Season Two. Episode Nineteen: Human Needs. Part Three.

PART THREE.

Richard longed for a paper book.

The slick glass tablets, thin a piece of parchment, did not hold the same feeling of satisfaction as holding a page and turning it to reveal the next. The slippery action of sliding his fingers along the screen was too fast, too immaterial.

Richard did take solace in the fact that there now there was much more to read, indeed more than he ever thought he could read if given another ten lifetimes, but bitterly longed for paper.

He’d remained in his room, today. The atmosphere of the castle was distinctly cold since the discussion of Robespierre. Leonardo had been his usual distant self, only conversing with the guards and the staff in tense, quiet tones. Bonaparte, too, had been quiet, reading and mumbling to himself in a corner of the solar lounging in a chair with his feet to the fire.

Richard had no desire to speak to this self proclaimed Emperor of the French. He did not seek out the company of Leonardo. He felt the quiet disdain of the staff and guards. Richard, as he had for so much of his life, had no company but himself.

He sat in his room and studied the grounds instead. The weather had stripped the leaves from the trees and he felt that there was snow on the way. Richard had noticed that it seemed to roll in harshly, unexpectedly. He shuddered. Were the seasons not even a constant he could depend on, anymore?

A knock on the door started Richard from his thoughts.

“Enter!” He barked.

It was Strong.

“You disappeared after breakfast. It’s past lunch now,” she delivered, staring at him intently.

Richard eyed her. “Yes?”

Strong stepped further into the room, hands held behind her. “You also weren’t in the chapel. I thought I should check in.”

Richard turned back to the window, flicking his fingers. “You can see I’m perfectly fine. I’ll be down for supper.”

He heard the woman’s steps across the rug. “Yeah, somehow I doubt that,” she muttered. “You know, I think you were right.”

Strong was level with Richard, looking out the window. Despite the afternoon sun, a fog was rolling in, over the slate-grey strip of river.

Curious now, Richard asked “In regards to?” He assumed it was Robespierre, obviously. Why would the castle risk everything for a traitor? At least he could recognize Bonaparte as another legitimized authority.

“About your scoliosis.”

Richard turned to face her fully. “Excuse me?”

“I wanted to apologize, too. Magpie and I never asked how you might feel in regards to bringing Doctor Russo here. So, I’m sorry,” Strong continued. She looked over, face serious. “Accepted?” She held her hand out.

Richard was struck silent. It hadn’t even occurred to him to be offended by the offer, only annoyed by the protests he’d encountered. Without thinking about it, Richard accepted her hand and shook it firmly.

Strong grinned and Richard surprised himself by smiling back. Strong, despite her obvious failings, seemed to be tenderhearted. In some small way, she reminded him of his sister, dear Margaret.

“What have you been doing up here, anyway?” She asked. “Reading?”

Richard handed her the infuriating glass tablet. “Yes. The library is extensive.”

“King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever read the original stories. My cousins always bothered me to read The Once and Future King, but I never did.” She handed it back.

“My brothers and I had many debates over which of Arthur’s knights were most noble,” Richard replied.

Strong raised an eyebrow but shrugged. “I guess, Merlin? At least when we did literature in school I liked The Hobbit and Harry Potter.”

Richard eyed her blankly.

“Look, here, I’ll add them your list.” She tapped on the screen and then passed it back. “I think you’ll like Tolkien. It’s all wizards and magic and dragons.”

Richard nodded, still considering himself lost. He looked at the cover of the book, The Hobbit. Indeed, there was a dragon curled around a pile of gold.

Before he pressed on it, however, Strong grabbed him. “But first, you’re coming down for lunch.”

XXX

Richard spent his meal with Strong, who asked him about his family.

“You work here, shouldn’t you know?” He asked, focusing on his braised steak. Strong has also forced fried potatoes on him. Richard had never had the like, and after the initially disquieting sensation of how under cooked they were in the center, found himself enjoying the salty taste.

“Nah. I rely on Mags for that kinda of stuff. I wasn’t a history student in school. Didn’t one of them drown in wine?”

Richard had just taken a swallow of his own drink, the coffee that Miller had introduced them to, and narrowly avoided inhaling it wrong.

“Who told you that?” He snapped when he could breathe again. Strong looked at him wither brows furrowed.

“Uh, no one. I think it’s just cultural osmosis. It’s in your play, right? Hey! Harm, is it in Shakespeare where Richard’s brother dies in wine?” She leaned over to where Harmony and Leonardo were in conversation.

“You brother drowned in wine?” Leonardo asked.

“I think so. Hang on a tick,” Harmony said reaching for his tablet.

“He was drowned and sent home in a barrel,” Richard said shortly before he could finish the movement. “Edward did not want to honor his death, what with the rebellion and ordered it.” He did not mention his own part in the drama. “What play do you refer to?”

“The one about you? Have you not looked at that yet?” Strong asked.

Richard thought about all the quotes he’d seen around the castle and restrained a shudder. “No. It is by a man named Shakespeare, yes?”

“Yeah. You’re gonna want to look into it,” Strong said slowly, glancing at Harmony, who grimaced. “It uh, might inform some of the missing pieces for you.”

Richard was not sure how to interpret this and so nodded.

It could not possibly be that bad.

XXX

Hours later, Richard was seething.

His curiosity piqued, he’d sought out the play that Strong mentioned. He was fortunate and discovered an actual bound copy, though the pages were oddly flimsy and yellowed. It had also been behind a glass barrier, but Richard disregarded this as everything in this castle was technically his.

Richard knew there was going to be a problem as soon as he read the first lines.

“Now is the winter of our discontent?”

Richard’s jaw grew tighter and tighter the more he read. What slander was this? He, the slayer of George? And Henry V?

When he reached Anne’s death, Richard threw the book aside in disgust. He stood up and started pacing the room, running his hands through his hair.

How could he be accused? Was he to blame for Edwards death? For Elizabeth’s predatory family? For Hastings betrayal?

Richard pinched his nose and sighed. He walked another circuit around the room before throwing the door open. Perhaps he could find a sword to train with. It had been too long.

He was still absorbed into his dark thoughts while walking through Middleham. All the lights were out. This did not bother him as he could have walked Middleham blindfolded.

As Richard walked towards the entrance, to make his way out onto the grounds, there was a massive clanging from the dining hall. Richard paused and slowly rounded the corner from the door.

Leonardo had completely taken over the table with screens, papers and what looked like the entirety of the rubbish pile. The tall Italian ran his hands through his hair, talking aloud to himself and then looking at a one of the screens.

Richard cautiously stepped into the room. “Leonardo?” If the man had lost his mind, Richard would be left alone here as the only reasonable one.

Leonardo didn’t answer, only muttering louder. He stepped briskly around the table and looked at a different tablet, before pointing it at a piece of twisted metal. A minuscule red dot appeared and after a moment it beeped. Leonardo glanced at it and grinned, teeth exposed.

“Leonardo?” Richard tried again, a touch more impatiently.

He startled and looked up. “I know how to get Robespierre from the Bastille.”

XXX

Napoleon woke to find the English Castle in a uproar. Da Vinci seemed to have developed some plan to take back Robespierre. He lingered at the top of the stairs to listen.

“You want to disguise the ship as garbage?”

Season Two. Episode Nineteen: Human Needs. Part Two.

Leonardo didn’t know what to think anymore. It was…unnerving.

This evening’s revelations had left everyone subdued. Richard had left for the chapel, where he spent most of his time and Napoleon left for Harmony’s office, muttering something about world war.

Leonardo was left alone in his room, his hands and mind restless. He considered seeking out Jerome but discarded it the idea immediately. Jerome hadn’t even looked at him as he left the grand hall this evening, distracted by his sister in trouble.

So Leonardo paced the floor and thought.

Robespierre was imprisoned and apparently injured. The Bastille, the moon prison that Napoleon had been so certain was destroyed, was impregnatable. That sounded like a likely place to start. He took up the small electric tablet and laboriously typed in Bastille.

The moon prison was the most prominent result. Examining it, Leonardo did have to reluctantly admit that it seemed to be impossible to either escape or board. It reminded him of a large, segmented tube. There were few windows to the darkness outside of the Bastille and no doors. Leonardo gathered that to gain access you would need to dock on some unseen portal. He begrudgingly admitted this seemed reasonable. If you were a suspicious prince you would want to disguise the entrance, just to make it less appetizing to attack.

Leonardo browsed through the history of the prison. He snorted. Nothing here to assist. Clearly, if there was a weakness in the prison they wouldn’t make it public knowledge. He was distracted by looking through the history of space travel before returning to the Bastille.

Obviously, if there was a way to break into the Bastille, he wouldn’t find it in the known record. Leonardo set the tablet aside and sighed, before leaning backward.

A way into an impregnable fortress. It’s not as if the basic philosophies of design have changed in the thousand years since I was last alive. If there isn’t a way to enter traditionally, there must be another way in…

Sometimes when Leonardo was working on a problem, he found himself slipping into a reverie. He could lose hours in contemplation. His mind would be free to turn the problem inside out without worrying about the conventions of traditional thinking.

Prison. Locks. Bars. Levers. Keys. Doors. Windows. Trees. Flowers. Hills. The sky. The stars.

He shook his head. The scope was too large.

A prison, a prison. No way in aside from the obvious. No way out? Nonsense. Surely they must need to dispose of waste. Materials that are too large to be recycled or too dangerous to be kept onboard...  

Leonardo seemingly woke up to a knock on the door. He blinked heavily before sitting up.

“Come in!”

As he guessed, Jerome entered. The man looked tired. Leonardo assumed it was concern for his sister.

“Hey, Leo.” Jerome crossed to the desk and slumped down into the chair. “I’m checking in.”

Leonardo nodded. “It’s been a quiet night. I’ve been doing research on the Bastille.”

Jerome blinked and tilted his head. “Why?”

Leonardo was just as surprised by his question. “I wished to help. You seemed concerned for your sister and Robespierre did not seem to be a bad man.” He smiled slightly. “Nor does it seem wise to leave anyone with Miller for too long.”

Jerome didn’t laugh, still studying Leonardo in puzzlement. “I-I appreciate that. I just wasn’t expecting you to be concerned for any of us.”

“We are friends, si? I find the challenge invigorating anyway.”

Jerome laughed, his expression finally brightening. “I have to say I love the way you see things. Did anyone ever tell you no, when you were alive the first time?” His tone was genuine.

Leonardo’s smile grew. “They certainly tried.” The only one who could ever stop me from accomplishing something was myself.

Jerome laughed again. He seemed to be relaxing slightly. Encouraged, Leonardo asked, “What is your sister like?”

“Julia? She’s the good one. We both went into the service but she was the one with all the drive. I’ve always been fine with coasting but Julia throws her whole self into whatever it is she’s doing.” Jerome leaned his chin on folded arms. “We’re identical twins but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t assume that she was the eldest.”

Leonardo hummed as he reached for his sketchbook. “I’ve never met twins.”

“Really? Well, I suppose that the time period you’re from wouldn’t be great for infant mortality. Twins and triplets are a lot more common now, something like twenty percent of births. Did you have any siblings?” Jerome asked. “I can’t remember if any of the history texts I’ve read mention…”

Leonardo shook his head. “I was a bastard, so my mother was quickly moved away from my grandfather’s lands. Both my father and mother remarried and I had half-siblings on both sides. We were never close.”

“You’re illegitimate?” Jerome raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know that.”

Now Leonardo laughed out loud. “You didn’t think ser Piero da Vinci was my last name! Everyone called me Leonardo.”

Jerome flushed. “Everyone calls you da Vinci. I think it’s just because everyone knows who it refers to.”

“I’m flattered,” Leonardo said dryly. He stretched, jaw cracking as he yawned. “Do you have the rest of your patrol? Or would you like to stay?”

He watched as a pleasant flush redded Jerome’s dark countenance.

“I have to finish.” Jerome stood reluctantly. “But maybe later? Tonight?”

Leonardo leaned back on his bed, kicking his feet up onto it. “Si. Tonight.”

XXX

Napoleon Bonaparte was a cunning man. He had learned to watch, to listen carefully. He knew patience and the thrill of the chase. Of tonight’s discussions, he had only learned one thing: world war.

Let Robespierre stay where he was. The man was dead and declaimed. Napoleon was not unsympathetic but until he knew the allegiance of his captors he could not say anything in regards to the poor man. If they wanted to rescue him, let them. If he perished, God allowed that too.

Napoleon stood in front of the large glass screen Leonardo had shown him yesterday. With no little determination, he navigated it and found the electronic encyclopedia. Conveniently he was simply required to search the phrase.

World War One.

World War Two.

World War Three.

Napoleon hesitated before clicking on the first entry and then settling back into the chair to begin reading. (How nice it was to sit and stand with no pain. His body had returned to its youthful vigor.)

He’d finally read past the assassination which seemed to have begun the entire thing when the door opened.

“Oh. I didn’t realize anyone was still here.”

It was Jerome, one of the negro guards. Napoleon nodded. “Yes. I’ve been reading. Leonardo did not say that this room was off-limits…”

The man shook his head. “It’s not.” He walked closer, looking up at the large window-like screen, which was displaying an etching of Franz Ferdinand. “Oh. Reading about what happened after you died?”

Napoleon didn’t flinch. “Oui.”

Jerome was still looking up. He shook his head. “Crazy. All that chaos, just for one man…”

Napoleon frowned. “I find that most wars are fought for the glory of one man.”

“Right.” Jerome rolled his eyes and before Napoleon could chastise him for it, he had turned on his heel and was leaving. “Just make sure you turn it off before you go.”

Napoleon’s lips curled before he turned back to the screen. “As you say.”

XXX

When Leonardo arrived downstairs the next morning, he was in a very good mood. He felt like Napoleon and Richard could see it on his face but Leonardo couldn’t bring himself to care as he sat down and served himself from whatever it was that Richard and Magpie replicated for breakfast. Some fried meats and potatoes. Leonardo frowned. Had the English never heard of fruit?

He sighed and poured himself a cup of coffee.

At the entrance, Jerome and Strong were speaking, with their heads close together. Strong patted Jerome with her metal hand and Leonardo twitched.

He’d like to claim that he wasn’t a jealous person but when he’d seen all of his lovers leave for women, Leonardo couldn’t help but feel the prickles of defensiveness start. He tried to push it away and smile when Strong came over to the table.

“Good morning gentlemen. All quiet then?” She asked cheerfully and reached for the fried meat.

“It was a fine night,” Leonardo said quickly, with a smile. “Yours?”

Strong’s grin widened. “I bet,” she muttered and winked at him. “I just went home. Gods, I’m tired these days.”

Napoleon’s face was pressed close to one of the many tablets the castle had. He was nibbling on a small pastry. Strong looked over at him in concern but was swiftly distracted by the arrival of Magpie Jones, who was in the same clothing they wore yesterday and yawning enormously. They froze at the bottom of the stairs and smiled sheepishly.

“Morning is it?” Jones muttered. “Oh dear.”

Strong glared at Jerome, who shrugged. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure someone was going to send you home. I guess that didn’t happen.”

Jones took the coffee from Leonardo. “It’s alright Aspen. I had lots to do last night anyway. I’ll go home later, once we’ve settled some things.”

Strong opened her mouth to argue but was interrupted yet again by the arrival of Kami and Harmony Suski, coming through the front door.

Napoleon put down his tablet and looked up. “Allons-y! Round two,” he said in sotto.

Leonardo didn’t say anything but privately, he agreed. Jerome stared stonily at Kami who just frowned at him.

Strong’s eyes flicked between the two. She sighed and poured some of the coffee. “Alright, let’s do this.”

XXX

Aspen hadn’t wanted to deal with Jerome and Kami first thing but Magpie herded them away into their office and shut the door.

“I spent all last night doing research,” they started, heading around to sit behind their desk. “Everything was off the record but I did find out that there have been odd movements of Federation ships between Earth and the Bastille. The speculation behind it is that we’re going to be dismantling soon.”

It’s not terribly cost effective to keep an empty fortress after all. Not very attractive, either, Aspen thought. It was the same reasoning that people used when questioning the historical heritage sites throughout Europe and North America.

“It must be Haruka. She’s using it as an excuse to travel between the two without questions,” Jerome said immediately.

“Or they might actually be dismantling it.” Kami crossed her arms. “It’s not exactly ironclad evidence.”

Before Jerome could bristle, Magpie held up a hand.

“We don’t know and we can’t speculate. But let us assume that it is because there is a prisoner in the Bastille. Let’s assume it’s Robespierre. We are going to retrieve him. The last question is, how?”

Everyone glanced at one another.

“Magpie, that’s… It’s not possible,” Aspen said.

Jerome cleared his throat. “It might be.” He stepped forward and Aspen saw him blush. “I’ve been spending time with Leonardo. If we give him time he could find a way onto the Bastille.”

Kami scoffed and even Aspen had to frown. “Come on, Jerome. I know the man has a reputation, but he’s a thousand years out of date. He’d have to have a complete crash course in interstellar travel, physics, astrometrics just to get started.”

“But he doesn’t know it’s supposed to be impossible. If we ask him to do it and Harmony walks him through the math and science…” Jerome trailed off as everyone stared at him.

“We can ask.” Magpie was quiet, looking down. “But let’s have a plan B.” They turned to Kami and Harmony. “I think I have a compromise for your concerns.”

It was a simple plan. Winter break was coming up fast and Magpie was prepared to offer paid leave to anyone who didn’t want to stay for operation: Bastille.

“Take Cherry, visit Mars. You’ve brought it up before,” Magpie urged. “We won’t tell you any plans. If we get caught,” they twitched, “then you’re completely innocent to any knowledge about a conspiracy.” Magpie looked around the room. “That’s an offer for all of you, as well. I made the choice to take these people in.”

“It’s my sister,” Jerome said immeadly. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Primavera Russo shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, if the Federation really is holding an innocent man hostage, it’s my right as a citizen to know and my duty as a doctor to ensure his health.” She flipped her hair back. “I’m staying, even if I do have to put up with insufferable white men.”

Kami and Harmony were holding congress, heads bent close. At last Kami turned, her pretty face still scowling. “Look, it’s a bad idea and I don’t feel bad telling you that, Magpie. But I respect that you want to give us an out. We’ll call Cherry tonight and tell her it’s a surprise for the winter. Would two weeks be enough time, do you think?”

“I mean we’re already doing the impossible, why not do it in an impossibly short amount of time too?” Aspen asked.

Magpie shot her look but smiled slightly. “We’ll have to find out, won’t we? Aspen, you’re staying?”

Aspen startled. “I mean…I’m the only trained pilot. Who the hell else is going to be able to get up there and back?” She asked. Her false bravado hid her nervousness. But Magpie smiled and nearly illuminated the room.

“Thank you Aspen. That’s a relief to have you,” they said. “Alright, so we have a loose plan. Jerome and Harm, you need to talk to Leonardo and see if any of his ideas are viable. If not, we’ll need to figure something else out. Russo, we still need to talk about where we’re going to build an infirmary on the grounds. And-”

“You need to go the hell home, Jones. Seriously you’ve been here like forty-eight hours now. Come back tonight and we’ll get started then,” Aspen said firmly, striding forward to grab the bosses arm. “Get your stuff and I’ll walk you out.”

XXX

Magpie was quiet as Aspen escorted them to the transport kiosk.

“Do you think he could?” Aspen asked suddenly. “Leonardo, find out how to get inside the Bastille?”

Magpie’s mouth twisted. “He was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant men of his generation.”

“Buuuuutttt…”

“But he was notably flighty. His skill isn’t the only reason his painting are so valuable. He didn’t finish as many as his contemporaries. He was a good theorist but not necessarily a practical man,” Magpie sighed. “Probably we should focus on the more conventional. Jerome’s sister might have a way onto the Bastille.”

Magpie and Aspen hesitated before the terminal.

“We’ll see you tomorrow, no sooner?” Aspen looked at Magpie critically. She was in no position to boss Magpie around but for someone who was usually so well put together, they looked rough, with circles under their brown eyes, hair mussed and suit rumpled.

Magpie opened their mouth to disagree but cut themselves off with a yawn, hastily putting up their hand. “Oh, alright. Fine.”

Aspen watched at Magpie took the transporter away and sighed, rubbing her temple before sighing. Alright. Time to go deal with everyone else’s egos.

Season Two. Episode Nineteen: Human Needs. Part One.

PART ONE.

It was an extremely strange experience to sit down in the ancient dining hall in front of a replicated dinner with Leonardo da Vinci across from her and Napoleon next to her. Aspen took a bite of her sandwich and watched Napoleon struggle with his burger. 

“You don’t eat it with a knife,” she pointed out and took the opportunity to take some of his french fries.

“I’m not some savage or student, to eat with my hands,” Napoleon snorted. He persevered with the fork and knife.

Leonardo was clearly lost in his own head, eating with his right hand and sketching with his left. It looked like the designs of an eagle or falcon in flight. 

Harmony and Kami were getting ready to head out for the night, standing in the entryway, speaking to Magpie. Richard was sitting at one end of the table, eating steadily and ignoring Russo who was sitting at the other end. She eschewed dinner, studying the maps of the land around Middleham. 

“Is this whole damn castle built on a swamp? The only safe places to build would be inside the castle walls,” she asked aloud, pointedly.

Richard scowled. “The ground is steady enough to hold the castle,” he snapped.

Russo glared at him. “It won’t always be. You should see the state of the plumbing,” she muttered, looking back down. 

Aspen hid her smile in her coffee. She wasn’t above being amused by petty bitching between the doctor and the Englishman.

Above them, there was the electronic whine of an engine and she glanced up. Cutting it close, Jerome.

Aspen stood and stretched. She grabbed the last bite of her sandwich and stuffed it into her mouth, getting ready to be relieved of duty. Let Jerome keep the keep, as it were. 

But instead of the calm saunter that she expected from Jerome, the door exploded inward, nearly taking out Harmony. Jerome wasn’t even in uniform but he looked wild, his eyes red and breathing heavily. Everyone stopped and looked up at him.

Before anyone could ask Jerome, he spoke. “I know where Robespierre is!”

No one spoke the question since it was obvious. There was a moment of horrible silence.

Jerome’s eyes flicked around and he swallowed. 

“The Bastille.”

Aspen sat down heavily, nearly missing her chair. 

“The Bastille,” she repeated flatly. 

“But that’s impossible. The Bastille hasn’t been used since after World War Three. It’s barely functional,” Magpie protested. 

“World War?” Napoleon asked, sounding intrigued. He went ignored.

Kami whirled around and faced Jerome, her hands on her hips.

“How do you know this? The Bastille’s files are only accessible by the top brass,” she demanded. Behind her, Harmony nodded.

“The server isn’t even on Earth, it’s a self looped network. I couldn’t hack it if I wanted to.”

Jerome hesitated before shaking his head. “I can’t tell you my source. Just know it’s as solid as I am, please Magpie,” he begged as everyone glanced at each other. “And the evidence is good. Doctor Miller is up there. She has been for weeks since Robespierre disappeared.”

“Miller is on the Bastille? She is a prisoner?” Russo asked, pretty face ashen. “My god. I’d never think-”

“No that’s the thing, she’s got a run of the place apparently. Orders from-from…” Jerome faltered, glancing around again. He stepped closer to Magpie. “From Chikara Haruka.” 

As the staff of Middleham, all looked at each other, bemused and worried there was a bark of laughter from Napoleon. 

“I think you’ve all been misled,” he said when Aspen turned to him. He had ketchup in the corner of his mouth. “The Bastille has been destroyed.”

“Wrong Bastille,” Aspen said shortly, turning back to Jerome. “Why the hell is Haruka letting Miller run around on the Bastille?” 

Jerome glanced at their audience. Leonardo had stopped sketching, eyes fixed on them in a fathomless stare and Richard had braced his hands on the table, frowning stonily. Jerome shifted, grimacing at Magpie. 

“Boss, can we have this meeting in private? I don’t think-”

He was cut off by all three white men.

“We would all like to know what happened to Robespierre, I think,” Leonardo said. He looked at Richard and then Napoleon. “If he’s been arrested, we should know.” 

“I want to know what Miller’s doing,” Richard growled, fingers flexing

“If Robespierre is held in the Bastille, which he is not, I should be told,” Napoleon snapped. 

Everything looked at Magpie, who was rubbing the bridge of their nose. They took a deep breath and looked at Jerome. 

“Jenkins, you should just report on what you know. We can’t just keep them in the dark while they are living here. That’s not fair.” 

Jerome glanced at Aspen, who nodded curtly, even though her stomach clenched anxiously. She was sure Jerome wouldn’t ask for privacy unless he had a damn good reason for wanting to keep it private. 

Jerome twitched but stood at stern attention. “Understood. My s-source informed me that while prisoner Robespierre has been-” His voice broke suddenly and Jerome mouthed silently before trying again. “He’s been. Been tortured.” 

Everyone was silent again. Magpie looked ill, their eyes wide, a hand to their lips. Harmony slowly sat down while Kami stood shaking, her hands clenched. 

Aspen didn’t dare look over her shoulder to find the reactions of the dead men.

“That’s illegal.” Her voice sounded hollow. “Torture has been banned by the Federation. Haruka is already breaking the law by keeping him without a trial, with no lawyer. She can’t possibly-”

“Sensory deprivation. Sleep deprivation. Force-feeding. They’re using a hose on him at full pressure, which is just as bad as a beating and you know it.” Jerome seemed to be speaking as fast as he could, eager to be rid of the dreadful knowledge. “We have to go get him.”

Aspen staggered. “Get him? And what exactly? How?” She demanded. 

He looked at her, hurt. “I don’t know, but if we don’t they’ll kill him.”

“So?” 

Richard had stood up from the table, arms held over his chest. “Let him. He’s a kingslayer and a tyrant.” He nodded at Napoleon, who dropped his eyes to the tablely. “If he’s a traitor then he deserves nothing more.”

“That’s not how things are done now,” Jerome snapped. “We don’t just let people die because we disagree with them.” He looked back to Magpie. “Please, Magpie.”

“Why are you so invested in this? Is your source in danger?” Kami spoke up. Her tone was frighteningly even. 

Jerome hesitated again. Aspen watched as he ran his hands over his face before turning in an agitated circle. Who would Jerome know that he’d be this upset over? A lover? No, it hit Aspen suddenly. 

“It’s Julia, isn’t it?” 

Jerome looked over at her and his face crumpled slightly. 

“Yes.” 

“Your sister is in Haruka’s guard?” Harmony asked, impressed and aghast.

Jerome nodded, jaw clenched tight. “Yes. She was ordered-” his voice broke painfully. “She was ordered to assist Miller.” He turned to Magpie. “Please, she didn’t know, Miller told her that Robespierre was an android. She was forced-”

Aspen began to pace back and forth. This was going from a mess to an outright catastrophe.

“You don’t even want to rescue Robespierre for himself! You want to do it for your sister,” Kami spat suddenly. “I agree with Richard.”

Aspen looked around in horror. “What?”

Kami squared her shoulders. “Look. The Bastille is impossible to get into. And I’m sorry but we don’t know Robespierre. He died over a thousand years ago. Let him die again.”

“I’m not letting my sister become a murder,” Jerome snarled, starting forward. Aspen quickly grabbed his arm. 

“I have a daughter,” Kami snapped. “If we get fucking arrested because Haruka finds out that we’re the ones who have been harboring fugitives,” she pointed emphatically at the men at the table, “then I will never see her again. Robespierre is one man.”

Harmony looked from his wife to Magpie and Aspen. “We can’t go to the labor farms,” he agreed. An uneasy silence fell over the hall. Jerome looked furious. Magpie clutched at their forehead, pacing. Russo had also stood up from her chair, squaring off across from Kami. 

“I’m a doctor. I took an oath. I’m not standing by while a man might be dying.”

“Might. Might be dying. We don’t know anything for sure. What do we have, Jerome’s testimony?” Kami pointed at Jerome. “You didn’t bring any proof that Robespierre is even up there.”

“It’s my sister. I think I can fucking tell when she’s lying,” he spat. 

“Okay I think we all need to calm down,” Aspen said stepping between the two of them. “Jerome, I believe you,” she said, looking him in the eyes. “But we can’t go off half-cocked. Is Julia in any immediate danger?”

Reluctantly Jerome backed down and shook his head. “No. She didn’t know until she started talking about it and I put the pieces together.”

Magpie was still frantically pacing but they stopped cold when Jerome said that. “You told her?” They asked, tone faint and horrified. “Was it recorded? Are her feeds watched?” 

Jerome shifted nervously. “It’s a private feed. But if she was suspected then any of her data can be searched,” he mumbled. 

Kami threw an arm up in the air, face lined with anger. “Oh yeah? And when it leads Haruka directly back to you? To Middleham?” She gestured at herself and Harm. “I chose this position because it was supposed to be safe, Magpie. I’m not a traitor.” She laughed without humor and rubbed her temples. “I’m run HR for god’s sake!”

“It’s about a human life, Kami. And the guards who don’t even know their helping to torture a human,” Russo said, stepping up. 

“A human who was dead-”

“Still a life-”

“I’m not going to let my sister-”

“ENOUGH!”

Everyone jumped. Aspen had never heard Magpie shout before.

Aspen saw them shudder before turning around and facing Middleham. Magpie’s face was fixed in a rigid anger that did not mesh well with their soft features. 

“Enough.” Softer and calmer, Magpie crossed the hall and stood between the head of the table and the Middleham staff. “The decision has already been made. We made it when we decided to help them the first time.” Kami tried to interrupt, her words low and dark but Magpie spoke right over her. “No. We’re not going to let Robespierre die alone, illegally held in the Bastille.” They met Kami’s gaze evenly. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to stay and help. We all have lives and families to risk.” They looked around the room. 

Russo tossed her head. “You’ve already gotten me here. I’m seeing this through. Though, I’m still dubious if Robespierre is actually being harmed.” She shook her head. “I just can’t believe that Haruka would do that.”

“I want to help. Julia’s in a fit, knowing what she’s done.” Jerome shuddered. Aspen coughed.

“I don’t know if that’s a great idea. If Haruka figures out the connection is you and Julia…” she trailed off.

Harmony was holding his head in his hands. He looked up with a sigh. “I don’t know what to say. I think Kami’s right but I don’t know how to justify leaving another human to suffer. But it’s the Bastille.” His tone tightened as he went on. “God, there’s also all the rest of them.”

Magpie sighed. “I know. But we’ll have to worry about one of them at a time. Right now I need to know if you’re in or out.”

“In or out?” Kami repeated. “This isn’t football, Magpie. It’s treason.” She turned to Jerome. “Look, I’d have an easier time believing this if there was some evidence.” Jerome opened his mouth to repeat his sister’s account and Kami held up her hand. “Other than your much-sainted sister. Can she show us proof? A picture or recording? Something so we at least know we’re not going to risk our lives or livelihoods for no reason?”

Aspen could see that Jerome was visibly gritting his teeth. “I’ll see what I can do, but if it puts her at risk, I’m not going to ask her to do it.”

An uneasy silence fell over them. “I think this is the best we can do right now.” Magpie’s voice was soft. “Harmony, Kami, Aspen. You’re off. Go home and get some rest. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow.”

Kami needed no further direction and quickly grabbed Harmony’s arm. “Let’s go. We have a call tonight.” 

Jerome snorted. “Good riddance,” he muttered and Aspen nudged him in the side. 

“Chill. They’re just worried. We all are. Just keep an eye on everything tonight and don’t let the Boss stay all night. They need to go home at some point,” she said quietly. 

Jerome twitched. “Yeah. I’ll try.” 

She poked him again. “And don’t spend all night in Leonardo’s room either.”

Jerome finally smiled slightly. “Hey, if he wants a piece, I’m not saying no, you know?”

Aspen rolled her eyes, shoulders relaxing. “Fine, you slut. I’m leaving.”

But even as she took the transporter home, Aspen couldn’t shake the feeling that their situation had just become even more dangerous.

Season Two. Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part Two.

Maximilien was woken by a sharp pain to his neck. He jerked but couldn’t gather the strength to scramble away. He’d been unbound as his captor no longer considered him a threat. He’d had another three encounters with the terrible force-feeding tube and each one left him weak, trembling in a huddle on the floor. Inevitably his abdomen would cramp into knots and he’d expel some liquid bile onto the floor. 

His mind was unraveling. It was gradually pulled apart by a single thread, where the frayed fabric could be easily punched through by his visions and dreams.

Max squinted up. His eyesight was becoming increasingly terrible. If he was blinded, he’d no longer have to see the phantom of Camille sitting across from him, his head cradled in his lap. No more Danton looming over him, or Marat castigating him for his mistakes. 

“Don’t speak. Well actually, you’re welcome to try.” Rainbow Miller’s voice was close to him. Her shadowy outline shifted.

Maximilien wanted to beg her for release. If she could undo what she’d done and allowed him back into death, he’d forgive her anything. But he opened his mouth and tried to force the words but nothing happened.

“It’s a localized numbing agent for your vocal cords. Don’t worry, it won’t last forever,” Miller said.

There were footsteps and then Maxime lost touch with the floor. He was pulled to his feet, but unable to stand, so he was dragged. The touches were impersonal and felt far away, the pressure on his arms barely registered. Brount was barking and the smell of lilacs and sawdust was in the air. 

The sun was brought through the window of his study. His desk was neat. Downstairs there were the quiet sounds of the household below. It was not Arras. But it was home, with Eleanore and Antoine, Camille and Lucile coming by with the baby. Coulthon and his puckish humor. David’s sticks of sketching charcoal forgotten on the settee. Danton with his ill-gotten wine, climbing the steps to meet with him, his eyes bright in his scarred face. Antoine inside his rooms, his curls falling into his eyes as he worked on the next report for the Comittee. The rain over Paris, washing away the blood into the Seine…

Maximilien was forced back into his body when the first jet of water hit him in the face. He gasped and then choked. He’d been pinned back to the wall and could now only thrash his head back and forth to try and avoid the frigid spray. He opened his mouth the scream but nothing happened. Not at all. 

XXX

Julia Jenkins, Lt. had joined the Federation with her twin brother. Jerome had always been more of a playboy, more interested in the simple answers than duty and so remained earthbound. Meanwhile Julia ascended, picked by hand for her ambition and service for Chikara Haruka.

She didn’t know why they were on the Bastille, only that Haruka had ordered it suddenly, urgently. In less than two hours a discrete cargo ship was lifting off and headed towards the artificial ring that served as part space station part prison. Haruka stood in the back watching the infamous Rainbow Miller, who did not look at all concerned to be suddenly arrested and whisked away. 

Now they’d been on the base for days and rumors grew. Miller had been freed and now it seemed she was doing bizarre experiments on an android prototype.

“It insists that it’s an AI and we’re trying to sort it out,” Miller explained shortly when Julia asked. “Hit the water again.” The android hadn’t even been given a designation. Julia wrote it off as one of Miller’s many quirks. She thought she’d heard Miller referred to it as “Max”. 

Julia felt uneasy, watching it squirm against the wall. It was unnervingly silent, especially since it often spoke to Miller when they performed fuel injections. Now however it just slumped to the side, wet and broken looking. 

Miller walked forward her cane tapping on the ground and stood before the android. She examined it closely for a moment, opening its ocular lenses, it’s auditory systems, it’s chassis and frame before humming and gesturing them forward. 

“You can take him back now and consider yourselves dismissed for the night. We’ll perform a fuel injection in the morning.” 

Julia almost breathed a sigh of relief. She was tired and her uniform was soggy from the ice-cold water. She and Briggs unlocked the android and it sagged between them, forcing them to drag it’s heavy frame back to the holding cell.

“Why even have a fuel injector and not just a charger like every other android?” Briggs grumbled. She was just as soaked as Julia. “What’s the bloody point?” 

Julia shrugged. “You’ve heard the stories about Miller. Why does she do anything?” 

 

“To see if it can be done,” they chorused together, then broke down into giggles. Miller was almost a meme, someone so absurd but popular that it was easy to craft her into farce. 

Julia finished toweling off while Briggs grabbed her basketball. “Do you want a game? Larousse and Yu should be getting off soon and we can do doubles.” 

“I need to call my brother, but I’ll be down in a second,” Julia told her. Briggs shrugged and grinned. 

“Blow him a kiss for me.”

“Fuck off.” 

XXX

The quarters on the Bastille were serviceable, if old-fashioned, a relic of the period they originated in. Julia kept banging her hip on the cold metal desk, which was just a sheet of steel that jutted out of the wall, soldered on. Everything about the room was far more authoritarian than anything the Federation designed now. 

Julia replicated herself a small bowl of pistachio ice cream while waiting for the connection. They were rationed 4gb of data per day and most of hers went to dessert and her calls back to earth. She’d put in a token bet on if Blanche was going to come out as dating his bandmate but didn’t have any real hope of winning.

“Hey! How’s it going Jewels?” Jerome was flushed and smirking when he picked up a clear sign that he’d recently gotten laid. Julia rolled her eyes. 

“Not as good as it’s going for you, apparently. Who was it this time?”

Jerome winked. “Not telling. You wouldn’t know him anyway.” 

Julia wrinkled her nose but dropped it. Same old Jerome. “Fine. How’s Aspen? Is she psyched for Blanche’s concert?”

For a moment Jerome looked blank. “Oh uh. You know I don’t know if she’s going to see it. We’ve been pretty busy here.” 

Julia laughed. “What? At Middleham? What, too many school field trips to handle? Chasing aliens away from the moat?” 

“Middleham doesn’t have a moat,” Jerome corrected her automatically. Julia rolled her eyes again.

“Oh right.” She let the silence linger for a beat before sighing. “So are you going to tell me why you’re busy or what?”

There was a flash of an expression she’d never seen on her twin’s face. Panic. Jerome was supposed to be the charming, romantic one of the two, the one who thought on his feet and used his charm to get in and out of sticky situations. 

“Jerome?” She asked again when he was quiet for too long. 

“We’re having some renovations done to the castle. Jones is freaking out about it, working me and Aspen to the ground. There’s all kinds of people hanging around now,” he finally said. His voice was calm and the cadence natural. He even met her eyes. 

“Jerome.” Her voice came out like the whip-crack she’d never heard except for in movies. 

He sighed. “I’m being real with you, Jewels. We’re having renovations, there’s a bunch of strangers in the castle, that’s it. Please, can we talk about something else? How’s it going with your posting?”

Julia could feel it deep in her gut that she shouldn’t let him off the hook. If she pressed Jerome long enough he’d cave to her, like he always did. But there was that expression, the look in his eyes. Whatever was happening at Middleham, it wasn’t for her to know. 

“It’s going alright. It’s been uneventful for the most part. I haven’t seen my CO for like, a week now but I think we’re being farmed out to Miller anyway- oh fuck!”

On-screen, Jerome was wearing a similar look of alarm, not amusement like she’d expected for her slip up. It was pretty common for Julia to usually forget about Chikara’s NDA and accidentally blurt out scuttlebut to her family. It was how Jerome found about Chikara’s impending marriage a month before the official press release.

“I didn’t say that!” She said quickly. “Forget it, Jerome.” 

Typically he would, with a grin and wink. But now his eyes were large and she could see where a vein ticked in his forehead. 

“Did you say Miller, like,” he glanced over his shoulder and leaned into the screen, “Like Rainbow Miller?”

Julia shook her head frantically but it was too late. Jerome groaned and leaned back, rubbing a hand over his face. He looked up at the ceiling and muttered something that the audio didn’t catch. He looked back at the screen. 

“Okay. Is there any way you can tell me where you are?”

XXX

“Jewels, you’re late. Get over here and help me against Yu!”

Julia is distantly aware of putting on the best performance of her life. Her body moves on autopilot, grab the ball, pivot on one foot, bounce it under Yu’s legs right to Briggs. She smiles when her partner shoots and yep, scores. 

In her head, she’s a wreck. 

Jerome had told her the most ridiculous story. Dead white men, up and walking around? Some bizarre experiment that Miller had done, or maybe it was aliens or whatever. Now they’re being hunted by Chikara, the Federation’s most loyal supporter, President Zhu’s strong right arm to keeping the Federation peaceful and orderly.

She’d kidnapped him off the fucking street, in broad daylight, as he screamed. Jerome sent the security footage you saw the panic in his actions, the same that he had when you’ve grabbed him. Shorn and isolated and oh god…

Julia didn’t believe him at first. Miller was up here because she was running secret experiments, Government Eyes Only. Where else would they hide, then in the Bastille? Who would investigate this lonely place willingly? It was a test on a rogue AI, ensuring that it’s wasn’t really developing past its programming. Everyone had stories about an android with so much personality you could swear it was living.

It wasn’t saline, those were tears. It wasn’t a new nitro mix for fuel it was a liquid food, it wasn’t an injection it was cold-blooded torture. I’m a fucking monster.

As soon as Julia had been convinced, something that only her brother could do, she’d confessed everything that had happened, the cold sweat of disgust all over her body. The ice cream melted as she cried, Jerome trying to tell her that she couldn’t possibly know, this was something that Chikara and Miller cooked up. She gasped out what had happened, what they were doing to the man. Jerome’s face had paled and he scrubbed a hand over his face. The warning that they had used up almost all of Julia’s data made them both jump. 

“Look. You can’t let Chikara and Miller know that you know, or that I know. Just…play along.”

“Play along?!” Julia shrieked. “We fucking used a high-pressure hose on him today! I’m don’t want to-”

“Two minutes.” The computer’s smooth voice cut across Julia’s hysteria.

“You’re going to have to, otherwise Chikara will have us all up there, Jewels. Please,” Jerome begged. “I’m going to tell Magpie and we’ll make a plan to rescue him. You won’t have to do it very long.”

“It’s the goddamn Bastille,” Julia snarled, tears dripping onto her console. “You don’t just fly up here and ask nicely to be let in.”

“One minute.”

“We’ll make a plan. Play along. I’ll make sure to keep you out if it. Just promise me you won’t try and interfere with Chikara or Miller. Promise me?”

Julia hesitated. Her heart was shredded. Her trust in her brother, her loyalty to the Federation and Chikara, her horror at what she’d unknowingly done. The knowledge was a fork, the tines pulling through her tender soul. 

“Promise!” Jermone barked.

Julia jumped and eyed the countdown. “Fine, I promise. Just, get up here soon please?” She begged. 

Jerome breathed a sigh and smiled. “I will. I love you.”

The feed cut out. 

XXX

Robespierre seemed to be wilting. His already pale skin was becoming translucent, sapped of vitamin D. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen, the green of his eyes disappeared behind the black. He didn’t react when Rain poked him with a needle. If it weren’t for his rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing, he could be mistaken for a corpse. 

“We’re going to have to change the fuel,” Rain tsked. It was simply easier to allow the indulgent fantasy of a broken android than waste her breath on the guards. She stood up from her crouch and nodded. “Grab him and let’s go.” 

One of them moved promptly but there was a moment of hesitation from the other. She glanced at Rain before reaching for Robespierre. 

“Is there an issue?” 

She startled and adjusted her grip on Robespierre, tightening on his arms. “No Ma’am.” 

Rain watched her carefully before turning on her heel to lead them from the cell. So far no one had raised any objections, there had been no suspicions on her conduct. Rain guessed that Chikara had ordered this silence.

“Pin him down.” 

Robespierre struggled weakly. “Non. Non. Arretez.” Rain wondered if she should have numbed his vocal cords again.

Once again the guard shows just the flicker of hesitancy but Rain seriously considered throwing her from the room anyway. Or telling Chikara.

Robespierre gagged around the tubing, convulsing before going limp and shutting his eyes tightly. Rain messed with the recipe and it’s slightly thicker when she poured it down the funnel. Robespierre gagged again when it hit his stomach. Rain can see the tremors in his hand as he flexed his fingers around the arms of the chair. 

She watched carefully as she flushed the mixture with water, looking at the guards. One of them, a shorter more muscular woman from the independent State of Texas watched with barely concealed boredom, her eyes glazed over. The other one, taller and lithe, was standing at stiff attention. She wasn’t shivering or fidgeting, but there was a deliberate control in her stance. 

Rain sat back after she finished. The taller guard moved to unbind Robespierre. 

“Stop. We’ll leave it like this for a bit.” 

There, in the girl’s eyes was what Rain was looking for. Panic, fear, anger. She almost smiled. I see you figured it out. But were you smart enough to see it or did you have help?

“You’re dismissed. We’ll come back for it at,” it was just after six, “two hundred hours.” 

“What? That’s two hours!” She blurted out and Rain made a show of blinking in surprise.

“Yes. It doesn’t have anywhere to be. I’m running a simulation and need to check on in. Check the perimeter and then we’ll take the android back two hours,” she said, shrugging lightly. “I do have other things to do up here you know.”

For one moment Rain was sure the girl was going to refuse, her eye’s quickly flickering over the tube that was still running down Robespierre’s throat. But she and other guard gave a crisp salute and matched out the door.

Rain flicked off the light as she left, considering her next move.      

Season Two. Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part One.

Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part One.

Richard wouldn’t know how to define the way time passed at Middleham. It seemed both that he spent his days relearning his home and all the changes, but then either Strong or Jones would find him and he would be called for dinner. When he looked back later it would seem that he did nothing for days. 

Jones persisted in their attempts to speak to him but Richard found that all he needed to do was claim exhaustion or illness to be left alone. Outside of their company, however, Richard found himself entirely alone, except for the beings of light. Leonardo did not seem interested in his company, spending time with one of the guards, or speaking to Harmony about computers.

Richard had also found himself lingering in the chapel for hours, praying for guidance and strength in light of this new world he found himself in. He was no longer a king, no longer a husband or father, no longer a soldier. But Richard would be damned before he lapsed and abandoned his faith as well.  

Then Russo returned.

“I had to completely rearrange the shifts at the clinic. Also if anyone asks, I’m visiting a monastery in Tibet,” she told Jones, who grinned shakily. 

“Let’s hope that holds up under examination,” they said. Russo pursed her lips.

“I’ve spent time there before. If it’s for spiritual guidance people are less likely to go looking for me. And I rented a room there.”

“Won’t help if they look for your ID,” Strong pointed out.

“That’s the last case scenario, hopefully. Besides, I’m not missing. I’m not going to drop out of contact with anyone. There’s no reason for the Federation-”

“Chikara,” Strong interrupted. 

“For anyone to go looking for me,” Russo said calmly before casting her gaze on Bonaparte, who was examining her as well. Richard had noticed that he had a soldier’s bearing, feet firmly planted and shoulders stiff. Russo didn’t seem to care, reaching out to embrace his hand. 

“Doctor Primavera Russo.” 

Bonaparte’s eyes flicked over her height, her face, her hand. After what was clearly a moment too long, since Strong and Jones glanced at each other, he took her hand. 

“His Imperial Majesty Napoleon Bonaparte,” he said gravely. 

Russo’s cheek twitched. “Pleased, I’m sure,” she muttered and dropped his hand, turning to Richard. “So I’ve been doing research and I’ve come up with a few experiments about how to make your spine. But first, we’re going to have to come up with a sterilized space to do it.” She grinned suddenly, the first Richard had seen on her. “It would be a fine thing for you to die of an infection in the thirty-first century.”

Richard could feel his face harden. It was something that Anne told him many times that frightened the court since his mood suddenly became unreadable and unnerved his company. 

“Is it so necessary?” He asked quietly. The room stopped, even Bonaparte. 

“What? What do you mean?” Russo looked over at Jones. “What does he mean?”

“I speak for myself,” Richard snapped. “I mean what I say. Is my life at risk, with my back as it is?”

Russo’s grin had long fled and now she crossed her arms over her chest, her face just as stony as his. “No. Scoliosis isn’t life-threatening. But surely you don’t want to be,” she gestured to all of Richard. 

“Please, tell me what I should not wish to be when the Lord Almighty crafted me thus?” Richard replied coldly. Jones laughed too loudly and stepped towards Richard, palms up as if Richard was some horse to need calming. 

“Richard, she-she didn’t mean that. It’s just that… well, wouldn’t you be more comfortable?”

“I don’t think my comfort matters unduly.” Not if it’s God’s will to have me be so. It would be a just punishment for my life.

Jone’s face twisted slightly and for the first time, Richard saw irritation pass over it. “Richard, are you saying you don’t want to have Russo operate on you?” 

Richard stiffened. Jones may think of themselves as the new master of Middleham, but the last virtuous king died with him on Bosworth.

“No. I do not wish it.”

Russo threw her hands up and snarled like a dog. “Fantastic!” 

Jones approached Richard. “Please, Richard it would really be for the best if you-” He backed away, uninterested in their protests.

“No. If he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t have to have it.”

Everyone looked around at Strong. She was leaning against the table, her arms crossed over her chest. She was looking at Richard evenly, expression inscrutable. She looked over at Russo. “You said yourself, it’s not going to kill him. If he wants to live the way he was born, we can’t tell him to change it.” 

Richard blinked. Once again, the maid soldier had surprised him.

Strong bit her lip now. “But I do think that Doctor Russo is right. We’ll need a medical bay. We still don’t know what condition we’ll find Robespierre in.”

Bonaparte startled, eyes wide. “Robespierre?”

Richard looked over at him. “Yes. Do you know him?”

Bonaparte hesitated, eyes flicking around the room. “I did not know him. I knew his reputation as a tyrant, a dictator,” he said slowly as if feeling out the words. 

Richard snorted, mouth twisting. I knew it. For all his words about being an unjust ruler, he ranked petty tyranny over others. 

“He was kidnapped, right before Leonardo and Richard came to Middleham and uh we still can’t find him.” Strong shifted her weight back and forth. “Harm’s still working on it.”

Russo, who still looked mulish, sighed loudly. “I suppose you’ll also want me to fix that when we find him.”

Jones looked over at her with a small smile. “That’d be great, certainly.” 

“Well if you want me to, then get me a layout of the grounds,” Russo demanded. “I’ll take my bags upstairs.”

With one last look at Richard, she scooped up her belongings and mounted the stairs. Richard had the insane desire to laugh, trying to picture any of the ladies of the court doing the same.

Strong cleared her throat. “Well, I need to check in with my commander. I’ll use Mags office.” She nodded at them and turned towards the smaller stairwell. 

Jones seemed to have trouble looking at Richard as they passed, muttering something about checking in with Harmony. Bonaparte and Richard were left alone in the grand hall. 

“Why don’t you want your spine fixed?” Bonaparte asked. “You might as well accepted and soothed them.” 

“I don’t want them to try to fix me,” Richard replied, affronted. “There’s nothing to fix.” 

XXX

Aspen stayed in Magpie’s office, flexing her metallic fingers. The neural processor made it flawless. She could still remember having her real hand, it had only been seven years, but if she’d had it reskinned, even Aspen would admit that she’d never know the difference. She could make out texture, temperature, pressure. In some ways, the prosthetic was even better, since she could exert more pressure than a normal hand could and withstand higher temperatures. The wrist and all the fingers could reverse the joint or rotate in 360 degrees. The metal was military-grade alloy.

Doctors now had to report if they suspected that patients were harming themselves to get prosthetics. They were so much better than human parts that a common ice-breaking question was “if you could get a body part replaced, which one would you want?” 

It was no wonder that Richard’s flat refusal surprised Doctor Russo. 

But it was a good reminder. 

Aspen looked up when the door opened and Magpie stepped in. To their credit, they didn’t even look surprised.

“Aspen.” 

She relaxed and smiled. Magpie was one to wear all of their emotions on their sleeves. Even just her name had no bite behind it. 

“Boss.”

She stood up and waited at ease while Magpie settled in, looking much like their namesake in a nest. Ruffled feathers and all. 

“I’m assuming you’re hovering for a reason?” Magpie asked. 

“Permission to speak freely?” 

Magpie startled. “You’ve never asked before,” they said slowly. “I’ve never had a reason to ignore your advice before.”

Aspen shrugged. “We’re in uncharted waters here, boss. We’re harboring three fugitives and figuring out how to turn Middleham into a safe haven. I figured I should at least observe the basics, right?” 

Magpie snorted. “Alright. Permission granted. What is it Ensign Strong?”

Aspen relaxed her stance. “I think we’re going to need a psychologist.” 

To her surprise Magpie sighed and nodded. “Yes. I think so too.” They shook their head. “I wasn’t expecting Richard to refuse treatment like that. I thought he’d want to be able to…” They shook their head again. 

“Be normal?” Aspen guessed. Magpie looked up sharply. “That’s quite ableist of you.”

“I didn’t think that he’d consider his spine to be a part of his…identity,” Magpie admitted. “I’ve studied the late medieval period for two decades. I knew I was in love with it the first time I read about the Hundred Years War. At first, it was a bitter love. A perfect example of European excess and the so-called divine right of kings. And then I slowly grew fascinated by the people who fought it. And who was more fascinating than the perfect prince who might have committed fratricide to secure his position?” Magpie was frowning heavily, looking into the middle distance. “All of my research, sitting in sealed rooms wearing a mask and gloves to handle thousand-year-old texts and I thought…” They sighed and looked at Aspen with a lopsided smile. “I thought I knew him.”

Aspen shrugged. “I’m not a historian. I couldn’t tell you anything about it. But I do recognize the signs of a displaced soldier,” she said as gently as she could. “And more than his spine, it’s his head and heart we’re going to need to look out for.”

“It sounds like you’ve given this some thought. Alright. Do you have an idea? Who were you assigned to after you lost your arm?” 

Aspen laughed. “Absolutely not! Gods, I wouldn’t subjugate anyone to Leddi. That man could make you think up was down. Also, he was a hardcore atheist and that’s not gonna fly with this crowd.” 

“True. We’ll need to appeal to Richard’s spirituality.”

“And Leonardo’s and Napoleon’s. And Robespierre’s if we can ever fucking find him,” Aspen said pointedly. 

“I think Robespierre was an atheist,” Magpie said absently. “But you’re right. We should make it part of the deal. Weekly counseling, like we would for any trauma. Okay, so who did you have in mind?”

“An old college friend of mine, Robin. A double major in theology and psychology. He’s out in Rome and actually did four years as a chaplain on a ship.” 

Magpie raised one perfect eyebrow. “Really? A practicing priest?” 

“I don’t see how we’re going to get Richard or any of the rest of them to trust him if he wasn’t,” Aspen admitted. 

Magpie sighed. “Contact him. See if he has any interest, but subtly.” 

Aspen groaned. “Great. More subterfuge!” 


A/N: I’m not going to do this often, because it’ll be too easy for me to just start posting essay’s down here about my Opinions on History, but I felt this update was going to warrant some clarification. First, in regards to Richard’s back, the original draft has him do the surgery. But upon further consideration and rereading some thoughts from his biographers, it occurred to me that it was as Aspen said, “ableist” and considering Richard’s piety, out of character for him to just be okay with allowing an invasive operation to change a fundamental part of who he is. Secondly, in regards to some of the statements Magpie makes on Robespierre which are incorrect, one should remember that Magpie’s specialty is Medieval Europe, not the Enlightenment or French Revolution. If a historian doesn’t actively tap into a time period, they might not know any more than any other academic on the subject.     

Season Two. Episode Seventeen: Invasive Operations. Part Three.

Part Three.

A/N: Who here thought I’d just forgotten about the whole dog subplot? Surprise!

Ava paced her cell, tail brushing along the walls. 

Norma rolled over onto her back. “You’ll tire yourself out,” she yawned.

Ava growled.

“You shouldn’t worry. The humans aren’t going to harm us. We’ll get food and water. It’ll give Baby and Jep a chance to rest while we plan.”

Her pads were sore from scraping over the concrete but Ava’s heart felt like it was going to explode from her ribs, like a rabbit from the undergrowth. “They’re going to alert Rain, I just know it.”

“We escaped from her once,” Norma pointed out.

“And who’s to say we’ll do it again?” She barked, the sound echoing off the scentless flat walls. Immediately the other cages were filled with the sounds of barks and snarls. Ava could hear Bobby and Berwald among them and ran to the gate, pressing herself along it to try and scent them.

Then there was the painful squeaking of the door and Ava could feel all of the fur along her spine rise. She had not come so far only to have humans lock her away. 

“What’s the issue here?” It echoed along the walls and they all fall quiet. Someone whimpered. “Keep it down, damnit.” There were footsteps and a shadow, far bigger than Rain’s or Ava’s human black out the lights. Ava bared all of her teeth, her growl coming all the way up from the bottom of her ribs. 

“You’re the troublemaker.” He pressed a hand against the grating and Ava snaps at it, nothing playful about it. He quickly withdrew his hand. “Alright! We’re still trying to figure out just where the hell you came from, so don’t take it out on me, huh?”

Ava doesn’t relax until he’s walked away and shut the door behind him. 

“Do you think they’ll find Rain?” Norma asked. “She was taken away by those other humans…”

Ava wished she felt more certain when she snorted, “no.”

XXX

A small report from Clio: A Muse. 

It is 3000 on Earth and 109 on Mars. 

Currently, Her Excellency Unathi Hua Zhu is President of the Terran Federation. The Dante is in year seven of its mission to Alpha Centauri. The Galactica Corp has just recently broken records for the largest trade ever made with alien terrestrials, exchanging one billion gigabytes of data on Terran history and culture in exchange for Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. The ongoing debate of if the Federation should dispose of the Moon prison, the Bastille. The defense claims that it is a scar across Earth’s face. The opposition argues the impracticality of dismantling and disposal. 

Reparations have continued on the New Great Barrier Reef. Divers have been working on cultivating artificial coral and prompting the return of sea-life. Volunteers continue cleaning up the plastic island in the Pacific. The Federation would like to remind everyone that offshore dumping is punishable by five years on a labor farm.

The Stadium for the New Cape Town Olympics had been completed, with 45,000 seats. This will be the tenth anniversary of inviting alien ambassadors to the games. There are still negotiations for alien participation in 3004.

Blanche has been topping the music charts for the past sixteen weeks and his face has been plastered all over Cairo and Madrid in anticipation for his first duel streaming concert, using the newest holographic technology. On the independent scene there’s musical comedy conglomerate, No Boats Allowed. Two Non Identical Twins have just come out with a trending cover of Nena’s 99 Red Balloons. There’s been talk of adapting Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a  West End musical.

Doctor Rainbow Miller’s prototype for the next long distant hovercraft has mysteriously vanished and set back production for months, much to the anger and disappointment of the Federation, as they had already pre-ordered fifty test units. ID data capacity has been increased, to adjust for the new average human lifespan, 139. 

There has been an inexplicable rash of grave robbing across the planet. None of the thieves have caught, leading to the theory that they are receiving off-world assistance. Several alien governments have been questioned or bribed. The Komali have spontaneously dropped contact and missed a rendezvous to meet their ambassador. No one can find Rainbow Miller. 

Officially, Major Haruka Chikara is stationed in Cairo as part of the presidential cabinet. However, she cited a private emergency and has refused all calls except from President Zhu. There are rumors that she might have finally consummated her marriage with her alien husband, but no one has seen him for weeks, either.  

There have been seven successful resurrections thus far.   

Season Two. Episode Seventeen: Invasive Operations. Part Two.

Episode Seventeen: Invasive Operations. Part Two.

A/N: This is for Jeremy. You know what you did. Thank you.

 

Richard’s very first introduction to the so called “Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte”, as Magpie Jones introduced him grandly was when the other man looked around Middleham and sniffed dismissively.

“Is this where I’m to be banished?” The man complained, looking over at Aspen Strong. “This drafty English castle?” He waved his hand around the grand entrance.

Richard was gratified to see that he wasn’t the only one who bristled. Jones’s red tinted lips tipped down and he caught Kami and Harmony Susuki grimacing at each other.

Strong rolled her eyes and squeezed his shoulder with her metal hand. “You’ll get used to it. Here, let’s get you something to eat and get caught up.” She glanced around. “Although maybe we should get Doctor Russo to look at you first?”

Jones shook their head. “She left to arrange her sabbatical. We have to make it look natural, she can’t just up and vanish.”

Strong shrugged and continued to drag Bonaparte with her. He did not seem to expect her strength and stumbled over his own feet following along, glancing around at the castle’s tapestries and the small glowing panels that were embedded among the masonry.

These were the panels that Richard had spent the majority of his morning studying. There was at least one is every room and he discovered that when activated they played small scenes, the actors appearing in a beam of light that Richard could pass his hand through, as if they were made of fog. To his understanding they represented what the life of the castle would have been like to live in.

It had shocked him, when Richard activated one of the panels and was confronted with himself. The representation was fairly close, although the clothes were plain and he seemed too old. But the scene was of himself, with Anne. They were in audience with several nobles, their hands lifelessly clasped together as they listened.

Richard played the scene several times, his heart tight as he stared at Anne. Her representation was a poor one, her features plain and wooden, but Richard could look into her eyes and with a little imagination, it was almost as if she was before him again. Before everything had gone so terribly wrong, their son taken from them and her own health plummeting like a dove shot out of the sky.

He’d only been pulled from his musings when Jones found him and pulled him along to meet the Emperor Bonaparte. Richard eyed the young man again, who was being instructed on how to use the food and clothing dispenser by Strong. His countenance seemed noble enough, but his name was not one that Richard was familiar with.

“Where is he from again?” He muttered to Jones.

“He’s Corsican and French by marriage. I suppose you could also count him as Austrian if you tried,” they said.

Richard snorted. “Why didn’t you drag Leonardo down here, then?”

“Oh! We should introduce him, shouldn’t we? Would you get him, please?” Jones asked, eyes wide.

Richard’s refusal was on the very edge of his tongue, pressing up against his teeth before he remembered that he had no authority here. He clenched his jaw together and spun on his heel, towards the stairs.

“Thank you!” Jones called out after him.

XXX

Leonardo took his own good time in answering Richard’s summons.

He was disheveled and was biting back a yawn when he opened the door. He seemed disappointed to see Richard, mouth twitching into a small frown.

“Ah. Richard, how lovely. Good morning,” Leonardo mumbled, leaning against the door frame. “What can I do for you?”

“It’s noon, the day’s half over. Have you been asleep the entire time?” Richard’s voice rose incredulously. Leonardo waved his complaint away, smothering another yawn.

“I was reading all night.”

Richard frowned and mentally marked down sloth onto Leonardo’s list of faults. “There’s a new person downstairs.”

Leonardo regarded him blankly.

“Another one. One like us. He was Emperor of France, apparently.”

Leonardo blinked and straightened up. “Emperor? Well that is something,” he muttered and nodded to Richard. “I’ll be down shortly. What is his name?”

“Bonaparte.”

Leonardo nodded again and whirled away, snapping the door shut in Richard’s face. Relieved of his duty, Richard took the opportunity to return to the chapel. After all, Jones never said he had to return.

XXX

Leonardo was enjoying the future. More than he ever could have guessed. It was as if he had finally found where he was meant to be. Everything about it was fantastic. There was a quote in one of his own biographies “It was as if Leonardo had woken to find the world still dark.”  Leonardo was awake again and found that everything was illuminated to an almost painful degree. 

Leonardo made his way into the heart of the castle and he could hear Aspen speaking to someone. 

“So I still unclear. Are you technically French or Italian? Because you were Emperor of France but your army was Italian?”

Leonardo had just stepped off the final stair as the man answered. “I am Corsican. Neither Italy nor France had a right to claim and oppress my home.”

Aspen’s eyebrows were raised as she listened to him. She was resting her chin on her human hand. As Leonardo drew close she waved at him. 

“Either way I guess you’ll have company here, beside all the barbarous British. Leonardo, come and say hello to Napoleon Bonaparte.”

The man turned in his seat and blinked at Leonardo, thin brows drawing together slightly. Leonardo offered his hand and bowed slightly from the waist. 

“I’m pleased to know you. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the news from Corsica.”

Napoleon nodded, still staring at Leonardo as if he couldn’t place him. “Yes. And you are?” He glanced at Aspen. 

“Leonardo as in da Vinci. He died in France, right?”

Leonardo smiled, thinking back on his borrowed chateau. “Ambroise. It was beautiful.” 

Napoleon’s eyes had widened and he suddenly stood, taking Leonardo hand and shaking it enthusiastically. “You! You painted the Mona Lisa!”

Leonardo smiled. “Si. You admire her?” 

Napoleon’s smile was a wide and toothy thing. “I love her. I put her in my bedroom, in the Tuileries. She is the best of all the portraits I have ever seen. Not even David could capture the like on canvas.”

The praise made Leonardo flush. “Oh. Well, thank you. She’s not finished,” he admitted.

Aspen slapped her hand down on the table. “Perfect! Since the two of you get on, Leonardo can you show Napoleon around the rest of Middleham? You know, get him all caught up? I need to speak to Magpie.”

Leonardo nodded and gestured to the door that led into the courtyard. “Your highness, I’ve been reading up on the history of this castle. I think you’ll be interested to learn about the Nevilles.”

Napoleon’s lip curled back and out of the corner of his eye, Leonardo saw Aspen flinch. 

“I doubt there is, but I would like to take a look at the fortifications. Are there maps, as well? I want to know where exactly on this damned island I am.”

XXX

With Napoleon taken care of Aspen headed back up to the offices where she found Magpie and Harm looking over his program for finding the recently-resurrected. 

“Is Napoleon all settled in?” Magpie asked. Aspen leaned against the desk and watched as Harm did something clever with the coding. 

“Yep. I drafted Leonardo to help. What’s this?” She asked, gesturing to the screens.

“I was thinking it over last night. If we’re trying to figure out how many of these uh,” Harmony looked at Magpie to fill in. 

“Temporarily-displaced,” Magpie said at the same time Aspen shouted “dead people!”

“Zombies,” Harmony nodded at Aspen. “If we’re trying to find zombies and we know they don’t have IDs then instead of combing every millimeter of the planet with the smart recognition program all we should need to do instead is use subtraction right?”

Aspen looked at him blankly. “What? How?”        

“We can always know how many IDs are currently on Earth. There’s a live counter right on the Federation site. Look,” Harm pressed his display and it popped up on the screen. As Aspen watched the counter fluctuate around 11 billion, the last five digits changing faster than she could read them. Harm pressed another button and it froze. 

“Then all we need to do is take the Terran-tracking life sign counter, the one that the Federation uses on a private database.” Another number, this one at 11.4 billion and Harm pressed it. “So then I’ll subtract the two and remove the calculations from the Martian colony.”

“But how does that help us find them?” Magpie pressed. “All we’ll know there’s a discrepancy.” 

Harm smiled and held up a finger. “Ah! I’m glad you asked boss. Now all I have to do is find the life signs that don’t have a corresponding ID…” He swiped his fingers across the board. “So these are the remaining ones. What I’ll do now map out each of these life signs.”

He flicked his fingers up and the holo-globe popped up. As Aspen watched little blips of light started appearing. They then kept appearing, like a little leak that reveals a serious problem in the plumbing. 

“I think you’re calculations must be off,” Aspen said. “There must be-”

“It’s one hundred and forty-seven,” Harm told her. “The flickering ones are accounted to births/deaths.”

“But the others…” Magpie slid their fingers over the globe, spinning it. “Look! There’s these three in Vegas City. And over here in Moscow. And look, here’s where we are! Oh my god.” They looked at Aspen and Harm, eyes wide and horrified. “If there’s really this many…”

“Then what the hell are we going to do?” Aspen finished.