Chapter summary: Throughout the galaxy, small revolutions continue to spark up. Some are more important than others.

Additional Warnings for this Chapter: mentions of violence and death, descriptions of war zones, nongraphic scarring.

All standard disclaimers apply.

000

Matthew raced to Mona's office the moment he was released from Arthur's apartment that morning. His heart was racing even though he did his best to appear composed as usual when he walked through the known monitored areas of the complex they lived in as their home base.

His hands were shaking as he knocked on Mona's office door and was let in. She was behind her desk typing away on a computer when he entered. There were slight bags under her eyes and she was propping her head up with her hand and leaning her elbows on the desk.

Her tired eyes flickered upwards. He must have been wearing quite the expression from the way she looked at him.

"Matthew?" she said, tapping the hologram screen of her computer away, ridding the room of any possible spying. "What is it?"

"He's part of the Angel Attacks," Matthew said, the words blundering out as soon as he formed them in his mind. "The man, my client—fuck—uh—Arthur. Him. He's a founding member of the Angel Initiative I think."

A pause. Then, all in a rush, Matthew said, "Was there an attack last night?"

Mona, wide-eyed with her mouth partly open, nodded slowly.

"When?"

"A short while after midnight," said Mona, reaching into the many papers and files on her desk. "I… there was a battle going on for a while before hand and not long after midnight it became clear there was an Angel strategy in play when the Empire's soldiers began… well, dying faster."

Matthew swallowed a lump in his throat. There were few patterns the Angel Attacks followed except that they were always executed quickly, most battles which they were certain of the Angel Initiative's involvement in where over within an hour or two. And the more brutal the victory, the higher the losses on both sides.

Bodies piled up into mountains.

"They left last night," Matthew said. "They left. That must have been what they left for. Francis Bonnefoy was saying something about how they were already late. They were gone for nearly three hours. It fits."

"I'm calling Alfred in," Mona said, quickly waking her computer again and typing out an intranet message to Matthew's brother. She slid her screen down again, securing the room. "You looked around while they were out?"

Matthew nodded. "I did. There wasn't very much I could understand in Arthur's room with the time I had, and I didn't want to go outside of it in case they had surveillance in their living room or something. I know for a fact there are no cameras in the bedrooms, but I didn't want to take extra chances and I didn't know when they would be back. He had a—a few files, about the attacks. Mostly stats. Body count, hours taken, how much the Angel had reduced regular troop losses. But some of the numbers looked strange? Like they were definitely not reducing the number of dead infantry on either side. But that's what it said in the report. Just… a bunch of stats about the 'Angel.' Sites of battles. Things that happened. Not much else."

Mona frowned. "We already know about all the battles Angel's been in, Matthew. At least enough of them to know that we can't beat it like we are now, just looking at our manpower differences. Those files don't help anything."

"I know, I know," Matthew said. "Those were the official things I found though. What Arthur's being told. What I found that was really interesting was his journal—"

Matthew's throat tightened.

Mona waited, her arms wrapping around her middle.

"Yes?" she said. "What about it?"

Matthew took deep breaths through his nose until he could feel lightheadedness forcing him to relax. "His journal wasn't very informative strategy wise… but it did tell me that Arthur and Francis are definitely heavily responsible for the Angel Assaults…. And Arthur feels responsible. It sounds like he's been contemplating suicide for a while. I don't know. But that might have been why he was in the hospital when I was first called to him. It sounds like he's lost his faith in the Empire."

There was a brief quiet in the office.

"There's too much risk in trying to recruit him," Mona said. Her voice was very soft. "We could expose ourselves and not only be executed, but reveal that the rebellion has a presence within the Empire, and put everything in jeopardy. There's too much risk. But we can use this to our advantage. Will they object to you carrying something to communicate with when you come to sleep with him?"

The knock on the door made Matthew bite his tongue as he was about to respond. Mona stiffened, but the door swung open slowly to reveal Alfred, who had finally come in response to her message to meet. He closed the door behind himself securely. Matthew let out a sigh of relief and leaned on his half-brother's shoulder when Alfred came near.

"What did I miss?" Alfred asked, winding an arm around Matthew's back.

"Matthew's client and his roommate are involved in the Angel Assaults," Mona said. "I was just asking if he though he might be able to bring a communication device with him."

"Why? What did you have in mind?" Matthew said.

"In case there's another Angel Assault, and assuming they leave beforehand, if you have a way to contact us we might be able to create a code system to relay information back home and give them enough time to start evacuating before the Assault even begins."

"That's out of the question," Alfred said.

Mona and Matthew stared at him.

"What?" said Matthew. "Al, dude, it's a pretty solid idea."

"It's way too fucking dangerous," Alfred said, staring Matthew right in the eyes. "We use the information system the Empire has set up to talk to home base. It goes right through their fastest, most monitored systems. Mattie can't send messages back home through that mess. They'll catch him and kill him in no time."

Matthew stared right back into Alfred's eyes—the bright, winter blues eyes he was told his mother had—and shivered.

"Coded, Alfred," said Mona. "And without knowing who's using what code or which messages are coded at all, and going through proxy servers and medians on Louie, in addition to at least five other planet and moons, the Empire won't crack our code. They won't know who sent the message or whether or not there was a message at all."

"No, but if he can learn when they're coming, the Emperor will know that Matthew started bringing something to communicate with just as the Angel Assaults started being predicted. The safest thing to do is to fuck the system over, pull Mattie out entirely, and send him back right now."

Matthew stood there, mouth agape, with his brother's arm around him. "What? Alfred, what the fuck?"

Alfred's face was impassable. "They're involved with the Angel, Mattie. You need to get as far away from them as possible."

"No," Matthew said. "Our entire mission for the last two years has been focused on getting as close to the Angel as possible and learning about it. Do you get it Al? This is our chance. We could potentially turn the tide of the war!"

"That's bullshit and you know it," said Alfred. "This whole time we've found nothing but trouble and more bullshit. This was a stupid mission to start with. This thing that you've stumbled on? This is more of the same bullshit but way more fucking dangerous."

"Al," Matthew said.

"No," said Alfred. "No. This is going to get you killed."

Matthew bit his lip. "And what about all the people fighting the Empire that might live?"

"Matt," Alfred said, his eyes narrowing, "you dying here won't do them shit."

"Neither will running away from this kind of opportunity," Matthew said. He tugged his shoulder away from Alfred's arm, scowling. "This is the whole reason we came here. In case you didn't notice, we've been risking our lives this entire time!" then, when he felt heat rise up his throat, Matthew barred his teeth and said, "I thought you wanted to be a hero."

"A hero, sure," Alfred said, "not a moron and not dead. You're not doing this."

"This isn't your call. It's between me and Mona, and unless you want to get us arrested, there's shit-all you can do to stop us. If you can't handle knowing that I'm going to be in danger, maybe you should have stayed behind at the camp."

"If I did that, you'd have already been dead three times over!"

"No I would not!"

"Yes you would have!"

"Guys, stop," Mona said. "Stop!"

Matthew shoved at Alfred. "You're an idiot!"

Alfred shoved back. "And you're a fucking twig!"

"Stop!"

Mona leapt to her feet. She grabbed both brothers by the hair and shook them violently, throwing them to the floor.

"Stop, stop this right now," she said, standing above them. She was out of breath. Neither brother dared stand again. "We can't be doing this right now. Stop it. You're family, family shouldn't fight like this."

"He can't—" Alfred began. Mona held up a finger and he silenced.

"Alfred, you're a lovely person, and you've been a great help to the rebellion over the years," Mona said, "but I think it would be best if you left the office. Matthew and I will discuss the possibilities alone, where you won't have to worry over him."

Wordlessly, Alfred stood. He turned his back without looking at Mona or his half-brother and strode to the door. The door slammed shut behind him.

Matthew stared at the place his half-brother had been moments before.

An uncomfortably long silence fell over the room. Mona bent to help Matthew back onto his feet.

"What the fuck was his problem?" Matthew said, his voice soft.

Mona shrugged. She sighed. She fell backwards into her chair once more. "I don't know. With any luck, he'll be over it soon enough. For now, we need to discuss what to do with you and your client."

Matthew nodded.

"Right," he said. "You're right."

He sat in the chair opposite of her, and they spoke.

000

Alfred remembered watching the bombs come down. He remembered the flashes of light as his first home was bombed, long before he met Matthew. They were raised apart, Matthew with his rebellious father and Alfred with their rebellious mother. His own father was a civilian. Alfred was raised quietly. His home was a small moon with two seasons: spring and winter. There were wildflowers, cattle, ice, and little else. It was a fragile little moon. He remembered very little of it, aside from the coin-taste of a metal bullet he'd found tucked in the dirt three days after the invasion began.

The bombs came down by the end of that week. They lit the sky up like fireworks. The wildflowers were tossed into the air. They shattered with the ice; the ice shattered like glass and melted into the poisoned soil. The atmosphere blazed until the oxygen all but burned away. He remembered the heat on his face. The smoke in his lungs. The roar of fire in the trees.

He remembered being seven years old. His mother shoved him and his father onto the third escape vessel: a small, ovular, sleek craft with five other families and two seats left.

"Find my other son, Matthew! Find Matthew! Take care of him!"

And then she burned, too.

He remembered finding Matthew. One year later, six months after the escape craft ran out of rations and their rescuing shuttering rebel flagship crossed paths with one of the Empire's lumbering destroyer ships.

Their rescuers' ship burned. But they found Matthew.

They survived for the second time and escaped to Joten.

Alfred was eight. Matthew was a year older. Products of their mother's amiable affairs. One born to a civilian and the other to a solider.

Matthew was lying on the dirt floor of a refugee center, his hair matted, making faces at a concerned white service dog. Matthew's father was nowhere to be found. Shot down, down, down, into a mass grave a few months prior. Matthew was thin from lack of food.

Matthew had never been in a war zone before.

Alfred heard explosions in loud noises and felt the vibrators of aftershock in the rumbling of machines. He saw bombs appearing out of thin air above his father's head, as the boxes being stacked broke the shelf they were on and came tumbling down onto his head. The sound was tremendous. The breath left Alfred's lungs. Breath also left his father's lungs. It never returned like Alfred's did. There was no fire this time. Only the leftovers of broken boxes and their last parent's prone body on the floor.

Matthew saw boxes. Alfred saw bombs.

It was the fundamental difference between them, perhaps. They were otherwise, as much as half brothers could be, identical. Their hair was the same color. Their eyes were only a few shades off. Alfred was extremely nearsighted while Matthew was far too farsighted, and they wore the same frames for their glasses. They were both tall and thin, but built for easy-grown muscle mass. They wrinkled their noses when they smiled.

But when the bombs came down on Joten, Matthew saw bombs for the first time, and for the first time, Alfred saw nothing but the escape pods, the extra rations, the families struggling to decide who would fit on the crafts and—with clarity, when shrapnel flew inches from where Matthew's face would have been if Alfred had shoved him to the ground a moment later— Alfred saw that Matthew would die without him.

000

Cam was not born in the heart of the Empire. He was born on a mid-ring moon near the gas giant of Tarth. His family was large and well-connected, but only to each other. He had heard the news within a week that his aunt had died. If she had died on Pompeii, he would have heard within minutes, but the delay of the information traveling between worlds had made the news take a week. He had been messaged almost immediately, he decided, for only a week's delay.

His aunt, a large woman with bright eyes and strong arms, had gotten him his first interview as a soldier and a guard. He had maintained his position well, climbed the ranks, been transferred wherever they liked him, and gotten as many letters of recommendation as could be processed by the mail.

And now, Cam lived in the heart of the Empire, at the heart the Emperor's palace in a barracks with private rooms, television and a paycheck he could send half of back to Tarth and still afford his necessities and the occasional treat.

It was funny, because guarding the Emperor's palace was the easiest guard job he'd ever had. Cam had not once been shot at while patrolling the halls. He had not once been maimed by murderous animals or suffocated by poisonous atmospheres. He stood in a hallway, bored for hours, and stared emotionlessly at those who passed him by. He returned to his rooms, polished his armor, and watched television as he waited for his paycheck. No one attacked the Emperor. No one had any desire to. Besides, Their Great Lord Romulus would likely be able to overpower any assassin who approached him. They might have been well paid to save the assassins from meeting the Emperor. It was funny.

But it also sort of wasn't.

Cam had spent much of his life belly-crawling across hazardous landscapes, shooting at rebels not any older than Lady Helen's lazy boy, or Lady Hathor's son, who silently scampered through the hallways while being chased by his poorly tempered but powerful bodyguard. But neither Heracles nor Gupta was not underdeveloped, malnourished, lined up and shot.

Cam did not share these memories with anyone.

He was well paid now. He was clean and well cared for. He hadn't shot anything more alive than plastic targets in two years. His aunt had died proud of him. He had a small group of friends. He had a pet, Kokolo, whose breathing at night reminded him that he was in the heart of luxury, not crouching on a rebel world or suffering with an exploration party. He was no longer a pawn to the Angel Initiatives' deadly strategies.

He had a two-room dorm to himself, now. He had a small kitchen and a small bedroom with a television in it. He had a small refrigerator with food inside. He had warm blankets and a clean community bathroom just down the hall. He had Kokolo at the foot of his bed, chewing on a soccer ball and snarling.

Kokolo was a type of cat. A lion, Cam had been told. A miniature lion; they had once gotten much larger, but Kokolo would only grow to be the size of Cam's leg, at most, but probably not even that large. A runty lion.

("Not even," they had said, as if an animal the size of Cam's leg weren't extraordinarily large already. )

Kokolo lay on the foot of the bed, gnawing the most recent soccer ball Cam had bought. He tended to buy several balls at once—lifting was a form of stress relief for him, even if he couldn't play much of a real game here in the small, proper, rich streets of Pompeii—so he could have at least one at a time while Kokolo slowly devoured another.

As he watched Kokolo chew, Cam heard a knock at the door.

He straightened up, frowning and turning slowly to face his entryway. He typically didn't have many visitors—boring as guarding the palace was (thankfully) it was still tiring to be on his feet for hours upon end. It was tiring for everyone. They socialized on the job if they did at all. Hours in their room were for rest and recuperation.

Habitually, Cam touched the gun at his hip as he approached the door. He had only gotten off duty a short while ago and had yet to change out of his black uniform and padding.

He crossed the short distance to the door and opened it slowly, peering through the crack.

"…Gilbert?"

The man in the dark blue uniform on the other side of the door smiled from under his hood. Cam opened the door more widely and ushered the other guard in.

"Hey," said Gilbert, dropping his hood the moment the door closed behind them. Kokolo lifted her head from the soccer ball and watched him, blinking slowly with her golden eyes before they settled into recognition. She gave a low grumble of greeting, allowing him into her territory, and resumed chewing her soccer ball. Gilbert laughed a low, hissing laugh. "Your furball looks like she's doing well."

"Yeah, she's doing fine," said Cam, moving away from the door and back to the couch now that his irrational panic had passed. The heart of the Empire was as safe as safe could be. "How are you though? What's that you have with you?"

Gilbert looked down to the small brown grocery bag he was carrying in one black-gloved hand. "This? This's my birthday present. From me. Luddy let me play hooky for a bit. It was kind of last minute; sorry about not calling first."

"Shit, dude, it's fine. I can't believe your father let him give you the day off though," said Cam, plopping himself down on the couch. He began undoing the buttons of his uniform, stripping off the bullet-proof vests and utility belts as he leaned in to get a closer look at the bag, which Gilbert was leaning down to unpack.

"Yeah, nah, Caer Germania doesn't know shit. Luddy just kind of gave me a card and told me I could go the other night. I tried to keep costs down so no one would notice the extra spending but, no, the old bastard doesn't know. Still, check out this shit." Gilbert said, getting on his knees and beginning to pull food out of the bag. As he displayed them, he spoke. "Salted pork, case of booze, some potatoes, butter, salt, cream, cupcakes. Check out my fucking cupcakes, these look delicious."

He pulled out a container of no less than sixteen bright yellow cupcakes with neon- buttercream and sprinkles which sizzled like fireworks when eaten.

"You had better be sharing that with me," said Cam.

"Why would I be here if I weren't?" said Gilbert, grinning. "'Sides, I missed the company. D'you have any pots and a masher?"

"Yeah, in the kitchen. Knock yourself out. You know how to work the oven and stove? I can disable auto function if you need me to."

"Yeah, I'm good, no problem," said Gilbert. He carefully replaced all his groceries in the bag and hurried off to the kitchen, grinning widely and hissing to himself in glee.

Cam had met Gilbert earlier in his career while guarding an envoy by the Beilschmidt family. They had guarded the same rooms together for hours, side by side, and well—one didn't choose their guarding partner, but they certainly chose how to act with them, and Cam and Gilbert had somehow struck it off.

They made something of an odd pair. They would stick out in any crowd, even if Gilbert hadn't had that—thing with his skin.

He was probably castrated. To prevent the spread of undesirable genes. Cam had never asked. He was certain though, if Caer Germania cared enough about a defect to reduce his firstborn to a guard, he would have cared enough to go extra measures to ensure that Gilbert's anomaly wouldn't proliferate.

Cam finished undressing and tossed his clothes in the laundry corner before moving to his dresser and pulling on something more comfortable. There wasn't much room in the apartments, despite them being private rooms and much more desirable than the barracks he had once slept in. There was a bed, dresser, couch, a small table, and a television in his room leading to the hall, and the small kitchen complete with refrigerator, and a rarely used oven with a stovetop. Premade meals (and meals created with the intent of being put together by an auto-function on the stove which would combine the food itself) were cheaper. Preparing food oneself was a privilege that Cam rarely got to indulge in. The premade stuff was pretty good, anyway.

Gilbert's birthday was his own boon, though. He could make the mashed potatoes and the pork. It might as well have been a second present, assuming Gilbert enjoyed preparing food.

Apparently some people didn't. Cam personally would have rather had his usual food. He was more of a grains-nuts-and-fish sort of person, but meat was expensive. He hadn't had much beyond jerky in weeks. Pork sounded pretty good at the moment.

Gilbert came out of the kitchen some time later, his uniform coat shed and his red eyes a striking contrast to his pale skin. He slid on the couch beside Cam, kicking his feet up as he did so.

"So," said Gil. "How've you been? What did I miss?"

Cam leaned back as well, finding it much easier to relax in his shorts and t-shirt. By the bed, Kokolo's soccerball made an awful squealching sound.

"Not much," said Cam. "I've been moved to the Consuls' hallways, so I've been trying to dodge them and their kids. And their kids' bodyguards."

"Ouch," said Gilbert. "Sounds rough."

"They're a handful. Heracles argues with Adnan all the time and Gupta just… watches. I think he gets them together sometimes just so he can watch them go at it. Of course, I'm just there the whole time going like, 'well shit, do I break this up or not? Is Adnan about to kill Lady Helen's kid? Will I get killed if I let him?' Just a lot of that lately," said Cam.

"What do they even argue about that much?" Gilbert said, his eyebrows rising.

"I don't know. Something about Earth-That-Was. Adnan has a family heirloom about it that was passed down through his generations or something, and Heracles has his education. I think they might be arguing about whose version is more accurate, but I can't always really make it out. Sometimes it's about whether drinking alcohol is okay or not. Adnan says coffee is better and thinks all alcohol should be banned. Heracles defends by just chanting 'wine' over and over. It's awful."

"Damn. And what's Carriedo do?"

"Stands behind Heracles and smiles like a fucking idiot."

"…that's probably why Adnan doesn't attack."

"Yeah. Probably." Cam sighed. "Still, he freaks me out too."

Gilbert nodded. "I feel you. I watched Carriedo go at someone once. Adnan is good in close combat but Carriedo fights dirty."

"You say that like you don't."

Gilbert frowned, closing his eyes and turning his nose in the air. "I don't fight dirty, I fight smart. I still wouldn't want to get into a fight with him, though."

"Yeah," Cam yawned, stretching. "Whatever. I just feel bad for uh. Damn. What's his name."

"Hm?"

"Our Great Lord Romulus' second grandson. Not the cute one."

"Romano Lovino?"

"Yeah. Him. Carriedo teases him. It's actually awful? But great at the same time. But mostly awful, because you know how Romano Lovino had that big breakup with his first girlfriend a few years ago and Our Great Lord Romulus 'delivered retribution' upon her for breaking his heart?"

"You're shitting me. He doesn't joke about that."

"No, really," said Cam, leaning in to tell the story.

They spoke like this for some time, swapping stories about their escapes as guards—though Cam did most of the talking, having had more exposure to strange people, providing stranger stories. Gilbert mostly talked about Ludwig and his odd meetings, or made quiet un-remarks about his father, and how cute Feliciano was, and how kind, and how good, and how he had nightmares about a breakup between Feliciano and Ludwig going the same way that Romano Lovino's had.

"Feli gave me a canary," said Gilbert, midway through telling Cam about the blond sex bunny Ludwig was in lust with during the Academy years who now worked with some secret part of the military and would drop by every now and then, and how Feliciano was superior to this blond sex bunny in every possible way. "A few months ago. It's a girl, and apparently those aren't supposed to sing much? But she's been trained. She lets me know if people have been in my room while I was out, or when she's hungry, or if she wants to fly around more. It's really cool. She is the raddest bird."

They opened the packet of cupcakes just as they remembered the mashed potatoes were still in the water and that the oven had surely heated by enough for the pork.

They ate their cupcakes—their mouths sparking like fireworks and their teeth being dyed neon colors—and mashed potatoes while waiting on the pork. While they ate and waited, they turned on the television, flipping through several channels before finally deciding on a channel which was marathoning a soap opera Gilbert had fallen behind with.

The first commercial break left off at a tragic point—Aeneas' attempts to find a new home for the human race were failing, and the likelihood was dwindling that he would be able to carry the treasure from Earth-That-Was to a new home where it could be reinstated and the humans could thrive again as the fuel on their ships slowly ran out along with their food and water supplies—and cut directly to an ad for the gladiator games. Pits of fire. Falling debris. Violent criminals. Brought to you direct from Hoi Poloi Entertainment.

"I forgot why I loved this one," said Gilbert. "I mean. It's kind of obvious that Aeneas finds Italia? Otherwise we'd all be dead."

"Shh," said Cam. "No spoilers."

"Oh for crying out loud—"

They slapped each other some, scowled, grinned, and broke into quiet giggles.

"Asshole," said Gilbert. "But seriously. It's better the first time around."

"Where did you leave off?"

"Aeneas is about to kill Turnus, but then he's reconsidering."

"You are going to cry."

"Please tell me they get together," Gilbert said, his face completely flat.

"Oh shit," said Cam. "Oh no."

"No. They're compatible!" said Gilbert, his poker face morphing instantly into an expression of horror.

"I can't tell you!"

"No!"

By the end of the commercial break, Cam had cupcake and spark sprinkles mashed over his face, courtesy of Gilbert, but he was grinning while Gilbert sat, arms-crossed and scowling deeply, glaring at the television, so Cam had clearly come out on top this time.

It took until the end of the second episode for Gilbert to admit it maybe was okay, and Turnus at least got to die at the hand of his beloved.

They ate their mashed potatoes without waiting for the pork. There were still seven cupcakes left, and their commercial break talk turned to politics.

There was no particular ban on talking about politics. It was just that certain blasphemy or euphemisms were dangerous if one was caught uttering them.

That left not much to talk about on the political side aside from more workplace gossip.

"Caer Kirkland is ready to throw another fit," said Cam. "She's going on about things with Caer Clovis, but they're both at each other's necks and everyone's about ready to try tossing them out a window if they so much as look at each other one more time."

"They'd probably survive," said Gilbert, licking icing from his thumb. "Their insurance plan is ridiculous. And Mama Kirkland might want to match her son."

"Hm?"

"Arthur Kirkland. One of my brother's experiments. Turned out really well apparently," he continued chewing his thumb even after the icing was gone.

"Oh, really? I've never heard of him."

"It's pretty classified but yeah. No. The Senate is probably full of weirdos who'd be totally into it."

"Ah. Okay. I guess guarding your brother means you learn a lot of classified stuff from him and Feliciano?"

"Less than you'd think from standing outside his door, but yeah, I learn a little that way," he leaned back and gazed up at the ceiling for a moment, then, wordlessly, pulled out a piece of paper from his pant's pocket and a small pen.

Cam raised an eyebrow, then, suddenly nervous, he turned back towards the tv screen and upped the volume, pretending to watch while keeping the corner of his eye on Gilbert's hands.

A scrapped of paper was pressed into his palm.

Cam looked down to read it.

I believe there's a rebellion in the government

A knot formed in Cam's throat. A second piece of paper was passed to him before he could begin wondering if he was supposed to respond to the first paper or not.

I need to know your honest opinion of the Emperor. You as a soldier

The small pen was pressed into Cam's hand alongside the second note, which had far more empty space than the first paper scrap.

Cam looked at Gilbert sideways. His friend was watching the TV intently, his face flat and mouth firmly in a straight line.

Who the fuck carried paper around in their pockets like that?

Untrustworthy people. That's what Cam had been told growing up. People with things to hide from the Empire. Ones who have to hide their communication. The kind of people you are supposed to turn in without hesitation.

And then there was Gilbert there, pale and thin, and an occasional pain in the ass, but as close of a friend as Cam had known even back home on his mid-range moon of Tarth.

I dislike some of his more brutal operations, Cam wrote back. His letters were large and clumsy, having never really practiced writing them on paper. He passed the note to Gilbert. Cam's heart was loud in his ears, though he hadn't said anything particularly radical. Things that were violent happened sometimes. He was allowed to not particularly like overly violent things. That was permitted.

How far would you be willing to go to stop those operations?

Cam wrote, slowly, what do you mean?

There is a rebellion growing inside Pompeii.

There was a particular coldness which spread through Cam's fingers. His breathing was steady. He tried to focus on Kokolo's snores—she had been dozing ever since it was clear she wouldn't get a cupcake—and wrote, we need to report this.

Without a moment's hesitation, Gilbert wrote back, we can't. We have to pick a side.

Why not report it?

b/c it is the only way to speed the end of the killings. It would probably cease at the end of Romulus' reign, but my brother is quickly advancing bioelectronics. Romulus Dominus might live forever.

Cam stared at the paper when it fell into his hands again. He thumbed over the words, the indent they left in the paper, the way the letters smudged just so, and how they were undoubtedly real, sitting on that cluttered bit of paper in his lap. When he didn't respond within a few minutes, Gilbert quietly tore another paper out of his pad and passed another note.

either we live like this forever, or we take a chance and place the Twins as dictators.

This time Cam did have a response. One he could without a doubt write honestly. Feli and Lovi would die or the empire would crumble. We can't survive in an anarchic state now. We're galactic.

(Cam realized too late that he never scolded even the notion of killing Their Great Lord Romulus. It passed through his mind as a result so inoffensive he hadn't realized it. Perhaps the thought is so obscene—that Their Great Lord Romulus, Body of the Empire—the he could die. Perhaps he just didn't register the possibly at all. Gilbert doesn't mention it.)

they will survive with the right advisors and enough trusted men.

This conversation was getting to be too much. Cam was waiting for his door to be broken down at any moment. He lived in Lord Romulus' palace, for pity's sake. This was the worst place in the galaxy to be plotting their Emperor's murder.

who is organizing this?

Gilbert's red eyes flickered up to look at Cam as he wrote, we have the most powerful inside man you can imagine.

we?

Slowly, Gilbert nodded.

Cam took a deep breath and tried to calm the pounding in his chest. "Turn the TV off and help me get the meat out. It's done by now, right?"

They burnt the papers in the oven, pieced out the pork—some cuts for Cam, some cuts for Gilbert, some cuts for Kokolo and a few more stored away for later.

It felt like it took a long time for the conversation to pick up again.

000

"I'm bringing a whore here."

"What?" Arthur looked up from his book. He was perched at the edge of his couch in their den while Francis lay slumped in his favorite soft armchair across from him, flicking through the holographic screen of his computer. Behind them, the wall rolled with images of Brittannic's endless ocean.

"I said I'm thinking about getting a whore. I want some stress relief but I can't go out right now. I keep thinking there's going to be another attack," Francis said. He rolled his shoulders back, grunting, but did not do much else to correct his poor posture.

"There's probably not going to be a call for me," said Arthur. "Especially since the last one was just a few days ago and there hasn't been one in the meantime. I mean, they usually come back to back or scattered, don't they?"

"Sometimes," said Francis. "I'm still getting that feeling though. So I'm just going to give in and order a whore I guess. After dinner."

"Have you made dinner yet?"

"No. I have to convince myself to get up first."

"Get up you whiny bag of bones. You're not allowed to fucking complain when you're not even trying," Arthur said. He frowned and looked around him for something to flick at Francis. Nothing in arm's reach presented itself.

"Shut up, I'll get to it eventually," Francis said.

"Pass me your computer when you're done," Arthur said, an idea striking him as Francis groaned again and started to slowly sit up and rise from his chair.

"Why?"

"I need it for something."

"Fine," Francis stretched, the base for the computer—a long, thin metal bar which projected the keyboard and screen—in his hand. Francis had a thing for the thin, elongated versions of technology. He dropped it in Arthur's lap as he passed, the thing thudding and its screen and keyboard flickering as it bounced.

"Thank you, dear," said Arthur.

"Fuck off." Francis raised his middle finger as he walked.

"I love you too," said Arthur, marking his place in his book and setting it aside to give the computer his attention. He tried to ignore the nagging fears in the back of his mind. He didn't want to be a murderer tonight.

Francis vanished into the kitchen and Arthur logged onto Pompeii's micronet. The micronet, along with several other large cities' micronets, existed within the planet's intranet, which existed within the internet connecting the planets within the Empire. The intranet was the slowest to use, having to encompass the most amount of information over a wide area. The internet was actually the fastest of the networks, but took the longest time to actually send information, considering the travel distance between planets, despite the acceleration technology in place which allowed them to warp signals across controlled distances. The micronets however, the most commonly used, were fortunately only used over small enough areas and only dealt with only one country's population at the absolute most.

Arthur went to the whore advertising pages and quickly went through the selections.

Blond. Male. Blue Eyes. Short Hair. Check, check, check, check. Ah. There he was.

Arthur sent in a request—which from Francis' computer would cancel out any other request the whore may have had already—and wrote their apartment in the delivery address, as well as the time that Matthew was supposed to arrive.

"What're you doing on my computer, anyway?" Francis called from the kitchen. They were having some kind of pasta for dinner, judging by the smell. "You're being quiet. It's unnerving."

"I'm just doing you a favor," Arthur said. "Don't worry about it."

"You'll be the death of me," Francis called from the kitchen.

"Don't tempt fate," said Arthur. He finished with the order and closed the screens. "How long until food? I'm starving."

"If you could cook yourself, you wouldn't have to wait on me for every meal."

"I wouldn't have to wait anyway, it's your fault. You spoiled me with your insisting on eating your from-scratch food every night. I have to mentally prepare myself to eat real food now, and it's all your fault."

"Stop complaining, you love it."

Arthur didn't respond. It wasn't long later that Francis called him to, 'get his ass into the kitchen, the food was ready.' He went slowly, to spite Francis, and sat at their small table be the kitchen counter in front of their pasta a few long minutes later. They ate quietly.

Arthur ate much less than Francis did. He had less organic matter to power.

They ate quietly. They had far surpassed the need to comment on this. Arthur held the thought in the back of his mind, though. He ate more slowly to make himself believe he was eating as much as Francis. Francis had invested in smaller plates to give the illusion of the plate holding more. When they went to parties, they could pick and choose as they wished, and Arthur never had to see more than a few dumplings on Francis' plate at a time. It was all right. If only parties were less stressful, if Francis hadn't liked cooking so much, they would have perhaps gone to a party every night. They were certainly invited to enough to sustain it.

Francis ate slowly by nature. It took them nearly an hour to finish eating. Arthur brought his book to the table between a bathroom break and he flipped pages between small bites of the pasta and, when the pasta was done, nibbled on the small, chocolaty, squishy dessert Francis had created at some point earlier in the day.

"So really, what did you want with my computer? I didn't think you cared to go online much."

"And I thought you hated computers."

"I do hate computers. And many other things in technology."

"I was ordering your whore."

Francis stopped with his glass of water tilted in his mouth. He set the glass down and spewed water over Arthur.

"Motherfucker!" Arthur shouted, jumping up. "We just fixed my waterproofing, you ass!"

Francis wiped his lip with a napkin. Arthur narrowed his eyes.

"You what?" said Franics. "You? Ordered a whore. First sneak a whore in a hospital, and now two whores? Do you have a thing that I don't know about?"

"There are no 'things,' Arthur said, glaring down at his wet shirt. "You said you were going to order one so I took the liberty of doing it for you."

"Is this payback for something?"

"Don't say that in front of the whore, he'll get upset."

"Who said I wanted a 'he' tonight?"

"Francis," Arthur said, lowering his voice as though speaking to someone who was very slow-hearing. "You love blond boys. You practically drool over them. My brother tried to dye his hair when he noticed. You have a type."

"I do not have a type," Francis said, straightening up in his seat and scowling. "I love all equally."

"You have a type," said Arthur, "and it is cute blond boys."

"Arthur, if you don't stop this right now, you will regret it."

Grinning, Arthur raised his hand and began counting up on his fingers, "Viserys, Jean-Pierre, Jamie Lannister, von Bock, Odinsson, Wendell Bray, both Zwingli siblings, Malfoy, probably Caer Malfoy—

Francis was up and chasing Arthur a moment later. Whatever the fencing team had taught him, it had kept him swift even as the years passed, and it was only with years of practice that Arthur jumped beyond Francis' reach. Arthur spun and ran into the living room, laughing as Francis fumed and gave chase chased behind him.

"Arthur!"

"You should be thanking me! I'm helping you get laid!"

"Arthur, I am going to get you, I swear."

Arthur ducked behind Francis' chair to play a game of cat and mouse, dodging to one side of the chair when Francis went for the other. When Francis tried to reach over the chair, Arthur stepped back out of his reach again until Francis backed up.

"Pissing you off is the highlight of my day," Arthur shouted over Francis' cursing as they dashed past the projected Stacks on the wall. Francis was starting to get breathless while Arthur's mostly mechanical body kept him physically in top condition. He wasn't even approaching tired yet.

"When I catch you, you're dead," Francis huffed, snatching at the back of Arthur's shirt.

Arthur almost said, 'Yeah right, I wish,' but refrained. Instead, he just kept running. Something whacked him against the back of the head.

"Ow, fuck!" He turned to look and saw it was the small metal alarm Francis carried with him. "What the hell?"

It was then that Francis finally tackled him. They fell to the ground with a crash, the small metal coffee table beside Arthur's chair falling over and books on the nearby shelves rattling.

Francis' arms were around Arthur's waist, crushed under him. It must have hurt, but Arthur couldn't hear any pained sounds except for Francis' tired, strained breathing.

"Not after I've just eaten, you bastard," Francis said.

Arthur tried to wiggle out from under him, grinning faintly, "I was just doing you a favor."

"And now I'm paying it back," Francis said.

"Francis?" Arthur said. His grin faded and his eyebrows creased. Just when he was beginning to get concerned he had actually somehow hurt Francis by ordering him a whore, Francis' hands attacked Arthur's sides. "FraaAUOOAHAHAHA?"

"You have so many nerves there," Francis said. There was awful smirk on his face as he relentlessly tickled Arthurs ribcage and armpits.

"Get off—hehefuck—OFF—ahaha—damn yooouu—hurk!"

Francis was grinning madly above him, pinning him with his legs and still tickling him, even though he must have been hurt from the fall. Arthur stopped paying attention though as the nerves' signals overrode everything except his overpowering need to flail and laugh.

Very suddenly, Francis' hands stilled.

Arthur continued to giggle slowly, before realizing something had shifted. "aha….Francis?"

Francis was looking away from Arthur at the doorway, his grin fading. "Ah. Hello. We're mature adults."

Arthur looked over to where Francis was staring—the doorframe. The door was open, with the guards stationed outside peering in. Matthew and the second whore were peering inside with them.

"Oh," said Arthur. His insides—what bits there were—felt like they had shriveled up into tiny peas. Trying to think of any way to save face, he abruptly kicked up at Francis, knocking him off balance. "I fucking told you to get off me, asshole!"

Francis fell backwards and landed on his ass. "Ow. Hey. You deserved it. This wasn't my idea."

"How the fuck was this anything but your idea."

They scrambled back to their feet, glaring at each other. Finally, Francis huffled and walked away, rightening the fallen table on his way to the door to usher the prostitutes in and wave off the guards while Athur stared down at his naval. His shirt was still wet from where Francis intentionally splattered his water.

Faintly, Arthur heard the new whore whisper, "These guys?"

He looked over just in time to see Matthew step on the new whore's foot.

Francis came back into the room as Arthur dropped his eyes again to the floor. They spoke quickly, briefly, or perhaps it only seemed that way because Arthur was preoccupied with listening to his heart pound in his tin-can chest.

He did not question why he was so embarrassed in front of the whores. He was too busy trying to deal with it. Before he could sort his emotions out, there was a soft hand at his elbow.

"Sir?" Matthew said. "Arthur?"

Arthur cleared his throat quickly. "Good day, Matthew. Sorry. I'm just a tad out of it today."

"That's fine," Matthew said. Though Arthur was only looking at him out of the corner of his eye, he could tell Matthew wasn't exactly smiling. "How about we go to your room?"

Arthur nodded, feeling dumb, and was lead to his room by Matthew's hand on his elbow.

They closed the door to the main room once they were inside his bedroom.

"Sorry about the mess," Arthur said, kicking a few magazines out of the path to the bed. "Haven't cleaned lately."

"It's fine, I don't' mind," said Matthew. He shuffled along behind Arthur before hopping on the bed. It bounced slightly beneath him.

"So, the other whore is your brother?"

"Half brother, sir," said Matthew. "We don't do incest kinks, sir. Please."

"Oh, oh! No, I wouldn't!" Arthur said, bringing his hands up quickly. "No. God, no, I have brothers, I would never want to… I mean, other people I suppose, I as long as it's consensual, but….no. I was just asking since I thought I read that and you two look so much alike."

Matthew nodded, his shoulders slumped and seemingly more relaxed. "Okay… just making sure you knew. It's in the contract as one of the things we don't do is all. I wasn't sure if you'd read it. Some people don't. Your shirt's wet."

The sudden change of topic took Arthur by surprise. He looked down again, though he already knew his shirt was wet.

"Ah, yes, it is. It doesn't really bother me though, it's fine." He could actually ignore the dampness, now. The tangle of nerves and sensors in his chest were still picking it up perfectly well, but he had other things he could focus on. Like Matthew's hair.

Matthew apparently couldn't focus on other things, though. "I'll get you something to change into, Sir."

He smiled and hopped off the bed, making the short walk from the bed to the dresser. "Which drawer?"

"Don't bother," said Arthur.

"It's really no problem."

"I don't want a new shirt," Arthur said.

Matthew faltered. "That can't be comfortable."

"It really doesn't bother me."

"Are you sure?" Matthew said. Arthur nodded. "Arthur, with all do respect, I don't really want to cuddle you in a wet shirt…"

Arthur paused.

Matthew wouldn't be comfortable cuddling him in a wet shirt. That was… it set a strange knot in his stomach, which rolled through him and left him vaguely cold and nauseous. Matthew wouldn't be comfortable with him. He could always simply demand Matthew cuddle him regardless, Arthur reminded himself, but that would be. That wasn't. It wouldn't be okay if Matthew didn't want to cuddle him, too.

"…Third drawer in the wardrobe," Arthur finally said, his head dipping down and his chin bumping against his chest.

Matthew came to him a few moments later with a pale blue button-down shirt in his hand. It was crinkled from not being hung up and it was soft from its most recent cleaning. As with all of the shirts the wardrobe, it was long sleeved. Arthur took it from Matthew, breathing deeply. The shirt smelled like lavender—it must have been in one of the loads with one of Francis' fabric softeners, then.

"Now turn around and watch the door while I change," Arthur said.

"Shy?" Matthew grinned as he turned around.

"Quiet, brat," said Arthur, huffing. But Matthew did turn away, and so Arthur moved his attention from Matthew and instead looked down at the task before him. The button-down was already fully open, but he checked to make sure it wasn't inside out before setting it out behind himself. He pulled his current damp shirt up and over his head in one movement and tossed it aside to the floor where it landed in a slightly soggy heap. He pulled the button-down over his back and shoulders like a blanket then before beginning the always-frustrating occupation of trying to get his arms through the sleeves.

He heard a quiet gasp.

Arthur's head shot up. Matthew had turned his head just enough to be able to peer through the curtains of his bangs to see Arthur's chest.

Arthur's heart stopped. Not literally, he couldn't stop it if he wanted to, and his body certainly didn't grow as hot and cold as he perceived it to, but his brain which was the least his own of anything was suddenly completely shot when he saw Matthew, Matthew who nearly seemed to like him, staring at his chest and—"Bitch! What the fuck did I say about looking? Fucking hell!"

Arthur was startled at his own voice, but not as much as Matthew apparently. The man whipped his head back around in the other direction and starting speaking over Arthur rapidly. "I'm sorry! I didn't realize you had scars, I was just really surprised. I couldn't help it. If you're uncomfortable with me looking I promise I won't do it again, I just wasn't expecting it…"

Arthur faltered, the heat falling out from under him. Matthew had finished speaking and was standing silently with his back to Arthur, this time looking resolutely away. It was harder to continue his tirade, even though he still wanted to be angry. He muttered something along the lines of 'I—well then—g-good then! Don't, don't do anything again without my permission,' but it had sounded thin even to his own ears. He was too distracted by what Matthew had said. That the scars didn't bother him.

They bothered Arthur. They bothered him every day. They bothered him when he caught his reflection in the mirror after a shower and they bothered him every time he had to change clothes and there was nowhere to look but down at himself. They had bothered Francis too. For the first few months after the surgery, Francis had touched him only when necessary, and even while learning to be a makeshift surgeon. Arthur knew what he looked like, and it was—it was a swirl of knots where a train had ripped him apart and rustless plating had tried to put him back together.

His chest was not something seen outside of war zones, he had believed.

Yet here, this capital-city whore had said…

"You may turn around. If it really doesn't bother you," Arthur said, his voice returning though it still felt weak in his throat. He released the buttons on the shirt. His fingers tingled vaguely.

Matthew turned on his heel. "Sir?"

There was a lump in his throat. Arthur swallowed it. "My name's Arthur. I t…asked you to call me that before."

"Right. Sorry. Arthur?" Matthew said.

"Yes?"

"Did you need anything?"

Arthur shook his head. Matthew stood where he was for a few more moments, watching, before slowly approaching the bed. Arthur did his best to remain relaxed as he came closer. "Do you need any help buttoning up, Arthur?"

Arthur shook his head. "If it really doesn't bother you, I'll leave it open. But you have to take your shirt off as well."

Matthew nodded and set right to work, slowly unbuttoning his shirt from the top of his collar down to his waistline.

"…you don't have to do a strip tease, just… just take the shirt off," Arthur said. Matthew smiled sheepishly but took the rest of his top off in a much more timely manner. When he was done, he tossed his shirt on the floor not far from where Arthur's previous shirt was crumpled. There was a moment when Arthur had the chance to look at Matthew's chest as Matthew stood.

He was pale—and Arthur had known that. Matthew was pale, not as pale as Arthur himself but certainly darker than Francis, and Francis was not quite as dark as Matthew's half-brother whore— Matthew was pale and soft. His stomach wasn't muscled like a soldier's. He wasn't sculpted like a graduate fresh out of the Academy. He was round and soft. There was give to him. No scars adorned his chest or stomach. His arms were long and thin, though Arthur could see some muscle in them. Matthew had a body unaccustomed to hardship, Arthur decided.

Even in the room's harsh florescent lighting, even with Arthur there, distracted by feeling more naked than anyone else without something to cover the front of his chest, Matthew was… pretty. Cute. Attractive. Handsome.

Matthew sat, unbidden, beside Arthur in the bed. Their shoulders were almost touching. Arthur's tongue felt heavy in his mouth. He could feel the air of the room against his chest. It was infinitely more distracting than his damp shirt could have ever been.

"You're lovely," Arthur said. His voice was thin. Matthew smiled though.

"Thanks," he said, and lifted a hand to gently touch Arthur's thigh, as he did. A habit, Arthur assumed, picked up from whoring. "You too."

Arthur waited for the laugh. He waited for the hand to pull away in disgust. He waited for Matthew's face to twist, ever so lightly, to reveal the act.

None of that came.

"May I?" Matthew said, his hand coming up to hover a very safe few inches away from Arthur's stomach. Arthur nodded slowly. He meant to reply out loud, but his voice had gone somewhere far, far away. Matthew ran his hand up Arthur's chest slowly, lighting touching over all the scars and strange bumps that were in the way, until he came to Arthur's left shoulder.

Arthur could no longer stay still at that point. He twisted and pulled Matthew closer, pressing his face into Matthew's unmarred neck to try and hide the choked gasp which escaped him. Matthew made a quiet yelp but just as quickly wrapped his roaming hand around Arthur, locking him into a hug. Arthur didn't particularly care if the movement was intentional or out of surprise. Matthew didn't move his arm away. Arthur let his scarred chest just brush against Matthew's smooth one as he gasped for air, focusing on the warm body holding him while he struggled not to cry.

000

The prostitute was laid out on the bed, passed out. His limbs thrown in all directions. His chest rose and fell slowly. The sweat had cooled on his skin. He likely hadn't expected someone as small and thin as Francis to consistently outlast him. After their third round, he had asked to stop and promptly collapsed into the pile he was at the moment.

Francis was feeling better, though. The prostitute had lasted long enough to get out most of his frustrations—and it was partly Francis' fault for exhausting him so much in the foreplay, but it was hard to find someone who liked long foreplay as much as Francis did it seemed—but Francis wasn't quite sure what to blame this sort of repetition on.

He'd always had an overactive sex drive. He had to learn to outlast his own exhaustion, otherwise he would have never gotten anything done in school. As a handler for Arthur, his work was considerably more stressful, and yet still not nearly in the same manner or way that school had kept him busy. There were no more late night drunken parties to overcome before eight-in-the-morning tests. There were no more near-fistfights breaking out over test scores. There were no more research papers he had to frantically search through topics, information about those topics, or the right words to use, before the deadline hit. There was no more fencing team, and consequently, no more fencing or fencing practice. He had grown soft, most likely, but even after three years of graduation, Francis had yet to find a way to fall asleep at a decent hour.

He simply had to find different ways of occupying himself, or different ways of exhausting himself. The prostitute had done his best, poor thing. The prostitute had held out as long as he could and done, and when he couldn't go on anymore, he'd done the responsible thing and signaled when he felt he couldn't handle another round. And Francis stopped, let him sleep, and moved on to the computer where he now sat, his intranet disconnected in favor of something a little more shiny and new.

His personal cameras had been successfully installed in Arthur's room. He had filmed a short masturbation porno with them, to test them (and to bribe Ludwig, who still had yet to breach the subject of Feliciano's celibacy) and after extracting that film and storing it for later use, set up the cameras at various angles in Arthur's room.

It was probably wrong to spy on one's friends like this, but Arthur needed someone to look after him, and perhaps if Francis watched him closely enough, he could figure out what exactly it was that signaled things going wrong with Arthur. Maybe there was a quirk, a hint as to when he would attempt to hurt himself. Maybe there were times when Arthur lay in bed crying for someone to come visit him, and Francis was unaware. Maybe Empire officials came while they were out controlling the Angel and rifled around Arthur's room for who knew what—perhaps contraband?

At the moment though, Arthur was asleep. The prostitute, Matthew, was curled against Arthur's bare chest.

It was sweet, in a strange way. It was as sweet as a whore hired to cuddle sleeping on Arthur's bare chest could possibly be.

It was a good thing, Francis decided. It had to be a good thing that Arthur had decided to trust this prostitute enough to open up to him—not literally yet, but perhaps one day it would be extremely literal. Arthur's chest rose and fell slowly. His eyelids fluttered in a dream. His arm was curled around the prostitute's shoulders. He looked very organic, but Francis wondered if the prostitute could hear the faint buzz of machinery in Arthur's chest when he pressed his ear against the right spot.

Francis watched for a while and then sighed. There wasn't much else to do that night. He had cleaned the dishes and fucked the prostitute. It was too late at night to bother Ludwig and there was only so long he could go watching his friend sleep without getting bored. It was time to try to sleep again. He closed the computer screen, confident that the tape would continue to record all through the night. If he was lucky, Arthur would make stupid faces in his sleep.

Francis rose and stretched. His back popped. He slid his boxers back on—they had fallen off the side of the bed at some point earlier in the night—and climbed up onto the covers next to the prostitute.

He was just laying down when, from the living room floor when Francis had thrown the device, the siren alarm for the Angel Assault went off.

000

NOTES:

-….it actually takes light 100,000 years to get from one side of the Milky Way to another, so for a galactic empire (I'm retconning the "intergalactic" thing. It's too much room, even for MY sci-fi. ) to have a not particularly well-off family still able to send emails from one side of the galaxy to another within a week, while it seems long to us, is actually a RIDICULOUS show of their technological prowess. Radio waves travel at the speed of light, remember. So if the Milky Way is actually a relatively small galaxy (and compared to Andromeda, it is) and it would take something like 100,000 years for an email to be sent from a computer on one side to a hypothetical computer on the other, barring other obstructions and matter, atoms, etc…. 100,000 years is 5217745 weeks and almost 5 days. What I'm trying to get at here is that the Empire has surpassed traveling at the speed of light. They have successfully done the thing where space moves around the ship, rather than the ship moving through space, so sort of like making a personal wormhole? which also (shhhhhh in my mind) negates that pesky time dilution thing, which is in the back of my head whenever I watch space opera stuff.

And the Empire has applied that to information dispersion. The Empire has provided networks which allow FTL travel, for both transportation and information. This is, essentially, the easy way to explain why the Empire can tap into literally any information connected to their network (and there are no other networks really.) Fortunately, there are only so many people monitoring the information input, so they have to put certain 'troublemakers' on the top of the list. Francis and Ludwig have known each other openly since their years in school, so their conversations are very low on the list of things to look for incriminating evidence on. And besides, who would want to be the poor intern who had to go to the Godly Emperor Romulus and tell him that Feli's boyfriend was having an affair? Not any intern I know of. Did you know crucifixion is considered one of the most painful ways to die?

NASA has more info on FTL travel here:

2012/09/19/nasa-actually-working-on-faster-than-light-warp-drive/

-Kokolo, Cam's lion (…I've largely given up on finding certain nations names. I had an awful time just trying to find Bantu names and the ones I did find I wasn't sure if they were legit or even if they fit or not. So for now, he is Cam, future spaceguard extraordinaire. ) got his name from the APH wiki, because he is apparently a canon character despite how I have never seen him outside of the World Cup strips. "Kokolo" was a band which was trying to reclaim the word 'kokolo' which was a derogatory word used in Spanish Harlem and parts of the Carribean to talk about Latinos of African descent who enjoyed Afro music. I assume this is where Himaruya got the name from.

-Hathor is the Egyptian goddess who personifies joy, feminine love, and motherhood. Considering Helen is the most beautiful woman in the world, according to Greek mythology, and also Helen and Hathor are alliterative, I figured they would be suitable human names for Mama Greece and Mama Egypt.

-Arthur's body is basically a mess of varying amounts of skin graft scars, stitching scars, and possibly some of Archibald McIndoe's plastic surgery piping to help keep alive the skin that's basically largely just resting on metal. He's not exactly conventionally beautiful. But he's him.

-Part of the thing for the Empire's prostitution program is that it's supposed to be safe. The prostitutes are supposed to be cared for and well paid and their clients don't have to worry about things like spies, thieves, STIs or pregnancy (unless that's their kink, in which case there's probably a division for that.) Obviously, this doesn't work out in practice. Some of the managers and customers abuse their prostitutes, and Al and Matt are spies. The ideas are still in place though, so when Al asks to stop… well, Francis is not a complete asshole all the fucking time. God, Francis. Who am I kidding. He's an asshole all the time, but he's an asshole who respects people's bodily integrity. Which if you must be an asshole I would love for you to be that kind of asshole.

-This chapter has possibly the most appropriate title song I've found for this so far.

000

I'm getting theme songs out for everyone in this fic. And I will reveal them as I deem them most appropriate. Hopefully Francis' song will come to light in the next one or two chapters. But for this chapter?

Alfred's song is:

Counting Stars by One Republic