"Good morning, class."

"Good morning, Ms. Skiffle!"

"Today's the first day for our oral projects. Our topic today is the government. When I call your name, I need you to get up and stand in front of the class. Remember to start by introducing yourself and telling us what your topic is. You're going to be graded on your presentation, your content, and your ability to answer questions. I want to remind everyone that as an audience, I need to you to be on your best behavior. Okay, let's begin. Martina?"

"Hey guys. I'm Martina, and I'm here today to talk to you about the Carta Scientia. It's the oldest document in all of Bablovia. It means 'Science Charter.' The most famous quote from it is 'We cannot understand anything until we first understand the world around us.' It basically said science was super important. Like mega, mega important. So much so that it laid down a bunch of rules for how any type of science could form its own government.

"I think the idea was that we would have governments formed around the basic sciences—biology, chemistry, physics, and such. Unfortunately, the people who wrote it just didn't understand basic human nature. Instead of encouraging people to appreciate science as a means to see the world, it turned science into a tool to control people. So now we have five bonzo governments, each one crazier than the last, all embracing mad science as if it were a virtue."

"Martina, the assignment is to state facts, not editorialize on them."

"Really? Is that what school is for? To make us march to the beat of the preordained lies we've been spoon-fed since our youth?"

"Could you please just stay with the facts?"

"You want facts? Okay. The Carta Scientia was an important document that totally reshaped Bablovia into a world obsessed with the newest and latest thing. You want to turn yourself into a machine or an animal, or spy on your neighbor, or threaten your neighbor, or just blow up your neighbor? You're in luck, there's a government for you. And just in case you ever try to question whether that's okay, there's always the latest new shiny toy to distract you."

"Martina, what are your thoughts on the impact of the Carta Scientia?"

"Oh, it changed everything. For the worse! Martina out!"

"No, Martina, you're supposed . . . Okay, fine. Let's move on to the next speaker. Anabelle?"

"Hello, my name is Anabelle and I'm going to be talking about the structure of the government, or more technically the meta-government. Bablovia is currently what is known as a pentarchy. A pentarchy comprises five distinct organizations, each with its own ruler or government, that are grouped together. The five organizations that make up Bablovia are the Order of the Widget, the Agents of S.N.E.A.K., the League of Dastardly Doom, the Goblin Explosioneers, and the Crossbreed Labs. Interestingly, each organization has a different form of government.

"The Order of the Widget is a technocracy, or a government ruled by technology. Their leader is the Grand Calcutron, a machine that runs the Order with absolute authority. Every decision about how that organization is run is determined by the Grand Calcutron. According to their constitution, if a person, machine, or technology of greater ability ever reveals itself, it will immediately be designated as leader. No person or object has yet challenged the Grand Calcutron for leadership of the Order of the Widget.

"The Agents of S.N.E.A.K. are a kleptocracy, or a government ruled by thieves. Their current leader, as of last week, is Phoebe, the self-proclaimed Head of S.N.E.A.K. According to their by-laws, whoever is in possession of the Golden Ruler becomes leader of the organization. This has led to a large number of government turnovers, sixteen in the last year, although most of those were the same three people. The majority of the changes are attributed to a shadowy figure known only as X, who's constantly paid by different sources to steal the Golden Ruler.

X | Art by Dmitry Burmak

"The League of Dastardly Doom is an oligarchy, a government ruled by a small number of people. The group that currently controls the League is a cabal known as the Legion of Evil. Its current members are Baron Von Count, The Big Idea, Grusilda, and Mary O'Kill. The Legion of Evil has had significant roster changes over the years. The ruling cabal itself has changed numerous times in the League's history. Before the Legion of Evil, it was the Society of Vile. Before the Society of Vile, it was the Clan of Cruelty. Before the Clan of Cruelty, it was the Men of Malice.

"The Goblin Explosioneers don't really have a government—at least not something that anyone other than a goblin would recognize as such. It's part kraterocracy, rule of the strong, part kakistocracy, rule of the stupid, and part democracy. Sometimes, a goblin will just boldly do something and others will follow. Other times, they'll actually vote on things. They're kind of obsessed with hammers, so whichever side promises more hammers usually wins any vote. The current alpha goblin—I wouldn't exactly call him a leader—is named Ol' Buzzbark. He's very destructive and thus quite popular among the Explosioneers.

"The Crossbreed Labs is a geniocracy, rule of the intelligent. It's kind of structured like a school. The smarter ones act as both teachers and leaders. The current head of the Crossbreed Labs is Dr. Julius Jumblemorph. He's one of the original scientists who first perfected the genetic splicing technology that caused the Crossbreed Labs to break away and form their own government. He's usually the one making major policy decisions.

"According to Bablovian law, any change to the overall system of law needs to be agreed upon by these five factions. That hasn't happened in many years. The last time on record was when the League of Dastardly Doom, led by the Clan of Cruelty, blackmailed the other factions with a weather machine. It was a while ago, and the records of that incident have disappeared; it's assumed they were stolen by the Agents of S.N.E.A.K. The lack of an overarching governing body has led to each of the factions dictating the areas that they have control over, those areas being more subject matter than geographical.

"And that is my talk on the structure of the government."

"That was very good, Anabelle. I have a few questions. Where did you learn all this information?"

"The Order of the Widget has a very extensive library."

"Is that where you got all your vocabulary?"

"Yes, it is."

"Of the five governments, which do you think is run the most efficiently?"

"The Order of the Widget."

"Which one gives the people the most freedom?"

"The Goblin Explosioneers."

"If you could be in a government, which one would you like to be in?"

"The League of Dastardly Doom."

"Really, why is that?"

"I think it would be fun to be part of a cabal."

"Okay, thank you, Anabelle."

"Kareem, you're up next."

"My name is Kareem, and have I got a story for you. It's all about the creation of the Order of the Widget. The organization was founded 54 years ago by a man named Calvin Granderson. Now, he was quite a character. You see, Calvin was on vacation and desperately wanted some toast, because that man loved himself some toast. Unfortunately, although the place he was staying had bread, it didn't have a toaster. Like most inhabitants of Bablovia, Calvin was an inventor, so upon his return home, he designed a portable toaster he could then take on vacations.

"On his next vacation, he brought along his portable toaster, but he had a day trip to a third location, Port Gizmo—which is really a lovely place if you've never been there—and he decided that he wouldn't need any toast for the next 24 hours, so he left it behind. That turned out to be a big mistake though, as just before bedtime he had a craving for toast. I mean, who hasn't? After much soul-searching, Calvin came up with a very 'out of the box' solution: he replaced his left hand with a toaster. Calvin was right-handed and didn't use his left hand all that much, so he decided that trading it in for a toaster would eliminate his 'toast craving while on vacation' problem.

"After the success of the toaster, Calvin then replaced a portion of his upper right leg with a refrigeration unit. It turned out that he liked his toast buttered—I mean, that's the right call—and this exchange would allow him to always have access to properly maintained butter. This then led him to replace his right index finger with a butter knife.

"As news spread of Calvin's advancements, he began to draw a lot of attention. Others, inspired by the stories of the constantly available buttered toast, began upgrading themselves as well. Hands, arms, legs, feet, torsos—any and every body part was upgraded with functional technology. We have numerous Widgeteers in the class, so you all know how cool it is. The fad became a movement, and Calvin soon found himself in the center of this technological and philosophical shift. He formed the Order of the Widget as a means to give support to the large number of people who embraced this new self-help ideology.

"Dedicated to the Order, Calvin continually upgraded himself over the years. He swapped out his body—minus the toaster, refrigeration unit, and butter knife, of course—for a larger series of machines to better provide the calculations needed to run the organization. When he had replaced over 90% of his body, he decided it was time to change over his name as well. Calvin Granderson became Calcutron Granderson and eventually the Grand Calcutron. He has successfully led his people now for 54 years. And that man, who is technically now a machine, to this day has toast whenever he craves it."

"Thank you, Kareem. I'm curious. Why do you think so many people joined the Order of the Widget? I'm guessing it wasn't also for a love of toast."

"I think they wanted to help people. Kind of like how Calvin turned himself into Calcutron. Most of the Order is dedicated to helping others."

"Why didn't you talk more about that?"

"My dad said the toast part was funnier."

"Okay, thank you, Kareem. You can sit down. Up next is Juanita."

"Hi, everyone. My name is Juanita and I'm going to talk to you today about the Agents of S.N.E.A.K. They're a secret spy organization dedicated to . . . well, no one knows."

"You mean it's a secret?"

"No, no, no, no, no, no. I talked to 34 agents for my report. No one knows. Every time it came up, they asked me if anyone else had said what the Agents of S.N.E.A.K. agenda was supposed to be. Honestly, it's a bit weird that no one knows."

"Maybe it's a secret and they're keeping it from you."

"They're horrible at keeping secrets. I found their secret hideout because it has a sign on it that says 'Secret Hideout.'"

"Why don't you tell us what you did find out."

"The Agents of S.N.E.A.K. started out as a job-share board. People would post tasks they needed done and other people would do them for money. This is Bablovia, so people started designing gadgets to help them do the tasks better and it kind of got out of control. People were spending far more money on their gadgets than they were getting paid to do the tasks. This led people to start committing crimes to support their gadget habit. Once people realized that other people on the board were willing to commit crimes, people began posting crazier and crazier asks on the job board, and before you knew it, the job board was the center of organized crime in the city."

S.N.E.A.K. Dispatcher
S.N.E.A.K. Dispatcher | Art by John Thacker

"Juanita, how did you learn of the existence of the job board?"

"It still exists. It's in their so-called secret base. I've seen it. It's both impressive and kind of depressing. You can post any task of any kind and someone will do it if the price is right. And I mean any task."

"Maybe that's their agenda."

"No, the job board seems like more of a hobby. From what I can gather, the most popular activity of the Agents of S.N.E.A.K. is spying on one another. They're pretty paranoid and are quite obsessed with spy paraphernalia. They're constantly inventing new things to out-spy one another."

"So, do the Agents of S.N.E.A.K. want anything?'

"Other than cool new gadgets and the latest secret, not that I could find. The number one goal of everyone I interviewed was trying to find out what they were supposed to be doing. About half of them seemed worried that the whole organization was just another of the factions playing an elaborate joke."

"Anything else we should know?"

"It's my best guess that a few of them are spying on us right now because they didn't believe I was actually a student. To everyone listening, see, I'm really a student."

"Okay. Thanks, Juanita."

"Harold, you're up next."

"My name is Harold, and my report is on the League of Dastardly Doom. Unlike the Agents of S.N.E.A.K., their goal is very clear—they want to take over the world. Duh, duh, duh!"

"And how do they plan to do that?"

"That's the largest topic of debate in the League. Some want to kill everyone, some want to enslave everyone, some want to scare everyone, some want to hypnotize everyone, some want to make the populace over-reliant on some new kind of technology. There's almost as many plans as there are people in the League."

"How exactly did the League form?"

"It started, interestingly, as a supervillain support group. A man named Major Monologue had tried to poison the city's water supply, but had inadvertently mixed up the poison with a fluoride treatment and ending up instead helping out the populace's teeth. He was a bit bummed, so he convinced a few fellow criminals to join him and talk through their various misfortunes. It turns out supervillains have a much higher error rate than the average citizen. News of the support group grew, and it became the place to be seen for supervillains.

"The group grew large enough that they started branching out into various meetings—bank mishaps, doomsday machine malfunctions, secret lair accidents, and such. One subgroup, poor trap planning, ended up becoming the Men of Malice and took the first steps toward turning the group into an official organization."

"What are the League's current responsibilities?"

"Mostly they oversee supervillain licensing. If you want to either threaten the populace in some creative way, kidnap any do-gooder, or commit a series of elaborate themed heists, you have to first go through the League. They have a lot of tools for supervillains, though. They started a henchmen recruitment service, they have a program for group purchasing of machine parts, and they do calendar monitoring to make sure citywide demands aren't bumping into one another."

"What were you most shocked to learn about the League?"

"They have a really good internship outreach program. I think this summer, I'm going to try my hand at building a freeze ray for Dr. Malevolence."

"Thank you, Harold. That was very informative."

"No problem. It was a fun assignment. I didn't realize how cool the League was."

"Ming-na. You're up."

"Hi. I'm here to do a presentation on the Goblin Explosioneers. Um, my name is Ming-na, obviously."

"It's okay, Ming-na. You don't need to be nervous. Just tell us about the Goblin Explosioneers."

"It all started years ago with Steamflogger Industries. Back in the day, it was just a steel mill. They were making, casting, and rolling steel—pretty mundane stuff. Bablovia being Bablovia, there was a lot of demand for steel, though, so they were busy. To stay competitive, they cut corners on safety measures and there was a bunch of turnover. This led to a bad reputation for the plant and they eventually started having trouble getting enough workers. That's when the head of the company, a woman named Thorna Grabbler, came up with a rather radical idea.

"She went up to the mountains to talk with the goblins. Remember, at that time, that's where all the goblins lived. The story is, she gathered an entire tribe together and showed them a whole bunch of different technology hoping that they'd like all the shiny things. Her plan worked, but not as she expected. The item they were fascinated with was the item she had brought to put everything together—a hammer. They'd never seen a hammer before and were enamored of it. Thorna said that there were many hammers and other exciting technology in the factory and that the goblins would have access to all of it. The entire clan of goblins chose to come work in the factory.

"At first things worked wonderfully. The goblins embraced their new job and were willing to work for hammers and mechanical scraps, a fraction of what Thorna had been paying her other workers. But soon they started doing what goblins do: they experimented. Most often that led to horrific disasters, but occasionally they would make bold new discoveries. Many goblins died, but through aggressive breeding, their numbers actually rose.

"There was a political push to remove the goblins from the factory, so Thorna used their experimentation as a means to form a new political faction. She let the goblins choose the name and ended up with the Goblin Explosioneers. Being their own faction allowed the goblins even more freedom to experiment.

"The overflowing of goblins, coupled with the grave danger of their experimentation, caused all the non-goblin workers to quit. They were soon followed by management. The goblins just started filling those roles. Ultimately, Thorna herself left. The goblins had taken over Steamflogger Industries. And things only got weirder from there. The goblins stopped making just iron and started creating more and more elaborate contraptions."

"What does Steamflogger Industries make now?"

"No one knows for sure. The goblins aren't concerned with selling what they're making, so all anyone has to go by are the noises that come out of the factory. Many years ago, there was a single Steamflogger boss that somehow showed up in town, and his crazy rambling led to all sorts of speculation."

"What do you think they're making?"

"I don't know. Maybe a really, really big hammer."

"Thanks, Ming-na. You did great. Nadima, you're next."

"Hey everyone! I'm Nadima, and my talk is about the Crossbreed Labs. Our story begins 28 years ago in a university lab. Dr. Julius Jameson, Dr. Luisa Rodriguez, and Dr. Hana Tanaka were trying to find a cure for cancer. They had met at the university and were considered three of the top minds in the field. Their research had shown that a particular iguana from the south seemed immune to a certain type of cell mutation. Their hope was to grant a human host the immunity of the iguana through a new procedure. Instead, the subject grew a tail.

"Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Tanaka saw this as a great defeat, but Dr. Jameson realized they had stumbled upon something profound. Their technique could allow people to graft elements of other animals onto themselves. His colleagues didn't understand the ramifications, but Dr. Jameson realized that they had made a discovery that could reshape humanity—not even just humanity, but all species. What if science gave an individual the power to become whatever they wanted?

Clever Combo
Clever Combo | Art by Kev Walker

"To demonstrate what he meant, Dr. Jameson undertook the procedure to get a pair of wings. He had always wanted to fly and now he was able to express that element of himself. When he opened up the procedure to students of the university, the demand was huge. Pick your animal and you could become it. There wasn't any need to stop at one. If you felt part turtle, part jaguar, that's what you could become.

"The university became the center of this new way of life, and people came from all over Bablovia to join what was becoming a commune. Creatures would alter themselves and then stay to live in a world where they weren't judged for embracing the animal or animals that defined who they were. Dr. Jameson underwent numerous procedures himself, adding animal after animal. After he mixed in dinosaur DNA, he chose to change his name and became Dr. Julius Jumblemorph."

"What exactly do the Crossbreed Labs do?"

"They have vowed two things. One, that they will alter anyone who asks to what they call their 'true form,' and two, to provide a society where the people who have found their true form can live in peace."

"And how did it become its own government?"

"There was talk of laws making the change illegal, so Dr. Jumblemorph convinced a few politicians to help him after allowing them to find their true selves."

"What did you learn from studying the Crossbreed Labs?"

"I learned that my true form is probably half badger, half mongoose."

"Interesting. Thank you, Nadima. I think that was all our talks scheduled for today."

"What about me?"

"Stewart, I'm sorry. I accidentally had you down for next week. Come on up."

"Hi, I'm Stewart and my topic is squirrels."

"That was not the topic assigned to you."

"Life's too short to do the topics assigned to you."

"That's not how . . . You know what? Fine. Let's hear about squirrels."

"Bablovia loves science. I mean it really, really loves science. But no one talks about the ramifications of this love. That's why I've chosen to talk about squirrels."

"What does . . . I'm sorry, continue on."

"One of the cornerstones of science is experimentation. In order to experiment, though, you need a subject. For years, the first choice for scientific experimentation was the white mouse. It was the perfect choice. The mice responded well to variables, they were easy to maintain, and they were plentiful. Over the years, as Bablovia focused more and more on science, it started doing more and more experiments. That required more and more white mice.

"Eventually, it reached a point where the spawning rate of new experiments surpassed the spawning rate of white mice. No one was paying attention until it was far too late. By the time the scientific community realized that white mice were on the route to extinction, it was too late to stop it. The League tried cloning them, but we all know how badly that turned out. In the end, the last white mouse died thirteen years ago.

"At first, no one knew what to do, but then the Crossbreed Labs came through with an interesting answer. The animal that most closely matches the cross-section of needed attributes was none other than the squirrel. There was worry that the squirrels might go the same way as the white mice, so there was work done to improve the squirrels and make them heartier, more resilient, and faster-breeding. Work was also done to tweak their DNA to make them the best possible test subjects."

"While interesting, Stewart, what does any of this have to do with government? Today we're studying Bablovian government."

"There's much discussion that the work on the squirrels' DNA did more than just improve their application as text subjects. There are those who believe it pushed them toward sapience."

"And how does that impact the government?"

"I believe all five factions are secretly being run by the squirrels."

"I don't get paid enough for this. Thank you, Stewart, for that insightful look at . . . um, squirrels."

"Wait, you didn't let me finish. I have evidence of what I'm saying. Well, technically not evidence, more like conjecture, but still something we should talk about if we're concerning ourselves with how Bablovia is being run."

"Unfortunately, Stewart, that's all the time we have for class today. I want to thank everyone who gave a speech. They were all very interesting. Just remember, Monday we'll be doing the talks about the various cities, so if you're doing one of those talks, please come prepared. Thanks everyone. Class dismissed!"