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Change Management (Four & Twenty Blackbirds - Traditional)

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- AP957C to GL672K. I've landed on P3-X136D. Vacation here? This unsanitary preserve pit? This is you and Morgana's idea of a joke, isn't it? Standby for retrieval, I'm not spending a minute here longer than I have to.

- AP957C to GL672K, please respond. I'm picking up strange readings from the surroundings, going to investigate. Hold the tractor beam ready for immediate extraction on my signal. Please respond if you heard me.

- AP957C to GL672K, I need immediate backup. Do you copy? Is anyone manning the comms station?

- Gwaine, I don't care if you are in tits up to your ears and have a cock in both ends, respond now. Gwaine!

- GL672K to AP957C, chill. What's the fire?

- Gwaine! Gwaine, you bilge-sucker! What kind of crazy planet did you dump me on? I need immediate extraction for two.

- Two? Pendragon, what did you do now? You know we're not supposed to reveal ourselves by interfering with the natives. Prime Directive and all that. You're the one who's always reminding us about the rules.

- Immediate meaning NOW.

- What's the situation on the ground? The cloud cover is messing with our ground scans, we can't do direct transport. Anyway, you have the Pridwen-S6F. Not a combat-class lander, but that should be more than enough to hold off any number of Middle-Ages farmers baying for your blood... they're not really baying for your blood, are they? What did you do?

- Gwaine. I-I didn't enlist to watch unsanitary primitives kill children! I stood by once; I'm not doing it again.

- Kill... what? That's not in any of the preliminary reports on this planet. Pendragon, are you serious?

- There are tiny blue people with wings and they flew off with the Pridwen! And nearly stole my mother's sigil! If Merlin hadn't helped me retrieve it... Your fucking preliminary reports. When I get back I'm assigning you to the Archives for the rest of your natural life! And-

- Whoever you really are, I keep telling you you got it all wrong! I'm not a damsel or a child and I wasn't being sacrificed to a dragon! Let me go!

- What did I get wrong? They had you chained to an altar on a mountaintop! There's a dragon flying towards us! Are you an idiot? You need to come with me for your own protection. Gwaine! Do you have a lander ready?

- Shit. Arthur. We had no idea. Morgana took the other lander with the Commodore: we've got nothing right now. How long can you hold out?

- We're in a cave; I don't think it's seen us yet. Morgana landed too? And with Vivian? Is she in danger?

- She hasn't reported back. Last I hear, she was arguing with the Commodore about whether they should adopt native dress or use light-deflectors to stay unnoticed.

- Forget it, I pity any native that crosses her and Vivian. Scramble whatever is nearest. I don't care if all you have is an atmosphere hopper Blackbird, just get us out of here.

- I'm not going anywhere with you, starman! I know about your kind.

- You have the advantage of me, then. I have no idea what you are talking about.

Comms log of the Avalon: AP957C/GL672K, 4592.03.28, 07:21:56

"We need to do something! We can't just let the starman steal Merlin away like this!" Will slammed his hands down on the table in frustration, and Mordred winced.

"Merlin looked happy to be stolen, if you ask me," Mordred shook his head, sighed heavily. "We were all fooled by the starman's helpless act.

Will snarled. "That's because you are all idiots, taken in by a pretty face. I knew something was wrong with that Pendragon fellow from the start. No one could be that much of an idiot that they let a couple of crazy Sidhe steal all their possessions from under their fat arse."

"A starman could," Mordred muttered. "The Star Prince was tricked by the Sidhe too. If Lady Ygraine hadn't challenged them for his life, he would still be dancing in the eternal halls under the lake of Avalon."

The look Will graced him with then could have set him on fire, if Will had any magic. "You read too much stupid romantic drivel. That's a rubbish fairytale to warn stupid children like you against being taken in by a handsome stranger, and you take it as a dream to aspire to."

Mordred rolled his eyes, because it was Will and the only reasonable response to anything Will ranted about was to mock him, but he privately agreed. He'd wanted Arthur to take him away too.

"What do you want us to do, then? Get Kilgharrah to fly up to the stars and fight the starman's metal dragon?"

"For a whiny little wanker, you're brilliant, Mordred," Will crowed, grabbing Mordred by the shoulders and drag-dancing him around the room. "Kilgharrah can't have been pleased that Merlin's coming of age ceremony as a Dragonlord was interrupted by a crazed starman. Can you talk to him?"

Mordred's jaw dropped. He worked his mouth soundlessly for a moment before he found words to reply. "Are you crazy? It was a joke! Merlin's the Dragonlord, not me!" Then he considered again. "We could talk with Kilgharrah and see what he thinks."

- You willfully disregarded the Prime Directive to observe and not interfere with the natural development of the indigenous population on P3-X136D, revealing our presence beyond retrieval. What do you have to say for yourself, Captain Pendragon?

- I acted based on the information available to me at the time, which turned out to be lacking when not entirely erroneous. I would do the same again. And, Admiral Pendragon, I say before the Council, I was not the first to make us known to the indigenous population on P3-X136D.

- How dare you?

- Tell them what you know about P3-X136D, and how you learnt it, Father.

- What is your boy talking about, Uther?

- It's nothing but childish rebellion, Olaf. I will talk sense into him. Arthur, are you so reluctant to ally with Vivian that you would rather tie yourself to a primitive?

- I don't know, Merlin thinks we're terribly backward as far as magic is concerned.

- Magic? What foolishness are you on now?

- That particular brand of foolishness that ended the Afanc plague of 4563. Father.

Excerpt from the debriefing of AP957C (Captain Arthur Pendragon of the Avalon) on The P3-X136D Incident

"Come out, come out, wherever you are. Why are you hiding from me, young warlock? You know you cannot escape your destiny."

As the dragon's deep tones rumbled through the cave, Arthur closed his eyes in despair and resisted the automatic urge to reach for the gun he had foolishly left on his Pridwen. It would have been useless against the massive creature anyway, designed as it was for use against human-sized biologicals and mechanicals.

Beside him, Merlin sighed. He opened his eyes to see Merlin looking back longingly at the distant light at the end of the tunnel they'd crept through, his normally blue eyes glowing a bright gold like the sun. "I agree, why are we hiding from Kilgharrah? He won't hurt me, or you, once I make it clear to him that it was all a misunderstanding."

"That monster has a name? You talk to him?"

"Well, yes. I'm a Dragonlord." Merlin frowned at him. "OR I would have been a Dragonlord if you'd just left me complete the rite, you cabbage-head. You would have known that if you'd just let me link you to Freya at Avalon Lake. Lady Morgana and Lady Vivian heard about this fiasco, by the way, They wanted Freya to tell you that you are a giant ninny to be afraid of a dragon."

Everybody on this planet was insane, including his bloody sister and Vivian. "Dragonlord? You'll be Lord of his stomach for one hour, tops, you lunatic. And that is if the beast didn't have any other nefarious plans for you. You were chained to the altar, naked! And," Arthur choked momentarily, "you're still naked."

Merlin turned bright red at the reminder, obvious even in the low visibility of the dark cave. "You have a sick, sick mind, Arthur. Kilgharrah wasn't going to do anything to me!" But he shivered against Arthur's side, and Arthur pulled him close, trying to share his body heat.

"There you are, young warlock. And your young prince." Arthur flinched again as a gigantic claw scraped at the entrance of the tunnel. They had been found. Transfixed, he watched the dragon begin to dig its way in, pulling away rock as though it was only sand.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," he told Merlin, as Merlin pressed his face into Arthur's shoulder. Merlin squeezed his arm.

"I promise, nothing bad is going to happen to either of us. Do you trust me?"

Arthur stared at Merlin's earnest face, at the unnaturally illuminated eyes, and surrendered. "All right."

"We'll go out together," Merlin said, and Arthur held his hand all the way as they walked towards the dragon.

The Prince of the Stars descended from the belly of his metal dragon, and fell to his knees before brave Ygraine then. "My lady, your courage and wisdom has saved both our peoples from the dread plague. I do not know how I can ever repay you. If there is ever anything you desire, you have only to say the word, and as long as it is within my power, it is yours."

"No, you must not abase yourself before me," Ygraine cried, and tried to pull him to his feet. "All I have done was for the good of both our peoples, and your own courage has been no less, in daring to listen to a humble girl of the earth. Please, rise."

"You shame me in every way, dear lady," said the prince, bending his forehead to her white hands. "For my motives were not pure. Though I heeded your words, it was only because I wished to hear your voice, because you were so beautiful, and so kind to a lost stranger. I beg you, ask a boon, if only to soothe my guilty heart."

Overcome with feeling, Ygraine too knelt, to be with the star-prince. "Dear prince, did you not know? I too, was lost, from the moment I saw you nobly fighting to save your people though all seemed dark." As he looked at her with the beginnings of hope, she continued. "If there is only one boon I could ask, let me ask this: Take me with you, for I wish to see the stars where you were born."

This troubled the Star Prince deeply, for once a human has left the earth and seen the stars from the heavens, they can never return, by the strictest laws of the Star-People. But he said nothing, for he wished only to be with her, even if it would take her from all that she knew.

So he took her hand, drawing her into the metal dragon with him, and she looked back once, gazing softly on her village and her waiting family as though she knew she would never see them again. And perhaps she did. We will never know, for Ygraine was never seen on the earth again.

Excerpt from A Romance of the Stars and Earth by Geoffrey of Monmouth , 11th century novel of P3-X136D

"He'll come to his senses one day, and come back to us. Stupid romance fantasies." Will glared at the heavens, fists clenched in impotent fury.

Mordred rolled his eyes at Will. "It's not seemly to sulk because Merlin likes Arthur better. I know you hoped Merlin would stay in Ealdor forever, but you know he was always looking to the stars, even before he could read."

"It was Mordred who forced Merlin to read A Romance of the Stars and Earth to him anyway, as soon as he was old enough to go googly-eyed over the handsome Star-Prince on the cover." Freya grinned and poked Mordred. Mordred shrugged her off irritably. "Mordred was the one who wanted a handsome Star-Prince to come and take him away. Merlin thought it was ridiculous romantic twaddle."

"He'll be back, just you see," Will repeated, determined.

"He won't," Freya said. "Kilgharrah has given them his blessing. And Merlin wants to see the stars as much as Aunt Ygraine did." She closed the thick Romance, and Mordred snatched it away, clutching the old book to himself protectively.