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Old Guy

Simians in Camelot

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The Simian Scourge

Arthur cradled his mug of mulled wine and cast a venomous glare at his magician. "I'm tired of being cold, Merlin. Can't you magic up a decent way to heat this stone pile?"

"Sadly, no, Highness. Central heating won't be invented for another thousand years -- maybe longer."

"Damn," whined the king. "Any damned serf has a warmer hovel than this place. Why can't I live in a turf hut? Something that can actually be heated."

"Tradition, sire." Merlin tucked cold fingers into his armpits, causing the upper part of his robe to slide down. Cursing quietly, he rearranged the fabric, trying without much success to keep warm. He thought longingly of his forest cave. At the back, beyond the Sucking Pool of Death, but before the Direful Pit, he'd walled off a neat little room, complete with a clever charcoal brazier and the delightful Lady Nimue. The brazier was to keep her warm so she could keep him warm. He'd go there immediately after the morning court session was over.

"Anybody got new business?" asked the King's Speaker, a short knight named Whizkid. Running somewhat to fat and cursed with a weak backhand, Whiz earned his keep by chairing court sessions, trials, hangings, beheadings, and jousts. He had a loud voice and a truculent manner.

Sir Galahad strode forward, bellowing. "I have a captive to bring before the King!" The self-important twit was followed by a strange figure dressed in mottled forest colors. Two men-at-arms nudged the prisoner out of the shadows. "Caught him skulking about near the Dolorus Glade."

"Wasn't skulking," objected the prisoner. "Practicing Silent Sneaking. Got lost."

Interested, the King got up and pushed Galahad aside. "What is it? Who is it?"

"I'm a person," said the creature. "Name's Stag." He glanced around. "Um -- Stag of the Simians."

This Stag-person was the tallest man (if man he was) they had ever seen. Even Lancelot was a scrawny, sawed off runt in comparison. The ladies all thought Lancelot was a huge hunk of man (and a talented swordsman). God only knew what they might make of this giant. Merlin silently thanked the gods that Nimue wasn't in court.

"You speak strangely," said Arthur. "I've never heard of Simians. From whence do you come -- and where are you headed?"

"Um -- ." Stag tried to think of a plausible story. Failing that, he tried to recall what he could of Malory's fantasy and various other lying fables he'd been forced to read in school. "I -- that is we Simians come from the Isle of Thule."

"Ah," chorused the assembled throng. No one knew what he was talking about. The knights stroked their chins and nodded as if he had named a tavern every man recalled drinking and wenching therein.

Stag thought of something else that might be good to claim. "I'm on a quest." Arthur's knights were reputed to engage in quests involving killer rabbits and hand grenades, if memory served.

"A quest?" Arthur sighed and trudged back to his cold throne. "Everyone seems intent on traveling the land looking for -- for something. What do you seek, Sir Stag?"

"Um -- ." Stag started to claim a search for an honest man, but he seemed to recall that someone else had already laid claim to that quest. A search for truth, justice, and the British way wouldn't fly either, judging from the gathering of unwashed thugs before him. "I seek a treasure, sire. A chrome-plated shield hidden in a -- um -- in a lake. Yeah, that's the ticket. First I have to find a lady -- a Lady of the Lake. She has the shield."

Laughter filled the room. A red-faced lout banged his mug on the table round and stood up. "Chrome shields! Magic swords! Next it will be copper toothpicks or magic rings. I'm sick to death of all this spell-besotted ironmongery. It's a conspiracy, I tell you. The lakes and ponds and even large puddles abound with tarts bearing magic geegaws."

"Sit down, Bedivere," ordered Arthur. "Drink some wine. Your talk of politics is of no help to Sir Stag. He will discover the difficulties of a quest on his own."

Bedivere growled something obscene and reached for the wine jug. Stag saw that the knight had only one hand. His left arm was tipped with a vicious hook.

"It's true that you will have difficulty sorting out one Lady of the Lake from the next," said Arthur. "But let not hardship keep you from the task."

"Drag up a chair," cried a man dressed in tattered purple finery. "Bring Sir Stag a mug -- and a wench." He stuck out a grimy paw. "Percival is my name."

"Wait!" screeched Galahad, stamping his foot. "Sir Stag is my prisoner. I'm due a ransom. I have expenses, you know."

"Oh, take a load off," said Arthur. "Sir Stag can pay the blood money later. Standard rates?" Galahad looked as if he wanted to argue, but after a moment he sat down.

"What's the standard ransom?" asked Stag.

Sir Whizkid handed the Simian a mug. "A knight's ransom be two denari, unless ya be French, then it's one copper. Are ya French?"

"Not that I know of. There aren't many French in Thule."

Stag watched as Whizkid poured mud-colored wine into the mug. Several odd lumps surfaced in the mug. One moved feebly. "I -- ah -- I'm not thirsty."

"No problemo," said Whiz. "The wench'll be along in a bit. She's out feedin' hogs. An' I think Gawain had first dibs on her nohow."

"Gawain? Which is he?"

Whiz nodded toward a hulking brute guzzling in a dark corner. "That be him. A bad man to cross is our Gawain. Seen him walk two days and two nights just to kill a fool what heckled him at a joust."

"That's hard," agreed Stag. "Who was the guy?"

"Not a guy. His sister." Whiz shook his head. "Killed her clean. One stab in the heart. Didn't cut her to pieces slow -- like he most general does. Musta liked the wench, even if she was only his father's by-blow off a tavern slut."

"Yeah, sounds like." Stag looked around. "Gawain can have my turn with the wench. You can have the wine. I gotta keep up my strength. For the quest, you know."

Whiz guzzled the booze before replying. He wiped his mouth with a dirty sleeve. "Thanks. I needed that."

The main door slammed back, admitting a gust of snow-laden air. Several heavily cloaked figures stumbled inside, greeted by a barrage of curses. The foul talk died away as one of the newcomers shoved the door shut.

Stag waited expectantly. At this point in the tale Gunny should arrive. Or Old Guy. Or even Stans. He hoped whoever showed up managed to bring weapons -- an assault rifle or two would be fine. A light machine gun would be even better.

The face that emerged from a dark cloak was definitely familiar.

"Donnie? What in hell are you doing here? What did you bring?"

"Huh? I was just going to check the mail when I turned a corner and ran into these guys." He peered around the dimly lit room. "Where are the dames? They said there would be dames -- dames with big boobs."

"Dames? Boobs? We need some firepower. What did you bring?"

"Firepower?" Donnie gestured at his middle. "I brung all the firepower I need." He dug into a pocket. "I do have a couple candy bars. You hungry?"

(tbc)

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The Witch

"We found him down by the armory, Sire, but he didn't look like no spy." The speaker beat the snow from his cloak and flung it at a row of hooks beside the door. A ragged servant hastened to hang it up.

"You were right to bring him here, Tristan," said Arthur. "Is he on a quest? Stag of the Simians is seeking a chrome-plated shield."

Tristan laughed and laid a heavy hand on Donnie's shoulder. "This one seeks only large breasted females, Lord. He came willingly when we described a few wenches."

"A noble quest," said the King. "One all knights of the table round engage in from time to time -- when they ain't hammered." A polite roar of laughter greeted the King's little joke. He turned his attention to Donnie. "I see by your outfit that you are a stranger in our land. Where do you come from?"

Donnie, alert for once, there being no oversize boobs in view, had heard Arthur refer to Stag as being 'of the Simians'. He wasn't sure what all these dudes were doing dressed up in filthy clothes and armed to the teeth with iron of various lethal styles and types. It behooved him to keep a low profile for the time being. "I too am a Simian, Sire."

Harsh laughter erupted from savage looking brute with a brimming mug clutched in one hand and a large hook in the other. "Simians! Simians from Thule are raining from the rafters! It's a conspiracy, by damn! Kill 'em all, I say. Kill 'em."

Cold fear gripped Donnie's brain, driving all thoughts of melon-sized boobs out of his consciousness and into the realm of imagination. Tantalizing shapes lurked in the mists at the edges of blind panic. When he realized the man wasn't holding a hook at all, he nearly pissed himself. Fortunately, several other brutes emitted evil laughter and shoved Mr. Hook Hand back into his seat.

A red-faced knight extended a hand. "I be Percival. Never mind old Bedivere. He's always going on about plots and cabals and conspiracies. Get him to tell you about the strange men from Asgard who regularly take him into a steel flying ship and poke him all over with hellish devices."

Donnie noted that 'old Bedivere' was wearing a yellow tag suspended from one ear. "Jeez, the same thing happens to me."

Percival paid no attention. "Sir Whizkid! Bring Sir Donnie some wine! He needs his strength. Someone find him a wench with hooters out to here!" The knight held his hands out, showing just how big the hooters should be. Donnie's brain lurched out of icy fear mode and shifted back into boob drive. He began to drool.

"Donnie, dammit!" Stag punched the boob fanatic and shook him a couple times. To no avail. His fellow Simian mechanically slurped at his wine. His eyes were fixed in his usual thousand yard ogle. He was out of it.

Stag eased back into a corner. Sooner or later another Simian should be along. Until then he just had to survive. That's when he saw the woman in black.

She stood at the top of a stairway, gazing at the guzzling knights. Her eyes touched his, then moved on. He froze, not unlike a yearling stegosaurus under the hungry glare of a T-rex. He had a terrible feeling of being in the wrong place at the right time. The right time to die. The right time to have his soul ripped out by the roots.

A wave of silence broke over the chamber. The King turned to see who was putting a damper on his party. It wasn't Guinevere, which didn't surprise him. She was probably up in one of the towers shagging Lancelot. Still, he'd rather it was her than his half sister. Due to a misunderstanding in his youth, theirs was a strained relationship. Besides, she was a witch. There was no welcome in his voice. "Morgana."

"I hear," said the witch, in a low voice that carried to the farthest corners. "I hear you have interesting visitors from Thule."

Arthur wanted to lie and deny everything, but she had already seen at least one of the strangers. "They have just arrived. Simians, they call themselves."

"Simians?" Her laughter had claws. Stag felt his throat to make sure it was intact.

A woman in brown rags stepped in from a hallway behind the King. "Dinner is ready, my Lord. In the Great Hall."

Glad for the interruption, Arthur turned away from Morgana. "In the Great Hall? That won't do. It's cold as a witch's ti -- um -- it's always cold in there."

Morgana took the King's arm. "Mine are not cold, Sire. As you well know."

Some fool laughed and was instantly choked into silence. The witch's smile reminded Stag of a shark bearing down on a seal.

"Shall we go in, my Lord?" Arthur said nothing, but allowed her to lead him out of the chamber. He walked like a man going to the gallows -- or one with too many cups of wine under his belt.

"Bloody hell," muttered Stag, panting as if suddenly relieved of a great weight. "It's time for this Simian to get out of here."

Sir Whizkid took his arm. "No can do, Sir Stag. Drunk er sober, we all got to show up at dinner. Ya don't really believe in ghosts, goblins, er witches, do ya?"

Still shaky, but more in control now that Morgana was out of view, Stag had a sudden attack of bravery. After all, he had to uphold Simian honor. "Not bloody likely."

Whiz shook his head mournfully. "Too bad."

(tbc)

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The Messengers

"I hope this works." Gunny gripped his spear and kept his horse a few feet to the right of Old Guy. His eyes were on the log palisade ahead. Two guards watched them from their position above the gate.

His partner didn't seem to hear. "I'll bet they've constructed parallel log walls and filled the gap with rubble. Built towers into the corners as well. Not bad for a bunch of British savages." Old Guy gave the guards a cheery wave. They didn't return the courtesy. "Stiff necked bastards, too, I'll warrant. You can see the keep -- or what amounts to a keep -- and it looks to be built of stone. I'll bet the castle proper is mostly stone."

"No bet. If these two don't kill us, we can examine the interior walls at our leisure." Gunny spat to one side, amazed that he could actually work up enough spit to do it. "How do we get into these situations?"

Old Guy responded with a shrug. "My word processor is possessed. Either that or it happens to connect to some weird combination of fiction, history, and fantasy."

"Drug dreams and nightmares, more like."

"Possibly." Old Guy sighed heavily. "Stag and Donnie are inside. So is Whizkid, but he seems to have fallen completely into the scenario. His official title is King's Speaker."

"The other two realize what's going on?"

"Well, I'm sure Stag does. Donnie however -- ."

"Yeah. We may have to drag him out."

The two Simians fell silent as they approached the gate. Both guards carried unstrung bows on their backs, but made no effort to bring them into play. Gunny began to breathe easier, though the guards' laxity galled him.

Old Guy drew rein and removed his helmet. "We seek an audience with King Arthur."

"So does every trader an' trollop what comes this way. You don't look like neither."

"True. We are not traders, but messengers from King Spectre of Lundenwic. Saxon hordes are roaming the land, pillaging and burning." Old Guy touched his breastplate. "I am Gaius Antiquis. My companion is Gunnio. We are sworn to King Spectre."

The guard looked at his companion, then frowned down at the Simians. "Never heard tell of no King Spectre."

Old Guy nodded. "Few have. He rules Lundenwic and the forts along the rivers. He is also known as Spectre Blood Hand, for his behavior in battle."

"Rollo here spent time in Lundenwic when he was bein' hunted by Lord Grimbold fer knockin' up his daughter. Says he never heard of none by that name, 'cept fer a Shitwise Spectre. Feller drove a honey cart."

"A different person, I'm sure," replied Old Guy. "Can we see the King?"

"I dunno 'bout that, but ya kin come inside the gate an' wait. Rollo kin find out if'n the King wants ta hear ya."

Gunny leaned close and whispered. "Once they get us inside that gate, we'll be caught between the inner and outer walls."

"We don't have much choice."

Both guards were gone from the palisade, one to open the gate and one to carry news of their arrival to the King.

Gunny shook his head and forced a laugh. "In for a penny, eh? I always wondered why Spectre's shield was painted with a picture of a cart."

"Bite your tongue, Gunnio. Spectre has a story to go with that insignia and it has nothing to do with hauling shit."

The gate swung open and the two Simians rode inside. They halted about fifty feet from the inner gate, a solid structure built of heavy timber banded with metal. The inner walls were constructed of tightly fitted stone blocks. Gaius idly scanned the wall, parapet, and guards pacing thereon. "Pretty good for a British hick from the backwoods."

"He must have a decent artificer and a bunch of good stone workers." Gunnio drew Gaius' attention to the squat towers built into the wall about fifty feet either side of the gate. "Sally ports. Built into the angle."

"I see 'em. These guys know what they're doing."

The small door to their right opened and two men stepped out. One was the guard who carried their request for an audience inside. The other was a knight wearing light armor. The guard hurried back to his post. Gaius and Gunnio dismounted. It would be bad manners to remain mounted when talking to a knight on foot.

"I am Sir Kay." He glanced toward the inner gate. "I'm stuck with being commander of the guard today. Everyone else is getting drunk, don't y'know."

"You have my sympathy," said Gaius. He introduced Gunnio and himself. "Did the guard pass along our request for an audience with the King?"

"I'm sure we can arrange a meeting, but -- ." Kay spread his arms in a gesture of futility. "The King is probably insensible by now."

Gaius nodded his understanding. "The privilege of kings, eh?"

"I can arrange an audience in the morning -- late. Would that work?"

"It will have to, I suppose," said Gaius. "King Spectre sent us to warn people of the Saxon raiders. We dodged several large bands on our way here. God knows when they might arrive."

"I'll put the guard on alert," said Kay. "And send out scouts, y'know. Beyond that, we'll have to await the King's pleasure." He hesitated for a moment. "Last I knew Gobald the Fat was ruling in Lundenwic."

"That's old news," explained Gaius. "He was killed by his nephew, Gobald the Slow, who was promptly put to death by another nephew, Slackjaw Gobald. Poor Slackjaw died last winter from a lethal dose of sharp steel. No one knows who did it."

Gunnio grinned and began whistling a dirge. Gaius trod on his foot to stop the noise.

Kay didn't miss the interplay. "So that must be when your liege Lord took over?"

"There was a good deal of confusion for a few weeks, but he ended up on the throne."

"Sounds normal," said Kay. "We've had our share of attempted leadership changes, mostly from outside. Lots of practice for the old sword arm, don't y'know."

"Sir Kay," called a sharp voice from atop the castle wall. "Bring them inside."

The woman's black hair streamed in the wind; her thin robe blew out to the side, molding itself to her lush body. She did not appear to be the least bit cold. Gaius and Gunnio stared appreciatively. Sir Kay muttered something under his breath, then replied, "As you wish, Princess." The woman turned away and walked out of view.

"Princess?" asked Gaius.

"Morgana. Arthur's half-sister. Sort of a princess, y'know. And a witch. Watch yourself around her. Even Arthur is afraid of her."

"Wow!" exclaimed Gunnio. "When I saw her I figured she was the queen."

"No. Guinevere hates Morgana. Fears her, more like. When the witch is around the Queen stays in her tower and drinks a lot. Usually with Lancelot, y'know." Kay's face remained expressionless as he spoke. He moved toward the opening gate. "Come on."

Inside, the horses were taken in charge by a pair of servants dressed in well-worn leathers stuffed with rags and straw. Neither of the men wore shoes. Both of the Simians carried their own gear and weapons to a shabby little hut built against the inside of the castle wall. Sir Kay noted their expressions. "There's hardly any better lodging in the whole place, save for the King's rooms, the Queen's tower, and Morgana's quarters. Those are in the lower basement level. You don't want to go there."

"I wonder why she told you to let us in?" mused Gaius.

"You'll find out," said Kay. "She awaits your presence in the Round Table Chamber. That's in the keep, y'know. I'll show you the way."

"Is she really a witch?" asked Gunnio. "I mean like with a familiar and a broom and all that stuff?"

"She can reduce most any man to quivering jelly, but lots of women have that talent." Kay motioned for them to follow and led the way into the keep and down a narrow hallway. "She appears to communicate with animals like owls, ravens, foxes, wolves, even badgers. No broom. She'd not be caught dead holding such a thing, y'know."

"Badgers? What could a badger possibly tell a witch?"

Kay shrugged. "I have no idea. Some claim to have seen her consorting with demons out of hell. Me, I think those gibbering noises are men she's used up and discarded."

"So she is a witch."

"Her actual job title on the Camelot T. O. & E. is Paranormal Associate." Kay opened a heavy door and stood aside. "Judge for yourself. The Round Table Chamber is the second door on your right. Don't enter the first door. It leads to the dungeons. And to Morgana's playroom, y'know."

The two Simians exchanged glances, then entered the dimly lit passage. Each muttered under his breath as they walked: "Second door on the right. Second door on the right."

(tbc)

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The Encounter

Morgana stood beside the throne, awaiting their entrance. Gunnio took in the voluptuous body hardly concealed by her thin robe, raven hair like a dark waterfall, and the finely sculpted face. Deep black eyes drew him like a magnet. Judgment, caution, and fear slipped away on silent feet. He began falling into those eyes.

"Stop it!" growled Gaius. His voice seemed that of a savage to Gunnio's ears, grating and out of harmony with the beauty filling the room. A lovely harp began filling his head with soft music.

"Stop it now!" Gunnio went to his knees, suddenly blind and unable to breathe. Gaius touched his shoulder and the darkness drew back. Breath returned. Gasping, pouring with sweat, Gunnio struggled to his feet and stood swaying.

The woman leaned on the throne, grasping it with both hands. Her hair was now a dingy shade of brown with white streaks. Her face -- Gunnio cried out at the change. While not hag-ugly, Morgana now bore the features of a plain, middle-aged woman, complete with an overly large nose and thin, cruel mouth. She had one brown eye and one of green. The diaphanous robe no longer framed a youthful body. Breasts sagged, hips and legs thickened. The only thought crossing his mind at that moment was a realization that Morgana, though no longer a creature of diabolical beauty, was still good looking for her age. He decided he wouldn't kick her out of bed, assuming he was foolish enough to have her in it.

She drew an arm across her brow. "Who are you?" The question was directed at Gaius.

"Never mind that." Gaius' tone was firm, but not loud. "What was your purpose here?"

"I -- I thought to enrich my quarters with new -- with -- ." She broke off.

"New blood, I think. You have grown careless, Morgana. Has not Merlin warned you of taking too much for granted? There are powers you do not understand. Some walk the Earth in the guise of human. Others, like me, simply wish not to be noticed. Coming to the attention of the gods is not wise."

"I -- how should I address you?"

"My name is Gaius. I am a plain solder sworn to an English king. Clear your mind of whatever else you think you know. Your guesses are wrong." He made a dismissive gesture. "Now return to your quarters and stay there. Violence is afoot."

The woman turned slowly and left the chamber.

Gunnio stared at his companion. "What? Who?"

"Forget it. Let's see if we can find Stag and Donnie."

"Wait a minute." Gunnio's mind finally cleared. "What is this 'Violence is afoot'?"

"Saxons, of course. The alarm will be given at any moment."

"Saxons!" Gunnio touched his sword hilt. "What will we do? I'm no swordsman and neither are -- ." He stared at Gaius. "Are y'all any good with a sword?"

"I'd rather not get involved in a melee. Skill matters little when men stand toe-to-toe and hack at one another. Come on. Our pals are here somewhere."

The two Simians left the chamber via a wide passage that, hopefully, led to wherever Stag and Donnie were located. Within a few yards they began to hear voices raised in song and curse along with the distinct crunch of booted feet on broken crockery, the usual sounds of an English meal attended by knights of the table round.

Outside, a drum began to beat. Moments later they heard the sound of a bell. The Saxons had been spotted.

(tbc)

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The two Simians left the chamber via a wide passage that, hopefully, led to wherever Stag and Donna were located.

Donna? Is this a new character or has someone been in the MGD? :lol:

Or is there something about Donnie that we should know? :unsure: Or maybe it's best we don't know?

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Donna? Is this a new character or has someone been in the MGD? :lol:

Or is there something about Donnie that we should know? :unsure: Or maybe it's best we don't know?

I finally got ObamaCare to give me the body I've always was meant to have. You busy tonight Stanny honey?

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The Saxon Horde

Gaius and Gunnio stood to one side as a roaring gaggle of knights and men-at-arms staggered from the Great Hall. One scowling brute plowed through the mass, growling as he knocked people aside. "Saxons! Simians! Quests! Conspiracy! Kill 'em all."

"That clown only has one hand," said Gunnio, pointing.

"That's not his only problem." Gaius eased toward the entrance to the hall. "Let's see if we can find Stag and Donnie."

The hall was somewhat in disarray. Men sprawled unconscious. Tables lay upside down or broken to pieces. Rats feasted on the food and drink congealing on the floor. Here and there a mewling survivor moved. A pitched battle is less messy.

Stag found them. He was hiding behind a wall hanging, waiting for the tumult to subside so he could find Donnie. He saw Gaius and Gunnio enter the hall and stand in wonder at the extent of the carnage. "Gunny! Old Guy! Over here!"

"That's Sir Gaius Antiquis and Sir Gunnio to you," said Old Guy. He stepped over a snoring knight and shook Stag's hand. "Good to see you, man. Where's Donnie?"

"Well, you can bloody well refer to me as Sir Stag then."

"Y'all can go to hell," said Gunnio, smiling as he offered a familiar finger signal.

"It was worth a try." Stag surveyed the mess and shook his head. "If Donnie ain't here, the sod is most likely fooling around with a wench. Possibly in the pig sty."

"In a pig sty?" Gunnio eyed Stag with suspicion. "Why would he -- never mind."

"Ours is not to wonder at the antics of our boobaholic pal," said Gaius. "We just have to find him. I'd also like to get Whizkid out of this mess."

"He went out with the others," said Stag. "Wasn't quite as drunk as most."

"Where's Arthur?" asked Gaius.

"I think he's under a bleedin' table -- up there -- at the upper end of the hall." Stag chuckled. "Just as well. I wouldn't want to be within twenty feet of the sod if he tried to swing a sword in his condition."

"Let's go," urged Gunnio. "Saxons wait on no man. Save with an axe."

They found a way out and walked into pandemonium. Singly and in small groups, men ran at random. Some carried bags of arrows. Most were only partly in armor. One staggered by burdened with an ornate saddle. He dumped it in a corner and ran off shouting incoherently. Two knights stood beside an overturned cart. Neither seemed to take notice of the panic.

"The one in purple with the black griffin on his breastplate is Sir Percival," said Stag. "I don't know the other bloke."

"Sir Kay," said Gunnio. "He brought us inside, don't y'know."

Kay saw the approaching trio and called them over. "Sir Gaius, Sir Gunnio, have you met Sir Percival?"

Percival eyed the two Lundenwic men. "Are you also from Thule? You're bigger than most everyone I know -- like Sir Stag."

"Perceptive of you, sir," mused Gaius. "Thule, however, is a large place and we had never met Sir Stag before encountering him in the keep."

"I am perceptive," admitted the knight. "Percival Perceptive, that's me." He frowned. "Or should it be Perceptive Percival?"

"Off with you, Percy," said Sir Kay. He'd heard the dreadful Percival Perceptive joke before -- too many times. "Take charge of the outer defenses. I'll send more men to you as they sober up, don't y'know."

"On my way." Sir Percival strode toward the main gate, gathering men as he went.

"A good fighter," said Kay, "but somewhat flighty and with a limited grasp of humor."

"I'll see if I can locate Do -- er -- Sir Donnie," said Stag.

"The pig sty is down that way, y'know." Kay pointed. "You'll smell it."

"What are the Saxons doing?" asked Gaius.

"Driving their captives to set up camp, cut timber for siege machines, start fires for a huge wine and cheese party. The usual."

Gunnio glanced at Gaius. The usual?

Gaius rolled his eyes and shrugged. "When do you expect an attack?"

"The blighters will probably make a foray against the outer wall later today. Before the party, of course. We'll kill a hundred or so. Then they'll sulk in camp until their captives complete a half-dozen siege engines, y'know." Kay slapped Gaius' shoulder. "Plenty of time for Arthur and the others to sober up and get drunk two or three times before we start hacking at the bastards in earnest."

"That's a relief," said Gaius. "We need to ride on -- warn other kings about the Saxons. How long can you hold out?"

"Oh, indefinitely. Indefinitely, sir. We have a year's supply of food laid in. At some point we'll eat the livestock, then the serfs, y'know. Horses last, of course." Kay ran a hand through his sparse gray hair. "Wine and beer could be a problem. Might have to send out some strong detachments to obtain more."

Gunnio suppressed a shudder. "Y'all eat the serfs? People?"

"Serfs, yes. People? No." Kay laughed. "Some of the serfs always survive. Blighters are good at hiding, y'know. Why, Fat Tilly has been through three sieges. That's the wench Sir Donnie is squiring around the pig sty. She takes care of the hogs. Has boobs out to here." He demonstrated a pair of truly fantastic boobs. "Likes to make the beast with two backs, don't y'know. Probably how she made it through three sieges."

(tbc)

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Last Airship to Thule

Sir Kay went off to supervise the defense of Castle Camelot. Gaius and Gunnio headed in he opposite direction, toward the purported pig sty. They soon encountered Stag. He had a very reluctant Donnie in tow.

"Howdy, Donnie," said Gaius. The only response was a calf-like moan.

"He's out of it," explained Stag. "Him and his lady friend were in with the pigs. Straw was clean and all that, but -- ." The normally stalwart Englishman had been subjected to too many frightful sights that day. "I had to crack him one on the nog before he'd come along. Hope I didn't scramble his brains or nothing."

"How would we know?" asked Gunnio.

"Never mind that," said Gaius. "Take him to the back wall. No one is paying much attention to that area. You'll have to get him over the walls and away from the castle somehow. Gunnio and I will go out the front gate and circle around. We have to find Whizkid, too."

"Why do I always get stuck babysitting Donnie?" griped Stag. "We need to figure out a way to cure him of his boob fixation. He's actually pretty good at this bloody escape and evasion stuff, when he ain't catatonic."

"Modern science can't do the impossible," said Gaius.

"All right. No sense whining, I reckon." Stag took Donnie's arm and started off. "I think I'll put a sodding halter on calf boy. Be easier to lead him that way."

"There goes a real dynamic duo," muttered Gunnio.

"Don't knock it, my friend. One of these days Stag may drag you out of harm's way."

"Maybe. But I'll be down and out due to a gunshot wound or the like. Not because I got a look at some gal's boobs."

"I don't know. When Morgana did her thing you looked to be taking the plunge into brain wipe city."

"Nah." The former Marine reached for a cigar -- and realized he didn't have any. "I was just teasin' the bitch."

"Sure you were. I've seen more life in a roast pig. All you lacked was the apple."

"I need a cigar," groused Gunnio, anxious to change the subject.

"No tobacco. Won't have any of that stuff for seven or eight hundred years."

"Dang. No cigars. No pipes. How do they manage?"

"Fighting. Killing. Drinking. A lot of drinking."

"Can't say as I blame 'em." Gunnio glared at the surrounding walls. "I feel like slicing some bastard's head off and I ain't had a drop to drink."

They collected three horses and led them through the main gate. Some of Arthur's finest were routing out squatters and burning the mud and stick hovels those unfortunates had erected between the walls. The evictees were herded out of the castle. Most vanished into the forest. Some were swept up by Saxon patrols and put to work.

Sir Whiz stood atop the log palisade, watching the operation. Gunnio stayed with the horses. Gaius climbed up to the parapet.

"Leavin'?" asked Whiz. "I figgered you Thulians fer fightin' men."

"We have to warn the other kings. With any luck we'll be back before next summer to raise the siege." Gaius decided not to mention Whizkid's actual status as a Simian. The poor guy was completely absorbed in his character.

"I reckon that's a good idea," said Whiz. "We'll whip 'em long afore that though."

"I'm sure you will." Gaius decided to implement the plan he and Gunnio had hatched. He figured there was a slim chance he could convince Whiz to guide them through the boggy terrain near the castle. He'd have to be very persuasive.

"Say, Sir Whiz -- ."

The pudgy little knight with the weak backhand interrupted him. "I reckon ya want me to guide you through the swamps?"

"Well -- if you can be spared here for a little while."

"Come on. I wanna get out for a bit. Saxons ain't gonna hit us 'til they swill a lot more booze. Them boys ain't stupid. Gettin' hammered afore a fight keeps yer mind from jumpin' around like a frog in a skillet."

"Frog in a skillet. I'll have to remember that one."

"That's wisdom, lad. I gotta hunnert of 'em."

He did, indeed, have a hundred pithy sayings: battles -- the getting ready for, retreats -- surviving of same, pillage -- good loot vs. bad loot, and so on. Once outside of direct view of the castle, Gunnio casually reached over and conked him on the head.

Later, when he awoke on the airship, he was the same old Whiz. The first thing he asked was: "Where we headed?"

Old Guy shrugged. "Home, I hope. I guess we better ask the driver."

He and Whizkid walked to the forward end of the passenger compartment and descended a steep metal stairwell into the control gondola. Joker was sitting at the radio operator's position, feet propped on the console. Archie sat at the controls. Another person crouched at the aft end of the gondola hammering on something.

Joker spotted them first. "Watch yourself, Archie. It's some of King Arthur's finest."

Archie turned in his seat. "Finest what?"

"I don't know, but they're certain to have been up to something heroic. Just ask 'em."

Old Guy flashed a universal finger sign. A sudden flurry of hammer blows prevented a verbal riposte.

"Stans!" shouted Joker. "For chrissake! Go easy. That's delicate equipment."

"Delicate, my ass," snarled Stans. He tossed the hammer aside. "I think this winch drive was made in Russia."

"Stans was attempting to repair a winch, as you may have heard. At the moment only the aft anchor cable is in working order."

Old Guy walked back and examined the recalcitrant mechanism. "I take it this winch and cable are necessary for landing?"

"That one operates the forward anchor. We have ropes stowed in a nose compartment. Those can be tossed out to a band of muscular chaps. If the wind isn't blowing too hard and if a few dozen other problems don't arise, the ground handlers can guide the ship into a docking cradle." Joker swung his feet to the deck. "Where we're going there are neither sufficient husky lads nor a docking cradle -- at least as far as we know."

"Where is that?" asked Whizkid. "Some of us were wondering."

"Thule, of course."

"Thule, Greenland?"

"No. Thule, an island somewhat west of Ireland. Called by some Hy-Brasil."

Old Guy shook his head. "Hy-Brasil and Thule are on different timelines. And neither exist in our timeline." He sat down next to the damaged winch. "Apparently we are not yet back where we belong."

"No shit, Sherlock." Stans slumped on a bench across from Old Guy. "What now?"

"Fixing the winch would be our first priority." Old Guy reached under the mechanism and pulled out a broken shaft. "But unless you have a spare one of these -- the winch is out of commission until we reach a regular repair yard."

"Is there such a yard on Thule?" asked Archie.

"Damned if I know," replied Old Guy. "I haven't been there since -- for a long time."

"So," said Joker. "Here we are -- somewhere between Arthurian legend and a parallel reality flying in a steampunkish airship. What else could go wrong?"

"Don't say that," ordered Old Guy. "You never know who might be listening."

Boots rang on the stairs. Donnie stopped one step from the bottom and gazed around in wonder. "Cool. An airship. Where we going?"

"We've already beat that subject to death," said Whizkid. "You look none the worse for wear. Did you just come back to us?"

"Huh? Was I gone somewhere?"

"You were in the land of catatonia," said Old Guy.

"Cata-who? I don't know anyone by that name."

"To answer your question," said Joker, "we're not headed for Cedar Rapids. That much I'm sure of."

"That's okay." Donnie eased his way forward and peered out the viewports. "The folks at the shelter won't worry about me for a few days."

"There's land ahead," said Archie. "Based on the map, it should be Thule. Beyond the island of Thule the map shows a blank, with the legend, 'Here be dragons'."

"Mere superstition," said Old Guy. "There aren't any dragons there."

"Well, that's a relief," said Stans. "What can we expect?"

"Um -- a few floating islands. This ship was built there. We might be able to get it repaired in the same yard. The script you see on machinery isn't Russian, it's Rubean."

Joker's face went white. "Rubean. So we're flying into the land of the Rubes?"

"Well. Yes. But it's not a land, per se. It's a cluster of floating islands moored in the Shallow Sea -- on the other side of Thule."

"But still -- Rubes? We had a serious tangle with them a few years ago." *

* "The Things That are Rubes", Combatsim Press, 2005.

"Wait a minute," said Donnie. "The Rubes we battled at Castle Doxie were from -- I forget -- a planet far away."

"Thirty light years, to be exact," said Old Guy. "Rubik, 4th planet of the Canker system."

"I wasn't on the Doxie mission," said Stans. "But what are Rubes doing floating around in the Shallow Sea?"

"Face," said Old Guy. "Even though their Castle Doxie attack was the result of a Reality Wave, they were bound by Rube tradition to succeed or be banished from Rubik. They can't go home. Which ain't all bad. Rubik is worse than Green Hell. These days most Rubes live in habitats orbiting the planet. They don't raid and make war as much as in the old days. Habitat living has softened them somewhat. The ones living here on the floating islands are divided between Old Style and Reformed Rubes. Old Style Rubes are mostly pirates and mercenaries. Reformed Rubes are generally in business or fish for a living. Some herd sheep on the islands."

Donnie frowned at the effort of following Old Guy's line of baloney. "So we just have to watch out for the Old Style Rubes?"

"Unfortunately, no. Reformed doesn't mean complete acceptance of their lot. Rubes also have politicians. Political hacks are constantly stirring the pot."

"Jeez," said Donnie. "Sounds like home."

"What about those Doxies?" asked Stans. "They sound like a fun-loving bunch."

"Not so much," said Old Guy, remembering the Simian debacle at Castle Doxie.

"Darn." Donnie sat down beside Stans and put on his pouty face. "I like doxies."

"You like anything with boobs," sighed Joker.

"I ain't sure that's so," said Archie. "Every time he sees big boobs he goes off with Cata Tonia."

"I told you already," whined Donnie. "I don't know no Cata Tonia."

(tbc)

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I finally got ObamaCare to give me the body I've always was meant to have. You busy tonight Stanny honey?

Very busy! Extremely busy! Busy tomorrow too! And all weekend! Overly busy for the rest of my life! g056.gif

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The Detour

Archie turned back to his controls. "We can't land here." He initiated a left turn, away from the armed Rubes ranked in the only unobstructed ground they had seen on Thule. A trio of Rube airships hovered in the distance, obviously backing up the ground forces.

"Unfriendly bastards," muttered Joker. "We didn't slaughter so many that they should hate us forever. Did we?"

"I think they're displaying a general rejection of outsiders," said Old Guy. "If they knew some of us had participated in the fight at Castle Doxie, their actions might have been more overt."

"What does that mean?" asked Donnie.

"They'd be killing us." Stans stood up and stretched. "Come on, Donnie. Let's go up to the passenger compartment and see if there's anything to eat."

Stag and Gunny came down to the gondola a few minutes later. "There's food upstairs," announced Stag. "Cold cuts and beer. Nothing drinkable."

Archie glanced back and shook his head. "I couldn't find that muddy stuff you like."

"Don't worry about Stag," said Gunny. "He complained but managed to choke down at least two of those bloody awful American beers."

"I was just trying to be polite."

Joker headed for the stairs. "One of you wanna watch the radio? There's nothing to listen to and no one to call, but it seemed like a good idea to turn the thing on."

Stag sat down at the radio console. "I can handle that."

Gunny noted the turn away from Thule. "Where we headed now?"

"Home," said Archie. "I hope."

Old Guy looked up. "Bring her on around to a heading of north." He took out a small device that looked much like a Ouija board. "I'll see if I can wangle a couple clearances."

Gunny eased into the wicker co-pilot's chair. A strange arrangement of gears occupied the wall to his right. At seemingly random intervals some of the gears rotated a few turns, then stopped and often as not, rotated the other way.

"Watch your sleeve," warned Archie. "And your arm."

Gunny drew back as much as he could. "What the hell is this thing?"

"The navigation computer. It's working fine. Just keep your fingers out of it."

"Why in hell isn't there a cover for all those gears? It's damned unsafe."

"A cover?" Archie and Old Guy stared at the former Marine, dumfounded. "If it had a cover," said Old Guy, "we couldn't see the gears working. It's a work of art."

"Work of art? It's a damn meat grinder."

"Just keep your arm out of it," suggested Old Guy. "Navigation will have to be spot on for this to work."

"I don't like the sound of that," said Stag. "For what to work?"

"We have to skip across a parallel timeline or two," explained Old Guy. "Or three."

"Sounds like you ain't sure," said Gunny.

"I'm not," admitted the ancient one. "But it doesn't matter. Cruising the timelines is not difficult -- provided your navigation is spot-on." He tapped Archie on the shoulder. "Fly heading of 3-3-0."

Archie responded. "Turning to a heading of 3-3-0, aye."

Stag snickered. "Ole Archie has been watching too many old war movies."

"Bite your tongue," cried Gunny. "It's not possible to watch too many war movies, especially if the film has the Duke or Clint in it."

"Steady on 3-3-0," said Archie.

Old Guy reached between the pilot seats and pulled moved a small red lever from SAFE to ARMED. A panel slid down revealing a silver gyro mounted in a gilt frame. The gyro began to spin. Red lights blinked, then went out. A single green light illuminated in the instrument panel, directly in front of Archie. The light was flashing slowly. Amber lights flanked it. Neither of those was lit.

"Once we start," said Old Guy, "turn left or right to keep the green light flashing. If you drift off course the amber lights on either side will flash. Turn in the direction of the amber light until the green one starts flashing again. Got that?"

"Got it, aye." Archie flashed Stag a single digit high sign.

"What if all the lights go out?" asked Stag.

"That won't happen. Okay, Archie, stay on heading 3-3-0 until we make the jump, then start following the light signals." Old Guy made some adjustments to his Ouija board thing. "Here we go."

Darkness closed in, lightning flashed, the airship lurched heavily. "Keep her on that heading," warned Old Guy.

Archie wrestled with the controls. "It's tough. This thing is a pig to maneuver."

A chorus of alarmed voices echoed down the stairwell.

"Hell," muttered Old Guy. "I forgot to warn the others."

"I'll go." Stag managed to work his way to the stairs without mishap. Holding on with both hands, he stumbled out of sight. A minute later he more or less fell down the stairwell and crawled back to his position. "Place is a mess. Food all over. Joker looked to be cut to pieces, but it was only ketchup."

Jagged mountain peaks hove into view. The sky overhead was filled with leaden gray clouds. Snow flurries brushed the viewports. The flash and rumble of lightning went on without letup.

Archie glanced back at Old Guy. "Where the hell are we?"

"Some part of Asgard. Don't worry. We won't be here long enough for the gods or the dead to notice."

"Oh, right," growled Stag. "That sounds just bloody lovely."

Old Guy paid no attention to the comment. "Ready for the next jump, Archie?"

"Wait!" The left amber light began to flash. "Wait a minute. Let me get her back on --." The green light flashed. "All right. Hit the switch."

Old Guy touched the Ouija thing. "System engaged, Captain. You're doing all right for a former spotted orc."

Again the ship jerked and shuddered, then flew into clear air. Overhead a blue sun burned bright. Below, the land shimmered in millions of strange colors. The air smelled of something rotten. Not as bad as one of Donnie's pickled egg farts, but unpleasant.

"We won't be here long," said Old Guy. "Let me know when you're lined up, Archie."

The diminutive Simian wrestled with the wheel. Slowly the airship turned left. Several glittering elongated objects arced through the sky, crossing in front of the ship, perhaps a mile distant. Diamond-bright flame shot from the back of each. In a heartbeat, the craft climbed vertically out of sight.

"I didn't like the looks of whatever those were," said Gunny.

"I don't either," said Old Guy. "They don't usually respond this quickly. We better make our next jump pronto."

"Still turning," said Archie. The left amber light blinked steadily.

Old Guy did something with his Ouija pad. "We're set. All we need is a green light."

One of the glittering craft shot by on the right. A sonic pressure wave smashed into the Simian airship. Frames groaned. A ripple of muffled blasts signaled the failure of hundreds of rivets. Without warning the ship sagged nose-down. Archie emitted several pungent orc curses and braced himself, pulling on the control wheel. Gunny grabbed the copilot wheel and tried to help.

A serving cart loaded with aluminum dinnerware crashed into the stairwell. Dozens of plates, cups, and serving dishes cascaded down into the gondola. A large dipper bounced across the floor, ricocheted off Gunny's chair and rattled into the navigation gear assembly. With an ear-splitting screech, a pair of gears chewed the utensil into small bits. Other gears ate the leftovers. A thin layer of aluminum shavings drifted to the cabin floor.

The gyro remained steady but every Simian in the gondola heard its steady hum change pitch. Old Guy shook his head and bent over his jump control.

"Something went into the gears!" yelled Gunny.

"We got a green light!" shouted Arche. "Get us out of here!"

Old Guy touched the pad.

A familiar dull gray landscape appeared below. Lethargic winds nudged the airship. The sky showed no sun, just unrelieved gray.

"Purgatory!" laughed Archie. "Symbiotic Saloon, here we come!"

Sullen streaks appeared in the sky. The gravel plain sagged into lifeless puddles. The silver gyro tumbled from its gilt cage and bounced across the floor. All three lights went out.

"Oh, sh -- ." Old Guy's curse cut off. The airship, and all it contained, ceased to exist.

***

Archie opened his eyes and blinked. Ragged clouds raced across the sky. Cold rain poured down. He sat up suddenly and regretted it. His head ached as if from a three day binge. "Must have been that last jump."

The cop was wearing a yellow slicker. He squatted down beside Archie. "Are you drunk, sir? Public drunkenness is against the law, you know."

"No, I -- ." Archie struggled to his feet. "I -- I just slipped. Hit my head. You know. Scrambled my brains for a minute. My friends say I don't have enough to scramble, but -- ." He clamped his mouth shut, stopping the flow of gibberish.

"Right." The officer sighed and headed for his car. "Go on home, sir. Try not to fall down again on the way."

"Blast," muttered Archie as he splashed out of the soggy area. "He thinks I was drunk. I wonder what happened to the others?" Water squished out of his shoes as he hurried home to his computer and a visit to Combatsim.

***

Stag crashed through a tangle of brush and stumbled into a clearing -- to find his squad lying in various positions, sleeping. Shouting vile descriptions of their parental units, he kicked them into a semblance of order and military harmony.

"Sleeping!" He stalked to and fro in the little clearing. "I leave for five bloody minutes and I find you lot conked out like a bunch of CIVILIANS."

"But -- ." One brave soul raised a hand. "We are civilians."

"In the bloody field of operations, you ain't sodding civilians."

"You was gone a long time. We figgered you was havin' it on with that big-chested tart what does commo for them OPFOR creeps."

Secretly, Stag DID sometimes daydream about waking up to find that very commo tart curled up in his tent. His fingers twitched as he imagined unfastening her bra -- one little catch at a time. "Ah -- ." He snapped back to the here and now. "Havin' it on, eh? Bloody morons. I was takin' a dump." A wide grin spread across his face. "Passed a turd the size of the corporal."

At that moment a gaggle of dark-clad figures leaped, shrieking, from the underbrush. Fire blazed from their weapons. In seconds, Stag's squad died. Naturally, it was a simulated death, but none the less embarrassing for all concerned.

The OPFOR commo tart stepped into the clearing and grinned at Stag's uniform, slathered with pink splotches. She slung her weapon and unzipped her jacket, just far enough to reveal a smidgen of black lace. "Have a nice day." She blew him a kiss and ran to rejoin her squad.

"Bloody hell," sighed Stag. "Back to base, children." He said not another word until two hours later, when the bartender at his favorite pub placed a glass of muddy liquid on the bar. Small movements in the glass hinted at living things therein. "I wonder what happened to the rest of those sods?" With a shrug, he put the thought aside and drained his glass.

***

Joker came to his senses sitting on a toilet in what he hoped was a men's room. Warily he eased out of the stall and headed for the exit. The sight of urinals reassured him. It probably WAS a men's room. In SFO one could never be sure.

He didn't notice his garments until he stepped into the hallway. He recognized the place. A mall about a mile from his house. The reflection of a man dressed in black t-shirt and blue pajama bottoms stared back at him from a window across the hall. Blotches of what looked like blood stained both articles of clothing. He knew they were ketchup stains, but no one else would.

"Ooooh, hell." He'd been at his computer wearing the pajama bottoms, slippers, and a black t-shirt with a Marine logo on the chest. As if that wasn't bad enough, the words 'Kill 'em all. Let God sort 'em out.' were printed on the back. The shirt was a gift from his good buddy, Gunny.

He was without shoes, but that wasn't a problem in SFO. Swiftly, he stepped back into the restroom and took off the shirt. Turning it inside out, he put it back on. Breathing a long sigh of relief, he went out whistling a tune he'd learned from a whore in Dallas, back when he was -- . But wait. Did he really spend a wild weekend in Dallas with Bunny -- or Betty -- or whatever her name was? Or was that a sim memory? As he got older his real life and simulated lives tended to run together.

It didn't matter. One memory was as good as another. He'd heard a street preacher say that once. The man was talking about how drugs altered memories, but Joker imagined the same was true of sim recollections.

With no money in his pockets (no pockets!), no cell phone, and no shoes, Joker set off for home and his computer. He had a sprint car race to run. And he might check in at Combatsim to see if everyone made it back okay.

***

Mrs. Whizkid looked up as her husband walked in. "Where have you been?"

Whiz briefly considered various places where he might have been. Nothing occurred to him. "I went for a walk."

"Where did you walk?"

He shrugged. "Just around."

"See anybody we know?"

"No."

"Dinner will be a little late. I wasn't sure when you'd be back."

"Okay." He walked slowly out of the room and headed for his computer.

"I swear," said the Mrs. to herself. "It's like talking to a child."

***

"Wake up, Donnie."

Light, faces, a sharp pain in his back. "Wha -- ?"

"Wake up." It was the shelter supervisor, Ms. Ratchet. "Are you okay?"

"I don't -- I mean I think I am." He sat up slowly, letting the world sort itself into the usual semblance of reality. Or as much reality as the aliens permitted humans to see. "My back." He turned around. He'd been lying on his shoes.

"Someone dropped you at the door," said Ms. Ratchet. Her tone made it plain that such a manner of arrival was NOT PERMITTED. A lot of things weren't permitted at the shelter.

"I don't remember nothing," said Donnie, which was a filthy lie. He remembered most of his time in Camelot, except for certain periods of blackout. He knew the Simians had flown out of there on an airship. After that, things got a little hazy. But, hard experience had taught him not to mention his Simian adventures to anyone. They began talking of strait jackets and padded cells when he described an alien abduction or a visit to the Symbiotic Saloon. The ear tags left by the aliens were dismissed as fake.

"We had to change your clothes," added Ratchet. He knew she hadn't done that. The job was probably assigned to one of the other inmates -- clients in shelter-speak.

"What was wrong with my clothes?"

"You were drenched in what smelled like Ranch dressing."

"Oh." He nodded as if that made perfect sense. Which it did. To him.

***

Stans stared at the ceiling for a long time. Finally, he realized he was back at home.

Before he could get up, his wife walked in. "You were talking in your sleep."

"I wasn't asleep." Desperately he tried to think of a reason to be on the floor. "I was going to do some sit-ups."

"Sit-ups? Right." Snickering, she went out.

Why not sit-ups? wondered Stans. He put his hands behind his head and tried to do a regular military sit-up. His legs lifted off the floor, but nothing else moved. Okay, I'll just hook my legs under that chair. Repositioning himself, he tried again. The chair went over with a crash.

"Damn." He turned over and dragged himself erect. By the time his wife arrived to see what was going on, he was sitting at his desk.

"What was that racket? Sounded like the house was falling down."

"Racket? What racket?"

***

Old Guy found himself lying belly down in a hole littered with spent cartridges. Dead horses lined the lip of the depression. He heard running water and smelled rotting flesh. He hoped the stench was coming from the horses. A Spencer rifle lay in the crook of his arm. Obviously, he'd been firing it.

"Where the hell are we?"

Old Guy rolled over, careful not to expose himself. Gunny lay a few feet away. He wore faded blue cavalry trousers and an equally worn checked shirt. A buckskin jacket was rolled up beside him.

A man Old Guy didn't know crawled over one of the dead horses and plopped down, raising a thin cloud of dust. "Lieutenant Beecher's dead. Colonel's wounded. How much ammunition you got, sergeant?"

"I haven't counted since that last attack."

The man spat a stream of tobacco juice into the sand. "Well, if'n you need some, we got some extry rounds. The lieutenant don't need his and the Colonel ain't likely to do any more shootin'. Then there's them others."

Old Guy figured 'them others' were either dead or wounded. "I'll let you know about the ammunition. Any chance of relief?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. Stilwell and Trudeau been gone -- what? -- four days? And Donovan left a couple days after that. Indians ain't showed us no scalps. I figure one of 'em mighta got through by now."

"Yeah. I reckon we'll know in a few days."

"Them bastards don't show no sign of leavin', that's for sure." The man spat again, then crawled through a gap between dead horses and into the next hole.

"What have we fallen into?" hissed Gunny.

"Beecher's Island. 1868. Don't ask me how. I haven't even thought of that fight for years." Old Guy rolled back to his belly and started counting his ammunition. "Know anything about a Spencer?"

"Not a damn thing, but it's a rifle. I reckon I can do some damage with it. What are you doing?"

"Count your rounds. I seem to have most of my pistol ammo and about half a bandolier of rifle cartridges. If I remember right, most of the fighting was at fairly long range."

"Well let's hope it stays that way. How long you figure we'll be here?"

Old Guy knew what Gunny was talking about. They were supposed to be inside a fictional tale, not stranded on a sand bar in a Colorado river. "I wouldn't count on anything happening until relief arrives. These guys have been here a week, maybe longer. I can't remember the exact timeline."

"But help does arrive. Right? And in time to save most of the troopers?"

"It does. Three or four days from now, I think."

"Okay." Gunny fell silent for some time. Then he laughed quietly. "I'm grateful for one damn thing."

"Oh? What?"

"I got a rifle in my hand and a pistol in this here holster. It ain't swords. Damn, I'm glad it ain't swords."

"Watch yerself!" hollered someone a few yards away. "Some a them bastards is creepin' down to the river bank. Over by that big tree."

Gunny and Old Guy slid forward, nestling into position beside a pair of rotting carcasses. Neither man noticed the smell, nor thought any more about getting out, or Simians, or Camelot. It was time to pay attention to business.

Gunny, however, for just a moment, did savor an image of Morgana as she appeared on the castle parapet. Muttering, he shook off the memory and lined up on what looked like movement in the grass a few yards above the river bank.

End

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Outstanding story, OG! :icon_rock:

And for the record, I can do a situp. It just takes me a bit longer these days, but eventually I can crank one out. :D

Two if the fart that comes with the situp is just gas and nothing more. :o

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Yeah, figures I'd land with Old Guy in the middle of a fight. Well hell, works for me.

Oh and Stan, when you can crank out 80, come talk to me. I can still crank out out 80 in two mikes and get 20 pull ups done. Just don't ask me to run three miles. Knees aint what they used to be.

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80 sit ups? Well, I'm gonna say you won't be hearing from me for quite a while! :lol: And running is not a real good option for me either, I have attained the cereal age; "snap, crackle, and pop" from every joint.

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