New Ys is built on mud. The councilors have surreptitiously changed their shoes upon entering the hall, before climbing the pink marble stairs to the mezzanine. Too, too gauche, to leave dirty footprints, smudge the gleaming brass handrails, stain the carpet with its design of peacocks sacred to a vanished empire.
From the corniced windows they look past the abattoir, at the lake mottled with spring sunshine. There are radiators hissing gently in every corner of the room and occasionally the pipes thud or clang. There is no furniture: the council meets standing and gets things done quickly.
"Is he here yet?"
"What's it about?"
The Mayor of New Ys has called a special session, summoning these men from their busy rounds. They don't appreciate interruptions. They tolerate the Mayor because he's willing to stand up in front of crowds; he thrives on it, loves the drunken rush and swell of public feeling, while these men prefer to remain out of sight.
Winston and Culver meet at a window. Winston carries a fur-lined overcoat on his arm. Culver wears his, uncomfortable in the heated room but wanting to display the stylized locomotive jacquard-woven into the lapels and repeated on the cuffs. Culver owns, not the railway itself, but the terminal building and the land around it. He's an extremely wealthy man.
"So I heard old Thus-and-Such brought an architect from Avakiore."
"I heard he was an engineer," says Winston. Culver likes to brag that he has ears in the Mayor's office, but it means nothing. Theophilus Sumpter doesn't keep secrets, it's not his style.
Barlow joins them. "Have you heard the latest census figures?"
Culver nods, Winston shrugs. He doesn't pay attention to official figures; every day he sees what he needs to, people streaming into New Ys by rail, by boat, on foot. Winston builds cheap tenements in the lowest part of the floodplain and lets his tenants pack in as many sublettors as the floors will hold. He can't keep ahead of the demand. Half these people are dreamers who think they can get money just by being near it (and in New Ys, you are nowhere far from money), and most of those who are willing to work have nothing to offer but a strong back. But that's all right: New Ys needs strong backs to drain her waterways, fill her marshes, and sink the deep pilings that support banks and mills and railway stations.