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4 Le Morte D’ X-2914000?

A strange mood swept through the forgotten and forsaken colony. Every off-Earth base had been kept on a tight rein by Dr. Chillingsworth, with only so much fuel until the next shipment that he himself authorized.

He could not sanction any autonomy in a single atom of his far-flung empire, no matter how far from Earth it was.

No, everyone had to be absolutely dependent on him for life and their very next breath! With loss of contact with XARCON-HQ and Earth, using up the stock of fuel they had left on the abortive voyage to Earth and the extra time spent waiting for a ship that never would come, Camelot was rapidly turning to Avalon.

Yet, in such dire straits, Camelot flowered! It burst into spectacular, riotous bloom like a vari-colored Carnival rose! Music, arts, crafts of all kinds, games, sports, theater, sculpture, literature, ballet, architecture--the last days produced such a Renaissance that the last six centuries on Earth could not boast. All in a tiny spot of physically captive but spiritually free humanity. Martial law was revoked, for there was no need of it.

Taking responsibility for the quality of their lives, what lives remained, the Camelotians made the most of the time. Residents were treated, even in the starkly utilitarian communal cafeterias, with sculptures, flower arrangements, and even jazz and dancing ensembles!

As for the king, not to be outdone, he tried his hand at gardening after a stock of tobacco seeds were discovered, planted, and began producing some vigorous specimens. It took some effort, however, to convince the queen that his Bonnie Prince Charlie might not cross-pollinate with her Lady of the Lake orchids.

Fortunately, the base archives were not affected by the Earth-shutdown. There was no longer any updates of encyclopedias and other resource materials for the base library, but they already had plenty reference materials on hand.

The Encyclopedia Universal contained human knowledge up to the present year, and except for huge files of government propaganda shamelessly extolling Dr. Chillingsworth and his achievements, all of use for restoring what had been lost during his reign of terror and darkness.

The Renaissance proceeded unabated. King Arthur was astonished. Even the panther, Wotoo, had changed his spots. He was reading the annals of Nennius, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Mallory and others and always coming to the king with print-offs, saying, “Your Majesty, look at this!” and “Pardon me, Your Majesty, you really should see this!” And the ex-commandment, now assistant butler, was a man who had never cracked anything but base regulations manuals!

Worship in the tiny base chapel flourished. The chaplain had to add service after service. The synagogue that also met there experienced the same phenomenon. Families showed up that had been famous for dysfunction, and now they were neatly dressed, the children’s hair washed and combed, everyone wearing their best and cleanest uniforms. The chaplain, rabbi, and priest were besides themselves, caught in the midst of what had to be a tremendous revival of faith.

“Where is the paralyzing fear you would naturally expect in a major crisis?” the king pondered out-loud, and his wife smiled. “Where are the fights among the adults and the vandalism of the youth? Where the neglected families, the adultery, promiscuity, wife-swappings, abusive relationships, and--”

“Love drives out fear and all its odious children,” the queen replied knowingly. “They can’t possibly co-exist in the same being. Isn’t that what St. Paul taught?”

The king sighed. The queen was always right in such matters. He himself was not a particularly religious man, though he gave the traditional Christian Faith he defended (it was one of his Crown titles, “Defender of the Faith”), all due veneration and honor.

But something was stirring in his breast as well, and he didn’t know what it was. He caught himself staring into the Great Void Screen (a particular monitor that showed the planet-less spaces of beyond Charon and the Heliosphere), and thinking that even the abysses of the Void were throbingly saturated with Divine Purpose. But what is it? What is the Purpose? The prospect of so much Purpose made the royal head ache! To cool his brain he went to look at a new project--men with a taste for architecture and the imagination were transforming the ferro-celluloid hideousness of the base living quarters into a realm of rare beauty and delight. The power of Dr. Chillingsworth’s murderous, strangling hand was broken! Genius and grace and beauty cascaded out from everybody, adult and child, and all were busy contributing to the re-building of the base.

Since the ubiquitous ferro-celluloid panels--the stuff of any toroid satellite’s interior--could be configured in any way they wanted, sculptured, and painted, there was no limit to what they could achieve. Two spokes in the wheel had not never been occupied, since they were still awaiting shipments of “undesirables” from Dr. Chillingsworth--more exiles he would ship once he had captured them from the ranks of the Ibsenites. These spokes were filled with detention cells, torture rooms, and interrogation chambers, which the men gladly dismantled and re-configured.

Adding poignancy to the king’s visit was his parting conversation with his wife.

“What exactly will happen to us, Art, when the reactors spend the last of the recycled pellets?”

“You really don’t want to know that, dear. It is best not to think about it.”

“No, I do want to know. If I don’t know something, I shall fret about it and become difficult to live with.”

“All right, then. We shall freeze solid, wherever we happen to be, in a matter of a few nasty seconds. We shall scarcely feel anything after the first second or two, it will happen so quickly.”

Queen Astrid had been silent for a few moments while she seemed to be pondering their fate. Then she turned to him with a bright smile that said things were going to be all right--better than ever, in fact.

“But, Art, we will have fulfilled our dream!”

“What dream?” he said, astonished.

“Why, silly boy, the one we’re building here, the one we women and the children came back to share. It is a noble and glorious one--this new Camelot of King Arthur and his queen, and let it be our cenotaph! We have to die sometime--why not here, this way? It will not be a bad death then, not the ignoble death our enemy had planned for us.”

The king frowned. She always was, despite her practical, wifely senses, a shameless romantic at heart. Shaking his head, he had hurried away to his tour of the new construction, stopping first in the farm sector to see how his tobacco plants were doing.

The king was leaving the agricultural zone when he met Wotoo at the decon-lock. As the king stepped out of his farm suit, and changed into his ordinary clothes, he glanced at his assistant-butler, who was quietly waiting, his size and shape bringing to mind as usual the impression of a very large-shelled bomb about to explode in his royal presence.

Sir Harlow Jones-Treffytt, Viscount and Keeper of the Royal Wardrobe who accompanied the king, took the decon-suit and put it in the proper receptacle, helped the king exchange his booties for his shoewear, and then the king was ready.

“Now then, what is it, Wotoo?”

The sub-butler approached and bowed after a robo-forklift, carrying a date palm, passed.

“I have a request to make of you, Your Majesty.”


“I wish to be given permission to work on the new projects.”

The king’s eyebrows raised. So this was the "explosion"? Yet he couldn't tell at the moment if it were indeed the man's full detonation or a part, with the rest to follow. With that in mind, it was best to proceed with traditional Guelf prudence and probity.

“I cannot take responsibility for your well-being, then. You know that, don’t you?”

Wotoo, nodding, appeared to take the king’s meaning.

The king started toward the new projects, then paused. He was impressed by the new Wotoo, and knew he could not take the whole credit.

Since the man had lost all power, a transformation had taken place. Dutiful and respectful at work, efficient but also considerate, he had gained Hebblethwaite’s hard-earned approval. Furthermore, he had legalized his domestic relationship, he and Cathy engaging in counseling by the chaplain and then marrying in the chapel, with their children as flower girl and ring-bearer.

A man who had changed this much and taken so much responsibility for improvement was not lightly dismissed to a certain doom.

“Why are you putting yourself at risk? Your former enemies, and I believe you made many here, will find you fair game without my protective umbrella. Have you thought about Cathy and your two children, Deidre and Colin? What about their wishes in the matter? I see them almost every day playing with my grandchildren, and they seem very happy and contented in my household. As I said, your safety is a grave concern, if you do as you are demanding.”

Wotoo’s sleek, dark-brown features seemed to flush, giving him an eggplant’s color. “I have thought about them, and I refuse any longer to live in fear. Cathy agrees with me. It is better to face my enemies, than hide. I thank you, Your Majesty, for all you’ve done for us, but--”

“You need not say more since your wife is in agreement. I think I understand. You may transfer to any work crew you wish, so long as your position does not exceed that of the common laborer. I doubt they will let you come back as a superior. Just notify the DC, who will certify it for pay purposes. It is up to you to find a crew that will take you on. I refuse to force them, for that would make trouble we do not need in this station.”

Mentally shaking his head and sighing over the imminent demise of poor Wotoo, the king signed an authorizing note for the DC, handed it to Wotoo, then went to the first project, and the supervisor in charge saw him coming, gave him a white hard hat, and showed him around.

“The Forest of Celidon” was coming along nicely. There was no way or means to create an English woods, so a tropical version had to do. Featuring a two-hundred foot waterfall, and twelve other waterfalls, a swaying rope bridge, dark caves, fish ponds, and various jungle habitats, the Jungle was made possible by taking banana trees, coconut trees, breadfruit trees, and other tropicals from the agricultural zone and transplanting them.

Herbs, given space, could be used to provide much ground cover, and various flowering vines were trained to grow up the supporting columns of the torus zone. Twenty acres were planned, complete with robotics to simulate animals you would expect to find there, but since they needed more vegetation they had to confine the Forest to 1.5 acres.

Artificial rock and tree formations were being constructed in the expanded section as the king took his walk through. As soon as plants became the needed sizes, this area would be added.

Since all the water for the moats, tunnels, and waterfalls was recycled--750,000 gallons every hour--the jungle was using a great deal of the reserve water supply and also precious fuel, but the king said nothing about extravagance and nodded in approval at all he saw. Work crews, seeing him, removed their hats, quieted, and then began to cheer as he passed through.

The chief waterfall high overhead caught his attention. Water began to stream the moment the supervisor threw a switch. Then a thundering roar filled their ears, and mist began to spread out over the half-finished rain forest. Within moments a bow of green, yellow, red, green, and a rich, grape-like purple began to arch and shine.

Not sure he was seeing correctly, the king stared and blinked several times, wondering if he were seeing things. It did not go away, so he felt like he should comment upon the phenomenon. “My word, was this in the design specifications? I know I looked them over, and don’t seem to recall any--”

The supervisor shook his head. “Your Majesty, it took us all by surprise. The first trial run, it happened, and some of the men, why they started crying like babies. You should have seen it, sire! Cryin’ like babies!”

Normally silver-tongued, the king was at a loss for the proper words, and could only echo, “Imagine that! Imagine that! Grown men--!”

Before he scuttled the remainder of his royal composure, the king moved on quickly to the next new project--the Erie Canal--only it wasn’t called that. To fit it in to Arthur’s kingdom of Gwynedd and Powys, it was given the name, “Badbury Ring,” for not only was the architecture Roman and Celtic but the canal circled round an isle called Avalon.

Water, during the hours when “Forest of Celidon” was not open to the public, was diverted to the canal. Telescoped in length, it was, nevertheless, the same in other respects, with locks, canalside cities and villages re-created, and canal barges all built to regular designs as they had been in the 19th and early 20th centuries, only the names were those King Arthur I would have recognized, such as Badbury, Viroconium, Caerleon, Glastonbury (the only exception), Camlann, Bassas, Guinion, Tribruit, Agned, Bath, Tintagel, and Londinium--Arthur-era names for the Erie Canal’s Albany, Troy, Rexford, Amsterdam, Fonda, Little Falls, Utica, Rome, Rochester, Medina, Lockport, and Buffalo, the terminus. Though only a few blocks deep on either side, the 5th century cities, towns, and villages were marvelously done, fooling the king’s eye until he put his face close up to the buildings and saw ferro-cellulose in tiny cracks the paint had missed.

The crew, stopping touch-up work, favored the king with a barbershop quartet’s singing of Lerner and Lowe’s “How to Handle a Woman. ” With no ear for music, the king endured the honor, and thanked them for the excellent work they had done for the enjoyment of all. The men cheered, waving their hard hats. It was a warm moment for the king, as he considered how the queen would have frowned at this display of royal deceit.

“Might we give Your Majesty the first trip through the complete works?” the supervisor asked eagerly. “We’ll show you exactly how the locks work, and we can take the quartet along too, since you liked their singing so well. They can also throw in a bit of bagpipin’!”

Though water was pouring back into the system from “Celidon,” the now desperate king said he looked forward excessively to it, but would take the scheduled cruise by barge later when the queen accompanied him, and he continued as fast as royal dignity allowed to the next project. As for bagpipes, he always begged off as often as he dared whenever the royal Black Watch bagpipers, exiled with him by order of the malevolent Chillingsworth, were scheduled to play.

The king felt somewhat shocked as he stepped through airlocks and entered the “The Rose of Guinevere,” which was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Camelot theme park projects.

This was almost complete, with the finishing touches being laid on the painting as he walked into the “The Rose Performing Arts Center.” The king saw that rumors were true, the work crews were not indulging their own desires but were doing everything they could think to make families happier. And they were doing wonderful work. A terran construction firm’s files going back to the 1880s had been accessed in the colony’s database, and so the project supervisor and the men found everything they needed in the way of detailed plans from the extensive remodeling done in the 1990s.

As the supervisor explained, dedicated March 26, 1927 on the corner of 20th and Farnam streets in Omaha, Nebraska, the theater served as a showplace for movies, concerts, and entertainers until the Fifties. Reopened in ANNO 1960 for the Omaha Packer’s professional bowling team, it then passed to the Dubinsky Brothers theater chain, which then put in an Astro screen and ran it until ANNO 1980, when the theater closed again. About to become a parking lot, in 1993 a foundation donated it to Omaha’s young people aspiring to careers on the stage. In ANNO 1994 complete restoration began after a grant of millions was received from a Nevada-based foundation.

Arthur gazed at the John Eberson-designed palace decorated with Classical, Italian, Baroque, Manchu Chinese, and Moorish architecture. The light green and the gold used throughout tied the styles together, and there was a 65 ft-high blue ceiling with electric stars and moving clouds, but it was the stage that held is attention. Beneath a banner, “Merry Christmas from Lyonnesse,” with snow-crowned buildings on either side, a series of three, cloud-flanked golden doors led beneath an almost transparent clock into--what?

“This is the original Christmas set of “Merry Christmas from Bedford Falls,” the supervisor said, explaining why the backdrop of the city did not look more like King Arthur’s Camelot. “In fact, our young people are going to present the pageant. We recovered the full text after considerable searching, and though it doesn’t exactly fit the Camelot theme, we decided it had sufficient merit to present it with a few changes such as the title and--”

The king’s thoughts whirled. “Christmas? It was July. Christmas in Camelot when they were all about to freeze to death in an instant? It was one thing to build for distraction for the moment, another thing to build as if you had a future and expected life to go on and on. Had the men and their families under his authority gone mad? “

General Heathbridge thought so too, advising him to reconsider how badly they needed to start conserving energy if they were to survive a few months longer.

“Nonsense!” the queen interrupted, when he had been conferring with the general. “Why stretch out the noose, when it will tighten in the end anyway and take us all off? We might as well go in full bloom rather than as wretched, whimpering remnants of what we were!”

Neither the king nor his counselor had anything to say, and she carried the point. Arthur II sent the general’s advice into the waste basket, yet now, with fuel stocks declining alarmingly fast, he wondered if he himself were mad to listen to his wife, letting the people indulge such wild fancies as the Celidon Rain Forest and now this Christmas festival at “The Rose of Guinevere” theater. At the present rate of consumption, the Big Freeze would not come in a matter of weeks, it might even be days!

Excusing himself, the king hurried back to his own apartments to think the matter over. Queen Astrid, knowing his rather bearish temper surfaced when he became troubled over something, stayed clear and let him think, keeping the children out of his private library, for which he was thankful.

But the pressure of the world could not be shut out indefinitely. He wasn’t there an hour, with no clear resolution in mind to make sense of what he had seen, when his wife knocked.

“Art, dear, someone here must speak with you a moment. Can you see him?”

The king reluctantly opened the door, and it was Owens.

The DC’s face showed the king that the man was badly in need of sitting down, or he might collapse where he stood trying to bow.

The king brought him a chair, and Owens sank down immediately, while the queen excused herself and went out to look after some newly arrived grandchildren in the family room.

The king also fetched a stiff brandy, and the DC accepted that just as gratefully. When he seemed to have recovered his stuffing, Owens began to sputter. “Your--your--Majesty!”


“J.L.! He’s gone daft! Really daft! He went and asked for a job down on the Camelot projects, and--”

The DC wiped his face with his sleeve, and the king handed him his own handkerchief, which he took but did not seem to notice as he went on. “He’s really changed, old Wotoo. I hardly know the man anymore. He used to be a monster, scaring everyone half to death--but at least then we knew what to expect from him. Now he’s so meek he would hurt a roach! Well, I caught him on a monitor and ran down there knowing there would be trouble when they found out he wasn’t armed, expecting to find him with already shoved out a garbage shute. But, no, there he was, praying! I can’t believe it, he was praying, laying hands on one fellow and then another, praying for them! And they were all just standing around, letting it happen! It was the most--most--”

Owens tried to rise, his eyes glancing toward the door. “I should go and lie down, Your Majesty. My head--”

The king, at that moment, knew just how he felt. “You might check at the infirmary,” he added, “in case you feel you need something stronger than what I gave you.”

Failing to bow or move backwards, Owens showed himself out, the Queen opening the door for him, her eyes widening. Turning back, her face was cross.

“Now Art, what did you say to him, to make the poor fellow turn so pale!”

The king shook his head, his hands out. “Nothing, dear! He was just rambling on about Wotoo being so changed, when he said he wasn’t feeling well and needed to go. So I let him go!”

The queen looked at him doubtfully, seemed about to say something, then caught herself, and hurried back to her grandchildren.

The king was left to ponder Owens’s remarks. At a time like this, how he needed some Bonnie Prince Charlie to soothe his nerves! He went to the wet bar and poured a double brandy, which he knew his wife would disapprove, since she hated his taking anything stronger than port after dinner.

Risking the queen’s displeasure, he took it anyway, and then sat down, letting it do its work, and was feeling better when a most disturbing thought came to mind unexpectedly.

Putting on his robe, for the evening was getting on, he went to the CO command center. Finding it unattended, he went in. With no need to receive transmissions from XARCON, the center was almost useless, except that the DC used it occasionally to monitor progress down at the projects and in the various departments.

The king sat down, and instead of using voice commands which might carry through the thin walls, he began keyboarding.

Fifteen minutes later he was finished, and with the print-off to study later in privacy, he hurried back to his quarters, hoping his wife hadn’t noticed him gone.

Unfortunately, she met him at the door with an all-knowing look. She clucked her tongue. “Naughty boy, you’ve been tippling, Art--shame on you! Just like a Windsor! And what are you up now? Don’t lie and weasel out--I will tell you. Just give me a moment.”

The king went on into the library, and reaching his desk spread out the plans he had concocted.

The queen came up and with a glance took them in. She shrugged. “Well, it’s about time you decided. I was beginning to wonder if I had to do all the Crown’s work myself and see to the grandchildren too!”

Arthur II looked at her with amazement when she went to her secretary, took out a document, and put it next to his.

Their plans neatly compared, except for differences in detail.

“I did mine a week ago,” she informed him, smiling. “You see, I was thinking, ‘Why should we just sit here waiting to freeze solid, when we might move this place to a warmer spot possibly.”

The king looked as if he had suffered a stroke or a lightning bolt--he tottered momentarily on his feet, then gasped out, “But the propulsion system, dear? How on earth did you come up with my idea, when you never had my training? And I’ve never seen you open a single book I have on the subject!”

“Chillingsworth sent just the right technicians here we would need, without a clue how they would ultimately be used! Heathbridge proved the best of the lot! I had to dig it out of him, since he is so against using the fuel on a gamble like this, but--well, I succeeded, when I promised he would get the Order of the Garter when this was all over. Be sure and give it to him, dear, and not forget! He’s earned it. I know a workable idea when I hear one--that’s all, dear!”

“But you were all for using the fuel on the projects. Now you’ve switched rails completely! What are you going to use for fuel now that we’re at our last gasp?” The king struck his forehead. “And I’ve been an utter fool! A spendthrift! At the rate we’ve been throwing our fuel away on theme parks and other amusements, we won’t have two days allotment left to divert to our starship.”

His face turning as sickly as Owens, the king sank down on the nearest Chippendale.

“There, there, don’t be so hard on yourself!” the queen chided, going to stroke his forehead and put a knitted shawl over his shoulders. “I wouldn’t have said something, but the men were having such a good time building Camelot, I couldn’t see them stopped. It was so necessary for raising their spirits after so many years of intolerable tyranny and oppression. Most of them weren’t really criminals--they wouldn’t have been sent here if they had been. It’s just those who were put in charge, though I don’t mean that nice young fellow Owens particularly, who were the wicked ones. Anyway, by Heathbridge’s calculations, we will only need a day’s fuel consumption to send us galloping to our destination. Until then, with care, we can convert the excess biomass of the farms to fuel for electric generators to keep us alive and warm until we reach whatever. You can see the star systems he’s picked out as the most likely for colonization, and then choose what you think best of the lot.”

“Who really is king here?” the monarch wondered, irritably. “Should I exchange my trousers for petticoats?”

Seeing the king at last had caught the way the wind was blowing, Queen Astrid went back to her desk and brought out more papers, thrusting them at him. “These are rather dreary, I’m afraid, mainly all statistics, but you can study them in the morning. They’ll tell you everything we’ll need to do on the trip out from here, from producing fuel for the generators and all the rest of the life support systems. But let’s go to bed. Oh, I almost forgot. Don’t go in the family room. In the circumstances, I think indulging the children is the way to go, so I let the children have their sleeping bags and take the family room. Now I know you don’t like being overrun, but you’re going to have to change some of your ways and adjust. After all, this is a sort of state of emergency, running out of fuel, and being cut off from Earth, and having to make a starship out of this creaking, old prison camp.”

She glanced at the clock. “Aren’t you coming, Art? Haven’t you had enough being king of the mountain for the day? Don’t sit up and fret. It will all work out somehow. Take my word for it. There’s nothing to fret about, not with Heathbridge on top of everything! What a marvelous brain he has! No wonder Chillingsworth had to get rid of him by sending him here! He’d be a formidable threat on Earth if Nilsson had got hold of his brain. But Dr. Chillingsworth did us the greatest favor!”

Indeed, he had! In the morning, the king, feeling his throbbing temples, went directly to his library, fetched a double shot of medicinal brandy, and then went over the Heathbridge papers, and he was absolutely astounded.

A true mastermind, the general had thought of everything. He had even appended a note, that the Christmas pageant could go on as scheduled.

But the moment it concluded the king would be handed an ignition remote control.

By that time the coordinates would be set for their transuniversal voyage, and all the necessary rockets attached to the rim. One press of the royal thumb on the green button, and quark engines would fire, instantly turning an obsolete sublunary hulk into a state-of-the-art interplanetary and interstellar ship, Excalibur II.

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