1879: Anchors of Empire
I’m currently reading Cities of Empire, by Tristram Hunt. It’s a study of the British Empire, its origins, evolution, and eventual collapse, based on the cities that anchored it. The premise is that the British Empire was an empire of commerce, first and foremost a sea power in both military and mercantile spheres. The cities that anchored the trade routes were the keys to the Empire, acting to some extent the way castles did in the medieval period. Each city establishes a presence for the Empire, serves as a hub for political activity and a base for military operations. The docks, and these are all port cities, handle the trade that is the lifeblood of the Empire.
So where does Fort Alice fit in with all of this? It anchors the British Empire in the Gruv. It holds one end of the Iron Tunnel, the only safe passage through the Rabbit Hole, and holds the territory around the Rabbit Hole itself. Fort Alice wraps a military presence around the travel route, allowing the British Empire to control all trade with the new world. Prussia, France, and Denmark may all be trading with the Gruv, buying raw materials on the cheap by the trainload, and in Prussia’s case having one anchor of its own established down the rail line from Fort Alice. Britain controls the only port, and thus controls the amount of trade allowed, and skims off the tariffs and transit fees and ancillary funds involved in international trade.
As always, the potential for adventure follows the military and the money. While the wilds of the Gruv have their own challenges, and then there’s the Saurids and the Samsut, many of the Terrestrial adventurers who come to the Gruv are seeking more of the same they had on Earth, just in a new environment. Byrons certainly aren’t going to go traipsing around in the wilderness. They’re going to be watching to see what firms put Analytical Engines in their Gruv facilities, and compete to be the first to compromise their security. Fiddlers are going to have a pretty steep learning curve if they want to figure out how to pull a fast one on a Saurid. There’s far more of a cultural barrier there than between Britain and Japan, and a species barrier past that. Mr. Fagin and his cousin Miss Fagin were on the train with the rest of the firm’s employees, because if your firm doesn’t have a Fagin on the payroll, you can best your last farthing the competition does.
Beyond Fort Alice, there’s expeditions to be mounted, mineral rights to be found and claimed, the potentials of new medicines in the plants and animals of this second world. Someone has to open trade relations with the Saurids. Once the Samsut War is over, and all wars eventually wrap up, there’s going to be big contracts for reconstruction. The clearing-away of the Zone Rouge between France and Prussia has employed hundreds since the last Franco-Prussian War. Imagine what will be needed to make the lands between Fort Wellington and Maksudum-Matam habitable again? And what about the Samsut – what is their commercial potential? Fort Alice could very well be the gateway into two alien civilizations, one with a much better knowledge of magic and biology than was first presumed, and the other with Weird Science technologies that were French fiction on Earth.
While Fort Alice has no docks, it does have a large rail station, and it has a navigable route more valuable than the Suez Canal. Like the other cities of Empire, Fort Alice anchors Britain and its possessions to the Gruv. It provides a home for not only the military, but the supporting villages of multiple regiments. The impending appointment of a Governor-General will establish the Gruv formally as a territory of the British Empire, albeit one with Alsatias of foreign presence. What adventures await, what stories could be told about the emergence of a new state, the formal investiture of British governmental power in a new land, and the impact on global politics and economics of the trade with the Gruv? What effect will routing the tariffs from the Rabbit Hole to a new territorial government have? So many questions, so many stories, so many opportunities for adventure.