Paul Gadzikowski

King Arthur of Time and Space


Chapter 1

Excalibur log, A.R. 190.6: No rest for the mourning. Lancelot and the Grail Planet are barely behind us and already all kinds of matters are clamoring for my attention - official and personal. (Not that the high king's personal life isn't official.)

"So," said Mordred quietly after his tour of the bridge, "Are We Going To Be A Family Now?" It was Arthur's first indication that Mordred had even as much a sense of humor as Morgan.

Galahad almost turned from the science console. Mordred didn't have a lot of experience with Benwick ears, Arthur guessed.

Arthur looked at his new, grown son with not quite equanimity. "No. Mordred, your mother is my half-sister." That probably shouldn't have been said within Benwick ears' range either. Well, Benwicks are discreet. "Maybe we'd all be different people if that weren't true. But I have another queen now."

"But no legal heir of your blood," Mordred pointed out coolly.

"The thought has occurred to me," admitted Arthur.

"I'd be a better high king than Cador. Or than his son Constantine, who's more likely to survive you. Frankly, I'd be a better high king than you - at least I'd stay home and be king."

Frankly, indeed. "You're a lot like your mother."

"Make me your heir." It was hard to take Mordred's tone as that of only a request.

Arthur resisted the temptation to ask, "Or?" - resisted it with little difficulty; after all, the man was Morgan's son too, and Arthur could guess at the response ("Or I will."?). And Mordred was only demanding his proper birthright after all. But Arthur wasn't prepared to grant it on only three day's acquaintence, not with the well-being of the kingdoms at stake.

"When you get to Camelot," he said, "I'll put you in Sir Kay's charge for training in kingcraft and administration. The next time I leave Camelot, you'll be Regent while I'm gone. If you handle it as well as your work on the Grail project, then you'll be officially recognized as my son and be made my legal heir."

"Deal," said Mordred. He smiled, but it didn't warm his manner much. Morgan's son. "Well, I guess I better leave you working people to your jobs." He strategically retreated, having accomplished the objective Arthur attributed to his sally onto the bridge.

Arthur wished he had stayed, though. Now he had nothing to distract him from the hole where Lancelot used to be. He wished he could talk to Guenevere about it but - unsurprisingly - she was even more devastated, when she wasn't entombing herself in her work. But it was only minutes later that Sir Kay signalled. Arthur was expecting no more than confirmation of the rendezvous with H.M.S. Whiteflower - for transfer of most of the trainee crew, and of Galahad and Mordred so the Grail project knights might conduct an investigation of the Grail planet from a proper science vessel instead of from a kindergarten - but Arthur's seneschal had a surprise up his sleeve.

"A Gael ambassadorial courier? The Excalibur is hardly in the condition to serve as a diplomatic escort," Arthur said. "Have you seen Gawain's description of the damage in my report? He sent pictures."

"Of course I have," said Kay. "But you're the only cruiser in the area. Palimodes on H.M.S. Questing Beast can't relieve you until five hours before your rendezvous with Percival and the Whiteflower. Besides, knowing the Gaels, they'll probably be impressed with your battle scars."

Arthur was so stunned to hear Kay empathizing with non-British, let alone Gaels, that he gave up the fight. The seneschal was probably even right. "Yes, sir."

"I'm with you, Wart, but this is Merlin's argument, and he persuaded the Table."

"I see." That explained it. "Kay, did you tell Merlin about Lancelot?"

"Yes. And I gave him a copy of your report." Kay frowned. "He was kind of odd about it. Seemed to expect you to drop everything and go to Benwick."

"I thought the Excalibur escorting the Gaels was his idea."

"Not the ship go to Benwick, you personally."

That was an odd reaction. Merlin knew the demands of duty - he'd taught them to Arthur. Kay must have misunderstood; it would be just like him. "Well, maybe I'll get to see him when the Excalibur gets to Camelot."

"Looking forward to that," said Kay, too heartily. He was hiding something, but he signed off before Arthur could try to pursue it.


"'Courier,'" sniffed Dame Bedivere when the Gael vessel came on the main screen. "That's a bird-of-prey."

"In the Gael language, they're the same word," came a voice from the starboard elevator.

Turning around in surprise from the main screen, along with everyone else on the bridge, Arthur was presented with two people who were not part of the Excalibur crew. They were dressed outlandishly, the girl - a blonde of mid-twenties - in a pants suit with puffy medieval shoulders in a pastel lavender velvety material, and the man - an old man with long white hair and a short-cropped white beard; the one who had spoken - in a beige 19th century three-piece suit with red piping at the lapels and cuffs and outer trouser seams, topped off with a shoot of broccoli at the lapel.

"Merlin?" Arthur addressed the man. "It's only been days since I saw you last."

"Has it? A few weeks for us," Merlin greeted him. "Lady Bedivere, Sir Lucan, Sir Gareth, you all know Nimue of course. "

"How do you do." As always Nimue was the epitome of unselfconscious good manners.

"This is Sir Galahad, whom you may have heard Lancelot mention," introduced Arthur. "Galahad, this is the sorceror called Merlin. You should have recognized the CAVE's materialization signature when it materialized onboard." Most of the Round Table's data on Merlin was classified, but this wasn't. "In fact, you should have reported it whether you recognized it or not ..."

"Internal sensors registered no such disturbance, Sire," said Galahad, slightly defensively. "They are still largely offline. Repairs are not yet complete."

"The Gaels are hailing, Sire," said Lucan.

"Continue affecting repairs, Galahad. Lucan, on screen."

"My dear King Arthur." It was Morgause, Queen of Lothian and Orkney, Arthur's half sister, Mordred's foster mother. Beside her - in the barbarically splendid robes of a Gael ambassador - was what British knights had taken to referring to among themselves as a "new" Gael; which were primarily characterized by a high forehead with a bony vertical crest that was as individual as a fingerprint. They had been popping up, with no explanation to Camelot, for several years.

"My dear Morgause." Envying Morgause her active duty status, Arthur wondered whether he was doomed to covet his past over his future for the rest of his life.

"Ambassador Sir Agravaine," Morgause introduced the new Gael with her. Agavaine? Agravaine was the name of Morgause's son, Gawain's and Gareth's brother. It wasn't a common enough name that Arthur should expect to meet two of them.

This Agravaine nodded to Arthur. "An honor, Sire." ...


Morgause watched Arthur fade from the screen. She was impressed with Agravaine's grasp of mindless British pleasantries, an area in which she was a past master herself. But now it was time for business. "Ettard!"

"My Queen." The agent stepped forward, one more of the constant reminders that Morgause was the only Gael aboard who hadn't yet made the Metamorphosis of Albanactus.

But this plan of her devising, successful, would secure Final Metamorphosis for her, and her line, even those who served Arthur's Table. "You know what to do."

"Yes, my Queen."

"Success," Agravaine saluted Ettard, and she left the bridge.


"So the Metamorphosis of Albanactus is in progress," said Merlin.

"The what?" Arthur asked.

"Surely you noticed the difference in Agravaine's physiognomy."

"Yes. Round Table Intelligence has no idea where the 'new' Gaels come from or what their relationship is with the other Gaels," said Arthur, "and the Gaels at the Table invoke the right to sovereign privacy rather than discuss it." Arthur nodded at Gareth, who wore an uncharacteristically inscrutable expression. "Though they've about taken over the Gael fleet. ...Wait, are you saying that that Agravaine is my nephew Agravaine?"

Merlin nodded. "They're not new Gaels. Well, only sort of. It's a natural stage of Gael physical maturity, that's been surpressed since the time of Albanactus III until now. About the 324th Klothonmas it seems to have been determined that the race as a whole was worthy of Final Metamorphosis again ..." Merlin looked at the date on Arthur's chair chronometer. "... that'll have been two or three years ago British time. Those who are alive now must earn the right somehow, for themselves and their line, but the implementation of the Metamorphosis is at the genetic level. All Gaels from now on will be born with the physical characteristics of Final Metamorphosis already in place. I'm surprised to see Morgause on the tail end of the conversion - particularly since it means Agravaine beat her to it."

"Fascinating," said Galahad, turning to Gareth. "What exactly is the cultural background for this 'Metamorphosis of Albanactus'?"

When Gareth didn't answer Merlin said, "Actually what I've just told you is as much as we Avalonians, or anyone else, know about it. The Gaels don't discuss it with outworlders much."

"Tell me about it," said Arthur.

With no warning the science station exploded.

Smoke billowed. Large pieces of console shrapnel shot out over the bridge; Arthur got a gash along the side of his head and a bruise on one shoulder. "The Gaels?" he shouted.

"Negative!" Bedivere replied. "Tactical sensors are clear!"

"It's an internal overload - failsafe malfunction, sir!" called a squire at the engineering station. "Engineering is locking it down now!"

Being nearest, Merlin was to Galahad's side first, waving smoke away. To Arthur it looked frighteningly like Lancelot's portentous mock-death in the simulator several days before.

"Oh no," said Merlin. As the smoke cleared Arthur could see what he saw - a piece of console about the size of a serving platter had impaled Galahad through his abdomen and imbedded itself in his chair, neatly slicing him in half. Blood was splattered all over him, his chair, and the exposed interior of the science console; and was still pumping out of him, though each spurt rose lower than the last. He stared sightlessly forward, sprawled in a position impossible were he whole.

"Queen Guenevere to the bridge!" Arthur heard Lucan page. "Medical emergency!"

Merlin was behaving oddly. First he stared into Galahad's unresponsive eyes. As Arthur, Nimue and several knights approached, Merlin took the broccoli from his lapel and held it under Galahad's nose, while laying his other hand on the knight's forehead. No - the sorceror was holding his hand about half an inch away from the knight's forehead.

"It's all right!" he cried, tossing the broccoli aside carelessly and motioning everyone back. "At least I think it is." He grabbed the slab of console and wrenched it out of Galahad and the chair.

Galahad's body seemed to be generating a glow - no, a haze. It was a quantum effect, Arthur realized. He had trouble making out Galahad's features through it. It made the body seem to be shifting.

It was shifting!

Though it was obvious all conscious volition had been banished from Galahad's mind and body, his torso flopped upright - his arms swinging then dangling in their new position, his thorax arranging itself so that the severed edges lined up. Then - though it was difficult to see through the quantum effect - the two edges began knitting together! Arthur could see the natural healing process of the humanoid body operating at thousands or millions of times normal speed.

Then the quantum field faded away. Immediately Galahad's eyes began fluttering open.

"How do you feel?" Merlin asked.

Guenevere arrived, medical scanner in hand, a nurse trainee in her wake. When she aimed her scanner at Galahad, Merlin snatched it away from her. "Hey!"

"I feel well, but ... weak." Galahad's speech stumbled as his eyes took in the amount of red splattered on the workstation in front of him.

"What happened?" Guenevere had confiscated the trainee's scanner and was turning it on the patient.

It was Nimue who answered; the only person here, Arthur later realized, who had ever been through this before as an observer. "He rejuvenated. In the Avalonian way."

Guenevere's eyebrows were climbing at the scanner readings Galahad was giving off. Merlin if anything was more surprised. "Galahad," he said, as if asking a child why there was a lighting fixture lying shattered on the floor, "how do you come by Avalonian DNA?"

Galahad looked at Merlin with model Benwick impassivity and said, "I don't know."

End of Chapter 1

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