Paris, France (TimeLine B)
Prime Minister Vincent Pelletier sat beside the Emperor’s bed, wondering what it was all worth now. The army was preparing to fight a final desperate battle in England – and Pelletier knew that it would lose. The navy was falling back…and Pelletier knew that that would no longer matter – if the George Washington got involved. No matter what Videzun said, Pelletier had no doubt that the Washington carried weapons like the Charles de Gaulle – and with the Charles de Gaulle sunk, there was nothing preventing the use of such weapons on France and French ships.
He looked down at the still body of the Emperor, feeling a certain kind of tenderness. The Emperor had dominated his court for so long that everyone had gotten used to him; France wasn’t Russia, where it wasn’t uncommon to have several Tsars per decade. The French had been quietly relieved at the ongoing internal strife; it stopped the Tsars from looking west towards France and thinking…yum. But then stability, of a sort, had come with the last Tsar – and the current one was just as bloodthirsty.
“Can’t count on the Russians for anything,” he muttered, looking down at the Emperor. He had been a hard man to love at times, if not to follow, but there had been no doubt that he’d had the well-being of the Empire at heart. His son…his son played sadistic games with a woman, while the Empire was slowly heading towards anarchy.
He sighed. What authority did he have left? It was the great compromise between the nobles and the commoners that prevented revolution and civil unrest. The Prime Minister served at the discretion of the Emperor – and passed out of politics when the Emperor died. For the moment, Pelletier was suspended somewhere in between; working for the Emperor, but side-lined by the Crown Prince.
I wonder if we’ll see Prime Minister Videzun, he thought, and shook his head slowly. It would be illegal to appoint Videzun as Prime Minister – he was a noble, seeing he was married to Jasmine, and in the third tier of succession as well – but the Crown Prince wouldn’t care. Like many young nobles, he saw only the power of the throne – and not the effort required to maintain it. An Emperor had to be careful – if his ambitions included being an Emperor tomorrow…and it looked as if the Crown Prince would be anything, but.
“There’s going to be a rebellion,” he said aloud, addressing the Emperor’s prone form. Doctor Mimi Rouge came in and checked his form, and then injected him with a needle. He waited until she’d left, wondering what she’d given him; another injection to maintain his strength, or something else, something more sinister?
I’m getting paranoid, he thought. The French Court didn’t operate through assassinations, but the French in the other timeline seemed to use assassinations as naturally as political debate. Would Videzun have stooped so low as to poison the Emperor? His lips twitched; if he had, it had cost him his ship…and most of his influence with the Crown Prince.
“We can’t afford this sort of strife,” he said grimly. “The Viceroys are talking to the industrialists; they want to depose him. It won’t take long sire…and then the unbroken line of descent will be broken.”
He scowled. It was no longer within his concern. His service was at the discretion and pleasure of Emperor Napoleon XI; whoever held the throne after the Emperor died would no longer want to keep him around. With the Viceroys talking to the industrialists – the first and second tiers of succession to the throne respectively – it wouldn’t be long…and then the chaos would be upon them. For a long moment, he thought of simply trying to take control and pretending that the Emperor was healthy, but he knew that that wouldn’t work for long. There were procedures in place – he’d worked many of them out himself – to prevent such a trick and…
The Emperor moved. Pelletier felt the movement and looked down; the Emperor was stirring. One of Pelletier’s hands was on the Emperor’s; he felt it curving around him, like a child’s hand. He stared at the tired face, unable to move for joy and horror, and then smiled as the Emperor’s eyes opened.
“Sire,” he said, as the Emperor’s eyes fixed on him. It took no effort at all to place sincerity in his voice; he meant every last word. “I remain at your service.”
The Emperor’s voice was harsh and cracked from weeks of disuse. “Water,” he said firmly. “Water.”
“At once, sire,” Pelletier said, too pleased to even consider how dangerous that might be for the Emperor. He scurried over to the sink and produced a glass of sterile water, freshly boiled, then cooled down to the right temperature. “Your majesty’s water.”
The Emperor sipped gratefully. He tried to sit up, but failed; his body was weaker than it should have been. Pelletier found himself grinning with sheer relief; he was alive! The Emperor finished his glass and looked up. Pelletier met his eyes, and then lowered his head.
“You seem pleased to see me,” the Emperor said. His eyes were as bright as ever. “Anyone would think that I’d died.”
Pelletier couldn’t keep the grin from his face. “Sire, I have never been so pleased to see you as I am now,” he said, and meant every word. The Emperor’s eyes narrowed; shameless flattery had never been Pelletier’s style. “Sire, how strong are you feeling?”
“What’s been happening in my…how long has it been?” The Emperor asked. “Where am I, coming to think of it?”
Pelletier answered the simpler question first. “This is the palace medical wing,” he said. “It’s been modified for your presence. Sire; all hell has broken lose.”
Some of the light faded from the Emperor’s eyes. “No peace, then,” he said. “And Louis?”
Pelletier winced. How could he explain the Crown Prince’s actions? The Emperor had never been known for punishing the messenger, but this was something different from the normal run of bad news. The Emperor caught his hesitation and frowned at him, even commanding some authority from his sickbed.
“It’s been two weeks,” Pelletier said. How could so much have changed in that short space of time? He explained everything, leaving nothing out, even the loss of the Charles de Gaulle to the American warship. “And now we’re on the brink of nemesis,” he concluded.
“Sealion was launched then,” the Emperor said. It wasn’t a question. “Too much risked for too little,” he said. “And now…?”
Pelletier drew in a breath. “There’s bad news about His Highness,” he said, and outlined everything he’d discovered. “Sire…what are we going to do?”
There was a sharp gasp from the door. “What are you doing?” Doctor Rouge demanded. “Your Majesty, you should be resting…”
“Silence,” the Emperor said. “I have work to do.” He glared at her as if he held her responsible for everything. “Fetch me something to eat, preferably something warm and welcoming.”
Doctor Rouge looked at him for a long moment. “Yes, Your Majesty,” she said finally, and slipped out to see to it. The Emperor watched her go, then turned back to Pelletier.
“My Prime Minister,” he said formally, “do you still believe that we can win this war?”
Pelletier shook his head. “No, sire,” he said. “If we continue, then we will be lost.”
The Emperor sighed. “Summon the inner council at once,” he said, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He seemed dizzy for a long chilling moment, and then stood up carefully, leaning on Pelletier. “And then…I’m going to have a very long talk with my wayward son.”
The tone in his voice was so icy that Pelletier almost felt sorry for the Crown Prince.
The position was humiliating, just a few steps short of rape. Bent helplessly over the bed, her hands firmly handcuffed to the side of the bed, Jacqueline Petal couldn’t move as the Crown Prince thrust deep inside her. There was no romance at all, no attempt to arouse her, just his steady thrusts. She whimpered as he forced himself deeper and deeper inside her, finally blasting out a stream of semen inside her. She gasped, which he took for pleasure, simply leaving her in that position while he went for a shower.
“I trust that you enjoyed that,” he said, as he came back from the shower. Jacqueline couldn’t move; the pain in her body was too much for her. He slapped her rump with what she had the horrifying suspicion was genuine affection, and then carefully undid the handcuffs.
His voice took on a harder edge as she tried to move. “Well, did you?” He demanded. One hand squeezed a breast hard enough to make it darken with trapped blood. “Did you?”
“Yes,” Jacqueline stammered. She’d had enough, she couldn’t go on; she’d made her plans, and no matter how scared she was, she had determined to end it all. “Yes, love; I enjoyed it.”
“Splendid,” the Crown Prince said. His air of bonhomie was back; she was starting to wonder if he suffered from schizophrenia. There had been times when he’d been ready to take her again at once, but this time seemed to be different. Perhaps the marks all over her body had deterred him from taking her; if all of her scars had started to bleed.
The thought made her sick and she retched, barely managing not to be sick. “I’m sorry,” she gibbered, suddenly terrified of him. “I’m sorry…”
The Crown prince managed to seem unaffected. “Go shower and wash the blood off,” he said. Jacqueline looked at the bed and noticed that there were bloody marks on it, her blood. “Go,” he snapped.
Jacqueline bowed and left, not trusting herself to speak. It was all she could do to walk; first cramp and then the pains in her body came to haunt her. She half-limped, half-stumbled, over to the bathroom, closing the door behind her. It had no lock, something that had puzzled her the first time he'd brought her to his rooms…before he revealed himself for what he truly was.
She slipped to the floor and lay there, almost blacking out. Only sheer willpower kept her going, and the knowledge of what he would do to her if he saw her like this forced her forward, climbing back to her feet and staggering into the shower. Like a small portion of men, he was turned on by female pain; sex wasn’t any good for him unless he’d taken it by force.
The water poured down on her and she screamed. It was far too hot for her, even without the scars and open wounds on her body. She heard his deep laughter and looked up, expecting to see him in the room, but he was still outside. She felt like crying; did it ever end? He didn’t even hate her; he just used her like she was a living doll…
“Enough,” she said, and summoned up the determination that had forced her into intelligence. “Enough.”
She stepped out of the shower, shuddering at all of the blood. It must have crusted on her skin; it looked as if half of her blood had been lost, even though she didn’t feel light-headed. Amazingly, the sight gave her new determination; she forced her way out and pulled on a bathrobe. She buckled it tight around her waist, and then changed her mind; she had to look attractive. She opened it to show a little cleavage, and then a little more, and then adjusted it to show more leg than she normally would under any circumstances.
The Crown Prince whistled at her as she came out, reading a report that had been sent to him by one of his spies. She smiled bravely at him, making an unspoken invitation with her body. His eyes lit up and she could almost see his thoughts; perhaps Court could be put off for a while.
“Make a show,” he ordered. She’d been forced to striptease for him before, along with other acts she shuddered to even think about; the demand came as no surprise. “Find your items.”
As if I was a pet, Jacqueline thought, with sudden brilliant anger. Her anger fuelled her determination; she swung her way over to the small bag he'd given her, merely for his amusement. Normally, it contained a dildo; now…something else. She carried it in her hand, bumping and grinding as if she was on an erotic video, finally bending over in front of him, giving him a look down her front. His eyes followed her every move as she shrugged off the bathrobe, and then she started to open the handbag.
“Now,” he said, too excited to continue watching the striptease. “Now, I said.”
Jacqueline nodded and held the handbag, allowing her hand to slip inside. His eyes followed her…and then grew wide as she pulled out the small pistol inside. He started to say something, but Jacqueline fired before he could do anything. The silenced pistol made a neat little hole in the front of his head; he fell backwards and died before he could say anything past a slight gurgle.
Jacqueline felt her legs give out and she fell to the ground. Alarm raced through her; even for a ‘silenced’ pistol there was some noise; someone might have heard it…and she had one other person to deal with. Pulling herself back to her feet, feeling an inhuman calm come over her, she started to dress herself, as if it was a normal day.
No one came to investigate any strange noises. She wasn’t surprised; she’d screamed aloud more than once when he’d been…alive, and no one had come. Perhaps they hadn’t heard anything, or perhaps they’d just thought that he was beating her, or something. It didn’t matter; all that mattered was getting out of the suite, and moving across the palace.
The guards at the entrance to the suite didn’t react at all to her departure; they knew better than to bother the Crown Prince for anything short of a real emergency. The Palace seemed quieter, as if it was holding its breath; she was sure that she looked ghastly, but no one reacted at all. She moved through rooms and corridors, unseen and unwatched, and no one saw her at all.
“Marvellous,” she breathed. She knew, at some level, that she’d given everything up, but it didn’t really matter, not any longer. The door to yet another of the ubiquitous suites loomed in front of her and she smiled, before tapping on the door. Her target might not be awake, but his wife might be.
The door opened and Princess Jasmine looked out. Jacqueline almost shot her, but held herself back by sheer force of will. “Good morning,” Jasmine said. Jacqueline almost giggled. “He’s not up yet.”
There was something so…humorous in the child-woman that Jacqueline laughed. “I have to talk to him,” she said. Jasmine frowned up at her. “It’s very important,” Jacqueline said. “Please, would you fetch him?”
Jasmine performed a small curtsey. She was still young, still playing at being a wife rather than being a wife. She didn’t look shocked or horrified or mistreated; she was almost pleased to notice that Videzun was treating her as a child, rather than as a desirable woman. Five years or so down the line, Jasmine would be truly gorgeous…but for now she was just a child.
Jacqueline forced the feeling down. It wasn’t helping.
She heard Jasmine calling through a door. She shook her head in quiet amusement, considering the inanity of the situation, at least according to the rules and morals of Timeline A. Here…Jasmine was his legal wife, even if she wasn’t even old enough to even know what sex was, let alone having it. Jasmine sounded…petulant at being denied access to a room, even for the best of reasons.
Someone needs to tell her about the birds and the bees, Jacqueline thought, and snickered. It became hysterical giggling; the shock of the last few hours was finally starting to wear off. Jasmine returned and saw her giggling; her pretty dark face crinkled with laughter and she giggled as well.
“He’ll be up in a minute,” Jasmine said. Jacqueline slipped her hand back inside her pocket, finding the gun and holding it in her hand. “What’s your romance with the Prince like? It’s very romantic; all the Ladies are jealous, you know. They talk about it all the time, about how nice it is that he’s chosen a commoner for his bed. What do you do with it anyway?”
Jacqueline shook her head, feeling pain flickering through her body. “It’s been terminated,” she said, and giggled. The thought was so inane; none of those Ladies had the slightest idea of what the Crown Prince was like – had been like. “Where is he?”
“Here, Lieutenant,” Videzun said. His tone was cross and grumpy, heavy with sleep and pregnant with menace. Jacqueline, for the first time in her career, found it hard to care. He’d gotten her into the mess, after all. “What’s so important that you had to wake me? Has something happened with the Crown Prince?”
There was so much that Jacqueline wanted to say to him, questions to ask, answers to demand. She didn’t do any of that; she merely pulled her hand out of her pocket, holding the gun. Before Videzun could react, she fired once at him, striking his head. Jasmine screamed, a chilling sound; a child suddenly brought face to face with reality. Her screams would definitely attract attention, perhaps from the maids – assuming that the queer family had them.
“I’m sorry,” Jacqueline said, and she was surprised to discover that she meant it. A pounding began at the door; it wouldn’t be long before the door was broken down. “I’m sorry.”
As the door burst inwards, she put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger for the final time.