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Ficlet Challenges - February 2015 - Part One

FICLET CHALLENGES - FEBRUARY 2015 - PART ONE

Set by Purplecleric

The strong response to the January Ficlet Challenges was more than surpassed by the fantastic variety of stories submitted during the shortest month of the year - too many to fit into one article! Part One of the collection contains the stories inspired by the word prompt Red, while Part Two has the Complete the Scene stories. This month's challenges also inspired several poems and silly verses, which appear in Part Three.

***

TREVOR TRAVIS
Vila stood alone on the planet. There was just desert around for miles and miles.

It had all gone wrong. He was stranded – alone, without a teleport bracelet and with no way of telling those on Liberator his location. He sighed. The plan had been too clever. He’d told Avon as much. But he wouldn’t listen. 

Vila sat down on the box containing his tools. They’d be no use to him here. He wondered how long he could last in this searing heat without water. Maybe he should just start walking, to see if he came across anywhere. Picking a direction at random, Vila moved off.

*

After half an hour, Vila stopped. This was hopeless. Just sand as far as the eye could see. He sat wearily on the box again.

Suddenly Vila heard a sound from somewhere. He whirled around. There was nothing. Yet he could definitely hear something. Like an engine. 

Vila whirled around again. Still nothing. Maybe it was hiding behind that dune in the distance. Vila made his way around the outside of the dune, keeping himself out of sight as much as was possible. He realised his garish outfit was hardly good camouflage.

The engine noise grew louder and louder.

And a large red shape popped out of nowhere, some 50 metres over his head.

Vila looked in disbelief. He recognised it as sort some of ground vehicle. It said ‘200 Victoria’ on its front.

As Vila gaped, the red vehicle landed and a young lady stepped out. A very attractive young lady.

She was dressed head-to-toe in black leather and wore sunglasses.

“Fancy a lift?” She spoke with an aristocratic air.

“Yes please, pretty lady. Who are you and what is that?” He pointed to the vehicle.

“It’s a long story – it comes from a different time and place. My name is Lady Christina de Souza, and I’ve come to rescue you. I was sent by someone called Avon.”

Avon! Vila’s head was full of questions. He blurted them all out on the subsequent journey.

*

Some time later, Vila was sat on the front passenger seat of the bus, while Lady Christina was in the driver’s seat. She’d explained as much as she could. Vila’s head was spinning. She was from the 21st century – a time traveller. Vila had never encountered one of those before. 

He’d also tried to chat her up, but he’d been entirely unsuccessful on that front.

She pointed down. “There’s the city, there.”

Vila was so relieved. He never thought he’d see anything but desert ever again.

Lady Christina explained she needed to head for the rendezvous point.

They reached it within minutes – a landing pad on the roof of a building. Avon was waiting.

“I told you that it would never work,” blurted out Vila.

Avon smiled. That always sent a chill down Vila’s spine. 

“On the contrary…” From his pocket, Avon produced a box that contained a dozen sparkling blue crystals.

“They’re beautiful, just beautiful.” Vila was mesmerised.

There was a sound, and Avon, Vila and Lady Christina all whirled around. Three heavies were approaching. They were not armed. Avon was. He coolly shoot two of them down, but the other one bore down on him before he could fire off the third shot, and an uppercut sent Avon to the floor.

The man turned on Vila. But at that moment, the thug received a tap on the shoulder. He turned to face Lady Christina and grabbed her roughly by the shoulders. She sank to the floor, while thrusting a foot into the man’s chest and he went flying over her head.

He got to his feet, a little dazed. Lady Christina easily handled him with a number of further judo moves. She ended with a kick to his face which knocked the big man over the side of the roof, and he plunged to his death. 

Vila watched agog, while Avon stood up, rubbing his jaw.

“Very impressive,” said Avon.

“A girl’s got to know how to defend herself. Now then, what about my percentage?”

“Your cut?” Avon smiled again. “I have the gun.”

She wasn’t fazed. “Avon, you don’t scare me. And, besides, you never know when you’ll need my help again.”

He handed four of the crystals over to her. His face was now just inches away from hers. Many would have seen it as an invasion of personal space. Lady Christina allowed Avon to kiss her. Vila looked on, wondering why Avon always had all the luck.

“Right, we’ll be getting on, before any of their friends show up”. Avon indicated the fallen men. He threw a teleport bracelet to Vila, which Vila automatically put on his wrist. Avon contacted the ship.

Lady Christina watched them vanish into thin air and then boarded her red double-decker bus.

As she took off, she somehow thought she hadn’t seen the last of Kerr Avon and Vila Restal. They’d meet again.

***


TRAVISINA
“I’ll have an imperial palace with solid diamond floors and a bodyguard of a thousand handpicked virgins in red fur uniforms. Vila’s Royal Mounties.”

Even by his own standard of flippant remarks, that had been a particularly stupid thing to say. Luckily, Avon had ignored it; preoccupied as he was with more important matters. But now Vila couldn’t shake it from his mind as he crouched in hiding. The cubby hole was small, the walls pressed against him. Vila drew his knees to his chest, listening intently. So far he could hear only the whine of the shuttle’s straining engines and his own ragged breathing. May you die alone and silent went the Auron curse. Well, right now being alone and silent might just preserve his life a bit longer. 

A thousand women. Ridiculous idea; they’d all just gang up against him. Two women were bad enough, he got enough teasing from Dayna and Soolin. Besides, the thousand would probably prefer Tarrant and Avon to him. Like Dayna and Soolin. 

Vila had loved – properly loved – two women. But Cally was dead, and Kerril… he had quietly clung to the hope that somehow they would meet again; that a way would be found to the planet they had discovered together. That would have been proper use of the power the Tachyon funnel granted them - not a stupid palace, not a thousand red-clad virgins. What was he thinking?

Ah. Here he comes. Vila held his breath as he detected the sound of footsteps descending the rungs of the ladder. Avon would be carrying the gun he’d hidden in the compartment on the flight deck. Should have thrown that out first. Together with Orac

The last of Vila's hopes that Avon had solved the problem and found a way to save them were dashed as soon as he heard the familiar voice calling him in an unfamiliar way; soft, kind, cajoling. Avon never talks like that – not to anyone; especially not to me. He really is going to kill me.

Vila imagined what it would be like. There would be the sound of the shot, and the immediate sensation of a punch in the chest - only worse, much worse - pain that would stop his heart, stop his breath, stop everything... a red bloom spreading like spilled wine across the front of his tunic. Pain turning to cold; cold to nothingness. No more Vila. He drew his knees in tighter and wrapped his arms around them. Now he can’t shoot me in the chest, he thought childishly. But then he’ll just shoot me in the head… A flare, a flash of pain, and then… nothing? Or would he feel the blood spilling down his face, into his eyes, turning the whole world crimson before fading to black? 

The footsteps were approaching; Avon’s wheedling voice getting closer. There was a pause. He’s found the plastic trolley. He knows I’m here. Vila squeezed his eyes shut, tasting the tears. Not long now. Not long before the salt becomes saltier; not long before tears turn to blood. 

Red. The colour of a love lost, a life diminished. Vila wept silently for Gan, for Cally, for Kerril. For the man he’d felt safe with, who he’d thought was a friend. The one he’d made that idiotic remark to. A thousand virgins in red fur uniforms. Such a stupid thing to say. He would have swapped all of them for the one woman who genuinely loved him. If there was time, he would try to explain this to Avon, before he pulled the trigger. 

***


PURPLE CLERIC - By Any Other Name
The raid on the bio-lab had yielded many wonders but none like the one that held the crew of the Liberator spell-bound as they gathered around the bench. Ever the leader, Blake was the first to break the silence.

“It’s powerful.” 

His mind summoned up visions of a potent symbol blazoned across banners, rallying the rebels. Jenna leaned forward to inhale the heady perfume, her eyes closing for a moment before she coyly glanced up at Blake. Her voice was breathy.

“It does stir up passion."

Vila snorted. Trust those two to get carried away with idealism and fantasy and ignore the true potential before them. He rubbed his hands in glee.

“It’s important, gotta be worth a lot.”

Ignoring them, Cally concentrated, her long, pale finger reaching out to stroke the velvety-soft texture. It roused something within her, called out to her. Reluctantly, she broke contact.

“It’s a message.”

Gan couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. It wouldn’t fill an empty belly, was too fragile to make a tool, wouldn’t keep you dry and warm.

“It’s useless.”

He glanced at Avon, waiting for the inevitable retort. Avon studied sharp barbs concealed behind blood-rich beauty with morbid fascination.

“It’s deceit... and danger.”

His hostile words shattered the thrall and the crew became aware of alarms, shouting and the thud of heavy boots. They scrabbled for more tangible bounty as Blake barked into his communicator.

“Orac! Teleport. Now!”

With a shimmer the crew disappeared, leaving behind a single red rose.



***


ANNIEW - Let's Call the Whole Thing Off
(inspired by the above)

"Tomatoes are a fruit not a vegetable, Blake. Ask Orac if you don't believe me."

"Whichever, Avon; the Delta poor of Earth are denied access to them. In the name of the revolution, I must ensure that tomatoes are freely available to all. I have arranged for the consignment we have stolen from Travis to be taken to Earth to be redistributed among them."

"That is typical, Blake, that you would risk our lives for a bunch of vegetables."

"Ha! I thought you said they were fruit."

"What are?"

"Tomatoes, Vila. Avon claims they are fruit. Or vegetables. He doesn't seem too clear."

"Tomatoes? Are they those red squashy round things we stole from Travis?"

"Yes. I intend to redistribute them among the Deltas."

"They won't thank you, Blake."

"Why ever not, Vila?"

"Deltas are allergic to tomatoes."

"Oh, no. What are we going to do with a ton of decaying vegetables?"

"Decaying fruit, Blake."

"My people have a saying, Blake. A man with a ton of tomatoes has too much on his hands to worry about how to categorise them." 

"Shut up, Cally!"


***


PURPLE CLERIC - I Thought I Heard A Bluebird Sing
Somewhere over the rainbow...

Violet flowers nod their heads in the gentle breeze, in time with Cally’s dance. She is alone, but in her head a chorus sings – a chorus of clones, scaling the ranges of notes, lyrics and emotion. Cally delights.

Indigo skies deepen to midnight and the primitives marvel at the new star in the heavens. Its sight spawns tales of angels and messiahs and the Liberator sails on.

Blue digits scroll across the screen and Avon studies them intently. Yes, it is working, he’s made the breakthrough! He can’t wait to tell Anna, to revel in the admiration in her eyes. There is warmth in Avon’s smile.

Green leaves tremble, dappling golden sunlight in the glade and the babble and chuckle of the brook is mirrored in his companions‘ conversations. They head out of the forest, into the hills, away from the domes. Blake is free.

Yellow gold shines almost as sweetly as his girl’s eyes as Vila slips the ring on her finger. A ring he has bought. His own eyes twinkle as he schemes how to liberate the rest of the jewellery from the store. Vila is secure.

Orange-sweet fruit flesh melts in his mouth and the juice runs down Gan’s chin. The harvest is good this year. He hugs his woman to him, giving a little extra squeeze. Gan makes plans.

Red lights flash and the proximity alarms sound. Jenna ignores them, concentrating on steering the ship. Yes! She’s made it! Another patrol evaded, more cargo delivered. She pumps a salute at her crew. Jenna is triumphant.

But there are no rainbows. 

This is the twenty–third century where men must fight for freedom, must fight the Federation for real dreams, and where some men must fight the enemy within.

They seldom win.

***


PURPLE CLERIC - Memento Mori
Avon pauses as he approaches the hut, shaking his head in disbelief. They’d made a fire! The smoke signal, the heat signature... of all the stupid things to do. Sometimes he doubts their determination to survive. His hand slips into his pocket, taking out the small square reminder of why he battles on. As he fingers this souvenir he opens his mind to the past, to the memories.

They’d mocked him, couldn’t comprehend its significance.

But he remembers how it felt, how he felt when he wore it. How he stood a little straighter, walked a little taller; the flamboyance a far cry from the dull drone of the dome he had been. He remembers its subtle protection, the deceptive softness concealing a resilience more enduring than his own. And he remembers the smooth, supple sensation of skin upon skin so reminiscent of her caress, her skin. The colour evoked the fine wine they had shared, the colour of her lips freshly bruised from a kiss, the public blush when their eyes first met, the private flush when their bodies followed suit. It’s the warm rich pulse of passion and plans, of daring and dreams. 

It’s a reminder of the man he’d hoped to be, a memento of the man he’d almost been.

Avon closes his eyes and sighs – opens them to see two bounty hunters sneak into the hut. He takes a deep breath, shuts his mind and draws his gun. His voice is cold.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

And amongst the scrubby coarse grass of Gauda Prime, a scrap of worn red leather lies discarded.

***


PELADON - Red
Avon dreamt of dancing lights and shifting shadows, of shimmering curtains and whispered words, and blood. Particularly of blood. 

A creeping blood red glow stained his dreams like his jacket. He wished he could remember why blood was so important, maybe then it would go away and his world would stop being tinged in red. 

The garnet veined shadows rose up and took on a harder shape. Arms, and legs, and eyes; burning, red rimmed, eyes. Blake. He watched Blake falling to his knees, and frowned; why was Blake wearing his jacket? He looked down at himself, the jacket was still there but his shirt was ripped open and his chest showed pale in the red light. His jacket flapped in the breeze and he shivered in the chill. There was no blood on his clothing now, but it was running like a tide around his feet, washing over his boots, pooling all around him. 

He looked back to Blake lying on the ground in the red stained jacket, but the blood was not flowing from him and the ground around him was dry and clean. No blood. The memory stirred again. So much blood. 'Or then again, maybe not', the dancing light whispered. An image rose beyond the light and he struggled to catch the memory, but it was still out of reach. Avon watched the tide of red around him rise, washing up to his knees, but still it didn’t touch Blake.

"Look", the light whispered again, "look." 

Now why was that important?

The pool of blood around him was growing deeper; already it had submerged his thighs and lapped at his hip like a crimson sea. The pink flecked waves rippling across its surface reared up in flame lace crests and splashed his face, scattering droplets into his hair and across his naked chest. He shivered again as the breeze lashed his exposed flesh and he tried to pull the jacket tighter around him, but he could not and fleetingly he wondered why. 

His eyes drifted back to Blake lying on an untouched island, only the jacket he wore echoing the colour of the ocean that surrounded Avon. So much blood. 

Avon knew that soon the rising tide would sweep him away, submerge him beneath its red froth. He found that he didn’t mind that thought, but that he hoped that it left Blake where he was.

A shaft of sudden light caught his eyes and he looked up. High above him was a single window of ruby glass, back lit, its glow was deepening the tint of the red tide around him still further. A picture was etched into the glass, a picture of a gun and a fallen man stained with blood whose redness fed the tint of the glass; but the gun was pointing away, out from the window towards where he stood in the crimson pool. Avon squinted against the brilliance of the fiery glow, fascinated in a way he couldn't explain. 

Still the ocean of red rose higher, it was at his chin now, the spray misting his eyelashes and hair. So much blood, he knew he would sink beneath it and drown; but he found that he didn’t care. 

The light from the window grew brighter and drew his eyes back to it as the picture in the glass shimmered and changed. Now the man and the blood were gone and a woman lay there. Yet the light that streamed from the window remained red, still echoing the torrent that eddied around him. 

He closed his eyes for a moment, yet still the image burned on the back of his eyelids. He was so tired, so very tired; too tired to stand, to tired to fight the rising tide. Soon he would slip beneath it and it would be over. 

With a sigh he opened his eyes again.The light from the window glowed brighter and the red hue of the sea around him deepened again, now nearly purple. He looked around and saw that Blake’s island was still standing proud against the red stained waters but that the sand on which Blake lay was now as coloured as the sea surrounding it. He had thought of death as black but he had been wrong, it was red, blood red. 

He wanted to laugh at this final mistake but the bloodied water was in his mouth, and it had the tang of iron amongst the salt. Avon turned his eyes back to the window and the woman lying there, and he wondered who she was that she had taken Blake’s place?

A voice cut through the dreams, borne on a rising wind. A woman's voice, soft and warm as the waters. That voice brought with it an icy blast that whistled around his head, driving back the tide, parting the red river, pushing it away from his face. He looked up again as the window shivered, then shattered, in the force of it, the sparkling red fragments scattering on the racing air like sunset dipped snowflakes. The surface of the bloody tide shimmered and reflected back the lights that burst above its surface as the voice from beyond the sea spoke again.

As he watched the racing fragments the blast triggered a single thought, 'Why didn’t she bleed?' 

Then red turned to black and the lights, and the dreams, winked out.

***


MISTLETOE12 - Extract from Mature Whine
“If I wanted to kill you,” Avon said, casually tugging at the medical gown covering his body, “you’d already be dead. And I wouldn’t bother with a slow acting poison… it would be with a gun in my hands.” 

“Cally, you heard that, right? You’re a witness.”

“You are hardly blameless in this matter,” said Cally.

“He attacked me,” Vila protested.

“And you stole his clothes,” she reminded him tersely.

“I didn’t steal his clothes… I merely stopped him from getting dressed. How was I supposed to know he would run around the ship in his birthday suit? He should have been able to crack the lock – so much for his reputed computer expertise.” 

“My principle concern wasn’t to override your shoddy handiwork,” Avon retorted.

“Shoddy? It stopped you, didn’t it?” Vila purposely taunted his wine wars opponent.

“Where do we store the rodent poison?” Avon swung his knees out the bed, “I’ve changed my mind. Watching him foam at the mouth does hold a certain appeal.” 

“Avon isn’t… wasn’t trying to poison you. You have a harmless virus.” Cally slowly counted to ten, a method Jenna swore she implemented whenever Blake attempted to undermine her piloting skills. “Why don’t you try to sleep?” she suggested, thrusting a drink into Vila’s clammy hands. 

“Ideally six feet under,” Avon muttered, ignoring the glare he received from Cally. 

“Does this mean I can’t drink alcohol?” Vila stared in disdain at the water in his cup. “What about Orac, doesn’t he know where Blake hid the wine?” The thought of rich, mature wine tricking down his dry, scratchy throat was enough to make him salivate with anticipation. 

“Orac isn’t to be trusted,” replied Avon. “It sent me on a wild goose chase.”

“Are you done?” Cally wasn’t inclined to deal with reluctant patients. “Is a single bottle of wine really worth all this animosity?” 

“Yes,” they answered in unison.

(The full story can be found here: Mature Whine)
***


LITTLESUE & LURENA – The Lady in Red
He hadn’t expected to find anyone else in there. But she wasn’t startled by his sudden appearance; in fact it was if she had known.

Avon studied her for a moment. Cally; a professional rebel from Auron. A woman who was proud, fierce, independent and not afraid of danger. And she had found that danger with Blake and she had decided to join him and his small group of Freedom Fighters. But there was another reason, one that he had found fascinating. Telepathy. And a growing suspicion that she was more attuned to him than he realised.

“What brings you down here?” he asked, watching her eyes as she gazed at the red combat suit that she had been wearing at their first meeting on Saurian Major.

“Memories,” she replied simply.

“I find it far less complicated to consign memories into the distant past, where they belong.”

“Of course you do. But why are you here?”

That was a good question; one that he found difficult to answer, especially as he had only just thought about revisiting this large, open room with its wealth of clothes. Clothes of every material, every colour, for every taste.

So far Avon had tended to keep his choice of apparel simple but functional, in keeping with his way of thinking. But that way of thinking was changing, no matter how much he strove to keep it at bay.

“You know,” Cally said almost wistfully, the red outfit in her hand, “I was ready to face danger, to kill or be killed, but Blake changed that. He did not flinch, even turning his back on me while I was still armed.”

“Not the wisest of moves.”

“And then Vila…”

“Hardly any danger there…”

“And then you.”

“What about me?”

“You were out of your comfort zone, yet still you gave the appearance of being fearless. Able to face up to any danger; but that was purely for show.”

“Is that what you thought?”

Cally smiled. “Yes. You were not a rebel or Freedom fighter.”

“People change, Cally.”

“Have we? When you first saw me I was dressed in this combat suit, ready to finish the attack that my friends had failed to launch…”

“They were killed, Cally, that’s hardly a reason to call their mission a failure.”

“And now I am here, on this ship, trying to help Blake fight his battle. But the aggression, the need to fight…it is not as it once was.”

“And that is something for which I am eternally grateful.”

“You have changed, though.”

“Really…”

“And not for the better.”

“That is a matter of opinion.”

“So, why are you here?” 

“I have my reasons.” He didn’t look at her, preferring to allow his eyes to wander over rail that he knew housed his own original Federation issue clothes. There they were, drab grey, utilitarian, nothing that would mark him out as a top line technician. Sometimes he found himself yearning to return to that world; a world of computers, technology; a world where he could be alone and do want he wanted. But these last few months had seen that way of life gradually fade away to a distant memory. Just the kind that he had warned Cally about, but the kind that he didn’t really want to consign to the distant past. He had hoped that he could hang on to it, but that life of his was leaving him. He was becoming something different. 

A reluctant rebel, dragged into something that he didn’t really want. A freedom fighter? A killer? That had frightened him. Just how easy it had become.

Yet Cally had no qualms about sending anyone to their death, at least once she had no qualms. Her edginess seemed to be fading… unlike her red combat suit; still bright and ready, but now being replaced on the rail. Being with Blake had curtailed her excesses, yet for Avon the effect was opposite.

“You look tired,” he said.

She nodded; the last few days had been stressful. Maybe it would do her good to get some rest and not think on how things used to be. “Maybe you are right…”

“I usually am. Besides, it would be prudent to conserve your energy to face whatever Blake decides to dream up for us next.”

He watched her leave. He was alone again in the room that seemed at odds with the Liberator’s role as a battle cruiser. He touched the screen set in the wall and it sprung into life. There it was; an outfit from the thousands of blueprints stored in this machine. He had chosen the style; the material. All it lacked was the colour. 

His eyes sought out Cally’s combat clothes. Red. Yes, red. A colour worthy of a warrior. He smiled.

Moments later, the machine had delivered its creation; an outfit of the softest red leather. He ran his fingers over the material, revelling in its texture. He took one last look at the drab grey outfit. A reminder of what he used to be.

And in his hands, a declaration of what he had become.

***



JUSTBRAD - R E D
Soft-soled boots made not a sound as they carried their wearer across a hardwood floor. Here and there a board was loose; it was most likely intentional, a sort of natural alarm system, but to the eye of a Federation Death Squad Assassin, it was a laughable defence. 

It had been easy, maybe a little too easy. Normally it would have been a red flag, but when your target is in your sights, and unarmed, and has his back turned, you can allow yourself a little hubris. The owner of the soft-soled boots cleared his throat. “You are Carnell, are you not?” 

The figure turned. An eyebrow arched. There was a dramatic sigh. “I would protest that I am not, particularly as I have been trying so hard not to be found…” 

There was a pause as his eyes scanned the room and he slowly shook his head. “And spent a great deal of money installing state of the art security systems, at least that’s what I was told by three men who described themselves as friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable home defence professionals.” There was another pause as his eyes fell to the boots, the black attire, the face shield, and finally the slim blaster. “But your type don’t make mistakes, do they?” 

The boot wearer spoke. “We pride ourselves on our efficiency.” 

“Then it would be unfair of me, an insult to your profession, to deny the truth, I am indeed, Carnell. What can I do for you?” 

“You can die.” Unseen beneath the face shield, for that was the point, the boot wearer grimaced as Carnell offered a charming, snake-like smile.

“I’d rather not.” Carnell gestured to an oaken liquor cabinet. “Do be careful with that blaster, I have a lot of rare antiques. Help yourself to a drink. Do you take scotch or bourbon?” 

“I didn’t come to drink, I came to kill you.” 

“Ah.” Carnell waved an index finger in the direction of the boots. “But you haven’t, meaning you want to know something before you kill me.” 

“I want to know why…” 

Carnell interrupted with perfect timing. “Why Sleer wants me dead?” 

“How do you know…” 

Carnell shrugged and waved a hand, as if describing why he knew the sky was blue. “You wear the uniform of Central Security’s Death Squad; therefore Sleer sent you because I once worked for Servalan.”

“Why?” 

Carnell angled his head forward, looking at the face shield through his eyebrows. “Careful. If you knew the answer to that, you’d already be dead and I’d be entertaining a different assassin. You can probably work it out for yourself. Doing so would be suicidal, but don’t let me interfere with your death wish. You no doubt looked at my file before setting out - what do you know about me?” 

“You used to be a Psychostrategist.” 

Carnell studied the face shield. “And that doesn’t worry you?” 

“I have the gun.” The soft-soled boots took a step forward. “Your file was marked R E D, whatever that means. I think it refers to the stain you’ll leave on that fancy bit of glass floor you’re standing on.” 

Carnell gave a nod. “A sly jape, aren’t you the clever one? R E D is old earth slang, used by the very first puppet masters way back in the twentieth century of the old calendar. It colloquially stands for Retired, but Extremely Dangerous.” 

Carnell looked down. “And this isn’t a glass floor, it’s a hologram projector.” 

The slim blaster fired. The plasma bolt went straight through Carnell and impacted the far wall. At the sound of the blast, a klaxon blared. Four large automatic weapons descended from the ceiling and spun towards the visor. 

Some hours later, the front door opened. Carnell regarded the mess on the floor and sighed. “Report.” 

An image of Carnell appeared on the glass floor over the hologram projector. The image tilted its head, offered a smug smile and said, “Apparently they were both knowledgeable and professional.”

***



JOE DREDD - Red
As Soolin set out through the never ending forest of plantation five, she remembered with tears in her eyes what her mother had told her.

"Be especially alert when you leave any of the registered homesteads, particularly when crossing through the plantations and the wild woods. And if anything happens to me, go straight to my mother's homestead. That's our bolt hole and our safe house."

Something had happened to her mother, and now Soolin was hurrying to what she hoped was safety. The problem was that going straight there, by the most direct route, meant crossing through plantation nine.

It wasn't that you couldn't see; the trees were planted in precise lines with exactly the same, decent amount of space between each. It was just that they seemed to go on forever, one row beyond another, into the distance whichever way you looked. It seemed you would never get out, ever.

Feeling a chill at the thought, Soolin bunched the grey cloak at her throat in her hand, pulling it more tightly around her. The little pack she was carrying kept slipping down her shoulder. She hefted it back up and walked a little faster. The weight in her pocket swung heavily with each step and bumped at her leg.

After a time she broke free of the plantation, reaching the straggling native woodland on the fringe. Ducking a branch and pushing through some bushes, she found herself on a familiar little pathway, hidden in the tangle of mighty ancestor trees.

No sooner had she taken a few steps when she heard something heavy drop to the ground behind her. She whirled around, one arm slipping out of the pack and the other bringing her father's blastinger to bear on the man standing before her, quickly and automatically. 

For just a fraction of a second Soolin caught a predatory, almost wolfish look on his face, replaced by sudden surprise and then masked with a lazy grin. She knew this man, had seen him with her father. Not a friend, some kind of acquaintance.

"Who - Oh, it's you. You're Boyd's girl, aren't you?" Soolin nodded dumbly, still keeping him squarely targeted. "You sure have his speed on the draw. How old are you now? Eight?"

Soolin nodded again, fast little nods, remembering the cabin she had returned home to after school. The chaos of the smashed-up room, the torn birthday banner and her figure eight cake splashed across the table, splattered with...

The gun was getting heavy, but she didn't let her arm droop. Just like her father had taught her. Don't let them know you're vulnerable, otherwise the wolves will stay for the right moment to strike. Bluff them out, scare them off. Then you can rest.

The man straightened himself up from a stoop and spat. "You can stop pointing that thing at me, too. I'm not going to hurt you, you little brat. It's gunna be dark soon and I've got places to be."

He hauled up on his belt and span theatrically around on one foot so he had his back to her, his holstered gun slapping against his leg.

"See ya, kid." He flicked a couldn't-care-less wave at her and walked off without looking back.

Teth. That was his name.

Soolin waited, listening to the crackle of dry twigs and leaves and long grass diminish as he got further and further away. When she thought he was far enough away, she thrust the gun back into her long pocket, grabbed up the pack and started running.


The sky was a deep dark blue by the time she reached the safe house and the stars had been visible for some time.

Running up the steps to the porch, Soolin went to knock at the door but realised it was ajar. The sounds from inside stopped all at once, her pounding footsteps moments earlier having announced her approach.

The door was only open by the tiniest of fractions, but even the quick glance she got of the lit room within showed that the whirlwind of destruction that had reached her home had been visited upon this house too.

She had been about to call out "Grandma?" when a man's voice spoke first. "Teth? Is that you?" it asked.

Catching her breath in her throat, Soolin slipped to the side, away from the door and ducking below the shuttered window beside it. The small pack with her few remaining belongings was already clutched to her stomach like a shield as she slowly slipped the blaster from her pocket.

"Who's there?" called the man, less certain.

Soolin unfolded herself slowly, moving quietly into a kneeling position and releasing her breath as softly as possible. Without a sound, she balanced the gun on her knee, sparing her wrist the weight. She pointed the gun at the door, keeping her aim loose and flexible.

"Whoever that is, don't you mess with me," shouted the man, the sound of his voice nearing the door. "Teth has done for Boyd, I've done his old lady and I've done this old bird too; mining cartel orders. So scram or you'll be next!"

Without warning the door flew open. The man was no fool, he wasn't in sight.

After a heartbeat, the barrel of a gun thrust out the door. It was a big gun, and it waved around in sharp, bold moves, seeking a target.

After another couple of moments, he leaned head and shoulders out the door too, trying to get a better look around, more confident no one was about.

"Shoulda brough a torch, Haston," he muttered to himself.

Soolin took aim. His name was Haston. Teth was involved too. Haston had said it all.

"Haston!" she hissed quietly.

The man practically jumped out of his skin hearing someone so close to him, someone unknown, not an ally. He almost dropped his gun.

"What a big mouth you've got," snarled Soolin, pulling the trigger as he turned towards her. Haston fell down dead.

Looking cautiously into the room, Soolin couldn't see anyone else. At least, not anyone alive. She safetied the gun and slid it away again, then hauled Haston's body onto the porch. It took all her effort. Once she got him to the stairs, she gave him a big push with her foot, trying to roll him down. The body slid down a step and stopped, spread out awkwardly.

Retreating into the cabin, Soolin shut the door and hauled the bolts across, then made sure the shutters were fast. She righted a heavy wooden chair and sat on it for a moment, feeling ice cold all over.

After a while, she stole quietly over to the bed. She removed her riding cloak and covered the old lady lying there. A dark red stain started to spread through the cloak.

Soolin retreated to the chair again and began to rock. She wondered what to do next. Then she cried. Between sobs she sang.

"Happy ... Birthday ... to me."

***


HUGBOT - The Red Room
Deep in the maze of corridors aboard the Liberator there was a door that they had never managed to open. Even Vila could not do it. Maybe he was not afraid enough... or maybe he was too afraid of what might lurk behind it. Zen was no help, either. Well, you know his usual sermon about wisdom that must be gathered etc.

In contrast to its door brethren this one was not steel-grey, but painted in a bright red colour, thus signalling importance. Or did it mean danger?

When Avon passed by the red door he realised that it stood ajar. Warm, pulsating red light flashed out of the small gap. Avon froze in alarm. Just a week ago the System had temporarily recaptured the ship. Only they could have opened the door. What for? To unleash some nemesis on the people who had... acquired the ship?

No, that was unlikely. If this were true, they would already be dead now or again in captivity on Space World. This was not a threat, but maybe an opportunity. Whatever the System stored in that room might help him to pursue his own way... without the need to follow Blake’s follies.

He opened the door and crossed the threshold. The room on the other side was of oval shape, bathed in the pulsating red light - and completely empty. Slowly Avon walked to the centre of the room. If there was anything of importance here, he would find it in the middle. But even there he saw nothing but emptiness. He looked around, becoming more puzzled with every moment and every new glimpse of nothing. The dim lighting reminded him of something that he had read when he studied ancient Earth technology: a darkroom where they used to develop the earliest forms of photographs.

"So you have found it at last?"

Avon whirled around, looking at Blake who leaned in the doorway, an expression of barely hidden amusement on his face.

"What do you mean, at last?" Avon snapped.

"We have all been in this room," Blake explained, "Cally was the first one. I think it has something to do with her telepathy. It was as if the room beckoned her to come."

Avon went on the attack: "Am I to understand that you already figured out what this is all about?"

Blake walked casually towards him. "In a way, yes," he answered, "at least we know why we could not open it. It is just because we don’t need it. It is essential for the inhabitants of the System with all their computer-controlled life. Once in a while they need to shut off the permanent whisper of their machines and retreat to their original consciousness. They need to relax their minds. Even the highly sophisticated computer-integrated society of the System has to loosen its mechanical grip on their souls from time to time so that its cititzens don’t lose themselves in a maze of data and go barking mad." He gave Avon a disarming smile. "You should know that better than anyone else," he added.

Avon did not answer that. "They just walk into this room and stare into a red void?" he mocked to provoke further explanation from Blake, who seemed to love his new role as all-knowing expert on Liberator’s hidden technology.

"We don’t know yet how it works on them,“ Blake admitted, "but we know what it does to us. The red light has something to do with it. Maybe it is reminiscent of what we see and feel in our mother’s womb. In any case, it conjures up images from the subconscious."

A darkroom, Avon thought, it is indeed a darkroom where we develop pictures. The pictures of things we have buried in the deepest strata of our mind. He shivered.

"The room shows you what lies at the inner core of your soul," Blake added.

"There is no such thing as a soul," Avon retorted.

"Try it."

Avon did not want to, but he felt a sort of self-destructive curiosity. The inner core of his soul? What would he find there? What were his ultimate motives, his ultimate objectives?

"Close your eyes and see for yourself."

Avon closed his eyes. The pulsating red light did not vanish but flushed the world all round him. It whirled and flowed like a ruby liquid. A sea of blood? Or was it just the sensation that you experience when light shines through your closed eyelids? Then slowly a blurred shape appeared beyond the velvet-like red liquid curtain. A familiar shape. A woman.

The liquid was no blood, as he realised now, but wine. He looked at the woman through a glass of wine. Now he slowly lowered the glass and recognised her face. A seductive smile was on her lips, a longing gaze in her eyes.

"What do you see?"

Anna

"Circuits," he said, "the circuitry of the human brain. We are not so different from computers as idealistic fools like you want to believe. I can see what makes us tick. Electricity and chemicals. That is all."

Her face became blurred again. Then it transformed into another very familiar face. Cally.

"And I can see the circuitry of society," he continued, "it doesn’t run on electricity, not on ideals either. But on money and power."

He opened his eyes and confronted Blake again. "It would be better for us all if you could see it as well."

But Blake only smirked. "I knew you would say something like that."

"Of course you did. You know me well enough. I am a realist."

Blake shook his head. "That’s not what I meant," he sighed. "I knew that you would lie."

He turned around to walk out of the door, but then he stopped and looked again at Avon. An ironic smile occured on his face.

"After all, we all lied about what we had seen in this room."

***


BRADPAULA - Recollections of Red
Recall that flame-haired traitor who plotted then murdered the lawyer and his wife. How he infiltrated and insinuated himself within the Dome-city's outcasts. The carnage he wrought - the beet-red splashes of blood upon those unfortunate citizens in that grimy sub-basement: a charnel house and bloody tomb which prompted Blake to take up the Cause once again.

Imagine that sanguine sky - like a faint mist of blood before one's eyes. And the alien warrior in diffused rubellite-colored garb, who tumbled Blake and probed his mind. Then the explosion: like fireworks of gold and carmine, eating Central Control in a large gout of flames. A clarion call to the Federation that Blake was back and meant to topple them all.

Remember Blake and Cally retrieving Orac, which brought troubles of its own and leaving much of the crew with radiation sickness. Jenna, ever loyal pilot matched the brilliant scarlet and gold of her blouse - her cheeks of the same hue in her fever-wracked body. With life-giving medicines, the crew recovered, ready to fight again at a moment's notice. To fight for Blake and his Cause, whether they believed in it or not.

See smeared life's-blood across the button activating the Solium device. A desperate move against a desperate people. Blood-lust in Grant's eyes upon seeing the man he wished dead. An unlikely and tentative alliance in order to save Albian. Then victory at the last moment, and a gentle parting of ways between two men who loved the same woman - one romantically and one as a brother. 

Note Freedom City, hanging like an over-ripe piece of fruit in the vacuum of space. Both Servalan and Blake searching for the one called Docholli: a cyber surgeon with a past and information which could turn the tide in the war for freedom. Her gown - a vermilion spangled creation - speaking volumes to all who had seen her. Power - supreme confidence in her plans - a fearsome vision of what was once called 'the Devil'. Travis being left armless. Blake, snatching a scrap of information from the mysterious surgeon and then gone. And on with luck, to Star One.

What of this cloned world would Servalan ever want? To procreate, to breed her own gene stock of little maniacs? But at what cost to the peaceful Auronar? Drops of maroon blood in each little receptacle is all that was needed to clone a new copy of Supreme Commander. But with treachery, all hope of a living Auron is lost as Ginka reaches too far and suffers the mark of a red death, and so does Auron.

Gaze upon Ultraworld - an armored orb. Home of the Ultras - home of a giant brain absorbing all who enter this world. But what of Cally and Avon? That ruby-red capsule full of his life essence- a sudden switch of capsules would cause catastrophe. But Tarrant perseveres and normality is restored although not for the blue inhabitants, or their brain that spits its green matter spectacularly in its violent death throes.

What's this? A red dot - a bug bite? Minuscule, but drug tipped and so powerful, so pervasive. Avon drops to the floor unconscious in a drug-induced and electronic dream. He sees a vision of Blake - his search is over, or is it? He is utterly defeated by the black-clad Servalan. The Liberator - lost - and hopefully the same with Servalan on board. The crew stranded on Terminal. An apt name, if ever there was. Could there perhaps be a new beginning?

We don't understand why the pull of an un-named something on the green planet of Virn is like a moth to the flame for both the crew of the Scorpio and Sleer. A lost love recaptured? No - but a new one seems to begin. Her lips, bloody-red and inviting, an irresistible draw for Tarrant, it seems. The pilot walking the same path as his colleague Avon before. A tentative alliance? No - but the sand persists until a freak rainstorm is manufactured and quickly the green sand and Tarrant's ardour are dampened. The two adversaries leave nothing resolved. Save for lust. 

And finally, the weak red flickers of the emergency lighting signaled the end. One man's quest finished, another man's life nearly done. A misunderstanding of grave consequences, the leather-clad Avon kills the object of his quest. Blood-spattered gore is showered over computer consoles, walls, even the black leather of Avon's tunic. Our hero falls dying in a pool of his own life-blood. The colour drains from the shooter's face, shock registering. What has he done? "He happened," Arlen shouts. The image at last focuses on Avon's face - a grimace of determination as his last seconds tick by. Fade to black - no, fade to red. As shots rain through troopers in a last-ditch effort for life, then shockingly, silence, and then credits roll and it's over. Forever.

***


ANNIEW – Red
The painted nails, red as blood, sharp as pikes, close on his ear.

"Oh Avon, lying down on the job? Don't tell me you regret what you have done? It's time to wake now! You and I have things to discuss."

Painfully he rises, aware of pain but refusing to let it overwhelm him. The warmth he has leeched from the dying body, leeching in turn from his, he barely represses the shivering cold that racks him. Instead he focusses on the red of the pulsing lights, the red blood splashes on the walls, floors, his hands. The red of her dress.

"Avon!" She smiles charming and false as sin, from those full red lips. "You look well. No. No, that's not true." Theatrical. Insincere. "Actually, you look a little worse for wear. I'm afraid our discussions may be a problem for you." 

He doesn't answer. He might if he cared about living. If he wasn't sick of it all.

"Avon." Indignant disapproval colours her tone. A beloved mistress reproving an ungrateful slave. "Avon. I may be forced to hurt you if you won't co-operate. I really regret the necessity but if you won't talk nicely to me..."

The hand with its blood-red nails wanders seductively over his shoulder, down his arm. Stops at the hole burned through the leather of his jacket. He tenses but the pinch on the open, raw wound forces a gasp as the pain from it radiates. His dead, he sees, lie slumped carelessly on the dirty floor, their blood mingling with that of the Federation troopers he has killed. Friends, enemies, they are indistinguishable in death. Did they feel pain as they died? he wonders.

Now as she pinches again, harder this time, he allows himself the luxury of bending over, crying out the agony she is causing. He senses her relaxation, the arching satisfaction of a cat as it senses a weakening in its prey.

Swiftly he uncurls, stabbing up with the tiny probe he's secretly taken from his belt, slashing the column of throat, so whitely contrasted with her dress.

And now, he notes, imbued with the same, shiny, luminous red.

***

Artwork by Lurena

The original forum threads with the stories and comments can be found here:
February Ficlets

All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.

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