Excalibur log, A.R. 85.1: This is the sorceress Morgan le Fey recording. I have assumed command of this primitive space cruiser, through mind control of its first knight and of much of its simple British crew, which are nonetheless sufficient for my ... immediate ... purposes. This log shall be the historical record of the first step on my path to universal dominion.
Nimue awoke much refreshed, though Queen Guenevere's office chronometer showed she'd only slept four hours. In her months working with Merlin, she'd learned to make the most of the sleep she could get. She stretched, rubbed her eyes clear, and went out the automatic sliding doors; wondering if Guenevere and Elaine would still be there or if the watch had changed, and where Merlin was.
There was no one in the ward at all.
Nimue knew military procedures - traveling time with Merlin chasing Morgan, one tended to associate with armed forces everywhere. She knew for the medical station to be wholly unmanned on a service vessel such as this starcruiser meant something was terribly wrong. She was pretty certain she knew what it was, too. And where Merlin could be found.
"How could you be so stupid?" bellowed Merlin.
"Whose idea was the damn chess game?" Nose to nose with Merlin in Morgan's former cell in the brig, Arthur gave as good as he got.
"Well pardon me for assuming you were competent!"
"You said the Avalonians sent you. You knew we weren't familiar with Morgan's capabilities. And the first thing you do when you get here is distract me while she suborns my first knight -" Actually, Morgan's comments had been that Morgan had started her telepathic assault on Lancelot's mind while the Excalibur knights were extraditing her from Corbin, and merely finished the job just afer Merlin arrived. "- and steals my ship! 'Stupid'? If what you've done isn't stupid, you must be secretly working for her!!"
For an instant the look in Merlin's eyes made Arthur fear he'd gone too far. The man looked elderly, but Arthur of all people knew he was much more active than appearances suggested possible. Arthur wouldn't relish having to defend himself against Merlin in such close quarters. But before the situation could deteriorate further, an angry voice cut between them from outside the cell.
"You sound like a couple of schoolboys!" Arthur and Merlin turned to see Nimue standing over Pinel's unconscious body. She was removing and examining Pinel's energy blade, not without appropriate caution. "Can this disrupt the security field?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "but only at a setting that'd set off alarms." He tapped inside the doorframe at the level of the forcefield controls on the outside of the frame. "The code is 6-7-6-8-9."
Nimue stepped to the control and keyed it. "Nothing happened. Perhaps they changed it."
"I'd rather get out of here without alerting anyone."
"Nimue," said Merlin, "my personal effects are in the desk drawer. Get the wavicle torch."
"Right." Nimue was back with it in seconds. Merlin gave her a moment's instruction in progressing through its settings and she went to work on the forcefield control, leaving the room in a not exactly comfortable silence.
"I apologize if what I said was out of line, Merlin," said Arthur.
Merlin failed to take the apology graciously. "Implying that I'd work with Morgan. Not even 'with'! You said 'for'!"
"It wouldn't be the first time," said Nimue drily.
"That was a ploy to get the lotus-eaters off Djerba!"
"And yourself escaped from Greece, but that didn't work." That seemed to be what bothered Nimue most about whatever events they were discussing.
Arthur was fascinated by the byplay but had other concerns. "We need a plan. We know Morgan doesn't control all the crew. How many will she have?"
"Enough to run the ship, and a few more," said Merlin. "Perhaps many more. She won't want to overextend herself, but she always does somehow. Herself or her underlings."
"The bridge duty shift," thought Arthur aloud. "A full engineering crew. We've seen she has some security men. And she has Lancelot's advice on the matter." That still twinged.
"If she listens."
"... There'll be three hundred plus crew locked up somewhere."
"Queen Guenevere and Nurse Elaine among them," said Nimue, still working. "If Morgan did control them, they'd've given me away when the people in the ward were gathered up."
"Probably all locked up together, the better to be kept track of," Arthur continued. "That means the boat dock, only place on the ship big enough to hold three hundred people. Free them and we can take the ship back.
"Now for the big question - what does Morgan want with the Excalibur?"
"The same thing she always wants, Sire," said Merlin. "To try to take over the universe!"
"Hail from HMS Chivalry," announced Bedivere.
"Position?" Morgan sat complacently in the Excalibur command chair, legs crossed at the knees, fingers laced in her lap.
"Just within sensor range and closing," reported Tristram.
"Visual," murmured Morgan. Promptly on the main screen appeared a sister St. George-class starcruiser. "Status?"
"Normal," said Lancelot, "as befits a vessel patrolling this far inside British space, forewarned of our appearance on course to Camelot."
Morgan allowed herself a smile. The Excalibur had already been on its way to Camelot, to deliver her to British security. Now the ship would serve her purposes there. "Answer the call."
Dame Caradoc commanding the Chivalry appeared on the main screen. "Sir Lancelot, is it? Where's the king?"
"With the prisoner, ma'am," said Lancelot.
Round Table knights really don't lie, thought Morgan.
Caradoc chuckled. "I don't envy the Excalibur this duty. I've read the captain's-eyes file on this Merlin, of course. Wouldn't want him mad at me, and he's the good guy. Well, I guess you boys showed this new Avalonian what the Round Table's about. You've written most of that file, haven't you?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Lancelot. "In fact, we have an update for that file prepared for transmission."
Caradoc looked over her shoulder - her communications knight was partially visible, unfocussed behind her. "Standing by to receive your transmission," she said when she turned back.
Lancelot flipped one switch on his console. "Transmission commencing."
"Acknowledged. Anything in there about this Morgan that you can say on an open channel?"
"My lady!" someone on Chivalry called. Caradoc turned away from the pickup again, toward her science knight offscreen. The communications knight was working his board frantically. Someone in an engineering coverall ran toward the science station across the background before Caradoc turned back and demanded, "Excalibur, what are you doing?" Then the transmission cut out, leaving the visual of the Chivalry.
"We have total control of HMS Chivalry's ship's computer," read Lancelot from his station. "The Chivalry's crew are locked out."
"Excellent!" Morgan stood, adjusting the belt around her tunic. Various factors that wouldn't be apparent to anyone else were making her reconsider whether the belt had been a good idea, but she'd stick with it for a while at least. "Engines of both ships at stationkeeping within shuttle range. I shall accompany the boarding party and convert the officers, the engineers and the guards to my cause. See that the remainder of the crew is herded into detention in the shuttle bay." She paused on her way to the elevator. "How many the Round Table vessels do we anticipate encountering at Camelot?"
"On the close order of forty," said Lancelot. "Extrapolating from data gathered during the taking of Chivalry, I estimate it will take my algorithms eighty point seven three seconds to wrest computer control from planetary defenses and all the Round Table ships with defensive capability above the threshhold we discussed."
"That's too long," said Morgan. "Some will react before they're taken."
"That is factored into my estimate, as is the fact that as the operation proceeds we shall have more and more control of other weapons systems than the Excalibur's to array against the remainder. I project a 14% casualty rate."
"Is that all? Quite acceptable. Carry on."
"Yes, Mistress," said Lancelot.
Morgan nodded and left the bridge. Had she known Benwicks better, or Lancelot, she might have noticed a twitch in the first knight's face as he spoke. But Morgan was accustomed to more demonstrative humanoids and thought nothing of anything she might have seen.
"I don't understand," said Arthur. "What does she want with the universe?"
"What do you want with a kingdom?" retorted Merlin.
"I'm not sure I care for your implication, Merlin," said Arthur, with more bite than he'd intended.
"Be fair, Merlin," Nimue said in a warning tone. Arthur hadn't yet heard her speak to him like that, and from Merlin's expression maybe he hadn't either.
In any case Merlin continued in a more civil tone. "Well, perhaps the analogy only goes so far. But Morgan seems to genuinely believe that the universe would be better off united under a single ruler. No divisiveness, no conflict... She also seems to genuinely believe she's the best person for the job."
"She must," said Arthur, with high irony. "She thinks she's better than you."
Merlin's mood must have been improving - he took the return shot with a grin. "Actually she offered me half a dual imperium, when last we met."
"You didn't tell me that," Nimue said, looking up from her lockpicking.
"Terrible job, Emperor. All that paperwork. But the offer shows there's a sincere belief somewhere behind her actions, however twisted the rationale connecting them."
"And that she still has a soft spot for you, from when she was your apprentice," added Nimue.
"A united universe," snorted Arthur. "After she's razed half of it and made sycophants or enemies out of the rest. Not damned likely. Maybe if she went about it the conventional way - got everyone to join her by persuasion rather than coercion ..."
"What," Nimue said, "stump for War Duke of the universe?"
"Something like that," said Arthur, smiling back. "She's got an Avalonian's life expectancy - that ought to be long enough to drum up the votes and still have time left to serve a good many years."
"She hasn't got the patience," said Merlin. "She did try something like that once. When she first left Avalon, she went to Annwfn."
Arthur whistled. "Not bad." To his knowledge, every other native of this dimension attempting to travel to the Fairies' dimension had found it impossible.
"On Avalon," said Nimue, "we now call her Morgan le Fey."
"But not just for going there," elucidated Merlin. "She worked her way into their counsels and pretty soon she was running the place. Of course that was all just the first part of her plan. But then she discovered her tragic flaw - or I did. I don't think she perceives it as a flaw. If at all."
"Which is?" Nimue asked.
"Which is that she enjoys having power, for itself, too much. Before they were ready she threw herself and the fairies into the next stage of her plan - an invasion of Avalon."
Arthur whistled again.
"It failed, but not before she'd literally decimated both her forces and the population of Avalon. Ever since, she's been devising one get-power-quick scheme after another, with no more regard for others' lives than the first time."
"And this is the woman," Arthur said, "who has stolen my ship."
to Chapter 3
Back to King Arthur of Time and Space index.
Back to Paul's index