A Long-Lasting Dream: II - Pictures Of A City

Author: hsiwangmu
Published: 2018-01-17, edited: 2018-01-21
A tale of an empire that was, or could've been.
A story about dreams, and waking, and death.

The story of the resurgent Qing Empire, but most of all, the people present within.

Part of the campaign:

A Long-Lasting Dream

Previous part:

Game: Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game

A Long-Lasting Dream: I - The Sheltering Sky

Images: 33, author: hsiwangmu, published: 2018-01-17, edited: 2018-01-21

“The awful thing about it all, if you'll excuse my brassiness, is that I've been having the most monstrous headaches. I can deal with weathering, accidents, sabotage – all of it. But, sometimes it feels like my skin is going to melt right off of my face.”

Otto paused, pulling at the edge of one cheek to accentuate his imagery.
Across from him sat Pujie; the Emperor's brother, and a man who was – as of late – having a terribly bad day.

“Sounds wretched.”

Pujie began, then bit his lip.

“No, what am I saying?! You can't seriously tell me that of all the troubles gripping the world, your headaches bother you the most?”

“Pah.”

Started the air marshal, the swagger of his shrug making the two empty seats around them seem all the more noticeable.

“... Upheaval, murder, and rebellion are the soul of a soldier, land or sky. When you doubt your own mind, that's when things get grim. Hey. Do you ever doubt it, Pujie? That what you're seeing is real?”

And there was such a terrible, uncertain seriousness to it that Pujie felt it better not to respond.
The tension hung in the air like a more invisible kind of smoke, only finally vanishing as several expatriates began to cheer.
“I'd be more proud of the Americans if they'd spend time honouring Chinese contributions to their young state.”

Unlike his brother, Pujie said it with a smile; though few people in the Qing Empire were fans of democracy – such as it was – he had no hatred for the Americans, even considering their... Troubling view of refugees, from the prior unpleasantness.

Otto snorted, for it seemed he had enough resentment for the both of them.

“Americans don't 'honour' things. They just consume and talk and pat themselves on the back. Mark my words, they'll eat themselves alive and gurgle their own praise as they do. Their planes are shoddy, too.”

Pujie saw Otto's glances around their customary club, and sighed.
It seemed neither his brother, nor Xianyu, would be here today.

“Let's go then, Otto. No need for you to pick a fight if they're just going to, aha, eat themselves alive.”

“There is if they'll eat us, first.”
Outside, the streets had been repaved along German lines, and Pujie was quite pleased with how good the sound of traffic was; it sounded modern, genteel, and maybe even a little imperial; and if his brother's high-minded plans were as serious as the Emperor seemed to be...

“Not everything is so dour, Ciliax. Would you believe that the Japanese government has made incredible strides towards - “

“I don't want to hear it.”

Otto murmured, but in a conversational snarl that indicated he didn't mind hearing about it, either.

“Well! I think their centralist approach is a good manner of running things. Ordered, efficient, keeps the military as a servant of state, and under the authority of the Emperor. Imagine, haha, if their Emperor was run by the army, or heavens forbid, the navy!”

“Ach, seems my headaches are coming back – is that rain, too? What an awfully gloomy day! Say, Pujie. What do you think we go gambling. I can't say for the life of me, but I'm feeling damn lucky..!”
It didn't become an Emperor to laugh, but almost alone as he was – could he lay claim to that title..?

“You're kidding me, Xianyu... You have to be joking!”

“I don't joke. Not too much to laugh at.”

Xianyu laughed – jabbing a white-gloved finger at the bearded man the Russians viewed as their patriarch, their spiritual leader.

“Wrangel must be a hidden atheist, or his intelligence officials must be blind and deaf. Kirill and Bulgakov in the same room; one of 'em'll kill the other. Mark my words.”

Puyi's laughter at her words died down.
The man on the photograph seemed to stare into his soul – disapproving and sombre.

Under him, the photo of Sergei Bulgakov seemed even-keeled and pleasant; an unexpected face to find in a man the bulk of the Russian community found a heretic.

“Maybe,” Xianyu began “They're expecting Nabokov to keep the peace. He's a real soldier's soldier. And his son seems pretty with it. Had an amazing butterfly collection. Wanted me to stand there for awhile, with the backboard behind me.”

“Did you?”

Puyi asked, curious.

“Hum. I'm sure he tells all the foreign visitors that they'll end up in a novel.”
“Fuenmayor!”

Pujie smiled excitedly, and it didn't dim even as his brother raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, his name just amuses me – but, aha, this is good news for us. The Venezualan government has been a keen oil exporter, and I cannot imagine any of our prospective enemies being happy to work with them.”

Neither man favoured syndicalism, of course, but politics – even monarchical politics – was as much about reality as it was about the ideals you held.
Slowly, Puyi found himself grinning as well.

“... Which limits the Germans to Romania, and possibly Iran. How fortunate!”

The balcony below was crowded with passers by; he'd taken this sabbatical for health issues.

Once again, his health had been –

But of course, that was just another reason he hated...

“Brother.” Pujie started, hand hovering over the Emperor's shoulder.

It did not rest there, but neither moved away.

“... Any other news from the foreign service?”

Puyi asked, quietly.
“The angriest, wealthiest man alive is out to make his country famous for its rail gauges.”

For the second time, Puyi laughed at his brother's words.

“Don't call him the angriest man alive, Pujie. There could always be someone angrier... And wealthier, too, I imagine. Possibly one who doesn't find an excuse to brag about it all the time.”

Still – it was hard not to admire the Nizam's courage; he ruled his state in direct opposition to the Delhi Governate and the hungry mobs of Calcutta.
He was still a fool's fool, of course, but possibly one who could be made an ally – in time.
Closing his eyes, Puyi let his brother continue to speak and tried to look as if he understood, or cared; while not being certain whether he did, or did not.
Some man – a farmer, or perhaps a collectivist of some kind – was railing against the imposed monarch of Ukraina, asking for a hundred days to 'test' his syndicalist policies.

… They all wanted that. Just give it a chance, they'd tell you.
Let us guide you, shape you, make you.

And then the time would be up in the blink of an eye, and they'd ask for more.

Puyi's eyes opened.

“Announce to the world that the Qing Empire stands with Vasili.”
Not all the news was bad however; the United States was doing routine military maneuvers, and had invited several nations to do the same. Puyi had been as surprised as any to hear that the ancient Qing navy had been asked to assist, but had gladly acquiesced...

Even as he, and, he expected, many others began to suspect that the reason for transfer was not a show of international readiness, but rather a transfer out of fear. Fear of what, precisely, was hard to say.
America was a world away, and though everyone knew how divided the Americans were, hadn't that always been a point of unity with them..?

For once, the Qing were not the weakest nation to leave the exchange, however, and the pride felt good.
“It's dreadful...”

Hiro began, staring from the window of her guest palace.
She was an elabourately made-up woman, of course; the fashions of the Japanese court were all-consuming, and while Puyi had taken the knife of German pragmaticism to Beijing, Tokyo was not so lucky.

Xianyu bit into her apple, spitting out neither seeds nor pulp as she replied.

“Must be that the steppe makes a lot of wretched people, doesn't it.”

Sighing, the Lady Saga tousled her long hair.

“Perhaps so. I don't want to assume that all Mongolians are as savage as that madman and his followers, but, perhaps the blueness of the sky and the endless land turn men into devils!”

“Hum.”

Was Xianyu's glum response.
“But Japan, you will note, has no such barbarism. Only just now, we have successfully brought to trial those monsters who would've acted against the government of the Emperor.”

It was interesting.

Xianyu had seen a lot of people come and go from the life of her – hum.

Family, she decided.

Almost all had some ulterior objective, some motive that they wanted to enact on you.
… If it wasn't for her, they'd probably have kept on doing just that to Puyi, wouldn't they...

But the Lady Saga, she was different. A fool, certainly, and worse – an optimist.
Yet she believed every word she spoke, and held the best in people. A nice match for Pujie.

“League of Blood's a good name, though. That's how they draw the young stallions in, tell them their lives'll matter and give them a group with a good name.”

Hiro's eyes widened slightly; her makeup shifting like a maze.

“Do you – feel that the youth who committed such an act were nothing more than pawns..?!”

“Always are. Strangling at the bit, and then strangled for their meat. Wonder who's running it, though...”
The very next day saw the beginning of what was dubbed the Ochre-Crimson week in local news. A strange coalition of monks, student activists, and foreign agitators continuously protested everything from high tuition to what they termed 'The Endemic Corruption of the Elite and Ruling Classes' in Burma.

Occasionally, the rolling coalition burst into fights, only to reform harmoniously.

Much like the hidden waves under the island nation to the east, there were hidden hands at work here, too.
Calcutta was hardly the most radical government in the wave of successive syndicalist states, but it was perhaps the most devoted. Even with the relative lack of gains made by the people's state, the Indian Commune seemed blessed with devoted serfs who would sacrifice anything in the hope for vague promises.

And there were odd similarities between that thankless devotion, and the boisterous lies of the Iron Guard, but like any unspoken deference, it might yet be tested.

For, people, upon seeing their fellows revolt, are likely to wonder why they, too, are denied that right...
Puyi awoke to the sound of conversation – one-sided conversation, coming from the radio left on.

He'd worked through the night, writing draft after draft for an address that he could not give – and the radio had worked its magic through the evening.

“... Imagine a nation united, by light and by laughter! This is the modern Germania, that continues to bring civilisation and hope to Europa, and it is my hope, my personal hope, that all listeners consider themselves German, today...”

His eyes knit, and the Emperor silenced the radio, and watched the dust drift through the air around him.
“World's gone mad!”

Otto announced through his second cup, cheerfully grinning.

“Stop saying that.”

Xianyu cautioned, which was her way of being cheerful – and took a drink, as well.

“I mean it, this time. Damn syndicalist bastards elected a man with an awful moustache and the look of a complacent cow to their chair. Doesn't seem like he has a brain cell in his head, too. Just lookit that smug smile!”

Huffing irritably, Otto thrust the newspaper towards her, and Xianyu feigned interest.
Her interest became slightly more serious as she gave the issue some thought, however; Mosley, Mosley...

“Let's keep an eye on him. British desire for revenge is strong. If they get the upper hand against Germany, they'll look at us.”

“... Why?!”

Otto's fist slammed against the table, and it would've been enough to cause somebody else to jolt. Xianyu shrugged her shoulders, and lay back against the booth.

Comfy, really...
“Look at it like this. How many supposed anti-royalists do you know that refer to themselves using royal plurals.”

Her words were near-silent, and he hit the table again – more quietly, perhaps to clear his mind.

Xianyu felt a twinge of pity, wondering if, perhaps, his headaches had grown worse; but she could see the steely glint harden, and find the line she'd thrown, and...

“You don't think, ahaha – you don't think that sly devil is planning to consider himself a King? With no royal blood?”

She said nothing in response, because it didn't matter.
For all their rejection of royalty, it had returned to Britain...

In a new form, lean, and hungry.
“Thank goodness, somebody sensible won.”

Pujie smiled, stirring his oatmeal with one of the commemorative spoons they'd been sent as a personal tribute from the Kaiser.

Hiro took step after step towards him, and he marveled at how light the fall of her feet was; she might as well be a deer, and should they have children, he wondered if they might move so soundlessly.

Chuckling, his wife joined him at the table, steepling her chin against her fingers.

“You don't truly think that awful Mr. Long is better than one of the other parties?”

“Long? Long isn't awful! Why, look here - “
The conversation studiously ignored the changes brewing in Japan's Crown Colony of Korea; the two nobles, raised in an atmosphere of knives and glass, knowing full well what subjects to breach, and what to leave unsaid.

Pujie talked animatedly about how Long had surfed to victory due to strong support from the Afro-American population and the Syndicalist bloc; he'd won them further with the appointment of the legendary Smedley Butler, a famous American general, while promising to respect freedom of trade and further enfranchise voting rights.

Indeed, it seemed America would be headed towards a peaceful post-election.
Long's address was spoken animatedly, praising the American spirit, strong relations with the Monarchists to the north, and a friendly detente with the Syndicalists to the south.

“So long as they aren't secretly no Standard Oil men, I don't see no reason why we can't be friendly enemies!”

Critics noted that although an elated and courteous Long was smiling the entirety of the inauguration, the America First Leadership Committee was venomously angry, and that anger soon boiled over as Long was shaking the hand of one of several black voters who'd come to congratulate him.

Father Charles Coughlin was heard to whisper something, to which a smug Long replied:

“Well, guess that makes you a right fool then. And if your message is so resilient, why don't you go tell all of these fine Americans here, since you can't even stay on the airwaves?”

Coughlin attempted to criticize the Judeo-Syndicalist-Mexican bloc, and was soundly laughed off the stage.
The very next day, President-Elect Huey Long was found dead, riddled with bullet-wounds, stripped and tied neck-first to a tree.

Numerous scars had been carved into the flesh of the Kingfish; they formed words and sentences that the American press, stunned, refused to print for fear of provoking what they termed 'mass hysteria.'

An ecstatic Father Coughlin announced that Gerald Smith would be President; but President-Elect Smith died in a motor accident two days later, clearing the way for a man seemingly nobody had heard of, one William Dudley Pelley, to violently seize control of the party – much to the further pleasure of many of its members, and the disgusted resignation of several others.

In the growing atmosphere of possible revolution, nobody had time to address the drastic reconstruction of the Japanese colonial empire; for who had time for democratic experiments in Asia, when it seemed that America was about to rip itself asunder..?
“Sorry to hear about your man, Long.”

There was a huge difference between being the emperor of the Qing, and being a good brother; and Puyi had never mastered the second, even as he felt increasingly certain about the former.

Pujie had been horrified and despondent as the 'American situation' had spiraled further and further out of control.

Populists of a more right-leaning kind had taken over all institutions in the country, the military, syndicalists, and even local towns were threatening to revolt, and it seemed likely that the Canadians would advance down the Hudson, any coming day.

… His brother, Pujie, attempted his usual smile.
It didn't stay, because perhaps he couldn't remember what a smile was supposed to look like.

“No matter. I'm sure the, the Americans will pull through somehow. You were right about Wrangel, though; it seems he understands the importance of trade, at least, and I just received, ah, heartening words about the future of investments...”

Pujie burbled on, and Puyi wished desperately that he was not the Emperor, but just a man.

The Emperor watched his brother grow silent, and said nothing in response.
For the first time in recent memory, it was not merely commercial German planes, the nascent Qing airforce, and the Imperial Japanese craft attempting to outdo each other in the sky, but a fledgling group of Formosan craft, bearing an emblem stuck between loyalty to their island, and their emperor.

But in the sky, Otto Ciliax could forget politics – a game he hated – and feel a man free from it all. Closed cockpits were the norm now, of course, but one of the advantages of being stuck in the Qing Empire was that if a man wanted to feel the wind tearing at his face, he damn well could!..

One of the pilots waved at him, and Otto waved back.

They were all men, of course; all of them here.

God – was it true that war'd come soon...

And though he considered himself a knight of the sky, the desire to fly no longer filled his blood, and the ground called to him.
“You realize, of course, that if things continue I will not allow you to continue seeing my brother.”

Puyi had asked specifically for his full military regalia.
He did not look suited to the harsh German uniform; not iron-willed, like Otto, or easily militaristic, like Xianyu.

Across the empty table, Hiro, the Lady Saga, stared back at him – her face lacking both comprehension, and understanding.

“But – the Emperor... The Japanese Emperor has granted independence, with guidance, to all of Japan's colonies! Certainly, this alone isn't enough of an insult to... Puyi - “

“You speak to an Emperor, as well. Do not forget.”

He did not expect her response, which was to rise – and though she was not a tall woman, he felt it again; the fear that occasionally gripped him for no reason.

She would not back down, then..?

“I was unaware that the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom, who would allow foreigners to settle so freely, would then oppose the happiness of two people he was well acquainted with. Have you no loyalty to your family?”

And the words hurt as if she'd physically struck him; and she left before he could find a reply.

… For she was right, after all.

He -
“Panafricanist literature?”

Otto tried to look more excited than he felt. Of course, everyone had heard about Emperor Haile Selassie of the Solomonid dynasty; he was something of a legend in Germany, having ably navigated the Weltkrieg to achieve territorial gains and unprecedented fame.

“Hum. It's not what you think it is. Propaganda, really.”

Xianyu's curt response elicited a short 'ah' from him, and Otto shifted underneath his fur-trimmed winter jacket. The book store they'd visited was practically an icy tomb this time of year, but –

“Well, then! Why the devil do we need to read it?!”

“Could be that Selassie seizes more land. And there are rumours that he's seeking ties to the Japanese court – “

Otto couldn't help himself, laughing outrageously loud.
The bookseller frowned at him in a way that only decrepit booksellers can, until finally Otto brushed the tears from his face, and muttered a heavily-accented apology.

(The bookseller did not seem convinced.)

“You're serious, aren't you?!”

“Haven't you heard. World's gone mad.”

Xianyu smiled a crooked, wolf-like smile, from ear to ear.
“Not more syndicalists...”

It was a petulant way to start the day's briefing, but then again, Puyi felt angry.

The first of the new factories had been completed, and were so modern that the German safety engineers they'd brought over were impressed.

He had every right to be happy, and yet...
Pujie coughed, the glasses he wore cutting into his eyes.

“More syndicalists, I'm afraid. They've killed most of the land-owning class, uhmn, a lot of people are dead or displaced; we've received a large uptick in refugees from Brazil; the Germans are shunting them from corporate land, towards our borders.”

“Will they swear fealty..?”

Pujie's mouth swung open, saying nothing in response to his brother's question; then it snapped shut.

“Yes. Uh, yes, of course!”

“Then let them come. China welcomes all.”

The two men stared at each other for some time, and Puyi roughly clapped his brother against the shoulder.

“Send my regards to Lady Saga. I'll expect a full report when you return, of course.”

His brother's wide smile was precisely as he'd remembered it.
“Ethiopians, and now Armenians... Lady, you're mad. Maybe as mad as Augusta – “

Otto began, and Xianyu tried not to chuckle – but failed.

“Nobody was as mad as she was. Shame. I always felt Puyi could use someone a bit older.”

“You think? No, no – he needs a young wife. Somebody with PASSION and HOPE and all that!”

“Can't say that I'm certain you should be talking to a woman like me about womanly virtues.”

His hand gestures had indeed implied something other than (or in addition to) PASSION and HOPE, but the pleasantly crisp and cold air reminded her of home.

Of course, home was quite distant now – untenable. Unreachable.

Nobody could return to the home of their childhood, really.

… Shame.

“All right, so why should I care about the bloody plight of some, some mountain-folk – “

“No reason you should have to. I do, though.”

He paused, a few steps behind her – laughing, and his coat trailing against the sudden breeze. His laughter drew silent, and Otto's brow knit; and she watched him think, and nod.

“... Right. Well, I suppose I'm glad it didn't come to blows, then. Maybe they'll get their home, some day.”

She adjusted her cap and stared into the sky – clouded, as it was, and any sign of blue obscured.
The ship was packed full of American tourists and refugees; many of whom would be shipped further west, to the AOG or China. Some of them were well-to-do men and women, who, upon recognizing Pujie, had approached him for help, for promises of a visa, or even just assurances.

He gave them as often as he could, but it was all too much when he met with the Brazilians.
Unlike the Americans, they – if they had ever truly been rich – were huddled and poor now, and no promises made them smile, no words brought them hope.

Was the world built on German arms and German peace collapsing so quickly..?

It was a relief to set foot in Tokyo again, and her embrace and the scent of gardenia blossoms ushered his doubts from his mind.
“Congratulations on not going mad and instituting yet another deathblow to civilisation.”

Pujie had managed a weak joke, the kind that nobody but Hiro might laugh at; and yet she laughed twice, all the same.

“You must think so awfully of Japan, to marry a Japanese lady, visit the Japanese home islands, and badmouth the Imperial Diet so freely.”

“Unfortunately, you're right on all accounts; I think awfully of all three, awfully... Awfully fondly, that is.”

She laughed again, and he admired how modern the city of Tokyo was; perhaps Beijing would be a sister to it in a few years, and then..!

Then, what miracles might China call her own..?
The branch family of the Saga clan that hosted them were polite, if distant. The heritage system of Japan was an utter mystery to him, compared to the harsh – but sensible enough – changes that the Germans had 'recommended' unto the ruling Manchu elite of China.

And, thankfully, they respected privacy...

Even though Pujie decided that he might simply abduct his wife, if they were questioned on children even once more.
“But yes, I believe there is hope. I must, after all.”

He did not say the words aloud, but they clung to his mind, all the same.

The last days of the western year blurred together; in a daze it seemed that bits of news filtered forward.

Buildups of arms in the Canadian State, and the death of a famous man of the House of Habsburg, and it all seemed so distant.
And the end of the year fell upon the islands of Japan, and Pujie shut his eyes to it.
… And he fell to sleep, and to dreaming.
And the dream was good.

Next chapter:

Game: Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game

A Long-Lasting Dream III: We\'ll Let You Know

Images: 34, author: hsiwangmu, published: 2018-01-17, edited: 2018-01-21

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