Episode Sixteen: The Emperor. Part One.
Aspen set the flyer down inside the underground lot and flipped off the engines. She turned around to look at Russo, who was fiddling with the straps of her belt.
“Well then, let’s go and meet everyone, shall we?”
Russo nodded mutely.
Aspen led the way into the castle and pushed her way past the double doors.
Magpie was sitting at the grand table, fingers drumming on the table and looking over a spread of tablets. They looked up at Aspen’s arrival and shot to their feet when they saw Russo.
“Aspen, and Doctor Russo, I presume?”
They started forward with a huge grin on their face.
Russo shook hands, looking surprised. “I don’t think we’ve ever met before.”
“We haven’t but I’m delighted you are here anyway. You can just call me Magpie.”
Russo nodded then gestured to Aspen. “I was told that you had a most,” she hesitated, “interesting project that you wanted my assistance on.”
Magpie nodded. “Yes, I do. How much has Aspen told you?”
“That you have a dead man living in the castle,” Russo said flatly. Magpie shot Aspen a raised eyebrow. She shrugged her shoulders.
“That’s a partial truth. You see, we actually have two dead men living in our castle.”
Leonardo was woken from a light doze by a knock on the door.
“Hey, Leonardo? Are you awake?”
He blinked and shook his head, coming awake near instantly. He rolled off the bed and crossed to open the door. Aspen was standing there. Her brown eyes flickered over Leonardo’s shoulder and she leaned to the right slightly, peering into his room.
“Something I can help you with?” He asked eyebrow raised.
She grinned at him, shameless. “Funny, I thought Jerome might be here.”
Leonardo fought the urge to flush. “Non, he went home.”
“Hmmm, really? I knew he wasn’t a gentleman.” Aspen smirked.
Leonardo put up a single finger, hushing her. “He has been nothing but proper. Now was there a real reason for you to wake me or are you just here to tease me?”
She shook her multitude of braids back from her face, sobering. “Yes actually. We have someone we want you and Richard to meet. Magpie is waking his highness now, so come on,” she waved him on with her mechanical hand.
Leonardo darted back to grab his notebook and the new lead pencil that Jerome had brought him and followed Aspen’s broad frame down.
There was a striking black-skinned woman with long hair who was sitting at the table with her hands clasped tightly around a cup. She looked up as Leonardo and Aspen came down. She glanced over at Aspen.
“Who is this?”
Leonardo bowed at the bottom of the stairs. “I am Leonardo ser Piedro da Vinci, signora.”
He heard her gasp and looked up, smiling slightly.
Her brown eyes were wide and her mouth gaped open slightly. Leonardo noticed the way her eyelids fluttered as she glanced over his face as if trying to see if he was recognizable. Leonardo doubted it, the only (official) portrait he’d ever done of himself was considerably different than how he looked now.
“Leonardo da Vinci?” She asked faintly, as he walked forward. “Like, the Gian Giaconda, Leonardo?”
He nodded and she took a deep breath and braced her hand on the table. Before she could ask anything else Magpie arrived with grumpy looking Richard in tow.
“Here he is! This is his highness Richard the Third, King of England,” Magpie announced grandly. Richard glanced at the woman then back to Magpie.
“Who is this woman?” He asked. Leonardo winced, seeing her expression darken slightly. Magpie also flinched and Aspen buried her face into her human hand.
“I’m doctor Primavera Russo. Jones invited me here to see if I can help you,” the doctor said and held out her hand, pointedly remaining seated. Leonardo raised his eyebrows. He’d been in the presence of many men who would have had her promptly beaten for such a flagrant display of disrespect to royalty.
Richard’s expression went wooden and he stiffly shook her hand, before turning to Magpie.
“I told you, I am not having anything more done to my body. Your doctors have already done enough to me.”
Magpie looked hurt for just a moment, their goldish-brown eyes dimming and casting to the floor.
Russo bristled. “Look, I came here of my own volition. Furthermore, it’s for your own good,” she sniffed.
Richard whipped around and Leonardo took a step back while Aspen stepped forward.
“For my own good?! How dare-” Richard growled.
The doctor stood up and Leonardo realized that she’d been disguising her height. She was as tall as Leonardo was and seemed to tower over Richard. To his credit, the ex-king did not shrink away.
“Yes, I dare. Jones is trying to do something nice for you, and if it’s true that you come from the 16th century, it’s something that you can’t even imagine. But if you’re going to be an ass about it, I can just as well leave,” the doctor snapped in his face. Leonardo looked over at Aspen who had her eyebrows raised.
Magpie stepped between the two and with a little effort forced them apart.
“I think we got off on the wrong foot here,” they muttered, before turning to Richard with a sigh.
“Richard, please. I want to help you, and so does Doctor Russo.”
Russo scoffed and tossed her head.
Magpie turned to the doctor. “Also, about you leaving…”
Russo raised an eyebrow. “What about it?”
Aspen stepped forward. “Well the Federation or, I guess Haruka, is not pleased with these guys. She already sent Rivera after them once. And I’m not sure how long it’ll take her to realize where we’re hiding them.”
Russo frowned. “But this is why you needed someone to come here? And that’s how you found me?”
Aspen shrugged. “Basically. So now that you know, we’re gonna need you to take, like a vow of silence or something.”
The doctor’s frown intensified. “You didn’t tell me this earlier,” she growled. “I’m not wild about the idea of Haruka arresting me and sending me to do farm labor.”
Aspen shrugged again. “We needed to get you here.”
Russo growled again but was interrupted by Richard. “She should leave. I have already informed Magpie I do not wish anything more done to my body.” He turned his back to the doctor. “I will be in the chapel.”
Magpie sent a slightly panicked look at Aspen and then at Russo.
The doctor stormed forward, her curls bouncing. “Hey! I’m here to help, and from the look of it, I could completely straighten your back! But I guess if you don’t care about your quality of life…” She trailed off.
Richard had stopped.
“That’s impossible,” he said rigidly. “There’s nothing that can be done.”
Russo stepped forward again. “Actually, yes there is. It should have been done when you were a child, but it’s not too late.”
Richard finally turned, looking wary. “How?”
Doctor Russo tilted her head slightly. “Well, I’d probably have to make you a prosthetic and replace the one you have now. It’s been done before. The only issue would be making you one when you can’t leave this castle.”
Richard moved back towards her. “Replace it? How?”
“It’s a little complicated. It’d be easier to show you if this place is wired for database access.” She looked at Magpie who was beaming.
“Yes. Yes, absolutely!”
Richard looked between them. “Are you sincere? My back could be as it once was?”
Russo nodded. “Yes. I can do it.” She glanced at Magpie with a raised eyebrow. “I won’t be able to fix his attitude though.”
On the moon prison, The Bastille.
Maximilien kept waking up, even though he never seemed to fall asleep. The light had burned into his eyes and a thin grey mist was beginning to obscure his vision. It felt like a hot needle being shoved into the base of his skull every time he opened his eyes.
Max had never been a strong man, his childhood had been punctuated by illness that left him thin and pale. During the Revolution, he would work himself up to the brink and then find himself dangling over a long dark fall. Now imprisoned, he could feel his meager strength leeching away. While the bread and water were sustaining him, Maxime had no idea for how long until he would drift into that hazy space of illness.
Maybe I’m already there, he thought as he opened his eyes and saw a figure standing against the wall.
“Well this is certainly a fine mess,” Georges Danton said. “For someone who insists that he is irreproachable in terms of respectability and virtue you certainly find yourself on the wrong side of the law, eh Robespierre?”
Maxime closed his eyes, heart racing erratically. Danton could no more be there than Camille could and he couldn’t bear the sight of his bloodied lips any more than he could his last vision.
“Come mon ami. I thought you said you would love me till death, now you won’t even meet my eyes,” Danton goaded him and Max looked up flushing.
“I do, I did,” he hissed. “I wasn’t the one who-“
Danton walked closer and Max swallowed his arguments.
He’s not real, he’s not real, he’s not real. He can’t harm you any more than the air can.
“Who what, Maxime? I implore you, finish your accusation. At least time you do it to my face,” Danton’s voice had no trouble filling the room.
Heart still racing Maxime found his feet and suddenly-
He was back in his rooms. The window was open to the Duplay’s courtyard. The bedroom door shut but unlocked. Danton seated at his desk as Max paced.
“You’ve been corrupted,” Max said, resisting the urge to shout. “You took bribes.” It felt like a slap to the face. Camille had vouched for his honor. Maxime told Danton as such and to his fury, the big man merely shrugged.
Maxime gasped and staggered to the side, furious. Danton was still standing in front of him and with a cry of anger and grief, Max rushed towards him.
He slammed into the white wall and fell back, the taste of metallic-salt filling his mouth. As his eyes fogged over he rolled onto his side and spit the blood out of his mouth. Max shuddered remembering his teeth being shattered in his mouth after he was shot.
Maxime curled into a ball into one of the corners of the room, his hands clasped over his ears, nails digging into the flesh of his bare scalp. He couldn’t tell if it was his imagination or the past rising from its grave to haunt him but he could dimly hear the screams and shouts of the sans-culottes, the slish-thunk of the national razor, the shouts of the Convention. He desperately wanted to sleep and leave this nightmare but it refused to come to him.
Maximilien couldn’t imagine being anymore miserable than he was and thought longingly of Rain’s house. Even Richard’s company would be welcome at this point.
Cutting through the mist of blood-red noise, there was the increasingly familiar sound of displaced air. Maxime turned over and looked at the center of the room.
There was a small loaf of bread and a pitcher of water.