Reya really wished there wasn’t an audience in the medical unit to see her trying to get out of bed on her own. Cally had been like an overprotective mother resignedly watching her charge walking for the first time and resisting the urge to lend a hand.
Self-conscious because of all the worriedly watchful eyes, Reya slid off the bed carefully and touched her feet to the floor. She was as apprehensive as the others as she slowly put her full weight on her legs. After days of inactivity there was a possibility that she might be too weak. Reya’s face was pale but she was determined.
She stood and let go of the bed. Everyone let out tentative sighs of relief, including herself. She felt good and there didn’t appear to be any pain from her injuries. How much that was due to the adrenaline and the pain blockers Cally had given her was impossible to tell.
Reya took a few tentative steps, with each one she seemed to grow stronger and more confident. She was aware of some weakness but it was not hampering her mobility.
To her embarrassment, her audience began clapping. Argus came and stood by her. He had been poised between wanting her to fail so that they could cancel this mission and wishing her to succeed. “I knew you could do it.”
Cally said, “You were in excellent physical shape before. That helped a great deal.”
Vila had a big smile on his face, “I knew nothing could keep you down for long.”
Sester hung back and was standing behind the others. He didn’t say anything but it was clear from the look on his face that he shared everyone’s feelings.
Avon did not share the others’ confidence. He knew that the drugs had a great deal to do with what they had just witnessed. More than the others, he knew the personal implications of requiring chemical aids just to be able to function.
He decided not to say anything. It would not help the situation by injecting some sobering reality. He could see by the hard set of Reya’s face that she was going to do this regardless. She was going on courage alone and a belief that what she was doing was right. Reya needed all the confidence she could get.
Avon respected this about her. It was the one thing Avon had appreciated about Blake. He respected people who had the courage to act on what they believed, regardless of whether Avon agreed with them or not. It was the way Avon lived his own life. When he made a commitment, it was real.
He said to Reya, “I’m glad that your mobility has returned.”
Reya said wryly, “So am I. Is everything else ready?”
Argus said, “Yes, I already have Dain and several of the teams positioned down on the planet.”
She looked at him expectantly. “We should go then.”
The President’s Hall was a gargantuan place used for major ceremonial functions of a planetary nature. Every new Chandaran President in the past five hundred years was inaugurated here. No self-respecting new leader would deny himself this prestige of historical proportions.
The place was jam-packed with people awaiting the installation of Thelis as the new Chandaran President; throngs of excited and curious people standing behind an energy barrier, vizmedia people trying to cover every angle and who seemed to be interviewing anyone who had an opinion. Positive opinions of course given the heavily armed supporters of Thelis who were present to make sure no one caused any trouble. Amongst the throngs, Lt. Dain and several teams, all in Chandaran native dress positioned themselves in discreet but key positions near the Main Hall where the ceremony was to be held. Argus and Vila teleported down ahead of Reya and joined the teams.
In the teleport room, on a large vidscreen monitor that had been set up, Reya and the others watched as a procession entered the Hall. A hushed and awed silence fell over the people in attendance. The procession was in two lines with each man walking tall and proud.
Reya and the others were shocked to find that they recognized two of the people in the procession; Reya’s former challengers Dannon and Gravis. The procession stopped in front of a raised platform in the middle of the Hall and stood waiting.
President Brent explained, “Those are the current Champions of Chandar. It’s important to be seen to have the support of all of the Champions. “
Cally said, “They’re missing one current Champion.”
Reya responded vehemently, “And they’re not getting my support.”
Brent nodded. “It’s crucial that your timing is right. You must make your challenge at the appropriate time. It will give it much greater weight.”
Avon, who was sitting at the teleport controls, remarked, “It will also make it more dangerous.”
Sester, observing from the doorway, said, “Only because of its significance. If Reya comes in at any other time, it will encourage the view that she’s an illegitimate intruder. By following tradition, she is shaking the foundation of the concept of a Champion. For the first time, a Champion will step forward to protect Chandar and it will be a woman.”
The wide door to the Main Hall slid open with a swish. A lone figure in ceremonial attire of a brown and gold crested jacket entered the Main Hall. The Presidential hopeful, Thelis walked with the solemnity of a funeral march and passed through the double line of Champions who parted to allow him to pass through.
Brent said, “Get ready.”
Reya stepped alone onto the teleport platform.
Cally asked Brent, “Are you sure that she has to go down alone?”
“Yes. She’s the Champion. She is the only one who has a right to enter beyond the barrier at this point.”
Avon checked the coordinates once again.
Brent carefully watched the broadcast of the ceremony and then he said, “Now.”
Avon began pressing the teleport controls. He paused at the last one and looked up at Reya and said, “Good luck, Commander.” The final switch was activated.
Reya nodded just as the teleport energies took her.
In the Main Hall, the longest serving of the Champions, a man named Trist, walked forward several steps and then turned around to face his companions. In a low booming voice that filled the Hall, he said, “Before the Ceremony of Inauguration comes the Declaration of the Champions. It is our solemn duty to protect the honour and security of Chandar. If any Champion knows a reason why this man is unfit to become the next President of Chandar, it is our responsibility to provide the Challenge. Be aware that this is no light charge and the abuse of this power is strictly punished. The future of Chandar is at stake. I will call out the names of each Champion and you will state your approval or your Challenge.”
One-by-one, each Champion gave their endorsement to Thelis. Upon the last one, the Elder Champion turned to Thelis and said, “I also give my support to your installation as President. It is my privilege to announce the full support of all the Champions...”
At that moment a strong female voice said, “This Champion does not support you. By the power invested in me as Champion, I make a formal Challenge as to the fitness of this man to become the next President of the Chandar Alliance. ”
There was shock at the sudden appearance of Reya. That surprised soon turned to outraged stirrings amongst the crowd that was behind the energy barrier. If it weren’t for the barrier they might have all rushed forwards.
The Elder Champion said, “How dare a woman interrupt the most important Ceremony of Chandar!”
Thelis said, “Kill her!”
Several of the Champions, led by Gravis, rushed Reya. She stood her ground and didn’t move as Gravis grabbed her by the arm and twisted it behind her. There was no fear or concern in Reya’s eyes, only a determined and dangerous look. She said coldly, “I am a Champion of Chandar. All of you heard President Brent install me as one. Do you not honour your own laws?”
Gravis twisted her arm cruelly and said, “The laws do not apply to a woman. Women are not allowed to become Champions. You’re little more than property. If that.”
Reya ignored both the pain and Gravis. She addressed the Elder. “You must know more about the Laws governing Champions than anyone here. Is there anything in your own laws which state that a woman cannot become a Champion?”
The Elder Champion, Trist looked distinctly uncomfortable when challenged with this question. In Sester’s research, he had found out that Trist was a man who was very strict about following the Laws, especially regarding Champions.
Trist sounded uncomfortable as he replied, “No. The Laws do not specifically state that a woman cannot become a Champion. But the intent of the Law presupposes that no one would ever do such a fool thing as to appoint an inferior creature as a Champion.”
Reya said in a firm voice, “Then the error is not with the Law but those who instituted the Law. But as it stands, the Law of Champions does not prohibit a woman from being a Champion.”
Trist said with reluctance, “In the strictest sense, the Laws do not prohibit a woman from being a Champion.”
Thelis said angrily, “Don’t let her words trick you. Just kill her and we can get on with more important matters.”
Reya levelled such cold eyes on Thelis that the man took a half step back. Reya said in a voice of authority, “It is no trick. The question is whether you, as the potential new President of Chandar, will honour the Laws of Chandar. I am not here to overthrow your established order. I came meeting the requirements of tradition in order to protect the honour and security of Chandar by issuing a Challenge.”
Gravis twisted Reya’s arm again and tried to put his arm over her mouth to shut her up. “Don’t listen to her!”
Reya was ready for this move and made her own. Before anyone knew what was happening, Reya was the one behind Gravis, twisting his arm behind him and causing him to grimace. Reya let go of him and took a step back and said, “I have something very important to tell all of you. It deals with the ultimate security of Chandar. Let me say my piece and then I will submit myself to whatever you wish to do to me.”
For the first time, Dannon spoke up, “Perhaps we should hear what she has to say. If it deals with the security of Chandar, we have a responsibility to hear it. As she says, we can do whatever we want with her afterwards.”
Thelis said angrily, “We can do whatever we want with her now. We don’t have to listen to her.”
Dannon faced him. “Are you willing to risk the security of Chandar just because you couldn’t wait a few seconds? What if there is a danger to Chandar? She came here knowing what we would likely do to her. She is unarmed and defenceless. Why would she do this if there wasn’t something extremely important?” He turned his head to address the Elder, “Trist? What do you think?”
Trist was an extremely cautious man. He turned to Reya and said, “We can wait sixty seconds for the security of Chandar. You had better make a good case. You know what will happen to you if you don’t.”
Reya said cynically, “Will it be any different than if I do make a strong case?”
Trist said forcefully, “Make your case.”
Reya stood up straighter and squared her shoulders. She faced Thelis and said, “You have all been deceived. This man is not a Chandaran.”
There were confused and incredulous noises from the crowd. Gravis said, “This is rubbish. I told you not to listen to her.”
Dannon asked, “Then who is he?”
Reya said in a louder and deliberate voice, “He is an alien from the Andromeda galaxy.”