Maximilien was woken by a sharp pain to his neck. He jerked but couldn’t gather the strength to scramble away. He’d been unbound as his captor no longer considered him a threat. He’d had another three encounters with the terrible force-feeding tube and each one left him weak, trembling in a huddle on the floor. Inevitably his abdomen would cramp into knots and he’d expel some liquid bile onto the floor.
His mind was unraveling. It was gradually pulled apart by a single thread, where the frayed fabric could be easily punched through by his visions and dreams.
Max squinted up. His eyesight was becoming increasingly terrible. If he was blinded, he’d no longer have to see the phantom of Camille sitting across from him, his head cradled in his lap. No more Danton looming over him, or Marat castigating him for his mistakes.
“Don’t speak. Well actually, you’re welcome to try.” Rainbow Miller’s voice was close to him. Her shadowy outline shifted.
Maximilien wanted to beg her for release. If she could undo what she’d done and allowed him back into death, he’d forgive her anything. But he opened his mouth and tried to force the words but nothing happened.
“It’s a localized numbing agent for your vocal cords. Don’t worry, it won’t last forever,” Miller said.
There were footsteps and then Maxime lost touch with the floor. He was pulled to his feet, but unable to stand, so he was dragged. The touches were impersonal and felt far away, the pressure on his arms barely registered. Brount was barking and the smell of lilacs and sawdust was in the air.
The sun was brought through the window of his study. His desk was neat. Downstairs there were the quiet sounds of the household below. It was not Arras. But it was home, with Eleanore and Antoine, Camille and Lucile coming by with the baby. Coulthon and his puckish humor. David’s sticks of sketching charcoal forgotten on the settee. Danton with his ill-gotten wine, climbing the steps to meet with him, his eyes bright in his scarred face. Antoine inside his rooms, his curls falling into his eyes as he worked on the next report for the Comittee. The rain over Paris, washing away the blood into the Seine…
Maximilien was forced back into his body when the first jet of water hit him in the face. He gasped and then choked. He’d been pinned back to the wall and could now only thrash his head back and forth to try and avoid the frigid spray. He opened his mouth the scream but nothing happened. Not at all.
Julia Jenkins, Lt. had joined the Federation with her twin brother. Jerome had always been more of a playboy, more interested in the simple answers than duty and so remained earthbound. Meanwhile Julia ascended, picked by hand for her ambition and service for Chikara Haruka.
She didn’t know why they were on the Bastille, only that Haruka had ordered it suddenly, urgently. In less than two hours a discrete cargo ship was lifting off and headed towards the artificial ring that served as part space station part prison. Haruka stood in the back watching the infamous Rainbow Miller, who did not look at all concerned to be suddenly arrested and whisked away.
Now they’d been on the base for days and rumors grew. Miller had been freed and now it seemed she was doing bizarre experiments on an android prototype.
“It insists that it’s an AI and we’re trying to sort it out,” Miller explained shortly when Julia asked. “Hit the water again.” The android hadn’t even been given a designation. Julia wrote it off as one of Miller’s many quirks. She thought she’d heard Miller referred to it as “Max”.
Julia felt uneasy, watching it squirm against the wall. It was unnervingly silent, especially since it often spoke to Miller when they performed fuel injections. Now however it just slumped to the side, wet and broken looking.
Miller walked forward her cane tapping on the ground and stood before the android. She examined it closely for a moment, opening its ocular lenses, it’s auditory systems, it’s chassis and frame before humming and gesturing them forward.
“You can take him back now and consider yourselves dismissed for the night. We’ll perform a fuel injection in the morning.”
Julia almost breathed a sigh of relief. She was tired and her uniform was soggy from the ice-cold water. She and Briggs unlocked the android and it sagged between them, forcing them to drag it’s heavy frame back to the holding cell.
“Why even have a fuel injector and not just a charger like every other android?” Briggs grumbled. She was just as soaked as Julia. “What’s the bloody point?”
Julia shrugged. “You’ve heard the stories about Miller. Why does she do anything?”
“To see if it can be done,” they chorused together, then broke down into giggles. Miller was almost a meme, someone so absurd but popular that it was easy to craft her into farce.
Julia finished toweling off while Briggs grabbed her basketball. “Do you want a game? Larousse and Yu should be getting off soon and we can do doubles.”
“I need to call my brother, but I’ll be down in a second,” Julia told her. Briggs shrugged and grinned.
“Blow him a kiss for me.”
The quarters on the Bastille were serviceable, if old-fashioned, a relic of the period they originated in. Julia kept banging her hip on the cold metal desk, which was just a sheet of steel that jutted out of the wall, soldered on. Everything about the room was far more authoritarian than anything the Federation designed now.
Julia replicated herself a small bowl of pistachio ice cream while waiting for the connection. They were rationed 4gb of data per day and most of hers went to dessert and her calls back to earth. She’d put in a token bet on if Blanche was going to come out as dating his bandmate but didn’t have any real hope of winning.
“Hey! How’s it going Jewels?” Jerome was flushed and smirking when he picked up a clear sign that he’d recently gotten laid. Julia rolled her eyes.
“Not as good as it’s going for you, apparently. Who was it this time?”
Jerome winked. “Not telling. You wouldn’t know him anyway.”
Julia wrinkled her nose but dropped it. Same old Jerome. “Fine. How’s Aspen? Is she psyched for Blanche’s concert?”
For a moment Jerome looked blank. “Oh uh. You know I don’t know if she’s going to see it. We’ve been pretty busy here.”
Julia laughed. “What? At Middleham? What, too many school field trips to handle? Chasing aliens away from the moat?”
“Middleham doesn’t have a moat,” Jerome corrected her automatically. Julia rolled her eyes again.
“Oh right.” She let the silence linger for a beat before sighing. “So are you going to tell me why you’re busy or what?”
There was a flash of an expression she’d never seen on her twin’s face. Panic. Jerome was supposed to be the charming, romantic one of the two, the one who thought on his feet and used his charm to get in and out of sticky situations.
“Jerome?” She asked again when he was quiet for too long.
“We’re having some renovations done to the castle. Jones is freaking out about it, working me and Aspen to the ground. There’s all kinds of people hanging around now,” he finally said. His voice was calm and the cadence natural. He even met her eyes.
“Jerome.” Her voice came out like the whip-crack she’d never heard except for in movies.
He sighed. “I’m being real with you, Jewels. We’re having renovations, there’s a bunch of strangers in the castle, that’s it. Please, can we talk about something else? How’s it going with your posting?”
Julia could feel it deep in her gut that she shouldn’t let him off the hook. If she pressed Jerome long enough he’d cave to her, like he always did. But there was that expression, the look in his eyes. Whatever was happening at Middleham, it wasn’t for her to know.
“It’s going alright. It’s been uneventful for the most part. I haven’t seen my CO for like, a week now but I think we’re being farmed out to Miller anyway- oh fuck!”
On-screen, Jerome was wearing a similar look of alarm, not amusement like she’d expected for her slip up. It was pretty common for Julia to usually forget about Chikara’s NDA and accidentally blurt out scuttlebut to her family. It was how Jerome found about Chikara’s impending marriage a month before the official press release.
“I didn’t say that!” She said quickly. “Forget it, Jerome.”
Typically he would, with a grin and wink. But now his eyes were large and she could see where a vein ticked in his forehead.
“Did you say Miller, like,” he glanced over his shoulder and leaned into the screen, “Like Rainbow Miller?”
Julia shook her head frantically but it was too late. Jerome groaned and leaned back, rubbing a hand over his face. He looked up at the ceiling and muttered something that the audio didn’t catch. He looked back at the screen.
“Okay. Is there any way you can tell me where you are?”
“Jewels, you’re late. Get over here and help me against Yu!”
Julia is distantly aware of putting on the best performance of her life. Her body moves on autopilot, grab the ball, pivot on one foot, bounce it under Yu’s legs right to Briggs. She smiles when her partner shoots and yep, scores.
In her head, she’s a wreck.
Jerome had told her the most ridiculous story. Dead white men, up and walking around? Some bizarre experiment that Miller had done, or maybe it was aliens or whatever. Now they’re being hunted by Chikara, the Federation’s most loyal supporter, President Zhu’s strong right arm to keeping the Federation peaceful and orderly.
She’d kidnapped him off the fucking street, in broad daylight, as he screamed. Jerome sent the security footage you saw the panic in his actions, the same that he had when you’ve grabbed him. Shorn and isolated and oh god…
Julia didn’t believe him at first. Miller was up here because she was running secret experiments, Government Eyes Only. Where else would they hide, then in the Bastille? Who would investigate this lonely place willingly? It was a test on a rogue AI, ensuring that it’s wasn’t really developing past its programming. Everyone had stories about an android with so much personality you could swear it was living.
It wasn’t saline, those were tears. It wasn’t a new nitro mix for fuel it was a liquid food, it wasn’t an injection it was cold-blooded torture. I’m a fucking monster.
As soon as Julia had been convinced, something that only her brother could do, she’d confessed everything that had happened, the cold sweat of disgust all over her body. The ice cream melted as she cried, Jerome trying to tell her that she couldn’t possibly know, this was something that Chikara and Miller cooked up. She gasped out what had happened, what they were doing to the man. Jerome’s face had paled and he scrubbed a hand over his face. The warning that they had used up almost all of Julia’s data made them both jump.
“Look. You can’t let Chikara and Miller know that you know, or that I know. Just…play along.”
“Play along?!” Julia shrieked. “We fucking used a high-pressure hose on him today! I’m don’t want to-”
“Two minutes.” The computer’s smooth voice cut across Julia’s hysteria.
“You’re going to have to, otherwise Chikara will have us all up there, Jewels. Please,” Jerome begged. “I’m going to tell Magpie and we’ll make a plan to rescue him. You won’t have to do it very long.”
“It’s the goddamn Bastille,” Julia snarled, tears dripping onto her console. “You don’t just fly up here and ask nicely to be let in.”
“We’ll make a plan. Play along. I’ll make sure to keep you out if it. Just promise me you won’t try and interfere with Chikara or Miller. Promise me?”
Julia hesitated. Her heart was shredded. Her trust in her brother, her loyalty to the Federation and Chikara, her horror at what she’d unknowingly done. The knowledge was a fork, the tines pulling through her tender soul.
“Promise!” Jermone barked.
Julia jumped and eyed the countdown. “Fine, I promise. Just, get up here soon please?” She begged.
Jerome breathed a sigh and smiled. “I will. I love you.”
The feed cut out.
Robespierre seemed to be wilting. His already pale skin was becoming translucent, sapped of vitamin D. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen, the green of his eyes disappeared behind the black. He didn’t react when Rain poked him with a needle. If it weren’t for his rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing, he could be mistaken for a corpse.
“We’re going to have to change the fuel,” Rain tsked. It was simply easier to allow the indulgent fantasy of a broken android than waste her breath on the guards. She stood up from her crouch and nodded. “Grab him and let’s go.”
One of them moved promptly but there was a moment of hesitation from the other. She glanced at Rain before reaching for Robespierre.
“Is there an issue?”
She startled and adjusted her grip on Robespierre, tightening on his arms. “No Ma’am.”
Rain watched her carefully before turning on her heel to lead them from the cell. So far no one had raised any objections, there had been no suspicions on her conduct. Rain guessed that Chikara had ordered this silence.
“Pin him down.”
Robespierre struggled weakly. “Non. Non. Arretez.” Rain wondered if she should have numbed his vocal cords again.
Once again the guard shows just the flicker of hesitancy but Rain seriously considered throwing her from the room anyway. Or telling Chikara.
Robespierre gagged around the tubing, convulsing before going limp and shutting his eyes tightly. Rain messed with the recipe and it’s slightly thicker when she poured it down the funnel. Robespierre gagged again when it hit his stomach. Rain can see the tremors in his hand as he flexed his fingers around the arms of the chair.
She watched carefully as she flushed the mixture with water, looking at the guards. One of them, a shorter more muscular woman from the independent State of Texas watched with barely concealed boredom, her eyes glazed over. The other one, taller and lithe, was standing at stiff attention. She wasn’t shivering or fidgeting, but there was a deliberate control in her stance.
Rain sat back after she finished. The taller guard moved to unbind Robespierre.
“Stop. We’ll leave it like this for a bit.”
There, in the girl’s eyes was what Rain was looking for. Panic, fear, anger. She almost smiled. I see you figured it out. But were you smart enough to see it or did you have help?
“You’re dismissed. We’ll come back for it at,” it was just after six, “two hundred hours.”
“What? That’s two hours!” She blurted out and Rain made a show of blinking in surprise.
“Yes. It doesn’t have anywhere to be. I’m running a simulation and need to check on in. Check the perimeter and then we’ll take the android back two hours,” she said, shrugging lightly. “I do have other things to do up here you know.”
For one moment Rain was sure the girl was going to refuse, her eye’s quickly flickering over the tube that was still running down Robespierre’s throat. But she and other guard gave a crisp salute and matched out the door.
Rain flicked off the light as she left, considering her next move.