Oct 28, 2021 10:59 AM
Bell and Theo in Shadows of the Limelight
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Captain Theo Tanner is on a mission for Chellas. Several goals, it wouldn't be worth sending him out for just one, but currently he's primarily looking for Curator's library to ask after histories. Only, she seems to have switched names - now she's Gazette and circulates a regular... town crier for the literate? He's curious, and fortunately incidental diplomacy and information-gathering were on his list. Shortly after lunch, someone with a copy of the thing pointed him toward her print shop. 

"Excuse me, are you Gazette? I'm visiting from Chellas and interested in your new profession."

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"Well, the point of it is to be interesting. How can I help you, Chellas-visitor?"

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"I'm Captain Tanner, I work for the Masked Council - though this is more personal curiosity. The sheet I read was entertaining, but I don't quite see where you're headed with it."

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"How's the literacy rate in Chellas, Captain?"

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"Good, as they go - I don't mean to disparage your new line of work, I just don't see how it goes better than the library."

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"I didn't exactly put a torch to the library. It's still there. But I think the dissemination of more information that can then qualify as common knowledge, as opposed to theoretically available references, is a neat place to be right now."

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"Certainly going to get attention from illustrati", the illustrati says with a wry expression. "What is literacy like here? Chellas has the university and some lovely passionate egalitarians trying to push schooling, but I don't actually know how different we are in practice."

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"Oh, yeah, illustrati love it, especially me. Literacy here isn't that much higher than our neighbors, but a lot of people can read a little, and I think more will when there's more to read. About things that interest them and are low time investments."

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"Hmm. Probably not going to reach the farmers any time soon, but in town, yes, I see your point."

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"You'd be surprised, I have an almanac page."

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"I am surprised! My impression was that farmers generally can't spare the time for learning. Admittedly that's mostly secondhand or worse."

"How proprietary are you about the idea? I suspect there are going to be fans of it back home. Particularly the idealists."

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"You can start a newspaper if you want, I'm hardly going to stop you. Tell everyone I invented it."

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"Of course, I'm not a boor. They'll try to make it educational, so I expect yours will catch on better anyway. University students, you know?"

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"If there's a stereotype specific to your university I don't know it."

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"I don't know if it's just ours or all of them. But they're very earnest and very devoted to their idea of what the common people want and need. Rich merchant's sons and landowners who barely speak to servants, let alone the actual poor. I am very patriotic about our governmental experiment but less so about some of the people involved."

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"Tell me more about the governmental experiment?"

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"So, the Masked Council is the notorious part: the seventeen people who run the country are strictly forbidden from admitting to being Councillors or tying their actions to their public faces in any way. Anyone who runs - which you have to pass a few levels of election to do - has to be available to go into seclusion when the Council does even if they lose. It's democratic elections at every level, secret ballot with one vote per adult - in practice only the literate at high levels - and those who win are the voters for the next level up. The prohibitions at lower levels are less strict, a town council work masked but aren't expected to try hard to hide their position. We've successfully decoupled fame from authority. The idea, which we got from those idealistic students, was that this will make the common people's concerns more important in policy, and reduce the distortion of feeding the egos and standing of the rulers. In practice... well."

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A sheet of paper slides under her pen and she writes this down in a quick shorthand. "In practice..."

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"The university students are way over-represented in those who pursue higher offices, and this has made us have their biases quite a bit. Illustrati obviously don't run much, because even at low levels they don't get standing from any time they're governing. I'm an exception - I have standing, mostly from the wars, and I run a few levels up every time and work as an agent of the Council. I take the position that standing is a weapon we can't unilaterally disarm from. We don't have people who were raised expecting to govern in charge, which might hurt, but it's clearly better than the Queen of Flowers or King Goldtouched-In-The-Head who we had before. We're not clearly better or worse than Geswein, who had a similar revolt at a similar time for similar reasons but pivoted to the merchants ruling instead. It's messy, and takes a lot of work, and the benefits aren't overnight, but I think they're going to be real in the long run."

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"So, standing isn't solely a positional good. I need it to, like, walk."

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"Huh. Bad leg? I haven't seen much of that, the obvious reasons. I mostly agree with the idealists who think society would be better - healthier - without standing - but it wouldn't be costless."

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"Bad balance. I do know the stories of the megalomaniacs but I don't plan to be a megalomaniac, personally. I'm optimistic that the newspaper can distribute standing more for praiseworthy rather than merely remarkable features."

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"Oh, that could work... Hmm. The Zerstors and Vidres of the world are bad, but I worry as much about the Baron Brasses and Salt-Sellers. The little illustrati who warp everything more subtly, but there are so, so many more, and does it add up? Though of course I'm as guilty as any of them."

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"I'd ask who those were but it sounds like perhaps they don't need the help."

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"I'm sure you have the type around here, I just don't know their names. Petty people with petty ambitions, little nobles and mediocre merchants, but putting their fingers on the scales anyway. Probably they read your newspaper."

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"Well, if they read the newspaper they are contributing to the swift recovery of anyone who comes down with the flu and has a memoir on file."

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