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R is for Richard

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The dead king lay on the lab's viewing table, his bones lit from beneath to produce a truly regal glow.

Those gathered around him paused in their discussion, all individual agendas set aside for a moment as they contemplated the buttock-stabbing news and braced themselves to make or hear the next sensational revelation.

The cameras kept rolling.

The Ricardian wiped the sweat from her brow and accepted the Actor's offer of a glass of water.

The Osteologist, a young woman with a striking resemblance to Fred Burkle from Angel, toyed absently with the mattock hung around her neck in penance. Her glance darting between the king's skeleton and the Ricardian's face, she waved the burly Archaeologist forward for his turn in the Explaining-to-Laypersons ritual.

"Next up in our analysis of the remains provisionally known as Richard the Third, I'd like to tell you about our excavation of the groin area."

The Ricardian twitched. The Osteologist made a note of that.

"Quite an impressive area it is, too!" The Archaeologist beamed genially at the cameras. "And, luckily for us, he appears to have been in a state of sexual arousal..."

The Ricardian dropped her glass of water.

"In fact, we have confirmed the presence of viable sperm."

"No!" gasped the Ricardian. "No, it can't be...!"

The Actor sniggered. Some of the camera crew did likewise.

"Oh, that's quite common with burials in consecrated ground," said the Archaeologist, nodding sagely. "We call it the Every-Sperm-Is-Sacred Effect."

The Osteologist cleared her throat delicately. "Just to spell things out a bit more, viable means they can be used to fertilize eggs right now..."

"Richard the Third's 21st-century babies!" exclaimed the Actor, grinning. "Brilliant!"

"Hang on, we'd need to get approval from the Palace for anything like that," said the Archaeologist.

"Let's do it!" cried the Ricardian, her initial shock transforming before their eyes into blazing resolve.

The Osteologist smirked.

The camera crew exchanged thumbs-ups and kept filming eagerly.

"I'm serious! How many sperm are we talking about?"

"Oh, not that many," the Archaeologist stammered, backing away as the Ricardian advanced on him. "Perhaps a thousand or thereabouts..."

With a satisfied nod, the Ricardian took up a formal stance by the table, lightly resting a hand on one of the dead king's perfectly unwithered arms.

"I can get you a thousand fertile volunteers from all over the world! By Thursday."

"But what about the historical..." the Archaeologist began.

The Ricardian ignored him. All her attention was fixed on the royal skeleton, and the determined fire in her eyes outshone the laboratory lighting.

"Richard, my liege! I do solemnly swear to restore your good name and honour and line of descent..."

The rest of what promised to be a classic monologue was cut off in a sudden shriek as the lab filled with a blinding white light and a rush of displaced air.

The Actor and the Osteologist staggered. The Ricardian fell over. The Archaeologist whimpered as the precious bones on the table rose several inches into the air, flipped, and settled back down... fortunately undamaged, apart from the spine now curving in the opposite direction.

The cameras kept rolling.

"STOP!" said a new voice from the far corner of the lab.

The Archaeologist helped the Ricardian to her feet. Both of them, and everyone else, stared in shock at the two people who definitely hadn't been there a few moments ago.

"Blimey!" said the Actor. "You're from the future, aren't you?"

The Osteologist twitched.

"What?" said the Archaeologist, still staring.

"Look at their clothes! All tight and shiny and space-suity, right? Classic costume!" The Actor gave the newcomers an enthusiastic wave. "Bet you've got flying cars, right? Right?"

"Well, obviously." The dark-haired woman stepped past the Actor with barely a glance at his outstretched hand. "Call me Anne," she said, fixing a penetrating glare on the Ricardian and the Osteologist.

"Edward," her companion added. "And permit me to assure you that our time travel has been legally authorised by the Battle of Bosworth 1000th Anniversary Committee in 2485." He gave the four of them a tight little smile. "Unlike certain other incidents..."

Faced with four expressions ranging from simply baffled to pointedly innocent, the visitors from the 25th Century sighed identical long-suffering sighs and prepared to deliver some necessary exposition.

The camera crew exchanged shrugs and carried on.

"We're on a mission," Edward began.

"Oooh, I knew it!" said the Actor, bouncing on his toes.

"A mission to take effective countermeasures in response to some entirely unauthorised time travel by a certain radical faction of Richard the Third's descendants - "

"What?" said the Ricardian.

"They've gone too far this time! And it's your fault!" Anne pointed a stern finger at the Ricardian, with an extra glare at the Archaeologist. "Your fault that Britain ended up with a clone on the throne!"

"But... but..."

"Eh?"

"Blimey!"

"Right now," said Edward, cutting through three dazed questions and the Osteologist's snicker. "Right now is where it all starts! Because of what you lot are doing, and someone's frightfully keen recruitment of volunteers to carry Richard the Third's posthumous offspring..."

The cameras all focused on the Ricardian.

"Oh, he's got descendants, all right," said Anne, rolling her eyes. "They're everywhere. And still arguing over his reinterment and whether he did or didn't kill the Princes in the Tower - "

"He totally didn't!" said the Ricardian, quite unable to help herself.

Anne and Edward did a joint eye-roll this time.

"Yes, that very point is still being disputed," said Edward. "Disputed most vehemently by the Yes He Did Society and the No He Didn't Society, each with billions of members in this quadrant of the galaxy alone."

"And he still hasn't been reburied, in Leicester or York or anywhere..."

"And now we've got these bloody radicals, the Glorious White Boars of Y-DNA, with their so-called Empirical Test - entirely unauthorised, quite illegal..."

"Quite mad, the lot of them," said Anne.

"Hang on," said the Archaeologist. "What test? What did these people do?"

Edward's eyes narrowed. "Well, in a nutshell... They decided that the only way to settle the matter once and for all would be to clone Richard, make him King again, and wait to see if he killed any nephews."

"Or married any nieces," added Anne.

Flabbergasted silence reigned, broken only by another snicker from the Osteologist, who suddenly found herself facing two stern glares from the future.

"Watch yourself," Anne hissed at her. "We know who you are!"

"Who, me?" said the Osteologist, trying desperately to keep a straight face. "I'm nobody! I just study bones."

"And you left those bones in a box, didn't you?" said Edward. "Ever so convenient, that! Just sitting in a box, they were, all through October of 2012..."

"So anyone at all from the Glorious Boars could pop in and help themselves to some DNA..."

"And proceed to interfere most scandalously in the conception of a Royal Heir that very month!"

The Actor's jaw dropped. "You mean, Will and Kate...?"

"Indeed," said Edward. "The birth is expected in July, correct?"

The Ricardian sank down on the nearest chair. The Actor crossed the lab to fetch her another glass of water, but got confused and ended up drinking it himself.

The camera crew did a little happy dance, filming all the while.

"And... the baby? Does he grow up to be King?" said the Archaeologist, breathless with anticipation. "What happened?"

Anne broke off her staring contest with the Osteologist. "He played merry hell with History, that's what," she snapped.

"Took the throne, eventually, as Richard the Fourth," Edward explained. "What a disaster!"

"His nephews started disappearing," said Anne. "One by one... till they were all gone. And the nieces fled to Australia."

"Then all the Stanley descendants started disappearing..."

"Then Laurence Olivier's gravestone and William Shakespeare's memorial in Poets' Corner were... defaced. With explosives."

"And the Shakespeare Company was never the same again after losing Royal patronage..."

Anne nodded. "So by the time he sacked the prime minister and took over, no one was all that surprised, really..."

"Except the House of Windsor, who couldn't believe they were being replaced by the House of York," said Edward, shooting another glare at the Osteologist to stop a snicker before it happened.

The Archaeologist sank down on a chair next to the Ricardian.

"Wow," said the Actor. "So what you're saying is... Richard comes back, and he's not happy?"

"Exactly! And that's why we're here today!" Anne's steely gaze swept the lab, lingering on the Ricardian. "To stop the madness before it starts."

Edward stepped forward to face the Archaeologist. "Hand over the viable sperm, please."

The Ricardian leapt up from her chair. "No! You can't do that!"

"Oh yes, we can," said Anne. "The Committee has authorised us to ensure that the 1000th Anniversary is celebrated with a firm and conclusive end to the Glorious Boars and their Richard the Fourth Timeline... and the Great Reinterment Dispute of 2013-2485."

"He'll be buried in York," said Edward. "The good folk of Leicester are a tad upset, of course - but who could argue with a clear majority decision by Richard the Third's Ancestors? They demand it!"

The Ricardian collapsed, hyperventilating, against the Actor's manly chest.

The Osteologist shrugged and set about removing the mattock from around her neck.

The cameras kept rolling.

This left only the Archaeologist to ask the obvious question, which he did with admirable scientific detachment and emotional poise, all things considered.

Edward seemed glad to explain. "We went back in time and took a survey, of course."

"And most of his Royal Ancestors voted for York," said Anne.

"Except for the one who asked where York and Leicester were..."

"And the two who wanted Richard in Fontevrault Abbey..."

"And the nineteen who thought we were the Devil and attacked us..."

"And Edward the Third, who had no opinion but wanted to know how the war with France was going..."

"And John of Gaunt, who voted for Leicester but seemed quite sympathetic regarding any temptation to 'just kill the little blighter and take the throne', quote unquote..."

"Anyway, we're all set for a York burial as soon as this mission is done," said Anne, turning to the Archaeologist. "So if you'd be so kind...?"

With a sigh of resignation, and despite the Ricardian's renewed protests, the Archaeologist retrieved a flask of viable sperm from the lab's freezer and handed it over.

"All for the best, I suppose," he said, watching wistfully as the flask disappeared into Edward's shiny silver backpack.

"Oh, it is," Anne assured him. "And don't worry, we'll take good care of it..."

"Right up until it's launched into space and aimed straight at the Sun," added Edward.

The Ricardian sniffled.

Finally abandoning all disguise, the Osteologist gave in to her urge to roll on the floor laughing - but as her last giggles died away, she found Anne and Edward standing over her with looks that meant business.

"Mary Walsingham, I presume," said Anne. "Daughter of Elizabeth the First's renowned spymaster, extracted from her natural time in 1580 to go deep undercover..."

Edward stepped forward. "By order of the Committee, you're under arrest as a Tudor time-spy!"

Mary "The Osteologist" Walsingham retained her composure as she rose. "It's a fair cop," she told the nearest camera.

Meanwhile, the Archaeologist and the Actor were barely managing to restrain the Ricardian. "I knew it!" she screamed at Mary. "I knew the mattock through his skull wasn't an accident!"

Almost wetting themselves in excitement, the camera crew kept right on filming.

"And of course you didn't want us to drape the royal banner over the box with his bones! Think I've forgotten that? Oh, I knew you were a Tudor spy! I just knew it!"

"Actually, we need to have a chat about things you just knew," said Anne, taking the furious Ricardian by the elbow and encouraging her to sit down again.

"Because you're about to have another life-changing event," said Edward, "and we feel it's important to explain why."

"What you're about to see is a brief clip from a movie made in 2483, based on your own book about the historic discovery of Richard the Third..."

"With a little dramatic licence, of course," said Edward.

Anne took a small shiny object from her pocket and did something indistinguishable from magic.

The lab vanished. Suddenly they all found themselves outdoors...

Scene: a dark and stormy night. Flashes of lightning provide the only illumination... revealing a Car Park.

The scene shifts to a Scantily-Clad Blonde Actress in the role of the Ricardian. She raises her arms to the sky, further highlighting her magnificent bosom.

"Speak to me, Richard, greatest of the Sons of York!"

Another lightning flash reveals a Big Letter R on the tarmac.

A great clap of thunder follows. The Scantily-Clad Blonde Actress screams in ecstasy.

And all at once, they were back in the lab.

"Wow," said the Actor, still quivering.

"Incredible," breathed the Archaeologist.

The Ricardian had blushed scarlet. "But... but... that's not how it happened at all! It was daylight. She looked nothing like me! And, um... I was wearing more than that..."

"Don't worry about the dramatic licence," said Edward. "That actress was just an Elizabeth Woodville clone, anyway."

"What?!"

"The point we're trying to make here," said Anne, "is that your actions are remembered. And this next clip should help explain why some of your future actions won't be allowed to happen... Ready?"

"Yes!" said the Actor.

"Not really..." said the Ricardian, biting her lip.

Anne pressed another button and once again, the lab disappeared.

Scene: another Car Park, this one resembling a giant concrete Gothic cathedral. Mysterious shadows abound.

"Nearest car park to the Tower of London," says Edward in a whispered voiceover.

The same Scantily-Clad Blonde Actress steps forward, raising her arms once more.

"Speak to me, Edward and Richard, youngest Sons of York!"

Flickering overhead lights suddenly shine down full force on Two Big Letters: E.R.

"Edward and Richard!" cries the Scantily-Clad Blonde Actress in ecstasy. "The Missing Princes, found at last!"

The scene shifts to a luxurious drawing room, with the previous scene visible on CCTV.

An Elderly Regal Hand points a displeased finger at the CCTV image of the Scantily-Clad Blonde Actress in the Car Park.

An Elderly Regal Voice says, "That is Our reserved parking space!"

And with that, they found themselves back in the lab.

"Good heavens!" said the Archaeologist.

"Oh crikey," said the Ricardian.

Behind them, Mary Walsingham cracked up again.

The Actor gulped. "At the end there... was that... Herself?"

"Indeed," said Edward.

"Oh, you have no idea how much trouble you were about to set off," Anne told the Ricardian, shaking her head. "Seventeen generations of Royal complaints, we've had! Seventeen!"

"I was about to...? You mean, I won't do it?"

Anne smiled like a time-traveller with major plans. "Too right you won't! This stops right here."

The Ricardian jumped up and started backing away, only to run into Edward.

"You're being extracted right now," he told her, gripping her shoulders firmly.

The Actor and the Archaeologist gasped.

The camera crew exchanged puzzled looks and kept filming.

Anne held out a hand to Mary. "And you're going back to your natural time. Will you come quietly, or...?"

Mary took the hand without another word, though the corners of her mouth continued to twitch.

"Bye!" said the Actor, waving.

"All the best," added the Archaeologist.

"Wait!" The Ricardian's bewildered glance darted from one face to another as she realised that no one seemed about to object. "Where... I mean, when am I going? To your time?"

"Oh no, no, no!" said Edward. "Can't even imagine what you'd get up to in 2485..."

"She'd find the Lost Last Words of Stephen Fry, I shouldn't wonder," said Anne. "Destroy a whole industry, that would."

Edward gave the Ricardian a very special smile. "Relax. We're taking you to late 1483..."

Sheer joy replaced the shock on the Ricardian's face.

"...where Margaret Beaufort has just been attainted, and her kitchen is hiring new wenches."

The shock made an instant comeback.

And then, with one final "What?!" from the Ricardian and a parting cackle from Mary Walsingham, there was another blinding flash of white light, and four people were gone.

Silence reigned once more, broken only by the camera crew's cursing as they realised what the latest flash of light had done to their hardware.

"So," said the Actor. "Fancy a pint?"

"Oh, yes please," said the Archaeologist.

They left the lab together, closing the door behind them.

The cameras tried very hard to keep rolling, but alas...