“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.