Season Two. Episode Twenty Three: Arrivals. Part One.

Robespierre had just rejoined them, and Richard was sharply reminded of how much he disliked the diminutive Frenchman when he limped his way up from the kitchens, into the grand entrance. He clutched the heavy shawl around his shoulders. He also wore a pair of heavily tinted glasses. He looks the part of a beggar, Richard thought. Robespierre hair had also been shaved down to the scalp and it appeared to grow like a wild hedge.

“Cold,” he rasped. Richard had heard that something happened to his throat, reducing his voice to whisper.

“Yes, it is rather. Here,” Russo pushed a cup of tea over to him. “You’ll warm up.”

Richard rolled his eyes. Across from him Bonaparte had stood up to sit down next to Robespierre, who looked up at him. Bonaparte bent toward him, whispering something that Richard couldn’t hear but made Robespierre suddenly smile widely, stretching the scars over his face.

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Aspen Strong said. She was seated next to Richard, also watching as Bonaparte and Robespierre bonded over something.

Richard snorted and Strong nudged him playfully. “Come on. He was such a soggy plum after we got him back. Frankly this is way better.”

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Twenty Two: All Burst to Light. Part Three.

Maximilien focused on keeping his eyes closed. Even the very dim light filtering through made his temples throb in a muted agony. He knew that the subtle sting of something in his hand was helping to keep it at bay, he’d managed to parse that much since waking up. There was a lightly accented woman’s voice that kept up a steady stream of chatter, likely so he could easily track it around the room.

“This is going to be cold, but the medicine in it is going to help the inflammation in your eyes. We need it to go down before I can start working on your corneas.” There was a gentle clattering nearby and he flinched. “I’m curious, have you always been sensitive to light?”

He tried to swallow, throat still aching. But he was able to force the syllable out. “Yes.” His voice was a quiet raspy husk of what it used to be.

“There’s not a single portrait of you with them on,” the voice remarked. “Was that a vanity thing?”

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Twenty-Two: All Burst to Light. Part Two.

PART TWO.

Napoleon had always awoken early. He just couldn’t stand the feeling of wasting time on sleep. When he’d been on campaign, he would sometimes wake just after midnight to pour over his maps or wake his aides to send missives.

Now stuck, he still found himself waking early, wandering through the castle, often ending up in the Harmony Susuki’s study, where he could easily spend hours reading through the various war reports that had happened since his death.

Typically, one of the women would find him, chin propped on his hand, staring unblinkingly at the diagrams of battles long won.

However, for once he was interrupted by something far more interesting: raised voices outside of the door. Napoleon leaned back in the chair, looking over at the door.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Jerome? You don’t-“

“I have to do this, Mags. It won’t take a genius to put together that Julia’s source is me. Since Miller saw Aspen they’re definitely going to know we had something to do with this if I stick around.”

There was silence. Napoleon, cognizant of the creaking chair, stood up and padded over the door.

“We’ll miss you. Everyone,” Jones said quietly. The tall negro was facing away from Napoleon, but he could see Jenkins face. The young man ran a hand over his face and sighed.

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Twenty-Two: All Burst to Light. Part One.

Maxime was drowning in blood.

It was in his mouth, his throat. The very smell made his eyes water and churned his stomach. He was trapped wherever he was, standing in a warm pool of blood that he couldn’t avoid getting into his mouth.

He wanted to scream. But he didn’t dare open his mouth, for fear of all of it flooding it into him. Then, much to his horror, he could feel it creep up his face. Into his nose, leaking into his mouth past his lips and clenched teeth. It stung as it got into his eyes, warm and salty as tears.

He was fully swallowed in it before he finally decided to just open his mouth and let it happen.

Maximilien woke with a gasp.

He failed under an unfamiliar weight. Something was covering him from neck to feet and he couldn’t claw his way out from under it.

I’m drowning!

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Twenty One: Dante in Hell.

Episode Twenty One – Dante in Hell.

A/N: Specially formatted extra-long episode! Aspen Strong: Secret Agent: The Movie. 

This was such a terrible idea, Aspen thought to herself.

She was barely floating along, using just enough of a propulsion to gently drift towards the Bastille, which loomed ever closer. The red emergency lighting made all the blue controls on her panel pop, but only served to remind her that she couldn’t use any of them. If the Bastille detected any unauthorized  ship coming towards them and inquired, it would ruin everything.

Such a bad, bad idea. Why didn’t I leave for Mars?!

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Twenty: The Destruction Cycle. Part One.

Once Maximilien had given Charlotte and Henriette one of his beloved doves to care for. A moment of childish negligence and the poor bird was dead.

He’d given Camille to Georges for careful keeping in the way he needed to be watched and as a lamb taken in by a lion, Camille had been destroyed.

He’d carefully helped craft a document to free France from her chains and within months seen it betrayed and violated.

Maximilien’s whole life was a constant cycle of destruction. He would nurture and build only to see it pulled apart like cooked meat as soon as he turned his attention away.

Something must have been wrong with him, if Maxime could never care for things the way they needed to be cared for. Now, he was being punished for it.

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Nineteen: Human Needs. Part One.

PART ONE.

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!”

Read More »

Season Two. Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part Two.

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. 

XXX

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.”

“Fuck off.” 

XXX

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?”

XXX

“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.”

“One minute.”

“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. 

XXX

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.      

Season Two. Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part One.

Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part One.

Richard wouldn’t know how to define the way time passed at Middleham. It seemed both that he spent his days relearning his home and all the changes, but then either Strong or Jones would find him and he would be called for dinner. When he looked back later it would seem that he did nothing for days. 

Jones persisted in their attempts to speak to him but Richard found that all he needed to do was claim exhaustion or illness to be left alone. Outside of their company, however, Richard found himself entirely alone, except for the beings of light. Leonardo did not seem interested in his company, spending time with one of the guards, or speaking to Harmony about computers.

Richard had also found himself lingering in the chapel for hours, praying for guidance and strength in light of this new world he found himself in. He was no longer a king, no longer a husband or father, no longer a soldier. But Richard would be damned before he lapsed and abandoned his faith as well.  

Then Russo returned.

“I had to completely rearrange the shifts at the clinic. Also if anyone asks, I’m visiting a monastery in Tibet,” she told Jones, who grinned shakily. 

“Let’s hope that holds up under examination,” they said. Russo pursed her lips.

“I’ve spent time there before. If it’s for spiritual guidance people are less likely to go looking for me. And I rented a room there.”

“Won’t help if they look for your ID,” Strong pointed out.

“That’s the last case scenario, hopefully. Besides, I’m not missing. I’m not going to drop out of contact with anyone. There’s no reason for the Federation-”

“Chikara,” Strong interrupted. 

“For anyone to go looking for me,” Russo said calmly before casting her gaze on Bonaparte, who was examining her as well. Richard had noticed that he had a soldier’s bearing, feet firmly planted and shoulders stiff. Russo didn’t seem to care, reaching out to embrace his hand. 

“Doctor Primavera Russo.” 

Bonaparte’s eyes flicked over her height, her face, her hand. After what was clearly a moment too long, since Strong and Jones glanced at each other, he took her hand. 

“His Imperial Majesty Napoleon Bonaparte,” he said gravely. 

Russo’s cheek twitched. “Pleased, I’m sure,” she muttered and dropped his hand, turning to Richard. “So I’ve been doing research and I’ve come up with a few experiments about how to make your spine. But first, we’re going to have to come up with a sterilized space to do it.” She grinned suddenly, the first Richard had seen on her. “It would be a fine thing for you to die of an infection in the thirty-first century.”

Richard could feel his face harden. It was something that Anne told him many times that frightened the court since his mood suddenly became unreadable and unnerved his company. 

“Is it so necessary?” He asked quietly. The room stopped, even Bonaparte. 

“What? What do you mean?” Russo looked over at Jones. “What does he mean?”

“I speak for myself,” Richard snapped. “I mean what I say. Is my life at risk, with my back as it is?”

Russo’s grin had long fled and now she crossed her arms over her chest, her face just as stony as his. “No. Scoliosis isn’t life-threatening. But surely you don’t want to be,” she gestured to all of Richard. 

“Please, tell me what I should not wish to be when the Lord Almighty crafted me thus?” Richard replied coldly. Jones laughed too loudly and stepped towards Richard, palms up as if Richard was some horse to need calming. 

“Richard, she-she didn’t mean that. It’s just that… well, wouldn’t you be more comfortable?”

“I don’t think my comfort matters unduly.” Not if it’s God’s will to have me be so. It would be a just punishment for my life.

Jone’s face twisted slightly and for the first time, Richard saw irritation pass over it. “Richard, are you saying you don’t want to have Russo operate on you?” 

Richard stiffened. Jones may think of themselves as the new master of Middleham, but the last virtuous king died with him on Bosworth.

“No. I do not wish it.”

Russo threw her hands up and snarled like a dog. “Fantastic!” 

Jones approached Richard. “Please, Richard it would really be for the best if you-” He backed away, uninterested in their protests.

“No. If he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t have to have it.”

Everyone looked around at Strong. She was leaning against the table, her arms crossed over her chest. She was looking at Richard evenly, expression inscrutable. She looked over at Russo. “You said yourself, it’s not going to kill him. If he wants to live the way he was born, we can’t tell him to change it.” 

Richard blinked. Once again, the maid soldier had surprised him.

Strong bit her lip now. “But I do think that Doctor Russo is right. We’ll need a medical bay. We still don’t know what condition we’ll find Robespierre in.”

Bonaparte startled, eyes wide. “Robespierre?”

Richard looked over at him. “Yes. Do you know him?”

Bonaparte hesitated, eyes flicking around the room. “I did not know him. I knew his reputation as a tyrant, a dictator,” he said slowly as if feeling out the words. 

Richard snorted, mouth twisting. I knew it. For all his words about being an unjust ruler, he ranked petty tyranny over others. 

“He was kidnapped, right before Leonardo and Richard came to Middleham and uh we still can’t find him.” Strong shifted her weight back and forth. “Harm’s still working on it.”

Russo, who still looked mulish, sighed loudly. “I suppose you’ll also want me to fix that when we find him.”

Jones looked over at her with a small smile. “That’d be great, certainly.” 

“Well if you want me to, then get me a layout of the grounds,” Russo demanded. “I’ll take my bags upstairs.”

With one last look at Richard, she scooped up her belongings and mounted the stairs. Richard had the insane desire to laugh, trying to picture any of the ladies of the court doing the same.

Strong cleared her throat. “Well, I need to check in with my commander. I’ll use Mags office.” She nodded at them and turned towards the smaller stairwell. 

Jones seemed to have trouble looking at Richard as they passed, muttering something about checking in with Harmony. Bonaparte and Richard were left alone in the grand hall. 

“Why don’t you want your spine fixed?” Bonaparte asked. “You might as well accepted and soothed them.” 

“I don’t want them to try to fix me,” Richard replied, affronted. “There’s nothing to fix.” 

XXX

Aspen stayed in Magpie’s office, flexing her metallic fingers. The neural processor made it flawless. She could still remember having her real hand, it had only been seven years, but if she’d had it reskinned, even Aspen would admit that she’d never know the difference. She could make out texture, temperature, pressure. In some ways, the prosthetic was even better, since she could exert more pressure than a normal hand could and withstand higher temperatures. The wrist and all the fingers could reverse the joint or rotate in 360 degrees. The metal was military-grade alloy.

Doctors now had to report if they suspected that patients were harming themselves to get prosthetics. They were so much better than human parts that a common ice-breaking question was “if you could get a body part replaced, which one would you want?” 

It was no wonder that Richard’s flat refusal surprised Doctor Russo. 

But it was a good reminder. 

Aspen looked up when the door opened and Magpie stepped in. To their credit, they didn’t even look surprised.

“Aspen.” 

She relaxed and smiled. Magpie was one to wear all of their emotions on their sleeves. Even just her name had no bite behind it. 

“Boss.”

She stood up and waited at ease while Magpie settled in, looking much like their namesake in a nest. Ruffled feathers and all. 

“I’m assuming you’re hovering for a reason?” Magpie asked. 

“Permission to speak freely?” 

Magpie startled. “You’ve never asked before,” they said slowly. “I’ve never had a reason to ignore your advice before.”

Aspen shrugged. “We’re in uncharted waters here, boss. We’re harboring three fugitives and figuring out how to turn Middleham into a safe haven. I figured I should at least observe the basics, right?” 

Magpie snorted. “Alright. Permission granted. What is it Ensign Strong?”

Aspen relaxed her stance. “I think we’re going to need a psychologist.” 

To her surprise Magpie sighed and nodded. “Yes. I think so too.” They shook their head. “I wasn’t expecting Richard to refuse treatment like that. I thought he’d want to be able to…” They shook their head again. 

“Be normal?” Aspen guessed. Magpie looked up sharply. “That’s quite ableist of you.”

“I didn’t think that he’d consider his spine to be a part of his…identity,” Magpie admitted. “I’ve studied the late medieval period for two decades. I knew I was in love with it the first time I read about the Hundred Years War. At first, it was a bitter love. A perfect example of European excess and the so-called divine right of kings. And then I slowly grew fascinated by the people who fought it. And who was more fascinating than the perfect prince who might have committed fratricide to secure his position?” Magpie was frowning heavily, looking into the middle distance. “All of my research, sitting in sealed rooms wearing a mask and gloves to handle thousand-year-old texts and I thought…” They sighed and looked at Aspen with a lopsided smile. “I thought I knew him.”

Aspen shrugged. “I’m not a historian. I couldn’t tell you anything about it. But I do recognize the signs of a displaced soldier,” she said as gently as she could. “And more than his spine, it’s his head and heart we’re going to need to look out for.”

“It sounds like you’ve given this some thought. Alright. Do you have an idea? Who were you assigned to after you lost your arm?” 

Aspen laughed. “Absolutely not! Gods, I wouldn’t subjugate anyone to Leddi. That man could make you think up was down. Also, he was a hardcore atheist and that’s not gonna fly with this crowd.” 

“True. We’ll need to appeal to Richard’s spirituality.”

“And Leonardo’s and Napoleon’s. And Robespierre’s if we can ever fucking find him,” Aspen said pointedly. 

“I think Robespierre was an atheist,” Magpie said absently. “But you’re right. We should make it part of the deal. Weekly counseling, like we would for any trauma. Okay, so who did you have in mind?”

“An old college friend of mine, Robin. A double major in theology and psychology. He’s out in Rome and actually did four years as a chaplain on a ship.” 

Magpie raised one perfect eyebrow. “Really? A practicing priest?” 

“I don’t see how we’re going to get Richard or any of the rest of them to trust him if he wasn’t,” Aspen admitted. 

Magpie sighed. “Contact him. See if he has any interest, but subtly.” 

Aspen groaned. “Great. More subterfuge!” 


A/N: I’m not going to do this often, because it’ll be too easy for me to just start posting essay’s down here about my Opinions on History, but I felt this update was going to warrant some clarification. First, in regards to Richard’s back, the original draft has him do the surgery. But upon further consideration and rereading some thoughts from his biographers, it occurred to me that it was as Aspen said, “ableist” and considering Richard’s piety, out of character for him to just be okay with allowing an invasive operation to change a fundamental part of who he is. Secondly, in regards to some of the statements Magpie makes on Robespierre which are incorrect, one should remember that Magpie’s specialty is Medieval Europe, not the Enlightenment or French Revolution. If a historian doesn’t actively tap into a time period, they might not know any more than any other academic on the subject.     

Season Two. Episode Seventeen: Invasive Operations. Part Two.

Episode Seventeen: Invasive Operations. Part Two.

A/N: This is for Jeremy. You know what you did. Thank you.

 

Richard’s very first introduction to the so called “Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte”, as Magpie Jones introduced him grandly was when the other man looked around Middleham and sniffed dismissively.

“Is this where I’m to be banished?” The man complained, looking over at Aspen Strong. “This drafty English castle?” He waved his hand around the grand entrance.

Richard was gratified to see that he wasn’t the only one who bristled. Jones’s red tinted lips tipped down and he caught Kami and Harmony Susuki grimacing at each other.

Strong rolled her eyes and squeezed his shoulder with her metal hand. “You’ll get used to it. Here, let’s get you something to eat and get caught up.” She glanced around. “Although maybe we should get Doctor Russo to look at you first?”

Jones shook their head. “She left to arrange her sabbatical. We have to make it look natural, she can’t just up and vanish.”

Strong shrugged and continued to drag Bonaparte with her. He did not seem to expect her strength and stumbled over his own feet following along, glancing around at the castle’s tapestries and the small glowing panels that were embedded among the masonry.

These were the panels that Richard had spent the majority of his morning studying. There was at least one is every room and he discovered that when activated they played small scenes, the actors appearing in a beam of light that Richard could pass his hand through, as if they were made of fog. To his understanding they represented what the life of the castle would have been like to live in.

It had shocked him, when Richard activated one of the panels and was confronted with himself. The representation was fairly close, although the clothes were plain and he seemed too old. But the scene was of himself, with Anne. They were in audience with several nobles, their hands lifelessly clasped together as they listened.

Richard played the scene several times, his heart tight as he stared at Anne. Her representation was a poor one, her features plain and wooden, but Richard could look into her eyes and with a little imagination, it was almost as if she was before him again. Before everything had gone so terribly wrong, their son taken from them and her own health plummeting like a dove shot out of the sky.

He’d only been pulled from his musings when Jones found him and pulled him along to meet the Emperor Bonaparte. Richard eyed the young man again, who was being instructed on how to use the food and clothing dispenser by Strong. His countenance seemed noble enough, but his name was not one that Richard was familiar with.

“Where is he from again?” He muttered to Jones.

“He’s Corsican and French by marriage. I suppose you could also count him as Austrian if you tried,” they said.

Richard snorted. “Why didn’t you drag Leonardo down here, then?”

“Oh! We should introduce him, shouldn’t we? Would you get him, please?” Jones asked, eyes wide.

Richard’s refusal was on the very edge of his tongue, pressing up against his teeth before he remembered that he had no authority here. He clenched his jaw together and spun on his heel, towards the stairs.

“Thank you!” Jones called out after him.

XXX

Leonardo took his own good time in answering Richard’s summons.

He was disheveled and was biting back a yawn when he opened the door. He seemed disappointed to see Richard, mouth twitching into a small frown.

“Ah. Richard, how lovely. Good morning,” Leonardo mumbled, leaning against the door frame. “What can I do for you?”

“It’s noon, the day’s half over. Have you been asleep the entire time?” Richard’s voice rose incredulously. Leonardo waved his complaint away, smothering another yawn.

“I was reading all night.”

Richard frowned and mentally marked down sloth onto Leonardo’s list of faults. “There’s a new person downstairs.”

Leonardo regarded him blankly.

“Another one. One like us. He was Emperor of France, apparently.”

Leonardo blinked and straightened up. “Emperor? Well that is something,” he muttered and nodded to Richard. “I’ll be down shortly. What is his name?”

“Bonaparte.”

Leonardo nodded again and whirled away, snapping the door shut in Richard’s face. Relieved of his duty, Richard took the opportunity to return to the chapel. After all, Jones never said he had to return.

XXX

Leonardo was enjoying the future. More than he ever could have guessed. It was as if he had finally found where he was meant to be. Everything about it was fantastic. There was a quote in one of his own biographies “It was as if Leonardo had woken to find the world still dark.”  Leonardo was awake again and found that everything was illuminated to an almost painful degree. 

Leonardo made his way into the heart of the castle and he could hear Aspen speaking to someone. 

“So I still unclear. Are you technically French or Italian? Because you were Emperor of France but your army was Italian?”

Leonardo had just stepped off the final stair as the man answered. “I am Corsican. Neither Italy nor France had a right to claim and oppress my home.”

Aspen’s eyebrows were raised as she listened to him. She was resting her chin on her human hand. As Leonardo drew close she waved at him. 

“Either way I guess you’ll have company here, beside all the barbarous British. Leonardo, come and say hello to Napoleon Bonaparte.”

The man turned in his seat and blinked at Leonardo, thin brows drawing together slightly. Leonardo offered his hand and bowed slightly from the waist. 

“I’m pleased to know you. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the news from Corsica.”

Napoleon nodded, still staring at Leonardo as if he couldn’t place him. “Yes. And you are?” He glanced at Aspen. 

“Leonardo as in da Vinci. He died in France, right?”

Leonardo smiled, thinking back on his borrowed chateau. “Ambroise. It was beautiful.” 

Napoleon’s eyes had widened and he suddenly stood, taking Leonardo hand and shaking it enthusiastically. “You! You painted the Mona Lisa!”

Leonardo smiled. “Si. You admire her?” 

Napoleon’s smile was a wide and toothy thing. “I love her. I put her in my bedroom, in the Tuileries. She is the best of all the portraits I have ever seen. Not even David could capture the like on canvas.”

The praise made Leonardo flush. “Oh. Well, thank you. She’s not finished,” he admitted.

Aspen slapped her hand down on the table. “Perfect! Since the two of you get on, Leonardo can you show Napoleon around the rest of Middleham? You know, get him all caught up? I need to speak to Magpie.”

Leonardo nodded and gestured to the door that led into the courtyard. “Your highness, I’ve been reading up on the history of this castle. I think you’ll be interested to learn about the Nevilles.”

Napoleon’s lip curled back and out of the corner of his eye, Leonardo saw Aspen flinch. 

“I doubt there is, but I would like to take a look at the fortifications. Are there maps, as well? I want to know where exactly on this damned island I am.”

XXX

With Napoleon taken care of Aspen headed back up to the offices where she found Magpie and Harm looking over his program for finding the recently-resurrected. 

“Is Napoleon all settled in?” Magpie asked. Aspen leaned against the desk and watched as Harm did something clever with the coding. 

“Yep. I drafted Leonardo to help. What’s this?” She asked, gesturing to the screens.

“I was thinking it over last night. If we’re trying to figure out how many of these uh,” Harmony looked at Magpie to fill in. 

“Temporarily-displaced,” Magpie said at the same time Aspen shouted “dead people!”

“Zombies,” Harmony nodded at Aspen. “If we’re trying to find zombies and we know they don’t have IDs then instead of combing every millimeter of the planet with the smart recognition program all we should need to do instead is use subtraction right?”

Aspen looked at him blankly. “What? How?”        

“We can always know how many IDs are currently on Earth. There’s a live counter right on the Federation site. Look,” Harm pressed his display and it popped up on the screen. As Aspen watched the counter fluctuate around 11 billion, the last five digits changing faster than she could read them. Harm pressed another button and it froze. 

“Then all we need to do is take the Terran-tracking life sign counter, the one that the Federation uses on a private database.” Another number, this one at 11.4 billion and Harm pressed it. “So then I’ll subtract the two and remove the calculations from the Martian colony.”

“But how does that help us find them?” Magpie pressed. “All we’ll know there’s a discrepancy.” 

Harm smiled and held up a finger. “Ah! I’m glad you asked boss. Now all I have to do is find the life signs that don’t have a corresponding ID…” He swiped his fingers across the board. “So these are the remaining ones. What I’ll do now map out each of these life signs.”

He flicked his fingers up and the holo-globe popped up. As Aspen watched little blips of light started appearing. They then kept appearing, like a little leak that reveals a serious problem in the plumbing. 

“I think you’re calculations must be off,” Aspen said. “There must be-”

“It’s one hundred and forty-seven,” Harm told her. “The flickering ones are accounted to births/deaths.”

“But the others…” Magpie slid their fingers over the globe, spinning it. “Look! There’s these three in Vegas City. And over here in Moscow. And look, here’s where we are! Oh my god.” They looked at Aspen and Harm, eyes wide and horrified. “If there’s really this many…”

“Then what the hell are we going to do?” Aspen finished.

Season Two. Episode Seventeen: Invasive Operations. Part One.

A/N: This part contains depictions of force-feeding and suicidal thoughts.

“Why isn’t he eating?” Chikara demanded when she caught sight of the security screen.

Rain shrugged, shuffling the pack of cards she’s replicated. The Bastille was not the most exciting posting she’d ever had and that included the six months she washed petri dishes for chem lab.

“No idea. His mental state has declined steadily since he’s been a prisoner so he might have decided to simply,” she flipped the cards from palm to palm, “give up.”

Chikara’s cheek twitched and Rain raised an eyebrow at her. “Is there a problem, Major?”

“Keep him alive. He’s evidence,” she barked.

Rain shrugged. “Yeah, in the case you’re building against me, no doubt. Why should I try and help you?”

“I can arrange for you to join him.”

“You can. But I think you’ll also need my help in finding the other two. What else?”

Chikara was silent for a long moment, dark eyes inscrutable. “Because you want to,” she finally said.

Rain blinked. These were the first words Chikara Harurka had said to her that she couldn’t outright disagree with.

She set the cards aside and glanced at the viewscreen. “You have me there.”

Chikara nodded. “You may use any means necessary,” was her final declaration before leaving.

Rainbow smiled. Any means huh? Well then once again Robespierre, I apologize.

XXX

“They took me shortly after you were taken to the National Razor. I bore it for you, but they would not let me take your name. I was severed from you, because of you, Maxime. Babet lost her husband because of you. Lucile lost her son, the son you name, because of you.”

Maximilien Robespierre would have given much to drive a needle into his ear, to prevent the soft voice from getting into his head.

Eleonore Duplay was sitting beside him, her white linen dress drenched in blood from the neck down. She looked much like she had the morning Maxime had left for the last time.

“Cornelia, I’m so sorry.” His eyes were dry and aching. He had nothing more for her, not even tears. It didn’t occur to Maximilien that Eleonore never would have wanted them, just as he wouldn’t have wanted hers.

Maximilien had been disturbed from his visions when a hand roughly grabbed his arm and he was jerked to his feet.

“Move!”

Stumbling blind Maxime walked forward. The invisible barrier that had kept him in the room was gone and another pair of arms grabbed him and led him for what felt like hours. His eyes felt as if they had swollen nearly shut, reducing the world to hazy grey blur. Almost immediately his calves cramped into bunches of knotted rope in his legs from kneeling and sitting for so long.

Maximilien could only assume this was when they would finally execute him.

Eventually, harsh hands grabbed his bare shoulders again and maneuvered him into a room. It was blessedly dim. He was shoved into a metal chair, goosebumps promptly breaking out over his skin. His wrists, ankles, and neck were firmly strapped against the chair.

“Hello again Robespierre.”

He gasped. “Rain? Madame Miller? You’re alive?”

She stood over him, her features blurred. “I am. Did you think the Federation was going to kill me? You really are from a very different time,” she said, her voice colored by humor. Maxime heard her take a seat next to him, her voice coming close to his ear.

“I want you to know, I didn’t mean to drag you into this. I wanted change. It won’t matter much to you, but I am sorry, Robespierre.”

He wasn’t able to turn his head at all, but he tried to make sense of her expression. Rain’s face seemed to be obscured by water. “What do you mean?”

In her typically irrelevant tone, “you’ll see what I mean.”

Lights flipped on directly over him and Maxime cringed away from the painfully bright light. There was the sound of metal on metal.

“Open your mouth.”

Dread built in his stomach as he meekly complied. Promptly a metal bit was shoved into his mouth, depressing his tongue and making so he couldn’t shut his jaw. Maxime recoiled and tried to squirm away.

“Restrain him.”

Someone grabbed his head, fingers sinking into the soft skin of his temple. A whimper tried to crawl out of his throat but Maxime ruthlessly beat it back. The would not have his submission. Not here, not when he was being held with no trial or accusation against him.

There was a moment of stillness and the only thing Maximilien could hear was the thunderous sound of his heartbeat. Then there was a smell, like lamp oil only stronger.

“I recommend you take a deep breath in,” Miller said. Maxime had no time to contemplate this advice before there was something rubber at his lips, in his mouth, at the back of his tongue and snaking all the way down his throat. There was the heavy taste of iron, the tube had scraped his tongue and he was bleeding

He gagged and tried to scream but found he couldn’t make any noise at all. He tried to shake his head loose but the talon-like fingers just held him tighter. Down, down, down. Maxime could feel the pressure of the tube behind his lungs and all the way into his stomach. He was shaking when they finally stopped feeding it into him.

Tears that Maxime hadn’t been able to shed for Eleonore now trailed down his face, scalding hot. The part of the tube still out of him was lifted over his head, so it was fed directly into him. After another painful moment of silence, he felt something being poured into the tubing, the cold liquid hitting his stomach directly and he gagged again. His toes curled against the metal floor. He gripped the arms of the chair, feeling his nails break under the pressure.

“It’s very emotive,” someone said softly. “Is it the pressure that’s evoking the saline?”

“You got it in one, Jerkins,” Miller said absently.

“Why wasn’t it taking fuel? Some defect for a prototype to have.”

“Classified,” Miller muttered. “Just shut up and keep him still.”

Maximilien was enveloped in a fog of horror. Time slipped away from him and he was horribly unprepared when the tub was roughly yanked back out. He tried to scream but the best his abused throat could do was a croak. He was made to stand and promptly crumpled to the floor. Someone grabbed him under the arms and they dragged him back to the cell.

As he laid on the floor, shivering, Maxime finally realized the totality of his imprisonment. He was not even going to be allowed to die. There was truly no escape.

Season Two. Episode Sixteen: The Emperor. Part Three.

Episode Sixteen: The Emperor. Part Three.

A/N: Guys. Small confession. I’m not the world’s biggest Napoleon fan, so if he’s not quite as fluid in terms of thought process and characterization as some of the others, that’s why. I may or may not resent him for being The World’s Worst Jacobin.

The Island of Saint Helena.

Clio perched on one of the ceiling beams, looking down on the mortal below her. His eyes were closed but she wasn’t sure if he was sleeping or just playing at it.

“Now that’s a big fish,” Spectra said from beside her. She swung her back legs, her yellow-eyed gaze amused. “These mortals have some ambition.”

“Just like Rainbow,” Clio pointed out. “And look how that’s turning out.”

“Just like him and he kicked off a whole era of silly alliance making. Which in turn led to the most shocking war-“

“Until the next most shocking war and the one after that, so on and so on. Yes. I know. But how could he have known that? How could he ever be asked to see beyond his own small life?”

Spectra shrugged. “Mortals get better at it with age. Mine seems to understand the difference between diplomacy with words and diplomacy with a knife, you know.”

Clio sighed. “You have to hold him to his own. He was a weight-bearing spine when the previous years had seen nothing but cripples.”

“You’re soft on him,” Spectra grinned. “This is your background come to light. You prefer the direct attack, the blunt weight of a club.”

“Don’t blame me, blame my lineage,” she said with a sniff. “Oh look, he wakes.”

XXX

Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t entirely sure how much sleep he had gotten but there was light still streaming through the windows of his room. So he’d either fallen to Morpheus for an entire half day, or it had been a meager few hours. He opened his eyes and slowly sat up.

He’d never before considered himself blessed to be able to sit up, but after a month of feeling like his abdomen was being crushed in a vice, it was an ability he was never going take for granted again.

Once up, he promptly checked the door, which had been locked after he’d been tossed in here. The handle was missing and it was barred from the outside. Napoleon snorted. They knew how they had and taken proper precautions then.

Likely the English.

He examined the one window, which was ten feet from the floor and barred. The bed was bolted to the floor. There was a single plate which had previously held a small loaf of bread, butter, and some smoked shellfish. The plate was made of some lightweight material that hadn’t broken when he threw it against the floor, hoping that the disturbance would cause a guard to come, or break into a shard to fashion a weapon with.

Not much to engineer an escape, frankly. Napoleon sat down and stared at the door.

It a perfect world, word his resurrection would have already spread and those still loyal to him would undoubtedly come for their Emperor. However, nothing had gone right over the past few years so he didn’t think was about to start.

Napoleon did not know how long he had been laying down on his cot when he heard the door unbolting. He quickly got to his feet, holding himself ready.

The door swung open and the two masked people who had been looking over Napoleon when he woke are standing in the doorway, with some foreign styled pistol aimed directly at his chest. He lifted his head in challenge: like any man would dare to fire boldly at him.

“You will come with us.” The speech is strange, stilted. It’s a very unnatural voice as well, it sounds like metal grating on cobblestone.

Napoleon lifted his head higher. “You will not give me orders. I de-“

Before he can give them his list of requests and demands to get into contact with whoever the hell is running France in his stead, one of them stepped forward and hit him with the barrel of the pistol. Napoleon found blood dribbling down his chin and he was dragged along by the arms outside.

The sun seemed stunningly bright and he shook his head, clearing spots and trying to shake off their hold off his arms.

There was a very loud buzzing noise from overhead and Napoleon looked up, expecting to see a myriad of hornets. A dark shadow passed overhead and then began to float down to the ground. He gaped at the flying object, which was a stern grey and black and shaped in a wedge with two wings. It opened and figure clad entirely in black matte fabric exited, holding a very large rifle.

In a strict military fashion that Napoleon would have been proud to see in his own ranks, the soldier marched directly toward them.

“You have the credits?” One of his captors called out.

In an oddly mechanical voice, the soldier replied. “Yes. Right here. Release him and I will send it over.” He held up his fist and Napoleon could just make out that he held something shiny. Silver? He was insulted, he was worth more than just a fistful of silver!

“Maginot line exchange?” His captor called again. The soldier nodded once. He pressed his arm and much to Napoleon’s amazement, a part of the uniform detached and hovered next to him. He placed the silver on the floating object and slowly started sending it towards them. Napoleon could just make out the air it displaced to keep it hovering.

His captors seemed unphased and they shoved him forward. “Walk. Slowly. If you run, we will shoot. Understand?”

Napoleon glared over his shoulder, but nodded once and began a slow march over the parched earth. His heart pounded in his chest but he kept his chin up. What coward what shoot him in the back and suffer the wrath of his Empire?

The floating object passed him halfway and he could hear a high-pitched whine. He glanced at the silver and saw it was pressed into a small square, almost as flat as paper. Untarnished and good quality but such a small amount that he scowled.

When he finally made it to the solider, he turned around and faced back across the hostage line. They had the silver but the floating thing zipped back quickly. The soldier caught it and slotted it back into his uniform.

“Satisfied?” He called out, voice still grating out oddly. The captors looked at the silver, examining it closely and even holding it against the sun.

“No tracer?” One of them shouted, looking at them suspiciously.

“Of course not. This is off the books.”

Finally, they seemed prepared. “Get on your ship and leave,” one of them barked, leveling the pistol at them.

The soldier nodded and with a firm hand on Napoleon’s shoulder, steered him ahead. He was herded up the metal ramp and pushed into the cabin of the ship. The soldier slapped hand down on the wall and the door slowly shut. He ripped off his helmet-

“You’re a woman!” Napoleon blurted out. The African woman looked at him and grinned shakily.

“Sure am. You’re Napoleon,” she glanced over him quickly and moved to the front of the ship. “I kinda thought you were going to be shorter.”

Before he could formulate his furious reply to this or demand to be released, she powered the thing on and he could feel the vibrations under his feet.

“I’ll get you out of those cuffs soon, but we only have about thirty seconds until they realize that credit card is a forgery and then we’re totally fucked,” she said brusquely. “You’ll probably want to sit down,” she said, glancing over her shoulder and gesturing to bench on the side of the ship.

“Why would I-“ but before he could get out the rest of his demand, there was a high whine of sound and then the impact of something hitting the metal outside of the ship.

“Fuck! Sit down!” She barked and pressed the glass panel in front of her. The ship was still being bombarded when it lifted into the sky and Napoleon pressed himself against the hull, eye closed. It felt as if his stomach he been left behind.

He could hear the woman hissing and cursing as she steered the ship and the feeling of it weaving back and forth on the open threatened to make him very sick.

Finally, it evened out and there was a gusty sigh. “Okay, we’re over open water so we should be good,” she said softly. He jumped when there was a hand on his shoulder. Napoleon opened his eyes and saw her smiling at him. He glanced at the front and saw that it seemed to be steering itself.

“Here, stand up and turn around. I can get those off,” she said, pulling the leather gloves off her hands. He started when he saw one of them was made of metal. He turned and faced the bulkhead.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions about all of this,” she said, voice carefully level. He felt tugging on the restraints and they suddenly popped open. “I can answer a few of them, but my boss will be able to answer even more. Right now our biggest priority is to get you to safety.” Napoleon turned around.

“What did they ask for my ransom?” He asked.

The woman blinked. “How much money? A billion credits from the Corsican government.”

“Oh,” he said. “A billion. Is that what you gave them on that silver?”

She nodded. He shrugged. “That’s good enough, I suppose. Where are we headed? Paris?” He asked, heading towards the bow.

“Ah, well,” she stuttered as he inspected the navigation. It was sleek and clean, comprised of entirely glass panels.

“How do you steer this?” He asked before she could answer his question. “There is no wheel.”

“Thank gods, a question I can answer,” she muttered. “This is the navigation array, this is propulsion, and this is altitude. Honestly, it’s pretty fool-proof. The Federation does know how to streamline things.”

He looked up, eyebrow raised. “Federation?”

“The Terran Federation,” she said. “That’s where you are now.”

Napoleon nodded absently. “So if not Paris, then where?”

She pulled a face and fingered the end of her golden braids. “You aren’t going to like this, but we’re going to castle, in England. It’s called Middleham.”

He sneered. “So I see. From one jailer to another.”

She sighed. “It’s not like that. There’s a lot of people who are trying to get to you and won’t hesitate to kill you. You’ll see when we get there,” she assured him.

Napoleon scowled. “And what’s your name, madame?”

“I’m Ensign Aspen Strong. I work security at Middleham.”

He cast a dubious look at her. While the woman did seem to be well built enough to be a fishmonger, he’d never heard of a woman who worked as a soldier.

She steered him to the back and pushed him onto a bench. “Look, we’ll be back at Middleham in about an hour and a half. Why don’t you get some rest?”

Napoleon’s stomach growled. Strong smiled. “There’ll be food there, too, don’t worry.”

He rolled his eyes. “English food.”