While the others were caught up in the coup, Reya was still fighting, though by now, fighting was not really the word she would have used anymore. She was making a fool of her opponent. Gravis looked as if he had gone fifteen rounds with an assault vehicle and lost every one. He could barely stand.
Until Gravis had tried to kill Reya, she had mainly kept her damage minimal. His only danger had been from repeated falling.Once he got her angry though, she began to rain precision strikes on select parts of his body. She could not match him in strength but there were some points in the body that were vulnerable no matter how much muscle and strength you had.
Whenever Gravis lifted his arms to try to hit her, they were in severe pain. She kept hitting certain points on his shoulders and elbows. His legs felt as stiff as metal and he had lost the rushing quickness that he used to intimidate opponents and put them off-balance and on the defensive.
Gravis was the kind of man whose stubbornness matched his pride and not his intelligence, and that meant that he was still trying to go on despite making a fool of himself. His face was livid with hatred as he tried to rush forward again. It was quite comical since his speed had slowed considerably and Reya barely needed to move in order to get out of his way.
Reya side-swiped him and rapped him on the back of the neck again as he stumbled past her without hitting his intended target. Gravis finally fell to his knees. Reya came up behind him and placed him in the same head-lock that he had nearly killed her with before. Reya said with a voice that could freeze water in the heat of summer, “Shall I give you the same treatment you tried to give me earlier?”
Gravis gasped, he could barely breathe, never mind speak. Reya released her grip a bit to allow him to talk. It really was a waste of time though, all he said was, “Don’t think you’ve won, woman!” He spit out her gender like a disease. “Go ahead and kill me! We will win in the end, not you!”
This man and most of his planet made Reya ill. “If I were like you, you would be dead now.” She unexpectedly let go of him and stepped back. "You're lucky I'm not."
Gravis got up and said with derision, “Just like a woman. You can’t even kill. You’re a coward.”
Reya was very tired of the blindly macho attitude that substituted for values here. “It doesn’t take courage to kill. Any fool can do that.”
“You’re the fool,” said Gravis as he tried to rush her again. He still had one more trick. This time as Reya turned to side-swipe him, he made an unexpected move and turned on his heels in order to strike her from the side. Unfortunately for him, Reya was more than able to block this move and rapped him on the side of the head for his troubles. Gravis fell to the ground and Reya came up behind him and put him in a head-lock again.
Using the same tone of derision he had employed on her, Reya said, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because I don't kill you, that I'm weak or that I can't. I chose not to kill you for my own reasons. I will not kill without a purpose. Leaving you alive, serves my purpose. Do you concede this match?”
Gravis shouted loudly for the vid cameras, “Never! No woman will win against me!”
"You're wrong. You've already lost. You're just too blind to see it." Reya shook her head at the futility of talking to this man. She let go of him and stepped back, looking up towards the vid cameras and the observation booths.
The message had been delivered. There was no doubt that she could kill Gravis anytime she wanted to but had chosen not to. She had made that very clear tonight.
Gravis got up slowly and painfully while Reya watched him. It was time to end this. She quickly came up behind him, clasped both hands together and struck down hard at the base of his neck. Gravis went down and stopped moving. He was unconscious.
There was stunned silence from the audience, as if they didn’t know how to react, or didn’t want to wake up from a nightmare that none of them wanted to believe was real.
Reya looked down gravely at her fallen opponent. She wondered how many of the men in this society were like Gravis. If they were all like him, there was little hope for the women on this planet unless there was a revolution of some kind. She doubted that the women were in any position to make their voices heard here without being slapped back down.
She looked up at the vid cameras again. The match should be over now. The challenger lay defeated at her feet, but all there was, was a funereal silence, as if all the audio speakers had suffered a malfunction at the same time or everyone was stricken dumb.
Reya wondered if Argus and the others were coming down to meet her. She was tired. The match had taken a lot out of her. She was bruised and sore all over, her right shoulder was stiff and in pain and she was sporting a slight limp. It was going to take several days for her to fully recover. She needed a nice hot shower.
Reya wondered how long would it take for them to declare the match ended. Gravis was not about to wake up any time soon.
In President Brent's observation booth, Cally had finished checking Thenard, and came over to report to Brent and Argus who were discussing the situation.
There was concern on Brent’s face as he asked immediately, "How is he?" He looked tired and his face was swollen. His arm was still hovering protectively across his ribs.
"He's not good. He took two shots to the back and he's losing a lot of blood. I've been able to stabilize him and stop the worst of the bleeding but you'll have to get him to your medical facilities."
Brent said worriedly, "Unfortunately, we can't. I don't know what the situation is out there. I don't know who is still loyal to me. Poul, that's the announcer, was smart to get me here. I only came with Thenard and a small contingent of guards."
Argus said, "We can take him back to our ship. We have medical facilities there. As for your government…"
"I don’t expect you to help me. You've done enough already." Brent tried to get up but a groan escaped from his lips instead and he fell back.
Cally said, "Here let me take a look at that." She gently removed his arm and waved a scanner wand over the injured area. "You've got two fractured ribs and some bruising."
Argus said, "You're not going anywhere like that. Not on your own and without any support."
Brent looked up at him hopefully, "Are you offering your support?"
"Let's call it help for someone who needs it."
Brent asked with wry humour, "Help that's just shy of support?"
"Something like that."
Brent chuckled and grimaced at the same time. "Fair enough."
Vila had been watching the fight chamber while intermittently paying attention to what Brent and Argus were saying. He felt that someone should keep an eye on Reya since everyone seemed to be busy. "Argus?"
"Shouldn't the fight be finished now?"
Argus came over and saw Reya standing next to the still body of Gravis. She was looking up at the vid cameras and the observation booths, waiting for what came next. In the urgency of the coup, he had almost forgotten about the match.
Argus asked "What’s happening?”
"She knocked him out. I don't think he's going to get up for awhile. She was magnificent."
Despite the chaos of the situation, a quiet joy and pride came over Argus as he watched Reya standing over the still figure of the man who had tried to kill her. “She’s wonderful.”
Brent came over, supported by Cally. "They're waiting for the announcer to pronounce the winner."
They all turned to the sullen and silently fuming men who were now standing in the far corner; bound and watched by the soldiers. Poul and his men didn’t seem very cooperative from the looks of extreme dislike being directed towards them.
Cally said, "I don't think that's a good idea."
Brent agreed, "You're right. I think I can guess what he'll say and I doubt it would be anything we'd want to hear."
Argus suggested, "Then you'll have to do it. You're President. It'll mean more coming from you."
There was conflict on Brent's face. "I…"
Cally was very aware of this man's feelings. They seethed below the surface, strong emotions that he hid behind a sardonic humour. "That's what he's afraid of."
Brent's head turned towards her in surprise. "I can see that I will have to be very careful around both of your women, Argus."
Argus said, "They have names."
"Of course. Your medical officer is right. If I make this announcement, it may very well be my last act as President. No matter what else I do."
"Is that the only thing that matters to you? Retaining your power?" asked Argus.
Brent said, "You don't understand, Argus. If you knew my situation, you would know that I don't have any choice."
"You always have a choice," said Argus.
"In an ideal world perhaps. As you may have noticed, this is far from an ideal society. It is one I am trying to change. In order to do that, I have to be President."
Argus challenged, "Change into what?"
Brent said, "I am tempted to say, help me and find out, but I doubt if you would appreciate the humour. Let's get this over with." He moved towards the control desk that the announcer used to broadcast from and switched on the audio pick-up. "This is President Brent. It is my duty to announce the winner of this contest as announcer Poul is currently occupied with other matters."
At the other end of the room, Poul reacted angrily and tried to shout his denial but one of the soldiers had him restrained and put his hand over his mouth.
Brent continued, "I know that none of us expected this result and most people do not want it. It strikes at the very heart of our society. We are a strong and proud people. I would like to believe that we are big enough to respect a display of courage and ability, regardless of what we think of the person who is displaying it. It is my responsibility to confirm the champion of this hand-to-hand contest, Reya Reeve of the Justice. She has not only won this contest but the three-round challenge, in a very convincing manner and against incredible odds and obstacles. I present to you, the Champion of the Chandar Alliance, Reya Reeve." Brent cut the connection and immediately turned to Argus. He said urgently, "I recommend that you get your people down there right now."
Argus was alarmed by Brent's tone. He asked suspiciously, "Why? What did you just do?"
Brent said apologetically, "I'm sorry. I don't know what possessed me." He looked very concerned.
Argus's voice was controlled as he asked again, "What did you do?"
"Champion of the Chandar Alliance is a formal title. It is not meant to be given to a woman. This is going to cause trouble."
Argus said angrily, "Are you trying to get her killed?" He pointed to Dain and four of the soldiers. "You're with me. The rest get back up to the ship. Take care of the injured. Keep the prisoners locked up in one of the secure cargo holds and put two guards on them."
Cally asked, "And the President?"
Argus said, "Take him with you." He pressed on his teleport bracelet. “Sergeant, get a fix on the fight chamber. I want to be teleported inside the chamber.”
After a few moments, the sergeant’s voice reported, “I can’t get a lock inside, sir. There appears to be interference coming from the chamber. The teleport system can’t get a lock.”
Brent said, “It’s the shielding. When the chamber is sealed, it is also shielded from outside interference.”
Vila said, “But how could that other device get through then? The one they used on the Commander?”
Brent thought about this, “It has to be someone who knows how the shielding works. They were able to get around the interference.”
The situation was still urgent, Argus said, “Even if Avon could find a way around it and reconfigure the teleport, it’ll take time we don’t have.” He pressed on the teleport bracelet again. “Sergeant, get us a fix just outside of the chamber. As close as possible.”
They all waited.
Argus said impatiently, “Sergeant, quickly.”
The sergeant’s voice came back, “There are too many people around the chamber. I can’t get a clear spot. The closest I can give you is a set of stairs in the next corridor.”
Vila remarked, “Those must be the ones we used before. That’s not very close.”
Argus said, “It’ll have to do. Sergeant, five to teleport.” Lt. Dain and the soldiers gathered around Argus while the others moved away from them. The team disappeared.
When they were gone, Vila said to those who were left, "You heard the man, let's go. I'll call for some more teleport bracelets."
He was bringing his arm up to do just that when Brent said, "I can't go with you. I have something to do."
Cally said, "Not in that condition."
Brent was insistent. "Then give me something for the pain and a gun. I can manage."
Vila added, "Even if you were fine, going out there will get you killed. You said it yourself, you don't have any help. You don't know who you can trust."
"Argus said he was going to give me help, just short of support."
Vila said, "I don't know. He didn’t say what kind of help yet."
Cally looked at Brent. She could sense that there was something else going on. "What aren't you telling us?"
Brent glanced nervously at the sullen men in the corner. He led Cally and Vila to the other end of the room.
In a low voice he said, "I have to get my bond-mate and my daughter out. People might try to kill them."
Vila's voice almost rose with surprise, "Bond-mate? I thought the men in your society didn't bond with your women. They're just property to you."
Brent hesitated as if he was trying to decide what to reveal to these people who were supposed to be strangers. He made his decision and said, "I did. Only a select few people know this. People I trusted. There are some of us who are different than the others but we keep it hidden."
Vila said, "Trusted?"
Cally asked, "You're hoping that none of the people you trust are your enemies now?"
"Yes. Will you help me? As you said, I can't save them on my own and if we use your teleport we can get there much faster."
Vila asked, "Cally? What do you think?"
Cally's psi perceptions told her they could trust what Brent was saying. There was also something else but she wasn't sure yet and now was not the time to address the matter. "He doesn't seem false in what he says."
"We should tell Argus first," said Vila.
"Yes. We should also get the injured and the prisoners back to the ship first too.”
Argus, who was nearing the fight chamber, agreed with the idea to help Brent. “Vila, take some of the soldiers with you and go with Brent."
Vila had never led a party on a mission before. Not by himself. He said, "What about Cally?”
Cally replied, “I have to stay with Thenard. He needs medical attention. You can do it, Vila.”
Argus added, “Take one of the sergeants with you. They’ll help.” Argus was used to developing young lieutenants who did not have much confidence in themselves. Sergeants usually provided the necessary stability and experience they lacked.
Vila said nervously, “Alright, I’ll do it.”
Avon lay bound and unconscious on the floor of the observation booth. One of his captors tried to kick him awake but to no avail.
The one kicking him said, “He’s not getting up. I didn’t think I hit him that hard.”
Grenthel, the leader of this group said, “Well try harder. We need him to tell us where the others are. Use some water if you have to.”
The kicker picked up a pitcher of water and was about to pour it on Avon’s head when they heard President Brent’s voice over the speakers. They all stopped what they were doing.
The kicker said in shock, “I thought Poul’s group got to him. What’s he doing announcing anything?”
Grenthel said, “Something must have gone wrong.”
There was stunned silence from this group as they listened to President Brent pronounce Reya as the Champion of the Chandar Alliance.
The kicker said, “We were right. He’s a bonder. We have to get rid of him. Is the takeover in danger?”
“I don’t know. We have to find out.” Grenthel pointed to Avon. “Bring him and leave that thing here.” He was referring to the teleport bracelet. “They might be able to track him using that. It may not just be a comm device.”
Reya stepped out of the fight chamber and was immediately surrounded by angry men with guns pointed at her. She put her hands up slowly. “Is this the way they treat winners here?”
She had given her teleport bracelet to Argus before she was put through the scanners. But even if she still had it, she doubted if these men would give her an opportunity to use it.
“You’re lucky we don’t shoot you first,” one of them snarled.
She said cynically, “I’m surprised you haven’t. That is what you’re good at after all, shooting first and keeping your lack of knowledge intact.”
“Shut up, woman!”
She smiled sarcastically, “How many of you does it require to beat a single, unarmed woman?”
Another one demanded, “You’re going back in there and you’re going to lose to Gravis.”
Reya gave them a cold and cynical look. “The likelihood of me doing that willingly is even less probable than Gravis waking up in the next hour.”
A brown-haired man lifted the butt of his rifle and prepared to hit her. Another man stopped him. “No. Not here. She’s right about Gravis. Tie her up and bring her with us.”
They grabbed Reya, twisted her arms roughly behind her and tied her hands together. By the time Argus and the soldiers arrived, her captors had already whisked her out of the building.