A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Twelve: Fraternite. Part Three.

Part Three.

Somewhere north of Boulder, Colorado.

Ava lifted her head, sniffing at the wind. Dusk had settled over the forest and all manner of small easily killed animals were merging from their holes. Between Bobby, Berwald and Lester the kill pile was quickly flowing with mice, birds and small rabbits. Jep sniffed at a rabbit, it’s throat torn out, and whined.

Ava huffed, shaking herself. “Don’t turn it away Jep. It’s food.”

The little spaniel whined again. “It’s bloody.”

Ava tossed her head. “You’ll get used to it.”

She trotted pas him to where Baby was flopped over in the shade of a tree. The long day run had been hard on the smallest member of the pack. Norma was looking after her.

“She’s not made like the rest of us. It’s exhausted her. We’ll have to give her all night and probably some of the daylight tomorrow to recover,” the Corgi said. Ava nosed the puppy, who whimpered.

“She’ll adjust,” Berwald growled from behind. There was a thump and Ava turned to see a freshly killed crow on the ground.

“This will be for naught if members of the pack start dropping from exhaustion and hunger,” Norma warned. Berwald bared his teeth at her, and Norma growled right back. Ava raked her large paw down the side of Berwald’s face.

“Stop it. Norma’s right. We’ll let Baby recover, and start south tomorrow evening. We head for the cities. We have to find our humans,” she ordered. Berwald crouched down low on his belly.

“Yes, alpha.”

He walked away, tail hung low, and catch in his mouth.

“You’re going to have to get that under control,” Norma sniffed.

Ava privately agreed but kept her tongue in her mouth.

XXX

Rain was working very quickly. Her fingers blurred over the touchpad.

She’d seen as Marie Rivera and Chikara’s private forces had taken Robespierre, throwing the man into the back of the transport vehicle. It was on its way to the Bastille even now, and Chikara herself was getting ready to meet it there. In the top of the line newly minted Moon Flyer, it would only take them about three hours to get up there. All Chikiara had to do was get her officers in line and arrange a cover story for her absence at HQ.

It was a miracle Rain was even still allowed to go anywhere without a body guard but everyone had been called to Chikara’s side as she announced her trip. Rain had snuck away and using a tricky piece of old-school hacking had gotten into her personal notes.
Notes that were now being uploaded to the internet.

“Information is meant to be free, chienne,” she whispered, grinning savagely at the screen. The process was destroying what she’d left on her personal sever and nesting it as a private program in the cloud.

It would take them months to find it, if they even could.

She finished her final keystroke, as the sound of boots approached the room. Quickly Rain shut the browser down and hit a hard shut down on the screen.

“What are you doing?” Asked the young guard.

“Looking at porn,” Rain answered flippantly. “Is Chikara ready then?”

She turned when a voice spoke from the front of the room. “Yes, Doctor Miller. Jerkins, put her in handcuffs. I think She needs to learn to keep her hands to herself.”

Chikara was dressed in her military uniform, dark blue with silver edging. “We are meeting Marie at the Bastille.”

Rain sneered. “Joy.” Her hands were securely crossed at the wrist behind her. Jerkins, the guard grabbed her shoulder securely. “Careful, I have a limp. You should carry me,” she told her.

Chikara ignored Rain’s irreverence. “Come. We’re leaving.”

XXX

Richard woke from uneasy sleep with Leonardo tapping insistently on his shoulder.

“Wake up. We’re near to Middleham,” the Italian told him. Richard noted the heaviness around his eyes and wondered if he’d slept at all.

He sat up and peered over Aspen Strong’s shoulder. They were descending, and he noted that the sun was beginning to set. His heart caught as he saw the familiar sight of the Keep.

“I have to fly this into the underground launch pad, we keep it out of sight for historical accuracy.” Aspen was carefully guiding the flying machine down. She angled it down and Richard could feel the floor under him tip forward as she gently descended into a large hole in the ground. It was dimply lit, and Richard could see other machines against the walls of the cave. It landed with a gentle thump and there was silence as the machine went dark.

Aspen opened the back of it again and hopped off the ramp. Feeling a little like cattle, Richard walked down it. After Leonardo followed him off and Aspen closed it she led her way back out of the hole. A metal door, like a drawbridge closed it after them. Richard breathed the smell of the distant river and the heather of the wind whipped moors. In the distance trees creaked and overhead some storm clouds were gathering. Richard could feel the building rain storm in his bones.

Over taking Aspen and Leonardo Richard strode ahead of them, needing no leading here. In his minds eye he could practically see George ahead of him in horseback, calling over his shoulder to ‘Hurry up Dickon!’

The main part of the castle was right ahead of him, and feeling his heart thumping in his chest, he jogged across the bridge to the main doors. This he knew, as if by instinct.

Richard’s arms strained as he pushed the doors open. The creaked but swung into the great hall.

His cousin seated on the dais at the end. His Lady Anne coming to greet him. His son. He’ll open the door and all will be right again. He’ll wake up from this dream and Edward will be alive and Richard will still be his most loyal servant. 

“Aspen’s back!” Someone shouted and Richard’s dream disintegrated before his eyes.

Several people, all but one darker than him, rushed into the hall and stopped cold. Richard was still hovering between the outer door and the hall, when a cold hard hand, like it was wrapped in a gauntlet, grabbed his good shoulder and pushed him in.

“Look what I brought!” Aspen cheered. “The king comes back!”

Leonardo came to stand next to him, looking around at the castle.

“So this is England?” He asked under his breath.

“The north, yes.” Richard aid back, watching as from the group of four as a shorter man pushed his way to the front. His hair was shaved all the way to his brown skin, except for the top of his scalp, where he had a tuft of silver hair. He was staring at Richard with almost unseemly amazement, mouth gaped.

“Uh you doing okay Magpie?” Aspen asked.

“Oh my god. It’s really you. It’s really Richard the Third,” he choked, eyes filling with tears. Richard shifted slightly, an unnerved prickling along his neck.

“Did Rivera get the other one?” One of the other men spoke up. He was looking at Aspen, who nodded.

“You’ll never guess who it was, Harm,” she hissed.

“And who is this one?” The shortest person there, who was still taller than Richard, whispered, looking at Leonardo.

The Italian bowed. “Leonardo ser Piedro da Vinci, at your service.”

The assembled group went quiet and even Magpie tore his gaze away from Richard.

“Leonardo…da Vinci?” Aspen asked slowly.

“Like the Mona Lisa, da Vinci?” The other woman asked. Leonardo tilted his head.

“The who?”

Magpie whipped out his tablet and quickly typed something in before turning it around. There was a small portrait of a woman who was smiling, her hands contently folded over each other. At first glance Richard didn’t think there was anything particular about it, but the longer he stared the more lifelike she appeared. He cast a surprised glance at Leonardo. He hadn’t know he was a court artist, clearly this was a woman of some import to have a portrait like this.

Leonardo brightened. “Ah! Si, Giaconda.”

The assembled group gasped.

Aspen put her metal hand to her head. “Oh my god. We kidnapped Leonardo da Vinci, and King Richard the Third.”

Magpie on the other hand was beginning to smile. He grasped each their hands in turn, shaking them enthusiastically.

“Gentlemen, I can hardly tell you what an honor it is to welcome you here to Middleham.”

XXX

Maximilien found himself jerked awake when the vehicle landed. He listened, heart pounding, as metal scraped along metal.

Could he possibly make a run for it once the door opened? He didn’t think so. Instead Max backed into the corner, resolute to at least make it difficult for them to dislodge him. The walls were nearly freezing to the touch, but he gripped them tightly.

The doors opened and light poured in. Instinctively he raised an arm to block it and there was a thumping as another person joined him in the vehicle. He was rudely grabbed and nearly pushed out of the box, stumbling and nearly falling onto his face.

Another set of hands grabbed his shoulders and whipped him around before he could get his bearings and his wrists were bound behind his back. He was pushed forward by a firm hand on the back of his neck.

“Move.”

Maximilien twisted, trying to dislodge it, heart rapidly thumping as memories of the guillotine rose within him.

“Non! I demand to-“

“Quiet, move!” He was shoved forward again, this time stumbling forward. His glasses slipped and his surroundings blurred.

They rushed him down a long dim hallway that seemed to curve continuously. Max was jerked still when they wheeled him around and brought him face to face with a featureless sliding door.

“Chief, we are bringing the android to you now. Security code forty-seven.”

The doors slid open and Maximilien was dragged in.

He shook his head, trying to see pas the shatter glass over his eyes.

A woman sat behind a desk, her dark hair pulled back into a neat bun. She glanced up at him and frowned.

“I told you to take those,” she nodded at Max, and someone pulled his glasses off. Now blind, Maximilien blinked rapidly in the harsh light.

“I am Maximilien Robespierre. Where am I?” He demanded.

She nodded at him again.

“Secure him in number five after processing.”

They started to drag him away.

“Welcome to the Bastille.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Twelve: Fraternité. Part Two.

Part Two.

Aspen led them to another warehouse through the most convoluted means Leonardo had ever experienced. When he asked her why, she pointed to the corner of a building opposite them.

“See that? The black thing? It’s a camera. Its recording images of us and sending them to Federation surveillance. It’s actually how we found you guys. And probably how Chikara Haruka found you too. If the cameras catch us, they’re going to figure out who rescued you, and then it’s all over.”

She crouched low and moved quickly around the corners of the exterior of the warehouse. Leonardo and Richard followed.

For Leonardo, he kept replaying the instance of Robespierre’s capture in his head. How the Frenchman’s eyes had widen in terror, his fingers wrapped desperately around Leonardo’s wrist, as the soldiers tore them apart. He kept looking over his shoulder expecting the floating vehicle to appear to spirit them away as well.

Exhaustion was beginning to set in and he was relieved when Aspen finally opened the door to a warehouse. “Okay, this is it.”

They entered and Leonardo stared around at the dusty boxes, illuminated by the bright sunlight beaming down through the glass windows.

In the middle of the expensive and mostly barren room was a sleek looking machine, in a dull grey. It sat on three struts and arched like the shape of a predatory bird on a upward flap. Aspen walked to the back of it. They followed her, and she opened a ramp up into the machine.

“Okay, get in.”

Richard frowned but went forward, stepping on the metal ramp gingerly, as if not confident in its structural integrity. Leonardo followed him in then turned to see Aspen punch a button on the screen next to it, raising the ramp back up to close it.

She pushed by them to sit at the front of the machine. Leonardo watched as she tapped the flat panel and around them the machine came to life.

Aspen turned around and raised her eyebrows. “You’re gonna want to sit down,” she told them smiling slightly. Richard did so, gripping the edge of his seat as an added precaution.

Leonardo supposed he still remembered the adventure with Rain’s ‘carriage’.

Aspen typed commands quickly, and above them the ceiling of the building opened up. Leonardo guessed what was going to happen next and sat down, leaning over so he could watch out the large window in front of Aspen.

He felt the vibrations through the machine and the moment the unseen engine kicked in to lift it off the ground. Richard leaned back, with his eyes shut.

Despite the desperate situation Leonardo couldn’t help but feel a smile come over his face. He’d dreamt of flight for so long, and here, it was achieved by humans so easily.

They lifted up and out of the building, into the bright sunlight. He watched as Aspen effortlessly steered the flying machine by sliding her fingers over the glass panel. It tilted upwards and sped up, the clouds misting past.

“Where are we going?” Richard grit out, fingers curled into the bench.

“Um, the north of England. To a castle called Middleham,” Aspen said absently. Richard’s eyes flew open and he whipped his head around to stare at the woman.

“Middleham? It still stands? What of York?” He demanded.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not the original, it’s basically all been rebuilt, but yeah it’s still there. Magpie the person in charge of it, they’ve been working to restore all of these old historical places.” She looked over her shoulder. “I’ll be able to explain more once the experts are here with us.” She laughed slightly. “I’ll be honest, I was never really into history in school…”

Leonardo suddenly chuckled, rubbing a hand into his eyes. The true absurdity of the situation was getting to him. “Va bene. Me either!”

Aspen grinned at him. “We should be there in in about 90 minutes. Maybe you should try sleeping?” She offered.

Leonardo wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to, his mind racing, and having lost his sketchbook in the scuffle with the soldiers.

Richard, however, swung his legs up onto the bench and draped an arm over his eyes.

“Wake me when we get to Middleham,” he ordered, and then fell silent.

Leonardo fell quiet too, but as he stared down at his hands, he wondered about where Robespierre was, if he was even still alive.

XXX

Clio adjusted her toga and ran a hand through her curly hair.

“You’re a right pain, do you know that? Now I have to follow two different lines of narrative,” she told the prostate figure, sitting where he’d been thrown on the floor of the government containment vehicle. He seemed to be in shock, his arms curled protectively around himself and shuddering every so often.

She huffed but kneeled down next to him. His glasses had been cracked, but it hardly mattered, she doubted that he would have been able to see anything anyway.

Clio sat next to him in silence for a while, observing the human.

She’d been born a muse, unlike many of her colleagues, and had always felt drawn to the invisible tide that connected stories. She felt that this one, the semi obscured figure in front of her, was going to be a keystone.

She couldn’t sit in the dark with him for long, Richard and Leonardo would reach York before Robespierre was, but she figured that even her presence might ease the tension in his soul.

XXX

For a long time Max was aware of nothing further than the darkness of the vehicle he found himself in. There were slight vibrations under his feet but further than that he couldn’t sense anything out side of the doors. He felt his way around the space but couldn’t find any handles on any of the walls, at last concluding that there weren’t any on the inside.

Finally Maxime sat down in one of the corners to wait. His fingers drummed on the metal surface and he chewed his bottom lip. His eyes ached to see anything in the darkness but it seemed to go on forever. He had the terrible feeling if he fell into it, it would consume him.

Closing his eyes brought little comfort, still aware of how cold and still the space seemed.

He laid down on his side and brought his knees to his chest for warmth. He wondered if Leonardo and Richard had gotten away or if they had been captured as well.

Exhaustion seemed to sink into his bones, and despite the cold and metal bruising him Max slowly feel into a fitful sleep.

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Twelve: Fraternité. Part One.

Part One

“What do we do now?” Robespierre asked when they found themselves back on the street. Richard thought furiously. They had no allies, and no resources. They could return to Rain and see if they could lay low until the aliens left, but it seemed unlikely. Richard sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Leonardo? Opinions?”

The Italian shrugged. “I see very few. We have tried Paris, and now Egypt. Florence is gone. London seems to be the remaining choice.”

Richard scowled. “We should go to the North.” There was chance he might still be remembered fondly in York.

They started walking towards the industrialized area that Richard had seen as Kamala guided them to her house. Much to Richard’s disappointment, there seemed to be a large fence barricading the way in.

“We should head back to the transporters then, oui?” Robespierre asked. His nasal voice sounded quietly dejected.

“Si, we can go around the back of these warehouses to there.” Leonardo gestured offhandedly, staring at the machinery being built on the other side of the fence. “Look,” he stopped them both. “It’s all being built by machines.”

Richard took another glance and realized the Italian was correct. Without any men around at all machines seemed to be operating independently, lights flashing, beeping and clanging like the sounds of a thousand men-at-arms on horse back. They moved harmoniously. Richard saw them cross back and forth rapidly, never stumbling or crashing into each other as one would expect from such massive objects.

“That’s incredible,” he admitted. With one machine it was doing the work of a hundred men.

Robespierre was staring at them, lips pursed in thought. “Oui, but then, where do the people work?”

Leonardo tilted his head. “Maybe this world allows for everyone work as artisans, or grocers, or farmers.”

Richard snorted. “That’ll be the day. I bet most of them are in service to lords, as soldiers.”

Robespierre considered this. “Do you think that with machines doing all this work people have enough work? I mean, have either of you seen any deprived people, other than the students that we met?”

Richard thought about it and looked around. The streets were suspiciously clean and clear of the rabble one would expect in a large city like this. No beggars crouched in doorways or blind and crippled people languishing in the hot sun.

Leonardo seemed to have realized the same thing. “Maybe, there aren’t any.” He said slowly, wonder in his voice.

He and Robespierre were staring at each other in amazement.

“Could it be, that there is a place for everyone in this society? That everyone has a purpose and is happy?” Robespierre was beginning to smile, the scars on his face twisting. He placed a hand over his heart, seeming extremely moved by this concept.

Richard scoffed again, starting to walk on.

“That’s no’ possible.”

XXX

Aspen adjusted her earpiece again.

“Okay, it looks like they are headed towards the center of the city again. They’re next to the warehouse district, to the south. Just land in our warehouse and track them down from the street.” Harm was instructing her from Middleham, carefully tracking Richard and the other two men who seemed to be traveling with him.

“Affirmative Harm. Have you figured out what the hell I’m supposed to say to him once I’ve caught up?”

“Magpie is working on it, don’t worry.”

Aspen rolled her eyes.

It had taken them an hour to find the three after Richard had jumped into the transporters, going to Cairo of all places. After making sure it seemed like they were going to stay in the city for a moment, Aspen had jumped into a civilian transport glider.

Usually this was used to transport historical artifacts and exhibitions from place to place, and moved more slowly and sluggishly than Aspen was used to, having come from flight school. She wiped her sweaty palms on her pants and took a deep breath.

She was pretty sure this was about to count as treason, at least in Chikara’s eyes. If they were caugh…

But if he really didn’t have an ID, as Aspen suspected that he didn’t, Richard would be untraceable. And as long as she stayed in the blind spots, no one need ever know that it was Aspen who had anything to do with it.

She landed the glider in the warehouse and opened the back hatch. Then she picked he way across the crowded concrete floor, covered in pressure sealed boxes of artifacts that were so old, they’d circled from being priceless to being garbage.

Aspen slid the containment door open with a grunt, it protesting with a loud groan.

“Okay, tell me where to go, Harm.”

“Alright they’re heading north. Take a left and head them off a couple blocks up. Hurry though, they’re a little far ahead of you.”

“Got it,” Aspen knotted her braids back as she broke into a light jog. Thank the Federation for primary school track team. “Do you have a way to tell him to come with me yet?”

“Magpie says to tell him you are from Middleham. Maybe call him sire?”

Aspen snorted. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You’re getting close, a couple more meters and you’ll be on par with them.”

She turned her head to the right, eyes scanning for the shape.

It shouldn’t be hard, he’ll be one of the only white people in Cairo, she thought.

As she crossed siding of the last warehouse, she saw them. Slowing down to a trot, she turned to intercept them.

And stopped cold.

“Shit!”

Aspen spun back around the corner, and hissed, “It’s Marie Rivera!”

“What?!” Harm gasped. “Why is she here?”

“I don’t know but she’s coming up fast on them,” Aspen peeked around the corner again. “Fuck, this looks bad.”

XXX

Federation headquarters, Cairo, Egypt.

Behind Rain, Chikara Haruka stood perfectly still, arms crossed behind her back.

“Do you have them in your sights?” She asked to the viewscreen that was projecting what Marie’s combat contacts were seeing.

It was the warehouse district in Cairo, the streets barren and sunbaked. Just ahead of Marie, probably 20 meters, was Richard, Leonardo and Robespierre. They were walking quickly but clearly hadn’t realized that a group of armed soldiers were trailing behind them. She watched Richard and Robespierre argue back and forth and Leonardo intervene. Her stomach clenched.

Run, sense the fact you’re being hunted and run! Rain thought desperately.

“Yes, we’re approaching now.”

XXX

Richard was the first to notice. His eyes widened and he grabbed Leonardo’s arm. They all stopped.

“Those are the men from Paris, the ones who were around Rain’s flying carriage,” he said.

The black glad figures were walking quickly up to them and just behind them was another large carriage, painted in dark blue and silver. It blocked the street in it’s enormity and Richard started backing away.

“How did they find us?” Leonardo asked, bewildered. “We’re thousands of miles away!”

He grabbed onto Robespierre, who looked increasingly like a cornered hare.

“We need to run, come on!” Richard shouted and broke into a sprint. Behind him he heard the pounding of feet. However the end of the street was wide open, and so long as they could stay ahead of their enemy it would be fine.

XXX

“Yes, yes! Run this way, this way towards Aspen!” She muttered to herself, watching as the three men finally caught onto what was happening. Richard broke into a run, and despite his puny size he made good distance.

The other two, the ones the program hadn’t identified, weren’t getting as far. She watched horrified as the smallest male was caught around the waist and the tallest stopped to try and pull him from the soldiers grasp.

XXX

Rain had mentally cheered when the three had broken into a run but she watched as Robespierre was caught and Leonardo was surrounded. She hissed aloud as Richard broke back into frame, anger all over his face and fists flying.

“Use the riot gear!” Chikara harshly ordered.

Neck cuffs were brought out, aiming to capture Leonardo who was still determinedly hanging onto Robespierre’s arms. They got the hook around Frenchman, who cried out and struggled even more, attempting to twist himself away from who was grabbing at him. There was little chance now of escape for Robespierre now, however. They had him by the neck.

Run, just run! He’s toast, so get out of there! She thought desperately, hoping Richard and Leonardo would heed her advice.

XXX

“Leonardo come on!” Richard shouted over the scuffle, he could feel men closing in around him and the back of his neck prickled. This wasn’t a fight he could win, not alone. Robespierre seemed well and truly stuck, with a long black metal hoop around his throat, and being dragged back to the floating carriage. There was a second one approaching Leonardo and it was only when Richard forcibly grabbed the back of the Italian’s jerkin that he stumbled back.

“Robespierre!” Leonardo shouted in alarm as Richard caught his wrist and dragged him away.

“Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Leonardo!”

Richard glanced over his shoulder and saw Robespierre being forced into the carriage. He was utterly controlled by the black metal leash around his throat. They forced him to the back, Robespierre stumbling from the force they used. His glasses had half fallen off his face and Richard could read the true fear in his eyes. For one moment he could feel pity rise in his chest.

However there was no time dwell. He ran faster, hanging onto Leonardo to make sure he was following. The end of the street was near, and Richard counted on Leonardo to lead them back to the transporters. They could go to London, and seek sanctuary in Westminster.

They whipped around the corner and made it a meter before from the massive door of a warehouse, an arm shot out and dragged them in.

XXX

Thank you! Aspen thought frantically. Richard and Leonardo had run in the right direction. She hurriedly closed the warehouse door behind her. The two men were apparently too stunned to cry out as she held a finger to her lips and listened.

Boots thudded past. She heard Marie Rivera shout orders and more footsteps sprinted past.

“Do you have them? Where are you?” Harm demanded over the earpiece. Aspen ignored him, still listening closely.

“Who are you?!” The taller male demanded. She held out her hand, teeth grit. It sounded as if Haruka’s forces had moved on, as she couldn’t hear anything more from outside. Now all she had to do was get them back to the glider and to Middleham.

“What happened? Where are they taking Maximilien?” The man was still speaking, ignoring her signal. She heard Richard hiss.

“Leonardo, shut up. She’s just saved us.”

Aspen liked him best already. She waited for a count of thirty and breathed out. Unless they were planning a stealth approach and had narrowed in on their location already, Aspen was probably safe with Richard and Leonardo for the moment.

She finally backed away from the door and turned her full attention to the men.

XXX

The woman who saved them, her waist length hair in lots of tiny intricate braids and partially dyed gold, turned towards them and Richard’s eyes dropped to her arm.

Her metal arm.

They eyed each other for a moment before she finally spoke, her voice quiet and deep.

“Hi. I’m Aspen Strong. Um, this is a rescue and not an arrest.” She rubbed the back of her head with her human hand, combing her fingers through the braids.

“Is that what happened to Robespierre?” Richard asked. She gaped at him for a second. Her eyes slid to the left, and her head tilted just slightly.

“The other guy, he’s Robespierre?”

Leonardo jumped in, apparently getting over the shock of being told to be quiet. “Si! Where are they taking him?”

Aspen shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe to a labor camp, or possibly straight to Chikara Haruka.”

“Who?” Richard demanded. Was this who had been following them with soldiers?

“She’s head of security for the Federation. She’d uh, probably not taking your sudden resurrection well, I’m guessing.” Aspen tilted her head again and nodded slightly. “I think all of her guys have moved though, so we can move to the other warehouse. Then we’ll go to England.”

Leonardo held out his hands, looking distressed. “Wait, we have to retrieve Robespierre.”

Aspen blinked at him. “Um. Good luck with that. He’s probably already miles away and surrounded by officers and grunts.”

Richard took firm hold of Leonardo’s arm again. “We’ll have to leave him, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” He addressed Aspen.

“Lead on.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Eleven: La Égalité. Part Three.

Part Three.

Kamala almost ran them over, her had frantically whipping back and forth as she scanned the street. She turned the corner and stumbled directly into Richard, who caught her before she could fall to the ground. She gaped at him for a moment before brushing off his hand.

“How on earth did you even find me?” She demanded to Leonardo, who shrugged.

“Observation. Also you mentioned that you lived in Cairo, so it seemed natural to assume you would be here.”

She shook her head, apparently stunned. “You are outrageously lucky. Tomorrow I leave for a tour on board the U.F.S. Omega.”

“What is that?” Richard asked, curious despite himself.

The tall woman looked down at him, eyes wide. “A spaceship.”

Richard blinked and decided that now was not the time to demand a reasonable answer to his question. She led them down progressively smaller avenues, until they emerged onto a quiet street, lined on one side with stately sand colored building on one side a massive river on the other. Leonardo stopped and stared.

It amazed Richard how the man could shrug at things like people disintegrating and being kidnapped from his own time but a river stopped him in his steps.

“She’s beautiful,” Leonardo whispered, eyes round.

“The Nile? Yeah, the view is great.” The woman nodded her head to the building on the end of the street. “Come on.”

Past the building seemed to be a more industrialized area and Richard watched as sparks flew out of a refinery.

A smithy of some sort?

As Richard ponder the chances of getting a sword here, he was led a set of exterior stairs until Kam stopped in front of a door. She placed her hand on the screen outside of it and he heard the lock click. She pushed it open and waved them in.

“Um I guess I’ll get you guys water. And have any of you eaten?” She stuttered out as Richard looked around.

The rooms were small, no bigger than a servants quarters in Middleham. There was one small bookshelf, with some small volumes set in it. Robespierre was already edging his way over it. Past that a large east facing window, which was already losing light, and an evil look cat that perched next to a suspended potted plant. Most of the room was taken up by a large lounge, and short long table. One wall held one of the omni present screens and Richard decided that he was simply going to have to get used to seeing those everywhere he went.

Kamala tapped him and handed him a glass of water. There was ice in it. Even as he marveled, Richard wondered what this world had against beer, now.

“Here. I guess you guys have been running around all morning, from what Leonardo was saying.” She passed out another to Leonardo who was staring out the window to the river. He took it absent mindedly.

“Oui. It has been…trying,” Robespierre said quietly.

Kamala cleared her throat and sat down on the lounge. “So why are you here, exactly?”

Richard did not see a reason to dissemble and so asked her bluntly: “Do you have a way to send us back to where we belong?”

She sputtered, coughing on her own drink. “Like time travel?” She finally choked out.

Richard shrugged. “I suppose so.”

Kamala shook her head. “Time travel was disproven hundreds of years ago, at least with the elements that we currently know about. It’s impossible.”

Even Leonardo turned at this proclamation. Richard closed his eyes for a moment, his jaw clenched and a carefully cultivated self-control prevented him from showing how deeply that hurt him.

He really was never going to go home. To see Anne, or Lovell, or Edward. He was never going to ride in the forests near Middleham, hunting game, or go to York for the Christmas Mass.

It was a dream and to have it ripped it away was one of the greatest cruelties he’d felt in a long time.
When he opened his eyes, Robespierre had turned away, a hand over his eyes and Richard felt a flash of empathy for the man. He must have left someone behind as well.

Leonardo however looked uncharacteristically angry, staring at Kamala with a heavy frown.

“Why did you bring us back, if there is no way to return us to where we belong?”

Kamala shifted uneasily in her seat, twisting the cup in her hands.

“It was Rain’s idea,” she muttered resentfully.

Before Leonardo could berate the girl further, footsteps desended from a staircase past their kitchen. Another young woman, her skin the tone of fertile earth stepped onto the landing and did a double take.

“Oh hi, sorry I didn’t know we had people over Ka.” She smiled sheepishly.

Kamala was beginning to look alarmed, her gaze darting nervously from the woman back to them.

“It’s fine Tammy. They were getting ready to leave, anyway.”

Richard jerked. “Excuse me? You still haven’t-”

“And I can’t, so that’s that, right,” Kamala said, chewing her lip. The woman looked from Kamala to Richard them she clicked her fingers.

“Friends of Rain’s I bet?”

Leonardo coughed. “In a manner of speaking.”

“So she’d ready to come crawling back?” Tammy leaned down to grin at Kamala. “See baby, I told you, old woman can’t get along without you.” Then she kissed her on the mouth.

Richard blinked, mouth falling open.

Robespierre seemed to have been equally wrong-footed as he immediately began coughing. Richard glanced at him and found him sputtering into a handkerchief. Kamala broke the kiss glancing over at the Frenchman. Richard opened his mouth to speak and was immediately cut off by Leonardo.

“So you won’t help us? Help Rain?” His voice was oddly pitched, almost too loud and forcibly emotive.

Kamala looked at the three of them and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but no.” Tammy twisted her head to stare at her.

“Kamala-”

“No. This is Rain’s doing and I’m not interested in any of it anymore. If she’d gotten in over her head, she’ll just have to figure it out on her own this time,” Kamala said firmly, even as her eyes refused to meet any of theirs.

Leonardo sighed.

“I understand.” He placed the glass on the low table and smiled sadly. “Thank you for seeing us then, Kamala.” He offered out a hand to her. She stood and Richard noticed that she was nearly eye to eye with the other man.

“I am sorry, for this,” she offered weakly, shaking his hand.

Leonardo tilted his head, but didn’t say anything.

“Um, well it was nice meeting you.” Tammy said, still standing behind the lounge looking bewildered. Leonardo dipped his head to her, then turned to Richard and Robespierre.

“We should go,” he murmured, gesturing for them lead the way out.

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Eleven: La Égalité. Part Two.

Part Two.

Leonardo, Robespierre, and Richard stumbled out of the transporter. Leonardo dusted himself off, with a small chuckle.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard.”

He saw Richard and Robespierre look at each other, eyebrows raised. He grinned slightly to himself. He flicked his fingers at them, looking around.

“Come, we need to find Kamala.”

Overhead a cloudless blue sky was dotted with more of the flying vehicles, a low grade buzzing filling the air. The glass buildings soared far into the clouds and a warm breeze wafted through the streets.

He pointed to one of the buildings. “Look!”

Richard cursed, and Robespierre gasped. “It’s going to fall!”

“No, it’s not,” Leonardo grinned. “Look closer, it’s bending.”

The building was bending and twisting slightly in the wind. When Leonardo’s eyes adjusted to the glare of the sun off the glass, he realized that each floor of the building rotated independently, like segments of a spine.

“That’s incredible,” Robespierre breathed, eyes blinking rapidly. “How do you think –”

“We need to find this woman. How, Leonardo?” Richard cut through their speculation. Leonardo frowned slightly, casting a slightly longing look back at the building, before sighing and looking at the rest of the street they found themselves on.

Past the transporters, there were a few other shop fronts that let onto the street. Leonardo watched one black skinned man step out of the transport and make his way to a corner. He tapped a panel and spoke. Pictures came up and he tapped something, before speaking to a it rapidly, his mouth curling up into a smile. An image of a woman came up, and her eyes widen and her joyful shriek cut through the noise of the street. The man gestured, arms out and the woman nodded eagerly, tapping something onto her screen before disappearing. The man scanned the numbers, nodded and turned the corner. Leonardo titled his head. Then started to the corner.

He hardly realized that the other two hadn’t followed until a strong grip around his bicep stopped him.

“Alright, you need to stop bloody doing that,” Richard snapped.

Leonardo blinked at him. “Pardon?”

“Wandering away. You’re the only one who understands this blasted world and if you leave me alone with the king slayer, there’s only going to be problems, so you need to alter us if you’re moving.”

Robespierre stopped in front of both of them. “Stunningly, I agree with Richard, despite his insistence on his erroneous title.” He graced Richard with a lip curl before looking up at Leonardo, his grey-green eyes glittering behind the tinted glasses. “If we’re ever to make it out of here, we need you Leonardo.”

Leonardo took a deep breath, something heavy settling around his heart. They were right, of course, but that didn’t make the sudden expectation any easier. He figured that if he was going to be saddled with such responsibility, he should ask for something in return.

“Alright, but in return I ask that the two of you put your quarrel to rest.”

Immediately both burst in protests. Leonardo put up his hand to stop the deluge. “We’re a thousand years from what either have you have done, no matter who you might have murdered.” He cast a significant look at both of them at this word.

Both of them froze, Richard looking grey and Robespierre flushing. “There’s no need to keep bicker with each other, and if you expect me to find a solution out of this mess, then please, at least call it to truce.”

Both men looked away.

“Please?” Leonardo beseeched.

At last, reluctantly, Richard held out a hand to Robespierre, who took it as one would a highly disgusting artifact, possibly also covered in poison. He gasped when Richard tightened his grip to crush the other’s hand.

“Alright Robespierre. For the moment, peace?”

“Peace,” Robespierre said through gritted teeth. Richard smiled grimly and let go. He gestured to Leonardo. “And?”

Leonardo smiled slightly. He gestured for them to follow and shortened his stride slightly so he could explain as they walked. Robespierre shook his hand slightly, massaging it.

“I believe that these panels are public computers, used for contact. If I can find Kamala, then we can ask her if we can come seek sanctuary with her, or at least speak with her.”

“And you think she’ll oblige?” Richard asked.

Leonardo shrugged and tapped the panel. It lit up instantly and Leonardo scanned its unfamiliar surface, finger hovering it.

“We can only try.”

XXX

All told it took Leonardo ten minutes to find Kamala Manson’s contact information. Richard was propped against the wall next to him, glaring at anyone who came to close. Robespierre seemed to have been distracted by the birds that fluttered around the street, having taken a piece of their remaining bread and crumbled it to crumbs. It looked like highly enjoyable, but Leonardo resisted the urge to try it himself.

“Ah!” Leonardo smiled as he found her picture and a list of public information. Her contact number was listed first.

He tapped it and listened to it beep. A yellow arrow, blinking as it made its way across the screen indicated how soon to connection. Leonardo marveled at the rapidity. In 1500 this would have been unheard of, even if whoever you wanted to speak to was in your city. That still would have required a messenger on foot, or a pigeon. Within seconds it was connected and it beeped again

“Hello?”

Leonardo cleared his throat. “Si, hello Tamala. This is Leonardo.”

For a moment there was silence. “Like…as in da Vinci?”

“Si.”

“What- How- does Rain know you’re calling me?”

Leonardo rubbed his chin. “No. There was a problem. An alien came and told her that she stole-”

“Wait, she’s not with you?!”

“No, we left-”

“We?!”

“Yes, myself, Robespierre and Richard,” Leonardo said, relived to finally get through a sentence. “We left her and went to Paris. However, uh, that did not work out. We were hoping you could help us.”

There was a heavy silence. Leonardo glanced over Richard, who was watching with careful grey eyes.

“Don’t move. I’m coming to grab you,” Kamala finally answered. The computer beeped again and the screen went blank.

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Eleven: La Égalité. Part One.

Part One.

Middleham Castle. North Yorkshire. England.

Aspen Strong hummed to herself as she parked her hover bike in the underground parking garage of Middleham. Blanche had just come out with a new single and it was insidiously catchy. She was going to end up singing it all day, probably driving Jerome and Magpie crazy.

She brushed her braids back from her face as she locked the bike down. She’d gone last night to get them re-done and highlighted. Usually Aspen preferred a very dark silver in her black hair but a gold color had caught her eye and she was still adjusting to having the glitter catch her eye every time she turned her head.

Aspen yawned as she rode the security lift up into the castle proper. She was really going to have to talk to Jerome about switching watch shifts.

“Hey, morning Kami. How’s it going?” She caught one of the PR managers at the replicator. The diminutive woman smiled at her, grabbing her coffee and croissant from the machine.

“It goes, Aspen. Nice hair.”

She tossed her head, grinning and stepping up to the machine. Her metal digits slipped on the touchscreen.

“Thanks. I just got it done. Are you and Harm both here today?”

Kami nodded, taking a chunk out of her pastry. She held up a hand to her mouth and gestured.

“In the office?”

Kami nodded, and rolled her eyes.

“He’s still working on his coding for the, um, thing?”

Kami nodded and swallowed. “Yeah. He says he’s getting close to finishing it. He swears it’s going to revolutionize the way we find artifacts. I think he just hates doing field work.”

“Men, am I right?”

Kami snorted. “Yeah. Shame I married him, huh?” She checked her watch. “Speaking of, I should go make sure he’s not going off food again. See you around.”

Aspen nodded taking a sip of her coffee and winced. Too hot. “I’ll be around to do rounds in a tick.”

Kami left and Aspen made her leisurely way through the refurbished castle. The weak English sun was trickling through the hand-blown window panes. Thick tapestries, made as close to original as possible hung on the walls. A scrubbed wooden table, nearly the length of the hall, was sitting out. Plaques sat at every few feet, inviting guests to come and sit down to ‘experience life as it had been fifteen hundred years ago!’ People would tab the screen and trigger holographic tour guides and recreated historical figures to explain the history of the castle and Neville family. No one was here yet but Aspen thought she remember a group of kindergarteners on the schedule for later today.

Middleham had become the heart of a tiny kingdom of ‘historical fetishists’ as she’d heard it called in her time on the base. After she’d lost her arm during a drill of a interplanetary battle and been turfed into desk work, Aspen had jumped at the chance to work security for one of the ‘historical heritage’ bases under Magpie Jones. It was better than desk work, and quiet. Simple.

Aspen could appreciate simple.

At the end of the great hall, there was a modern staircase that led up the second story where the administration offices were. As head of entire endeavor, Magpie had been allowed where they wanted their offices to be located and had picked the rebuilt castle, of all places.

If Aspen had been in charge, she would have picked somewhere well, more modern. Or a pyramid. But that was her, and Aspen was the first to admit she didn’t really ‘get’ most of the long dead references Magpie liked to talk about, or the importance of the project Magpie liked to expound on every quarterly meeting.

“Knock knock!” She rapped on the door to Magpie’s office, peering in.

As always her boss was engaged in reading, hunched over their desk and square chin proper in their hand. They looked up and smiled at her, white teeth a smooth contrast to the dark purple lip gloss they preferred and looking expertly tailored as always. Aspen didn’t know how a person who spent ten to eighteen hours everyday in a decrepit castle always looked like they’d gotten professionally dressed by one of the designers from Monaco. But Magpie pulled it off.

“Good morning, Aspen. Have you checked in with Jerome yet?”

She shook her head, striding into the room. “Not yet, I’m going there next. Wanted to stop in first and check how the night was.”

Magpie dismissed this with a flick of their thin ochre fingers. A single diamond was glued to their pinkie nail, the rest merely polished to a high shine.

“Fine. Not as if we get much traffic passed one anyway. That’ll come with the off season. Go check with Jerome and let him go home. Then go swing by Harmony’s office. He’s getting close to being done with his coding.”

“Yeah that’s what Kami was saying. But, come on, Magpie. Do you really think that’ll work?” She scoffed. Magpie shook their finger at her.

“Don’t doubt human ingenuity. Asking ‘why not’ led to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the –”

“Yeah yeah, point taken, professor. Let me know when he makes his breakthrough or whatever.” Aspen turned and spoke over her shoulder. “Still just for bunch of artifacts.”

She laughed when Magpie muttered “Heretic,” under their breath.

XXX

Aspen spent the morning first, filling a report for her commander at Cairo and then walking the boundary of the castle. When she was on her way back, she swung by the office next to Magpie’s.

“Hey Harm. How’s the project coming?” She asked. The young man pushed his spectacles up his forehead and blinked blurrily. She could still see the lines of code reflecting against his ebony skin.

“Ughh. I’ve had code shooting into my eyes for the last eight hours. How do you think it’s going?”

She sat down on desk, staring down at the lines of code. With the visualization program, she could see actual building blocks and webbing of the coding.

“So what’s this gonna do?”

Harm rolled his eyes at her, grabbing a chocolate bar from his desk.

“We talked about at the last meeting, come on.”

“Indulge me.”

“Using the global networking surveillance system it’s going to search and find matching data, forms and recognize historically relevancy globally.”

Aspen stared at him, and waved a hand over her head.

“Um in English Rainbow Miller. Not all of us went to the North African Academy of excellence in programing.”

Harm sighed. “It’ll basically find historically relevant artifacts for us, by matching them to preexisting images. So say Queen Elizabeth the second is wearing an item in a photograph. Her tiara. Well this program will take the image of the tiara and match against every single frame recorded by the global surveillance system. Anywhere there’s a camera, that’s where this program is.”

Aspen stared at him. “And how did Magpie get the Federation to pay for this again?”

“Uh, boss has massive steel -”

Kami swung into the room, carrying to cups of coffee. “Java?”

Harm groaned. “Oh yes, baby talk dirty to me.”

Kami wrinkled her nose. “You’re weird. It’s good that I like weird, otherwise this would be awkward.”

Aspen rolled her eyes. “Well I’ll be impressed to see what it can do when you finish.” Harm sipped his coffee and grinned at her.

“We’re testing it this afternoon. Boss’s orders.”

Aspen cast a dubious look at the visualization program. It still only looked half built to her. “Better get on that and stop flirting, huh?”

“I’ll work even faster when you leave, don’t worry,” Harm smiled sweetly at her. Aspen laughed as she left.

“And pigs will fly and snakes will talk…” she muttered to herself, walking away. Harm was one of the cleverest people she knew, and she didn’t doubt his coding ability. She doubted that it would work.

XXX

Magpie had wanted to view the testing herself so they gathered in one of the halls, with a projector already set up and Harm helming the thing. He was busy typing, bent over and tongue in between his teeth. Magpie was pacing tight excited circles around the room. They looked like an eager child, hope and optimism shining in their eyes.

“What do you want to find?” They asked the room. “Let’s go around and indulge ourselves with some fantasizing.”

“I did that before I came into work today,” Jerome muttered lowly to Aspen, who smothered her giggles in a cough.

“Jerome, you go first,” Magpie ordered.

The other security officer blanched. “Um, uh. Well I guess it would be cool to find one of the sunken cities? Florence or New Orleans. Or maybe L.A.? Heh, what if we found the old Hollywood sign?” He grinned, brown eyes glittering. “I always liked all those old 21st century movies, before the war.”

Magpie nodded. “That’s a good one. Aspen?”

Aspen shrugged. “Maybe another one of the lost kings? We’re still looking for some of those ones that were privately acquired, right?”

Magpie frowned ponderously. “Don’t remind me. Ugh, what a disgrace, selling history to profiteers.”

“Oh! I want to find the Area 34 facilities. Holy cow can you imagine all of the debates that would solve, if we could prove it was developing atomic weapons and not hiding aliens?” Kami put in.

“Atlantis,” Harm muttered, still typing.

“What about you, boss?” Jerome leaned back on the scrubbed hardwood table. “What do you want to find?”

“Well,” Magpie colored slightly, tawny skin going darker over their high cheekbones and the bridge of their nose. “I want to find Tyrell’s confession, if there is one. It would basically swing the greatest cold case of all time one way or another.” They cast an admiring look at the wall, where the calm visage of the most famous resident of the castle, Richard the III, looked over them.

He had been the primary motivator for Magpie moving their office here, rather than staying in Cairo with the other Federation regulated cultural projects. Aspen had heard that they were obsessed with the dead monarch but never truly appreciated how much love one could have for a dead white man until she’d talked to Magpie about their passion project. Jerome called it ‘historical voyeurism’, something he thought everyone of the academic they worked with at Middleham had.

“It’s very nearly some kind of mania. They get their claws into a person or a time, or a war and spend the rest of their life on the planet picking it apart like it’s a compulsion. It’s a little creepy,” he wheedled.

“Yeah, but hey, at least they’re passionate about something. So many people just take whatever job the Federation gives out now a days, not thought about why, they’re taking it, or how it’s going to impact the world.” She argued back. Jerome had rolled his eyes.

“So, what’s so bad about that? It ensures everyone is at substance level. Who said you need to do what you’re passionate about to be happy? That’s what the rest of your life is about, anyway.”

Aspen snorted and slapped her co-worker on the shoulder. “That’s good, cause I think the only thing you’re passionate about is whose in your bed.”

Jerome grinned and flipped his tight curls out of his face. “Nothing wrong with that.”

Aspen observed the phenomenon in full force as all of the historians crowded around Harm, who was leaning back and studying the program.

“I think that’s gonna do it.”

Magpie clapped his on the shoulder. “We’ll never until we try. Turn it on, and let’s see what turns up.”

XXX

That had been two hours ago. Kami was sleeping next to Harm, head propped on his shoulder. Harm was absently watching the screen, while playing with one of the new Nintendo 4-Ds. The room was punctuated with the sound of tiny holograms squeaking while they battled each other.  while Magpie, Aspen and Jerome played Go Fish.

“Got any kings?” Aspen asked Magpie. She was sitting on 3, and just needed hearts.

“Go fish,” Magpie ordered.

Just then the program beeped, a pop up displaying a message that it the search had found something. Magpie threw their cards down in relief, revealing a hand of singles.

“I had you’re king, sorry,” Jerome smiled at Aspen who groaned and scooped up Magpie’s pile to reshuffle.

“Best three of five?’

Behind them, Harm was pulling up what the program had found.

“Huh, it says it from a public security camera. Um, in Paris.”

Magpie snorted. “I bet it’s of the La Gioconda.”

Harm tapped the board and shook his head slowly. “No. It says it’s from Place de la Concorde.” He pulled up the frame the program had focused on and blew it up so it filled the whole wall display.

The picture was clear, with only a little bit of bur around the edges. The colors were in HD, so Aspen could see the blue of the highlighted figure’s eyes and the sunshine reflecting off his dark hair. He was running, half turned and the camera had caught him in near perfect profile.

“Isn’t that-”

Magpie was already shaking their head. “That’s impossible. Pull up what the program is comparing it to.”

Harm silently complied and soon they had a side by side comparison to a facial reconstruction, based on a skull found in 2012. The contours, highlighted by the green grid overlaid flashed, and ‘100% Match’ flashed on the screen.

Magpie sat down, slowly in the chair next to Harmony who was frozen, hands hovering over the touchscreen.

“That’s not possible.” The words seemed to have scraped Magpie’s throat raw, and when she looked over, there were tears in their eyes. “It can’t be, can it?”

“Reincarnation?” Kami offered weakly after a moment. She ripped her gaze from the display to look around. “Cloning?”

Harm let out a choked laugh.

“That’s illegal under Federation law and you know it. Don’t you remember the Disney scandal?”

Magpie was still staring at the picture, hand pressed to their mouth. They seemed transfixed, but Aspen could see the processed being complied in their head.

“Harm, can you scan the rest of the video? Is there a part where his back is to the camera?” They asked urgently.

Harm’s hands shook as he did so. The man completed his turn and with his head down and arms pumping, he sprinted towards the transporters, following after two other running figures.

“Stop! Go back, right after he turns,” Magpie stood up and leaned forward, watching as the feed went back, and froze. The man’s mixed synthetic shirt pulled against his back, and the fabric revealed what Magpie had been looking for, but Aspen saw something different.

“Scoliosis!” They gasped.

“He doesn’t have an ID,” she pointed out at the same time.

Aspen and Magpie looked at each other.

“Oh my god. We found Richard the bloody Third.”

XXX

After that they came to an impasse. Aspen did a quick database search, and indeed discovered that Federation Special Forces had been ordered to Paris to track down ‘three renegade type four androids.’ However the order didn’t come from the Android Recovery Department, but all the way down from Chikara herself.

“The plot thickens,” Jerome muttered. Harm was busy trying to track where the man, King Richard, Aspen reminded herself went after he ran out of view of the Place de la Concorde cameras.

“What do we do when we find him again? Turn him into Chikara?” Kami asked breathlessly. Aspen hesitated.

Chikara was well known for her extremely protective view of the Federation. To the point where she’d basically pushed the Global Surveillance Program and Planetary Defense Corp single handly through Federation parliament. She was nearly a party of one. Chances were that if she had her sights set on Richard, it couldn’t mean anything good for him. What a dead monarch had done to offend the Head of Security, Aspen couldn’t imagine.

“Absolutely not.” Magpie’s voice rang out like a church bell. “He falls under historical reclamation and if you’ll remember, that’s my department. Chikara will have him destroyed, just like she campaigned to have so many of the heritage sights removed from the protected lands list.” Magpie shook their head gravely. “No. We cannot let Chikara get him. Harm, figure out where he went.”

“Then what?” Aspen asked. Magpie spun majestically.

“Then we reclaim him, for history.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Ten: La Liberté. Part Four.

Part Four.

However getting to Cairo, even in the new world of terrors and marvels was proving easier said than done.

They had gone back to the carriage, after getting lost once.

“I thought you said you lived here for five years,” Richard pointed out to Robespierre.

“It was closer to four and a half actually,” Robespierre snapped. “Additionally, if you haven’t noticed, the city has changed significantly.”

“Oh please do not start now. You’ve actually managed to be civil to each other all morning,” Leonardo begged.

Turning onto rue Honore the three of them stopped dead, all bickering pushed aside.

“Turn around slowly,” Leonardo advised lowly, staring at the carriage which was now surrounded by uniformed figures. The carriage itself was being dismantled, and carted into a larger one, that was hovering a few feet off the ground. “Just walk back the way we came.”

Richard turned stiffly and fell in beside the other two men. Leonardo looked the least suspicious, shoulders relaxed, sketchbook tucked under his arm, and staring around as if there was nothing wrong. Robespierre kept glancing over his shoulder, his step quick and light.

They managed about a block before, as if of one mind, they all three broke into a run.

Sprinting past people of all colors and bright lights and crystalline buildings, Richard ran as if Lucifer himself had risen to chase him. The three of them raced away, dipping down countless alleys and nearly crashing into others. Eventually Richard slowed, and the others caught up with him.

“How on earth did they find us?” Robespierre panted out, clutching his side. He looked as if he did not run very often, face flushed and hair coming lose from the loose tail he wore at the base of his neck. He skittered to a stop next to Richard.

Leonardo slowed to a stop as well. He coughed twice, bent over at the waist.

“It was Rain,” Richard said grimly. “She would have told them we stole her property.”

“Likely. They could have also tracked us independently. The how isn’t important now. We need to get out of the city,” Leonardo spoke shortly.

“How?” Richard demanded.

“That terrible light machine that Rain took us in, we can use that,” Robespierre pointed out.

“We need the IDs to use them.” Leonardo shook his head, then stopped. “Unless, unless! We could tell them that we need to see Kamala that we were sent from Rain.”

“Yes, do you remember, Rain was able to get us on the um, uh, object,” Robespierre stuttered out.

“And you think this Kamala will help us?” Richard demanded, grabbing Leonardo around the arm. The man’s eyes took a distant look, and his mouth twisted slightly.

“Si.”

Richard met Robespierre’s eyes.

“Then let us go to Cairo.”

XXX

However first they had to get there.

Leonardo had found a city map, and was scanning over it. Richard watched in fascination it’s bright surface displayed images for food, hotels, and shows.

“What’s with the windmill?” He asked Robespierre.

The Frenchmen shrugged. “It wasn’t here when I was here. Neither was ah, the burlesque.” He adjusted his glasses, frowning dubiously.

Leonardo tapped the map and it magnified upon one part. “There it is. We should be able to use these, transporters to get to Cairo. They should be,” he turned to the east, “this way. They are located next to the Tuileries Gardens.”

Out of the corner of his eye Richard saw Robespierre shudder. The man’s footsteps were a little slower, a little more ponderous as they followed Leonardo.

The sun was high in the sky and Richard judged it to maybe be around ten in the morning. All of the odd people who lived now walked around, faces bent downwards to their lit up tablets or watching nearly transparent screens, projected out of bands they wore around their wrists. Some wore spectacles, that were lined with fine blue threads, and randomly laughed or smiled as if they were mad.

Richard grimaced. It was all mad. He hardly understood at all, from why Rain had seemingly picked him out of the blue, to how carriages floated magically.

Secretly, Richard was hoping that this other woman, was practiced in some art like Rain’s and would be able to return him home.

They turned onto a large square, with fine, large fountains on either side and the massive iron tower to the west. It was mostly deserted, with some people sitting around the fountains.

“Look, there they are.” Leonardo pointed to the magical transporters. He was smiling slightly, and raised an eyebrow at them. “Now we just have to- Robespierre?”

Richard glanced over and found the Frenchman had gone stiff and pale, as if in death. His eyes were enormous and round behind his glasses.

“What now?” Richard snapped.

Robespierre moved his mouth but no sound emerged.

“What?”

“I-I died here.” Robespierre gasped. His lips had gone a pale blue and he was shaking from head to toe. Leonardo stepped forward.

“Robespierre, it’s past. There’s no one here to hurt you now.” His tone was that of talking to a skittish horse, a low gentle tone.

However whatever had possessed the Frenchman had taken full hold of his body. His eyes were hazy and his breath was coming in short ragged breaths. He swayed on his feet slightly and his hands flitted around his face, clawing at his cheeks and forehead.

Richard took a step away.

“He’s been possessed,” he hissed to Leonardo. “Do something!”

“It’s not possession, it’s- it’s panic. Fear. Robespierre!” Leonardo grabbed the shorter man around the shoulders and shook him gently. However this had the opposite of the intended effect because Robespierre merely gasped and his eyes rolled back. He went slack in Leonardo’s grasp. The Italian cursed and glancing around, dragged him to the nearest bench, sitting him down. However he was insensible, mumbling and flailing weakly. Leonardo caught his hands and gripped them in his own. He touched the man’s face, gently tapping him.

“Shhh, shhh. Robespierre, Maximilien. Maximilien, you are alright. There is nothing here to hurt you. The guillotine is gone,” Leonardo crooned gently. Richard watched hypnotized as Robespierre seemed to come back to himself, gently. He groaned and his eye lids fluttered.

“How on earth did you do that?” Richard demanded. Leonardo shrugged.

“I’ve known men who had night terrors before. This is not so different.” He turned to the still shaken man, who was looking lost. “Maximilien, can you walk?”

The Frenchman put a hand to his head, but stood up, shakily.

“Oui, I-I think so.”

Leonardo dragged them both into the nearest building, Robespierre still looking shaken and pale. Richard looked back over his shoulder at the square behind them. To him it still looked innocent and mostly barren. However, from the way Robespierre clutched the wall to stay upright it was clear something had happened to him there. If Richard had to guess, it probably had to do with the ghastly scars that crossed the man’s face.

Richard thought that he’d probably deserved it, whatever had happened to him.

Leonardo didn’t seem to think so, practically holding the other man upright.

“Maximilien, it’s alright,” the Italian said quietly, patting his shoulder.

A cough from behind made them all turn.

“May I help you gentlemen?” The speaker was a dark haired, dark skinned women, dressed in simple back and white clothing. Richard looked around and realized a few people had stopped eating and were looking at them.

Clearly a tavern of some kind.

“Ah, yes. We are here to eat,” Richard told her.

The women looked at them with wide eyes, confusion and a hint of exasperation creeping in.

“Alright, do you have a reservation?”

A what? Richard wondered.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said aloud. The women stared at them silently, mouth open slightly.

“Let me see if we have any open tables. Why don’t you take a seat right on that bench and I’ll be back in a moment.” She gestured and watched them warily.

As soon as the women was gone Richard turned to Leonardo.

“What do we do?” He asked quietly.

“Maximilien, are you alright now?” Leonardo asked.

Robespierre nodded, looking less ashen than he had. “Oui.” A flush appeared on his face. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

Leonardo patted his shoulder again. “It’s alright, we don’t mind.”

Richard snorted. “I mind.” Leonardo shot him an unimpressed look.

Robespierre stood. “We should probably go before -”

“Gentlemen? We have a table open, right this way.” She gestured, clearly expecting them to follow her. Leonardo looked at them helplessly before following.

Richard set his jaw. “I blame you,” he hissed as he brushed passed Robespierre to follow the women. Robespierre glared at him, mouth twisting. He opened his mouth to respond but was cut off.

“Falla finita!” Leonardo snapped at both of them, grabbing Robespierre’s wrist, leading him along. “Petty bickering gets us nowhere.”

They were led to a table with three chairs set up around it.

“A waiter will be with you gentlemen in a moment, please look through our selection at your leisure.” With that the women quickly left, looking over her shoulder as she did.

Richard glanced around and found that they were still being stared at. Some of the patrons were whispering to each other, looking apprehensive or shifting in their seats. A table close by had a small ebony-skinned child, who was gazing gape mouthed at them. The little boy touched his mouth then looked at his hand, and to his father, then back at Richard. He crinkled his nose and pointed, looking back to his father.

“Don’t point, Beni,” the man chided him. He looked up at Richard, looking embarrassed. “Sorry. He’s just never seen anyone, um, like you.”

Richard frowned. “Like me?” Self-consciously he lowered his right shoulder.

“You know, white.”

“Oh.” Richard sat back. He glanced over to Robespierre and Leonardo. Robespierre was holding his hand to his cheek, and was anxiously biting his lower lip.

Leonardo was fidgeting with something in his lap, apparently oblivious to the conversation. However he looked up and made eye contact with the boy, grinning slightly.

“You are Beni, si?”

The child nodded shyly.

“Do you like birds?” Leonardo held up a folded cloth napkin, cleverly arranged to look like a little sparrow. The boy gasped and held out his hands. Laughing, Leonardo slid the napkin over where it was eagerly picked up. The boy held it up to his father who examined it, eyebrows raised.

“That’s very impressive, sir. What do we say, Beni?”

“Thank you,” he lisped quietly.

Leonardo laughed. “You’re welcome, Beni!”

Richard glanced around again and while many people had gone back to eating, the remaining gawkers were now exchanging amused glances or smiles. He looked at Leonardo with new eyes.

Robespierre was looking at Leonardo as well, a small smile on his face.

“That was a friendly thing to do,” he said quietly.

The Italian shrugged. “If we are attracting attention, it may as well be positive, si?”

Robespierre tilted his head. “I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Richard meanwhile had been suitably by distracted the menu.

“Do either of you have any idea what any of this is?” He asked quietly. Robespierre looked at it and quirked a coppery eyebrow.

“No, I’ve never seen any of it. Leonardo?”

“It looks like raw fish,” the Italian said after a moment of scrutiny. Richard looked at him blankly.

“Why would anyone -”

Leonardo hushed him, a man with an apron was headed over to their table.

“Afternoon gentlemen. Is there anything I can get you drink to start off with?”

Richard pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes. Three beers.”

The waiter nodded. “Alright.” For a moment he seemed to scrutinize his face and Richard noticed a sort of glimmer went over the man’s eyes.

“And have you gentlemen looked over the menu?”

Leonardo nodded. “The uh,” he cast a frantic look over the hologram, “dragon roll?”

“Sounds good, I’ll be back with your beers in just a moment.” With that the waiter turned away.

Richard scrutinized Leonardo. “What is a ‘Dragon roll’?”

Leonardo shrugged. “It says it has eels and avocado.”

Robespierre cast a worried look at the Italian. “What is an avocado?”

“I do not know, but I suppose you will find out.” Leonardo leaned back in his chair.

“Us? Why not you?” Richard shot back.

“I don’t eat the flesh of animals.” Leonardo shrugged, smiling slightly.

“What?” It was the most absurd thing Richard had ever heard. Even Robespierre looked surprised, raising his eyebrows at the Italian.

The waiter came back and handed the beers out.

“Is there anything else I can get you gentlemen?”

“Yes. May I please have a glass of water?” Robespierre asked.

The waiter nodded and turned away until Leonardo called him back.

“Ah, and a small bowl of rice please?”

With the waiter gone, Richard turned back to Leonardo.

“What on earth do you mean you don’t eat animals?”

Leonardo shrugged slightly. “I do not wish to treat my body as a mausoleum, littered with dead things,” he flicked his fingers dismissively. “If you can get your subsistence without harming other living creatures, why wouldn’t you?”

Richard snorted derisively. But Robespierre was blinking at Leonardo as if they had only just met.

“That’s…That’s a very good point,” Robespierre said.

Richard rolled his eyes, but before he could argue back, the waiter returned with the ‘Dragon Roll.’ He set a small dish of rice in front of Leonardo and the water in front of Robespierre.

“There you go gentlemen. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No, merci,” Robespierre smiled at him.

“Excellent, the bill will be posted right at the bottom. Just transfer your credits when you’re ready to leave. Enjoy!”

Robespierre smile vanished as the waiter left.

“We don’t have any money,” he hissed as Richard reached forward to grab the one of the segments of the ‘Dragon’. It was wrapped in rice and something green. Richard picked it up and examined it closely.

“So?”

“So we can’t pay for what we’re about to eat, and that’s thievery.” Robespierre reached forward as if to stop Richard. In retaliation Richard popped the whole segment in his mouth.

It was cold and there was something slimy to it, but he could taste an underlying fishiness to it, just the mildest hint of brine. Robespierre was staring at him, sallow face pinched in disgust. Leonardo was also looking at him, mouth twisted slightly. Richard chewed and swallowed.

“It’s not bad. Additionally when I return to England, and explain who I am, we will more than easily be able to pay for some fish. It’s fine,” he insisted. Robespierre, looking mulish, crossed his arms over his chest and threw his head back. However Leonardo timidly started to peck at his rice.

Despite how meager it seemed, Richard found he was not going to be able to finish the Dragon and contented himself with the beer. He noticed that Robespierre did not touch his, or any of the food, simply sipping at the glass of water and casting cold looks at him and Leonardo. Richard resisted the desire to roll his eyes. When Leonardo had finished his rice, and took a cursory sip of beer, the waiter reappeared.

“How was everything gentlemen?” He asked genially.

“Serviceable,” Richard said.

“Excellent, thank you monsieur,” Leonardo cut over him. The waiter beamed and looked at them expectantly. Richard held himself carefully still, gripping his beer chalice.

The moment lingered and it seemed that the waiter was going to press the issue, until someone called for him. With a rather annoyed look he left. Richard sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He got to his feet, and blinked. The beer had gone to his head faster than he thought.

“We should go,” Leonardo opinioned lowly, looking around. Richard nodded and grabbed the bag from under the table.

“I can’t believe you,” Robespierre was still hissing at them as they walked back outside, heading around the edge of the square to where the machines were. Richard knew the man must be feeling better because now he simply would not. Shut. Up. “Stealing, from the mouths of citizens! Refusing to pay your tab, and knowing you wouldn’t be able to!”

“Would you have us starve instead?” Richard demanded. However before Robespierre could respond, a voice from behind them shouted, “Hey! Hey! Stop! Someone stop them!”

It was the waiter.

Several people had turned to look, curious. Richard and Robespierre froze.

“What do we do?” Richard looked at Leonardo. The Italian grabbed Robespierre and pulled him along as he broke into a sprint.

“I have an idea, run!”

With that the three of them sprinted for the transporters.