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Challenge - Section One

 
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softshadow



Joined: 07 May 2006
Posts: 9
Location: Sutton, Surrey

PostPosted: Thu May 11, 2006 3:48 pm    Post subject: Challenge - Section One Reply with quote

Blake’s Seven
SS001 - Challenge - Part One
By Softshadow

Let The Game Commence.

In the darkness of the Xenon base night, Vila normally felt quite at home. While he would be the first to admit his own shortcomings with regards to bravery – at least to himself – he had a particular affinity for the quiet, cool darkness of the night. Of course, an artificial night was never the same as the real thing, but any professional thief knew all too well that a good, dark evening was the very best time to find property available for a swift transfer of ownership without the tiresome business of payment.

This particular night was no different to any other; all nights on Xenon base were identical, at least to the eye. For the rest of his life, Vila would recall this night with the cold, tight fist of fear around his heart. Like so many of the traumatic events of his life, the reason for his discomfort stemmed directly from Avon.

Vila had to admit, it was not completely Avon’s fault. Nevertheless, the cold, calculating man had summoned him to the lounge to give him some of the worst news he had ever heard. His hands were shaking, clutching the glass of wine he had poured on arrival like a talisman, but far too weak to lift the vessel to his mouth. His eyes, staring down at the wine, were wide with fright. Avon could not even be sure if his words were still getting through to the thief’s brain. He had no need to worry; Vila was still capable of communication.

“Why me? Why’d you have to tell me?” He looked up with a wild expression. “I was having such a wonderful time until you called me. I was asleep. Sleep’s one of my favourite pastimes, and one of the few I can do alone. I only hope this is a dream, because if it isn’t I’ll never forgive you for this.”

Avon snapped, quietly – a means of communication that was difficult to achieve, but he was a master of such behaviour. “Shut up. You’ve heard the message. Much as I hate to admit that I need your opinion, you’re the only one I can talk to about this. You’re a snivelling coward, but you’re a living one. It’s one of your least appealing traits, but you have survived. I need that skill, and one way or another, I am going to get it.”

“Oh wonderful. First you tell me we’ve been sentenced to death, and now you expect me to save your skin!” Vila lifted the glass, hands still quivering. “Have you any idea how single-minded the Challengers can be?”

“I have every idea.” Avon narrowed his eyes “You and I are civilised men, for some value of the term. We’re not professional killers. Dayna thinks with her muscles, Soolin thinks with her gun, and I doubt that Tarrant thinks at all. But you use your brain. Not successfully most of the time, but you do use it. We have two choices. We think, or we die. If we fight, we’re finished. Do you really think the others will even pause for breath before trying to choose the muscular option?”

“I hate it when you’re right.” Vila drained his glass and reached for the bottle, unsteadily. Avon’s hand closed about his wrist.

“Then you’ll do it?” The question actually seemed to be requesting help, rather than rhetorical. Vila swallowed, nervously.

“You’re going to get us all killed, you know that?”

Avon smiled tightly “Of course. Eventually. I seem to follow in Blake’s footsteps far too closely for my own liking. Are you with me?”

“Of course I’m with you, if not being with you means a long, slow lingering death. Either that or spending an eternity stuck here with only Tarrant for company. I’d prefer death.” Vila shuddered. “Are you sure this will work?”

Avon smiled his cold, mirthless smile, and reached out to slide the control key into Orac’s casing. The computer flashed into life, whirring gently as the circuitry responded to the summons. Avon questioned the machine quickly “Orac, the plan I formulated and explained to you earlier: what are the chances of success?”

“I have already given you the figures. Kindly do not waste my valuable time repeating meaningless questions.” Orac was as civil as ever, which was not saying much.

“This is for Vila’s benefit. Repeat what you told me.” Avon spoke firmly, knowing that Orac would only respond to a masterful request when it felt that the task was beneath its dignity.

“Very well,” the petulant computer continued “But I fail to see how it benefits anybody to constantly repeat that which you already know. Chances of your plan being successful are extremely low.”

“See?” Vila burst out, pointing a finger at the flashing box that contained Orac “Even Orac thinks this is madness.”

“If I may finish!” Orac snapped, with a raised voice. “While the chances of success are low, they are infinitely better than attempting to hide or negotiate. Further, any attempt to actively fight against those who threaten you would be sheer folly. With their numbers and far superior vessels, it is a foregone conclusion that you would be destroyed.”

“Thank you Orac.” Avon turned to Vila and said, simply. “So we either do it my way, or we’re all dead. Go and wake the others.”

“It’s the middle of the night!” Vila complained, almost without thinking. “They’ll not like it.”

Avon rose to fetch himself some wine of his own “They’ll like being dead a lot less. Now do it!”

Vila’s prediction proved to be accurate. The remaining three residents of Xenon base gathered in the lounge area, each one looking annoyed at being raised in the middle of the night. Tarrant was positively fuming, and wasted no time in demonstrating his displeasure.

“Avon, what the hell has got into you? You’d better have a good reason for this meeting or I’ll…”

“Or you’ll what?” Avon snapped, curtly. “Orac has a message for us. I suggest you listen to it before you make any rash promises.”

“If we’re not actually under attack I don’t care what is going on. We all work hard and we need our sleep. You’ve got no right to summon us like we were your servants.” Tarrant glared at Avon, refusing to back down.

Dayna could see where this was heading. She flopped onto a couch and sighed. “I’m sure he has good reason, Tarrant. The sooner he tells us what has got him so worked up, the sooner we can get back to bed.”

Soolin remained quiet, standing with a neutral expression on her face. Of all the residents at Xenon base, she was the one who could be his closest ally – or most difficult opponent. His case for action had to be pitched at her; if she agreed, chances are that Dayna would follow, and then Tarrant would be forced to cave in. Avon turned to the computer. “Orac, play the message.”

“If I must.” The lights flickered, and an unfamiliar voice filtered from Orac’s speaker system “Priority message to all from Lilephon VI! Rejoice! A new Challenge is declared. Kenzac challenges the people of the galaxy to join his game, and risk all for the ultimate prize. The goal is set: present Orac to Kenzac for the prize of a lifetime! I repeat, the challenge is announced! Bring Orac to Kenzac!”

The computer fell silent. Avon could read the expressions of his fellows easily. Vila still looked like he was going to be ill at any moment. Tarrant was taken aback, and Soolin slightly pensive. Dayna was puzzled. Avon spoke then:

“I hope that satisfies your desire for a justifiable reason, Tarrant. If you feel that you can sleep comfortably in your bed now, don’t let me detain you.”

Tarrant stared at Orac “Is this serious? Orac is the target of Kenzac’s Challenge?”

Orac spoke crisply “Of course it is serious. I am not given to random acts of frivolity. Kenzac has issued the challenge, and the numbers of active participants is rising constantly. The challenge was issued a considerable time ago, but has taken several years to reach this area of the galaxy.”

“Several years?” Soolin strode forwards to look down at Orac “Why would it take that long?”

The computer sounded annoyed at the question “I should have thought that was obvious. The destruction of Star One, and the resultant collapse of the Federation made communication across the galaxy very difficult. Many Federation communications centres were rendered useless. Any messages that pass through those that have remained functional were prioritised, and this was not a priority message to the Federation, despite the presumption of those who sent it to label it as such.”

“I’m amazed it got out at all,” Avon remarked. “Kenzac has been systematically trying to capitalise on the Federation losses and carve an empire of his own. I would have thought they would suppress any transmissions from his people.”

Dayna spoke up, sounding confused “I don’t follow this at all. Why are we worried about this? Almost everyone we meet wants to get their hands on Orac, why should this one be any more of a problem?”

Tarrant turned and said, with his usual didactic manner “Kenzac isn’t an ordinary man. He rules his own star system on the outer edge of ex-Federation space like a military dictatorship. His economy is based on slavery and brutality, and he has an army of highly trained mercenaries, all of whom follow him with a zeal bordering on fanaticism. He’s no ordinary man.”

“You can say that again.” Vila spoke from where he was slumped in a chair “He’s immortal.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Dayna scoffed “Nobody is immortal!”

“Kenzac is.” Vila swigged more wine

“Not exactly.” Tarrant clarified the position “Kenzac was originally a scientist, or so the story goes. He systematically replaced parts of his anatomy when they became worn down from abuse or old age. I’m not sure how long he’s been alive, but he has extended his lifespan through the use of cybernetics to well beyond the normal human range.”

“It also makes him almost impossible to kill.” Avon added. “His organs, his limbs – almost every part has been replaced or enhanced, and he has spares enough to repair himself almost indefinitely.”

“He’s also enhanced his soldiers, so the saying goes.” Soolin chipped in “He’s obtained almost mythological status amongst the criminal fraternity.”

“I’ve led a sheltered life.” Dayna mused. “But why does this concern us, if he is the other side of the Galaxy. There’s a lot of space between here and there.”

Vila looked up from his now empty glass. “Kenzac’s Challenge. I thought everyone had heard about it? How can you possibly live in this galaxy and not know about it?”

Dayna refrained from comment, and just delivered a withering glance at Vila’s inebriated stream of words. Soolin filled in the gaps. “Once a year, Kenzac issues a challenge. Anyone who succeeds gets to replace Kenzac as supreme ruler of the Lilephon system, or if they come close they get to keep the entrance fees paid by the other less fortunate contenders. The goals set are supposed to be difficult, but not impossible to achieve.”

“Except nobody ever has.” Avon turned and paced the floor, talking as he went “Orac said the challenge was issued several years ago. I assumed that this meant Earth standard years, which is the normal unit of measurement in Federation space. But Lilephon is not affiliated to the Federation. Kenzac measures time relative to his own planet of Lilephon VI, which orbits its own sun once every nine years.”

“Which means that the challenge is still valid.” Tarrant mused, his initial bad temper reducing as he thought his way through the problem. “If the transmission has finally been relayed to this part of the galaxy, it is safe to assume that any ship we come across has also received it. From this point forwards, anyone and anything we meet has to be considered hostile.”

“Hostile?” Dayna blinked “Isn’t that a little paranoid, even by our standards?”

“Not really.” Avon turned and looked down to the young warrior woman. “It is safe to assume we will not give up Orac without a fight, and that means that any contender has to neutralise us before they get to Orac. There are a great many rules of conduct in the challenge, one of which is that the targets must be eliminated. As we currently possess Orac, we all have to be killed before a winner can claim the grand prize.”

“So?” Dayna looked at her four friends “Anyone who comes at us we can remove. It isn’t as if we’ve not been attacked before.”

Tarrant shook his head “Not a reasonable strategy. I don’t fancy spending the next four or five years fighting for my life in Scorpio. And some of the challengers are very, very good. Kenzac’s army is made up of the toughest mercenaries the galaxy can offer. They’re well equipped, efficient, and utterly without any form of remorse. To attack them head on would be risky.”

“Risky? It’d be suicide.” Vila stated, sounding depressed.

“For once, Vila is right.” Avon started to pace again. “We can’t fight them, and we can’t hide for the next few years. In the past we’re dodged the Federation, but we could always rely on a reasonably safe passage through the unallied territories, and even proactive assistance from the enemies of the Federation. That is in the past; anywhere we go now might just turn round and sell us to Kenzac for the challenge prize.”

“I don’t see we have much choice. You can’t negotiate with Kenzac – he does what he likes to whoever he likes.” Tarrant sat down, looking thoughtful “There’s no other way to handle this. Scorpio is the fastest ship I’ve ever seen, but all the speed in the universe won’t help us when the power is drained.”

Soolin approached Avon and asked, firmly “What have you in mind? I doubt you’d have called us here without having made a plan.”

Avon smiled the disarming smile he used in the face of annoyance or peril. “Am I really so obvious? The answer is simple.” He stared right back into her face “I’m going to enter the Challenge myself.”

The ensuing uproar was not unexpected. Only Vila, who already knew this fact, remained seated. Tarrant was the loudest of them all.

“I knew you felt little loyalty to us, but selling us down the river right to our faces, and Orac as well, just to save your own skin is lower than I ever thought you’d go!”

Avon snarled back at the tall pilot “Don’t be an idiot! Do you think I’d ever voluntarily part with Orac?”

“No.” Soolin said, her voice quiet in the face of the anger of her shipmates. “But I can believe you’d part with us.” Her hand blurred, and her sidearm pointed unwaveringly at Avon’s chest. “I may just have to remove that possibility before it gets too late.”

Vila wandered towards the wine locker. “Listen to what he has to say. The only one who is likely to get killed is me, so what are you worried about?” He rummaged for another bottle of wine “He’s right though. The only way to get out of this is his way. You can’t beat Kenzac, so you might as well join him.”

Dayna set her jaw “I don’t bow down to anyone, especially not half-machine dictators. I’d rather die first!”

“That’s exactly what you will do if you don’t follow my plan!” Avon glared straight into Soolin’s eyes “Pull that trigger and you’re all dead. Listen to me, and you’ll probably die anyway, but at least we’ll go on our own terms.”

The words hung in the air, before Soolin lowered the gun. “All right. You’d better make this good, though, or I’ll not even give you a warning next time.”

Avon looked at Tarrant and asked directly, “You’re a pirate and a smuggler. You’ve probably stolen a fair few ships in your time. Could you do it again?”

Tarrant was still grinding his teeth in anger “I stole a Federation pursuit ship, but that was a special case. Hijacking isn’t quite as easy as it looks.”

“Make it easy. I’ll need a ship, and a good one. Then I’ll take Vila and put him on board. And then this is what we are going to do…”

*********
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There are no women like me. I am unique!
Servalan, "Sand"
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inge



Joined: 16 May 2004
Posts: 1158

PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2006 9:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Looking forward to the next installment with anticipation.
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softshadow



Joined: 07 May 2006
Posts: 9
Location: Sutton, Surrey

PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2006 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

inge wrote:
Looking forward to the next installment with anticipation.

Been on vacation, but trust me it's coming along well:D
_________________
There are no women like me. I am unique!
Servalan, "Sand"
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softshadow



Joined: 07 May 2006
Posts: 9
Location: Sutton, Surrey

PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 9:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

*peek*

I really am sorry, I had some life crises. Now in new job, in new part of the country. Kind of a LONG hiatus offline. But now...definitely going to finish this;)

SS
x
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