Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part One.
“So let me get this straight,” Aspen held her head in her hands. She ground the heels of her hands into her eyes. “You, Leonardo da Vinci-”
“And you, Richard the third-”
“Yes?” The former king growled around the bread in his mouth. Aspen wrinkled her nose at his table manners.
“Were brought back to life by a famous technical scientist-“
“Is Rainbow Miller famous?” Leonardo asked, voice pitched in interest. Magpie had given him a new notebook and he was sketching idly in it. From the way he kept glancing at her, Aspen had to guess that her arm was going to be on the first pages, which was flattering and bizarre. Leonardo was drawing her.
Spirits, what was her life?
“And you escaped after the alien she stole the technology from tracked her down at her house?”
“In her flying carriage,” King Richard added, gulping down beer. Magpie watched him with wide eyes, mouth half open in wonderment.
“Her flying carriage?” Kami asked voice weak.
“Si. It was magnificent,” Leonardo answered promptly. “It carried us from North America to France in a matter of hours!” He gestured expansively.
The entire Historical Society looked at each other. Kami and Harm grabbed each other’s hands under the table, Magpie’s eyes were focused on Richard, Aspen and Jerome stared at each other eyebrows raised.
“Do you know of any civilian vehicles that can make that trip?” Aspen asked out of the corner of her mouth. Jerome shook his head minutely.
“Maybe something that Miller was working on?” He offered softly.
Aspen shrugged helplessly, looking back up the table at the two men.
Richard as soon as getting “home” had asked, well demanded really, beer, bread, and venison stew. In that order. Magpie had nearly trampled Aspen in their eagerness for the staff room replicators. Typically, Magpie had already knew what kind of beer and bread to serve and Richard had dug into his meal as if he’d been starved. Aspen wondered if that was so far off. Both men seemed extremely exhausted and frazzled.
Aspen, for her part could hardly tear her eyes away from Leonardo, frantically sketching away, scratching at the paper. His eyes darted from face to face and all around the room.
“So after you got to…”
“Paris,” Leonardo answered promptly.
“Paris, what then? How did you get to Egypt?” Kami led the questioning.
“Robespierre led us through Paris, and we used the uh,” Leonardo looked over at Richard waving his hand about for the word.
“The light wizardry that moves people place to place.” Richard explained.
Kami looked at Magpie for translation. They blinked slowly, head tilted.
“The transporters?” They asked.
Leonardo smiled. “Si! Those!”
“You used the transporters? But how? You don’t have any IDentifiers,” Harm pointed out.
Leonardo shrugged. “We told them that Rain had ordered us to Egypt, and to use her pass.”
Harm groaned. “No wonder Haruka and Marie Rivera found you so fast. They would have been tracking Miller’s number.”
“Number?” Leonardo asked.
“The number that matches IDs. Everyone has one, well except for three recent additions to the Federation,” Harm gestured to Leonardo and Richard and including the absent Robespierre.
“Well that might also work in our favor too, since they can’t be traced back to us,” Jerome pointed out.
“Which is good since I don’t fancy going one on one with Marie,” Aspen muttered. She still had a sick oily feeling in her stomach about how close she’d come to Chikara’s right-hand.
“Where do you think they have taken Robespierre?” Leonardo asked Magpie. They shrugged.
“I don’t have much experience with the military side of the government, outside of where Haruka has tried to stop the Heritage reclamation projects. I’d have to guess somewhere is Cairo, likely in one of the holding cells in HQ.”
Leonardo frowned. “There’s no possibility of rescue?”
Aspen laughed before she could stop herself. Every head flung around to stare at her. Leonardo’s face was one of a man who was not used to being laughed at and clearly expressed she’d better have a damn good reason for doing so.
“Sorry, but if your friend-“
“Not a friend!” Richard barked out.
“If your associate is anywhere near the HQ then he’s irretrievable. Every guard there would have been handpicked by Chikara Haruka, trained and groomed to her standards. Then there’s the millions of diplomats there, and all of the administrators and that says nothing of the politicians. And if I had to bet, you and Richard are going to become the top of the Most Wanted. If you walk anywhere near HQ, it’s probably over for you,” Aspen explained.
Her declaration was met with silence, Leonardo cast his gaze down to the table, frowning slightly and Richard staring at her.
“Are you a solider?” He asked.
Aspen shrugged. “I was. Now I’m a security guard.”
Richard narrowed his eyes. “A body guard? For him?” He nodded at Magpie.
Everyone startled and looked at each other. Magpie flushed slightly, a deep red flush on their high cheekbones.
“Y-your highness, I’m sorry there’s been a misunderstanding,” they said. “I am not a man.”
At this Richard also blushed. “Oh, I’m sorry my Lady, I didn’t realize. My apologies,” he said gruffly. “During my time the ladies of the time wore their hair long.”
Everyone shuffled awkwardly. Aspen hadn’t ever realized how much stock she’d given to how obvious Magpie made their non-binary status evident. She hadn’t even thought about what pre 21st century people would think.
“No no, my lord. I’m neither a man nor a woman,” Magpie explained. “I don’t conform to either gender. My name is Magpie and that is who I am.”
Richard blinked at them, face serious. Leonardo’s jaw had dropped slightly, expression nearly vacant.
“You’re a eunuch?” Richard tried again, visibly struggling. Magpie shook their head, brushing a stay lock of shining silver hair from their eyes.
“No, simply… not gendered.”
With a hard twist to his mouth, Leonardo reached over and grabbed the spoon from Richard’s limp fingers and the fork next his elbow.
“So this is their fairer sex, si?” Leonardo asked, holding up the spoon. Richard looked over at him, eyebrow raised and nodded. Leonardo held up the fork. “And this represents man.” Richard nodded again.
Leonardo leaned over and grabbed the ceramic bread knife from where Richard had been slicing from the loaf. “So this is our new friend Magpie?” He looked over at them for confirmation.
“Yes, that’s mostly it.”
“You’re…a knife?” Richard asked, looking dubious. Magpie shrugged.
“Sure. Let’s say I’m and knife and I preferred to be called as such.”
Richard finally nodded, and Aspen breathed out. However Magpie beamed happily, clearly over the moon about sitting in the same room as their favorite historical figure.
Leonardo looked around at the rest of them. “And what do the rest of you do? Does the Federation support the decision to reside here?”
Kami raised her hand, ready to be ambassador of goodwill as always. “I’m Kami Susuki, and I came on as Public Relations manager for Magpie. Also we don’t live in Middleham, we just work here as part of the Heritage Reclamation project for the Federation.”
Leonardo nodded even though Aspen was sure there was no way he could have understood half of Kami’s spiel. The shorter woman gestured to Harm, sitting next to her.
“And this is my husband Harmony Susuki.”
He raised a dark hand, fingers rubbed smooth from his work on slick glass screens all day. “You can call me Harm for short. I work on all of the technical aspects of the Reclamation Project.”
“He’s the one who code- I mean wrote the program that found you.”
“Wrote the program?” Leonardo asked, a bemused twist to his lips.
Harm waved it away. “You’re pre-computers, and we’ll have plenty of time for me to explain all of this too you later, don’t worry.” Leonardo nodded, still looking unsure.
Jerome jumped in, grinning broadly at Leonardo. Aspen narrowed her eyes.
Jerome he’s recently returned from the dead, you don’t need to hit on him yet!
“Hi I’m Jerome, and I work with Aspen as part of Security for Middleham. Typically I work nights and I love Renaissance, uh, art!”
Richard snorted, tearing off another piece of bread. “What are you, a Moorish mercenary?”
Jerome frowned. “No I trained with Federation, like Aspen. But I went in specifically to serve as an officer for a posting on earth.”
Richard grunted, rubbing at his temple. Aspen noticed he seemed to do that a lot.
Leonardo sighed heavily and clasped his hands together in front of him, and rested his forehead against them as if he was at prayer. He looked up after a moment.
“We were told there is no possibility of returning home, to our own time,” he said softly. It wasn’t so much a question as a plain sad statement of a fact.
“Time travel doesn’t exist, it’s true,” Harm confirmed. “I’m sorry.”
Richard closed his eyes for a moment and Leonardo sighed again.
Then the most incredible thing happened.
Richard straightened up in his plain wooded chair, rolling his shoulders back and raising his chin up so he could meet the eyes of everyone at the table with a cool surveying stare. He placed his hands flat on the top of the table.
And in that moment, King Richard the Third, last of the Plantagenet dynasty was in the room.
Leonardo sat up as well, and Aspen saw that’s he’d carefully composed his face into a slightly worn but kind expression and she saw in her mind’s eye the artist who had served princes all over Italy and changed how the human body was looked at forever more.
“So, what comes next?” Leonardo asked, spreading his hands out, gesturing to the table at large.
Before anyone could collect themselves and answer his question, a loud mechanical tone sounded through the remade castle. Leonardo and Richard jumped and Magpie slapped their forehead.
“Oh my god! I forgot about the tour!”
“Tour?” Richard whipped his head around and asked Magpie. “What tour?’
“They’re from London, a bunch of primary student coming up to behold a piece of their history. Okay, the two of you are going to need to stay in one of our offices until it’s over. Come on, Harm, you go get Drizz and Blake.”
“Who?” Leonardo asked standing up as Aspen rushed over and grabbed Richard dishes with one hand and using the other to guide Leonardo away.
“Our tour guides. They’re repurposed retail androids that Magpie found and Harm fixed. Usually androids are just decommissioned but they’re good with groups and it’s easier than hiring. Now come on! I’d hate to try and explain you to a bunch of kiddies.” She dragged the Italian away, despite his head being twisted around as Kami opened the grand doors to hurry out to the grounds where the group was waiting.
She got them up the stairs to the staff rooms and pushed them into the break room. Richard took back his half empty bowl of stew, even though it must have been stone cold and sat gingerly in one of metal chairs.
“Whatever happened to wood?” He grumbled.
“It became a protected substance after mass deforestation and before replicators.” Aspen answered.
“Mass deforestation?” Leonardo said in alarm at the same time Richard dubiously said, “Protected substance?”
Aspen sighed and sat down. She figured she could leave it to Jerome to warn the kids off from touch the ancient artifacts. She had her own living artifacts to worry about now.
“Yeah well at one point wood was worth more than gold. You see when the earth population started to rise and we started to consume more…”