Arthur Von Gusse sat quietly, sipping his tea.
It was some dreadful Asian blend — nowhere near as pleasant or aromatic as a solid European tea; what was the country coming too? The King was becoming far too multicultural, Arthur mused, as he turned his attention to the newspaper propped on his leg. When Victoria was alive the country had the Best, whether it was English or not. Of course, the best often was English, and if it wasn’t… well, a short war would soon see that it was. Now, all King Wilhelm seemed to care about was making friends, and by extension making everything as foreign as possible. The Brass Helmet was one of the few places left in Cliffside that hadn’t completely succumbed to the advancing hordes.
Arthur adored the Brass Helmet. As British cafés went, the Brass Helmet was solidly lower-middle class, and a gentlemen of his caliber could sit and spend the day in a delightful absence of boring gossip, drama, and intrigue. None of the patrons would recognize him, and not one of society’s elite would dare even think of looking for him there. And yet the decor was bright and clean enough, and he did not look entirely out of place in his dark suit and hat. A bit pretentious, perhaps, but one of the virtues of the reliably lower-middle class was a mild admiration of those who had a mind above their station.
Cliffside was a massive patchwork quilt of civilization stuck on the side of the Channel. Steamships were tugged into the docks by tens every hour, bearing goods from every corner of the empire. Fruits from tropical farms where aboriginal children climbed tall scaly trees like monkeys to harvest them. Furs and leathers from ice-covered lands full of loud giants and vicious monsters. Silks and incense from the mysterious East, where ancient wizards still plied their craft. Cliffside was truly a whirling engine of civilization.
Lower Cliffside was full of warehouses stuffed to the brim with treasures from all over the globe, ferried up and down the city by massive steam-powered freight elevators that allowed heavy crates to traverse the steep steps that shot skyward towards Topside.
Upper Cliffside held the upper crust; the gentlemen and ladies of means who strolled casually between the fine merchants of Upper Cliffside and the extravagant glories of Topside, the ground-level mansions, fine restaurants, and rich hotels that served as a welcome mat to the traveling fortune seekers of the Empire.
The Brass Helmet sat on the Midway, straddling the line between Upper and Lower Cliffside. In a stroke of genius, Peter Zephren, the owner, had built the entire café out of an old derelict schooner with the bow sticking out towards the Channel. The hull had been carved out to allow passage under the deck, which shot out over the Midway like a cliff. The more expensive seats were furthest out on the deck; the great slope of the city and thick fog in the autumn could give one the illusion of dining on the clouds.
Arthur never dined on the deck; he preferred the quiet and shade of the inner hull. Faint gas lamps hissed away on the table with the soft ticking of the regulating Ventometer providing the quiet background noise of civilization. It was a fine time to get some reading done, and wait for his work to show up.