Science officer's log, U.R. 129.6: I am preparing to teleport down to the Saxons' planet and initiate training them in the lost principles, and use, of their starcruiser. Assisting me will be Engineer Ector and the visiting time-traveler who calls himself Merlin.
In the teleport room Merlin eyed Ban with what Ban was beginning to consider uncomfortable intensity. "Come come," he said when Ban's log entry was done, in the sharp way some elderly humanoids have, "what's bothering you, young man?"
"It should not surprise you that I am uncertain whether King Uther was wise to agree to this course of action."
"No, it doesn't," Merlin admitted. "You advised him against it during the first contact meeting, while I encouraged him."
"We have not actually determined whether Saxon society is able to handle free interaction with one as advanced as ours."
"Well, there's only one way to find out," said Merlin, waving a hand at the teleport platform. Just then Ector and the teleport technician entered, along with Gorlois, Caradoc, Jordanus, and Merlin's three traveling companions.
"Prince Ban," said Gorlois. "Majesty says General Cerdic invited us to send a party down for a tour of the city. We volunteered."
"Do come along, Master," said Ygraine to Merlin.
"Oh, go along, all of you," said Merlin. "I've work to do."
"Teleport whenever you're ready, sir," the technician said to Ban. Ban sent the tour party down first, since altogether the two parties were more people than the teleport could handle at once. The first party was already leaving the landing point with Cerdic and one of his aides when Ban, Ector and Merlin materialized. To meet them was a short, slightly built Saxon, confirming for Ban what had heretofore been only a hypothesis that there were indeed any such.
"I am Liek," he said. "You have the data?"
Ban hesitated slightly before handing Liek a scanner, which contained the texts Ban and Merlin had thought useful for someone attempting to reverse-engineer interstellar travel technology. But the king had already committed the Excalibur to this course of action and Ban knew it.
Liek snatched the scanner from Ban's hand. Ector gave Ban a disgusted look, presumably over the Saxon's lack of manners, which Ban found ironic. But Liek was paging through the data on the scanner already, apparently having taken the controls in at a glance. This considerably raised Ban's estimate of the Saxons' native intelligence, since the ruling, warrior class did not appear to exercise it excessively.
"This is glorious," Liek said. "With this knowledge I can build a fleet of starcruisers. My family will rise to the Great Families and my name will be remembered forever."
Ban and Merlin exchanged a glance. Even the intellectuals on this planet were fixated on personal glory.
"Come with me," Liek barked cheerily. "I'll show you to the ship."
"... And after defeating his brother in this epic, marathon single combat," concluded Cerdic, "Hengist was proven by victory to be in the right."
The only thing the Saxons admitted to having that was anything like a cultural center or museum, when Helena asked after one, was this place called the Hall of Heroes. It consisted of statues of historical figures, every single one of them delivering the coup de grace in hand-to-hand combat with someone or something. This was the largest statue, the figures three or four times life size, in the center of the exhibit hall; Cerdic and Alfred had led the Excalibur party to it first.
"There was trial-by-combat on Camelot, about a thousand years ago," Caradoc offered.
"No longer?" Alfred asked. "Then how is it decided, when men disagree or are wronged?"
"There's a court system," Helena said. "A judge sits in judgement, and hears arguments. The judge or a jury decides what's fair."
"Even that system's on the decline," said Gorlois, "especially since the abuses of the late second and early third centuries. People are learning to get along better, so they don't have to resort to legal procedures."
"You ony fight with words?" Alfred asked, incredulous. "And you tire even of that?" When the humans nodded he gave Cerdic an another-fine-mess look.
"A warrior should be capable of defending the right," said Cerdic to them, "if he believes in it strongly enough."
"What if he believes, but he's wrong, and it's the weaker chap who's right?" Ygraine asked.
Cerdic shrugged. "If the weaker is that right, there'll be someone else bigger and stronger who shares his opinion and will avenge him."
Liek led Ban's party .26 miles through city streets Ban characterized to himself as "squalid"; to what looked like a factory building. Inside they found a great many workers, a great deal of manufacturing equipment, and the starcruiser in question, which turned out to be of a size Ban would have classed as a scout.
Liek brandished the scanner. "Can you make this link with my computer?"
"I doubt the necessary interface -" Ban began.
"Of course I can," Merlin interrupted. "You two go on, inspect the ship," he said to the Excalibur knights, glaring at Ban; entirely inappropriately. Ban had not been (as Merlin obviously suspected) attempting to obstruct their purpose here, in contradiction of the king's instructions; he was genuinely skeptical that the data transfer could be accomplished. He and Ector began to appraise the ship.
"This is Klothon," said Cerdic, "portrayed at the moment he founded his dynasty."
"Some founding," Gorlois snorted, "stabbing the other guy in the back."
"Klothon is the one meeting his death!" Alfred roared. Helena flinched, and she wasn't the only only one from the Excalibur party who did.
"Zultonol wished to be Emperor," Cerdic explained, indicating the knife wielder, "but Klothon tricked him into exposing his true dishonorable nature. His own followers executed him on the spot and swore allegiance to Klothon's lieutenant, who ruled as Klothon II. The family is still among the Great Families." Cerdic positively glowed. Klothon must have been one of his personal heroes.
Helena felt she was beginning to get a glimpse into how these people saw life. But then she looked at the rest of the party. Ygraine was fascinated; but Gorlois looked bored, and Demetrius and the other Excalibur crewmembers were seeing only the glorification of battle.
"Oohoo!" hooted Merlin cheerfully as he rejoined Ban and Ector at the ship's side, near an entrance hatch. "I told you it could be done. It was tricky, even for me -"
"You succeeded?" Ban was taken aback, even preoccupied as he was with what he and Ector had observed while Merlin was elsewhere.
"The data is being secured on the planetary network from Liek's computer even as we speak," said Merlin pridefully.
"That's not good," Ector said to Ban.
"What? Why not?" Merlin belatedly noticed the serious expressions on their faces. "What are you talking about?"
"We believe the Saxons have been practicing a deception on us," Ban said.
"Look at this ship," said Ector. "Now look at the equipment they're using to try to make it operational. What do you notice?"
"Yes," said Merlin, seeing it instantly. "Their tools and materials are much less advanced. Post-industrial, pre-atomic at most."
"The Saxons did not build this spaceship," Ban stated unequivocally.
"Scorching from a laser ray," said Ector, pointing to blemishes in the ship's hull. "Oh, lasers they have, the nasties. More scorches inside. They took this ship from whoever landed it here."
"Any idea who that may be?" Merlin asked, peering inside.
"Humanoids," said Ban, pointing through the hatch at the crash couches. "No armor or armaments. Some scientific equipment. A great deal of fuel. They were long-range explorers."
"The supralight radio has been used recently," Ector added. "The call that brought the Excalibur here."
"We must find our friends and leave," said Merlin.
"There is one last thing I wish to show you," said Cerdic.
They were back in the government building. Cerdic and Alfred ushered them into a particular doorway. Helena noticed that this room was accoutred the opposite from the conference room. It had furniture - a few couches suitable only for Spartans to sit or sleep on - and no weapons on the walls.
"This," said Cerdic from the doorway, "is one of the rooms where I keep the hostages against my allies' good behavior." He and Alfred shut the doors on the Excalibur party, and there was the click of a latch.
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