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The Company of Camelot

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Nimue

Most of the stories about Morgan are true. I was her roommate at Avalon Business School, and I was there for a lot of them. That one about the eight-figure deal she put together to fill one of the assignments for class, only they were real dollars — yep. The one about her five boyfriends during business school being the top five guys in the class (not counting her, of course) — yes, that one's true too, although I suspect it was more a knack for picking talent than a conscious selection.

The story about her poisoning her stepfather: that one's very much a lie. I knew Morgan, and she wouldn't have done anything like that. (Plus which, why would she have bothered? Everyone knew he was terminally ill.) It's true that she didn't like him very much. Or at all. And that was even before he died and it turned out he'd been stringing her along the whole time.

"I don't get it, Morgan," I'd told her. I was sitting on her bed, knees drawn up to my chest, while she was sprawled across it, like we were high school girls sharing secrets (only I'd never done this kind of thing when I was in high school; I'd been too busy with school and trying to earn a little money). "Your stepfather is going to give you a billion-dollar gene-cleaning company to run after his death, and you complain to his face that you don't like him? If anyone gave me a tenth of that, I'd be saying nice things about him all day long."

"It's different for you, Nimue," Morgan grumbled. "You come from a stable family, as far as I can tell your parents even like one another. And you know what Uther's done to my mother and my real father."

I did. Even before I'd met Morgan, the scandal of Uther and Igraine's affair, not to mention her subsequent messy divorce and the hundreds of millions of dollars involved, had been splashed across all the internet news sites. But I also knew what it was like to grow up without quite enough money, the constant gnawing worry about where every next penny was coming from, and I was never going to do that again. I'd tried to tell Morgan, and she said all the right things, made all the right noises, and even found a way for my dad to get work retraining when he got laid off again — she's a good friend — but I think it just fell so far out of the realm of her experience that she couldn't process it as applying to herself. And maybe it didn't in fact apply; people like Morgan always land on their feet. But still: "Morgan," I persisted, "what if he changes his mind about Camelot —"

She shrugged. "Uther appreciates knowing exactly what people think. And furthermore, I'm the only one with the brains and the experience to run his company, and he knows that. There's no one else he can get who knows the company inside-out like I do. Maybe Merlin Ambrosius, but he's already made clear that he doesn't want the job, thank God." She grinned at me. "Don't worry, I've already told Uther you want an internship at Camelot. I've played you up like crazy, plastered your resume all over HR. You'll still get it, even if he hates me." Like I said, she was a good friend.

I still didn't think she was being smart about Uther. But I let it go.

And then he died. She went off to Uther's funeral. She came back two days later pale and grim.

"Do you need — anything?" I asked her.

"I — yeah," she said, "Yeah, I need you to listen to what I have to tell you." It's the first time I ever heard her say that, the first time she admitted to needing anything besides herself.

And she started telling me what had happened.

Morgan

Well, Nimue didn't say I told you so after that disastrous weekend of Uther's funeral where I found out Arthur — Arthur, my scrawny little half-brother! — was going to be the new CEO of Camelot.

She would have been within her rights to do so, after all the time she spent trying to get me to behave more — circumspectly, is what she would have said; sneakily, is what I said back to her. Instead she was solicitous and sweet, as she always is. She's awfully nice that way.

*

I don't think Nimue ever realized that I got the first offer for her job as junior advisor to Camelot. I never told her — didn't want her to feel strange about it. And anyway, never in a million years would I actually have taken the job, which is basically what I told Arthur when he offered it to me while I was visiting Mother a month after Uther's funeral, may he rot in hell. Uther, that is, not Arthur. Arthur's just a kid, fresh out of college, in over his head even though he thinks he knows what he's doing. (What was Uther thinking? The boy doesn't have an MBA, or even a JD — no experience running a business — nothing!)

"Let me get this straight," I said to Arthur. "You're stealing the position I've prepped for for years, as a consolation prize you're handing me this awful job nannying your senior staff, and as a bonus I get to work closely with Merlin Ambrosius, of all people. Uh, no. Make that hell no."

He just stared at me with those big eyes of his. "But Morgan — " he whined. God. He's a cute kid, but such a whiner.

"It's not you," I said, "it's me. But do you not see how this is quite awkward for both of us?"

He shut up long enough for me to make my escape.

And then I went back to Avalon. And I found Nimue bouncing off the walls. "Morgan," Nimue said, jittering on the balls of her feet, "you'll never guess what happened, Merlin Ambrosius himself called me and asked me to interview for a job at Camelot — I'd be working directly under him, it's such a great opportunity for me —" She saw my face. "I'm sorry, Morgan, I shouldn't have said anything about it, I was just so excited —"

"No," I said, "it's obviously okay." Well, maybe it wasn't okay. But -- "Nimue," I said firmly, "you should do want you want, not worry about my feelings. That's the way the business world works."

She looked relieved. "But will it be weird for me to work for your half-brother, when —"

I winced. "Let's not talk about Arthur." Then her words really hit me. Merlin. "But you seriously do not want to work for Merlin. Trust me. I grew up with him always around, and that man is the worst kind of skeevy. You don't want to be alone with him at all." He'd never tried anything with me — I'd have broken his neck if he had, and he knew it — but I had a feeling Nimue's obvious intelligence and dependability were maybe less important than her golden hair and bra size in how Merlin had happened to pick her out to work under him. Damn Uther, anyway, he'd outfoxed me twice now. This wasn't what I'd had in mind when I'd passed on Nimue's resume to Uther and Camelot, not to bring her to the attention of Merlin —

…Merlin. That's what Dear Old Stepdad was thinking when he screwed me over. Of course. Give his idiot son the plum position, yay nepotism, but Merlin pulls the strings so Arthur doesn't mess things up. Possibly Uther even had something he had been holding over Merlin's head to make sure Merlin never tried to take over from Arthur. I filed that away to think about.

Anyway. Did Nimue listen to me about Merlin? Of course not. She's the nicest girl I've ever met, but stubborn as hell. She called Merlin up the next day. I'd washed my hands of it all by that time. She was a grown woman, she could make her own decisions, and I honestly didn't care if she worked for Camelot or not, or at least that's what I told myself. I pretended to be working on something very important at my desk so I didn't do something drastic like knock the phone from her hands while she was talking. "Mr. Ambrosius?" she breathed into the phone. "About that job interview you called about —"

I put my hands over my ears, but I couldn't help but hearing: "Of course I would love to have drinks at your place to talk about the job! Tomorrow night? I'll be there at seven."

I managed to bite my tongue, but the next night, as she walked out the door in three-inch heels and a snazzy little cocktail dress, I couldn't help but say, "Really, Nimue?"

She looked back at me. "Some of us don't come from the kind of background you do, Morgan," she said quietly. "Some of us have to take our chances where we find them."

Nimue

It's a reasonable question to ask: do I wish I was in charge of my own company, that I'd gone the CEO route? It's common for people who come out of the Avalon MBA program, after all.

No. I'm happy this way. They still tear apart women CEOs. Mock their hair, their clothes, whether they do or don't take maternity leave, ugh. Nope, that's not for me. I had a hard enough time with the competition in business school, even though my class ranking was pretty high. I like my chief advisor position at Camelot Genetics, which I took over when my boss, Merlin Ambrosius, got asked to resign after the scandals resulting from his assault and rape prosecution.

Anyway, ever since Arthur Pendragon took over from his dad as the CEO, ushering a new age of upright dealing and helping those in need, making gene cleaning affordable to anyone who needs it — it's been a great place to work. A lot of vacation time, great benefits, a stable job.

The work is all over the place. Sometimes it's company strategy and tactics, which I really enjoy. Sometimes it's more personal-assistant kinds of matters, things that are too sensitive for someone else to be in charge of them, like handling some of the flack from when our COO, Lance Dulac, divorced what turned out to be a rather vindictive woman. Sometimes I almost feel like a therapist, like when I have to talk Gwen Cameliard, our CFO, out of one of her periodic rants about someone else in the company (hello harassment suits), or when I had to mediate one of Lance and Gwen's blowout fights. I don't like this kind of work as much, but the job is what it is.

*

"Nimue!" Gwen hollered down the hall. I'll never know why she can't just walk to my office like a normal person.

I walked to hers, instead, and stood in the doorway. "Yeah?"

"Has Arthur or Lance told you? We just got served."

They hadn't told me. That was another depressing aspect of my job; not always being in the inner loop with Arthur, Lance, and Gwen. "Again? That would make, oh, what, seven times this year? What is it this time?"

"Patent infringement. Something about distributing computing solutions — "

"For calculating optimal multilocus repair techniques," I finished.

"Yeah, I think that was it."

I swore. Our distributed computing algorithms were key to Camelot's business strategy over the next couple of years. I had told Arthur again and again that he needed to put more company resources towards making sure that particular patent filing was airtight. Arthur, who was a business major, and who thought distributed computing was some kind of way to get laptops to different offices, never understood why it was important.

So. I'd get to clean up the mess, as I always did. I rolled my eyes, just a little. "Who filed against us?"

Gwen frowned. "I don't remember — "

"It was Fay Enterprises," said Lance from behind me.

"Wait." I turned to face him. "Fay Enterprises — that's —"

He brushed past me to sit on Gwen's desk, his heels drumming against the side of it. "Morgan Cornwall's company, yes." He'd had a brief fling with her a couple of years ago, I remembered. He looked almost as surprised by this turn of events as I did.

Gwen said curiously, "Morgan Cornwall, isn't that Arthur's sister?"

"Half-sister," I replied automatically.

*

This patent infringement case was only the first salvo. Morgan's own gene-therapy company was a direct competitor to Camelot, and as far as I could tell, her business plan was basically to sue us over every patent we had that might be remotely applicable to her.

I'd thought we were friends. I know, I know, she would have said that it's all business, not personal. I tried to feel like that. But I still felt a little hurt. I mean, we used to stay up all night talking about our families, about our lives.

And now she was attacking my company.

Morgan

I never told anyone, but I was the one who did the digging into Merlin's past, looking for people who might have been bought off, or even who might have disappeared... I'd thought that there was something there that he wasn't talking about. Anyway, he beat the assault and rape charges laid against him (of course he would, with the kind of money he has, and the kind of lawyers that money can buy), but he's at least gone from Camelot now.

And I had thought, you know, I'd thought — we'd been friends, roommates; I'd practically gotten her the job she had; I'd thought she'd be a little more friendly about stuff, or at least more friendly than Merlin. Of course Merlin was going to block me every chance he got, but I'd expected — well.

Well, I can hardly fault her for getting good at her job. The legal battles started getting longer and longer, until the one over the targeted retrovirus gene therapy for simultaneous multiple base pairs, which took forever. I actually won that in the first round, but they appealed and won on appeal. Fine.

The part of the conflicts between Fay and Camelot that I did not appreciate was how suddenly the blogs and message boards started popping up: Fay Enterprises is trying to tear down Camelot's dream of helping everyone to afford gene-cleaning. Morgan Cornwall is an evil queen, jealous of her innocent, noble half-brother. Partnerships and funding started to evaporate. No, they said, we'll go with someone less sensational, someone less controversial. Business started drying up.

It was a brilliant strategy, and also a little slimy.

Worthy of Merlin Ambrosius himself, one might say.

I couldn't believe it, after all she knew about them, but she'd gone over to Merlin and Arthur's side. And Uther's.

Nimue

The last time Morgan called me was to tell me when Fay Industries was declaring bankruptcy.

"I hope you're happy," she said. "I hope you're happy, and Merlin's happy, and Arthur's happy —"

I started to get exasperated. She'd brought it upon herself, after all. And after everything she had done to us, she had the temerity to get upset at me? "What do you want me to do?"

There was a long pause.

"You could have come to work with me," she said finally. "Instead of at Uther's company."

"Oh please," I said. I couldn't articulate anything more: she'd as much as told me at the time that I should take the job, how was I to know she was still so hung up on Uther? And of course I had wanted the job with Camelot, the secure job with the company that was going to be around twenty years from now, over her startup pipe dream. The dream that was failing even as we spoke. It was ridiculous for her to think I would ever have gone with her. How could she not remember that about me?

In any case, it didn't matter what I might or might not have said, because she hung up on me at that point, and I didn't hear her voice again for years.

Morgan

I love being CEO of my own company. I love not being answerable to anyone else. I love the responsibility and the power.

Okay, fine, Fay Enterprises failed miserably. I gambled and lost.

I regret losing touch with Nimue, though. It was much harder than I thought it would have been to see her there, working actively to protect what should have been mine but wasn't —

Anyway. I put together another company, Tauroc Enterprises. I was trying to put Camelot and all that behind me, so this company was in a slightly different field: cryogenics. The nice thing is that there's an overlap with the work of Fay Genetics: the same cellular-manipulation techniques Fay Enterprises used for gene cleaning are needed for correcting thawing-induced defects and reviving previously-frozen bodies.

I needed (still need) a good COO — the guy I had at Fay was nice enough, but just not up to par. So I had dinner with Lance Dulac last night. Oh, I know it seems like I'm still hung up on Camelot, trying to steal away their COO, but I swear it wasn't that. It's that he's really, really good at what he does, and I've always said: why not go for the best? I knew I didn't have much of a chance, but I thought I'd at least try to woo him over to Tauroc. And hey, perhaps I'd invite him home afterwards. I also remembered him also being very good in bed. "I can't match Camelot's salary or benefits," I told him, "but Tauroc's an up-and-coming company. Camelot's so large, I'm sure there's not much interesting going on there anymore —"

"I might," he interrupted my spiel, "be interested. Tell me more?"

I was taken aback. I'd figured that there was a good chance he wouldn't listen even after a sustained pitch, much less my first softball of the evening. He hadn't even had much wine. I looked at him more closely. He was tense, his eyes darting everywhere, his knuckles drumming on the table. I remembered him as a pretty intense guy in general, but this was taking it to a new level. What was going on over there at Camelot?

"I just wanted to mention," I said slowly, watching him intently, "how thorough your work at Camelot has been; I really think you've done great things for them —"

Lance gave me a watery half-smile. He looked like he was about to fall to pieces. I hadn't seen him look this bad since his ex-wife sued Camelot. "Let's not talk about that, Morgan. Please. Tell me more about your company."

I ended up not inviting Lance to go home with me after all. When I got back from dinner I went directly to my computer and brought up everything I could find publicly on Camelot's operations. And, of course, I'd talked to Uther quite a lot about Camelot back when we both thought I was going to be the CEO; I dug out those notes too. And I did some estimating given what I know about the industry. Here's how much it costs to do a genetic scan; here's how much those companies will pay for the aggregate genetic data to subsidize the scans you're doing; here's how much the insurance companies will pay for gene cleaning…

And then I sat back and looked at the numbers in front of me.

They didn't add up. Arthur's golden age, his dream of making gene cleaning affordable for everyone… didn't quite work. And instead of admitting it, someone (or more than one someone) had juggled the numbers to make it look like everything was all right.

This wasn't a personal grudge anymore. This was fraud.

Nimue

I could tell it was shaping up to be a bad day by the yelling coming from Gwen's office. "Let me call you back," I said to the researcher who had me on the line. Once I was off the phone, I listened: yes, it was Lance's voice. "What is it this time?" I muttered. I got up from my desk, walked down the hall to Gwen's office, and poked my head in the door.

"I didn't —" Lance was saying angrily, looming over Gwen's shoulder, as Gwen frowned deeply at her computer.

"If not you, then who?" Gwen demanded. "And get a grip!"

I cleared my throat. They both turned to look at me. I gave them both a questioning look.

"An SEC auditor is coming later today," Lance said. "They got an anonymous tipoff —"

"Calm down, Lance," Gwen said, still staring at the screen. "And don't worry, Nimue," she continued, using her most arrogant I-am-the-CFO-and-don't-you-forget-it voice, even though I hadn't said a word. "There's one incident — wasn't careful enough. Fuck. Okay. Okay." Her eyes snapped to mine. "Really, don't worry about it, Nimue. Lance and I have it all under control."

Lance said nothing. His mouth was set in an unhappy line.

"All right," I said. I felt some concern, but Gwen was good at what she did; she'd figure it out. And it wasn't at all clear that I wanted to know more about what was going on.

I tried to remember what I'd been doing before hearing their spat. Right, I'd been talking to one of the R&D boys, Morgause's newest hire. I went back to my office and hit redial on the phone. "Mordred? Sorry about that. What's up?"

"I found an old invoice that shows a discrepancy in the amount of synthetic amniotic fluid we're supposed to have in stock —"

"Um," I said. R&D inventory wasn't something I usually concerned myself with, or knew much about. "Didn't you ask Morgause about it? She's the R&D head, she's really the appropriate one to talk to."

"I tried," he said, his voice sounding very young, "and she told me it wasn't important. But it is! That stuff is amazingly expensive, we only use it in human testing, and Nimue, if this invoice is right, there's a lot missing --"

"I'll talk to Morgause," I said hurriedly, and went to find her.

She was in lab, as usual. "What?" Morgause said, as I attempted to repeat what Mordred had told me. She looked distracted, as she often did. I suppose it comes with trying to run her research group — they're all brilliant, but also all a handful, and all with completely different personalities. "Oh. Come with me." She jerked her head in the direction of her office; as soon as we got there, she shut the door. I raised my eyebrows; R&D has a policy of never closing their doors, I think to distinguish themselves from even the hint of looking like management. "It's all in the May Day file." She unlocked the file cabinet in the corner of the office and took out a folder. "It's one of Merlin's old files, from before you had the position. And it's confidential, you know."

"I'm getting that impression," I said wryly. Paper? Who uses paper anymore?

But when I got back to my office I saw why this was paper and not a digital file that could be carelessly copied.

Camelot had been founded by Uther using new technology to do the simplest zygote gene-cleaning you could: get rid of an extra chromosome when there were three in the zygote instead of two. Bam, no more Down Syndrome, no more Edwards Syndrome. When targeted retrovirus gene therapy came into its own, around the time Uther died, Camelot could do even more. It could clean up microdeletions and other sub-chromosomal abnormalities.

Well, Arthur wanted to carry it one step further, target diseases like Alzheimer's, diseases that are much more complex in terms of how multiple genes contribute, how those interact with the environment. According to the notes, Merlin was on vacation and impossible to contact. (WTF?) And no one, apparently, was willing to stand up to Arthur and inform him that you can't just do testing on human zygotes when you feel like it. There are procedures; there are reviews; there is an unbelievable amount of red tape! Even for animal zygotes, let alone human. And Arthur, new to his empire and thinking he could do whatever he wanted… didn't think the red tape should apply to him. So he browbeat Morgause into setting it up for him.

Anyway, he learned why there are all these regulations around testing on human zygotes. Some of them got pretty far into gestation before Merlin came back and stopped the whole thing — on the first of May, hence his name for it in his files.

You see, there were pictures of the fetuses that had resulted from changing chromosomal information to fix one problem without regarding what else might go wrong. That was when I threw up.

Morgan

When the auditor I anonymously tipped off didn't do what she was supposed to (lesson learned: always check the competence of the people you send to do your work), I called up Nimue.

Okay, maybe it was an excuse. Maybe I just wanted to call her up, after all this time.

"Morgan," she said. Her voice was smooth and cultured: the voice of a stranger. "It's been a while. And how's the new company? Cryogenics, right?"

I'd known she would be keeping track of me, the same way I was keeping track of her and of Camelot. I said, "Oh, we've had some very promising clinical trials in correcting freezing-induced defects and reviving previously-frozen test subjects. We hope to get it to market in a couple of years, at least for those with the cash." I could tell I was babbling, but I couldn't stop. "It's an expensive process; you'd have to practically be a king to be able to afford it. Rex quondam, rex futurus, so to speak. Or a queen, of course. Are you interested?"

She sighed. "Morgan, what are you really calling about?"

"I need you to listen to what I have to tell you," I said.

There was a long silence on the other end. I held my breath. If Nimue didn't remember, or worse, if she remembered but didn't answer, if we were truly now that different —

Finally, she said, "I have a meeting I can't get out of tonight. Tomorrow night. Where?"

"My place," I said.

*

When Nimue arrived at my door, she was wearing a harassed look that all but said, this had better be good.

I led her to my office, where I'd spread out all the data over my six monitors. She sat down, eyes flickering between the monitors.

She sat there for a while. Occasionally she'd ask a question: "How did you come up with this number?" or "Was this from the fall quarterly earnings report?"

Finally she tore her eyes away from the screens and looked back at me. "Systematic underreporting of our expenses, and overreporting of our revenue, using all kinds of accounting tricks. This must be happening at the highest levels of the company." She paused. "Including Gwen," she said tonelessly. "Gwen must have been involved with this. Actively involved."

I was relieved. You couldn't have faked the shocky look she gave me. Nimue hadn't known. She hadn't been part of the coverup. I hadn't thought — I had hoped she wouldn't be, but it had been such a long time since we'd been roommates, I wasn't sure I knew the person she was any more, this person who'd gotten her job through dubious quid pro quo with Merlin, who had trained to become him — "And Lance," I said. "Lance knows. My suspicion is that he is involved somehow, but I don't know for sure."

"You," said Nimue, pointing at me, "sent that auditor to us. Anonymous tipoff, ha."

"I did," I replied. "I thought it was the best thing. Get it over with quickly, throw out the dead rot in Camelot." And, because I was trying to be as straight with her as I could: "And so I could profit, yes, if the auditor had found something." Okay, maybe not absolutely straight: Nimue didn't need to know exactly how much Camelot stock I was shorting right now. "Also, though: no adverse consequences if I were wrong. But I'm not wrong, am I?"

Nimue closed her eyes. "But Arthur doesn't know. I just talked to him today about — well, about something else." She opened her eyes again. "I'd bet money he doesn't know."

I nodded grimly. "I would believe that." Poor little Arthur, thinking he was a king, but always only a pawn, of Uther or Merlin or Nimue or Gwen. Or me.

"So," I said, "what are you going to do now?"

Nimue

Morgan was still waiting for me to answer her question.

I didn't know what I was going to do about what Gwen and Lance were doing. I didn't know what I was going to do about May Day. I didn't even know what I was going to tell Morgan about May Day, or if I was going to tell her at all.

No. The Morgan I had known years ago, the one who had helped my family, who had gotten me my job — that Morgan I might have told. This Morgan, the one who had fought my company with all the resources of hers, the one who had sent an auditor instead of talking to me, who would profit from Camelot's fall — this Morgan I did not know if I could or should trust. And there was how she felt about the Pendragon family to think about.

"I'll handle it," I said, rising.

Though of course Morgan had no reason to trust me either. It was because of my work that her company had fallen to pieces. And I also was keeping secrets from her.

And she could have taken the whole story to the nearest journalist. That would have been by far the easiest and most profitable thing for her to do. She hadn't done that. Perhaps also for her own sake — she'd had enough scandal attached to her name — but she hadn't done so, at any rate.

Two huge secrets at the heart of Camelot. Either of them could destroy it. Both of them, together, undoubtedly would. If I covered them up as they had been covered up until now, who knew when someone else would discover them, or what Morgan might do with the knowledge of even one of them? If I tried to fix them, would I be able to? Would Lance and Gwen listen to me, would Arthur? If I exposed them — it would surely destroy my own career. There were no good choices.

"Morgan?" My voice cracked slightly.

"Yeah?"

"Will you help me, if this all blows up and I need help?"

Morgan looked at me for a long moment. Finally she drew in a deep breath and put her hand on mine.

"Yes," she said.

Thus of Arthur I find nevermore written in books, but thus was he led away in a ship wherein there were three queens; that one was King Arthur's sister, Queen Morgan le Fay; Also there was Nimue, chief lady of the lake.

-Le Morte d'Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter VI