Argus approached Avon at the end of the day. Avon was still in his lab and was skirting close to the time when Cally would be wondering why he hadn't stopped working yet. Argus told him Reya's request to break into the Chandaran computer network.
Avon looked back down at the device he was working on and picked up a phase calibrator and turned it on. It produced a slight humming sound. He remarked, "You don't need me."
This wasn't what Argus was expecting to hear. "What do you mean we don't need you? You're the computer expert."
Avon applied the calibrator to one of the circuits. "That kind of information isn't likely to be classified. Basic information on fighting techniques should be available on their public information archives. Just ask one of the military engineers. They should be able to handle a simple uplink that requires no decryption."
"I guess you're right. I'll go ask one of them. How's your oscillator device going?"
"It'll be done in time."
"That's good to hear." Once his task was out of the way, Argus realized Avon's shoulders were slumped and his face looked as if he hadn't slept in days. Argus was immediately concerned. "Avon, why don't you get some rest? This can wait until tomorrow."
Avon glanced up at him. He wondered if Cally was behind this request. "No, it can't and it will take even longer if you insist on bothering me with these trivial requests."
Argus felt guilty. He had been the one who had just asked an already over-worked man to do more. Avon acted tough and he had so many abilities that it was easy to forget that he was more fragile than ever. The two heart attacks had taken a lot out of him, despite the advanced medical facilities of the ship. Argus reminded himself that he had to be more careful about Avon's health and much less demanding in his expectations. And he had to get Avon to rest.
Argus regarded this stubborn and proud man and wondered how to reach him in a way that wouldn't make him even more stubborn. "Avon, you said that if anything were to interfere with our primary mission, we should stop?"
“Yes. You agreed to that."
"Then I think you should stop."
This time, Avon straightened up and gave him a hard look. "Explain."
"If you suffer a physical collapse because you won't take care of yourself, then you're compromising our primary mission. We need you, Avon. This is no attempt at manipulation. It's just a statement of fact. We are much less effective without you."
"No doubt." For Avon, it was also a statement of fact. He continued to stare at Argus with a hard look on his face.
Argus said, "I know it's partially my fault. I shouldn't push you so hard. It's just that…we do need you. But I'd rather step back a bit in what we're doing because the alternative would be to lose you and we can't afford that."
Avon bent down over the device again and said, "There's no need to repeat yourself. You've made your point."
"Oh. Are you going to get some rest?"
"After I make this final set of calibrations." Avon applied the calibrator to the circuit he had been working on before.
"How long will this take?"
"Not long." Avon changed the settings on the calibrator and moved it to a different circuit.
"Do you mind if I sit here for awhile?"
Avon wondered if Argus couldn’t be less obvious. He looked up again. "You don’t trust me?"
"I thought that I might be able to help. Speed things up a bit."
Avon said in a tone that did not expect a positive response. "You're conversant with phase oscillator technology?"
"No. You know I don't. But I do know some of these tools."
"You are planning on handing me tools as a form of help?"
"I know it's not much. I could take some readings for you if you need that. Or make notes, or…"
"Tensor driver," Avon told him as he bent his head over the unit again.
"The…what?" Argus was bewildered by this abrupt change in the conversation.
Avon said dryly, "It's the…"
"Yes, I know what it is." Argus picked up the tool and handed it to him.
A half hour later, as Avon finished up, he said unexpectedly, "Thank you."
Argus wasn't sure he heard correctly. "What did you say?"
"I am not repeating it a second time."
If there was such a thing as grim excitement then that would describe the mood around the fight chamber when Reya, Argus, Avon, Cally and Vila arrived. They all seemed to be the focus of attention, especially Reya and to a lesser extent Cally.
"I feel like a celebrity," said Vila. "Or something caught on a pursuit ship scanner."
Avon felt distinctly uncomfortable at all the eyes trained in their direction. "Let's get to the observation room. I need to prepare."
Argus said, "You're right. I'll go with Reya to the prep room. The rest of you go upstairs."
Vila said to Reya, "Knock'em dead. I mean, you can really, if you want." She still did make him a bit nervous.
Reya gave him a brief grin, "I will keep that in mind."
Cally approached her and said warmly, "I know you don't need any luck but I wish it just the same." She hugged Reya.
From the way the others looked at him, Avon knew something was expected of him. Simple platitudes didn't seem appropriate and he did not hug, at least no one except Cally.
Reya asked him, "No need for luck, Avon?"
Avon replied, "You do not win by luck. Everything else, I will take care of."
"You'll watch my back?"
"We all will."
"Thank you, Avon."
Vila said with a teasing grin, "I think I'm going to cry."
Avon glowered at him.
Reya was warming up in the prep room while Argus watched. He remarked, "You're beautiful."
"Stop doing that. I need to focus."
Argus suppressed a grin. "Alright. Do you need anything before I go?"
"Something afterwards? I’m sure you can think of something suitable.”
Argus grinned, "I think I might be able to manage that.” His face took on a more serious expression as he said, “Fight well, Reya." It was the wishes of one fighter to another.
Reya nodded solemnly. "I will."
Reya and Gravis stood facing each other as the announcer talked to his virtual and non-virtual audience. They had both been put through a scanner to ensure all parties that there would be no surprises for either of them. The chamber was now sealed until the end of the contest. No one would be able to gain access until it was concluded.
Gravis wore a black, not-very-subtle, short-sleeved tunic that accentuated all the reasons why the Chandarans were already anticipating a celebration. Reya was in a loose, white and belted tunic that was both comfortable and functional.
The contrast between the two challengers couldn’t be more obvious. In size alone, Reya was a full head shorter than her opponent. In fierceness, the look on Gravis’s face left nothing to the imagination. Reya on the other hand was relaxed and conveyed nothing but quiet confidence. She was light on her feet and moved as if she barely touched the ground. Gravis’s movements were also quick, but there was no question that his steps would leave marks on the unsuspecting.
The audience cheered as Gravis was announced. Speakers from every corner of the chamber echoed confidence in their champion. It reminded Reya of the adulation that Dannon had entered the field with. These people seemed to idolize winners. She doubted if she would receive the same attention when she won.
Reya was confident, but not overly so. She trusted her own abilities but she did not underestimate her opponent. Her perusal through the Chandaran archives had netted some interesting information and confirmed something she had expected. The Chandarans, being dominantly male-oriented, primarily relied on strength and speed. Their fighting styles, as expected in an aggressive culture, were very good but there was an entire range of fighting techniques they seemed to be ignorant of. Reya was going to take advantage of that lack.
One did not have to have superior strength to win. In fact, if you knew how to do it, you could make your opponent’s strength work against them.
“Competitors, take your marks.”
Reya and Gravis stepped forward and took positions near arm’s length of each other.
The start command had barely ended when Gravis immediately lunged forward at almost breakneck speed and tried to land a punch at Reya’s midsection.
Reya had already anticipated his eagerness and need to establish dominance early. Before Gravis’s fist reached her, she had turned her body just as quickly and took a step to the side. Gravis’s punch passed harmlessly past her. She could feel the rush of air from the force of his intended blow. At the same time, Reya immediately put her hand up, palm heel facing outwards and made a quick jab as Gravis passed her unable to stop, causing his head to snap back.
Reya promptly stepped out of the way as Gravis had a moment of confusion. The audience was just as shocked as their champion was. They fell silent.
It didn’t take Gravis long though, when he levelled eyes at her again, it was with a realization that he should not underestimate her.
His voice had a low warning, “You will not be doing that again.”
Reya’s voice was lighter but no less determined. “I don’t think that’s up to you.”
The audience began jeering, as if by their rudeness, they could lend further strength to their hero.
The two opponents circled each other, making preliminary strikes to test each other.
She saw Gravis tense one leg. She was ready. As her opponent raised the other leg in a kick to her head, Reya immediately stepped forward inside his kick and with both hands applied force against his chest, sending him sprawling backwards. He hit the ground with a loud thud.
Reya stepped quickly away again. Gravis got up and glared at her with a scowl on his face. He lunged forward again with a quick combination of punches. Reya had her hands up to block most of them. She slowly gave ground, stepping backwards as he rained more blows against her upraised arms. The audience had regained its voice and was cheering for him to hit her.
Without warning, at the next punch, Reya blocked and grabbed his striking hand by the wrist, turned quickly, and with a pull on his hand and a sweep of her foot, caused him to fall crashing to the ground again. There was a surprised “oooh” from the audience.
Reya shook her arms as she waited for Gravis to get up again. His blows were like being hit with tempered metal. She could already feel the bruises forming.
Up in the observation room, the crew was cheering for Reya as she gave a clinic on how to beat a stronger, overly-confident opponent. It was unfortunate that their voices were drowned out by all the people who wanted her to lose.
Cally was smiling; she recognized most of the moves Reya was using to beat her opponent. Reya had taught them to her and Jenna during their practice sessions on the ship.
Cally had a brief pang of sadness as she thought about Jenna. She hadn’t thought about her former crew mate in a long time. Cally wondered where she was now and if she had finally come to her senses.
Vila was almost jumping up and down each time Gravis hit the ground. “Did you see that?” he would shout and grab Avon’s arm, or anyone’s arm that was near enough to be grabbed. He was so happy that he was almost bursting.
Avon had moved a discreet distance away and watched the match carefully. His eyes swept the wall where the other observation booths were. He held the device he had been working on in ready hands.
Argus was leaned forward, his head nearly touching the glass. He had not made a sound.
Far below them, Gravis seemed to find standing a problem as he kept crashing to the ground with disturbing regularity.
This contest would end when one opponent could no longer get up.
Reya wondered what it would take to get this man to stay down. He was not going to go easily.
Gravis directed a kick towards her again; Reya took a step backwards and stumbled. Gravis’s foot connected with her head and Reya went down. The force of the blow and the contact with the ground stunned her. She rolled and tried to get up quickly but her limbs felt weak. Gravis kicked her again as she was half-kneeling on the ground, causing her to fall forwards. She tried to get up again on still-weak arms and he came up behind her and put her in a head-lock.
Reya instinctively tucked her chin in and pushed against his elbows with her hands to relieve the pressure.
He was trying to kill her.
A quick snap and it would be all over and she would be the one to stay down, permanently. Reya put more pressure on his elbows and tried to break his hold but her arms seemed to have no strength.
“Avon!” Argus shouted as he saw what was happening.
Avon held the phase oscillator device in front of him and pointed it towards the other observation booths. He was intently staring at the small monitor screen as he slowly moved the emitter end from one end of the chamber to the other, trying to find the source of whatever signal was causing Reya problems.
Argus said frantically, “Avon! Quickly!” He tapped on his teleport bracelet. “Lt. Dain stand by with your team.”
The answering reply came from Dain, “Ready on the teleport pad, sir.”
“Avon?” Argus asked again.
“Nothing yet,” reported Avon as he continued his methodical sweep of the chamber.
“Well, if you don’t hurry, there will be nothing. Absolutely nothing!”
Avon said absently, “Then stop distracting me.”
Argus hit the window with his fist in frustration. Below them Gravis’s superior strength was starting to be of use as he tried to force Reya’s head to an angle that would facilitate his desire for murder.
Argus expelled an angry breath, his fist was still clenched. “Vila, Cally. You’re with me. Avon contact Dain when you have the coordinates. Come on!” He headed for the exit.
The urgency in his voice caused Vila and Cally to follow him immediately. Vila asked, as he tried to keep up, “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to stop this!” said Argus as he raced ahead of them. The crowds of excited people slowed their progress as they tried to shove their way to the lifts.
As she elbowed past more people, Cally said, “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
Vila said, “I think I saw stairs back there.” He pointed in the direction of the crowd they had just shoved their way past.
Argus said in a contained but still clearly frustrated voice, “We can’t risk the teleport in case Avon needs it. He’s still got our best chance. Split up! You two keep going for the lift. I’ll take the stairs.” He ran back the way he came and Vila and Cally kept pushing forward.
In the fight chamber, Reya was starting to lose consciousness with the continued pressure of Gravis’s arms around her neck. She tried one more move to slip out from under Gravis’s grasp. Nothing she tried so far had worked, her whole body still felt weak. She knew it was partially from the lack of oxygen but also because something had gone terribly wrong.
“There.” Avon said to himself. The phase oscillator revealed a steady beam of energy streaming from one of the side observation booths. The signal was on such a low range he had nearly missed it. Avon locked the position and tapped his teleport bracelet. “Dain, I’m sending the coordinates.”
“We’re ready, sir.”
Avon waited. There was no telling what kind of opposition Dain and his men would find in the other observation room. Argus, Cally and Vila had obviously not made it to the fight chamber yet.
He tapped his bracelet again, “Argus. I’ve sent Dain and his team over.”
Argus’s voice responded, “Good! Let us know the moment he stops whatever it is. We’ll keep trying to access the fight chamber. I’m nearly there now. Argus out.”
Avon waited and watched grimly as Reya desperately made one last attempt to dislodge herself from Gravis’s grasp.
As Gravis nearly forced her head into position, Reya felt a renewal of strength in her limbs. There was no hesitation. She threw off her would-be murderer and snapped to her feet. Gravis stumbled backwards and looked at her with shock. She could see the look in his eyes. This should not be happening, they said to her. Gravis got up slowly.
Whatever had caused her to feel weak before; Reya knew that Gravis had something to do with it. And from his expression, he knew that she knew.
The look on Reya’s face made Gravis back up a step. She had smiled at him. There was no warmth in that smile. It was one that touched her eyes and made them full of darkness. There was just a flash of quick anger and then she moved resolutely towards him, causing Gravis to back up again.
Gravis was going to be acquainted with what it felt like to incur the wrath of woman who did not take kindly to being murdered. Falling on the ground repeatedly was about to be the least of his worries.
Argus, Cally and Vila all reached the entrance of the fight chamber at the same time, just as Avon reported that everything was fine. They watched from the various conveniently placed view screens as Reya proceeded to show them all why it was a bad idea to get on her wrong side.
“Argus!” Dannon called his name and frantically waved his arms at them from down the corridor. “Over here!” As they came up to him, Dannon lowered his voice and said, "You have to come with me, quickly! Please!"