Camelot is all spires and spikes, silver-white and sparkling in the distant sunlight. It’s a rich man’s toy, a waste of money and materials. Elena docks the Liberty and makes her way through the hallways, which gleam with dull reds and golds—rich, rich, everything about this floating city positively screams the display of wealth for the sake of power. She feels closed-in, muffled.
When she reaches the Pendragons’ living quarters there’s a retinal scan a little too bright for comfort, so she’s still blinking away magenta and teal when a voice says, “Godwyn’s daughter! Camelot welcomes you.” When she focuses she sees it was Uther Pendragon, seated facing the door with his son on one side and a dark-haired girl on the other.
I’m sure it does, Elena thinks, and narrowly escapes tripping as she crosses the floor to take the vacant seat at the table. The floor is slippery-slick, and there’s something just a trace off about the grav.
“We’re sorry for your loss,” Arthur Pendragon adds politely.
She looks at him, thinking about it—he looks like he means it, or at least doesn’t not mean it. “Thank you.”
“Godwyn was a good friend.”
The brunette looks up. She has a face like wild roses, lovely and thorned.
“You know my heir, of course,” Pendragon continues. “And this is my—ward, Morgana.”
Elena catches the hesitation, wonders whether Morgana is his daughter or his mistress. “I am pleased to meet you both,” she says.
“You must have left us for nearly last,” says Pendragon. He’s smiling, but he doesn’t look amused.
“You and my father were friends,” Elena says. “Most of his other colleagues would have much less patience.” She is tired, frustrated, humiliated; the faint ache that’s the memory of loss is sharpening again. “I told you it would take time.” And Camelot is at the back end of nowhere anyway.
Arthur opens his mouth, then shuts it when his father looks at him. “Very well,” Pendragon says to Elena. “You have the documents?”
She pushes files through the system, signs and gives scans and otherwise authorizes things. She’s exhausted by the time they’re done, and determined never to do business with Pendragon herself.
“Have a drink,” Arthur offers when she’s done. Elena nods gratefully.
“You children entertain yourselves,” Pendragon says, getting to his feet and looking significantly at Arthur. Morgana makes a sudden aborted movement, and Arthur frowns faintly.
Elena can tell she’s missing something.
“We hope to continue in good relations with Gawant,” Pendragon adds, just before he disappears into what Elena presumes are his own rooms, and she looks at Arthur’s polished flirtatious smile and realizes, yes, he is trying to persuade her to make a business alliance by, well, making a personal one.
“…How about that drink,” she says faintly.
Morgana programs the order, and when she does her sleeve falls back just enough that Elena can see a curl of gold beneath it. It could be jewelry, of course, but she doesn’t think it is. The daughter or—? question of earlier bubbles up in her mind again, but this time she finishes it prisoner. As soon as she’s done, Morgana walks over to one of the viewports and stands staring out at Camelot spread below them.
It’s a relief when the glasses pop out of the table. Elena’s is weighted strangely, tipping a little in her hand when she picks it up, and she feels more off-balance than ever. She doesn’t like Camelot, or the Pendragons, and she wants to leave.
Arthur is called away a few minutes later.
Elena abandons her glass and walks carefully over to join Morgana at the window. “Your arm,” she says, and it’s rude but she doesn’t care.
Without looking at Elena, Morgana pulls up her sleeve to the elbow. The gold is an intersecting series of circles and lines: the tattoo given to all psychics in this system, under Camelot’s aegis. “I’m his daughter,” she says.
“…Oh,” says Elena. “I wondered. But then I thought—” She bends over, inspecting the pattern. “Did it hurt?”
“He was very good about it,” Morgana says bitterly. “No. It didn’t hurt. He lets me wear sleeves, as long as they’re loose enough that anyone can see it if I move too fast. I’m allowed not to have a guard, as long as I stay here in his quarters.” She brushes her hair back from her face and Elena realizes how close they are. “He loves me, you know.”
“You shouldn’t have to stay here.” The gold is beautiful, even though here it’s a signal of shame. “There are places you could go where they’d think this was just decoration, and they wouldn’t care about the psychic thing.”
“And how would I get there?”
“Come with me,” Elena blurts. “We could go right now, before Arthur gets back. You’re an adult, aren’t you—if we get out of Camelot’s system before we’re caught they can’t make you go back.”
Morgana’s whole face lights. “Now?”
Elena grabs her wrist, fingers curling thoughtlessly over the gold. “Come on.”
“You’re completely mad,” Morgana says, but she twists so she’s holding Elena’s hand, goes with her out the door and through the hallways.
Elena’s skin prickles—there’s surveillance somewhere, there must be, but nobody stops them. “This is the Liberty,” she says when they get to the dock. “She’s mine, not the company’s, and she’s the fastest damn thing I’ve ever flown.”
Morgana scrambles in and Elena follows and they’re out, spinning away from Camelot in a blaze of engines and urgency.
Ten minutes. Fifteen. Twenty minutes out, the comm crackles on. “Liberty, this is Camelot Station. We suspect you are harboring a fugitive.”
“Camelot, this is Liberty,” Elena says, feeding a little more power to the engines. “Do you have any reason to suspect that, or are you just trying to get hold of some of Gawant’s intel?”
Morgana has gone from pale to white. Don’t move, Elena thinks frantically, and then has to hide her shock when Morgana nods a reply.
“Mr. Pendragon noticed his ward was missing and confirmed via the video surveillance feeds that someone matching her description had been seen boarding the Liberty,” says the station operator. “Do you have an explanation, Liberty?”
Elena scrabbles through possibilities. “You seem like you don’t know what’s happening, yourselves.” It’s terrible, but it’s the best she can do. Every exchange gets them a little closer to the edge of Camelot space.
“There are people who feel that Miss Pendragon and Camelot are better apart,” replies the operator carefully.
Morgana holds up a notepad with “think control trying to help. danger for them!” written in large letters on it, crammed into the available space but big enough that Elena can read it at a glance.
“In that case,” Elena says, looking back at the comm screen, “I happen to agree with them.” She turns the engines up nearly to full, and for the split second before the grav and the inertial dampener compensate she feels almost peeled.
“In that case,” says the operator, sounding unsurprised, “you are given the choice to return” (muffled, in the background: After them!) “to Camelot peaceably, or be” (They’re getting away!) “pursued and brought back by force.”
“Neither, thanks,” Elena says. And then, because she doesn’t want to lose anyone their jobs by having this exchange continue any further, “Liberty out.”
“I had a few friends in the guard,” Morgana explains, sliding down the wall to sit in a sort of fetal position, arms hugging her knees to her chest. “I’m sure that’s why it took this long. We might actually make it.”
Elena checks the charts. “Two—no, three guard vehicles in pursuit. Moon-jumpers, looks like, probably two-person, but they’re still fast.”
“How fast?” Morgana asks.
“Right now, we’re faster,” Elena says, “but I’d be surprised if they’re starting off at full burn, and it’s not actually legal to sell private vessels that can outpace law enforcement, so it depends how up-to-date your father is.”
The little red dots jump forward. “…Faster than us,” Elena confirms. “Right, now it’s a matter of our lead against them.”
Morgana leans over Elena’s shoulder, watching the three blinking red dots, and the blue-grey of the Liberty, and, still quite a ways off, the thin line of the border.
“I don’t lose races,” Elena says, very quietly, and hopes it’s true.
Both gaps close. Morgana’s nails are digging into Elena’s shoulder, but Elena can’t bring herself to complain—she’d be doing the same if she didn’t have to be the calm one—and when did she turn into the calm one in any situation?
“Liberty, this is Camelot One,” says Arthur Pendragon’s voice over the comm.
Elena kills the channel. “Half an hour to the border,” she says.
The red dots keep getting closer.
“Liberty, this is Camelot Three.”
Before Elena can do anything Morgana flips return audio on and says “Gwaine? What the hell?”
“Part of the job description, m’lady. I sign up to fight crime, they send me after runaways.”
“Sellout,” she says, and looks at Elena. “Kill it.”
Elena blocks that channel too. “Friend of yours?”
“He hates the corporations,” Morgana fumes. “Why is he helping my father?”
He mentioned crime-fighting, Elena thinks, but she just shrugs. “Ten minutes.”
A bit later, the third of the ships hails them. Elena cuts it off at the first syllable. “Eight minutes. We’re going to make it, unless they have some sort of massively classified, bleeding-edge tractor beams.”
Two minutes from the border, the lead Camelot ship gets within tractor range. The beam slides across the Liberty’s shielding and spills harmlessly into space. The second ship’s catches at a minute thirty, and the third right after that.
Elena swears under her breath as the time graph dips towards the negatives. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do this. Sorry, baby.” She presses the engines to full and the Liberty staggers forward again, an erratic spurt of a leap. Forty seconds. Thirty.
She unblocks the comm channels and says, “Liberty to Camelot vessels. What’s the penalty in this neck of space for trying to exercise authority outside your borders?”
“We’re still within our borders,” says Two.
“You’re about not to be.”
“…It’s not encouraged.”
Elena’s nav screen lights up with the border crossing countdown. She says, “As soon as we’re on the other side of the border, you will be chasing someone who has committed no crime in free space.”
Leaving Camelot, says the screen. Entering treaty space.
“Which is now.”
One of the tractor beams shuts down, and the Liberty leaps ahead. The other two cut off likewise, one immediately and the second once it realizes it’s useless. (“Arthur,” Morgana mutters.)
“Camelot One to Liberty,” Arthur grates out. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Elena says, as if he meant it.
Morgana’s eyes are huge and sparkling with reflected starlight. When Elena leans over and kisses her it’s a triumphant impulse, quick and reckless, but Morgana laughs joyfully against her mouth and kisses her back.