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

Leonardo cursed as he cut his hand on yet another piece of jagged metal. He withdrew it and examined the slice that ran along his palm.

“Careful,” Harmony admonished, distractedly. “The dermal regenerator is on the table.”

Leonardo slid out from under the ship and rolled to his feet, staggering slightly. He put a hand up to his head. It felt slightly fuzzy and Leonardo shook to clear it.

He picked the regenerator and examined it. It was simply a metal wand, with a flat panel. Leonardo placed the panel over the cut, which was still bleeding sluggishly. He pressed the button on the top and the small machine lit up blue and hummed. Leonardo hissed as he could feel his skin knit back together. After a moment, he took it away. All that was a left was a thin pink line.

Leonardo adored the future.

He yawned as he turned back to the ship. Aspen Strong was on top of the flyer, using a laser tool to mold two pieces of metal to the top. It was blackened and already punctured with holes.

“I can’t believe I have to do this to my ship. This is butchery,” she muttered.

“It’s the Federation’s ship, Aspen,” Harmony said. He stood and stretched. “I need to go check in with Kami and Mags. Do you want anything?”

“Coffee,” Leonardo said.

Aspen looked at him sharply. “Have you had any water today, Leo?”

Leonardo cocked his head. “No. Why would I?”

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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.

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

PART THREE.

Richard longed for a paper book.

The slick glass tablets, thin a piece of parchment, did not hold the same feeling of satisfaction as holding a page and turning it to reveal the next. The slippery action of sliding his fingers along the screen was too fast, too immaterial.

Richard did take solace in the fact that there now there was much more to read, indeed more than he ever thought he could read if given another ten lifetimes, but bitterly longed for paper.

He’d remained in his room, today. The atmosphere of the castle was distinctly cold since the discussion of Robespierre. Leonardo had been his usual distant self, only conversing with the guards and the staff in tense, quiet tones. Bonaparte, too, had been quiet, reading and mumbling to himself in a corner of the solar lounging in a chair with his feet to the fire.

Richard had no desire to speak to this self proclaimed Emperor of the French. He did not seek out the company of Leonardo. He felt the quiet disdain of the staff and guards. Richard, as he had for so much of his life, had no company but himself.

He sat in his room and studied the grounds instead. The weather had stripped the leaves from the trees and he felt that there was snow on the way. Richard had noticed that it seemed to roll in harshly, unexpectedly. He shuddered. Were the seasons not even a constant he could depend on, anymore?

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

Leonardo didn’t know what to think anymore. It was…unnerving.

This evening’s revelations had left everyone subdued. Richard had left for the chapel, where he spent most of his time and Napoleon left for Harmony’s office, muttering something about world war.

Leonardo was left alone in his room, his hands and mind restless. He considered seeking out Jerome but discarded it the idea immediately. Jerome hadn’t even looked at him as he left the grand hall this evening, distracted by his sister in trouble.

So Leonardo paced the floor and thought.

Robespierre was imprisoned and apparently injured. The Bastille, the moon prison that Napoleon had been so certain was destroyed, was impregnatable. That sounded like a likely place to start. He took up the small electric tablet and laboriously typed in Bastille.

The moon prison was the most prominent result. Examining it, Leonardo did have to reluctantly admit that it seemed to be impossible to either escape or board. It reminded him of a large, segmented tube. There were few windows to the darkness outside of the Bastille and no doors. Leonardo gathered that to gain access you would need to dock on some unseen portal. He begrudgingly admitted this seemed reasonable. If you were a suspicious prince you would want to disguise the entrance, just to make it less appetizing to attack.

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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!”

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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.