As they watched the second match, Avon wondered what was taking Cally's team so long to find the second computer. She had reported that some of the staff was still in the building. Even if they were preoccupied watching the Challenge, it was still risky. They couldn't afford to be discovered.
Even though Avon did not trust in instinct, not even his own, he had the distinct impression that Alara's man was not only an alien, he was going to be a very useful one. If that was the case, Cally's team had to plant the interceptor device and get away undetected. It was the only way they would be able to track the alien's activities.
Cally had insisted that they use the teleport comm rather than their normal mental communications. She knew that it tired him to expend the energy required to do it when he was already busy at multiple tasks. Avon grimaced slightly in annoyance. He couldn't wait until he could return to the Tellar Union and they would be able to complete the medical treatments.
At least his heart was back to full function. The incidents of collapse due to overstress had decreased considerably. Cally was right. He should have done this a long time ago.
Jack and Charles were bickering again but it ended quickly. Avon shook himself mentally and bent his head to suppress a smile. Argus and Sester. Even though he still only had vague memories of the times at the Academy, he remembered the boys.
Many things had changed for all of them. They were no longer the children they were originally, but in some ways, things had never changed, including the rivalry between the two men. Avon suspected that even without the issue of the Commander between them, they would still be at it.
Something had changed recently. Even he had noticed the subtle shift in attitudes between the two men. Avon wasn’t quite sure what the changes were or why it had occurred but he was determined to find out.
Avon checked the first connected computer again in case he missed something. The interceptor device was working perfectly but this computer wasn't the one he was interested in. There was nothing in its data banks or usage logs other than inane activities. The man seemed to be a businessperson dealing in guided munitions. His recreational activities were eclectic and delved into areas that might be best described as vulgar. Not his taste but Avon rarely commented on other people's amusements. The interesting point of note was that these activities had tailed off considerably over the course of the past half year. An indicative but circumstantial piece of evidence. What they required was real proof.
Argus remarked, "The second match is going well." The woman on the challenge field was dancing around her opponent, staying just out of reach.
Sester brought a tray of drinks over to Argus. "The men appear appropriately confused."
Argus chose a cup of water. "I know I was the first time I saw this style. I thought it was a joke."
Sester went over to Avon next. He had to nudge the man to get his attention. "And what happened after Reya rendered you unconscious?"
Argus glared at him in annoyance. "It wasn't Reya that showed me this style. I was the one who taught it to her."
Sester’s eyebrows rose in an exaggerated expression. "You dance?"
Argus said, "It’s not dancing. It’s…."
Sester said, “Fighting gracefully?”
“Yes.” Argus took a few mouthfuls of water and set the cup down.
After Avon and the engineers took theirs, Sester picked up the last one and sat back down on the couches. “It just looks like dancing.” There was an almost-smirk on his lips.
Argus scowled but ignored the bait. He said, “I hope you’re not going to say that if it looks like dancing then it is. The intent is different. I do not ‘dance’ for recreational purposes.”
Argus ignored him and turned his full attention back to the screen and waiting until he was needed. He hated the waiting part of missions, though he never showed it. He could do it without any problems. It was just a necessary part of his job that he didn't like.
Once he had stayed almost completely stationary for three days in order to defeat the motion-sensors before his target arrived. He had moved forward a millimetre at a time, just within the tolerance of the security grid, until he was in position and only needed to squeeze the trigger. No one had thought it possible.
He had waited, awake and alert the entire time. Sleep was something that he could not afford. It was impossible to control the motion of his body while he was asleep.
His target had been a particularly vile man who trafficked in human slaves for sport. The man had foolishly thought that he could defy the Federation by poaching from several of the Middle Colonies. It had been his death sentence. Unlike some of the other things he was ordered to do in the Federation military, Argus hadn’t minded killing this man.
He wretched his thoughts from the past and relaxed the fist the he hadn’t realized that he had tightened. Memories of those times were always a source of tension, uncomfortable reminders of the life he had led.
Sester was watching him curiously but didn’t say anything. Argus noticed that there was something different about this irritating man lately. The man seemed to be slightly less abrasive. It could be his imagination or it might have been because of the tongue-lashing Cally had given them several days ago. It was hard to tell.
Argus had been changed by it. He still didn’t think that he was worthy of Reya but it was no longer important. She loved him. That was all that mattered.
On the screen, the woman was still fighting and holding her own. When she made a mistake, Argus immediately knew it and could see that her male opponent moving to take advantage of it. “Damn.”
The woman was stunned by the blow to the head and couldn’t seem to focus her eyes. The man hit her again and she fell. Argus grimaced and wished he could be down there to help her. And to give the man a beating he wouldn’t soon forget. “That’s it. We lost this one.”
Avon asked Sester, “Did your strategy factor in the need to win this Challenge?”
Sester said, “It did.”
Cally’s voice came over the flight deck comm. “Avon, the device has been planted.”
Avon immediately checked the receiver device by his table as the lights blinked, registering the incoming signals. He turned to his computer and began entering commands. Streams of data flashed across his screen.
He pressed the comm. “Message received, Cally. Good work. The signal is strong. Stand by for further instructions.”
Argus asked, “How does it look?”
Avon replied distractedly, “It’s encrypted.” He nodded to one of the engineers who turned on another device.
Avon worked quickly as the data stream began taking shape. “The decoder is working. We should have…” The screen decoded to show a diagram. Avon began rotating the image. “This is a detailed floor plan of the Challenge hall.”
Argus rushed over to take a look. “That’s not good. It must mean they’re planning something. Can you tell what?”
Avon brought more of the data onto the screen. “The decoder is still working. It’ll take time.” He directed the engineer to adjust the decoder and boost the feed.
Argus was thinking. “Time we don’t have.”
Avon said, “We can’t tell from the diagram. There are no markings.” His mind was working even faster as he studied the encryption. “I can try adding a new algorithm. It will speed up the decoding.” He began inputting the new code.
Argus asked, “Do you think they’ll try to sabotage the Challenge?”
Sester had come over and was also looking over Avon’s shoulder. “It’s a possibility but there are other stronger ones.”
Argus said, “Such as assassinating the President?”
Sester nodded. “Yes.”
Argus said, “We’re going to have to assume both. Avon is there a way to bring down the energy barrier over the hall?”
Avon looked up at him. “I can but we don’t have the time.”
“Damn. I knew you were going to say that. All right. Send Cally’s team over to the Challenge hall. Or at least as close as we can get them. Tell her to inform Reya. We need them to protect Trist. I’ll go down with two of the Athol teams and make sure no one disrupts the Challenge. You have the flight deck, Avon. Coordinate from up here. Keep trying to break the encryption. We need more information. And…see if you can bring down that energy barrier. If you have the time.” Argus rushed out.
Sester looked after him. “He’s very authoritative when he has to be, isn’t he?”
“Were there ever any doubts?” Avon contacted Cally.
There was a brief intermission between the second and third fight. Reya was speaking to the gathered women. “You’ve done very well. I’m very proud of you.”
The bruised and slightly concussed woman of the second match was receiving medical assistance. She said dispiritedly, “But I lost.”
Reya said warmly, “But not by much. You acquitted yourself well. Even though you lost technically, we still won psychologically. That is just as important. But…we need more than just a psychological victory with the last match.”
Karita said with a grin, “You like to win.”
Reya said, “Let’s just say that I have never lost and I wouldn’t want to start now.”
The person for the last match had already been chosen. Alara said, “I won’t let you down, Reya. I plan to win.” The timid, fearful woman was nervous but there was an underlying resolve in her voice.
Reya looked at the woman. Alara had come a long way. This was true bravery, the willingness to act despite the trepidation she saw in Alara’s eyes. It wasn’t a fear that froze the feet from moving forward, it was one that had caused her to show what she was made of.
Reya said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Alara also had the disturbing habit of hugging people without warning. She did so now, putting her arms around Reya in gratitude. “Thank you.”
Reya looked embarrassed for a moment and then returned her embrace warmly. “You did it yourself, Alara. All of you did. We may have provided the training and direction but the strength and courage was your own. You did all the work yourselves. In my eyes, you all deserve to be Champions. Let’s make all of Chandar see it.”
As Alara let go of her, Reya spotted Cally approaching. Reya’s senses were instantly on alert as she noted the anxiety and vigilance in Cally’s eyes. “We have another ten minutes.” The other women gathered around to give Alara encouragement as Reya moved towards the Auron. “What’s wrong?”
Vila and Corinne had split up when they entered the Challenge hall. They positioned themselves on either side of President Trist’s observation box while Cally went to inform Reya what was going on. Vila’s sharp eyes observed the audience, trying to spot anyone up to no good.
There were not supposed to be any weapons in the Hall. He had passed through a scanner before he was allowed to enter but he knew it didn’t mean there weren’t any. You could find a way around anything if you really wanted to. He should know, he had spent most of his life finding ways around things that he technically wasn’t supposed to.
Most of his (hidden) tools had been discovered by the scanners and he had to give them up to the unsmiling guards. No amount of persuasion could convince them that they were for his health. People had no sense of humour.
Vila sighed and continued scanning the audience. What was he supposed to do if he saw something suspicious? What if he saw someone pointing a weapon? He couldn’t shoot the man with weapons that were now packed away in some nameless guard’s box of confiscated objects.
Vila had really wanted to try out his new, non-lethal Tellaran pistol. He always had a problem shooting real ones; he was very interested in finding out if he would have the same trouble firing the stun weapons.
That still left him with the problem of…what was he going to do…
Argus and the two Athol soldier teams teleported down shortly after Vila, Cally and Corinne had been transferred over. Some of the soldiers held phase oscillator units, like the ones that had been used to detect the disruption beams that had been used to Reya during her fight. Avon had increased the capability of the units to scan for a wider range of wave signatures.
“Alright, Dain spread out and keep it discreet. The oscillator units are not foolproof so keep your eyes sharp. Search all rooms overlooking the hall. I will take my team and search inside the hall. Alright, let’s go.”
Alara faced her opponent. She was nervous but she was determined to not let anyone down, not even herself. They bowed to each other and put their hands up in guard position.
Alara was watching carefully, not to strike, but for the first move from her opponent. She would not act until then. He would be the architect of his own doom. It was something Reya had told them when she taught them this style. He is safe as long as he doesn’t attack you. But if he does…he will never be safe again. Alara liked Reya.
The brawny soldier was wary at first. He had no idea what she was going to do. It didn’t take long though, Chandaran males only seemed to know one fight philosophy, attack.
He aimed a combination punch towards her. Alara took a step backwards, just enough to put her beyond the distance he was aiming for. The soldier following her movements and prepared to rain another set of blows as he continued moving forward. This time, Alara leaned back slightly and turned her body to allow his attack to go past her. Then she positioned her feet and spun around. Now she was to the side and slightly behind him.
Alara had been so fast that the soldier’s momentum was continuing to carrying him forward. His back and some very sensitive areas were now vulnerable to any blow from her. Instead of striking, she put a light hand on his back, just below the mid-spine and with the other hand, she gripped his wrist.
She held him without any force as he stopped his forward motion and turned to face her. Alara applied pressure at a specific spot along his spine and at the same time twisted the man’s wrist to keep his arm bent and his body facing forward. Her opponent jerked and arched as pain stabbed his back.
Alara whispered a soft warning, “Don’t move. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Of course, that spurred the soldier to try to turn around to face her again. He did not like feeling vulnerable or having anyone stand behind him.
Alara quickly traced her fingers up and pressed another point along his vertebrae. The soldier grunted in pain and arched again. Her voice was gentle. “Do you want to turn around?”
The man snarled and struggled to turn again. This time, Alara removed her hand from the soldier’s back and traced her way to his elbow. The soldier was able to turn relatively facing her. He looked down in anger and confusion to her hands holding him. Pulling his arm, he tried to free himself from her grip and punch her in the side of the head with the other hand. He soon found that punching was useless as she was standing so that he couldn’t reach her. Pulling to free himself was no use because she offered no resistance. All she did was follow his force and push his elbow so that he ended up with his arm trapped against his chest. Next, he tried to forcefully backhand her with the trapped hand. Again, she offered no resistance and only followed his force, stepping backwards while pulling his elbow and maintaining it at continued forty-five degree angle. He lost his balance and staggered forward.
Alara asked in her soft voice, “What else would you like to do next?”
The man glared at her.
Cally had her senses open up to the room. The sensation had been overwhelming until she put some of her walls back up. She was keeping close visual contact on the VIP booth where Alara’s man sat with others. There was definite negative attention in the President’s direction, but nothing urgent. They didn’t seem to be concerned or ready to move.
She projected to Vila and Corinne, * Do you see anything? *
Vila and Corinne shook their heads.
* Stay sharp. They are planning something but…not yet. I will let you know if there is any movement. * They both nodded from their sides of the room.
Avon hit the entry panel in frustration. The decoder was working faster with the new algorithms but other than some interesting information that they needed for later use, there was nothing about the plans for the Challenge hall.
He looked up at the vid-screen. Alara was doing very well. She had her opponent fully controlled without striking a single blow. He appreciated the scientific precision of this style.
Now if only he could gain some success with the encryption. Avon concentrated on the screen again. What did this diagram tell him? There had to be something there.