"Sire," Lancelot acknowledged.
Usually he answered, "Good morning, Arthur."
Arthur took a bite of his eggs. Lancelot appeared to be in a snit about something. Well, he had as much as said last night that he didn't like how Arthur had handled the Vaalhaallaa situation yesterday. "Norse Trianguli VI still bothering you?"
Lancelot seemed surprised that Arthur had been able to tell, but didn't comment so. "Yes, sir. I am still troubled. And it shall take more than a supposedly humorous correlation between Benwick features and those of mythological Earth demons to quell my reservations."
"Lancelot, I didn't do anything wrong," Arthur said, waving one hand while he picked up bacon with the other. "Vaalhaallaa attacked my ship. There's nothing in the autonomy policy that obviates any Round Table ship's right to self-defense. If it had been just going after the few of us on the planet, who actually were intruding on the people, it might've been different.
"But what I did was no less self-defense than if a Saxon ship directed an unprovoked attack against the Excalibur. When the people of Norse Trianguli VI chose to let that computer make their decisions for them, they chose to accept the consequences of its decisions - including, whether they meant to or not, the consequences of its picking a fight and losing."
"Certainly that is true," admitted Lancelot. "Given the precedents in our log and other starcruisers', the odds that the Round Table and the Kings' Council will uphold your actions on those grounds are approximately 726 to 1."
Arthur nodded. Lancelot's issue wasn't concern over trouble he was afraid Arthur had made for himself or the crew. Then his issue had to be from the other perspective in the matter. Arthur finished his own juice and said, "I also believe that the natives are better off without Vaalhaallaa."
"Obviously," said Lancelot. "It was apparent nearly from the moment we met them. Yourself and the queen."
"And you think that the destruction of Vaalhaallaa is a violation of the spirit of the autonomy policy, even if not of the letter."
"I would not choose as they have, any more than you would," said Lancelot, leaning forward in earnestness. "But neither would I make their choice for them."
"And that's what you think I've done." Finishing his eggs, Arthur forebore pointing out again that the people of Norse Trianguli VI had made their bed and were sleeping in it. Because Lancelot had a point. "You're absolutely right. Imposing our ideals on conquered enemies is exactly what the Round Table's not about. But what should we do about it? What can we do?"
Lancelot leaned back in his seat again. "That question, Sire," he said, "is what is troubling me."
"It is?" said Arthur. "The answer seems obvious to me."
"You're going to what?" Guenevere exclaimed.
As usual, Guenevere had not yet shown up for breakfast when Arthur and Lancelot had been ready to go on duty. Arthur had taken advantage of the first lull in the shift to visit the medical ward.
"I'm going to ask the natives whether they'd like us to try to reactivate Vaalhaallaa," said Arthur.
"What for?" Guenevere exploded.
"To find out," said Arthur innocently.
"You're serious," said Guenevere.
"Lancelot has a point," Arthur said. "It's not our place to impose our values on them."
Guenevere restrained herself. She only raised one finger. "Lest we forget," the good doctor said, "we didn't set out to impose our values on them, nor was imposing our values on them the intended goal of what we ended up doing. That damn computer was out to kill us and to destroy the Excalibur! If we revive it, why won't it continue where it left off?"
"We'll worry about that," said Arthur, "if they say yes."
"Yes," said Lokai.
"Oh," said Guenevere, "joy."
Arthur was taken aback by the abruptness of Lokai's response. "You're welcome to think about it awhile," he started.
"King Arthur," Lokai interrupted, "we have thought of nothing else all night. Not one of the People of Vaalhaallaa has failed this past night to say aloud, 'Oh, if we only had Vaalhaallaa back.'" The People of Vaalhaallaa who had gathered to meet Arthur and Guenevere milled about in agreement.
"Well," said Arthur. "We'll see what we can do."
"We may have a problem," Arthur said to Lancelot as he and Guenevere entered the Excalibur bridge. "We may actually have to reactivate Vaalhaallaa."
"We're under no real obligation, are we?" Guenevere said. "I mean, you only said we'd try. Even apart from the question of its animosity toward us, we don't even know how."
"The natives have requested its reactivation?" Lancelot asked, moving from the command chair to its right.
"They practically begged," Arthur said ruefully, sitting in the command chair.
"What else could go wrong today?" Guenevere growled, moving up to Arthur's left.
"The Round Table Autonomy Policy Committee's ruling on our actions of yesterday arrived while you were on the planet," Lancelot said.
"Are you answering my question?" Guenevere asked.
"The action taken against the computer entity Vaalhaallaa has been sanctioned under the self-defense provisions of the autonomy policy."
"Well, we expected that," said Arthur. "That's all right then."
"There is, however," Lancelot continued, "more."
"What 'more'?" Guenevere wanted to know.
"We are directed to ask the natives whether they wish Vaalhaallaa reactivated. If they do, we are ordered to reactivate it."
"All I ever wanted was to play the saxophone," Guenevere said.
Arthur sighed. "We've got some expert xenoprogramming to do on Vaalhaallaa."
"I suppose I had better beam down," Lancelot said.
Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenevere stepped into the dragon's-mouth-shaped carved stone entrance to the cave in which Vaalhaallaa was housed. None of them had been inside before. There was a great stone basin in the back wall of the cave that was the mouth of a tunnel that disappeared into the mountain. This was where the unstable mineral Vaalhaallaa used for fuel was deposited once the natives had gathered it.
Lancelot activated his handsensors and walked along the walls, scanning them. He stopped in one back corner. "There is an access panel," he said. "I am reading a latch ..." His fingers brished lightly across the rock at a height just above his head, then came to rest. "... here." He depressed something with his finger and there was an audible click. The panel was hinged at the bottom and swung downwards at its release. When Guenevere had treated the bruise Lancelot set to work at the terminal revealed behind the panel, while Arthur and Guenevere looked on.
"We think we've come so far," said Arthur suddenly.
"Pardon?" said Guenevere.
"We think we're so objective, so enlightened in our dealings with younger species," said Arthur. "We still have blind spots."
"Human beings have blind spots," Guenevere conceded. "But we learn. We get better."
"Maybe in a hundred years," said Arthur, "we'll be better at this."
"Arthur," called Lancelot.
"Yes? What is it?"
"I have found an icon-based help index. This should not take long."
When Arthur had Lancelot trip Vaalhaallaa's gong control, the natives reacted just as he expected - they rushed into the cave laden with fuel mineral. They found Arthur standing in front of the basin with Lancelot and Guenevere flanking him.
"Have you reawakened Vaalhaallaa?" Lokai asked. Only he seemed to have any doubt. Of course, he was the one with Vaalhaallaa's comm set hardwired into his ear canal.
"No," said Arthur.
The natives settled into that uneasy silence children get when the teacher departs from the lesson plan.
Lancelot pointed to the access terminal, and at a large green button near the bottom. "Press this button, and Vaalhaallaa will be reactivated. On a half hour time delay," he added at Guenevere's sharp look.
"Then press it," Lokai demanded. There were annoyed murmurs among the crowd.
"No," said Arthur.
"You said you would do this," Lokai objected. The annoyed murmurs became angry grumbles.
"If I was wrong to turn Vaalhaallaa off for you," Arthur said, "then I'm wrong to turn it back on. You must do it."
"You must choose for yourself whether to live idyllically as Vaalhaallaa's slaves," said Lancelot.
"Or to live your own lives and your own joys - and your own pains, sicknesses and deaths," said Guenevere.
"It's not my choice to make," said Arthur. "It's not even your ancestors'. It's yours." He took out his comm as he, Guenevere and Lancelot began edging out of the cave. "Arthur to Excalibur. We're boating back. Warp out as soon as we're aboard."
"I suppose we'll never know what they chose," Guenevere said as the three trooped onto the bridge and converged on the command chair as usual, Arthur of course sitting there.
"Maybe not," said Arthur. "The Kings' Council's put the world under a class five quarantine - no contact until or unless contacted first."
"Well, Lancelot," Guenevere said, "are you satisfied?"
"My personal satisfaction was never the issue," said Lancelot. "However ..."
"In forcing the People of Vaalhaallaa to make their own choice, have we perhaps imposed on them our own doctrine of free choice?"
"I can't win," said Arthur.
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