LORD BART AND THE LEAGUES OF SIP AND ALE
October 15, 1923
If the arrival of this letter finds you in the company of others, please remove yourself from their presence and return to my words when you are alone. Suffice it to say that I have gone to great lengths to have this delivered to you to in such a manner that my whereabouts could never be traced. Please destroy this note once you have read it, lest it fall into the view of prying eyes. But I urge you to read it in its entirety.
My heart, of course, yearns to be telling you this in person, but that would risk the safety of you and the boys. And my heart, of course, yearns to be next to you, to be embracing you, to be telling you how so very sorry I am that circumstance — horrible, and horribly avoidable — led to this. So this paltry missive will have to suffice.
Months ago you told me, “Don’t get yourself into something that has no good outcome.” I admit to you now that I have done precisely that. I put myself in a position where I had to choose between two courses of action, neither of which could have had a good outcome. The course I selected was intended to save our beloved continent. The price, as you no doubt have by now realized, is that I can never see you, or Jack or Isaac, again.
To write those words brings pain both unmitigated and unfathomable. I am not so bold as to ask for your absolution, nor your compassion. I do, though, tender this detailed explanation. I write this now to tell you the full story, the true story, so that even if you can never forgive me, at least you can understand…
Part One: The Airship Lady Crym
On this day, the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Setheridge Island Professional League of Baseball, luminous sunshine graced Schawmount Stadium. Yet Andrew Naughton found it difficult — nay, impossible — to appreciate the good fortune brought by the weather, for the register of his worries was voluminous.
Yes, it was true that the thousands who had filled the ball park, bedecked in their finest formal wear and chattering in anticipation, would not be rained upon. Foul elements from the skies would not dampen the spirits and goodwill of the day. But there was so much more over which to fret, not the least of which was the safety of the commissioner himself, the Lord Bartholomew J. H. Cunningham V — ‘Lord Bart’ they called him — who would shortly be making his way to the podium behind the home bag.
Naughton glanced at members of the League security force posted around the perimeter of the VIP section: some in uniform, firmly at attention, gazing in all directions; others in plainclothes, blending in amongst the owners, politicians and other dignitaries. Their eyes prowled for suspicious movements. He motioned for Coyle, his chief of staff.
“Anything thus far?” He spoke in a whisper.
“Nothing, sir. We’re still frisking at the gates, at least the men. Suffice it to say that none of the guests is pleased about it, but everyone to this point has been generally cooperative. One arrest, a drunk. We confiscated a few pocket knives.”
“Has there been anything else? Anything remotely suspicious?”
“No. Not to this point.”
Coyle retreated, and Naughton paused in his ruminations to finally take in the entirety of the scene. The thousands of details to which his staff had attended over the past many months were complete, and he could not help but admit that the result was every bit as glorious as he’d envisioned. Bunting in red and blue — the colors of the hometown Jackaloupes — hung throughout the stands, from the reserved sections with their cushioned velvet seats to the rows of splintering wooden bleachers that crowded the stadium’s upper levels. The brass railings and banisters that encircled the field’s perimeter gleamed as if ablaze. Gold and white flags embroidered with the numbers ‘3’ and ‘0’ — denoting the anniversary year — snapped on high poles as a breeze nestled through the rafters.
The attendees in the park — more than 40,000 in all — were every bit as regal. Naughton saw ladies adjusting towering cherry plume hats and folding yellow-and-white parasols as they lowered themselves into their seats, while their mustachioed and bearded male companions straightened felt derbies and woolen top hats in preparation for the ceremony about to unfold. None of the attendees — particularly those who fancied themselves as members of the aristocracy — had arrived adorned in anything less than what their tailors would describe as resplendent perfection.
Above, in the nearly cloudless sky, four airships slipped across the breadth of the oblong park: luxury craft with tubular gondolas fastened below the oblong balloons and separate, smaller nacelles for the engines on the sides. An array of lamps festooned on each side of the balloons, near the nacelles, formed images of the insignias of the Twin Nations, Setheridge and Heldera. The ships glided at a leisurely pace, their paths criss-crossing, and Naughton found their presence calming.
It was truly a festive day.
Then came the first words of the public address announcer, a deep disembodied voice carried over the thousands of footlengths of pneumatic tubing that snaked throughout the stadium’s steel structure and poured out from cone-shaped speakers posted high as the flags. “Kind people, please devote your attention to the stage behind the home bag…”
The throng of conversations throughout the ballpark transmuted into applause and cheers. Concessionaires hawking fried dough sticks and ice-cooled fruit ade, hoping to squeeze in extra sales before the ceremony began, silenced their efforts. Children in the furthest bleachers, scurrying about and mimicking the professional ball-players they idolized, were silenced by their parents. The droning of the airships merged imperceptibly with the omnipresent humming of the steam-station below the ballpark itself.
“…as we present on this august occasion the founder and Commissioner of the Leagues of SIP and ALE, his most excellent Master and Gentleman, Lord Batholomew Cunningham!”
From behind Naughton, two of Coyle’s aides escorted Lord Bart from a curtained waiting area toward the podium. The old man, while increasingly frail, had insisted on speaking from that ornate pedestal alone. He would hear no arguments: he said it was vital to do so without help, to appear strong. The Twin Nations needed to see this. It was the only way.
So despite weeks of protestations, Naughton could only now observe from his seat a dozen rows away. He dug his fingers into his palm of his left hand, then reached down with his right to stroke Crandy, motionless at his feet. The petting was more than therapeutic: it prompted the servohound to emerge from his low-power state. His companion needed to be ready; a steady wag of his hinged tail and small wisps of steam from his exterior tubing provided Naughton that assurance.
After a few steps, Cunningham waved off the aides and emerged from the shadows of the stadium overhang into the basking sun.
And then tens of thousands saw their hero.
The applause was rapturous, cascading across the manicured field like a wave at high tide, and every man, woman, and child in attendance craned forward. Lord Bart moved only with the help of his walking stick, sliding his feet toward the front of the stage, then inching up the four small steps of the riser. He wore a tuxedo and tails, as was his preference, and his top hat seemed to engulf his balding head. Wire-framed glasses hung on the tip of his thin nose, and in the sunlight his pallid skin appeared almost translucent.
The commissioner removed the script of his speech from a jacket pocket and placed the papers on the sloped incline of the podium top. The old man’s hands shook, but Naughton knew the tremors were slight and likely imperceptible to any but those seated closest to the stage.
He looks so small. So vulnerable.
Still, the adoration of the thousands was palpable. Tremendous cheers and jubilant whistles came from every section and row, and many held handwritten signs aloft. “Our Commissioner,” read one. “Eternally Grateful,” said another. And to the left of Naughton, up several dozen rows, five young men wore masks of the old man’s characteristic visage: top hat, monocle, thin mustache and large ears. It was a caricature, certainly, but one of reverence rather than ridicule.
He was not simply Lord Bart. He was their Lord Bart.
The commissioner steadied himself at the podium, looked upward in acknowledgment of the crowd’s anticipation, and smiled. He adjusted his top hat and cleared his throat. Cunningham had written the speech out longhand. Despite his long tenure as the commissioner’s Special Assistant, Naughton had not seen it. The old man flicked his index finger against the microphone, and the resulting click reverberated throughout the stadium. And then Bartholomew Cunningham began.
"Kind people, if you are old enough to have been there, you may not need to be reminded. But I direct this to those who are younger, who only learned this in school: three decades ago when I first proposed that the continent of Setheridge unite under a single baseball league, we had already endured 50 years of strife, and the Great Insurrection had no end in sight. Many feared we could be headed toward extinction. We had lost sense of what we'd been fighting over." Many in the crowd nodded and murmured assent. "My proposal, you should recall, was not singular but three-fold: not just the creation of a professional league of baseball but, nearly simultaneously, the declaration of a ceasefire and independence for the Helderan people.”
More cheers came, but Naughton wondered if the history lesson was necessary. He turned his gaze and studied familiar faces scattered throughout the VIP section nearest the podium. These were the very people who most depended on the peace flourishing throughout the continent: the team owners, 36 of them, the de facto governing body of the Twin Nations. To his right, the eighteen owners from the nation of Setheridge, all men, all in sedate tweed suits and black top hats that seemed to rise above that of the commissioner. All beaming in pride. To their left, their Helderan counterparts. Some stared at the ground, others watched Lord Bart with dour grimaces and furrowed brows. Naughton noticed that Alexander Fitton II, the young owner of the Warthogs of Crenshaw City, kept his top hat resting on his lap. A coarse sign of disrespect.
Cunningham continued. "We resolved to channel our endless aggressions into a far less bloody pursuit: a smaller war if you will, or rather thousands of little wars, played out with bats on ballfields rather than muskets on battlefields. And the plan proved to be much more, for the formation of organized baseball reminded our disparate peoples of things that had been woefully forgotten: the thrill of athletics, the value of gentlemanly competition, and most of all — the sheer fun of the game.”
Then, with voice raised, the old man exclaimed: “And so with baseball, joy returned to all our lives."
At that the crowd whooped and howled, and Naughton had no doubt that thousands more listening on the audiocasters in plazas and publick houses across the continent had broken into celebrations as well. Crandy stirred at the crowd’s eruption and rotated his aluminum-clad ears front to back.
“But—” Cunningham raised his hand. The cheers dissipated as that weighty single word reverberated throughout the ballpark.
Naughton cringed. Must there be a ‘but’? Can’t he just end it there? Let this be a mirthful day.
“But,” Cunningham repeated, for emphasis, “we have far still to go. We all know there are forces throughout the continent that would have us return to our warring ways. Some sitting here amongst us.” The entire audience seemed to shift at that thought, as though the spectators were suddenly uncomfortable being seated near strangers, even if dressed in fine linen and jewelry. Naughton shook his head. There was no need to sow distrust. Not now. Not today.
“We cannot allow this to be,” Cunningham continued. “And I say this to each of you now: today, the 30th anniversary of the inception of the SIP and ALE leagues, must be not just an occasion for celebration. Rather, it must be a day in which we resolve again to let this sport heal our wounds.”
Naughton could see the old man’s withered hands clasping the podium’s brass-rimmed edges. “Let our resolve quash the doubters. Let our resolve silence the skeptics. Let our resolve ring forth!” Shouts of agreement scattered through the park, and with the crowd at a fever pitch, old Lord Bart raised his voice to exclaim: “I urge you. I beg you. We need — once and for all — to dispel the hatred.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Naughton spied a scuffle of guests back in the upper reaches of the stands. A shadow cast by one of the airships made details unclear. A fistfight between opposing fans perhaps, or some drunken Amandeans. He hoped it was nothing worse.
Naughton snapped his fingers. Crandy rose and wagged his metallic tail. “Section 351,” Naughton whispered. “Get me a report.” The servohound bowed his head and was gone in an instant.
“Do not let all our work so far crumble in weakness. Let the baseball endure. And…” Cunningham’s timber rose, his hands steadied, his words projected forward like a line drive to deep center. “And as baseball endures, so will the continent!”
Cheers and near-hysterical shouts cascaded through the stands. Some began chanting “baseball” in unison, others did the same with “Lord Bart” and “Play ball!” A horn ensemble struck up the league anthem, “War No More,” carried over the tinny amplification system.
The commissioner seemed oblivious to the rhapsodic jubilation that had enveloped every level of the ballpark. He gathered the papers of the speech and turned away from the stands, head bowed, then began shuffling toward his seat. The speech was complete; an exhibition game would now be played. Naughton studied each step intently. If he noticed one hint of a stumble…
But there was none: Cunningham bridged the short divide between the podium and his chair without fault. Naughton unclenched his fists. The clapping, chanting and fanfare continued unabated. The adoration for the old man was effusive: women cried, men thrust young children in the air for a glimpse of the commissioner, older children blew into penny-whistles and danced in aisles. Even the Helderan owners in the leftmost portion of the VIP section, the very owners least supportive of Cunningham, were now applauding.
Except the upstart, Fitton. He sat motionless, hands still clasped around the top hat on his lap, his stare narrowed, his long sideburns meeting at the edges of his pursed lips. Naughton pondered the man’s reticence, and then realized that Fitton had spied his gaze. The Helderan owner’s eyes bore down on him. Naughton did not flinch. After a moment Fitton smirked, then looked away.
Only then did Naughton notice that the rumble of one of the airships had escalated in volume, and that its shadow had expanded to rapidly envelope them in near darkness. It was plummeting from the brilliant blue skies, seemingly out of control, bearing down directly at the crowded bleachers. Naughton could not tell if it was headed toward the commissioner’s section, but he took no time to consider the question: he was immediately at Cunningham’s side, as were four of the guards.
Just as quickly, the realization of the airship’s descent spread through the mammoth ballpark. The band halted, as did the remnants of the cheering and laughter. Some guests stood, grabbed family members and began to flee, others simply sat transfixed. The young players who were about to take part in the exhibition game emerged from the dugout, perplexed at the sudden shift in the crowd’s mood. The stadium was suddenly, remarkably, silent.
Then the lurking craft began to gather speed, its shadow passing across thousands of seats, its droning steam engines merging with a growing cacophony of cries and shouts. In that moment the organist struck up a rousing march, as if in hopes a performance could calm the rising fears.
Three thoughts struck Naughton in that instant: that many were about to die, that this was unlikely to be accidental, and that the Leagues — indeed, the Eternal Ceasefire — could be shattered, eradicated as instantaneously as the ship itself now blotted out the day’s glorious sun. And then, a fourth thought: relief that Amelia and the boys had stayed home.
There was no time to reflect beyond that. Naughton and the four guards surrounded the confused commissioner like a phalanx. With his right foot Naughton flicked a switch embedded in a wooden tile under the commissioner’s chair. In seconds a panel in the aisle floor slid open and a carriage large enough to hold the six rose upward. Its mesh wire door sprang open, and the guards ushered the frail man inside. Naughton squeezed in with them and grasped the silver-plated lever on the door to close it.
The cage descended, burrowing into the bowels of the stadium. Naughton had ordered the lift’s covert construction months ago for precisely this possibility — the need to quickly extricate the commissioner from the anniversary celebration. He’d hoped it would never be needed. Now it worked flawlessly.
No one spoke. The old man’s labored breathing was the only sound, and two of the guards held his arms in support. Naughton felt his own heart racing, and he struggled to unclench his fists. He looked down at Cunningham but his benefactor’s gaze was vacant, expressionless. After two minutes the cage slowed and came to a rest at the stadium’s lowest basement, a level just above churning steam generators that made up the substation.
The door sprang open. A small corridor lit by gas lamps hanging at sporadic intervals lay before them. Two of the guards immediately stepped into the corridor, but just as the rest were about to follow when the walls shook. Then came the booms of crashing, of smashing, of metal twisting and tearing, rippling far above them like thunderclaps.
None of the six moved. They all knew what the noises meant.
Naughton exhaled. At least the old man is safe.
But what he heard next was far worse: the anguished screams, unbridled shouts of panic, and despairing cries of guests who had only short moments ago been cheering shouts of adulation. These sounds echoed through the dim hallway, obliterating the droning of the steam-station below them.
None of the men spoke, seemingly rendered immobile as the piercing shrieks continued unabated.
Naughton shuddered. Yes, the commissioner of the Leagues of SIP and ALE was safe, but he expected that in the coming days and weeks little else on the continent would be.
For many it was the light-and-dark criss cross cut into the outfield by the groundskeeper. For some it was the distinctive odor of tar on the bat, or the leather of the mitt. For Halloway, though, the most evocative moment of the start of spring training was this very instant: the sight of the clubhouse attendants slinging canvas bags of balls and bats, then unloading them onto the field in a heap. He watched now from a distance. Two young clubhouse attendants, barely twenty, carried out this task without hesitation, as though it were just another day, and the clatter of dozens of bats falling to ground echoed throughout the park.
To the workers, it was a necessary chore. To Halloway it meant, ‘And now we begin.’
A new start: each spring brought that. Hope for all teams, no matter how lacking in talent. Hope especially for his team, the Flying Squirrels of Widmertown, predicted by many to win the division. Perhaps to win it all.
Halloway chewed on the end of a toothpick and adjusted his cap as he surveyed the field. But predictions are so often wrong. Hope is so easily dashed.
“Cheesely!” he yelled at one of the young attendants. “The mitts are labeled. Put them in their proper lockers.” The boy nodded and grinned. It was the youngster’s first day on the job, and he’d be thrilled to hand out equipment used by the hurlers and backstops, who were reporting tomorrow.
But neither Halloway nor anyone involved in the Setheridge Island Professional League of Baseball — the SIP — knew whether any games would be played this spring. Nor his counterparts in the ALE — the Amandean League of Everyman. Even as a team manager he had no special insight into what the commissioners’ office would decide. Those who died in airship crash — 30 in all, by horrible coincidence the same number as the anniversary year — would be buried over the next few days. Rumors now flew as to whether it was an accident or, if intentional, who was to blame. Setherians hinted at Helderan forces, while his own countrymen, particularly descendants of hardline Helderan insurgents, spoke in whispers of a Setherian conspiracy. And some of the columnists wrote that whatever the cause, whoever was to blame, the season should be canceled out of respect for the dead.
That, thought Halloway, would be the worst outcome.
Off to his right Eldon Langford, the Squirrels’ general manager, studied detailed notes. The team would be a strong one, they both knew. Langford and Halloway had spent countless hours in the off-season debating personnel, mulling trades. Langford, in fact, had been able to pull off two major swaps, acquiring Ketter 'Count' Asgar, the 28-year old starting hurler, to shore up the rotation, as well as first bagger Gillighan Alley, also 28. No power there, thought Halloway, but he’s got great contact and can sit atop the line-up. Hell of a striker. It had cost them four decent prospects.
“Anxious?” he called out.
Langford, who had run the Squirrels since ’16, managed a laugh. “Am I ever not?”
He settled down next to his boss. “Have you heard anything?”
“Nothing. Silence. I’ve ’tubed every team general manager in the Helderan Division, and all they’ve heard are the same blengin’ rumors flying about. And I’ll ignore those rumors for now, thank you.”
The field manager nodded. They would proceed as though it were a routine spring training. They would assume a full season would be played. Yet Halloway knew it would be hard for his players not to be distracted by the uncertainty. If warring did return, some of them could be drafted. Others might willingly enlist.
He sighed. The practices and exhibitions of spring training probably wouldn’t matter at that point, of course. If fighting did reignite, there’d be no league in which to play. Baseball would be over. And the predictions of a championship season for the Squirrels would be moot. It seemed unfathomable.
Sander Halloway cared little about political and military matters. Though his grandfather and great-grandfather had died in the Insurrection, and his father had survived years of service with life and limbs intact, Halloway himself cared of little else but the game. Not just the competition, the camaraderie, but the small things: the sight of balls scattered near the dugout during batting practice, the graceful slope of the hurler’s mound, the swath of dirt across a batsman’s uniform after he’d slid into third. The sights and sounds that brought him instant comfort.
“I will address the clubhouse after the strikers report,” he told Langford. “Until then, we will proceed apace.”
Cheesely brought in copies of that day’s SIP and ALE Chronicle, the national baseball broadsheet. Included were the pre-season predictions of Ollo Ronnell, their veteran columnist and the commissioner’s most vocal critic. Halloway settled in at his desk in the cramped office behind the clubhouse and grimaced at the article. The old scribe — once a top striker himself — had projected the Squirrels to finish second in the Helderan South Division, behind the West Somerchester Rhinos:
The Squirrels, I daresay, are trending in the wrong direction, winning the division three years ago, then slipping to second in ’21 and third last season. From this vantage point, we believe they’ll rebound, at least back to second, and possibly will give the Rhinos a run for the division crown.
That made no sense — trending in the wrong direction, yet at the same time a possible contender? Ronnell must be slipping in his advanced years. Halloway read on:
Highlighting the Widmertown off-season have been huge trades by long-time team general manager Eldon Langford for two players in their prime: Gillighan Alley and Ketter ‘The Count’ Asgar. Alley, 28, has little power but will be tremendous at or near the top of the Squirrels’ line-up. The Count arrives in Widmertown after six years as the ace in Red Tummlyn. Asgar suffered through an off year last season, but prior to that was a consistent 15-game winner for the Grizzlies. We think the Count and Alley are the two deals that the Squirrels very much needed to do, and so from this hot corner comes a tip of the cap to old Langford for pulling them off.
Langford will like that, Halloway knew, for the assessment would have Langford’s fellow general managers grimacing, and his boss reveled in the jealousy of his peers.
Halloway stood from his desk, put the papers aside, and lay down on the wooden cot on the far side of his office. He had put it there originally for those rare times when the team played an evening game followed the next day by an afternoon contest. There’d be little point, he felt, in returning to his apartment in downtown Widmertown for just a brief bit of sleep. But last year he had slept on the cot far more often, particularly as the season wore. The constant travel for road games, the anxiety of making decisions during the games, his self-evaluation of those decisions and the players’ performances, and the annoying and irresponsible questioning of reporters: all of that exhausted him as the season wore on.
So he had little energy to make the 30-minute trip downtown, and with the apartment empty anyway — his second marriage had ended seven years ago — he also had little motivation to do so.
Now he lay on the cot and pondered those off-season trades. He was thrilled to see Alley come aboard. The bulky first bagger was precisely what his line-up needed — a steady striker who drew walks as well. Great eye. And a positive clubhouse presence.
But not so Ketter Asgar. Halloway knew that the hurler’s nickname ‘The Count’ had not been bestowed by his Red Tummlyn teammates for his prowess on the field. “The man is a malcontent,” one scout had warned him privately after the trade. “He’ll sow discord.” The Grizzlies, in the midst of rebuilding with a younger core of players, could not afford to have such negativity in the clubhouse and traded him.
But dealing with a malcontent was, unfortunately, part of Halloway’s job. Anyone could fill out the line-up card, even the kid Cheesely. Managers faced a bigger hurdle off the field, keeping twenty-five egos intact, keeping discord to a minimum.
He closed the newspaper and went back out to the field. Turf workers were painting the team’s colors — ocean blue and black — on the foul lines. Others tended to the grass, patching along the lines where the infield dirt ended.
Catalinaside Stadium looked fresh, expectant; he breathed it in. Yes, the hurlers and backstops arrived tomorrow. Strikers, next week. Spring training would be underway. A new season was to begin.
Halloway thought again of the airship attack. And of his grandfather: dead at the hands of Setherian forces in 1849 at age 29. His father had been ten at the time. By that point the Great Insurrection — as the uprising of the Helderan people was known — had been raging for a dozen years. No one at that point could have imagined it would last for nearly forty more.
A spring breeze rippled over the field.
Sander Halloway shuddered. If only a malcontent hurler would be his only worry as the new season got underway. If only the sounds in the air would be not gunfire, but the crack of bats on balls and the fireworks of a championship victory.
A carriage drawn by two oak-brown mares carried Naughton and Coyle from the League headquarters. The thick panes of the cab offered shelter from blustering breezes that poured in to the city from Lake Leoran, but Naughton nonetheless shuddered in the leather seat.
Coyle ruffled through a sheath of papers compiled by investigators, sorting them for the presentation. He was 34 but, with pock-marked cheeks and a wisp of a mustache, appeared far more youthful. A quiet man, Naughton knew, not prone to anger or histrionics. He valued those qualities in his assistant, particularly at a time like this.
They were to brief the commissioner, and out of deference to Dr. Morgan Vinge, Lord Bart’s personal physician, the meeting was to be at his residence rather than headquarters. The old man had not been injured during the airship crash or its aftermath, yet the doctor was concerned that the stress of those difficult hours might have lingering effects. Cunningham had protested that he was fine, but he gave Vinge his due and remained at home. His health was paramount, they’d told him. On that point he did not argue.
Now in the carriage, Naughton allowed himself a minute to close his eyes. In the two days since the incident, Naughton and his deputy had been ensconced in matters both complex and unpleasant, assigning tasks, preparing statements, sending and receiving communiques delivered by courier or pneumatube. Assessing the damage both physical and political. Neither had been out of doors in that time, nor had either much chance to sleep.
It had taken most of those 48 hours to fully assess the toll of dead and injured. The final count: 30 fatalities, 148 others suffering a range of mostly minor problems, from scrapes and bruises to broken limbs. None of the injured faced life-threatening situations, so the death toll was unlikely to rise, at least from the airship crash; a far greater question was whether more incidents were to come.
They arrived after an hour’s ride, the carriage shifting side to side as it passed up the steep entryway. Naughton had worked for the commissioner for 20 years but rarely had been to his estate, and now he studied the gleaming brick-and-stucco mansion that rose above them during the trip. Baseball has been quite good to Bartholomew Cunningham. Quite good indeed. But few argued that Cunningham didn’t deserve the riches. After all, he had saved their world.
Inside, the two were ushered by the solemn housemaster through an immaculate foyer crested with a massive, glimmering chandelier, then into a brass-and-wood paneled club room. Coyle sat, still immersed in his notes, while Naughton paced and pondered the memorabilia on the walls. A lifetime of gifts and plaques. Honors bestowed from every corner of the continent. Cases with bats, balls, and gloves of seasons past. Paintings by the greatest artists of the Twin Nations — Julius Mandible, Keiron Killeby, even one by W. Coulter Marmol — depictions of Cunningham himself during key moments of the formation of the SIP and ALE leagues. The paintings had been donated by the artists themselves, for they deemed that the privilege — and publicity — of Cunningham owning their work outweighed the value those pieces could easily command. To the right was shelving that occupied the entire north wall of the club room, filled with books only about Cunningham. Biographies, hagiographies, picture books, and masters theses. Naughton smirked. Cunningham’s vanity knew no bounds.