People crowded the streets, as busy as any market day in Paris and yet, as Maximilien looked around, everything was so clean. There were no rivers of mud, no clouds of flies over stagnant water, no thick hazy of smoke rising from the houses or shops.
It was….deeply unnerving.
He trailed after Leonardo and Rain, who was talking at top volume and as fast as she could move her jaw.
“This isn’t even the biggest city on the continent, wait until I take you guys to the capital of Colorado. It has a population of over a million people.”
“A million?” Max interjected. Rain nodded, and then pointed to the towering glass buildings around them. Greenery trailed down the face of some, and trees seemed planted on the tops of others.
“All of these are high rises. More people live in apartments now than ever lived in houses. Especially since the third world-”
“All of these are apartments? But, where are the business?” He interrupted, looking around. A nearby corner had as sign and as Max watched its lettering swam before his eyes, before it became legible.
“Red River?” He asked.
“Named after the country we’re in. After the second U.S. Civil War, and the Great Division the Dakota’s became one country, with Montana and Wyoming.
Max blinked in surprise.
“Second civil war?” He muttered.
He supposed that America’s revolution had been more turbulent than it’d appeared to him in 1781, if they’d had two civil wars already.
“We’re at the transport station, I can’t explain now. Here, where’s Richard? Richard? Good. Follow me.” Rain pushed open more of the glass doors and started down a staircase to some kind of underground tunnel. It seemed to be lit with multi colored lights that morphed from yellow, to green, to blue, and back again. Rain’s silhouette was swallowed quickly as she descended.
Richard and Leonardo glanced at each other. Max sighed quietly before starting after her.
“Where else can we go?” He asked quietly. After a moment, he heard them step down after him.
Rain waited at the bottom, and pushed them over to line of people who were facing towards a large oval platform. As Maximilien watched, a family stepped onto the platform, and the operator pushed a button on the glass screen. In a whoosh of light, the family disappeared.
“Pretty awesome, right?” Rain asked smugly and then turned around to face the three men.
Leonardo, who had Richard’s shoulders in an iron grasp, forcibly held him in place, while Max watched with a horrified gaze.
“They’re gone,” he muttered hoarsely. Rain rolled her eyes, and grabbed him firmly by the elbow.
“It just breaks down molecules and puts them back together at another location. Don’t be a child.” The line moved forward and Max’s heartbeat doubled.
“I don’t think I want my molecules broken down.”
“It’ll be fine.” Leonardo whispered quietly, even as his eyes darted to the front of the line nervously.
“Well it’s this or I make you get in one of the flying machines.” Rain squeezed Max’s elbow. The line lurched forward again. He watched a couple disappear in a flash of light. Richard was now actively struggling in Leonardo’s grasp.
“I will go nowhere in that-” he was cut off when, with an exasperated sigh, Rain turned around and slapped him. Several people turned around to stare.
Rain grabbed the back of Richard’s neck. The ex-king, seemed to be stunned by the blow and stared wide-eyed into her face.
“You. Have. No. Choice.” She punctuated each word with a small shake.
“Ma’am?” All four of them jumped when a woman spoke up from in front. They were next in line. “Is everything…alright?”
Rain smiled. “Yes, sorry. Doctor Rainbow Miller, I work for the Federation. My address should already be in the system.” With an arm around Maximilien and another around Richard, she stepped up onto the platform with Leonardo.
The operator, a pretty dark-skinned woman wearing a blue jumpsuit frowned. “I need to scan their IDs as well, Doctor.”
Rain turned her sharp gaze on her. She smiled, and Max saw the operator shrink back.
“I think you’ll find I have a pass for guests under my account.” She pushed back her long dark braid and offered the back of her neck. Max heard a beep and the operator bit her lip after looking at the screen. When she didn’t move, Rain frowned.
“Do I need to speak to a supervisor?” Her tone seemed mild but the operator quickly shook her head.
“No ma’am. You’re fine. I’ll transport you straight away.”
“You do that,” Rain muttered dryly, before standing in the center of the platform, still gripping Richard and Maximilien tightly. Max shut his eyes, anticipating something like the feeling of having his face torn apart by another bullet.
There was a bright flash of light and a small shiver seemed to run from the top of his scalp to the bottom of his feet. He tried to open his eyes and found he couldn’t. He couldn’t move at all. He wasn’t even sure he was breathing anymore, or that his heart was beating. Everything was quiet, still, and very bright.
When the light finally died away, Max blinked and looked around, before his jaw dropped open. Gone was the underground tunnel where they had been standing, now they were outside, standing in the street, looking a large house. Richard was patting himself down. Looking around, eyes wide. Leonardo let out a quiet breath and grinned, clapping Max on the shoulder.
“See, was that so hard?” Rain scoffed and limped ahead of them. “Honestly, such a trouble. Here I was think I’d picked more enlightened men.”
Richard was rubbing his face where she’d slapped him and scowling fiercely after her. While Max didn’t like to think he would agree with Richard in any capacity, he found himself sympathetic.
Rain’s condescension was quickly becoming grating.
“And here we are.” Rainbow flung the door open, the lights automatically flickering on. Leonard, Max and Richard stepped in slowly. Rain limped ahead of them, whistling. “Come on, babies!”
The sound of the paws slapping on the floor and barking announced the arrival of Rain’s dogs. Robespierre’s eyes widened. Richard braced himself against the wall. Leonardo took a step back. From around the corner a pack of eight dogs, all different breeds ran straight for the door, letting out bark and yips of excitement. Rain crouched down with her arms open, the dogs immediately slobbering on for her troubles.
The largest of the dogs, a shaggy hound with stately lope sniffed at Richard, big yellow eyes on the former king.
“That’s Ava. She is my big alpha girl, aren’t you sweetie? I made her. She’s a wolfhound and German Shepard mix,” Rain explained, smiling up at the three men.
Rainbow picked up a piebald spotted grey short-legged dog with a long tail. “This is Norma, a welsh Corgi.” The dog wagged her tail, grinning. “And that’s Lester,” she pointed to a pointed German pointer. “The German Shepard is Ava’s half-brother, Berwald. That is Bobby, the Border collie, and Pallas, the poodle. Here is Jep, my King Charles’s Spaniel. And here’s Baby! She’s the baby of the pack.”
“She looks like a ball of sheep wool with eyes.” Richard said curiously reaching out to touch the Pomeranian. Rain frowned pouting-ly, moving the puppy away. Leonardo took the fluffy dog instead.
Max found himself trying to pet all of the dogs, seemingly at once. Pallas the poodle kept coming back for more and whined when he took his hands off her.
“Here come on you guys. I can make food.”
With that, Rain started back down the hallway. The men and the dogs followed them. Richard felt a tug on the hem of his sleeve, and saw that the hound, Ava, had latched onto him, white teeth glinting.
“It seems you have a friend Richard.” Leonardo said cheerfully still carrying the fluff ball. Richard frowned. “Get.” Ava tugged harder, her tail starting to wag playfully. Behind him, Max snorted.