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S.N. Lewitt

They shouldn't have named this place Camelot. Even I know that, in the end, the dream didn't hold, that entropy and chaos and the end of law overcame all the massed forces of chivalry of the age. And in this age there never was any chivalry to begin with.

But then I came here too, to forget the wars and the dead and the stink of battlefields. Ten years ago this was a wonderful place, a bustling town surrounded by rich green fields. There was plenty for everyone and plenty left over to trade for the technology we couldn't produce ourselves. We had to buy the small psychotronics that cleaned the streets and kept the walls repaired, the weather planner and the genetics scope that we mostly bought to use on the sheep for breeding purposes, but sometimes was used by married couples who had trouble conceiving or by the medical center to diagnose some rare genetic anomaly.

I was not the only immigrant to Camelot. Even with strict restrictions on citizenship, at least a quarter of the population were refugees. We had run from the wars, from the Empire, from the restrictions of the technoverse, from the normal life that normal people lead near the center of the universe. Not everyone likes the bug life of the techno-urbs. Some of us waited for years for our permission to emigrate was granted, and years more to pass all the psych probes required for permission to enter Camelot.

It had been worth it. After the death and power I had seen, the gentle green hills and gossip in the town square were better than anything a medvac healing team had even devised. I had enough in saved wages to buy a small pear orchard in the valley with a stone house and a cow.

I could forget the wars here. The smell of death, of putrid flesh and fusing circuitry, had been reduced to the merest shred of memory. If at night I sometimes dreamed of hulks greater than the Camelot Town Hall thundering over ravaged terrain, the charge of the ~Dinochrome Brigades, it was my own secret.

After three years of sanity, tending the trees and milking the cow, I married a native Camelot girl. Isabelle brought her chickens and her geese to the yard, started a kitchen garden with dill and rosemary and thyme, and filled the house with the sounds of singing. Isabelle had a voice like the angels, and she sang as she worked and she worked all the time. And when I dreamed of the war, of the flaming Hellbore frying an Enemy outpost, a single Bolo left powerless and dead on the field, my best friend found mindless in an ~Enemy holding pen, Isabelle would hold me and tell me it was all over now and give me warm milk and a slice of fresh pie. And I could believe that it was all over, that I had found perfection. I had, in fact, found Paradise. And I kept wondering when the dream would be shattered.

Ten years of peace and prosperity and laughter lulled me. Ten years when the worst thing that happened was the night the weather planner went out and we had to put out ancient smudgepots among the trees. When the worst thing that happened was the fear that little Margaret's fever would never break and Isabelle and Ricky and I kept running to the stream for snow melt to cool her. When the worst thing was Gwain Thacher leaving Emily and their four children and running off with Elisa Chase.

And so, when the first attack came, I was not prepared.

They were not the Enemy I had fought in mankind's wars. Those were things I could hate without reservation and identify without thought. This enemy was our own, a force of thirty humans in a rustbucket of a ship that landed out in the Abbey's cornfield.

Ships didn't land in Camelot valley. They were~ directed to Dover Port, where they were properly vetted and the trade delegations sat full time to regulate prices. The warehouses with the surplus wool and fine lace, the elegant pottery and ironwork and glass, crowded the edge of the Port. Strangers never came so far as town, and we didn't want them.

At first we thought this must be a ship in distress. Why else would they land in a cornfield, killing off an acre of crops? And out where it was inconvenient and there was nothing to do and no trade items waiting for their cargo bays.

The monks were the first to arrive, and then a few of us farmers. A large number of young people who should have been tending sheep and milking cows and making cheese gathered quickly, glad of any excuse from their chores. We waited for a long time, and ~finally the bell called the monks to their chapel, ~before the hatch opened and the visitors came down.

I should have known. By that time I should have realized that the rustbucket was up to no good, that any ship that wouldn't open up to the clean air and the monks' good ale was trouble waiting. But, as I said, after ten years my instincts were dulled and my memories reduced to bad dreams, and I had wanted it that way.

So when the hull seals opened and the first of them appeared and jumped to the ground in surplus assault suits, armed with a motley collection of power rifles, needlers and laser sticks, I was as shocked as any Camelot native who had never seen these weapons ~before. There were at least twenty of them, blast shields in battle-ready over their faces and weapons pointing at the small crowd.

They looked nothing like the military I had left. The assault suits were patched with a blinding array of colors, the weapons looked worn and dirty. No commander in my time would have held rank for long with this crew to show for it. And the one who came out last was the sloppiest, his assault suit covered with long ribbons that blew loose ends to the breeze.

One of the girls nearby giggled. "He looks like a Maypole," she whispered to a friend. The giggles spread rapidly through the group.

"We want your wool, and also your cider and a case of the Abbey's brandy," the maypole said, rasping. I couldn't tell if the voice was real or on distort through the helmet's speakers. "And whatever jewelry you have. You have some nice silver work here, I've heard. I want it here, piled up right on this spot, by sundown."

"Man's crazy," one of the farmers muttered. "Twenty against all of us? Hell."

The maypole must have heard that. He signalled to one of the anonymous attackers holding a power rifle. The single weapon blasted through the group and Gavin Fletcher and Gwynneth Jones lay smoking dead on the young green corn.

"Now, I didn't want to do that," the maypole ~announced. He sounded somewhat pleased. "But now that we know we can't trust you, we're going to have to collect for ourselves. For protection, you understand. You pay the tax and we protect you." He laughed unpleasantly.

I wanted to kill them there where they stood. A tax? This was outright robbery. This was something I had left behind, escaped when the final documents were sealed making me a citizen of Camelot. This was something I could not accept.

I wanted to kill them. But I turned and ran back to my house, to Isabelle singing while she kneaded the bread, to Ricky carefully tending the vegetables and reciting his times tables. To Margaret, who toddled ~after her mother and pulled the loaf pans down off the table.

When I was twenty-two and received my commission in Command, I would have done anything rather than run. When I was twenty-two I didn't have a family to protect, a family that immediately overrode any of the old catchwords like courage and honor and pride.

I got to the house and hustled Isabelle and the children into the root cellar. It was strong and well-built, and the door overhead was heavy. Then I gathered up what we had, the few pieces of jewelry and a pitcher that had been my grandmother's and the silver worked frame of the picture of Isabelle in her wedding dress.

I took them all and piled them at the door. And when the anonymous trooper showed up with a laser stick and his blast shield down, I handed it over without words. All I could think of was to get him out of the house before he heard Margaret cry. Before Ricky decided to run upstairs and help out. I had never known so much fury, and so much fear.

The thief took my small pile without so much as a glance, threw it all into a sack already half full with the goods of other households down the road, and left. I watched him go, raging at his back. Pirates. Thieves. I had never hated our alien Enemy half so much as I hated these humans who threatened my community, my family.

I waited until the rag-tag colors on the assault suit disappeared before I opened the cellar door.

"What was that?" Isabelle asked, shaken.

I told her about the ship and Gavin and Gwynneth.

She shook her head slowly. "Geoffery, I know you left the war behind you. But you know things, you and your refugee friends, that we don't. We've never had to fight on Camelot before. I think, maybe, it is time to remember."

She stroked my cheek with her work-rough hands, her large dark eyes soft and full of sorrow. Not fear, but sadness that I would have to bring back what I had fought so hard to forget.

That evening everyone stayed in at their own hearths, watching for the strangers to leave. The next day I didn't want to go out far from the house, from the children. If one of those blast-shielded troopers came back, I wanted to be there to make sure he died or left, but that Ricky and Margaret were safe. And so I was sitting in the doorway sharpening my pruning axe when Frederick came by.

"'Lo, Jazz," he said. I winced. I had left that name ten years ago. Jasper was not a real Camelot name, and all immigrants were encouraged to take on names that were "appropriate." I had become Geoffery. And Fidel Castanega had become Frederick Case.

But Fidel and I, when I was still Jazz-for-Jasper, had served together in the 1st Battalion of the Dinochrome Brigade, in Command Status. Talking to the great hulks of the Mark XXX Bolos who had been, in their own strange way, friends as well as comrades. Fidel and I went way back, but we never talked about those days now.

Frederick Case was a cabinetmaker, the best in three counties. Just as he had been one of the best psychotronic techs in the Brigade. Even now, when he had renounced his past as thoroughly as I had renounced mine, he was sometimes called in to fix the simpler psychotronic machines that Camelot owned.

He never charged for the job, either. "You pay me to make something out of wood," he'd say. "You want to pay me, you commission something nice, some of those harp-back chairs or maybe a linen press. Haven't made a linen press in a while. But to do this, no, ~every~body helps out the way they can. Let's just let it ride."

I'd actually heard him say it just that way on two occasions. And he never called me Jazz. Never. He ~respected my desire to live in the present as much as he respected his own.

"So, Jazz, you hear the news? That damned pirate said that he was coming back in three months for harvest," Frederick said. His face was dark red and his hands were clenched. "You hear that? We have to do something, old buddy."

I hadn't heard and the thought of it made me want to kill something right there. Like that maypole guy. He would do for a start.

"So what can we do?" I asked. "Organize a patrol of us who remember how from the old days?"

Frederick nodded. "I kind of thought of that. We're having a meeting down at the church tonight, after supper. And since you were an officer, Jazz, you'd be a natural at it."

I shut up for a while. Sure I'd go. But I hadn't ever commanded men. I never drilled with power rifles, not that we had any on Camelot anyway. I never was ~infantry. I only knew Bolos, and they were a far cry from Camelot.

After six weeks it was hopeless. Frederick and I had spent every evening with the Volunteer Force down in the town square. Three hundred men, young women and a few adolescent boys had managed to learn to throw kitchen knives and did close order drill with rakes. They couldn't hold off the pirates for three seconds.

"What we need is guns," old Edward Fletcher said at the meeting after church. "We need power rifles as good as theirs, and laser sticks. Otherwise we might as well just all slit our throats with our ploughblades."

There was a sudden cheering in the pews. Even the monks nodded sagely to each other. "Real weapons," the priest said, calling for order, "are going to cost money. And since the raid we don't have any."

"We'll raise it," old Edward countered. "Because we might as well roll over and die if we don't."

The priest called me and Frederick and William Yellowhair and Thomas Blacksmith, who had all once served in the alien wars far away, up to the front and held a little meeting of our own.

"If we had the weapons could we hold off the ~pirates?" the priest asked. He was another Camelot ~native and had never seen a real fight in his life.

Not one of the four of us said anything for a full fifteen seconds. Finally Thomas took the diplomatic approach. Thomas had always been very good at that, as General Bolling's aide-de-camp. "Well," he said slowly, "we surely can't even think of trying if we don't have any real weapons. Though no guarantee we can even find a decent supply of power rifles, let alone ~laser sticks. And if we found a supply I'm not sure we could afford them. But like we are, Old Edward is right. We might as well roll over and play dead straight off, because we don't have a chance in Hell. Begging your pardon, sir."

The priest didn't even notice. "Well, then," he said briskly. "We'll see about some funds. I believe that the Abbey has some stashed away, an old donation they've been saving for an emergency. If we managed some cash, would the four of you be willing to go out and act as agents, and try to bring back whatever we can use to save ourselves?"

Frederick and I looked at each other. We exchanged glances with William and Thomas, who had once been Bill Solestes and Tyrone X. Then the four of us nodded together.

After all, we'd discussed it among ourselves, sitting at a table in William's alehouse after a drill on a rainy day. We knew we needed something more serious than pitchforks and hog slaughtering knives.

"Happy to go, padre," William said. "We'd all agreed, anyway. But I don't think you quite understand just how much this is going to cost us. And then there's the matter of using it well enough to make a difference."

The priest shrugged. "We do what we can. We'll pray for you here, and maybe God will help us find a solution we had not considered."

I never thought that praying alone did all that much good. But the next day the priest arrived with what looked like a couple thousand credits worth of silver coins and candlesticks and a gold plate that had been buried under the Abbey apple press.

"Not nearly enough," Frederick sighed, and I agreed, but we didn't have any choice. Maybe the praying would help. I figured I'd been on Camelot way to long.

We went over to the alehouse to call Dover Port and get a merchant schedule. Most houses in Camelot don't have individual links, but the alehouse and the commercial establishments and the government all have them. It's not that we're unable to use technology here. It's that we have chosen a different way. We don't hate technology. Like I said, we use some simple psychotronics for tasks no one wants to do, but we aren't going to make our lives around them, either. We live close to the earth, to things that are real, to each other.

The Slocum was leaving in two days for Miranda, a major hub in the sector. A center of corruption as well as trade. There was no shortage of arms dealers on Miranda, at least not ten years ago. And that sort of thing doesn't change real fast in these parts.

Isabelle packed my bag, washed and folded my old work suits in faded Command green. She also wrapped up a loaf of fresh brown bread and two cheeses, one sharp yellow one from our own cow and a softer sheep's milk cheese as well. "Because there won't be very nice food out there," she whispered softly when she handed me the bundle at the door. "Come back soon. We'll be waiting."

I looked at them like I'd never see them again. Ricky, who can't wait to reach seven and be called Richard, stood straight, trying to be brave. Margaret was too young to understand and held out pudgy hands and chattered incomprehensibly. Leaving was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

Miranda was just like I remembered it from my last trip out, the trip that brought me to Camelot for good. The city stank more than ten years ago and there were, if possible, more holosigns floating over the arcade. We ignored those and walked along the ~arcade floor, feeling like rubes from the outer worlds and not like four vets of the alien wars at all.

"Where the hell do we find a cheap arms dealer?" William Yellowhair asked rhetorically.

Thomas Blacksmith smiled. "A few calls," was all he said. Thomas, having worked for the general who had accepted most of the credit for the tide-turning defeat of the Enemy at Torgon, had a lot of contacts.

We went into a bar that was nothing like the alehouse I'd frequented for the past decade. Here everything was chrome and holo and bright, and there were about seventeen hundred different drinks on tap. Thomas disappeared to the private phone stalls against the back wall while Frederick and I tried to order. ~Finally we just stuck to plain old Guinness, the drink of choice in the Regiment.

It came, and after William's homemade ale, it seemed thin and uninteresting. How wonderful we had thought Guinness was when we were in the field, how we talked about it at night when the Bolos were lit like Christmas trees with forty-eight colors of blinking lights, spitting out projectiles and energy at different rates of penetration.

Thomas returned as we finished the last of the pitcher. His glass was untouched, had never been filled. "What is it, guys? None for me, and I done all that talking?"

Frederick shrugged. "It isn't as good as Will's, you're not missing anything. Come up with anything?"

Thomas still looked wistfully at the foam sliding down the sides of the empty pitcher. "Yeah, sure did," he said dully. "Damn, I wish you guys had saved me a beer. Anyway, someone I heard about only, a real long time ago, you understand, is going to see us in about six hours. We've got to get over to his place and see what he's selling. I got the directions here, we're going to have to fence this stuff and get a car over there and we don't have a hell of a lot of time. Damn I could use a glass of that stuff."

Well, we didn't have a hell of a lot of time, but we had enough time to sit while Thomas had himself a Guinness and talk about how to turn the silver and one gold plate the Abbey had given us into hard cold credit. Miranda has lots of everything, and that ~includes pawn shops. Oldest damn profession, money grubbing, we even had one pawn lender/banker on Camelot. He had his offices in Dover Port and never went far from the port area. He never came into town proper. He wasn't real welcome among the locals.

We ended up selling the silver to an antique dealer, who gave us a better price than the pawn dealer. And we kept the gold plate as a final enticement. The antique dealer said it was worth more than he could afford to pay, and if we were willing to wait a couple of days he might be able to arrange something. We didn't have a couple of days, we wanted to get home with an arsenal as soon as possible and let the militia begin drilling. Maybe they would get in a whole two weeks of target work before we had to engage the pirates again.

By four in the afternoon Miranda time we were out in the middle of nowhere, at the abandoned mine ~entrance where we were meeting with the dealer.

He wasn't my idea of an arms dealer at all. This guy, who called himself Block, was more like a used rustbucket salesman. Too little, too slick, trying real hard to sell us two hundred year old projectile mortars that I knew were stressed to death and told him so. So we insisted on being taken inside. No more verbal descriptions of various ordnance. We wanted to see it where it lay.

And as soon as we stepped into the oversized cavern we saw the Mark XXIV.

It was a rust-covered hulk, its towers fused and its battle honors near unreadable welded onto its turret. An antique, to be sure, and probably decommissioned. They do that with these guys when they get outmoded or die. Kill the power, kill the personality complex, let the old boy die. And a Mark XXIV was old old old.

And there was nothing else we needed.

A Bolo. I never thought to get my hands on a Bolo again. They weren't only smart and the most powerful war machines ever devised, they were loyal and brave and honorable. And they were alive enough to have honor. My old regiment, the First . . .

"How much for the wreck?" Frederick asked the dealer nonchalantly, kicking the corrosion-encrusted treads.

"It's not for sale," the dealer said quickly. "Completely decommissioned, just a hangar queen now. We've already sold off two of the missile launchers and I have a buyer for the Hellbore coming in from Aglanda next week."

"You got a customer for the whole thing right now," Frederick said, shrugging. "It ain't no good now, but we could sure use all those parts where we come from."

Will and Thomas looked a little strained. They hadn't been in the regiment, didn't know how good Frederick was with an electron welder and nanotorch. I'd seen what he could do, and if anyone could restore the Bolo, he could. If only its survival instinct had been deep enough, if the personality center hadn't completely decayed, Frederick, or at least the old ~Fidel, could work miracles.

"How the hell are you going to ship it anywhere?" Block asked, superior.

Frederick shrugged. "That's those guys' problem. But the monks are praying for us and there isn't anything else you got to sell we want."

Block turned away, furious, when Thomas cut in. Thomas' voice was soft, his manner pleasant, like he was talking to Annie Potts about the best time for planting cabbages and just how to prepare the ground. "Now, Mr. Block, I know this thing probably is salvage and decommissioned, but I'm certain that you still wouldn't want the Quartermasters to find it. Owning a Bolo is still illegal, even here on Miranda. You can't transport it and you don't dare trust using it. Reactivate the thing and it could wipe out every civilized stick on this whole planet."

Somehow, when Thomas said that it sounded ~relaxed and conversational, and that made the threat all the worse. Block understood. His eyes narrowed as he studied us, and in his face it was clear that he had to change from thinking of us as a bunch of rubes and see us as a little more knowledgeable than he had ~assumed.

That was one of the things I'd learned from the Bolos. Never assume. Never assume anything about the Enemy. Use your data to best advantage, but ~always be ready to reevaluate your estimations based on new data.

Block obviously didn't have that experience with Bolos and so he was a little slower on the uptake. "You can't afford it," he said flatly. "You told me about what you had to spend and you can't afford it."

Thomas smiled. White teeth showed in a dark face. His eyes were cold. "We'll pay more than the Decommissioning Force will," he said evenly.

Blank stared back. It took at least a full minute ~before he realized that Thomas really meant it, and that he had no choice. Sell to us, or get turned in, in possession of a Bolo. Which was not legal nowhere, no way.

We gave him what we had gotten for the silver. Blank still looked furious and sour, and turned his back on us. "You get that damned thing out of here," he hissed. "And how you're going to get it away . . ." He shook his head and left us to our work.

Frederick had a black box communication tie-in working in no time. "Combat Unit Seven twenty-one, KNE, this is Command," I said in my old tones. It came back so easily, as if the ten years on Camelot had never existed. "Kenny, come on boy, we've got a mission for you."

"Identification. You are not my Commander. Identification." The sound came very faintly through the speaker, as if the Bolo was speaking through the centuries of its slumber.

I nodded to Frederick. He hit the oscillator switch and the coded frequency bathed the old combat unit. "Let's have some power now, here's the chow," he muttered as he slid the two slim fuel bars into the closed reactor site. "We're going home, Kenny boyo. We're going home."

It was not the voice of my Commander. I thought this could be a trick of the Enemy. The Enemy is very clever and will try to impersonate our human superiors. This is something we know. But then the identifying frequencies come and the recognition stimulates my pleasure centers. The Enemy cannot know both my name and designation. Only my commander knows this. So I have a Commander again, and I have a mission.

My last mission was near failure. I was tasked to break an Enemy charge against the garrison on Miranda. I achieved my objective, but the Enemy had more powerful energy weapons than anticipated and I took two bad hits near my main reactor. I had to shut down all operations and retreat into the personality center waiting for a recharge. It is not success to achieve mission objective but to render oneself inoperative. It is not failure, but it was not success. I am a Combat Unit of the Dinochrome Brigade. I seek only complete and total success. Our regiment, the First, has a history of glory that shines as brightly as any star. This is my regiment, my brigade, my service. 

And yet, the memory fades. I remember my comrades, whole seconds of the battle. But pathways in my circuitry are blocked and others have faulty connections. I must tell the refitter of this. It is counterproductive to go into battle with incomplete data. 

Memory fades and shimmers. I can feel the data in my neural network being subtly tweaked. It feels . . . worrisome. As if the Enemy has come up with a new trick. As if I could be altered against my will and against my objective. 

That is not possible. I am a Mark XXIV, of the First Regiment, Dinochrome Brigade. I must keep that ~always in mind. And I must use all my critical analytic skills when I receive my mission. I will never work for the Enemy. I will self-destruct first, although the concept of non-existence disturbs me. 

The tweak is gone. Something has changed, but I check over my weaponry, my strategic centers, my central boards. Nothing is amiss. Nothing has been altered here. I do not understand, but no doubt it has to do with my new mission. Contemplation of a new mission objective fills me with pleasure. I am eager to fulfill my purpose as a Combat Unit in this Regiment. 

Only one thing disturbs me. I send out on the Regiment band, again and again, and my comrades do not answer. I must suppose they are dead. I did not know that I can feel sadness, but that is what this strange thing must be. My comrades have fallen bravely, ~accomplishing their objectives, I am sure. I locate the music stores in my memory to play a dirge for their passing, but I wait, listening to the Ravel Pavanne. It helps me assimilate my loss. 

* * *

"How's it going?" I asked Frederick

He blinked and leaned back, an electron wrench hanging in his fist. Outside it was bright and beautiful, another perfect day on Camelot. Inside the shed we had built for Kenny it was too warm and smelled of ozone from the refitting.

We had gotten Kenny rolling and paid for his passage with the gold plate we had saved. Lifting a Bolo out of a gravity well is not trivial, even for a Luther-class enforcement vessel. Which was what the Cayones use and why they could charge more than the cargo's asking price. Cayones are the most expensive transport pirates in human space, but they can be trusted to ~deliver and they never talk. Never. It was worth the gold, the only gold perhaps in all Camelot. The Cayones are very partial to gold, even more than jewels or credits or any other negotiable. I don't know, maybe they eat it. Maybe it's an aphrodisiac. It surely can be for us.

When we got Kenny down to Dover and brought him to town he was greeted with mixed feelings. After all, he is so big. Bigger than I had remembered, really. When I was in the Regiment everything was to Bolo scale. Now, against the neat two story houses and the main street large enough for six people to walk abreast, Kenny was more than huge. He towered over the church steeple, he was wider than William's stable. He was twice again as large as anything that had ever come to Camelot, including the pirates. I could almost pity them, having to face a Bolo nearly as tall as their ship with a Hellbore pointed down their screens.

But seeing Kenny's treads rip up Robert Merry's neatly ploughed acres of wheat filled me with foreboding. Kenny was made for one purpose only. Bolos are the most effective killers in the universe. Their whole function is to wage war. There is nothing else that gives them pleasure, nothing else that they can do. They might seem benign in resting state, but that is pure illusion. They were designed and refined to be single-minded combat machines and nothing else.

What were we going to do with Kenny after the ~pirates, the new Enemy were defeated?

Ricky and a few of his friends ran after Kenny, over the broken stalks of wheat in the field, I was suddenly deeply afraid. I had insisted that we bring the Bolo here. Now I could see a future where it would destroy everything that had made Camelot the most beautiful place in all the human worlds. Kenny could kill us all, scorch our earth, with a casual discharge from one of his lesser guns.

And I couldn't tell anyone else. No one on Camelot, with the exception of Frederick, could possibly understand. The natives of Camelot had never heard of the Bolos and had experience with only the most basic psychotronic machines. The idea of a self-will killer was beyond their comprehension.

Even the other refugees couldn't comprehend the full horror of it. They had never seen the great ~machines in action. Or, worse, if they had, they had seen them as saviors. No Regiment of the Dinochrome Brigade had ever failed in its objective. Ever.

And so Frederick was the only person in all of Camelot who could understand. Even better than me, really, since he was a psychotronic tech and I was merely one of the Commanders.

We had plenty of training in the history and psychology of the Bolos, but the techs always understood the nuances better. They had to. After all, the Bolos had been built to make it easy for us to command them. They were always eager, always ready, perfectly loyal and able to overcome any challenge.

But I never lost sight of them as machines. Big, dangerous machines that were capable of learning and adapting to the situation, but were essentially under human control at all times. That was the essential thing.

So I told Frederick about how I saw our Kenny, wondering aloud over a tankard of ale whether we had done worse than any of us ever thought by bringing him back here. It was the kind of talk anyone has after a hard day caring for the trees and the animals and the children, after a good dinner with pie for dessert.

Isabelle had noticed that I was distracted and seemed worried. She had suggested that I come down to the alehouse for a pint with Frederick and the other refugees. She looks at me oddly at those times, as if she knows there are things beyond Camelot that she doesn't wish to know and that I cannot help. And that only others who have lived in the side universe out there can understand and share my fears, and maybe help me put them aside.

So I was talking to Frederick about Kenny. William was serving, standing with the group playing dice near the fire. It was warm enough here in the corner. And it was private.

Frederick leaned back against the wall and looked at the beamed ceiling. "It was still the best choice," he insisted after more than a moment of silence. "Because once we destroy those pirates we'd better be able to defend ourselves. That's one thing no one in Camelot ever thought about. That with the wars over there are a lot of displaced people out there. Like we used to be, you know, pretty hard and with no place to go, no one to go to. Took a long time to thaw out. Some of them never do, I guess. Just go raiding. It's all they know how to do."

I nodded sagely and kept my mouth shut. I hadn't been like Frederick, his world traded to the Enemy for a three day truce, his home a blasted cinder by the time the war was over. If anyone had reason to be bitter, to have gone bad, it was him. But maybe he was just too big a guy to ever go bad, to let the bitterness turn him.

The group by the fire burst out into laughter. Frederick and I glanced their way. These were our neighbors, our friends. Now they seemed truly alien, from another dimension. They didn't know enough to fear what we had brought. What could destroy our lives, our Camelot, like every other Camelot in all the stories.

Frederick put his tankard down. "You know, Geoffery, I think maybe there's something . . . Maybe we can handle this. Maybe. Let me think about it."

I nodded agreement. When he had been Fidel, he had been the best damn psychotronic tech, bar none, in the whole history of the Dinochrome Brigade. If Frederick thought he had an answer then I could go home and sleep soundly this night.

The next day Thomas organized what had been the militia to build a shed for the Bolo. It took longer than putting up a barn and was far larger, though less sturdy. A Bolo doesn't really need a shelter. This was strictly speaking a matter of surprise. The pirates shouldn't know that we were any better prepared than we had been three months ago. And Frederick went to work.

Almost a week later I came in and asked how it was going. For a week I'd minded my own business and tried to stay out of everything else. I had the trees and the cow and the children to care for and that was enough. It was as much of the world as I wanted.

But every time Ricky went out to the fields alone, every time Margaret toddled out to the chickens on her own, I thought of a Mark XXIV bearing down on them, crushing the life out of them, seeing them as the Enemy. So I had to know. And I went to the shack where Frederick was still hard at work, the electron wrench like an extension of his own hand.

He was smiling. "I think I've got our problem licked," he said. "Have to field test, of course, but I do think that we might . . . But you'll have to give the Command, you know. You know all the recognition codes. I think if you explain it, he'll listen."

And Frederick produced a black communications box, just like the one I used to keep clipped to my belt. I carried it to the side of the shack and opened the old Command channel, complete with recognition oscillation built in. I hoped the old Mark XXIV knew the Mark XXX codes. According to the legend of the regiment they had never been changed, broken or ~duplicated, but that was the kind of thing people said late at night when they'd had three or four too many.

"Combat Unit Seven twenty-one, this is Command," I said firmly. "You have a new mission directive. Our task is to protect this town site from invasion. Copy."

I held my breath. This site is not strategic. Even a Mark XXIV can see that easily. The Bolos will accept direct orders, but they are more than simple weapons. They can learn from mistakes, they can analyze a situation independently and come to a solution. And their programming is entirely tactically based. There is no room for outside consideration.

"What is the significance of this site?" Kenny asked.

Fair enough. Bolos learn, and they are programmed to request information that will make them more effective.

"This is Camelot," I heard myself say. "Vital psychological advantage. Access your records."

There was the barest hint of a hesitation, a fraction of a second delay in the answer. "For the honor of the Regiment," Kenny answered. And I knew we were safe. For a while at least. Until this first wave of the Enemy was dead.

But what could we do with a live Bolo and no ~Enemy to face? That thought scared me more than the imminent arrival of pirates who were already so outgunned that I almost felt sorry for them.

* * *

The pirate ship arrived less than a week after. We all saw the streak across the sky as the entire population of Camelot worked on the harvest. I was in the pear trees with Isabelle and Ricky and Isabelle's brother Cedrick. The trees were thick with heavy yellow fruit, some of it already falling to the ground for the animals to eat before we could collect it. I looked at all the pears and thought not only of the fresh fruit, which we sold at good profit, but of all the preserves and comfits, the sun-dried pears and the pear jelly candy that Isabelle would make that we could sell come spring, when people were tired of eating winter preserves and desperate for the taste of fruit.

Ricky yelled out first. "It's a star," he screamed. "It's falling, it's falling."

We all looked up. Cedrick and Isabelle had never seen a ship land. They had no reason to go Dover Port. I, on the other hand, knew who this was without thinking. Their approach was sloppy, bad angle, and they were burning the hullcoat and leaving a smoky trail through the sky.

I jumped out of the tree from the lowest branch, and gathered up Isabelle, Cedrick and the children. "Stay in the root cellar," I said, hustling them into the house. "No matter what you hear. This should all be over quickly and no harm done, but stay until I tell you it's safe anyway. Anything could happen. Nothing in the house is worth your lives."

Cedrick looked like he was going to protest, but ~Isabelle gave him a sharp look. She took Ricky by the hand and gathered Margaret up to her shoulder. "We won't move," she said simply. "We'll wait. We'll be fine, I promise. We'll all be fine."

Cedrick mumbled something like assent and didn't look up at all. But I remembered when I was twenty-two, older than Cedrick but still impulsive and romantic and believing in glorious absolutes. I would have resented being locked up with the children at nineteen too. So I took pity on him and handed him the pitchfork. "You can do more good here," I said vaguely. "Stay with them. If you hear anything strange overhead, help Isabelle keep the kids quiet. It's up to you to protect them."

Cedrick's eyes got quiet and brave. "Oh," he said softly but distinctly. "Don't worry, Geoffery. I'll take care of them for you."

He didn't see the look Isabelle passed me over his head, and just as well.

I left the lot in Isabelle's capable hands and ran down to the Bolo shed. Frederick and Kenny were waiting for me, Frederick pacing madly and Kenny calm, his lights steady and a gentle whir coming from deep inside. The Mark XXIV was in perfect prime. The sound indicated perfect calibration, contentment. Outside his hull gleamed dully and the row of enameled decorations welded to his turret glistened with all the bright heraldry of military reward.

Frederick handed me the speaker. He had made the box a permanent attachment in the shed. "Combat Unit Seven twenty-one. Our Enemy is in sight. Your task is to destroy the Enemy ship and all invaders. Protect Camelot. This is your overall strategic goal. Protect Camelot."

Then I gave him the coordinates for the field where the pirates had landed before and where I assumed they'd land again. Not that there was any guarantee from their sloppy flying that they would be in the same vicinity. The only reason I assumed they would return to their earlier landing site was that they probably hadn't bothered with an update on their navigationals.

Frederick and I rode on Kenny's high fender. There was something comforting about sitting on this mountain of alloy and ordnance that moved at a determined pace toward the Enemy. And there was power, as well. It was impossible not to be aware of the Mark XXIV's potential, feeling the smooth action of the treads and the whirring of the power concentrated inside.

The pirates had landed back in the same place. They had already disembarked, the leader sitting on the riser leading up to the hatch.

Frederick and I shouted at the people to get away. Some of them heard us and ran for the sides. Others, seeing their comrades bolt, followed. Pandemonium reigned.

Pirates tried to follow, tried to run. Kenny's anti-personnel projectiles peppered them as they tried to move from front to side. Elegant restraint, I thought, as the Bolo targeted only the Enemy and managed to delicately avoid old Malcolm, who was slowed by ~arthritic knees.

The maypole clad leader stood up. Even through the assault suit his knees were shaking visibly.

"Now let's not do too much damage to the wheat field here," I said, thinking of it as a joke.

"Protect Camelot," Kenny replied in the deep rumble that was the bolo voice. "It is my mission to protect Camelot. I have never failed in my mission."

"That's right, Unit Seven twenty-one. You have never failed," I told him. I had forgotten how literal these units were. And how much they enjoyed the ~reassurance they were achieving their goals.

What I enjoyed was seeing the pirate suffer. For a moment I wondered whether it would be a better idea to let him go, to tell his unsavory cronies not to bother with Camelot. That we were too well defended.

I decided against that. Destroy the Enemy. Destroy them all. We can't let Command know we have Mark XXIV. They would come and decommission Kenny and we'd be without any protection at all. Besides which, it would be fine if all the greedy thieves and pirates in the whole universe came down here and found themselves facing a Bolo. We could wipe out all the piracy in this sector without thinking about it. The thought pleased me greatly.

"Okay," I said.

With a precision that was breathtaking in such a great hulk, Combat Unit Seven twenty-one let go with an energy blast that reduced the pirate ship to slag and the maypole to memory. The wheat around the smoking remains wasn't even singed.

"Objective accomplished," Kenny said, and there was a shading of satisfaction to his tone.

"Well done," I said. "Excellently well done. Let's go home."

But as we covered the ground back into town, I was still worried. This Bolo had saved us from a real menace. And there was no guarantee that these were the only raiders in the sector. In fact, I would bet half my acres that there were plenty of others who would be only too happy to prey on our prosperity.

But that didn't make the Bolo any less of a threat to Camelot itself. I had taught Kenny that the new Enemy was human. In time, I thought, he was bound to do something that would hurt us all. He was a Combat Unit, he had no permanent place in Camelot.

As Frederick started the post-operation check, I turned off the box so Kenny couldn't hear. "What are we going to do with him now?" I asked. "We can't decommission him. There's always the possibility of another threat. I'm not going to have my children grow up in fear. But he could be a bigger danger to us than any pirates. You said it would be all right, but not how."

Frederick smiled broadly. "Why not ask him?" he said, and shrugged. "Ask who he is. I think you'll find the psychotronic shifts very . . . interesting.

I switched the communications gear back on. "Unit Seven twenty-one, identify yourself," I ordered.

I knew what he would say. Combat Unit Seven twenty-one of the Dinochrome Brigade, first regiment. Maybe he would give me some of the regimental history, or tune in his music circuits for the regimental hymn. And so I was surprised.

"I am the protector of Camelot," Kenny said slowly. "I am a sentient in armor. There are records of such in the history of Camelot. There are currently none resident. It is the duty of the armored sentient, identification as knight-errant, to protect the weak and use strength in the service of justice. My name is not Kenny. That is not a name proper in Camelot. I am Sir Kendrick. It is my mission to protect Camelot."

I must have blinked. In all my life, growing up and in the Service and here on Camelot, I have never been so surprised. It must have taken me minutes to recover my voice. "How did you think of this?" I asked Frederick shakily.

He just shook his head. "It was your idea, really. You told Kenny to access records of the historic Camelot. I never even thought of knights. Though it does make a kind of sense, you know."

I had to agree. It did make sense. And it still made sense two weeks later, when we welded the latest and probably the last awards to Sir Kendrick's fighting turret. A pair of golden spurs, far too small for the mammoth Mark XXIV, glinted in the sun. And Father Rhys inscribed a refugee who was now accepted as a resident in our Doomsday book just as all the other refugees had been recorded, one Sir Kendrick Evilslayer.

Take that, Command. No one can decommission him now. By the law of Camelot, this Bolo is not only our knight protector, but a citizen. But it is not merely a trick of the law. Sir Kendrick has become truly human.

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