland. But who betrayed Graaf? Thoughts would have immediately swung to his great rival in the Resistance Council, Jan Hammer, leader of the wealthiest rebel group, were it not for the fact that Hammer himself was shot dead by a Prussian agent earlier in the year. The whole operation is seen as something of a coup for General Purphaus, local commander, and for Baron Brodenbach's new policy of getting tough on the tulip-lovers.

***** TOP WAR SCIENTIST KIDNAPPED BY PRUSSIANS! Renowned weapons technologist Mr Henri Giffard, who despite his name is as British as the day is long, was seized by agents of the Prussian Bureau of Internal Affairs while holidaymaking in the picturesque Ruhr Valley, according to baffled staff at Giffard Enterprises. Reports now are that he has been enslaved in Krupp's Weapon Works, where he is even now turning out his wondrous MATAV machines for the Wehrmacht! This disastrous development could mean that British troops come under attack from weapons of destruction designed in this country! The Government has requested the Prussian Ambassador in the strongest possible terms to return Mr Giffard's person and his blueprints for the MATAV, which he had unfortunately decided to take on holiday with him, as soon as possible. An immediate embargo has been slapped on all industrial goods and technology to any other European power, and anyone connected with the arms or manufacturing industries is now under strict instructions not to leave the country, on pain of internment.

BRITISH AGENT IMPLICATED IN DUTCH REBELLION In a disturbing development, a Briton named Mr Samuel Parker, a former mining engineer in the colonies, was captured by Prussian troops while attempting to blow up a bridge in the troubled province of Wilhelmsland. This can only lead to a worsening in the already tense relations between the two nations.

***** FRENCH GIVE GROUND, CAUSE LOSSES As expected, France declared war on Milan before the end of January, General Louis Perisson making two lightning raids deep into Piedmont and causing considerable disarray among the Milanese forces. When the Lombards were joined by their allies from Venice, hastening up the Po valley, though, the complexion of the war changed and the French were forced back to the first of their lines of defensive fortifications, following the destruction of a key emplacement by saboteurs. Bavarian troops might also have been expected, but the new King Otto tore up his late brother's alliance with Venice and Milan, declaring instead that Bavaria's only allies would be the Realm of Raspberry-Righteous, in Patagonia.

QUITE EXTRAORDINARILY NASTY IN NICE The defenders of the fortress of Nice, a key bulwark in the French southern flank, were horrified to find themselves under attack from what excitable local newspapers described variously as a tornado of fire, a rain of acrid death, or a swift sword of sulphurous flame that ran through their ranks. All that can be said for certain is that several hundred soldiers were slain, despite the fact that no enemy of any kind appeared to be present on the scene. Survivors fled, and Milanese troops were swift to move up and invest the city. International observers are asking: what on God's good Earth is going on down there?

TSAR RELAPSES, COLLAPSES The strength and health that Tsar Alexander II was exhibiting last year proved to be a false dawn, as this year he suffered a severe health setback and is now little more than a drooling vegetable. 'It was as though whatever was supporting him had been kicked away,' said one observer. Chancellor Borodin is heading the government during the crisis: if the Tsar does not recover, his young son Nikolay may be called upon to ascend the throne.

MAGUIRE APPOINTED TO TECHNO-POST Colonel William Maguire, lately commander of British troops in the Far East, has been appointed head of the new committee on specification and purchasing of military technology and equipment. It is hoped that the Giffard crisis, which occurred just after his assumption of the post, will not be repeated.

***** FRENCH PLAY IT LONG The French southern armies, under General Perisson, have continued to concede ground, so that at the end of the year the combined Italian forces have control of the coast as far as Cannes, and the southern spur of the Alpes-Maritimes. Perhaps Perisson is wary of facing the giant steam-powered lion-machines that accompany the Venetian troops in open combat? All the same, the French have taken very light casualties, apart from during the atrocity at Nice, while the Italian forces have been hit hard by the cunning explosive booby-traps the French have been leaving in their path.

TURKISH FAR FROM DELIGHT Anti-Turkish sentiment in Russia peaked as news reached Moscow of the dreadful atrocities in Albania, and Chancellor Borodin at once declared war on the Ottomans on the Tsar's behalf. However, the conflict has not progressed greatly, owing to the mountainous nature of the terrain in the Caucasus: the Russian Black Sea fleet is insufficient to be much use aiding the land offensive.

***** FLORENTINE HEIR SLAIN Lorenzo the Younger, elder son of Grand Duke Lorenzo de'Medici of Tuscany, has been savagely cut down by a swordsman who broke into his private chambers. The masked assailant had no pity for Lorenzo's unclad state, but mercilessly skewered him through the throat before fleeing like a coward into the night. All Tuscany is in mourning for this bright young life, a glorious Grand Duke of the future, snuffed out like a candle (from Il Messagero).

IRON MAN DEFENDS FLORENCE On the same night as the killing of Lorenzo 'the Younger' de'Medici, rebels in a steam-powered vehicle attempted to break into the city's main armoury. Fortunately they were foiled by the giant steam-powered iron man commissioned by the Grand Duke from Comte Bertrand, which crushed the steam vehicle and captured the majority of the rebels, the remainder only escaping thanks to the arrival on the scene of the Masked Man. Among those who escaped is believed to have been a Briton, known only as 'Jim', who was the driver of the vehicle. The Florentine government has protested in the strongest terms to the Foreign Office, and asked for this man's apprehension.

AFRICA EXPEDITION 'SUCCESSFUL GIVE OR TAKE FATALITY' The intrepid explorers Messrs Tamworth-Smith and Longbridge-Crowe this year repeated their quest for the fabled lost city, accompanied this time by naturalist Mr Charles Darwin. Mr Tamworth-Smith reported finding the city, whose name to its inhabitants can best be rendered into our speech as 'G'harne', but the expedition then suffered the loss of Mr Longbridge-Crowe, who died of a mysterious chill, before returning to these shores bearing a number of interesting samples.

PM SHOWING THE STRAIN Our beloved Prime Minister, Lord Shaftesbury, certainly seems to be suffering the cares of one who has the fate of the Empire on his shoulders, His red eyes, hunched gait and occasional fits of cackling have brought looks of surprise to the faces of many. But rather him than us, eh, readers?

SMUGGLERS BEST The war situation has seen no shortage of underhand dastards seeking to turn a quick shilling. Smuggling of embargoed goods between Britain and France continues apace, with Prussian being the preferred corridor.

VENICE ROARS Military technologist Comte Henri 'Napol' Bertrand, who as his name suggests is a confounded Frenchie, has set up shop in Venice, having formerly been retained by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He is now busily churning out giant steam-powered steel lions for the Venetian forces.

CIRCUS TOURS AUSTRIA The renowned Big Top of Mr Ferdinand Lancelot Gaboon returned to Austria this year, wowing the public with a series of acts allegorically depicting the renaissance of an aggressive Hapsburg Empire. Mr Gaboon seems to have plugged into the public mood, as Austria is re-arming rapidly, aided by a giant Aerocruiser they appear to have somehow managed to get hold of. The act was less well received in Hungary, though, whee audiences shouted and jeered at Mr Gaboon's attempts to slur the character of President Miklos 'Mad Dog' Toldi. The circus later toured southern Italy with a show aimed at promoting Italian unity. 'Truly Mr Gaboon has raised the circus as platform for didactic and dogmatic assertion of political beliefs to new heights,' exclaimed one impressed observer, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. 'It certainly beats reading the newspapers.'

NEW ABBEY IS DOME-TASTIC Lambeth Palace announced the results of the competition to design the replacement for the destroyed Westminster Abbey. The winner is a giant dome-like structure, topped by a three-hundred foot figure of Jesus bearing a revolving lantern in one hand and a glowing sword in the other. The building is officially to be known as 'Westminster Abbey of England & St George' (which has aroused the ire of not a few Scots, Welsh and Irishmen) but the public, perhaps fancying some resemblance between the image of Christ's features and those of our beloved Archbishop, have christened it 'Fortescue's Dome'. The winning designer was Miss Kathy Drall, a modest Christian lady of quiet and sober demeanour, who walks away with ten thousand pounds.

PRIMATE-TIME LISTENING Mr Charles Darwin, the young naturalist who is making more and more of a name for himself in the dry field of taxonomy, gave a series of papers on the inter-relationships of various apes and monkeys, deduced from their appearance, habits and behaviour. Quite what, if any, relationship this field of study bears to his other work on the races of humanity, though, we at The Times frankly cannot see.

SUFFRAGE CONFERENCE PLANNED? A little bird (perhaps a blue-jay) whispers to us that an unholy alliance of Chartists and women's interest groups are planning some sort of conference next year on the subject of female suffrage. The Times says: why not, it should provide a good laugh if nothing else. The sight of women trying to deliver speeches to a mass audience is likely to be a painful one, though. As the great Dr Johnson said on a similar subject, it seems rather like a dog walking on its back legs - one is impressed not at the quality of the gait, but at the fact that it takes a little while before it falls over in the mud - or words to that effect.

BELT UP AND KEEP WORKING This year has seen the introduction into a number of factories of Mr William Stone's patent Steam-Powered Belt Conveyors. These devices, which use a moving belt to carry the item being assembled from worker to worker, are claimed to produce great gains in efficiency, and furthermore should be good for workers' morale, according to the enthusiastic inventor: each worker will become an expert at his particular tiny part of the process, and thus less replaceable. A number of tragic and extremely messy accidents involving ill-secured belts or inadequately-trained workers have not dented the device's popularity among manufacturers.

MINERVA TIMES PEDDLES FILTH We are shocked and saddened to report that Lady Athena Greendale's periodical, the Minerva Times, has stooped to the gutter - nay, below the gutter, to the sewer - in publishing, in its current issue, an article in defence of prostitution. Written by a 'Mrs Angela Peabody', the piece praises the service that 'working women' provide and suggests that other women should treat them as sisters rather than as pariahs. It suggests that they should be educated so as to allow them a different life if they so desire, but also has the effrontery to imply that women who choose to make a living in this manner are not necessarily worse or lower than any other woman. We at The Times have been very tolerant of Lady Greendale's little magazine hitherto, but now we appeal to the Home Secretary - ban this filth!

RED CROSS FINDS ITS ROLE Under the effective leadership of British President Miss Elizabeth DuQuesne-Black, the Red Cross has been very active this year, meeting internationally to discuss coordination of efforts across our war-torn continent. Miss DuQuesne-Black has instigated a fund-raising scheme based around the assembly of standardized parcels of supplies for troops in the field.

SPANISH FLY IN THE OINTMENT In a bizarre move, General Juan Ferolle, Southern Divisional Commander of the Spanish Army, claimed that he was annexing Gibraltar to Spanish rule and dispossessing the English garrison. The plucky defenders merely laughed, and the embarrassed Spanish government hastily withdrew Señor Ferolle from his post, blaming sunstroke.

LORD CROMER TAKES HIS SEAT In a brief but moving ceremony held at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, the thirteenth Baron Cromer, formerly known a Mr Jasper Harcourt, was invested into his title. The line was thought extinguished in the last century, but the new Lord Cromer was able to demonstrate his right to the title, to the satisfaction of the College of Arms. Lord Cromer is of course entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but what his politics are is unknown: he has hitherto led a rather reclusive life.

TWO HAMILTONS GO DOWN A Hamilton Industries spokesman announced that two of the company's ships, the Endeavour and the Patience, had been lost in storms in the South Atlantic, with all hands perishing. Lord Hamilton offered his personal condolences to the bereaved.

***** GREEK FIRE No sooner had Ottoman troops started to dig in on the Armenian front against Russia, than a series of rebellions started in Greece, spreading like wildfire. The Greek Liberation Front, or GLF, is thought to be behind them, led by the charismatic Capo d'Istria and a mysterious Masked Man (possibly the same one as is involved in the Florentine rebellion). The great poet Lord Byron, who older readers may remember campaigned for Greek liberty in his younger days, immediately called for support of the revolt from the international community, and recognition of the state of 'Hellas'. The Turks seemed ill-equipped to defend themselves against this Greek vigour, and by the end of the year had been forced to cede the mountainous regions of the Peloponnese and Epirus to rebel control.

JIM THE SLASHER EVADES POLICE NET The remaining Slasher has managed to avoid capture on four occasions this year, each time striking to slay a woman of the streets and then disappearing into the mist, despite the close presence of armed Charlie patrols, plus a number of priavte individuals prowling the alleys. Popular rumour has it that the killer has devilish supernatural powers, although we at The Times remind our readers that devils, demons and such like are to be seen more as metaphors by the modern Christian.

BANG ALSO PRUSSIAN STOOGE? Respected fireworks-manufacturer Mr William S Bang was caught attempting to send two barrels of a curious viscous liquid to renegade scientist Henri Giffard, who is now suspected of having planned his flight to Prussia rather than being an unfortunate dupe, as was first thought. Bang claimed that the liquid was merely a trial fuel, and no charges were brought against him.

ARMSTRONG HEADS CIVIL DEFENCE TEAM A new committee has been set up, with Lord William Tiberius Armstrong in the chair, to oversee civil defence precautions. It is thought that the Prime Minister was moved to this measure after witnessing a demonstration of aerial bombardment from an Aerocruiser. Air-raid shelters, known inevitably as 'Armstrongs', are doing a brisk trade all over the North-East.

ARCHBISH CALLS FOR HERESY LAW The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas sermon, duplicated over the land as is now customary, was read by seasoned Fortescue-watchers as containing a plea for a new law against heresy for the statute books. This has met with the expected protests from Nonconformists and Catholics.

LAING ARRESTED IN NEW GIOCONDA PUZZLE After the freeing of Mr James Derothshire earlier in the year for the supposed theft of the Mona Lisa, Scots nobleman and playboy Mr Sunil Laing has now been arrested. Bizarrely, the genuine Mona Lisa was found in his apartments at his uncle the Duke of Galloway's estate - the same residence at which Derothshire's fake of the painting turned up. Local police confess themselves bemused. 'We've never had a stolen masterpiece of Renaissance art here in five centuries, and now two turn up within a year,' said Inspector McTavish. Given the political sitaution, Mr Laing's extradition to France seems highly unlikely, although apparently the French are in horrors at learning that the painting is in a very bad state, flaked and peeling, as though it has been rolled up. In a rather sad postscript, Mr Laing has been barred the family home by his irate uncle. Once thought of as one of London's most eligible bachelors, this gentleman's stock will certainly have declined.

THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? Soon to be commonplace sights on farms all over the land, if keen inventor Mr William Stone is to be believed, the steam-powered tractor will do the work of ten farm labourers. It is already being widely adopted by forward-thinking landowners. 'The workers thus saved can be used to maintain the tractor, or redeployed to other tasks,' explained Mr Stone.

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