Once & Far Future
by CJ Howell
The Lady Nebula sprawled at the edge of known space, skirting the rim of the dark cold whence no starfarers had ever returned. It was named for its likeness to a vast cosmic goddess: hair swept back in nebulous coils, one arm outstretched, gaseous finger touching a single ancient star.
Years of scouring space in desperate hope. Years of evading the deadly pursuit of her father’s knights. Years of reassembling an ancient star chart. The first scrap, they’d stolen from the very vaults of the royal palace, Morgan using her own blood to trick the vault’s bio-security system. The rest, they’d had to piece together from fragments scattered to every corner of the Kingdom of a Thousand Stars. But they’d done it, and the chart had led them to this lonely star on the fingertip of a celestial colossus.
Here, teetering on eternity, Morgan’s destiny awaited her.
Morgan stared at the approaching star from the bridge of the warship Llamrei, her home for the years-long span of her search. She whispered, “We made it, Uncle.”
She glanced back at Lance. He looked tired. He’d given up almost everything to help her, including stealing the Llamrei from her father’s personal fleet. He’d risked his life for her more times than she could count, betrayed everything he’d ever known. All for her.
Despite his weariness, a rare smile touched his scarred lips. “Aye, lass. We made it.”
A yawning circumstellar disk of asteroids comprised half the mass of the star system. The other half was the bloated red giant at the system’s core, its surface a mottled smear of black and crimson flame, curling into explosive torrents. The star was an angry-looking thing, casting a baleful light over every object within its haunt. The biggest object in its orbit was a large, dark asteroid, casting a vast shadow over much of the disk. Its size was just shy of a small moon, like a great stone bathed in fire.
They touched down on the asteroid’s dark side. Despite his protests, Morgan asked her uncle to stay with the ship; this was her task, her destiny. Alone, Morgan stepped onto the asteroid’s dusty surface, her scanners picked up an unnatural object on its far side, facing the red giant. With her suit’s boosters, it took her little time to cross the asteroid’s horizon.
She glanced ahead as the massive star burned and bathed her. Something large glinted in the distance, stabbed into the asteroid like a god’s sword, buried to the hilt.
Then the star woke up.
A growling, grinding roar permeated the sky, and her eyes were drawn to the swirling orange face of the sun, where features were slowly taking shape. Storms swirled into burning eyes, a mouth that split open like a flaming scar millions of miles wide. That face–a visage carved onto the surface of a living star–smiled as it looked upon Morgan.
“So,” said a voice on solar winds, “you have come for the sword of kings?”
Once the rumbling subsided, Lance’s voice barked across the intercom, “What the fuck was that?”
Steadying the thunder in her heart and the horror twisting in her gut, Morgan met the eyes of the living star and said, “I am Morgan Halfdragon, bastard daughter of the tyrant King Arthur Banedragon, and I have come for the Sword in the Star.”
“Why?” Solar flares erupted forth from the star’s mouth, scorching the inner reaches of the circumstellar disk.
“To avenge the dragons.”
Before Uther Banedragon’s blood-soaked dynasty had conquered the galaxy, dragons had soared the celestial roads unfettered, soaking rogue planets with light. They drank in the heat of dying stars with solar-membrane wings and bathed cold worlds in aurora-breath. They had brought light and life to places which had none. The caretakers of lost worlds.
And Morgan’s forefathers had slaughtered them, earning the name Banedragon.
When Morgan was eight, her newly-crowned father had come for her, decimating her mother’s planet and ripping Morgan from her arms. She never saw her again. When Morgan was ten, Arthur had slain the last of the dragons and adorned his dread ship Camelot in its bones. The dragon’s hollow skull–affixed to the prow of the king’s personal planet-scorcher–became a shadow every world in the universe feared to see above their skies.
Morgan was going to end that fear. And for that, she needed a weapon.
“The sword is not freely given, little Halfdragon,” the star said, voice trembling through the heavens. “It must be taken, pulled from the star that holds it.”
Morgan steadied herself against its glare, her eyes slipping to the object entombed in the asteroid, its metallic glint like that of a blade. She knew what she had to do.
The asteroid shook, and the colossal star flared.
“Very well, Halfdragon…”
Morgan began to sprint. “Lance, get out of here!” she screamed down the intercom.
The star began to change, darkening, crunching inward. “Prove your worth.”
Morgan kept running, closing in on the massive sword. Gravity was shifting all around her, dust rising from the asteroid. The accretion disk surrounding the star was being dragged towards it at a horrifying speed as the star folded in on itself, collapsing into a point of infinite darkness.
“Holy shit!” Lance’s voice again. “Morgan, that’s a—”
She reached the base of the sword towering above her, hand brushing against its surface. At her touch, the hilt’s metal plates slid back, a door opening. She clambered into the legendary spaceship’s interior, holding back tears as her blood pounded through her veins. Everything was a roar. She prayed Lance was off the asteroid.
She climbed through the ancient starship, making for the hilt.
A myth, a legend.
She burst out onto the ship’s bridge, control panels winking into life at her touch.
The Sword in the Star. It called to her.
Morgan threw herself into the ship’s command throne, smiling as it molded to her form. The asteroid – and her upon it – was in free fall towards the black hole. She had moments.
Light blazed awake along the interior of Excalibur’s bridge, and Morgan felt the ship beneath her, like she’d never felt any ship before. Control panels blazed awake at her presence, like it had been waiting for her, like it knew her. As the asteroid spun, Morgan engaged Excalibur’s reverse-thrusters, heat pummelling out from the tips of the sword’s vast crossguard, carving craters into the asteroid beneath.
The starship slipped free of the asteroid, dust clouds barely able to bloom before the yawning darkness dragged them in. As the ship careened towards the black hole, Morgan waited until its tip, the point of the sword, was angled towards the black hole’s edge–then she punched the anti-space drive into ignition and pulled the Sword from the Star.
Excalibur sang as it soared, skirting the event horizon, slingshotting around a black hole faster than any starship in history. Morgan screamed–part dread, part exhilaration. Lance’s triumphant cries verbed over the intercom as the Llamrei followed her into anti-space, far beyond the crushing gravity well.
Every circuit, every coil, every engine resonated with the very fire in Morgan’s soul. Her eyes became the ship’s as runes not seen in a hundred-thousand years lit up along her wings, burning her name into infinity.
“Look out, father,” she whispered to the stars. “I’m coming for you.”
About the Author
CJ Howell is a Welsh writer of science fiction and fantasy currently based in Scotland. After studying geology, he took an MA in Creative Writing and is currently working as a bookseller. He has previously been published by the British Fantasy Society.