Author: David Barber

The Princess was touring the human quarter. She savoured these adventures, accompanied only by a human guide and her security flock.

Jomo was an amusing companion. As they made their way through the raucous marketplace, he
regaled the Princess with gossip and intriguing fragments of data called stories.

He was telling her the tale of Queen Arthur and Excalibur – the notion of a King being best left to another time.

“This was long ago, when the world was young, and human Queens fought each other endlessly, encased in metal, using edged weapons…”

“Because their bodies were soft and vulnerable, like yours,” interrupted the Princess, pleased with herself.

“Indeed. Even before you arrived from the stars, we saw how superior an exoskeleton was. Now, Excalibur excelled all other edged weapons in sharpness and strength, and Merlin saw that whoever wielded Excalibur would be the one true Queen.”

This was the perennial problem of all those born to power. The Princess and her sisters performed intricate dances of advantage and disadvantage at Court, only restrained from more lethal manoeuvrers by the authority of the Queen.

“Could this Merlin really predict the future?” Her Highness wanted to know. “Because if she could…”

They were getting sidetracked. This often happened.

“Merlin saw many futures, and none were certain, but in all of them, only the true Queen could free Excalibur from a great stone.”

Her Highness often tried to guess how stories ended. Each race had its gift. As her kind were born to rule, perhaps these stories were the human gift. Humans were certainly mediocre in every other way.

“So Queen Arthur smashed the stone?”

“There was no need. Though Arthur came from a nest of little consequence, she knew she was the one true Queen, destined to rule them all, and Excalibur became hers.”

This was most satisfactory. Deep in her ovaries, the Princess also felt she was the one true Queen.

“But wouldn’t another Queen simply take Excalibur away from her? If, as you imply, there were more powerful, bigger nests…”

They had paused in front of a human shop selling curios. Arrayed on a table to catch the multifaceted gaze of the Princess were ancient light bulbs, X-ray plates, radios from the lost days of radio, shiny plastic discs that reflected the spectrum of visible light…

Jomo had an arrangement with the owner of the shop. He was supposed to gasp in surprise at this genuine art from pre-invasion times, much sought after and collectable, and bargains at such prices.

“Ah,” said Jomo absently. His gaze followed the security drones, circling like birds of prey. “But Queen Arthur had a new notion, a fellowship…”

Some things were hard to translate.

“Other nests also survived in obscurity. But what was impossible for each alone, could be achieved by a fellowship of several, led by Queen Arthur.”

The Princess felt a pang of recognition. The Queen already had her favourites and she was not amongst them.

“Arthur’s fellowship defeated powerful Queens one by one, each too proud and too suspicious to ask rivals for help. And this is the important part, since she could not know if she might need the fellowship again, Arthur did not betray them afterwards. She swore on Excalibur that each could trust the others. One for all and all for one.”

Her Highness clicked her mouthparts at this novel idea. She had always bullied sisters of lesser importance. What if…

“And this fellowship was successful?” she ventured.

“Ah, that is another story. For another day.”