It was an extremely strange experience to sit down in the ancient dining hall in front of a replicated dinner with Leonardo da Vinci across from her and Napoleon next to her. Aspen took a bite of her sandwich and watched Napoleon struggle with his burger.
“You don’t eat it with a knife,” she pointed out and took the opportunity to take some of his french fries.
“I’m not some savage or student, to eat with my hands,” Napoleon snorted. He persevered with the fork and knife.
Leonardo was clearly lost in his own head, eating with his right hand and sketching with his left. It looked like the designs of an eagle or falcon in flight.
Harmony and Kami were getting ready to head out for the night, standing in the entryway, speaking to Magpie. Richard was sitting at one end of the table, eating steadily and ignoring Russo who was sitting at the other end. She eschewed dinner, studying the maps of the land around Middleham.
“Is this whole damn castle built on a swamp? The only safe places to build would be inside the castle walls,” she asked aloud, pointedly.
Richard scowled. “The ground is steady enough to hold the castle,” he snapped.
Russo glared at him. “It won’t always be. You should see the state of the plumbing,” she muttered, looking back down.
Aspen hid her smile in her coffee. She wasn’t above being amused by petty bitching between the doctor and the Englishman.
Above them, there was the electronic whine of an engine and she glanced up. Cutting it close, Jerome.
Aspen stood and stretched. She grabbed the last bite of her sandwich and stuffed it into her mouth, getting ready to be relieved of duty. Let Jerome keep the keep, as it were.
But instead of the calm saunter that she expected from Jerome, the door exploded inward, nearly taking out Harmony. Jerome wasn’t even in uniform but he looked wild, his eyes red and breathing heavily. Everyone stopped and looked up at him.
Before anyone could ask Jerome, he spoke. “I know where Robespierre is!”
No one spoke the question since it was obvious. There was a moment of horrible silence.
Jerome’s eyes flicked around and he swallowed.
Aspen sat down heavily, nearly missing her chair.
“The Bastille,” she repeated flatly.
“But that’s impossible. The Bastille hasn’t been used since after World War Three. It’s barely functional,” Magpie protested.
“World War?” Napoleon asked, sounding intrigued. He went ignored.
Kami whirled around and faced Jerome, her hands on her hips.
“How do you know this? The Bastille’s files are only accessible by the top brass,” she demanded. Behind her, Harmony nodded.
“The server isn’t even on Earth, it’s a self looped network. I couldn’t hack it if I wanted to.”
Jerome hesitated before shaking his head. “I can’t tell you my source. Just know it’s as solid as I am, please Magpie,” he begged as everyone glanced at each other. “And the evidence is good. Doctor Miller is up there. She has been for weeks since Robespierre disappeared.”
“Miller is on the Bastille? She is a prisoner?” Russo asked, pretty face ashen. “My god. I’d never think-”
“No that’s the thing, she’s got a run of the place apparently. Orders from-from…” Jerome faltered, glancing around again. He stepped closer to Magpie. “From Chikara Haruka.”
As the staff of Middleham, all looked at each other, bemused and worried there was a bark of laughter from Napoleon.
“I think you’ve all been misled,” he said when Aspen turned to him. He had ketchup in the corner of his mouth. “The Bastille has been destroyed.”
“Wrong Bastille,” Aspen said shortly, turning back to Jerome. “Why the hell is Haruka letting Miller run around on the Bastille?”
Jerome glanced at their audience. Leonardo had stopped sketching, eyes fixed on them in a fathomless stare and Richard had braced his hands on the table, frowning stonily. Jerome shifted, grimacing at Magpie.
“Boss, can we have this meeting in private? I don’t think-”
He was cut off by all three white men.
“We would all like to know what happened to Robespierre, I think,” Leonardo said. He looked at Richard and then Napoleon. “If he’s been arrested, we should know.”
“I want to know what Miller’s doing,” Richard growled, fingers flexing
“If Robespierre is held in the Bastille, which he is not, I should be told,” Napoleon snapped.
Everything looked at Magpie, who was rubbing the bridge of their nose. They took a deep breath and looked at Jerome.
“Jenkins, you should just report on what you know. We can’t just keep them in the dark while they are living here. That’s not fair.”
Jerome glanced at Aspen, who nodded curtly, even though her stomach clenched anxiously. She was sure Jerome wouldn’t ask for privacy unless he had a damn good reason for wanting to keep it private.
Jerome twitched but stood at stern attention. “Understood. My s-source informed me that while prisoner Robespierre has been-” His voice broke suddenly and Jerome mouthed silently before trying again. “He’s been. Been tortured.”
Everyone was silent again. Magpie looked ill, their eyes wide, a hand to their lips. Harmony slowly sat down while Kami stood shaking, her hands clenched.
Aspen didn’t dare look over her shoulder to find the reactions of the dead men.
“That’s illegal.” Her voice sounded hollow. “Torture has been banned by the Federation. Haruka is already breaking the law by keeping him without a trial, with no lawyer. She can’t possibly-”
“Sensory deprivation. Sleep deprivation. Force-feeding. They’re using a hose on him at full pressure, which is just as bad as a beating and you know it.” Jerome seemed to be speaking as fast as he could, eager to be rid of the dreadful knowledge. “We have to go get him.”
Aspen staggered. “Get him? And what exactly? How?” She demanded.
He looked at her, hurt. “I don’t know, but if we don’t they’ll kill him.”
Richard had stood up from the table, arms held over his chest. “Let him. He’s a kingslayer and a tyrant.” He nodded at Napoleon, who dropped his eyes to the tablely. “If he’s a traitor then he deserves nothing more.”
“That’s not how things are done now,” Jerome snapped. “We don’t just let people die because we disagree with them.” He looked back to Magpie. “Please, Magpie.”
“Why are you so invested in this? Is your source in danger?” Kami spoke up. Her tone was frighteningly even.
Jerome hesitated again. Aspen watched as he ran his hands over his face before turning in an agitated circle. Who would Jerome know that he’d be this upset over? A lover? No, it hit Aspen suddenly.
“It’s Julia, isn’t it?”
Jerome looked over at her and his face crumpled slightly.
“Your sister is in Haruka’s guard?” Harmony asked, impressed and aghast.
Jerome nodded, jaw clenched tight. “Yes. She was ordered-” his voice broke painfully. “She was ordered to assist Miller.” He turned to Magpie. “Please, she didn’t know, Miller told her that Robespierre was an android. She was forced-”
Aspen began to pace back and forth. This was going from a mess to an outright catastrophe.
“You don’t even want to rescue Robespierre for himself! You want to do it for your sister,” Kami spat suddenly. “I agree with Richard.”
Aspen looked around in horror. “What?”
Kami squared her shoulders. “Look. The Bastille is impossible to get into. And I’m sorry but we don’t know Robespierre. He died over a thousand years ago. Let him die again.”
“I’m not letting my sister become a murder,” Jerome snarled, starting forward. Aspen quickly grabbed his arm.
“I have a daughter,” Kami snapped. “If we get fucking arrested because Haruka finds out that we’re the ones who have been harboring fugitives,” she pointed emphatically at the men at the table, “then I will never see her again. Robespierre is one man.”
Harmony looked from his wife to Magpie and Aspen. “We can’t go to the labor farms,” he agreed. An uneasy silence fell over the hall. Jerome looked furious. Magpie clutched at their forehead, pacing. Russo had also stood up from her chair, squaring off across from Kami.
“I’m a doctor. I took an oath. I’m not standing by while a man might be dying.”
“Might. Might be dying. We don’t know anything for sure. What do we have, Jerome’s testimony?” Kami pointed at Jerome. “You didn’t bring any proof that Robespierre is even up there.”
“It’s my sister. I think I can fucking tell when she’s lying,” he spat.
“Okay I think we all need to calm down,” Aspen said stepping between the two of them. “Jerome, I believe you,” she said, looking him in the eyes. “But we can’t go off half-cocked. Is Julia in any immediate danger?”
Reluctantly Jerome backed down and shook his head. “No. She didn’t know until she started talking about it and I put the pieces together.”
Magpie was still frantically pacing but they stopped cold when Jerome said that. “You told her?” They asked, tone faint and horrified. “Was it recorded? Are her feeds watched?”
Jerome shifted nervously. “It’s a private feed. But if she was suspected then any of her data can be searched,” he mumbled.
Kami threw an arm up in the air, face lined with anger. “Oh yeah? And when it leads Haruka directly back to you? To Middleham?” She gestured at herself and Harm. “I chose this position because it was supposed to be safe, Magpie. I’m not a traitor.” She laughed without humor and rubbed her temples. “I’m run HR for god’s sake!”
“It’s about a human life, Kami. And the guards who don’t even know their helping to torture a human,” Russo said, stepping up.
“A human who was dead-”
“Still a life-”
“I’m not going to let my sister-”
Everyone jumped. Aspen had never heard Magpie shout before.
Aspen saw them shudder before turning around and facing Middleham. Magpie’s face was fixed in a rigid anger that did not mesh well with their soft features.
“Enough.” Softer and calmer, Magpie crossed the hall and stood between the head of the table and the Middleham staff. “The decision has already been made. We made it when we decided to help them the first time.” Kami tried to interrupt, her words low and dark but Magpie spoke right over her. “No. We’re not going to let Robespierre die alone, illegally held in the Bastille.” They met Kami’s gaze evenly. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to stay and help. We all have lives and families to risk.” They looked around the room.
Russo tossed her head. “You’ve already gotten me here. I’m seeing this through. Though, I’m still dubious if Robespierre is actually being harmed.” She shook her head. “I just can’t believe that Haruka would do that.”
“I want to help. Julia’s in a fit, knowing what she’s done.” Jerome shuddered. Aspen coughed.
“I don’t know if that’s a great idea. If Haruka figures out the connection is you and Julia…” she trailed off.
Harmony was holding his head in his hands. He looked up with a sigh. “I don’t know what to say. I think Kami’s right but I don’t know how to justify leaving another human to suffer. But it’s the Bastille.” His tone tightened as he went on. “God, there’s also all the rest of them.”
Magpie sighed. “I know. But we’ll have to worry about one of them at a time. Right now I need to know if you’re in or out.”
“In or out?” Kami repeated. “This isn’t football, Magpie. It’s treason.” She turned to Jerome. “Look, I’d have an easier time believing this if there was some evidence.” Jerome opened his mouth to repeat his sister’s account and Kami held up her hand. “Other than your much-sainted sister. Can she show us proof? A picture or recording? Something so we at least know we’re not going to risk our lives or livelihoods for no reason?”
Aspen could see that Jerome was visibly gritting his teeth. “I’ll see what I can do, but if it puts her at risk, I’m not going to ask her to do it.”
An uneasy silence fell over them. “I think this is the best we can do right now.” Magpie’s voice was soft. “Harmony, Kami, Aspen. You’re off. Go home and get some rest. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow.”
Kami needed no further direction and quickly grabbed Harmony’s arm. “Let’s go. We have a call tonight.”
Jerome snorted. “Good riddance,” he muttered and Aspen nudged him in the side.
“Chill. They’re just worried. We all are. Just keep an eye on everything tonight and don’t let the Boss stay all night. They need to go home at some point,” she said quietly.
Jerome twitched. “Yeah. I’ll try.”
She poked him again. “And don’t spend all night in Leonardo’s room either.”
Jerome finally smiled slightly. “Hey, if he wants a piece, I’m not saying no, you know?”
Aspen rolled her eyes, shoulders relaxing. “Fine, you slut. I’m leaving.”
But even as she took the transporter home, Aspen couldn’t shake the feeling that their situation had just become even more dangerous.