by James R. Drew
Sam “That’s an interesting story, Saul.” His friend Sam said, with a belly laugh, reigniting his cigar. “Was it a story? I believe in King Arthur’s dream. Imagine how it may have come true with just a few modern tweaks!” “You really believe you’ve been to Camelot?” Saul nodded, trying desperately to sell his story to a writer of growing credential. “In the 6th century?” Sam’s voice was less of a squawk; but never much. Stepping down from his porch, he patted Saul on the shoulder. “Son you’re an inventor like I’m a writer. Selling things like this electric light crystal will take some social credit. Electric light will scare people.” “They can’t see the power source. It will seem like magic.” “Don’t misunderstand, Mister Davidson. It is an entertaining adventure, but Camelot is a fairy tale. There is the obvious question that if you introduced all these gadgets, why are we not more advanced socially and mechanically?” Saul admitted that Sam had a point. “I’ve seen much of the world. If King Arthur and his ideas for Utopia ever were, they’re lost today.” Sam is right. I need to flip the breaker of my electric light, patent my inventions, then I’m running for mayor. America is wounded, and I will heal her with ingenuity; alone if need be. Round Table Confederate Canal: Leaving Frontier’s Edge “Excuse me.” He said, turning back to the man conveying his, and other steeds to the boat’s stables. “What year is it?” “The year sir?” The handler said, taken aback. Saul nodded urgently. “757, sir.” “This is a steam ferryboat?” “Aye.” “In the year 757?” The boy didn’t answer. “Never mind. Thank you.” Now, a sword hung from one hip and a pistol from his other. His tunic was a handsome blue, padded, flexible, buttoned from the collar at the crotch. He’d boarded a boat a thousand years ahead of its time. Mark Trying to gain baring on his time and place; the intermittent depth readings disrupted his thoughts. Twain. Undiscovered Countries It is the childish wonders of the undiscovered countries that Camelot’s navy seeks. My witchcraft delves into the uncharted darkness of the human soul. A newspaper fluttered in the breeze on a dining table between two socialites. Looking up from their wine glasses, they noticed an approaching legend. “Sir Saul Davidson!” “May I?” Saul said, hoping they’d finished reading it. “Yes, please sir! We’re honored beyond words to share the deck of this civilian fairy with you.” Sorcerer’s Veto goes Ignored at the Round Table “Tell me, Saul, of your exploits on the frontier.” If not for years of training, Enoch’s slap on Saul’s shoulder may have broken it. The Orc’s familiar greeting awakened him from the disorienting dream of another world. “Um, interesting but wearisome.” “Not everyone is taking our promise of peaceful encroachment at face value?” “Camelot is spreading endlessly. The men and I are tired of abundant resistance.” “What of evil spirits and witches? Without the knighthood, who will seek them out and destroy them?” He said urgently concerned. “We feared orcs and elves once. Arthur didn’t exterminate the orc or the elf. Camelot taught them how to talk and compromise. What harm is done leaving witches alone?” "We’ve both seen enough to know there are evil spirits that Camelot shouldn’t ignore.” The Round Table It took Merlin 230 years to regroup, hiding in an old elfin hovel. Saul and a solar eclipse humiliated him. While Merlin was incarcerated for his inadequate magic, Saul set a lightning rod atop Merlin’s tower, and blew it up. Then he ordered it rebuilt as a revolutionary example of compassion and mercy. King Arthur’s policy was more sincere than the Emancipation Proclamation, and perhaps the American Constitution. None of the American’s innovations made Merlin’s exile, at the event horizon of the Dark Ages, more comfortable. The gun gave the people more power against him. The printing press and newspaper educated the public, replacing monarchy with democracy and dethroning the king for an elected president. Camelot’s rapid leap in innovation outgrew Merlin’s fearful rule. “Is it true of the expedition into the darkness beyond the western sea?” Sandy said, stepping from the boat onto dry land. Blond flowing hair, a glistening little scar beneath her right eye, contradicted the vibe of a fearsome Viking shield maiden. Walking between her and Enoch, he couldn’t look away, frightening her to carefully stuff her ears deep into her hair. “Can we call it an exhibition?” Saul said. “Is a single ship, powered by an inconsistently reliable engine on course for the edge of the world, an exhibition?” “The edge of the world?” Sandy said, set aback. “Really? I thought the world was round.” “Who told you that?” I did. Canal routes met at the city’s mote. The mote, the canal, and the manmade lake that fresh-watered it all, built a workforce that obliterated the aristocracy, giving Camelot a merit-based economy. Free of slavery, Camelot’s infrastructure projects required more employees, drawing poor countries into an organically growing confederacy. Generations of earth moving placed the dome palace at the center of a valley. Thousands dug, with thousands more building a ring-hill. The mote, surrounding the city walls, atop the hill filled an irrigation network, providing Camelot with fresh running water. The day’s dusk above the hill; Saul, Sandy, Enoch, and Knights of the Round Table’s Republic hung their rifles beneath their flags. “Two centuries, we’ve charted and explored the unknown, building one peaceful country. Still the fabled land of America hides in the dark.” The newly elected President said. “Then perhaps your hopeful land is a fable.” Merlin said. The necromancer’s stringy white hair was incidentally dead of old age. His tattered hood was costume, adding the fear and mystery of his sorcery. His greatest trickery was guilt. His collapsing skull, his brain’s right hemisphere, and a naked flashing light was Camelot’s fault. Gears and pullies looked like cockroaches working his tongue and vocal cords. His fleshless, empty hands touched the timeless Round Table. Is this dead or alive? “What are you?” Saul said. “I’m a witch emerging from darkness.” “You’re half dead!” Sandy said. “More than half: I assure you.” “Machine, not magic holds this creature together.” Enoch said, stirring a table of murmurs. “I come from a realm with no tomorrow or yesterday.” Merlin said. “Imagine a place so rich with devices that they live.” The newspaper had opened Camelot’s imaginations to new and progressive questions, but time travel? Sandy asked herself every day where the inventor had gone. but now: when?” Has Saul returned from the frontier of tomorrow? “So, the mechanisms inside of you are alive?” Sandy said. “Yes.” Merlin said, pullies yanking his deteriorating brow. “Camelot’s hero silenced me. Left me to my own devices. Your empire’s drive for peace has kept you weak. I’m here to set back its course.” As I want it. “Camelot’s fleet of Excalibur Class ships are ours, not yours.” Saul said. “Five ships have ventured out.” Merlin rolled a crystal ball to the center of the table. “They’ve all been summoned home using this. Only four obeyed.” Directing his ocular laser pointer to the center of the table. A ghost of milky, whirlpooled stars clouded across the table. “This is the heavens.” Merlin said, pointing to the sun, buried in a cluster of suns. “You’ve charted the world’s waters using the stars as your guide. Go for a swim.” Saul pushed aside star fields. Rapids of intuition, pulling to Sol like a fish swimming with the current. Past Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, he hovered above the world at the terminator between day and night, leaving the Americas in the dark. Merlin’s claw summoned the blue green world to the center of the table. “This is Earth. You are here.” Merlin said, pointing at the British Islands. “What about this?” Saul pointed to a mid-Atlantic Island. “It’s ruled by a philistine species. They have no interest in friendship.” Merlin said. “So, the inhabitants are dangerous!” Enoch punched the table joyously. “Are we saving them for a midnight snack?” “They’re waiting in their cave cities for expanding confederacies like Camelot. If you step foot on their soil, they’ll steal your Excalibur class ships, and use your own fleet to invade your utopia, consuming it with hellfire. Ask the Excalibur crew.” Saul, Enoch, and Sandy had noticed its hull covered in an unfamiliar sauce, wreaking of stale urine in drydock, when they arrived. “What of those who don’t believe in hell?” Saul said. “You will.” Merlin said, his radar osculating. “What is beyond the night?” Saul said. “Damnation.” Returning from the dead, Merlin’s campaigns left him exiled in the 6th century. Hell would’ve been preferable. He could never return to his distant home time. His only hope was to restart the clock. He would create a new realm: an alternate history. “Your mission will be to claim the darkness beyond in the name of Camelot.” Great… Saul’s eyes turned down to Sandy’s. Since when did the President cooperate with this warlock? He doesn’t. Her stern eyes looked to him. “Next month, Saul will captain the CSS Yankee. Go beyond the darkness but come in peace.” The President, sheathing his sword. Adrift The CSS Excalibur docked for heavy battle damage repairs; the fleet designer volunteered as the Yankee’s engineer. Uneven eyes, hand gestures like raven talons, he felt to Saul like a loose, broken telegraph wire. Water rushing through its apple core, Lieutenant Commander Loci fielded their engineering concerns. “I understand this whole ship is mined of the same mineral.” Saul said. “No, no…” Loci said, forgetting what he meant to say. Years of brain injuries inflicted by experimentation setbacks caused occasional verbal lapses. “Actually, yes: The turbine in this core makes an air vacuum in these ducts that pulls the water in so quickly that it boils by the time it reaches this apple core reactor. Vaporized into scalding air pressure the turbines vent hundreds of pounds of air pressure wherever need be.” Loci explained, as support, sweat soaked technicians rushed about performing their tasks. “So, the ship is steered and thrust by hot air.” Saul said, impressed. “What happens if too much pressure builds up in the boiler?” Enoch asked. “The ship would explode from aft to stern.” Frustrated by the elbow room on the bridge and main deck, Enoch liked the engine room. Enoch used his break from the responsibility of first mate to assist and befriend the weird Viking and learn how the revolutionary new steam engine worked. “Ship ahoy!” The first mate, Sandy said. Saul joined the Commander atop her watchtower. She was a fleeting dream, peaceful and simple, as 6th century Sherwood. He caught her following him through Britannia, recently abandoned by a receding Roman Empire. Maybe she’d been their slave, but why leave her helpless in the woods? Fond memories dormant within his mind, she lived on the iceshelf of the Dark Ages. “I understand you were once a Viking warrior.” “I fought for my chieftain and my village, leading our final invasion to the East.” She said, studying the ship growing at the end of her scope. “The Round Table halted our attacks with an offer of peace, and a bounty of gold in agreement to join their confederacy. I was knighted a daughter of Camelot.” “Your service profile hardly does you justice.” “I know.” “Did you see that, Commander?” Saul said, pointing to an exchange of hazed explosions. “Enoch!” “Reporting as ordered, Captain.” “Battle stations.” “Aye Captain.” Enoch’s voice rocked the decks of the ship. “All hands battle stations! Rifles and cannons to ready!” “What…is that?” The engines idle revealed skinless bones, sloshing against the hull. Bloody water seeped into the engine, reddening the transparent reactor casing. “She’s our lost ship; our spitting image.” Sandy spotted the ship name sketched on the hull. The Leviathan. “Where is Merlin?” Saul asked. “He’s asked not to be disturbed.” The yeoman said. “Remind him this is not his ship, Yeoman. The captain’s ordered him to report.” Several moments passed and neither showed. With a roll of his eyes, Saul ordered Enoch to follow him below decks. Their eyes flared with anger and shock, as the chain-lift trolley touched down into an empty deck. The yeoman’s uniform was hollow, her body stripped to her bones. Merlin’s eyes returned from the dead. Surrounded by a ring of fire without smoke, his arms lowered; the fire died. “What did you do to this girl?” Enoch said, snarling in indignation. “I am a necromancer: remember?” Merlin smiled, stepping toward them over the girl’s skeletal uniform. “If only you could see your hearts pounding in anger and fear.” “I’m not afraid of anything.” Saul said, growling as his nose grazed the drooping flesh of Merlin’s. “Not even man-eating monsters.” Enoch pushed the ancient sorcerer to the main deck. “Funny you should say that. We all sustain ourselves on death. Your hatred is dessert.” “What’s going on over there?” Saul said, shaking his pointed finger. “Why are we surrounded by blood and bones?” “You’ve passed into uncharted waters, closer to the point of no return.” Merlin said, amused by Saul’s tone of aggression. “Forging into the darkness of the unknown, you’ll find your way, or lose your minds.” Saul, Sandy, Enoch, and Merlin looked through the fog of vented steam, seeing blasts on the main deck. Fireballs fell into the water. “You want to know what’s happening, unfurl your kites and look for yourself.” “Look for myself!” Saul’s punch between Merlin’s eyes stunned him onto his back. “I’m not your toy, and neither is this ship!” Saul choked him, shoving him against the railing overlooking the graveyard ocean. “Stop playing games with me, or I’ll throw your ass overboard!” “So angry.” Merlin smiled, proud of the man he’d forged. “Let him go, Saul.” Sandy said, gently pulling back on his shoulder. “He gets off on your hatred.” “Send a boarding party, Captain.” Merlin said, gears rerouting air through his throat. Saul’s eyes gaped with the slap of a crystal into his hand. “This ball distributes light omnidirectionally, carrying sound on its back.” “We’ll be able to talk to each other?” Merlin nodded, assured Saul would see its potential as a media, and communications tool. Holding the ball, the inventor imagined the device generations hence, carrying sound on a ripple of light. Innovation is my forbidden fruit coming from Merlin: a snakes manipulation tool. “Send word for Loci to report to the main deck with full gear. Enoch, gather some muscle.” Sails unfurled from their splayed arms and their backs. A vortex of wind swirled, lifting them off the deck, into the rumbling storm. Sea Monsters Saul, and his team sailed between identical ships. Pulling their hands together, they jogged to a stop on the same deck plate they lifted from. There was no sign of life: only death. “Dead silent: We both saw the gunfight, right Enoch?” Saul said. “You heard the blasts?” “Aye: Remember those evil spirits we talked about?” Enoch pulled the hammer back on his rifle. “Yea, but where are they?” Loci nodded for a team of emerald shouldered knights to follow him down to engineering. The trolley loaded, they descended into the dark, hot engineering levels. The core cool, kerosene lights snuffed, it’s evident that the ship had not been maintained for a while. Gold and ruby shouldered knights stormed the darkened bridge. Tiny lanterns set on the gun barrels lit up the dead command center. The Leviathan’s captain sat erect on the command throne like a king. Enoch knelt to the deck, smudging green film between burned bodies. Saul lifted an arm, finding bite marks through its uniform. “Saul, come look at this.” Enoch said. “Feel its face.” “Feels like a scab.” “I was thinking scales.” “Like a reptile?” Knights of all three functions lay covered in a mix of blood and goo. A gold shoulder hung from the upper deck plating. Its hand slumped on the lower dais. Lifting the dead man’s hand, green, propane flavored gel seeped from the commander’s fingernails and open mouth. Covering their mouths and noses, they realized the source of the Excalibur’s urine stench. “I’d say this is the first mate.” Saul said, letting the hand rest where it was. The command throne towered over operations stations. Wheels and levers mounted port, starboard, stern and aft coordinated the Excalibur class’s speed, motion, and general direction with engineering. Enoch found the helmsman’s neck broken in the forward steering wheel spokes. Shaking his head for the gruesome sight, Saul focused his lantern on the command throne. The monster breathed through its scales. Reaching carefully to touch the Leviathan captain’s hand, he felt its flesh, cracked like a dried bedrock. It’s hand grasping tightly to its armchair, Saul realized it was in the same condition as the first mate. The heat of its breath curled the hair of Saul’s hand. Hungry, lifeless eyes flashed open. Face to face, he remembered Leviathan’s Captain was a familiar woman. Green goo poured from her once red-haired, Irish scalp. Pushed to the deck, onto his back, Saul backpedaled on his elbows. Sweat pouring from his body, Saul reminded himself that a captain can’t afford to panic. Plunging his bayonet into her belly, Merlin watched the fight from behind her eyes. Taking away Saul’s gun, she threw it across the bridge. Their swords were mined and forged from the Excalibur’s Stone. Harnessing King Arthur’s determination gave their swords life. Their weapons awakening, Saul and Enoch pulled their shields from utility bags, unfurling them like umbrellas. Pillars of fire pushed them, stumbling on their heels. The dragon commander and crew inhaled, depriving their gun lanterns of oxygen, leaving Saul, Enoch, and the scouting party briefly in the silent darkness. “Do you hear that, Enoch?” Saul said. Sweat soaking his brow with the anxiety of converging moans and groans, film fell from limbs of assumed dead knights. “I don’t think these knights are dead.” Enoch said. “None of them.” “Define, dead.” A torch breath writhed Enoch in fire. Thinking quickly, he removed his tunic. Its material deflected blunt and sharp force, but not scorching flame. Torches strafing from their enemy’s throats, remaining knights scrambled in flame. These were uncompromising monsters that Merlin warned Saul about. Sandy could only watch. The fire reflected in her eyes, fearing the frontier beyond this terror. This is not where my mission ends. Holding his sword before him, he prayed to Arthur; the soul of the legend who’d removed the sword from the stone. Saul butted his shield against the maw of his former friend and colleague. His battle-hardened elbows tire-ironed her jaw. Chopping into her Medusan scales, he shoulder-rolled across the operations dais. He pulled his pistol, blowing a hole into her right tempo. When they’ve survived this explorer’s test of resolve, where to next? Survival beyond the borders of the unknown, further than the bravest men had gone before, was victory in exploration. Enoch crushed heads with one hand, and severed others with his sword in his other. Her roar scorched the bridge. Dead knights melted into the deck, like glue, as Saul and Enoch’s boots burned and liquefied. “We have to get out of here!” Enoch said, smoke filling their lungs. Her name was Bethany. Saul had dined with her, and they made love the night before the Leviathan launched. Lunging his sword across Bethany’s chest and shoulder, Saul considered how he might destroy the ship from the inside and end her mercifully. Loci asked himself if Camelot had armed a monster, mining their swords and ships from the Excalibur Stone. Enoch lifted dragons by the neck. Choking the fire from their throats, he hurled them into the ocean. Sheathing his sword, the green orc shattered, and tore off limbs, disemboweling with bare hands. Nothing between himself and Saul, Bethany’s sword scathed Saul’s neck. “Merlin would have me cook and eat you.” She said, tears turning to vapor as they leaked from her eyes. “We’re doing this against our will. Destroy us at all costs!” Lava flies swarmed from lips, that his lips had smothered only months ago. The fire in her throat reflected in Saul’s eyes. Enoch’s hands clapped, crushing Bethany’s brain at its equator. Headless, she fell to her breasts and shoulders, releasing a tangle of ganglia from her neck. “Thanks.” Saul told Enoch; grateful but regretful. Unshouldering his backpack, one last plume of fire quaffed from her throat. “What is it humans say? No problem.” “Watch my back while I look for something.” Saul said, flipping open his utility bag. “Make it quick. My shoulders are getting tired.” “Loci, What’s it like down there?” Saul said, wishing he’d had time to mourn the lost friend; imagining her pain as she and her crew descended into the hell of their minds. Spotting an attacker that Enoch didn’t, Saul pulled his pistol and shot into its chest. The Sound of Light “It’s good to hear from you. I could hear the shenanigans upstairs.” “Scuttle the ship.! If anything on this ship survives It will invade Camelot.! The consequences would be catastrophic!” “I’ve got this.” Loci said. Loci presented the Excalibur’s blueprints to the Round Table. He built the fleet. Ship building in his blood, today his son was drawing the next generation of sea cruiser. His son’s Thor class ship would someday run hotter, faster, with a sturdier hull that could cut through ice. Underwater bombs would swim like fish, with a blast force pressure heavier than its engines, destroying malevolent targets. “Ensign, clamp this to the port duct.” Loci said, handing the other jar to his other mechanic. “You connect it to the starboard.” Loci fastened his bomb to the reactor. Vaporized water, building pressure in the reactor swelled the ducts that fed it. Trapped in the reactor, the pressure could only travel back to stern, and up into the power generators on the main deck. Excalibur Stone glass would burst obliterating this ship. Saul rose the communication ball to his mouth. “Loci! Are you ready to go?” “I’ll lite the wick on your command.” “Lite it up!” Saul said. “Sandy, we need some lift.” “Spread your wings, Captain.” Waving her hand across the crystal stirred black clouds around the ship. Thunder rolled. The ship shook like a grain mixer. Fire pillared through the floorboards of the main deck as the reactor breached, and distribution ducts broke loose. “Our wings are spread, Commander! Where’s our wind?” Stirring faster, she looked to Merlin. “The mixture of cold and hot air generates wind.” Merlin said. “The heat of the bursting engine should stir up the wind.” She said, handing Merlin the ball. The Leviathan’s hull swelling: their boots were melted when they lifted off the deck. Geysers of fire erupted aft and stern, consuming the command center. Loci marveled the explosive power tearing through the strongest metal ever forged, like flower pedals. The reactor shattered; a mushroom fire-plume reduced all six decks into shrapnel. Loci winced for a young knight, struck by shrapnel, plummeted into the muck of blood and bones. Blown in half, Leviathan’s belly sunk, draining bones and blood with it, to the seaweed of the ocean’s shallow bedrock. The captain and the surviving boarding team touched down. Sandy dropped from the bridge to the main deck, as the last of the lightning passed and the waterspouts dropped. The blood fog cleared, revealing the ocean, clear stars, and a new moon. “Welcome home Captain.” “Thanks.” Saul and Sandy were both lost; he in time and her as a misfit. Saul didn’t know how, but they’d changed each other when they met, and when they separated. She’d wandered unmeasured distances after Merlin sent him back. His disappearance left her lost again. His affection gave her purpose. Her pet-like devotion sometimes annoyed him, as it was difficult to avoid treating her like an animal. She wasn’t an animal. She was a beautiful and innocent person. She used the techniques he’d given her, seeping into Viking civilization. Lifted to maturity like Romulus, she was unsure of her place in Camelot’s civilized, generous, and nurturing culture. Camelot’s gentle hand, and progressive economics made joining its confederacy easy. Capitalization by conquest was a distant memory both to history, and to Sandy. Still, she feared that revealing her true nature would cost her place in this paradise. Wherever you go, Sandy. Cover your ears. "Where to?” She asked. “I’m going to bed for a while.” Bitterly ripping open his tunic, he wasn’t sure he could sleep, killing his friend, and occasionally casual lover. “Are you ok, Saul?” She said, feeling the answer, loving him beyond the point of natural empathy. “Continue west until you have an exact baring. Maybe Merlin’s gadget will help.” Trigger Merlin’s crystal levitated in his hands, as his pet rats crawled in and out of his long dead torso. Petting his favorite, Merlin decided to remind Saul the trauma that brought him to suffer with him in the 8th century. Exhausted, Saul closed his eyes, squeezing them through the passage between reality and dream. First, the crowbar to the head that sent him to the 6th century; then came the nightmare of the worse trauma. His soul transposed between the utopian 8th century Camelot knight’s uniform, into the 19th century uniform of a Federal Union soldier. One of a thousand butchers, he pulled the trigger, marching into the hellfire of Atlanta. He felt no satisfaction killing greybacks, but the agony of killing his American brothers. Union and Confederate blood mixed into puddles; Sherman ordered his army into the city. Wanting to change the world, he’d enlisted for the same reason he’d have run for office. He’d learned the lessons of Camelot. All men were created equally. Unpaid labor was as harmful to the economy as rampant theft. Slavery was as poisonous to society as racial prejudice. If the South wanted to ruin their own economy, and be autonomic, it would be their funeral. The South’s willfulness would eventually fracture their Confederacy, bringing the southern states back into the Union. The arguments weren’t worth the deaths accumulating around him. A factory foreman, a blacksmith, and an inventor; his work defined him like any man. Realizing Camelot wasn’t a dream was changing that. The tools and infrastructure he’d left, gave King Arthur’s philosophy of brotherhood life and substance. If he’d changed history, then why wasn’t the whole world encircled with one voice around the Excalibur Stone? Reading the history books had assured Saul that the 8th century wasn’t history, but it was reality. Union flags flapping in the hellfire winds of victory, he asked who would save the women and children trapped in their burning homes? Their husbands and fathers were sprawled, strewn dead outside of the city. Praying to God to remove him from this savagery, Merlin answered instead. There was more to Sandy, and the feelings she stirred, than he understood. She wasn’t a descendant, but she was far too complex to be Sandy. Merlin was the darkness, and she was the light. That made him the man to determine his clever, spiteful plot before he made the fool out of Camelot that Camelot had made of him. Triangle “All hands-on deck!” Including the sorcerer. His tunic dangling open, Saul squinted through harsh winds. Salt water rushed around the ship. Sandy lowered her scope in the terrible awe of the sea falling into oblivion. “We’ve reached the edge of the world.” Sandy said, sea water rushing, splashing onto the main deck. No! I am a knight in the service of Camelot. I’ve grown beyond such superstitions. There are no sea monsters. She exhaled, remembering the lesson of a kind man. Still learning to talk, she fell back comfortably into Saul’s chest, following his finger like a grown child. “Look at the curving horizon. The world is a ball with no edge. It only looks flat to us because we are so small.” She learned because she loved. Science. Newton. Physics. Gravity. Ocean rapids pushed and pulled the Yankee. Looking away from the blackening horizon, Sandy and Saul climbed to the bridge. Camelot was replacing observational assumption, and religious convenience with science. Merlin’s witchcraft was a full-circle species of Saul’s 19th century scientific understanding. “Velocity?” Saul said, wind shear pushing him bare knuckle, into his command throne. “Much too fast!” Sandy said, turning away from the torrent ocean pelts. “Captain! What in the hell are you doing to my ship?” Loci’s voice roared angrily from the communications ball buried in Saul’s chair. “We’re out of control! Shut down the engines!” Slamming into a wave, throwing the ship like a flopping rug, the bridge crew swallowed its weight in sea water. Three crewmen washed off the main deck. Broken by water as if they’d fallen from the sky, they died of impact instead of drowning. Pulling his pistol from his belt, Saul burrowed its nozzle into Merlin’s head. “Where the hell are we going, Merlin? I don’t want some metaphysical riddle. Answer me!” “Fine: They’re called black holes.” “Black holes? Do better!” Saul rolled his eyes, clicking back the hammer of his pistol. “I answered your question. The water is falling into a black hole.” “God didn’t make this! Who did?” “I did.” He couldn’t threaten him. Merlin was his only way back. “Give me your scope, Sandy.” She handed it to Saul without turning her focus. Two black voids spun against each other like gears. “Sandy, sort out the navigation staff! I have an idea!” Licking the inside of her sea salt, and fear dried mouth, she nodded her head. “Loci! I need all pressure in your engine valves cleared! I need water flowing through the ship!” Another tsunami broke the back of his starboard helmsmen. Flopping dead into the sea, Sandy saw him eaten by a massive eel, jumping from the waters. “Close all vents. Open all ducts.” He’s using the weight and water flow to hold the ship on the water. While the rapids flowing through the ducts, held the ship down somewhat, the Yankee still launched over the waves. “You’re approaching an event horizon.” Merlin said. “Event horizon?” “The point of no return, Saul.” She’d astonished them both. “Not even light can escape its grip once crossed.” “Sandy, head to your watch tower.” He handed Sandy her scope. She waved it off. “The waters are silent in the narrow passage between the holes. I’ll need your help to navigate between them.” “I know.” Leaping from his center seat, Saul shuffled navigation crewmen, taking the forward helm. He’d guide her straight. Even made of Excalibur’s Stone, the ship had survived stronger than Loci had expected. He’d close the pressure valve, alleviating the pressure threatening to pop the ship. A sailor, and Viking warrior, Loci dreamed of sacrificing himself to keep it afloat. The glass reactor cracking, his dream was coming true. “Abandon Engineering!” “What about you?” Enoch said fiercely. “Engineering must flood. I know you understand.” Though of different species, they’d come to worship the same gods. Wrapping their elbows, they nodded to each other. “I will meet you in Valhalla, brother.” The engineering hatch battened; Loci cranked spickets along the apple core. “Reactor breach in seconds, Saul!” Enoch said, mourning. “Batten down all hatches.” Loci would drown in boiling water. Saul and Enoch killed an entire crew, and his friend Bethany, but Saul bore the burden of ordering Loci to his death. His consolation was that as a Viking sailor, he and Odin would watch the Yankee’s second victory, surviving, breaking through to uncharted waters. The Yankee’s survival mocked sound, leaving it behind. A roaring, endless explosion pressed their senses. Hail and vertical rain vaporizing before Sandy, protected her from the rush of flaming air, blurring her sight of the approaching impossible. Eels three stories long, desperate to escape the darkness falls, jumped twenty stories. The deck nearly submerged, Eels leapt above Sandy, thrashing their lightning bolts through the bridge. Gathering her Viking bravery, Sandy’s hands guided the captain into a trail no wider than the ship. The path straight, she dared look straight down into the abyss. Darkness turned to a funnel of light. Folklore serpents disintegrated into the void of limitless mass. Light took her on a journey far beyond where, and when anyone had gone before. Thousands of years passed. She saw stars, and other worlds. The world and its cities reached for the sky. Arriving in the 29th century she met a fresh, red-robed Merlin. Mortal: He lamented on his knees, an empire in ashes. The Yankee sprung like an arrow from between the black holes. Sandy wobbled, unpacking the future, and a universe, where rules of normalcy didn’t apply. The ship slowing into gentler waters, Saul summoned a crewman to man the forward helm station. “We’re still off the dial fast, but the sea is smooth.” Sandy exhaled, stepping down from her watch tower. “Can we coast to that island?” Saul said to Enoch, now doubling as the ship’s mechanic. “Probably close enough to launch a kite mission.” “What if we drain the water from engineering?” Saul said. “It would lighten the ship. The venting water may even give us extra momentum.” Witchcraft The hatch to engineering unsealed, Enoch led the engineering team into the water. Three decks completely flooded, and the entire chain-link trolley system destroyed, Enoch would lead the ship’s mechanics into receding hot water. He had to frog-swim through floating glass, and dead fish to reach the spickets. A moment later his orc lungs inhaled desperately. Vents relieving water pressure into the ocean. The ship pushed forward, Sandy and Saul smiled for one last forward lurch. Enoch found his dead friend had floated into his own engine. Removing him gently by the neck and knees, he set him on the deck and crossed his arms. Coasting to their destination, Merlin was flanked three to one, as he had been at the Round Table. “You do practice some sort of dark magic.” Enoch said. “I rescued your friend from death by crowbar. Instead of playing the game I meant for him, he made me look foolish.” “He beat you at your own game.” Sandy said smugly. “I remember.” Merlin’s gears and pulleys couldn’t convey his contempt as he turned to look east. “Magic is boring. My art is witchcraft.” “What’s the difference?” Enoch said. “Witchcraft delves into the uncharted darkness of the human soul. You didn’t think the accounts of evil spirits to be superstitions? Human born demons still multiply in your time.” “How?” Saul said. “Your country’s civil war has left you cynical and angry.” “The uncharted realms lay deep in the mind and heart of every explorer. I was an inventor, not a soldier. You’ve unleashed no demons. You’ve reminded me of who I am, and humanity’s potential.” “A thousand years after you and your country turned to dust, we who remained went anywhere to anytime. My Empire roamed between universes, encroachments into enemy times, and territories led to war, and only one place to retreat.” “You crossed the barrier between life and death?” Sandy said. Merlin nodded, looking over the deck to the island, visibly empty now, it was the metropolis Sandy had seen. “I returned to a demolished world and a dead army.” Merlin’s ocular laser projected an image of the island as it was, last he saw it. Fire melted steel buildings, once so tall and strong, they scratched the sky. “I led an Empire that had weakened. I used my witchcraft to save my Camelot.” “How many of these ashes were once people?” Sandy said. “Hubris starts wars.” Saul said, his eyes flooded, triggered memories of the Civil War. “What kind of Camelot destroys the world?” “My empire is Camelot! Your Excalibur Stone is all that remains.” Merlin growled, looking to the burning city. “You made King Arthur too: didn’t you?” Sandy said. “He got out of your control.” Merlin ignored her. “I scanned the earth.” He pointed to his implant. “It was all dead.” “If there was still air, there was still human life, and you know it!” “There was nothing, Saul!” “You’d just left the afterlife! Did you think that might be a good place to take a head count? Human beings are resilient. You left a world you destroyed to build an empire you could control.” “The world would have suffered with disease, war, and poverty for over a thousand years, and Camelot reduced to a fairy tale. The dark ages ended with a plague that reduced the human population by more than thirty percent.” Merlin said. “Physical trauma brought you to me the first time. The emotional trauma of the Civil War sent you to me the second. So, you see; I offered you and the world another chance. All I asked in return was a second chance.” “You’re stumbling attempt to make an empire in the past created a utopia. Camelot, the United States; human history is an ant farm to you. You aren’t a witch or a scientist. You’re a tyrant and tyrants don’t like Utopias.” Saul’s revels with Merlin were over. “Where are we?” “The United States called it, Roanoke. It’s the point of a triangle. By the end of the 13th century, the holes we passed over will be… phased from human perception. Ships will still go missing now and then, but the effects will be a lot less pronounced.” “What do you want us to find on Roanoke?” “The tribes of Roanoke hold the one piece of the Excalibur Stone we need to return to our times, but they may not give it to us without a little forceful convincing. We could work together to take it and go home.” Forceful convincing sounded like the words of a man who would gratefully instigate two dark ages. He turned to Sandy, feeling their journey gave her a wisdom beyond his. “Helm, head for shore.” Sandy said. “We’ve not come all this way for nothing.” Frontier of Forever “Chief, this is my ship’s Captain.” Sandy said, smiling as if with a present behind her back. “I explained to Chief Arthur and his witch doctor Lancelot, of our journey, and that we came in peace. He was aware.” “Merlin is guilty of stealing Round Table Confederate technology and chronocide?” Lancelot said. “Chronocide?” Saul said. “He erased a species from time.” Sandy explained. “He exterminated the elf and orc.” “Merlin is a traitor. When his insurrection failed, he retreated to the past and founded his own Camelot.” Arthur said. “He stole enough of the mineral to forge anything in the simplicity of the 6th century.” Lancelot said. “The Excalibur Stone is the living technology Merlin teased.” Sandy said. “It can take you home, Saul,” Her eyes watered. Looking into her eyes, he realized he wouldn’t leave without her. She was evolving before his eyes, since looking into the black holes. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she decided she was no longer a knight. Warmed as he’d never been before, running his hands into her hair, she blissfully lifted her cheeks, revealing her deepest secret to him. His hands grazed her pointed ears. She’s an elf! This is Sandy! He’d assumed her simplicity to be incidental of her 6th century education, and her subservient treatment as a woman. Elves were sheepish creatures, appearing as shadows in children’s stories. The last of her species, she’d evolved with Camelot, awaiting Saul’s return. “Your crew will remain, but you must return.” Arthur said. “Dismantle Merlin and return him to his empire.” “What can we do to subdue him?” “All that remains of Merlin is a rotted soul, stuffed into a box. Remove the box. He can’t do much harm as a flashing light.” Arthur said. “You truly are a fool, Merlin.” Saul said. “Open what remains of his skull. You will find it buried inside his brain.” Lancelot said. “Please don’t! I beg you!” “I gave you back your tower once.” Saul said. “Enoch, I give you the honor.” Grabbing Merlin by the throat, Enoch lifted him off the ground. Enoch plunged into Merlin’s breached right temple, reducing his brow and nose into calcium dirt. “What purpose does the implant serve, anyways?” Saul said, turning away from Merlin, thrashing in shock, as Enoch broke through his eye socket. “I think of it as mechanized intuition. It makes a good projector too, I suppose.” Lancelot said. His radar wiggling in desperation, Merlin’s network of pulleys snapped. Gripping the implant between its plug and computer outlet, Enoch tore it out, reducing his putrid brain to liquid. Dropping the skeleton to the ground inside his costume, Enoch handed Saul the flashing box. “I’ve always adored you, Saul.” Sandy said, her eyes plush, like the puppy he remembered. “I’m going with you to the future.” Sandy grabbed him firmly by the forearm. “I’ve seen where you’re going.” Their noses touching, she whispered. “Forever with you will be an adventure.” Sunrise “Good fortune Captain, Sir Saul Norman Davidson of Hartford, Connecticut.” Enoch said. “Thank you, Enoch.” Saul and Sandy said, hugging him at the waist. “Lancelot, Can I ask you something: man, to man?” Lancelot nodded. “Did you and Guinevere… you know?” “Me, and, who?” he said, genuinely confused. “Never mind.” Boarding the ship that morning, Saul unfurled the sails carrying them into the sunrise, while Sandy’s hand drew bolts from the crystal ball, provoking gusts of wind. Tossing his bones and costume into the sea, they carefully stored his hard drive. Studying his synthetic organs brought forth a question. “When you said Merlin made King Arthur, what did you mean?” Inhaling, she realized it would take eternity to explain. “He cloned himself.” Now Saul was the stupid one. “Just look down into the event horizon when we get there.” She’d watched Saul’s innovations turn a world that would have literally eaten her alive, into a utopia. He’d created a realm without a millennium of darkness, with a little 19th century technology. What would 29th century innovations accomplish for the 19th century.? They couldn’t change his past, but their future was free game. They coasted into the sunrise headed for the future, awakening once more from an epic dream. 2857 The warlord rises from his knees, the only person left on the world he’s destroyed. His attempt to establish a new empire sent his last standing opponent, the Round Table Confederacy into its distant past. All his technology confiscated or destroyed; he is guaranteed an eternal, lonely life. His scheming has created a utopia for his enemies, his victims, and hell for himself. His universe is a nightmare, a box in a desk drawer. 1874 My daughter asleep in her crib, Sandy dreams, nestled comfortably alongside me. Pointing to the sky, teaching our two-year-old daughter what we learned of the universe, reminds me of the journey that made our family. Another bun in the oven, I hope for a daughter. Pointed ears are easier to cover beneath longer hair. Though King Arthur was a kind man, gentle in his convictions, his 6th century knights were no more blood thirsty than the Union and Confederate soldiers. Slavery abolished; it will take time for a willful United States to realize King Arthur’s policy, that all men are created equally. Must my family forever hide their ears? Reverse engineering a chunk of Excalibur Stone into a power generator, I’ve decided to keep my electric light crystal confined to my home and family. I’ve achieved my goal of a world improved by my innovation. My world slept in her bedroom, cuddled with me, and kicked me through her mother’s belly. Our house and land are our utopia. My wife and I reminisce of those simpler days, adventures and wondrous discoveries punctuated with such courageous battles. Despite Camelot’s discontinuity with our history, I wonder what a world infused with the technology of Merlin’s brain, locked in my desk drawer could accomplish. Who would present his synthetic organs for medical reverse engineering, and when? I admit, Sandy has tried to explain cloning to me, but I’d never understood biology. I will pass on King Arthur’s social ideals to my children and they to their friends. Would my friend Sam enjoy hearing the tale of my visit to the 8th century, as he did the 6th? Maybe he’ll write it out as he promised. Shutting my eyes, soothed by the music of Sandy’s heart, my new child stomping against her belly, I dreamt with a new peaceful hope for my family and country. I’d brought the past and the future together, and I’ve seen what that can do. What blackholes and wonderous discoveries wait beyond the horizons of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? For my Grandparents, Norman and Jean Drew
James Drew is a Rochester author and playwright. Uncharted follows the previous stories in the series, U$A and Train Station.