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Once & Future (Once & Future #1)
Author:A.R. Capetta, Cory McCarthy

Once & Future (Once & Future #1)

A.R. Capetta, Cory McCarthy



For SAGA, with hope for a better future





“The destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide.

If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys

throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”

—T. H. White, The Once and Future King





Love. Death. Betrayal. Evil. Magic.

The story of King Arthur has it all. That’s why Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory could be called the Western world’s first bestseller. And when I read Once & Future, a bold, unexpected retelling of King Arthur as an immigrant teenage girl, I knew it had all the same thrilling elements that would make the legend—first told sixteen hundred years ago—a modern favorite once again.

Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy have written an Arthur for the twenty-first century: a female king on a quest to overthrow a tyrannical corporate government. Ari is a girl who learns to live boldly and to fight fiercely for the right to be who she is—and to love who she loves. She’s the hero we all need.

—James Patterson





Ari was hiding out in the Middle Ages.

The rubber knight’s costume she wore squeaked with each movement and smelled like her brother—before he’d embraced deodorant.

“This is a weird secret spot, Kay,” Ari said through the slits of the visor on the knight’s helmet. She stiffly turned to take in the glass cases bursting with period drama: mannequins in knight regalia, sweating horses, and piercing swords. Off to the side, hook-nosed and formidable, was a lone figure labeled MERLIN.

“It’s the best Old Earth myth,” Kay muttered, going over the grocery list on his watch. “Don’t you remember our classes on Lionel? Arthur was the one true king who saved his people from the Dark Ages. He gave a voice to all, righted the wrongs… made a round table.”

“Round?”

“So that no single person would be at the head. An equal voice for all.”

“An equal voice for all, plus he’s the one true king? Sounds like delicious hypocrisy.”

Kay blew out an annoyed breath. “No one comes in here, Ari. It is a good secret spot.”

Ari let him have that one, reminding herself that while this place felt like a harmless museum in a forgotten wing of a giant floating mall, it was also ground zero for the Mercer Company. The starship Heritage was the galactic corporation’s flagship, teeming with associates who would arrest her as soon as sell her a souvenir. She teetered back around in the stiff suit to face her brother. “How did you ever train in this thing at knight camp without peripheral vision?”

“Knights don’t need peripheral vision. They need chivalry.”

Ari snorted so hard her visor flew up.

Kay smacked it back down. “And the ability to realize when they should not draw attention to themselves.”

“Really? That plaque over there says chivalry gave birth to toxic masculinity, which caused Old Earth a few millennia of bullshit patriarchy.”

“Are you seriously picking fights right now?” Kay asked. “You’ve got to lie low. I’ve got to get supplies. Don’t make me wish I left you on Error.”

“You couldn’t. Mercer is doing random spot checks in the parking docks.”

“I could have left you stuffed in a trunk.”

“The patrols would look there.”

Her big brother picked up her rubber-gloved hand and slapped a coin in it. “Go. Over there. Let me think, will you?” He pointed to a telescope by the nearest window. Ari squeak-walked toward it. She dropped the coin in the slot and pushed up the visor enough to peer out at the main attraction on Heritage, Mercer’s most popular shopping and tourist destination: the view.

Ari squinted through the telescope. Up close, Old Earth was downright puny. Only a few thousand miles from the planet, and she could not figure out what was so sacred. She zoomed in, and the blue-and-white marble revealed green-brown clumps. When Kay stomped over on his magboots, she asked, “Is that all the land? Can’t be.”

“There were ice caps in its heyday,” Kay said. “Less water, more land.”

“Cradle of civilization, my ass.”

“Hey.” Her brother grinned at her, a maniacal, desperate, Oh, my gods, just listen to me look. “Keep your voice down, okay? That planet means a lot to most people.”

Ari glanced at the crowds just outside of the museum wing, taking in Old Earth from the observation deck. The space rats were easy enough to rub elbows with, even if they were overemotional at the sight of the retired planet. They were like Kay, born on ships and tailored in patchwork flight suits. The other humans, the crisp, smooth, elite Mercer Company patrons, were more unnerving.

And Ari? She didn’t belong to either camp.

Kay eyed a pair of mall cops in stark white Mercer uniforms as they made their rounds.

“Help me finish the list. We need to get out of here.” He pushed his silvery-gray hair from his scalp, and it arced damply over his brow. Her brother was doing what he always did under pressure: thinking with his stomach. “Did you like those protein preserves? The garlicky ones?”

“They made your breath stink up the entire ship for days.”

“So, three cases?”

Ari side-eyed him, and he added, “Plus breath mints. And for the cake, chocolate this year?”

“I don’t need a cake, Kay.”

“Ten years is a big deal. I vote chocolate. I eat most of it, anyway.” Kay hadn’t even glanced out the window; Old Earth was old hat to Ari’s adoptive brother. He’d been on board Heritage a bunch of times as a kid and claimed to be over the view. Still, whenever their provisions ran low, Kay set course for this exact starship no matter how far away they were.

“How many times did you come here with our parents?”

“Salt. Wounds,” he gruffed, confirming Ari’s theory that this place reminded him of better times, before his moms had taken in Ari and they’d all had to start dodging Mercer.

Ari turned her telescope to the motley, cratered moon. Unlike Old Earth, it had been overrun by domed colonies named after ancient vehicular gods. Each one featured its name and mascot in great, glowing letters. Even from this distance, a neon ram’s head charged through a wall over and over, the letters DODGE blinking.

“Hey, we should stop there on our way out,” she said, pointing to the overrun moon with its billboards more brilliant than stars. Live shows. Dance halls. Oxygen bars. Something called an Elvis. “When’s the last time we went dancing, Kay?”

Kay snapped his fingers in front of the telescope, and for a second the automatic focus zoomed out dizzily and gave her a view of the powder granules of orange cheese from his favorite tortilla chips.

Ari lifted her face, watching a drop of sweat travel down Kay’s cheek to his scruffy chin.

“Stop sweating. They’ll think you’re sick. Or hiding a secret Ketchan in the medieval times section.”

“Hilarious, Ari. Truly.” Kay wiped his face with his forearm. “Tell me, are you able to stop your body from sweating on command?”

Ari squinted. “I haven’t tried. Maybe.”

“Look, don’t move from this spot while I pick up our supplies. Don’t talk to a soul, and if you must? Lie, Ari. I want you speaking eloquent, exquisite, capitalistic lies. Repeat after me: ‘Mercer is my king, my God, my salvation. I love to shop ’til I drop.’”

Ari’s lips pruned; she’d make herself sick uttering such nonsense. “I’ll stay put.”

He put his hands on her shoulders. Worry folded his adorably brutish forehead into lines. “If something goes weird, run. Take off in Error. Don’t wait. Promise?”