Ship's log, supplemental: Straight and True has returned to the Sherwood Station here in Evilspace, and with cloaking device engaged awaits the Alliance fleet which Morgan intends to use to invade the United Kingdoms. I hope Nimue has pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
"You are the Arthur?" said Dierdre. "From the other side?"
"Other side." Arthur turned to Nimue. "This is Evilspace." He's quick, Little Joan thought.
Nimue nodded. "On your plane, this woman is a queen and a starcruiser captain." Later, too late to ask for elucidation, Little Joan would realize she'd spoken in present tense.
Arthur nodded and turned back to Dierdre. "What's the situation?"
"My Saxon-Nottingham Alliance is invading your United Kingdoms," said Dierdre. "The British resistance might be able to stop it before it starts, if they know you're with us."
"How can we get the word out?" said Arthur. Little Joan saw Nimue watching Arthur with the expression she sometimes gave Robin during a crisis when she thought no one was looking, as if she was listening to a music concert performed by a maestro.
"Getting the word out is our specialty," said Dierdre. "But there's only a day and a half to do it."
"Thirty eight point one five hours," said Illan.
Arthur turned a grin on him. "I've missed that."
"Interesting that you should say so," said Illan. "At the moment -"
Dierdre raised her hand sharply, silencing him. Little Joan had been wrong to think she never smiled. It was a wolfish thing, but there was a genuine if dangerous amusement in it. "I think it's our turn for a surprise." As she spoke there was a tone from a comm on her belt.
"He's here," said Fergus.
"Who's here?" asked Pelleas.
"It's an interesting coincidence," said Dierdre to Little Joan, "that Earl Robin finished his imposture of Captain Robin by claiming to depart for the Roman Republic. Since the Empire fell, there's been an advocate of the oppressed peoples pleading to the Roman Senate constantly. That's who we came here originally to meet." A boat of Roman design dropped out of the sky, landing across from the CAVE at a point so that the four vehicles marked off a perfect square, Dierdre's party standing in the geometric center. Dierdre looked up and included Little Joan and the time-travelers in her invitation, "Stick around."
"Sir," said Allan-A-Dale to Robin, "I suppose it wouldn't be any good suggesting we send through the wormhole for help."
"None," agreed Robin. "Bringing a single ship over on Nimue's word - even if it is Straight and True - is one thing. Any more ships, and it's the United Kingdoms who're invading the Alliance. And that's just not how the United Kingdoms do business."
"I had thought your objection would be that there was no time for anyone to get here," Allan-A-Dale said. "But you're right, of course."
There was a moment's silence on the bridge of Straight and True.
"Or," said Tuck thoughtfully, "I suppose, Robin, you could have said that there was no one to be spared, with the deteriorating Saxon situation."
"Or," Will Scarlett opined, "that there were no other Crown engineers crazy enough to vandalize their ships like I did."
"Or," said Allan-A-Dale, "that the Crown doesn't need to encourage sympathy for rebels who hide out in the Boglands."
"Or," growled Marion, "that the dragon ate their homework."
There were chuckles on the bridge. Some of the tension was dissipated.
"Robin ..." said Marion suddenly.
"Not yet, surely," said Will Scarlett.
"No, no," said Marion. She sounded confused, or as confused as she ever allowed herself to sound. "It's a wide-beam broadcast."
"More Alliance fleet movements?" Robin asked.
"No, it's not an Alliance frequency. It's a public frequency."
"Those aren't used here," said Allan-A-Dale.
"Origin's untraceable," said Marion. "Whoever did this is a genius with the circuitry. ... It's just a wide-teleport boosted-range prerecorded transmission in clear, that looped twice - so no one could miss it, I suppose."
"Let's see it," Robin rumbled. "On screen."
It lasted less than ten seconds, and left the bridge decked in an entirely different flavor of tension.
"If I was in the resistance," said Allan-A-Dale, "I couldn't resist."
At the rebel base in the Boglands, Red Scarlett watched the signal once. He watched it again. He stared at the screen for five minutes, and then watched it a third time.
When Allan-A-Dale and Tuck came in he said, "I found out where Illan went."
"Captured?" asked Tuck.
"Better be good, then!" said Allan-A-Dale.
"Pretty good," said Red.
"Sherriff!" the intercom barked. "To Ops! Now!!"
Little Joan popped out of bed at Morgan's voice, too frightened for even a thought at the irony of being awakened on her account twice in twenty-four hours. She was out the door and leading her Saxon escort down the corridor before she realized Lohengrin had vanished since she'd drifted off.
When she arrived at Ops Morgan was standing at room center positively incensed. Little Joan had thought Farmer was scared of her this morning - all the Nottinghams on duty now as well as all the Saxon sentries looked in fear for their lives, as of an approaching natural disaster.
Before the elevator was even level with the deck Morgan pointed at her and shouted, "You allowed the rebel to get away with the fleet orders!"
Little Joan tried not to tremble and to match her tone. "You said there was nothing Red could do even if he knew what they meant!"
Morgan shook her fist at her in frustration. Dimly Little Joan realized that were it truly herself the sorceress was angry with, she already would be in irons or worse. Not that that meant she was safe. "See what your sloppiness has brought about!" Morgan signaled abruptly at the tactical station. The Nottingham on duty responded smartly without any apparent jitters despite the expression on his face.
A prerecorded message appeared on the screen. The first thing Little Joan noticed was her counterpart from the other side. Standing with her were the two space tramps who had helped Red escape the station yesterday - the blonde bimbo seemed to be the real object of Morgan's anger. No, her hatred. With them were three more rebels, Ulstermen from their silly ethnic costumery.
All these people, however, were standing in the background. Two other figures dominated the screen, one a middle-aged but vigorous-looking Briton whom Little Joan didn't recognize. But the other -
The other was the former Commander-in-Chief of the fallen Empire, in exile on Rome all these years. The other was Lancelot.
"Arthur is back," said Lancelot. "Meet us at Sherwood Station." Then the screen went blank.
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